Alexandria — Issue #014: On (Design) Bullshit

A bi-weekly newsletter dedicated to bringing you the best content related to design, technology, and entrepreneurship.


For this week’s feature, I’ve reached deep into the archives for a piece from 2005, written by Pentagram Partner Michael Bierut, who muses on the art of communicating and selling design decisions. Not only is it a fun read, it’s a good reminder that muscling through a design is only half the battle. At the end of the day, it’s got to get approved!

The first three amazing reads revolve around critical skills a designer should possess: being culturally aware, learning how to trust and delegate, and tapping into your senses to smell and taste UX (yes, you read that correctly!). Work is hard. Getting started, staying focused, and making difficult decisions can all block you from achieving what you want to consistently get done (Focus On the Process, Necessary Habits for Making Tough Decisions). Which transitions into a controversial opinion regarding the drawbacks of design systems. Christian Beck raises some good points about efficiency vs. craftsmanship and how both the maintenance and use of a design system can hinder innovation. The first part concludes with tips for paying attention to how you react to feedback in the hopes of making it less hurtful and more productive.

The second half digs into what I find to be one of the most overlooked skills in modern day: communicating through writing (Writing Better UX Copy, Writing With Confidence, and Writing Good Blog Posts). We close with two pieces for any product people (Social Proof, Definitive Guide to User Onboarding) and an incredible in-depth guide for freelancers.

For resources, we’ve got some UX flashcards that teach you about cognitive biases, an online repository for quickly copying Glyphs, a tool that translates text articles into voice in over 30+ languages, a pack of illustrations to help you get started on your next project, and a handy macOS app for creating and managing invoices.

Thanks so much for reading!


Featured Article


On (Design)

“…His response is the worst accusation you can lodge against a designer: “Bullshit.” This single word literally brings the film to a crashing halt: a very long fifteen seconds of dead silence follows, broken at last by an awkward offscreen suggestion that perhaps on this note the meeting should end, which it does. What is the relationship of bullshit and design?” — Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

More Amazing Reads

Multifaceted Designers: The Overlooked Key Skills and Attitudes a Good Designer Must Have

Our creative intuition is almost like an internal chip that us designers have that allows us to identify valuable choices or ideas without conscious thought. Some choices just ‘feel right’ while others simply don’t. In spite of our inner convictions, we must learn how to explain choices that are fed by our creative intuition as objective and rational.

8 Critical Skills of Effective Design Leaders
Inspiring, confident, and creative are all traits you’d likely expect of strong design leaders, and these qualities are absolutely necessary. But how do they inspire with confidence and creativity? With experience, hard work, and talent, for sure — but it goes beyond that.

The Five Senses of UX

Empathy is becoming an overused word in UX these days, but that doesn’t mean it’s an unimportant skill. Really understanding how a user feels when they try to complete a certain task, or find a new tool, tends to bring home just how much there still is to do. Even better is when you know how to pair your empathy with action, and allow what you understand about a user experience to inform your strategy, too.

Focus On the Process: Stop Thinking and Start Doing
We often assume that the reason why we struggle to achieve our goals is a lack of knowledge. So we buy self-help books and online courses, hoping that it will get us closer to our objective. But what we often don’t do is practice and focus on the process. As a result, we accumulate a collection of strategies that don’t really help us improve or acquire new skills. This approach is reassuring, but it doesn’t really yield results. So how can we go from passive thinking to active doing?

A Former Netflix VP on 10 Necessary Habits for Making Tough Decisions

Ask yourself, “What does my gut say?” Frame your opinion based on your initial instinct, then ask what additional information you need to make a final decision. Last, outline a timeline to get the missing data to make the decision.

Design Systems Create Bad Designers

In this article I provide a counter opinion to these massive trends in design systems. My goal is not to simply be contrarian, but to inspire designers to think more deeply about the ramifications of these seemingly innocuous systems. I’m certainly not exactly right in each proposal that follows, but at the very least, I hope to provide some food for thought.

Five Tips for Making the Most of Criticism and Leveraging Feedback

#4. Examine What Hits The Hardest: If critical feedback is leaving you unexpectedly crushed and hitting uncomfortably close to home, take a moment to ask yourself why. Are you creating work out of fear or uncertainty?

To Design Better Products, Write Better UX Copy
If you’re working through how to phrase a specific statement, try writing out every possible piece of information you could provide. Then, prioritize what’s most important to provide in the moment. This can be particularly effective for error messages or other instances where you need to deliver bad news.

Writing is Thinking: Learning to Write with Confidence
Writing is essentially a robust tool that enables us to clarify and communicate our thoughts. While writing, you are forcing yourself to think critically and exercise parts of your brain that are typically on auto-pilot. As Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” In attempting to formulate a written piece, you are going through the exercise of transforming vague ideas into clarified concepts externally, but also internally.

The Detail Principle for Writing Good Blog Posts

Lately I’ve been evaluating tons of freelance writers, reading more portfolio pieces than I can count, editing a bunch of client pieces, and helping multiple new writers understand how to write a good blog post. Through all this reading, I’ve stumbled upon an important pattern that separates good marketing blog posts from bad: Good blog posts have unique details to back up claims. Bad blog posts just make claim after claim. Most posts are bad.

Social Proof: 7 Practical Examples For Product Teams

It’s noon, you’re hungry, and it’s freezing. To your surprise, you see 70+ people freezing while waiting in line to get in a restaurant called “Schwartz Smoked Meat Sandwiches.” It can’t be THAT good… can it? Curious, you hop in line… That’s the power of social proof. So, what’s the equivalent in the digital world? Let’s grab a sandwich, dig out some of the theory, and look at concrete examples on how to apply it.

The Definitive Guide to User Onboarding

This is the ultimate guide to user onboarding. And let me be clear about something: This is NOT a lame “listicle” with 5 steps to do user onboarding right. Instead, I’m going to share the same tactics and strategies I use to help SaaS companies launch and optimize million-dollar user onboarding funnels. You’re going to see tested strategies that are working right now. The entire guide will take you well over 80-minutes to read and months to implement.

A Guide to The Freelance Life
Freelancing is a compelling opportunity for skilled professionals who are seeking independence and a greater connection to the value they can create for a business. It can be a lucrative, exciting, and exhausting pursuit. We’ve put together some insights to help you be a happier and more successful freelancer.


52 UX Cards to Discover Cognitive Biases
Download this free deck of 52 cognitive bias UX cards to learn how cognitive biases might influence user behaviour, but also meetings and team collaboration.

Glyphy — Copy & Paste Glyphs With Ease

Glyphy is a simple online tool that allows you to easily copy popular ASCII characters & other symbols (also known as glyphs) to your device’s clipboard.

Hewizo — Podcasting for Articles

Using state of the art AI, hewizo translates text articles into the most human sounding voice in over 30+ languages.

Awesome Illustration Constructor

Create unique scenes for your projects with FREE Smash illustration pack. Get 45 characters, 200 objects & backgrounds, and 20 ready-to-use scenes to use in your next project.
Create beautiful invoices, track your company’s performance and more.