Human Centered Design with Sina Mossayeb (Expa, formerly IDEO)


AirBnb created unscalable prototypes (like take brighter photos) to grow.

I attended a masterclass with Sina this afternoon. It was pretty fun, and it was a great reminder of why it’s important to stay close to our users. I’ve always been a fan of IDEO and have been moved by their work ever since I was in college. Here’s an old post I did about The Art of Innovation–it echoes the same concepts that Sina shared today.


By spending more time with our users and asking them questions around their work flow, we can understand their problems. They spend time actually in the homes of their customers, diving deep into the heart of the problems first (versus start with a solution and making assumptions).


The different groups sharing ideas and concepts.

One of the greatest take-aways is that creativity and innovation is not an efficient process. If you want efficiency, it’s best to go out and copy what’s already out there. If you want innovation, it’s an involved process and requires time to discover.


The classic IDEO rules of brainstorming.

IDEO has made a business around user centric design and innovation. They’ve helped some of the largest companies solve the most difficult problems. Sina went through a ton of examples—too many for me to list. If you have time, you should reach out to him and get a copy of his preso.


One of the early exercises to break the ice–draw the person to your right.

We spent time going through an exercise, exploring how to innovate around a toothbrush and oral hygiene. We posted as many problem areas as possible, and then followed up with potential solutions. Then we voted on the one that we wanted to explore.


Sticky notes with small illustrations, large legible type, drawn with permanent marker.

My group designed a Roomba for your mouth. We prototyped something that looked like a mouth guard out of playdoh. The opportunity and problem we wanted to solve was freeing up your hands and letting you multi-task. Brushing your teeth requires 3-6 minutes each time, so why not automate it?


A couple of small prototypes with drawings.

The next step in the design process would be to take the prototype to people and start getting feedback quickly, and iterate. Each time diving deeper into the problem we’re solving.


It was a great session—more importantly, it’s a reminder to stay closer to our users. As we launch our product, we need to walk in the shoes of people who use the product first and be human-centric.

Lastly, I wanted to share a couple of my favorite quotes from the session:

  • “Prototypes are sacrificial concepts. Build to learn.”
  • “People are not binary. What people say, think and feel is always contradictory.”
  • “Immerse yourself and become the person you are designing for. Go to their homes, to their workplace and where it matters. Take a look at their family album. Deep dive to find the problems.”
  • “The more creative you are, the more process and structure you need to put around it.”
  • “It’s not about listening to the expert, it’s about knowing the humans.”

I wanted to thank the Expa team for coordinating the event. This is the foundation of design, and it’s why I started in the first place. It’s too easy to get caught up with metrics, backlogs, etc. I need to go outside, get out of the pixels, and actually live with the users.

Speedflying on the edge of death

Go Pro video of Jamie Lee speed flying in Romania

Most of the time my Facebook feed shows me a bunch of garbage… but sometimes… just sometimes, you capture a nugget of something insane. This has got to be one of the most crazy things I’ve seen anyone do. BTW, how in the world does this video only have 819 views? Hat tip: Roger

Hot Pot with Joe and Jho

Justin and Joe in front of our first hot pot dinner together.”

It’s great to see these two back in town. It was fun hearing their tales of travel. Both Justin and Joe have been wandering around the world for the last couple months and their stories are pretty inspiring. They have endless tales of meeting new people, blazing new trails and getting occasional food poisoning. I’m hoping to have them over again so they can share more.

Dinner at Octavia with the Expa Squad

Photo of some of some folks from the Expa squad enjoying dinner at the chef’s table.

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve posted–I just wanted to take a second to thank Expa and team for inviting some us out for dinner. It’s great to get away from the office and just hang out with folks. Also, thanks Belinda for setting it up, as always. ^_^

The Minimal Life

A photo of my room in Bernal Heights SF.

I mentioned that I live a pretty minimal life… but I wanted to take a moment to actually show you what it looks like. Pretty much everything I own is in this room, right here. If you live in San Francisco, you know that this is the norm.

I’ve been doing this for about 3 years now, in exchange to build new products from the ground up and learn from the people around me. It’s kind of like college again–I live with roommates, I have a tiny little personal fridge, and I get around on my bike. There are some days I can’t believe I’m nearing 40 years old.

I definitely want to get a house at some point, but I need to make sure that my overall plan aligns with Annie… so I’ve put that on hold for a minute. I’m going to continue saving up for it, and when the time is right, it’s going to be amazing. I’m really looking forward to that day.

I miss having my own couch, TV, and extra room. But then again, I don’t miss having tons of stuff to worry about. For example, I miss driving around my Porsche 911… but it’s nice not having to worry about payments, insurance, personal property tax, expensive maintenance, etc. I also don’t have to worry about my other people dinging my car–yes, these were silly things that kept me up at night. Also, I don’t lose things anymore and I’m way more organized. Having less stuff and less space just forces me to keep everything folded and stowed away.

But it’s probably time to make a little compromise. I think I want to get a car again… I think that I want to explore a little more beyond the city limits. Yes, it would be fun to have a nice toy for the weekends, but I think I need something a little more practical. I’m considering a SUV or something I can camp out of. I’d like to take more trips to Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Sonoma, and all the national parks with redwood forests. I’d like dust off my fly fishing rod and give it a shot over here. And, I’d love to just drive down highway 1 just to enjoy the view and snag a couple of astrophotography shots.

I’ve got a couple of cars in mind, but I’d like to get some recommendations. Anyway, more on this soon.

Starting Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu again

It’s been well over a decade since I’ve trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). I’ve always wanted to start back up again–when I trained, it was a big part of my life… not just the martial art, but the way of life and the people around me. I actually still keep in touch with some folks that I used to train with. As much as people knock on Facebook, I actually enjoy seeing their updates.

I’ve been ramping BJJ back up again over the last 3 weeks, and I can say that I’m sore and out of shape. But it’s true what they say, it’s like riding a bike. There are several go-to moves that I still have, and it’s fun to catch people off guard (no pun intended). It’s coming back quickly, and I’m hoping that I can keep this up for a while.

Anyway, I wanted to share 3 points in this post:

1. I miss the people that I used to train with.
If you’re one of my old comrades reading this, I hope you’re doing well. I’m reminded of the good ol’ days as hit the mat again. One of the people that I miss the most is Mark Smith. I used to train with him and his son, Ian. Mark passed away a few years ago, and I still find myself emotional thinking about all the times we shared together. I don’t talk about it much, but he was the one that got me to join his school–I didn’t realize that it would have so much impact on me. As I roll with folks, I’m reminded of all our good times talking about martial arts, watching UFC and training together.

2. I need to find my identity outside of work.
I’ve found myself living a minimalist life in San Francisco. I’m proud to have downsized my life, living with less, spending less, etc. The only problem with minimalism is that I the majority of my time is focused on work or growing in my career. I’ve found that most of my conversations somehow gravitate back to work or a project that I’m building. Don’t get me wrong–work, design and my team are a huge part of life, but sometimes it’s probably consumed me. Like any addiction, too much is not healthy. BJJ is bringing back a part of me that I’ve needed for a long time. I’ve had a chance to activate my mind in a different way, forcing me to be creative, observative, and most of all, inspired. I think this is the first of many things to come to extend my network and I’m hoping to tap into a new source of creative energy.

3. Humility is one of the most important lessons.
The act of tapping (a submission), is a way to communicate with your sparring partner that they have reached check-mate. Once you tap, you start over again. While the goal is not to get submitted, it’s part of process. If you don’t tap, you don’t learn. There’s a deeper meaning, and I think this is one of the most important lessons that I’m reminded of. If you want to learn, you have to be willing to tap. It’s how you build muscle memory and defensive tissue so it can avoid it next time.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now. While I love BJJ, it comes with a cost. I’m pretty bruised up, sore and exhausted. But my spirits are revitalized. If you’re in SF and you want to train, hit me up.