Jesse Taggert

communication :: user experience :: design

Posts from the ‘Writing’ category

Instagram, Don’t Pimp Me Out

“…photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe. They are a grammar, and even more importantly, an ethics of seeing.” —Susan Sontag, On Photography

Dear Instagram,

I knew when you sold us to Facebook for a billion dollars (at the time), things would change. But I didn’t want to believe it. I like you. You are one of the most amazing online experiences I’ve ever had. (Yes, Instagram, you’re that good). I remember first meeting you in the backseat of a taxi a few weeks before launch. Mike Krieger and I were sharing a ride across town when he told me about the new startup he was working on with a friend. When I first heard the words to the effect, “kind of like a Twitter but using images,” I knew we had to meet. And a few weeks later, sure enough, we started hanging out together. A lot. I’ve never fallen so hard for an app like you.

You nailed what so few Silly Valley products do: an engaging, simple experience that wowed my social, journalistic, emotional, and photographic needs. You had earnest cofounders dedicated to my experience. Instagram, you were a giver. And because of that we all fell in love with you. You brought out the best in us and fostered a beautiful family along the way.

But now? What has happened now? With the money making details of the Facebook model trickling out, you’ve pimped out your family. You want to open our apertures as wide as they will go and sell what you see to the highest bidder. Soon, every corporate Dick, Jane, and Harry can re-sample us for their profit.

I get it that advertising is often a “necessary evil” to obtain a free service. I am no stranger to Facebook. I figured you’d eventually start to serve me ads, but I never, never thought you would think to serve me and all my personal expression AS the ad. All my photos and online activity can be combined and re-packaged to advertise anything to anyone?

Instagram, you didn’t realize how great you are. You encouraged us to explore our world, find its beauty, document its pain, and meet amazing people along the way.

Without you, I wouldn’t have connected with an expat cat-lover living in France, who it turns out, went to the same art school as I. Are you going to sell that?

Without you, I wouldn’t have met the Australian musician who’s appreciation of my photos has cheered me on many a challenging day. Is that for sale?

Without you, I wouldn’t have had some fascinating conversations with the middle class Muslim mother of two in Indonesia. Is that for sale?

You encouraged me to share. Among the many things I offered up, are photos of my very old and sweet cat. Will these photos be used in cat food ads that I see after he passes away?

What about my friend who shared photos of her brother who almost died this year? What will you do with the touching image of her grandmother crouched over his wheelchair holding him so tight. Sell it to the highest bidder?

Instagram you have been such a good, honest communicator; I can’t fault you for that. Your transparency illuminates me and hurts you. Yesterday I read your new Terms of Service. I read them all and that was a first. They were so well organized and well written; you didn’t hold back letting me know changes were happening. I thank you for that.

Because I like you so much, I want to trust that it will be okay. That the section that says all my activity can be used for ads without my knowledge and consent won’t be so bad. Surely in practice it will be less malignant than it appears? Is the intention to use my work to get more Instagram users or is it to sell anything for a profit? Will my Instagram photos appear on the web sites my friends visit and follow them around from page to page? Why do you want to trick us with ads disguised as posts? Is a “trick-click” worth it?

Instagram, is it too late to go back to how things were? This whole new relationship we’re embarking on in early January worries me and I might need to end it. Maybe if we had talked more about our feelings for each other, we would have realized just how serious it was. I would have easily “joined” you for $20 a year. Evernote and I have a similar arrangement and just last week Pandora and I took it to the next level.

You are hanging out with a new crowd now. I know Facebook. I have a good time with Facebook too, although I behave differently there. But to you, I gave my whole heart. We dallied in art, color, composition, light, life. You elevated the art of the caption to poetry, comedy, pathos, and pop.

André Kertész said, “The camera is my tool. Through it I give a a reason to everything around me.”

Please don’t use everything I’ve given you to make a buck. Serve me ads if you must, but don’t serve me as the ad.

with love,

“Anything an be separated, can be made discontinuous, from anything else; all that is necessary is to frame the subject differently….Conversely, anything can be made adjacent to anything else.” —Susan Sontag, On Photography

This is cross-posted on Medium.

UPDATE: Instagram posted an apology and response later in the day asserting that they have no intention of selling use of our photos to advertise products. This whole debacle has certainly brought up the brittle sense of trust we have these days with online services that rely on us, the community to “be the product.”


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Who’s watching your assets?


It is morning. I am at the airport and have just boarded the plane. The man I climb over to reach my window seat looks crazy to my sleepy eyes. The kind of crazy that might lead to some type of psychiatric episode halfway through the flight from Boston to San Francisco. He is a hard little man sitting in the middle seat. Long gray-streaked brown hair hangs equally over each shoulder. Crusty patches of something dot the thighs and cuffs of his pants. His eyes dart around. He mumbles something I don’t understand, and when asked to repeat it, he stops talking altogether.

Meet Peter Cassidy, international expert fighting identity theft. Despite an alarming first impression, this is the man you want protecting your assets: tough, knowledgeable, unconventional, slightly paranoid, and — as I learn sitting next to him for six hours — talkative.

An hour after take-off and a can Amstel Light beer later, Peter Cassidy stops muttering to himself and instead starts talking to me. I learn he co-founded the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG), an international association of banking, computer, and law enforcement officials. According to the Federal Trade Commission, “phishing” is one of five ways thieves can get information about your identity. It is (at the time of this writing) the main way to do so electronically.

What does phishing look like? Pop-up windows in your web browser and email that ask for your username and password to “verify your account” are just two ways experience a phishing attack. Ironically, many phishing scams pretend to be protecting you from what, in fact, they are actually doing.

We are flying over Ohio. I am drinking a Diet Coke. Cassidy’s hand wrests on the flap of a tray open in front of him, cupping his second beer. “Eventually someone starts a database on you.” He leans towards me. I smell beer. “From one source they get access to your social security number, from another they get your bank accounts and credit card numbers and then they bundle it together. Your data in that form would be sold on the market for about $25.”

That’s right. There are identity theft middlemen out there who collect your data and upsell it to professional thieves who are even better at abusing your personal information.

The APWG exists to stop this. They track phishing scams, publicize crime trends, create guidelines and organize conferences that strategize how to fight this type of crime. That last point is interesting. APWG is not affiliated with any specific industry, so they can bring together people working in bank security, credit card companies, software developers, prosecutors, social scientists, and police officers to pool their knowledge. They break down silos to put up barriers, in a sense.

Cassidy develops these guidelines and organizes face to face conferences and lectures all over the world. The morning we met, he was flying to the west coast to present to the U.S. government and argue with Microsoft about its role and responsibilities to reduce identity theft. A few months before, while he presented the latest findings to the EU, another colleague from APWG was on the floor of the UN. Last week he traveled to Japan to organize yet another upcoming conference. Data knows no boundaries.

“There will be two newsworthy items discussed at the Japanese conference” Cassidy tells me. He scratches his scalp, beard or mustache as he speaks. What I now perceive as alert brown eyes peer out from under all that hair. One of the newsworthy topics is the growing shift from consumer phishing to corporate phishing. Instead of pop-up screens interfering with personal web browsing, criminals target corporate personnel by phone to obtain even more valuable information.

I look confused. Cassidy responds by enacting a hypothetical phish, his voice loud on the quiet plane:

“Ted, this is Chris from IT. The server went down and I need the serial number on your computer.”

“Sure Chris, anything else?”

“Yes, actually how about reading me the number on the FOB just to make sure you’re connected again when we bring the system back up.”

“Will do.”

By asking for information not normally associated with account security (and therefore not raising any red flags), the thief can still hack his way into the hardware of the company’s main servers—accessing its bank account and stealing millions of dollars instead of just thousands.

What about consumer phishing? How does someone steal your money? Cassidy is happy to tell me how. Once enough personal information has been collected from one or many sources, a false document is filed stating your mortgage has been paid in full. This seems counter intuitive; why would a thief pay off your debt? By doing this, however, he has created a debt-free equity line with complete access. To complete the the plan, he will bring a document stating your house is paid off to your town’s mortgage registry—often a small town department using photocopied records not much more advanced than the older handwritten ledgers stored in the basement. They accept the document and enter it as government record. With this information, the thief goes to the bank, takes out an equity loan on your newly paid off house and walks out with a treasury check for $100,000 or more.

Our plane is over the Grand Canyon by now. Most of the people are asleep or watching the movie playing on the few screens suspended from the cabin ceiling. Peter Cassidy is into his third and final beer. He begins to share how he became involved with all this. I relax some more and lean my head lightly against the window. Cassidy graduated journalism school in the 80s when computers were just about to enter the consumer market after already transforming business. After graduating, Cassidy wrote opinion pieces and forensic technology articles for Infoweek, The Economist, ForbesASAP, Wired, Boston Business Journal, and USA Today. During this time, he also helped start a technology magazine in Australia. Cassidy lived overseas for 15 months and recounts sleeping on the beaches of New Zealand for four of those months. Something about clearing up a visa problem with the Australian government and being broke. “Most of the beaches were free, but sometimes you had to pay a $1 to spend the night.” Eventually, he returned to Boston to be closer to his family. Since then his work has been based out of Cambridge, MA.

As we near San Francisco, Cassidy puts away the book he had not opened (another interest of his: hedge fund vulnerabilities). He fishes out a business card from a worn leather wallet (he looks like a serial killer in his driver’s license photo, although I now know better). He laughs, opens his wallet as wide as it will go and shows me the only bills inside—30,000 Japanese yen. “I will need to cash these so I can get a cab from the airport.”

We exit the plane. We smile politely when we see each other again at baggage claim as we go forward into our separate days. Peter Cassidy may be scary looking, but he’s the man who keeps the real bogey men at bay.

This is an essay I wrote in March, 2008 and is a true story. This was originally posted on Medium under “Airport Stories.”

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Connecting ourselves

There are no lack of “connections” these days. Weak or strong, in your face, or trolling Facebook at 1 am, you can connect with family, friends, brands, your bank, your fitness behavior, and at least a hundred tentacles of email newsletters unread in your Inbox that you enthusiastically subscribed to at some point.

Immersed in this connection glut, you try to gain control by defining and refining lists—whom you spend your time with online, whom you see in person—while still placing yourself in situations to have chance connections that might enrich your life. (Have you ever stayed that extra half hour at a boring party just to see what might happen after “giving up”?)

When I think about connecting and I think about design, I am aware of two things. The first is obvious: good design makes connecting with the people and things you already know easier and the people and things youought to know easier. Secondly: experiencing something that is well designed connects you to the people who crafted the experience. The designed object or experience becomes its own conduit—reminding us that whoever designed this interface, book, movie, coffeepot and pair of glasses has offered to us, an artifact of their internal creative connections that created this in the first place. It is a quieter, often faceless connection that is everywhere.

If only we are not too connected to notice.

This is a modified version of an essay I wrote to win a pass to attend TYPO San Francisco 2012 earlier this year.


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Urban Running Solutions

I run in the city. When cars and trucks spit out a black cloud of exhaust-is that an extra dose of carcinogens to my lungs? Garbage day is an olfactory adventure.The other day I even encountered the grease recycling truck. What I usually do when it’s really bad is pull my shirt up to serve as a temporary mask of sorts. What if running shirts had a built in stylish panel with a material that filters out pollution?


Sent from my handheld

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To not stroke, poke or scroll my news



I re-subscribed to the NY Sunday Times again. It’s been over three years since I last read it in paper form; everything has changed since my first iPhone. One of the reasons I want to experience a paper again is to combat “screen fatigue”— too much of my life is mitigated by the two digital rectangles of my smartphone and laptop.

I miss the smell of ink and physically rustling through oversized floppy pages to get the news. I miss discovering stories I wouldn’t normally read. I miss not stroking, poking and scrolling my media.

The paper arrived on my front doorstep this morning and so far I have posted a photo of it on Instagram, tweeted about it and written this blog post. Next up— reading the paper. 



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What’s so bad about ideas? #sfcm



I get it. I really do. If all you have are ideas and don’t do anything, you will fail because you never tried. Mat Honan talked about this today at this month’s San Francisco Creative Mornings talk. He spoke about the value of hustling, working fast, completing things, and fucking up (it’s all okay, he promised).

“The worst place for an idea is in your head.” — , as quoted by someone on Twitter.

My question is this, What’s so bad about ideas? Was Leonardo Da Vinci a failure because he didn’t “ship” every idea? Don’t his ideas (thankfully recorded in sketchbooks) still inspire us, even though he didn’t build a flying machine? What does it mean to “realize” an idea?

Even though I’m a perfectionist and the “just ship it” mantra is good for someone like me, I fear the excited sense of “accomplishment for accomplishments sake” might be at the expense of iteration and introspection.

Also, some ideas are exercises in themselves and might be ultimately valuable by what they lead to.

(I will write a post soon about the value of what happens when you do just throw your work out there–this blog being one grand testament to that philosophy)



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My Notes from “The Future of Experience Design” Panel during @sfdesignweek #sfdw


Last week I had a great lunch. Sitting at AIGA headquarters in San Francisco, eating a miniature sandwich from Whole Foods, listening (and participating) in a discussion about the nature of Experience Design for San Francisco Design Week. Why was this lunch such a good “experience”? One reason was the moderator, Josh Levine. Josh kept his own opinion out of it (although clearly he’s knowledgable) and facilitated the crap out of this event. He created a space so panelists and audience members alike were heard and learned from each other. My brain thanks you, Josh.

Following are notes from the talk plus my own thoughts.

The panelists:
Matthew Carlson
Principal, Experience Strategy and Design Hot Studio, Inc.

Nicole Chen
Senior Innovation Strategist, Idea Couture

Peter Merholz
Founding partner, board member and CEO Adaptive Path

Moderator, Josh Levine
Director of Internal Branding Liquid Agency

1. What is Experience Design?

Matthew: Design that takes into account the emotional responses when experiencing something

Nicole: Designing the touchpoints a consumer or customer has with a brand or product

Peter: quoted his colleague Jesse James Garrett:
“Experience design is the design of anything, independent of medium, or across media, with human experience as an explicit outcome, and human engagement as an explicit goal.”

Audience: “What is the difference between experience design and brand design?”
Brand design defines a vision for a company, while experience design synthesizes the realization of that vision with real people in real time.

Brand is focused more inside to the outisde while experience design supports and enables the customer first, which works it way back to what the brand can be.

My thoughts:
Experience design acknowledges an individual as having multiple experiences, possibly competing experiences, only some of which might involve the brand, object, or service we have in mind.

Our experiences today fall into an ever growing spectrum of mediation (online interfaces, call centers, facebook/twitter channels, text messages). Because media is an abstraction, and in order to function reduces experience to transmittable units, it will always distort communication. Experience design must be vigilant penetrating the noise. The best communication never forgets its anthropological and psychological roots (do not be fooled by metrics, bits, bytes, or ink).

2. Experience Design Strategies “The whole experience”

Touchpoints and Day in the Life Maps
Matthew: Start at with an “ideal experience” and map out touchpoints.

Nicole: Create a “day in the life” story map of a customer— rich in context, time, and motivations. Explore your customers’ touchpoints in this lifemap.

Peter: “It’s absurd to think your customer will see your link, immediately bring it up on their computer, navigate to the product they know they want, and immediately click Buy” That is not how a human acts.

Nicole mentioned the relationship between online, in store, and call center experience with  some of her retail client. All components of experience design.

Josh reminded us there is a world of experience “beyond the pixel driven palette.” I related to this because I used to design exhibits for museums. I remember one project where our team had almost forgotten to include benches for a large exhibition (on the history of the US Navy, if you’re curious). There are prime physical needs to consider environmental design. (ie. bathrooms will trump design content any day)

Zipcar was mentioned as a perfect example of a company with multiple format touchpoints. I think this type of service design will grow, especially with the emerging market in peer to peer companies and collaborative consumption. AirBnB,Task Rabbit, Zip Car,CityCarShare, Relay Rides, are Bay area companies exploring this space.

Co-creating /Open frameworks
No matter how good the design solution you develop is, if the Client that hired you does not have the company culture to sustain it, it will fall apart. What do you do? Help your client company socialize the process and “own” the solution. Design with open frameworks.

Nicole stressed how you need to help socialize design ideas with the client/company. Involve them in the process, share ownership of the outcomes, and give them supporting materials that they are comfortable with (if they like print, make a guidebook; if they are digital, create a microsite, etc.).

Designers need to help companies own the process by involving them in brainstorm sessions and giving them the tools to realize it’s okay to participate (Jared Spool spoke recently at at SF Sketchcamp where as a group we brainstormed ways for “non-designers” to participate in the sketching process. You can see visual notes from that session, thanks to Kate Rutter).

Thinking about this, it’s almost like “service design to help experience design succeed with companies.”

Peter mentioned, gone are the days of the “sexy, polished deliverable” for an early stage idea. Companies need designers who can iterate lithely and reach viable solutions before going on to epic levels of polish. Enter the age of the Post-It and gamestorming (although I would argue that for some designers, this thinking has been there all along). 

Don’t get caught up in the ego of ownership of ideas. Think “designer as facilitator.”  It is no longer the solo genius designer. Things are too complex these days and it’s only through collaboration that rich ideas emerge and can be developed.

In response, an audience member who identified herself as a former NASA intern offered  that  “championing ideas don’t always win fans, sometimes you need to smuggle them in the back door.” People want room to participate.

Lessons to learn from agile.
Peter mentioned agile engineering methods and startup mentality. “Three folks in a garage in San Mateo can more rapidly iterate..”

This resonated. Although my background is in environmental design, I have been developing product with an agile team for the past year. Attending events at SFDesignWeek made me realize how separate the two fields are, even in San Francisco. I am straddling two different worlds. There is something to be learned in the space between.

3. “The Future of Experience Design”

Lunch was ending, but we did talk briefly about the future of experience design.

“Experence design without empathy is empty.” -someone said this.

The panel mentioned some trends to watch:

Cloud computing.  Netflix: “Whatever screen you have, we are there.”

Data vs. hardware
Aggregation of data is becoming valuable. Right now there is still an emphasis on the object (examples: Fitbit, Nike+) but eventually hardware will be minimized so it will all be about data.

Last questions
Someone in the audience asked, how can I get my “traditional design focused” in-house department to value experience design? The panel suggested establishing “proof points” that she could show to her peers so they could start to see how a shift toward experience design brings value to the group. (Take the initiative, and create a ‘day in the life’ map of your customers, chart out key touchpoints and how they can be improved).

Another person in the audience wondered if this wasn’t all just the ruminations of privileged corporations. Peter mentioned Adaptive Path is working on a pro bono project: Hunchworks, a project to help the United Nations detect and avert disasters related to food, fuel, and financial factors.)

What do you think? Do you work in experience design? Did you attend the talk? What did you get from it?


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SXSWi Panel: Being a Career Generalist (audio record)

In April 2011, I participated at SXSWi on a panel with Poornima Vijayashanker and Rebecca Sinclair. We discussed the pros and cons of generalist and specialists skills based on our work experiences and personal temperment.

Most of the audience consisted of generalists; many of them trying to define and value their skills in a corporate culture. Our panel focused on how to work with groups as a generalist, how to work on a team with generalists and specialists, and how to find work environments that value your skills.

“Sometimes the deeper you dive, the broader it gets.”

Although I am certainly a “diverse generalist” (have you seen my work history?), the comment I uttered (quoted above) towards the end of the panel surprised myself, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Listen to audio of the panel.

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10 Accomplishments in 2010


Two plus years ago when I moved to San Francisco, east coast friends who had migrated here before me said that with the lack of seasons I would lose track of time and everything would blend together. They were right. I can’t believe this year is already over. To clarify time passing and in the spirit of Seth Godin’s post “What did you ship in 2010?” I asked myself, “What have I accomplished in 2010?”

Here are 10 things that made the list.

In 2010 I:

  1. Managed a coworking space (Citizen Space) and cultivated a dynamic community of independent workers. I will never forget that experience and I don’t doubt it will continue to inform how I work with people for the rest of my career. During 2010, I also led the redesign of the Citizen Space website and hired its first intern, the wonderful Renee Chu (who now works at Twilio).
  2. Learned the value of connecting with industry peers. Last January I introduced myself to other coworking and incubator-like spaces in San Francisco. I met with Ken Thom (Pier 38), Julian Nachtigal (Parisoma), Sasha Vasilyuk (SandboxSuites), and Iris Kavanagh (NextSpace SF). I reached out to coworking spaces outside of the area and met Alex Hillman (Independents Hall) and Tony Bacigalupo (New Work City). They all were welcoming and forthright in their experience running a coworking space. Thank you.
  3. Co-organized and taught “Toolbox: A workshop for startups” with Dan Olsen and Al Abut. The day long workshop sold out and was a success. I focused on a passion of mine: marketing for startups; Dan covered product management and Al spoke about interaction design. We lectured in the morning and taught hands-on sessions in the afternoon.
  4. Founded the San Francisco chapter of the Awesome Foundation. I serve as “Dean” and along with 10 fantastic and dedicated founding micro-trustees, we are funding Bay Area awesome projects, one grand at a time. Check out the Awesome Foundation and if your idea is awesome, apply!
  5. Launched my personal website in WordPress (and yeah, that made the list. Finally, a CMS for my own work)
  6. Designed. I created the identity for local band Backlit and also the peer to peer sharing site Clearbits, marketing materials for Nimbuzz, alumni materials for Tufts University, and conference programs for the National Association of Science Writers. For each of these projects, design was often a by-product of meetings where I asked tough questions and explored how best to communicate with people. It’s what I love to do.
  7. Kept in touch with my art roots. I also designed a 72 page exhibition catalogue for “Gods, Festivals and Kings: Art of the Yoruba Peoples” for the Hurst Gallery in Cambridge, MA and designed exhibition graphics for “Fiery Pool” a show of Mayan art. (Before moving to San Francisco and becoming involved with coworking and startups, I used to design museum exhibitions and still have a passion for everything art).
  8. Developed product scope, ux, design, and strategy with BizeeBee, a startup changing how yoga and fitness studios do business. I am consulting full-time with them now and am working with a passionate and talented team. Looking forward to what we accomplish in 2011.
  9. Started a much anticipated poster project and related micro-site for a close friend of mine who works for social justice non-profit, Keshet. The three series posters should be complete by spring 2011.
  10. Connected a lot of people. Much of that occurred during 1-9, but it still gets its own number. Throughout the year I met dozens of people who I helped meet other people or sent them resources (links, books suggestions) to move their idea forward. Knowledge connecting is a passion of mine and I try to bring that into everything I do.

What’s on the docket for 2011? There’s a lot happening with my work at BizeeBee; I have considered teaching another workshop, and will be speaking at SxSw in a panel organized by Poornima Viyashanker called “That’s not my job: being a career generalist”. Traveling to Asia is on my mind, and the half-marathon I did not train for in 2010 is still a goal to achieve in 2011. It’s going to be a good year.

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