The Department of Product


A hand curated selection of the finest product insights, analysis and tools every week

The Department of Product’s weekly briefing is a creatively curated selection of industry news, analysis and thought-provoking tidbits from around the web designed to help you stay in the loop with the latest product developments. Hand picked and delivered to your inbox every week.

Hello product people,


‘Dumb and twitchy.’ Does that sound familiar? These are the adjectives that most accurately describe what modern technology is making us, according to the FT, at least. In a thought provoking piece featuring Cal Newport, professor at Georgetown University and author of Deep Work, Newport suggests that when you combine “monetizing eyeballs” with “powerful handheld devices that are always connected to the internet, algorithms being weaponized to extract as much of our time and attention as possible, and hundreds of billions of dollars of investment, suddenly the societal impacts become worrisome.”


Since the outspoken claims by several ex-Facebook employees that too much Facebook time might actually be ‘ripping society apart’ and the recent product changes to news feeds which prioritise less viral news and deeper social connections, some are calling the ‘Time Well Spent’ movement the next big thing in product. In a nod to the movement, Snapchat’s recent updates include a ‘Do not disturb’ feature to give control back to users. Giving control back to users seems to be the smart, next best alternative to a more stark, but increasingly popular choice for dealing with tech addiction – deleting social media entirely. Shareholders know this and are putting pressure on companies to acknowledge the issue and do something about it.


In other news, Apple Music looks set to overtake Spotify in the US later this year to become the most subscribed to music streaming service. With services becoming a more important part of Apple’s business, growing 32% in the recent quarter, that’ll be good news for the upcoming HomePod launch, and potentially bad news for competitors, including Sonos.


Meanwhile, payments product Stripe announced that the company’s first engineering hub outside of the US will be located in Dublin. Founded by Irish brothers Patrick and John Collison back in 2010, Stripe’s global rollout of its suite of product continues, with Dublin picking up the prize for engineering talent. A few eyebrows were raised that despite the UK being its largest single market in Europe, London wasn’t chosen as the hub, with some suggesting Brexit impacted the decision. “The decision was certainly not made by Brexit, but certainly when we were evaluating all the different countries across Europe the uncertainty was a factor,” Collison said.


And finally, just before we go… here’s a product that can turn your smartphone into a clinical grade medical testing device.


Here’s your product briefing. Have a great week ahead.



Your Product Briefing


Process – Product Development Models

With so many inputs to curate, life as a product manager can be overwhelming. The product development models are designed to help you curate all your inputs and decide what to build next and why.


UX – Best practices for modals

Modals, Overlays, Dialogs, whatever you call them it’s time to revisit this UI pattern. When they first came on the scene, modal windows were an elegant solution to a UI problem. The first being that it simplifies the UI, the second, it saves screen real estate. Since then designers have readily adopted the modal window and some have taken it to the extreme. Modals have become the today’s version of the dreaded popup window. Users find modals annoying and have been trained to instinctively and automatically dismiss these windows.


New features – Alexa can now send text messages

Amazon’s Alexa is now able to send SMS messages to a contact in a user’s smartphone, a company spokesperson told VentureBeat today. At launch, text messages can only be sent with smartphones running the Android operating system in the United States. No details were made available about when SMS with Alexa will be available outside of the United States, or when Alexa will be able to read you your latest text messages. There are no plans to add iOS support due to limitations Apple places on its messaging API for third parties, a spokesperson said.


Product ethics – How Facebook keeps you logging in

People who are logging into Facebook less often—but aren’t fully disconnected—are noticing more and more frequent prompts to come back, sometimes multiple times a day, via emails or text messages reminding them what they’re missing out on, according to screenshots and reports from users around the world. Gorantala, who eased off his Facebook usage because of privacy concerns, said his security prompt comes “whenever I don’t log in for a few days.”


Strategy – ‘Need more time’ or Lack of Product Market Fit?

Many iconic technology companies began with concepts that were new to the industry. In hindsight, the narrative goes something like this: Founder built thing X. Y bought it. Then all of a sudden Z started using it. Next thing you know, the world of computing was changed forever… history was made! The reality is far less magical, linear, or smooth. One of the biggest myths founders have is that people will immediately see the value of the product they built, whether in understanding what it is or in paying for it. This is especially true in “pre-chasm” markets, where you might have a few early adopters who totally get it — but there’s also a deep chasm between them and later, more mainstream users. Most startups fall into this chasm instead of successfully crossing it. I know, because I’ve experienced this both directly with my own company, and indirectly as an investor.


New product launch – Shopify launches mobile shipping

Before this update, you could mark orders as fulfilled in the app, but you’d need to stop by your desk for the rest of the process. Helpful when you’re trying to clean up small administrative to-dos, but nothing close to being able to manage your shipping workflow on the go. Now, instead of having to use a computer to purchase and print your shipping labels, you can complete the process anywhere. No more making notes of tasks you need to wrap up when you get back to your desk, or waiting to get shipping labels created. Whether you’re using it yourself, or training your team, it’s easy to get started.


Analysis – Why folding laundry boosts creativity

If information overload stops us concentrating deeply, it also stops us resting deeply — and that is just as damaging. Boredom, zoning out and absent-mindedness are all fertile mental states for creativity. “We’re at an interesting moment in neuroscience in terms of understanding how boredom is a gateway to mind-wandering,” says Manoush Zomorodi, host of the WNYC podcast Note to Self and author of Bored and Brilliant.  Companies are tapping this foraging-related brain circuitry to make products more addictive. One gamification firm, with clients including Disney and Google, even named itself Dopamine, after the brain chemical.


UX – the difference between UI and UX

User Interface (UI) design is a large field. In theory, UI is a combination of content (documents, texts, images, videos, etc), form (buttons, labels, text fields, check boxes, drop-down lists, graphic design, etc), and behavior (what happens if I click/drag/type). It takes a good eye, a lot of practice, and a lot of trial and error to get better at it. As a UI designer, your goal is to create a user interface that is engaging, beautiful, and also creates an emotional response from the user to make your products more lovable and beautiful.


Analysis – We need fewer Product Managers

Product manager has become a catchall title. Which makes it meaningless for daily use.

You need a product manager when there is a product to be managed…when there is P&L, a clear link to revenue, a business model, pricing, and marketing. In the case of many SaaS companies, it is fair to say that the whole company is “the product”. Yet we insist on calling anything and everything — every project, touch-point, set of screens, and app — a “product”, and anyone who oversees that “product”…a product manager.

Team – 6 essentials for hiring exceptional engineers

First question: What do the top 1% of builders value in potential opportunities? What stood out to them in the hiring process? Second question: How do these answers compare to the top 10% of builders? How can we extract the “special sauce” (if there is one) that can attract future top 1% builders?


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