One more thing…

I have a guilty pleasure. On a Sunday afternoon when the weather is bad I like nothing more than to sit down to an episode of Columbo. My wife and I have the entire box set and have made our way though every episode, including the pilots of Mrs Columbo. Watching a random episode is now just an: “Alexa, ask Plex to play Columbo” away. Bliss.

Today is no exception and watching the way he interrogates, questions and learns had me realise that there is a great deal a designer can learn from this unassuming TV detective.

Ask the right question at the right time

Columbo is famous for his catchphrase “Just one more thing…”, which is his way of squeezing in one last question before he leaves. As a detective he thrives on data and knows the right questions to ask and when to ask them.

This week I have been gathering plugin data across our VIP Go platform and using it to better understand how clients are using plugins on our platform. My aim is to reduce the number of options available for managing plugins and for us to provide a better service when it comes to updates and security fixes. The question I am asking myself right now is: what plugins are in use and how have they been activated?

We will start collecting the data and graphing it over time so we can actively monitor the progress of my work from start to finish. I can see the same data being hugely useful as time goes on. We just haven’t found the need to ask the next question yet.

Put yourself in your killers clients shoes

In “Any Old Port in a Storm” the murder takes places in a winery. The murderer is a wine connoisseur and in order to understand how the killing took place Columbo immerses himself in the world of wine. The knowledge he gains from his research allows him to solve the case and determine where the body was stored. The research also created a huge amount of empathy between Columbo and the killer.

With the launch of the new VIP website a few weeks ago it has been a great reminder of the challenges our clients face when they need to push code from a modern version control environment like GitHub to our SVN setup on WordPress.com. Putting ourselves through the same experience as our clients has been immensely valuable and highlighted some of the pain points developers face with our WordPress.com platform. We are hoping to use our new found empathy to help streamline the process if possible.

Equipment doesn’t have to be the best

Rust bucket doesn’t quite describe the poor state of Columbo’s car. He arrives on scene in a puff of smoke in a old French car that looks like it could barely take a corner without rattling to bits. The car serves him well across the entire 32 year lifespan of the programme. It gets him where needs to go and does the job well enough.

We are very privileged at Automattic to receive a new computer every 18 months and have access to the very latest and greatest technology. The problem with this is our tools do not necessarily reflect those of the people we serve. This is one of the reasons I moved away from an Apple laptop this year.

The more we can diversify the technology we use, the greater it represents the audience we serve and the better our products will be as a result.

Name for SEO

When Columbo adopts a dog in “Étude in Black” he spends most of the episode trying to decide a name for his new pet. He settled on “Dog”.

The names we use for projects, software and teams are hugely important for discoverability, especially when most of us begin exploring cyberspace with a search.

And one last thing…

If you are feeling inspired to sit down with Columbo for an hour or two then I recommend the following episodes:

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