- Artwork by Eli Jorgensen
Cassie McDaniel inspires us to get away from the ‘pick me’ mindset, and to pick ourselves. She challenges us to be willing to kill our darlings so that something better can emerge. She teaches us the importance of knowing our values, but also embracing the fact that they are going to change. She also encourages us to not just do what we’re good at, but do what we enjoy.
Cassie McDaniel runs a small, ambitious, friendly design studio with her husband called Jane & Jury. As previous Design Director at the Mozilla Foundation, she led a team of designers on the organization’s advocacy and digital literacy fronts. She founded the interview series Women&&Tech and runs a creative event and workshop series called Paris Lectures. She grew up in Florida, jumped around in England, and is now based an hour outside Toronto in rural Ontario, where she is deeply invested in the roots she puts down into her community both locally and online. She’s both a national champion collegiate water polo player, and a published poet.
- Secret Identity (8:27)
- Origin Story (20:56)
- Being Mozilla Foundation’s Design Director (24:09)
- Biggest Failure (36:36)
- Kill Your Darlings (40:24)
- Design Superpower (52:54)
- Habit of Success (62:59)
- Invincible Resource (67:39)
- Best Advice (70:33)
Jane & Jury Twitter
One of Cassie’s published poem’s
Diabetes app Cassie worked on
Alphonse Chaponis (First official UX Designer)
Stop saying, “Pick me! Pick me!” Pick yourself. [ARTICLE]
What if designers actually used the things they design? [ARTICLE]
How to be Polite [ARTICLE]
Live Recording at An Event Apart Denver [VIDEO]
The ability to ask questions. It’s a valuable skill to talk to somebody and make them feel like you’re actually listening. Just be curious about what they’re saying.
Jason: Welcome to User Defenders, Cassie, I’m super-excited to have you on the show today! And I had a fun fact about you but I forgot to include it here.
Cassie: Okay! It wasn’t that fun, I can tell you what it was, do you remember?
Jason: I have it now. I have it here but yeah
Jason: Go ahead!
Cassie: Just the two other sides of my life but were very large parts of my life were writing and so I published poetry and short stories a few years ago, so you could still Google me and find things that I’ve written online. I was also a collegiate athlete. We went to Nationals when I was in college. I played water polo and we won, we got third place in national. I was a starter on that team, so I’m still really proud of that even though I don’t practice water polo anymore but it’s kind of a badass, kind of hardcore part of my life that I think is still deeply embedded.
Jason: I would say so, I think that’s probably one of the most physically tasking sports around, would you agree?
Cassie: I would agree and it can be quite violent. I think it’s more violent in the male sport than in the female sport but it’s certainly aggressive and very competitive and really intense you know you’re constantly swimming. So, it’s very high endurance and strategic. It is a very strategic game which I really like and quick. So, I think all of those things have contributed to the way that I compete. I would say I don’t think I’m as competitive as I used to be but all of those things are part of how I think about working in teams and being aggressive but not in a constructive sort of way.
Jason: Yeah, and I absolutely agree, I think that there’s things out there that kind of light a fire under us and help us to make a difference, so I think there’s good things for that about kind of that competitive edging and frankly I wish that somebody would have a more competitive edge on music options out there for online music because; I’m really get the second Spotify UX.
Cassie: Yeah, sure, I hear you! And then I included the other one and the poetry publishing because you don’t always – I mean we think of things in such a broad bucket and we stereotype people and you don’t think of an athlete as being a gentle soul or vice versa right. So, I think it’s important to be well rounded. I think that might be a theme of our conversation thinking ahead but we’ll see.
Jason: I have a feeling it will be Cassie because; you are a fascinating designer and person and individual and I know we’ve only met once at the recently at An Event Apart Conference in Denver which was amazing and thank you for being on the panel which was incredible, by the way. I will be releasing that fairly soon here Defenders listening so yeah, I will be releasing it and it could even come out before this because I’ve got a couple episodes before this time but anyway, great time and I’ve done a lot of reading, I’ve done a lot of research and you’re fascinating Cassie that’s why I’m so glad you’re here because; I know you have a lot a ton of value to offer. You’ve got that creative brain and also that tech brain, so it’s like you’re kind of a rare breed to have both sides of that. So, I definitely want to dive of a lot more into that.
Every superhero has a secret identity an origin story, let’s talk about yours. We talked a little bit but I’d like to start the show by you taking a few moments just to give us a look into your personal life, like what kind of things you’d like to do when you’re not working, tell us about your family a little bit things like that.
Cassie: I feel like I’m a pretty open book, a lot of my recent life over the past ten years or so is on the internet and I mean who has time to read through all that but it’s you know I’m very open and a lot of people are very private about their lives but I’m really not. I integrate my life into the way that I work and what I do.
So, right now, I run a studio with my husband Mark, it’s called Jane and jury and we work out of our home. We have a small studio at home that we’ve converted our basement space into a meeting room and a little design studio with a couple of desks and we have our kids at home. So, I’ve got a 4-year-old daughter who just started school this year and an 18 month old daughter and so they are home with us except for when our distance is in school, they’re home with us 24/7, we don’t have daycare or anything. We just run our business, we swap out for childcare. It’s going to be literally tag hands and take over, whoever is not working is watching kids and vice versa. That pretty much runs our life right now, it is very intense but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
I also have a frame shop. I do some picture framing. The other half of our basement runs that part of our business, so it’s really just to get off the computer and do something more hands-on and I enjoy doing it. So we have that going on too and we run an event series sometimes called pairs lectures and we were doing workshops for a little while, we’ve kind of stopped doing that for a bit. We volunteer as well we volunteer for our kid’s school, we volunteer for other local initiatives, we have a lot of local clients right now, although we’re trying to branch out and do some bigger stuff now that we have a bit more time.
Time is kind of runs our lives, my life that all kind of mishmash is into one and we are totally at the discretion of time. I think as we’ve gotten older, we realized that life is really about resource management and if you take away from one section of your life then if you’re giving it to someone else then it’s literally taking away sleep or time for dinner or something like that.
So, we’re a lot more precious with the kinds of things that we put on and take on but yeah that’s life. My family is all down in Florida so and Mark’s family is all in Switzerland and England, so we do everything ourselves, we don’t you know besides our neighbors and friends, we really kind of do it all ourselves, we don’t have parents that baby bit or that sort of thing.
Jason: Do you have some friends that will like cover for you guys to go on dates and stuff like that?
Cassie: Occasionally! Not super often. We actually have made a lot of older friends here which is interesting and some of them never had kids, so they’re kind of surrogate grandparents for us and we do babysit swaps and all this is kind of mundanely logistical but it might be interesting to some of your listeners.
Jason: Yeah, well, I think it shapes us right. I mean all of our paths shape who we are and it shapes our output as well, our creative output and speaking of that I know that where you guys live, you move to Paris Ontario, how long ago was that?
Cassie: That’s three years ago.
Jason: Okay! So fairly recently, I get the sense that it’s made a pretty big impact on both you and your husband and your work and I’m really curious like I’d like to know how living in a small town and an inspiring town has affected your creative outputs?
Cassie: Sure! Well, I will say I mean it’s a very small town, its 10,000 people. It is only an hour and a half from Toronto, so any kind of creative juice that you need it’s just a drive away but it’s pretty quiet, it’s pretty sleepy, it’s pretty rooted in the way that things have always been done and that’s what’s kind of nice about it, it’s not changing all the time. The people that you need here are in it for the long haul. You develop real relationships with them that are lasting. I mean we’ve met people on the street here that have become our best friends, just walking down the road that we see them now all the time right that just doesn’t happen in cities or it doesn’t happen as frequently and of course the people that we work with.
We didn’t launch our own business when we first moved here. We were here and I was working remotely for Mozilla for the first year and a half and then I went on mat leave and so our business is still relatively young but most of the business that we have had so far in our first year just because; of the way that we’ve launched things, I think is local, so friends and people that have come out to our local events, our local creative meet-up series is all just people in town.
It had an impact because; those are the immediate resources available to us but it’s also I think the change in lifestyle, it has been pretty significant, things slow down, we’re still very busy but things slowed down in terms of people will come to your door like we’ve had literally, people come to our doorstep and knock on our door and say thank you for running this creative event series, thank you for running pairs lectures and that’s kind of cool because they just appreciated what we brought to the community so much and we’re grateful as well for that kind of feedback, it’s really feels quite precious.
Jason: Yeah, absolutely! I mean how cool was that, that people actually coming to your house to thank you in person not just like texting you or dropping you an email or whatever like that’s pretty neat, I love that.
Cassie: I think it’s also just being in Paris has made us realize that you can find something interesting or creatively inspiring really wherever you are but we started a blog about our experiences, exploring everywhere here and again, the kind of feedback we were getting was “I’ve lived here for 35 years and I’ve never heard of that place, I can’t believe you’re here, just discovering all these crazy places that I’ve lived here for so long and I’ve never been there” but it’s all about keeping an open mind and seeing things with fresh eyes and you can really do that anywhere, it doesn’t have to be a beautiful small town which I am partial to believe Paris is, you know we’ve got rivers running through, it really is pretty but it could be the suburbs anywhere. It really is just your perspective and what kind of history you dig out. History is a big source of inspiration for us. Every place has its people and its history and those are the things that make it fascinating and authentic and real I think.
Jason: Yeah, I know! Architecture is a big part of the inspiration around there as well. It seems like a lot of older architecture and even the home you guys moved into you said that it was built in the 1850s and it was used as a funeral home in the 1970. Now, that is fascinating Cassie, were you guys scared of ghosts and how many thousands of times as have you been ask this?
Cassie: I have been asked a lot; you know we’re not really ghosts’ people. Although, it’s kind of fun if we have people come stay with us who are ghost people. They have to be prepared for a little bit of joking and knocking on windows and that sort of thing.
Jason: Oh man, you could have an interesting Halloween party there for sure.
Cassie: Well, yes! I have wanted to really deck out the front yard with gravestones and things but Mark says it might be a little insensitive [laughter]. We’re working up to it, I would love it. Also our kids are young but once they’re older I think it would be really fun to have a spooky’s house in town.
Jason: Yeah, there you go. There’s something you can start planning towards.
Cassie: Yeah! Architecture here is super interesting. There’s cobblestone buildings, it’s known as the cobblestone capital of the world which is just people with this architecturally by boughten with hire little kids basically to go down to the river and collect these fist-sized stones and then he would lay them into horizontally into the exterior of the buildings in rows. So, has this really interesting look to them and it’s so time intensive to have done but it’s really unique and there’s 13 of them in Paris, I think I don’t know how many, I think the only other ones are it’s somewhere in New England.
So, that’s really interesting but I think for me what’s even more interesting than that those are here is that nobody really knows about it and nobody is really preserving them and it makes me feel like anything that we can do here to raise awareness around them and to encourage the protection of them makes me feel important like we have a role to play and that we can have an impact on something which to me is just a really important feeling. I don’t like spinning my wheels or feeling like I’m doing something that isn’t important. I mean there probably could be nothing that frustrates me more than that feeling so the small town fits me in that way.
Jason: I love that and I’d like that you and your husband have taken on this, nobody asked you to do this, nobody’s like saying oh you got to do this but you like you guys were inspired enough to do this and it’s really bringing that awareness like you said to the to this town, the small town that with so much to offer and then maybe the flipside is that a ton of people are going to start moving there and over populating it now that you guys are making it so awesome.
Cassie: I’m not going to lie that is a concern, people are definitely complaining about it and there’s a designer, I don’t know if you’ve heard of them, chip and pepper. They made a designer jeans brand and the 80s maybe yes knows the 80s. They kind of started there from I want to say in Manitoba or Winnipeg’s maybe. They started out of their van, they moved down to LA and started selling these jeans out of their brand and they’ve become like a run in the 80s.
They were really popular and then so they kind of matured and created more fashion brands and one of them married somebody from Paris or from this area and when they got divorced, she moved back here with the kids and so he set up a temporary home in Paris. So his million dollar jeans designer setting up and he decided to open a new brand here called “Paris Cerf” and it’s like a joint pizza shop and selling these fancy $200 jeans and you know which really just does not suit the local sentiment. People are rate cautious with money, I don’t see people spending more than 80 dollars on a pair of jeans.
But the fact that this is here in this sleepy little town, it was so absurd and strange but we wrote about it on our blog and so one of the comments that we had I think that the article started out like Paris Cerf has no business being in Paris but if you went on to read it, it was like well this is why it’s so frankly weird and absurd that this is here but the person just read the first line and they were like why is Jean and Juri get to decide who can start a business in Paris and it was kind of very vitriolic and you know just the internet.
There is a lot of that in small towns and you do have to be careful about what you say because it’s harder for a long time and there’s certainly a lot of people who are not that happy about us sharing local secrets but I don’t know, it is what it is we are certainly not the reason why the town is growing and is we’re part of that growth. I think that if you’re going to be a part of something you might as well add a positive contribution to it and kind of as just is what it is nobody likes change.
Jason: Yeah, absolutely! I think it’s great you guys are doing that. But tell us your origin story Cassie, what inspired you to pursue a career in this exciting challenging and ever-evolving field?
Cassie: I went to University of Florida and I had mainly because I got a scholarship and could go for free. I think I know it’s staying in state I grew up in Florida and I could stay in state and go to school at a state university for zero money. I did that and I was attracted to the art program and so I started out studying painting and class more classical art and then I had a teacher that suggested why don’t you look at graphic design and I did a little bit and I discovered it was all about both words and pictures and that was just perfect for me because I had always liked writing, I’d always liked art and so the program that I enrolled in was amazing, it still is amazing.
The School of Art was 1200 but the graphic design program was only 30 students, it was a two-year thing. It’s pretty competitive to get into and then you had a 24/7 studio at your access and so I just really loved the challenge of that, I really it suited my way of thinking which was artistic and poetic but also wanting to be useful and to help people, so I felt like the service part of my brain and the problem-solving part of my brain and the poetic expressive part of my brain, all of those were being met by graphic design.
So, that’s what I got a degree in was graphic design and then I just naturally gravitated toward technology and working on the web and then over the last 15 years or so have seen, a lot of the job titles changed but the core offerings and the skill sets that I’ve needed have really just been honed over the years and not really changed that much because I haven’t gone into the code side of things but more just graphic design, design thinking, user experience design, it all has kind of been in my mind and in my experience the same bucket.
So then after, I don’t just may be going into too much depth but after graphic design, I took an exchange program in my last semester in England because I just had never traveled outside of the States and I really wanted to go see the world and so I enrolled at the University of Leeds and did an exchange program there, I ended up getting a job in London and working for a small design company there, web design and working with big brands and everything. And then I kind of flirted around agency world and small digital boutiques and then I moved to Toronto and then worked in a larger advertising agency and hated that and I imagine we’ll get back to this but then I took a break and worked in healthcare, worked on my own writing and creative endeavors and then I began at Mozilla. So that was kind of where I’m at now because after Mozilla, I started gene injury and that wasn’t too long ago.
Jason: Yeah! The Mozilla opportunity that seemed like a really great opportunity for you in your career like the Design Director for Mozilla Foundation that’s pretty awesome like how did that happen like I know there’s a series of steps that brought you to that place but how did that open up for you that opportunity like how did that come about, I’m really curious?
Cassie: I want to kind of change your question around because I don’t think it did open up for me, I think I opened it up and I don’t want to take complete credit for that but it was definitely a case of building my own job role and so I started as a UX designer at Mozilla Foundation, I was working in healthcare, I was actually newly pregnant and I really hated where I was at and so I needed to get out of there, I need to find something that I was going to like and want to come back to after I had a baby. So, I worked really hard to get the attention of people there and it took many emails.
It took lots of resourcefulness and trying to find other people I knew in my community that worked there and thankfully I was already a part of the Toronto scene a bit, so that I had some connections there but it took some persistence to get my first interview and then once I got my interview, I think I was in the door and it was really just a matter of figuring out where my skills would best be used and where I could and how to get the most enjoyment out of the work. So, I interviewed really with both the foundation and the corporation side and the foundation sides I don’t know do I need to explain that a little bit.
Jason: Yeah! Sure!
Cassie: Okay! Well, so Mozilla is a lot of people don’t know this but it’s kind of got two sides to it the corporation side which builds Firefox and the foundation side which does more of the nonprofit advocacy stuff and previously a little bit more digital literacy stuff, so they don’t do so much of that anymore I don’t think but so I really decided to go toward the nonprofit side because; I felt like I wanted to have a little bit more impact there and it was a smaller team, it was scrappier and again I felt like I could do more there.
So, over the course of that year before I had my baby there the nine months really, I really kind of built up more of a design culture, it was very technical at the time I worked mostly with developers, there was one other designer who’s really only designer half time and tried to educate people really on what was possible with design and in doing that I think I built a bit more of a reputation, I built rapport with lots of different people and so when I returned from my mat leave, it was a kind of a clear step into more of a lead position.
So, then I led a team of front end designers and UX designers and when things were shifting around again within the team I sort of put my hand up and said you know I really think that a design Director Position would give ownership to the work. It would make for a more productive team and simultaneously someone was doing that on the engineering side too, so we teamed up and it worked, it fell into place.
It was an excellent opportunity for me and I believe catapulted my career. Not just a name recognition of Mozilla, although I think that’s a part of it but also the amount of experience I got has really thrown into the fire, I mean really looking back I had no right to become design director of anything but I think at the same time I had a little bit of the strategy that was needed, I had a little bit of the technical ability that was needed, I could see big picture stuff, so I was suited for it in that way but I really had no management experience right. So I learned a lot when I was there and grew in a lot of different ways and figured out a lot about myself and what I needed and wanted as a creative person.
Jason: That’s so cool! I love that you just jumped into this and you went after it do like you said and thank you for correcting me on that like it didn’t open up for you, you opened up that door and I think there’s that Defenders there’s just a lot of takeaway in that it’s don’t wait for something to fall in your lap like I mean I think about the American Idol and like the voice you know those contests where it’s like pick me! Pick me! It just brings you back to like elementary school playground where it’s like you just wanted to get picked to be on the team and you know it’s like no prove yourself, prove your value and go after it right, I just love that for sure.
Cassie: Yeah, that something I really want to teach my daughters is that because I think the landscape has changed so much from when our parents were growing up, you know it really was pick me and there were so many gatekeepers that you had to get around and that’s definitely still the case right, there’s so much privilege and you know privilege that we don’t even know we have but at the same time there so many opportunities as well for you to just do your own thing, find your own community and to determine your own success so with your own metrics for success.
It doesn’t have to be a design director for a large tech company right. It can be and I’ve always been a proponent as well I’ve done a lot of hiring and a lot of advice for friends who need jobs and I always say your resume is just what you see – it’s the story that you decide to tell. It’s not great because somebody else said it was great. It’s great because of what you got out of it and how you decide to frame your experience if that makes sense.
Jason: Yeah, it sure does. I love that. So, I’m curious Cassie about your role as a director, as a manager and again as you said like this was like you were thrown into the fire you know but you kind of allowed yourself you threw yourself into the fire of this thing and we’re willing to take on all those responsibilities of a kind of learning on the job and learning how to lead every nerds, that’s certainly something that it takes practice, it takes time.
So first of all, kudos to you for jumping into such an important role and taking it on headfirst but I’m curious too like I guess a couple of questions I have about this is one: were you worried about not getting your hands dirty as much? I know that when you become a manager as a designer that becomes really is more 80/20 kind of thing where like maybe 80% of it is more managing your people and kind of the strategy and then 20% if even it is getting your hands dirty with design. Was that a concern for you, how did you mitigate that as a creative person?
Cassie: In for sure was a concern and I mean there’s a lot of nuance here because I think because having kids makes everything so nuanced but [crosstalk] when I returned though from my mat leave right, I was still breastfeeding, I was still very hands-on with my daughter even though I was working full-time again and so I felt like the time that I had to do things had changed the available time and obviously, this is in hindsight, it took me a long time to realize this about myself and about how my initiatives and priorities had changed but I had much less time to really get into the headspace that you need to find the flow for a creative and technical work.
And so it really suited me to be a little bit more of a project manager role, to provide direction overarching vision and also to just provide feedback for a team versus getting into the intricacies of the work itself and I’m not saying I enjoyed that just as much because ultimately, I don’t think I did and that’s I’ve gone back to doing more design work and starting our own business was so that I could more hands-on and get back into that realm of things
But I think it’s a really common thing that new design managers do is to take on the management role but try to keep their hands in the work as well and so you end up doing more than is humanly possible or trying to and then you end up failing on every front and I certainly did that, I really truly think I did and I learned from it and I don’t think I’d do that again. So, if I were to go into management again, it would have to be a very clear decisive thing and I would have a better idea of when I was getting myself into but trying to still design and make things and also manage people is just too much, I mean for that scale of things it was too much and so I don’t think I was a wonderful manager and I don’t think I was a wonderful designer during that time and thank goodness that they gave me the opportunity anyway because I learned so much.
Jason: I love your humility Cassie. I want to ask you, what was your biggest lesson that you learned as a design leader leading people in a design strategy at Mozilla, what was your biggest lesson?
Cassie: I don’t know about biggest, I mean that was certainly that was certainly one of them was that I just I like to believe that I can do it all and I really couldn’t but let’s see in terms of managing people, this is like management 101 but I really learned that you cannot just tell people what to do, you really have to lead people to a decision, to get people on board with your vision and I apply that lesson today even with my family, when my family can’t decide where to go out to eat or something you got to convince them, you got to tell them a story about the last time you were at that restaurant and you’ve got to make them want to go and eat there with you.
It’s the same kind of thing design direction and because when you know I’ve been a part of those teams and I don’t know why it’s so easy to forget because it wasn’t that long ago that I was really doing the work and being told what to do 24/7 as well. When you’re in that and you’re just being told what to do and you feel like you don’t have any ownership over it, of course that feels you’re not going to be as responsive or that into it but when you feel like you’re a part of the team and you’re making those decisions together that is probably the best momentum you can create for your team and then ultimately you know management was about removing hurdles and getting out of people’s way, letting them building the kind of scenarios where they could use their strengths to thrive and for your products to thrive.
So, all of those things were really instructive to me and I think it’s interesting because I’m doing so little of what I used to do then at Mozilla, am doing so little of that now but I think some of those lessons about how to interact with people, how to create systems that for example now I’m doing mostly client work. How can I create systems for the clients to use their strengths and to get out of their way? Whereas not just saying use this logo or use this branding system right, it’s like it’s more working with people and getting them on board with your vision for something so that they can then take it and run with it but I’d say that’s probably the biggest skill that I acquired which I guess is a sort of lesson.
Jason: Absolutely! And it’s playing the long game, I think that’s one thing I’ve learned and I’m still learning and probably will be learning rest of my life is when you’re leading people you really need to invest and you need to not demand that respect and respect is never demanded it’s always earned. That’s a big lesson and I think that some of the worst managers in the world should actually be on bored at an HOA right? Like do this, do that and it’s like wait, what does the other person need, what are their challenges, how can you serve them to help them in that right?
Cassie: And the other thing as well is that you talked about respect. It’s so easily lost and so difficult to gain back, so you have to be really careful and measured and how you respond to things, how you react to stress, how you lead during stressful conversations. Those things are hard to control and really easy to get wrong. So, I learned a little bit more about how to control my own emotions and the way that I say things and present things to people as well.
Jason: Those are great lessons. So, I want to switch gears here and talk about failure and I know failure is not a fun topic, it’s not something we want to put on our LinkedIn resume of course our LinkedIn profile but it is one of life’s greatest teachers and certainly and it distinct with a superhero theme. I think every superhero that we’ve read about in comics that they’ve had pretty significant failures but they’ve learned from those and we’re all human. So, I want to ask you Cassie, could you tell us the story about maybe what’s been one of the biggest ones in your career?
Cassie: Sure! Well, going back to Mozilla for a second which is funny because it really is the highlight of my career so far I guess I’m slowly building it back up with Jean and Juri but so far I’d say Mozilla is a high point on my resume and yet when I started there, I started as a User Experience/User Interface Designer for a product called web maker which is no longer and I suppose that itself is my biggest failure in that, I was the only designer for that. I helped to make the vision board of course there were other political things going on with it behind the scenes but I really helped shape that product into what it was.
It was designed to help people make things on the web you know we were seeing a lot of passivity on Facebook scrolling, clicking, liking and it felt like we wanted people to be able to have tools that made making creative things of their own visions online and so I feel like it had a really big directive and as a designer I know now that part of my role would have been to ask even harder questions and during my time there I saw it turned from a website and web apps into a mobile app and then it just got killed and so I spent a long time many hours designing that tool, working on that tool, being in meetings, building teams to work on that tool.
On almost every aspect of it and to see it die was a hard thing at the time and now I kill things all the time. It’s so much easier now but at the time it was a big deal and to see something big with actually with lots of users be killed was kind of hard to see because you’re like you’ve got all these people, you know it’s not big enough for the vision of Mozilla, they really wanted to have worldwide impact with millions of users.
I think I can’t remember where we ended up but it was surely over a hundred thousand users but still to see those people who loved the product, kind of have to stop using it because we stopped supporting it was difficult but necessary, it’s so necessary and I actually see from afar, I see Mozilla doing similar things of stopping doing this and stopping doing that and while I feel for the teams that are no longer able to work on it, I also feel like it’s wow that probably should have happened in the beginning and it’s going to contribute to a greater success on their part in my opinion.
Jason: There’s a lot to think about there with sun setting things with killing things and again it’s hard when you’re so involved and you’ve worked so hard to create something and to be a part of creating something but it there is a lot of wisdom in doing that quite often especially when you look at the performance and you look at the users and kind of what’s happening there may be another opportunity somewhere else that’s greater.
And so I think that’s a really great takeaway for me and I kind of wish sometimes I wish Facebook even though I don’t use it very much, I wish that they would sunset their separate message app like why not just let people do it inside of you know when you go on your mobile app like they make you download an extra app if you want to just send private messages certain things you just think like why, why does that exist but anyway what do you want our listeners to take away from that Cassie?
Cassie: For just on Facebook I feel like there’s for sure technical reasons for doing that but anyway, it’s hard right being on the team and I really do feel and so many people that work on that product have inherited other people’s decisions right and having a billion users or whatever is not easy to make changes and get it back on track. So, I feel for that and I think maybe that’s part of the lesson is that as young designers and I really see it in more junior designers, you get so wrapped up in what you’re making that it’s hard to take anybody’s advice onboard, it’s hard to accept feedback, it’s hard to accept criticism for sure and then as you get older and you just kind of want to go home and have dinner with your family don’t want to work until 10 o’clock at night or whatever at the office or come in on weekends, you kind of start to let go of that attachment to the things that you’re making.
And I think that the sweet spot is really somewhere in between where you can be passionate and work your ass off on things you know 9:00 to 5:00 and be balanced but also you really still care about it but you can also at the end of the day put it down, let it go or you can accept people’s feedback and incorporated that and your product will be better for it and I use product loosely right on. I’m meaning that’s just the things that we build, the things that we make, and things that we invest ourselves into. It’s not a concrete thing and that life that’s being a human, there is no you must be ‘’A’’ or you must be ‘’B’’, it’s really somewhere in the middle that the sweet spot is going to lie.
Jason: That’s so good Cassie. It makes me think of I interviewed Golden Krishna who wrote a book of “The Best Interfaces Is No Interface” and one of the questions and I’m going to ask you this question Cassie as well but the question I asked was what’s your best advice for aspiring you as superheroes and he said your stuff isn’t good enough and it never will be.
Cassie: That’s awesome! Can I just I say that?
Jason: No, but I just wanted to share that because they he kind of went on because at first I was like what! Like come on, tell me there’s more, he’s like yeah, there’s more. He’s like, we’re designers and we want to make things better. We’re designers because we want to make things better and even though it’s something’s really good now it could be better in the future and right so I think the point is that we should always be striving to make things better and frankly that can also mean killing something that’s not good enough
Cassie: Yeah, absolutely! I can’t remember who wrote this originally but I remember coming across an article and this is pre-medium about a developer describing their experience and why they had the outlook that they had on life which is that they spend 90% to 95% of their time every day, staring at a list of things that are wrong with their work, bugs that they have to fix and I felt similarly at the time that design was the same, it’s like you’re looking for holes in your work, you’re trying to critique your own work. You’re being self-critical, you’re trying to make it better yeah and I mean that’s a positive way of saying that you’re constantly criticizing your own stuff, you have to in order to grow and to do what you have to do otherwise you would just open up a file and make your thing and then be done with it right, you wouldn’t be able to improve upon.
So, it’s a necessary evil but it’s also, I don’t know where I’m going that but I definitely feel someone, you’re never done, your work is never done which is a privilege to write. I don’t think designers will ever be out of work that there’s a fear of automation and certainly I don’t know perhaps enough about it but I think that certain front-end tasks might be automated but as a designer and over the years, I mentioned job titles changing so much user experience design was not even a thing when I started and I’m sure a lot of the people you’ve interviewed and so how do you make the long life’s career out of this work.
It’s you’re flexible, you’re adaptable and you take your core skills and keep applying those which to me is as a designer it’s just the ability to ask questions. It’s to want to learn more and to find out how you can help and then what becomes clear to me is that design is a way of thinking that not everyone has developed. It’s a way of looking at the problem. It’s a willingness to learn new technologies and to try things out.
Jason: Absolutely agree and I think adding to what you just said, you said it’s a necessary evil I and say it’s a necessary evil and unnecessary good right. Being able to do that and then I think that I want to just also say that there’s an opportunity right now for a UI designer at the Hawaiian government.
Cassie: Oh cool, yeah! [Laughter]
I totally missed that, I was on vacation when that happened so I wasn’t paying attention.
Jason: Defenders you probably don’t talk about its but it’s like the whole day I guess there’s a drop-down menu that allows a nuclear warning to go through everybody’s phones. Kind of like an Amber Alert but yet there’s like but in this case it’s like a nuclear warhead coming at you. So, somebody clicked the wrong button so I know and that’s all the rage like I just put a blog post about kind of similar about what we’re talking about designers using our stuff, so we can make it better for other people but I don’t think that’s going to get any traction amidst all of this usability stuff with Hawaii but that’s just crazy.
Cassie: It well! What’s crazy to me is that they just didn’t have the checks in place. I mean so you know I mentioned that I worked in health care for a time and so I actually worked on a human factors team which is kind of a special area of knowledge which came from airplane design and design interface – biplanes and then…
Jason: Alphonse Chapanis
Cassie: Sure! I don’t know who that is but…
Jason: He was basically the first psychologist to kind of affect UX. I think it technically could be the first UX designer because he was brought in to in the aviation and the only reason this is so fresh in my mind I just was reading about this yesterday. He was brought in because pilots kept crashing these planes and he came in and realized that by his observation and he realized that the controls for the landing gears and the flaps were almost identical and that so at the critical moment instead of getting landing gears the pilots are hitting flaps and they were crashing. And so he basically did put a circle on you know use haptic feedback which was really smart because they didn’t have automation then he use haptic feedback, he put a circle kind of texture on top of the landing gear control and he put a triangle on top of the flaps control and it solved the problem. Anyway, go ahead, sorry.
Cassie: Yeah, no! I mean that’s actually really sad to think about that the design can lose lives. That’s certainly not true of most of the work that we do but occasionally it’s true and that’s why I enjoyed working in healthcare was because the work felt so impactful and you could actually lose lives really or gain lives you know you could help people.
So, I worked in a little lab designing apps, really mobile apps for self-care of chronic disease and you know we were its health care is the long game, you really kind of test things for about seven years before you see any design in practice but like out in the real world but over that time you test and test and test and so we had a human factors testing lab and you get to see people using it and they do studies before the general population is allowed to use it. So we did an app for chronic Welford for diabetes, type 1 diabetes and we saw that teenagers who are using this app could actually track their diabetes better by using this so that was kind of cool but on the scene…
Jason: Oh, yeah! I’m already reading about this, yeah
Cassie: Yeah, but on the same side right like you can design interface whether it’s for mission control or public population in Hawaii being warned about a incoming missile or a medical device interface where it really can save one life or take one life and so I don’t know. I enjoyed that part of it was just a difficult scene to work within.
Jason: Yeah! I have to swipe to confirm buying coffee filters from Amazon but in order to warn people about a nuclear warhead it’s just a one click away people.
Cassie: Yeah! I also think that problem is worth discussing. When I worked in healthcare I started out at that job thinking that I was going to stay there forever and I have found my life’s work. I had found my mission because; they so clearly needed my help. So, I started a blog, I was writing about all the things that I was learning and one of the main things I was doing was trying to get other designers interested in healthcare trying to make them see that they could be useful here and we really had a difficult time hiring new designers and part of it was that the work just wasn’t seen as sexy and so you get everybody vying for positions at these large tech companies and nobody doing the hard work of government or education or healthcare.
So, I think that we have a bit of an obligation to consider those kinds of positions as well and especially people in education right, if you take your entire design class or what kinds of jobs could they have when they graduate and you only take them to ad agencies, I don’t know if we’re you know doing them a disservice because; those kinds of jobs can be fulfilling. Of course, I stay all this with the certain amount of humility because I’ve left healthcare and I figured out that it wasn’t for me but I also feel like I did my time in a way but I really respect people who work in that arena.
They’re usually super smart passionate people and they just need a little bit. They need more people because these are hard problems that are being solved I mean you’d think it would be that hard to put a check in place though for that mission, for that missile method.
Cassie: It’s pretty basic yeah
Jason: There’s a lot of learning, I know that this is I mean there’s a lot of conversation, so I think it’s good that it happened and nothing happened right. It’s good that it wasn’t real and that now we can fix and that can be fixed which is great and learning a lot of learning from this for sure.
So, Cassie this next question is and I’m going to kind of give you a little backstory here because I actually adopted this question from you which is interesting yeah because when I first started the show two years ago, I was kind of doing research trying to find super guests to be on the show and I found you, I think I stumbled across you back then and I was reading about you and I actually saw that part of your interview process at Mozilla you ask a series of questions you would ask potential designers to join the team and I think this is one of your questions that you asked your designers and has like that’s a great question and it fits my theme, so here it goes: what’s your design superpower?
Cassie: Oh God! Did I ask that?
Jason: I am pretty sure.
Cassie: Oh God! I’m sorry to everyone.
Jason: It’s one of my favorite questions to ask my guests so thank you Cassie
Cassie: Well, I think there’s a value in knowing what you’re good at and a lot of people cannot answer that question right. Like “Oh yeah, I just you know I show up at work every day and I do what I’m told”. No, that’s not what I want from a designer that’s on my team. I would want somebody that kind of knows what they’re good at and at the same time knows what they’re bad at so that we can create a more rounded team, obvious manager right now but it’s useful in your own career as well to just knowing where you want to go, what kinds of skills you want to develop, what kinds of things you really don’t want to do that can be as useful as knowing what you want to do. So, anyway, I’m not answering your questions but I will try
So, my design superpower, I really think that it’s being able to juggle a lot of things at once and that applies to taking in lots of information from lots of different sources whether that’s working with many different stakeholders or working on large projects where I’ve got you know I’m being informed by different things that are happening at the same time or if it’s just working on lots of different projects and clients at the same time. I never felt like my time working for someone else was unproductive. I was always finding something to do and I could hold lots of different things in my head at once.
Doesn’t mean it stays there, once I don’t need it anymore, I tossed it and I have a terrible memory but when I’m in something and I’m working on it, I think I can manage complexity. So I don’t think that’s something everyone can do where you’re invested in the details but you also understand big picture and so being able to hold both of those things at once is important to me and feels special.
Jason: That’s good and I was thinking about the Defenders listening and many of them are fairly new on their design journey and I think that what you said in the beginning about knowing what you’re good at is a really great take away Defenders because I think that it’s often we do kind of get heads down in our work and we just can get caught up in our own environments and maybe we don’t get introspective enough and I know this personally because I’ve been on a couple of different things like podcasts and like AMAs ask me anything and I had to actually step away and actually get a little more introspective and go what do I believe are about this or what are my values or what is my superpower, what am I good at.
Like those are really good things to ask yourself and if you don’t know, what you can also do is ask the people around you, ask the folks around you that spend a lot of time with you. What am I really good at, like if you had a question for me, like what would it be surrounding that I can help you with and I think once you kind of get you know if you can’t figure it out yourself, the people around you know you really well too and they can at least help form some of that so, what would you say to that Cassie?
Cassie: Yeah! I think it’s great idea I mean I was always a part of our review prior annual review process that Mozilla was that kind of had 360 view so we would get surveys completed by people we worked for, people who worked for us, our peers and you would have a 360 view of what you were doing well and what you could improve on. I think that’s worthwhile but I think at the end of the day as well, it’s what do you enjoy doing because you can be good at lots of different things, you can be terrible at lots of different things but you can be terrible at something and still really enjoy it.
I just think that the emphasis we have placed on success and what success means and looks like is a little bit misguided and you know for example there’s so much emphasis on having a good salary and money is just the older I get, the more important it gets for sure but it’s also overrated, you can certainly have too much of it in my opinion and of course you can have too little bit too.
Again, finding that sweet spot, it’s how much do you enjoy doing this, is it worthwhile you know I may be another good example is the framing that I do, so it’s picture framing, right it’s cutting glass and cutting molding and assembling frames. It’s really not very profitable. The cost of materials is really high. The amount of time that I spend on it you know I make like $20 hour which is like our design fee is at least five times that it’s like way more than five times that but right it’s not a profitable part of my business but I enjoy it because it keeps me sane. It gets me working with my hands. I enjoy at the end of the day having something concrete that I’ve made. I think a lot of digital designers also make concrete things like t-shirts or books or whatever for that same reason. So it’s like you have to assess what is important to you at the same time as assessing what are you good at because this it’s all tied together
Jason: That’s really interesting that you they’ve said that about just getting off line and kind of getting away from your 9:00 to 5:00 and having something at least like a cathartic kind of thing you do especially as a creative person it’s probably going to have some sort of creativity attached to it or outlet but I think that’s a really great takeaway Cassie and especially in the digital age we live in and I mean there’s we spend maybe too much time in front of screens now and I get the sense from you Cassie, I don’t know this for sure but I get the sense from you that that you’ve become really good at managing that and being able to just really step away and just cut things off with balance that out really well especially she having a family and having your own business and your hobbies and things like that.
So, I think that I guess I just really I feel like there’s a lot there to really take in like just do what you enjoy, don’t just do what you’re good at to cultivate and foster what you enjoy too and even if it’s not to make a living maybe it’s something you’ll get better at and eventually we’ll make a living at it. You may end up hating it later because it becomes your job but…
Cassie: Yeah, absolutely true! It happens but then you get to start something new and that’s kind of the beauty of today’s economy is that you can have a career change, I know we get stuck thinking that we’re going to be doing the same thing when we’re 60. We’re not, it’s all going be different, so just embrace that, that’s my opinion. Although I think like the balance thing, it’s just the stage of life that I’m at because if I’m not yes balancing things, if I’m not letting some things go, I’m just not getting any sleep.
I mean literally before the holidays I was getting four hours of sleep a night that’s just not sustainable, I mean I’m going to get cancer and I’m certainly not going to be my best self and so I think that just this with two little kids under four, I’m just that’s just where I’m at right now and you still got to work right like you still got to maintain that at least I want to, I want to be productive and I want to make stuff not that like you could take a break as well not saying like some people choose to do that and that’s totally fine as well but for me the balance that I have with my husband running on business, balancing childcare with work, it satisfies all the different parts of my brain and if I’m not doing all of those things then I’m sacrificing time with family or I’m sacrificing my sleep and I don’t want to let those things go right now because; it’s finite and it’s not going to be here forever and I am reminded of that time and time again and as I get older that just becomes something that it’s just a bigger and bigger priority and I have to appreciate and respect that for what it is.
It’s out of my hands but that’s the stage of life that I’m at and so you know the advice from a lot of go-get-them designers is really just don’t sleep, focus on and just do your work, make sacrifices for it and I think that’s true at a certain extent and I think I’ve been there and I’ve done that and I don’t need to do it my entire life and maybe I’ll be back there again later but I’m certainly not there now and I don’t think you can do it 24/7 for your entire career and have that be sustainable.
Jason: Yeah, fully agree! And I think that the theme that I’m getting Cassie from our conversation is know your values and fight for them, write them down, write down your values, what do you believe in, what matters to you, what do you hope to move to do and achieve through the work you’re doing and what kind of difference you want to make and just fight for that.
Cassie: Yeah, I think that’s fair. And know as well that they’re going to change, you know you can periodically reassess because what was important to me 10 years ago is not the same thing that’s important today and I’m glad that I have been true to the values that I’ve had at the time that have helped me make certain decisions like leaving certain jobs and starting new ones or starting our own business. All of that has come from a change in values and I mean the same basic system stays the same no you’re still kind of the same person but those things that you value and need at the time will but yeah. I agree no yourself and challenge yourself.
Jason: So, let’s wrap up the show with the imparting of superpowers and this is kind of along the lines of what we were just talking about with you know habits a success and I know success is defined differently by others but for you Cassie what’s one habit you believe contributes to your success?
Cassie: This is really concrete which I hope is helpful. I reply to email almost as soon as they come in now. You might have a different perspective on that because it took me a while to reply to yours but for the most part I reply to emails as they come in and that just is because I have a scattered brain, I’m disorganized I try to actually create systems that might make me seem like I’m more organized than I am but email is just one of those things. If I don’t respond to people right away, I usually won’t at all, so I do try to do that and that’s something that I developed early on in my career and I would not work for everybody but for me it’s a way of stay organized and on top of things
Jason: Why is that important Cassie?
Cassie: Good question because; it’s not necessarily about responding to people’s requests. It’s not necessarily about pleasing other people. It’s more about how it makes me feel. It’s the one thing that I need to do to not get distracted is to make sure that I have a clear inbox. It’s like when you walk into a house and for some people it’s really overwhelming for them. If the dishes aren’t done and the beds not made that kind of thing for me, I couldn’t care less about those things but I really don’t like having 30 or even 13 email sitting in my inbox and unread.
So, I’m not the kind of person that picks up my phone when I first wake up, I really kind of have pretty good discipline about that but I do when I do look at it and something needs to be done, I usually try to do that right away or at least put it into the system so that it can get done so I’ll add it to my to-do list or something like that put it on the calendar, at least deal with it in some way. Why is it important though, I think it’s just because for me it’s really easy to get disorganized and it’s really hard to work in today’s environment which is more and more technology-based if somebody is not communicative and so for me if somebody messages me or send me an email or send me a calendar request if I don’t respond to it I feel rude and I think that is ultimately what it’s about is you know there’s a little bit of self-care in there, a little bit of creating the kind of environment that I need to work and be productive.
There’s also a little bit of respect for the people that I’m working with and that want to engage with me and a communication kind of respect which is that like if somebody was walked up to you on the street, you wouldn’t just ignore them right would you, maybe but probably not. Probably not, you’d see their eyes, you’d see their face you’d see what they’re asking you would try to help them.
I feel like in today’s world and maybe it was working remotely for two years for Mozilla that really did this to me but I feel like the only modes of communication that you often have with people whether it’s clients or colleagues is online and so if we can bring more of that politeness to those forms then I think the world will be better for it, I think we’ll certainly be happier for it and the relationships will be better because; we’re already up against a huge hurdle with technology, it’s not the same as talking face-to-face, so at least you can be polite right. One of my favorite articles was by Paul Ford is “how to be polite” I love that, that’s something to link to.
Jason: That sounds worthy of a link, for sure yeah. I love that, that’s awesome and I can’t tell you how frustrated I get even just their text messaging like when I text somebody and especially when I know they’ve read it, like I know you read my message why aren’t you responding to me, darn it and you know you start going into a bad place and bitterness is like taking the pill and expecting the other person to die, it’s like taking the poison right. It’s a prison we create around ourselves and I have tendencies, I do, I confess, I have tendencies to let that happen and so for me it’s that’s been a big struggle for me as well.
So, I admire your answer as far as just wanting to let people know like they matter because it it’s like that that respect thing we were talking about earlier, it’s like I do respect you that’s why I’m responding to you as soon as I can.
Cassie: Yeah you know yeah exactly I think it’s having a certain empathy for their situation as well.
Jason: Very much so. What’s your most invincible UX resource or tool you can recommend to our listeners Cassie?
Cassie: You’re looking for websites or…
Jason: It could be anything, it could be soft skill
Cassie: Yeah! Well, that’s not what’s going to say, I feel like a lot of what I’ve given you so far has been kind of soft and in some way ethereal but that’s what have more of which is
Jason: Yeah, I like that
Cassie: The tool is a certain resourcefulness, it’s the ability to ask questions right. It’s the ability to connect to people as humans. If you can talk to somebody and make them feel like you are actually listening that is so valuable. It’s so valuable to win buy-in, to learn more about their perspective, to learn to that in turn contributes to your work. So I mean it’s amazing how anxious people get talking to other people when all they really have to do is ask questions, you just have to ask questions and you don’t have to have a follow-up question, just be curious about what they’re saying.
I think that’s time and time again I mentioned this already but over the course of my career and as a designer that’s the thing, that’s always the thing that is valuable is asking questions whether as an outsider or insider who’s intimately familiar with what it is you’re building or making. Asking the hard questions is something that people don’t do or they or they don’t realize that they don’t have the same questions as you so. You can develop your insatiable curiosity, I think that’s so important and that you know and at the same time I think in parallel that’s being aware of your humanity and your connection to other people’s humanity that’s the poetic side of me talking I think.
Jason: I love it, I love it Cassie. You have children, you have daughters and you have a four year old daughter so do I and I mean I’m sure of it that she inspires you in that way of curiosity like how many questions does she ask you a day right like I would be surprised?
Cassie: Oh my God! Yeah! Oh my God and you know what I actually have to be, I think it is inspiring and I also have to be really careful because you know well answering the four-year-olds questions is often just like I already said the answer like why aren’t you listening.
Jason: It’s easy to get frustrated.
Cassie: It’s easy to get frustrated kind of get to a point where you like stop asking questions but you don’t actually want them to stop you know. Yeah, it’s hard, parenting is hard
Jason: It is so hard and so I admire you and your husband and how great parents you are and the values that you guys set so much so for your kids and it’s an incredible investment.
So, my last question for you Cassie and this is one of my favorites, what’s your best advice for aspiring you actually heroes?
Cassie: I remember at a portfolio review when I was still in school, we used to have kind of existing professionals come and they would give us advice and feedback on our portfolios and I remember being we were kind of paired up because; they didn’t have time to go through every one but we were paired up and the person I was with had a question about what they should do after they graduate and should they take some time off and travel or should they put together their portfolio and get a job right away and try and get more and more experience and the designer I think it might have actually been Steve Frick home from Herman Miller, I love him, he’s got the greatest beard but also the greatest man.
Jason: I like him already
Cassie: Yeah, he’s amazing. I’ve seen him once again, I think he spoke somewhere anyway might have been created mornings but he said “travel, for the love of God travel” and you know I grew up in Florida, I lived in England. I lived in Toronto and now I’m in Paris who knows where I will end up in the next decade but I really think that seeing other people’s viewpoints seeing the way other people live being immersed in other cultures is so valuable and it’s not just when you’re working on a product which I did at Mozilla, we worked on stuff that was global it’s so valuable for that but it’s also just understanding who you are, how you fit into the world, what your work contributes to the world. I don’t know if there’s anything better that you can do to open your eyes to that other than travel.
So, if you have to put off work for a year and go travel, if you have to kind of make sacrifices or I don’t know maybe you don’t have a phone or maybe you have a really crappy phone plan for a year so that you can save up and do things with that money that allow you to get perspective from other places, I think that’s really valuable especially when you’re young because it gets harder and harder to do as you get older and more tied down. So, that would be my thing as travel, don’t worry about your resume, just go out and live life and be able to talk about that when you come back and are ready to get your job.
Jason: So good Cassie, I love that advice and what better way to continue to build your empathy levels and this to be a better human then did you see how other people live. I think that we just get so caught up especially in America. We just get so caught up in our little bubbles and our comfort zones and we don’t realize that there’s a whole world out there and people are living so much differently than we are and we may even be designing for these people.
Cassie: Yeah, it’s so true. When I first moved to England and lived in London you know one of the easiest ways to make that affordable is to live with lots of roommates, so I had like eight roommates and a tight little flat don’t look with a guy from Spain and someone from Norway and a Swedish guy and someone from Italy and I remember I always used to talk about like they would talk about where they are from and I found it so interesting and I say, ‘’okay it’s my turn, I’m going to talk about Florida’’ and like every single one of them had been to Florida, they’d all grown up watching American culture on TV and I’m so ignorant to that fact that I just had no idea how pervasive American culture was around the world and how little I knew about their world, so it was a real eye-opener and I definitely see that in American culture still today and I’m not saying everyone is like that there’s certainly so many well-traveled Americans but it could stand a little bit more understanding global perspective, global histories because; it’s not always taught as well right, it’s not taught in the school systems and so we need to do a little bit of self-education there.
Jason: Absolutely! Well Cassie, this has been so incredible. I can’t thank you enough for being here and I am not disappointed in the least. I had high expectations for our time. Cassie I’ll be honest with you, you’ve exceeded my expectations greatly and I know the Defenders listening are super inspired as well. This has just been a real deep dive and I loved it every moment of it. So, I want to thank you so much Cassie and just keep doing what you’re doing and just keep inspiring and keep absorbing your environment and the environments of others and sharing that with us as well with your talks and with your writing and just keep designing and creating and I just want to say finally, fight on my friend.
Cassie: Thanks buddy! I appreciate you having me on here. I really enjoyed it too.
USE YOUR SUPERPOWER OF SUPPORT
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