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A love letter to Twitter

Since its inception, our generation has struggled to pin down an answer to the question, “What is Twitter?” I’ve seen attempts at describing Twitter as microblogging, a messaging platform, a broadcasting tool, a social network, an information network, an interest graph, and real-time communication. Twitter, itself, has used phrases such as, “the world in your pocket,” and more recently, “a global town square.”

That it hasn’t (yet) been holistically and easily describable in a single phrase is part of the beauty of Twitter to me. It does so many things for so many people. Whatever adjective or metaphor used, I think of Twitter as a service. Because that’s how I’ve always seen it. It’s a service driven by the people and operated for the people. And it is literally in service to people around the globe.

Twitter is people-powered. It has always been about people. The way people connect to each other, they way they converse and interact, what people share, what they’re doing, what they’re thinking… and what they love. Twitter is unique and wonderful not because of the service itself, but because of the people who use it, and how they use it.

That over 500 million tweets get pushed out each day is a technical marvel. But so much more amazing are the stories of how Twitter has been (and continues to be) used. I’m enamoured and fascinated with these stories that continuously unfold on Twitter. Yet none of them would happen without the people who unite together around particular moments of time, big or small, and share those moments with their friends, their followers, and the world.

A series of moments

Small moments on Twitter are fascinating, because they reveal tiny bits about the people who share them, and in aggregate, reveal entire patterns of human behavior and emotion. Whether it’s the mundane update about what someone had for breakfast, or that they’re late for school, or that they had toilet paper stuck to their shoe for an hour before a friend pointed it out… Those small moments are real, humanizing, and pings to the world that a person is alive, is functioning, and is a normal human being.

Big moments on Twitter are also fascinating, either as a participant, or as a passive observer. Celebrations, sports matchups, popular entertainment, or newsworthy events bring massive amounts of people together. Twitter sees huge spikes in activity as people share in those moments together. Through Twitter, these moments offer the reinforcement that even if you’re watching an event alone, you’re not alone in experiencing it. In these moments, we share in the roar of the crowd in moments of victory, we unite in hope or heartbreak in moments of tragedy, and we make and record history together.

I love how people can gain a new voice with Twitter. It has given me a louder and farther-reaching voice than I ever thought possible. And while I can only physically be in one place at one time, I love how Twitter distributes my awareness of what’s going on nearby or far away. At any moment, I can instantly know what’s going on in the next room, in the next town, or in a country halfway around the world.

My history with you

I joined Twitter, the service, two years before I interviewed at and joined Twitter, the company. So I was familiar with the ins and outs of the product before I joined the team. When the idea of leading design at Twitter was first pitched to me, my thought was, “What would a designer do with 140-character text messages?” That’s basically what I knew it to be. But once I got to speak with @ev, @biz, @goldman, @gregpass, and @bs, I realized the vision for Twitter was much bigger than simple character-constrained status updates. And that it had the potential to become something big and meaningful within the world. With those realizations burning in my mind, I had no doubts that I wanted to help shape what Twitter could become. Even though at the time, it felt like I was joining the company “late in the game,” almost three years after the original idea of twttr had hatched.

As a Twitter user, I have witnessed this simple communications tool used to help unlock long-locked doors, to promote cultural awareness and sensitivity, to tear down walls of oppression, to alter the way businesses attend and respond to customers, to connect people in ways never before thought possible, and to democratize the creation and flow of information around the world. I have met and interacted with so many incredible people because of Twitter. And I’ve learned more than I ever thought possible from simply observing and occasionally participating in the conversations that unfold here.

As a Twitter employee, I have witnessed a growing family of co-workers who care deeply about their craft, their teammates, the integrity and purpose of the service, and the people around the world that Twitter serves. One of Twitter’s core values for the past several years has been, “Grow our business in a way that makes us proud.” I couldn’t be more proud of the way Twitter as a company has conducted itself as its presence and impact around the world has grown. I have seen this core value demonstrated over and over and over again through the tireless work of my colleagues, and their desire to always do right by the very people who use, depend on, and are delighted by the service every day.

My, how you’ve grown

Fast forward to today. This day. My last as an employee of Twitter. But far from my last as an active participant in this global ecosystem. It’s been an honor to serve as Twitter’s creative director for the past five years. To join at what I now see as a relatively early time period. To form and grow a design team and establish the principles on which it operated. To attract and hire and get to work with people more talented than me. And to see a team, a company, a service, and millions of people using it grow into the beautiful wonder that Twitter is today. This. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And I still can’t believe how fortunate I am that it was offered to me.

It’s a cliché in our tech industry that companies and founders start with a vision that includes the grandiose notion of changing the world. What Twitter has enabled, is enabling, and will continue to enable is nothing short of just that. As Biz says, Twitter is not a triumph of technology, it is a triumph of humanity. It all comes back to people like you and me who use the service, and what we continue to do with it. There is no other platform that offers what Twitter offers, and there is no other service that continuously reveals the collective pulse of our planet.

Twitter, the product, has a ton of momentum behind it. The teams at Twitter are in great shape, and the people on these teams are thinking of and executing on some of the best ideas I’ve seen in my time here. So it’s a good time for me to call my leg of the journey complete. To step out of the way. To let go of something I love so dearly. And to let it thrive and grow into something even bigger.

Thank you, Twitter, for allowing me to help guide you for a small portion of your big and wondrous journey. There’s a great distance ahead of you. And you’ve only just begun.


Growing Twitter Design

First, the whole point of this post. We’re expanding the Twitter Design Studio. Whether you’ve ever thought about working at Twitter or not, think about it now. We have a few open spots that we’re looking to fill in the next couple months. One of the desks in this photo of our studio could be yours. If we run out of space, we’ll make room for you.

Critiquing by Twitter Design on
Critiquing by Twitter Design

What we’ve been up to

We post samples of recent work on our Dribbble account. We’ve started posting photos of the studio and the team on 500px. (Some are embedded here in this post.) And, of course, we tweet too, from our team account, and all our personal accounts. Want to know more? Ask me or anyone on the team anytime. Here’s a tip: the service on which we all work makes us all easily contactable. We’re a pretty open bunch, and we’ll answer any questions as openly and honestly as we can.

A perspective on Twitter and @design

Next March, it will be four years that I’ve been working with Twitter, leading and directing the Design team. People ask me all the time if I still like it. My honest answer: I love it now more than I did when I started. Anyone I work with can confirm that.

It’s not that I don’t have fond memories of my early days at Twitter. I do — those first couple years were really good. The people I worked with then, the experiences we had together, and the challenges we faced on a regular basis as a small company were inspiring. But we have a sizable team now, and exponentially more people using the product every single day.

Design has multiple researchers who help us understand how people think about and use the product. We have prototypers and devs who help us rapidly build out and gut-check experiences. And we have a great blend of experience designers who think through and work on problems from concept through to production. We can finally get ahead of big design problems and attack them more strategically.

User Research Explained by Twitter Design on
User Research Explained by Twitter Design

Now, more than ever, our team is really humming, and it’s finding a great groove. We’re fortunate that the team is filled with smart, funny, talented folks who care passionately about Twitter and the product experience. There’s a great, positive energy in the design studio, and it’s contagious.

We recently added Mike Davidson as our VP of Design. I’ve known and respected Mike for ten years, but I’ve never had the chance to work with him directly until now. I’m really happy he’s here to help fight for and defend great design throughout the company, and create the space for Design to push and innovate on Twitter’s experience.

Add to this the impact that Twitter has had and is having all over the world. Connecting people, some who have never met. A pulse of the news, events, and human perspective as it’s unfolding. Distributing awareness of what’s happening in the next room, the next neighborhood over, or around the other side of the world. This free exchange of information is changing the world, and I don’t state that lightly. I’m humbled that I get the opportunity to contribute to the Twitter experience on a daily basis.

We’re just getting started

Built up over the past few years, we’ve seen an incredible evolution of Twitter. It’s a service that many of us value on a daily basis. But our team’s work is not even close to being done. In many ways, we’re just getting started. While Twitter gets tons of exposure and coverage, there’s so much work to do to make it simpler, easier to understand and use right away, and a more beautiful and consistently delightful experience.

Video ... That Way! by Twitter Design on
Video… That Way! by Twitter Design

Mobile First by Twitter Design on
Mobile First by Twitter Design

Be one of the team members in these shots. Come help us with some of the most interesting challenges a designer can face today. And contribute to a world-changing service whose impact has only just begun. Join the flock. Ten years later

Ten years ago today, we pulled back the curtains on a redesign of The actual design and the code that rendered it are long gone. But they were significant in their time.

The redesign of Wired News in 2002 marked the first time a large, well-known, daily-content publisher had dropped tables for layout, and embraced the separation of markup and style in a rather new (at the time) approach to web design. Several prominent blogs, and niche content sites (,, had broken ground, and were already using and evangelizing a greater adoption of Web Standards.

Halfway through the redesign process, I started plotting how Wired could support the standards movement not just by publishing stories about it, but by adopting it outright. If pure, valid XHTML to mark up the content and simple CSS for layout and style was enough for other sites, it should work for Wired too. I contacted Jeffrey Zeldman and Eric Meyer to let them know what we were up to. Their excitement over the prospect of Wired jumping on board hinted that this might be a big deal. We dove in head first, and never looked back. Not long after Wired took that leap, many other large, well-known sites and companies began following suit.

I note the tenth anniversary of this redesign, not because of what it was then, but because of how far we’ve come since then, and everything that has been set in motion since. Ten years is a good chunk of time to take note of progress, large and small. Some folks say common tools like HTML and CSS haven’t evolved much. But that misses the point of everything we’ve been able to do and experience because of our use and adoption of them.

Governments, news organizations, retailers, and individuals all around the world use our inter-connectedness in dramatically different ways, compared with ten years ago. Shopping, storing, organizing, and interacting online is now second nature to a massive global population. And increasingly, we’re doing all of this with small devices that fit in a single hand or a pocket.

As I look back on the past ten years, I can easily see how the path of my career, interests, friends, and professional connections were partially shaped by a little redesign in 2002 (now insignificant by today’s standards). A cascade of events and opportunities followed that point in history for me. It was just a matter of spotting them, and jumping on a few.

Where were you ten years ago? What were you doing, and what was your craft like then? Who do you know now that you didn’t know then? What brought you to where you are today? It’s fascinating to think of the journey from the events of ten years ago, all the way up to today. Just think of the next ten years…

Theme files for my WP tweet archive

Last month, I posted a short little write-up about how I created my own tweet archive. It was a quick hack, pulled together one Saturday afternoon, and fairly incomplete, at best. But the archive serves its simple purpose every now and then. I intended to update the archive, add some features, and modify the theme files to better prep them for distribution. But I’m realizing I probably won’t get around to that any time soon.

I’m seeing lots of other folks building out their own archive. And lots of them are using the WordPress solution I wrote about. So in the interest of providing a rough starting point, I’m making the WP theme files for my tweet archive available here (under a CC license) for anyone who wants them as a base. Download (39 KB).

One followup note… Andy Graulund (@graulund) is building a similar tweet archive that is much more robust and more awesome than my original. His is a PHP-based solution (no WordPress required) with embedded media, permalinks back to Twitter, graphs showing tweet activity, and more. I believe he’s planning on releasing his source soon. Keep an eye out for that.

WordPress-based browsable, searchable archive of tweets by Douglas Bowman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Hello, Twitter, one year later

A year ago, today, I joined a small startup with a penchant for brevity. Many of my friends were using it. My mom had only heard mentions of it. I noted some risk, but saw greater reward. Variables were undefined. The product was still in its infancy. But potential was everywhere.

One year later, I’m just as eager and excited to head into work today as I was then. More so. Because I know even more about this growing company, the amazing people who work for it, the humbling principles under which it operates, and the myriad of purpose it serves. I’m thrilled with what we’ve accomplished in Design, and with the designers we’ve hired to do the accomplishing. We’ve pushed out some “good” and a fair amount of “awesome” so far. But we still have much work to do.

It’s cliché, but still true. Time flies when you’re having fun. And what fun we’ve been having. Here’s to looking back at a fantastic year, and forward to another that puts last year to shame.

A browsable, searchable archive of tweets

In the past, I’ve wanted to browse or search through my own tweets. Viewing my Twitter profile is one way to do that. But if I want to browse back through history, it’s a chore to go back very far. And forget about searching through my own tweets on Twitter since Twitter Search currently only goes back about a seven days.

I know there are a few apps or scripts that create backups and much more for you. But I wanted a database and simple UI completely within my own control. One that wouldn’t go away if the developer abandoned it. So one Saturday a few weeks ago, in a little over an hour, I had my own, free, browsable, searchable tweet archive. Now I can easily browse back to my very first tweet, or search for those quotes by Paul Rand I tweeted last year. This isn’t anything entirely new. I’m just writing it up what works for me in case it helps fit some pieces together.

How to set up your own tweet archive with WordPress

  1. Assuming you have a collection of past tweets, the first step is to collect them in one place. provides an easy way to do this. It uses OAuth, so there’s no need to enter your username or password as long as you’re already signed into Give them an email address, and your tweets start backing up immediately. (See their FAQ about a possible limitation of 3200 tweets.)
  2. Once TweetBackup is done grabbing all your tweets (it took about 2 minutes for my ~1,400 tweets), go to the Export tab, and save the RSS format to your local drive
  3. Install a fresh copy of WordPress somewhere on your server if you don’t want tweets intermingled with other WP content. In the Tools section of WordPress, use the built-in RSS importer to import the file you saved from TweetBackup.
  4. Assuming you want WordPress to automatically grab each tweet from this point forward, install the Twitter Tools plugin, enter your Twitter credentials in its settings screen, and configure it to create a blog post for each of your tweets. (Turn off the option to tweet when a post is created from this blog so the universe doesn’t explode in some endless loop of repeating tweets and blog posts.)
  5. Update: I made the WP theme files for my tweet archive available for download for anyone who’d like to use them wholesale or as a base for their own archive.
  6. That’s it.

A few extra steps, if you’re up for them

  1. Twitter Tools will handle future tweets correctly. But the format of each tweet from TweetBackup starts with a prefix of your Twitter username, followed by a space and a colon, like this: “stop: Clicking through the new design of…”. I used the Search Regex plugin to search for and eliminate that prefix.
  2. Past tweets from TweetBackup won’t have linked URLs. The Autolink URI plugin can do this for you automatically.
  3. If you’re good enough with regular expressions, you can also use the Search Regex plugin to link up any @mentions and #hashtags in your tweets. I suck at regex, so I cheated and used some of the patterns from David Walsh within the Search Regex search/replace UI. Technically, you could probably use David’s first pattern to link up URLs too.
  4. A few WP plugins can enhance the built-in search functionality of WordPress. I’m using Search Everything.
  5. WP Super Cache will keep server resources to a minimum and help load pages quickly once they’re cached.
  6. If you’re really up for it, you can customize the templates and design as I did. Anything is possible if you’re familiar with PHP and WordPress templates. For instance, you could try using the Similar Posts plugin to suggest possibly related tweets on the permalink page.

Now, every tweet you’ve written and will write can be duplicated and backed up in your own MYSQL database, accessible via a WordPress front end. Technically, you could probably use any blogging platform or CMS to do this. (It doesn’t require WordPress.) You’ll just need a means to import old tweets and automatically grab new tweets.

Apple notebook packaging comparison

Interesting comparison (my own) of packaging for Apple notebooks. I’ve been noticing a trend over the last few years to cut way down on box size for both hardware and software. But I still think it’s interesting to see side-by-side comparisons for similar items over time. This first photo shows the original box for a 12" PowerBook G4 purchased in 2004 (black box) next to the box for the current generation 15" MacBook Pro (white box) purchased in 2009.

Another similar photo compares packaging for the 12" iBook purchased in 2006 next to the box for the current 13" white MacBook purchased in 2009.

In both cases, the newer notebook is larger than the older notebook, yet still uses a much smaller box.

After recent Unboxings™ of the MB and MBP, I noted there’s no less “stuff” in the box as far as hardware, adapters, install discs, and printed material. The new packaging designs just forgo the thick molded styrofoam padding of the old boxes.

Hello, Twitter

Part 2 of 2 (here’s Part 1)

Yesterday was my first day at Twitter.

Yes, it’s true. After reading a bit of speculation over the past few weeks, I’ll confirm here that I am, indeed, joining Twitter. I don’t remember ever being as eager or excited to start a new job as I’ve been with this one. (Thus, why I only took one week off between jobs.)

Over the past year, I spoke with several organizations about coming on board to lead a design team. But Twitter felt like the most natural fit from the very start of my talks with the team. It’s still early in Twitter’s history. The company is small. Its user base is growing rapidly. And I see lots of potential to directly impact and to help shape the Twitter brand.

Add to that the fact that I know, understand, and respect the company’s leadership. And they know and respect my work, capabilities, and philosophy. (Several of us worked together on the redesign of Blogger in 2004.) A better fit is hard to find.

As Creative Director, I’ll have a few obvious responsibilities. Like building and shaping a design team, overseeing an evolving set of design challenges for a growing list of features and uses, and contributing to the company’s overall design strategy. Other responsibilities will include taking advantage of Twitter (and other means) to collect feedback and ideas about new features, implementations, or general UI changes.

I recognize the task before us is not small nor easy. Twitter means different things for different people and organizations, and it gets used in so many different ways. Maintaining the simplicity of the service is critical. At the same time, so is supporting an expanding set of features that enable new ways for users to connect with real-time information from sources that interest them.

Despite the changes ahead, I don’t regret my decision. Sure, I left a 20,000-person company with billions of dollars in revenue to join a startup with just over 30 employees and venture capital in the bank. The shift means I need to adjust to the pace at which we move, the scope of responsibility for each employee, and expectations for available resources. It means significant changes to how we, as a company, approach problems and propose solutions. And it also means more time for me back in San Francisco. In fact, from my desk, I can look out at the old Wired building where I got my start on the web thirteen years ago. I welcome changes like this with open arms.

Here’s to new challenges and new opportunities. Even when they’re taken on, one hundred and forty characters at a time.

Update: Here’s Twitter’s announcement on the blog.

Goodbye, Google

Part 1 of 2 (here’s Part 2)

Today is my last day at Google.

I started working in-house at Google almost three years ago. I built a team from scratch. I was fortunate to hire a team of a very talented designers. We introduced Visual Design as a discipline to Google. And we produced amazing work together. I’m very proud of my team, and I wish them well. They have a lot of challenging work ahead. But for me, it’s time to move on.

Do I have something else lined up? Yes. That will be covered in Part 2. So I’m not leaving just to leave. But I’m not going to sugarcoat the reasons for my departure either. The scale at which Google operates was an early attractor for me. Potential to impact millions of people? Where do I sign? Unfortunately for me, there was one small problem I didn’t see back then.

When I joined Google as its first visual designer, the company was already seven years old. Seven years is a long time to run a company without a classically trained designer. Google had plenty of designers on staff then, but most of them had backgrounds in CS or HCI. And none of them were in high-up, respected leadership positions. Without a person at (or near) the helm who thoroughly understands the principles and elements of Design, a company eventually runs out of reasons for design decisions. With every new design decision, critics cry foul. Without conviction, doubt creeps in. Instincts fail. “Is this the right move?” When a company is filled with engineers, it turns to engineering to solve problems. Reduce each decision to a simple logic problem. Remove all subjectivity and just look at the data. Data in your favor? Ok, launch it. Data shows negative effects? Back to the drawing board. And that data eventually becomes a crutch for every decision, paralyzing the company and preventing it from making any daring design decisions.

Yes, it’s true that a team at Google couldn’t decide between two blues, so they’re testing 41 shades between each blue to see which one performs better. I had a recent debate over whether a border should be 3, 4 or 5 pixels wide, and was asked to prove my case. I can’t operate in an environment like that. I’ve grown tired of debating such minuscule design decisions. There are more exciting design problems in this world to tackle.

I can’t fault Google for this reliance on data. And I can’t exactly point to financial failure or a shrinking number of users to prove it has done anything wrong. Billions of shareholder dollars are at stake. The company has millions of users around the world to please. That’s no easy task. Google has momentum, and its leadership found a path that works very well. When I joined, I thought there was potential to help the company change course in its design direction. But I learned that Google had set its course long before I arrived. Google was a massive aircraft carrier, and I was just a small dinghy trying to push it a few degrees North.

I’m thankful for the opportunity I had to work at Google. I learned more than I thought I would. I’ll miss the free food. I’ll miss the occasional massage. I’ll miss the authors, politicians, and celebrities that come to speak or perform. I’ll miss early chances to play with cool toys before they’re released to the public. Most of all, I’ll miss working with the incredibly smart and talented people I got to know there. But I won’t miss a design philosophy that lives or dies strictly by the sword of data.

WordPress plugins in use

There are a few WordPress plugins that help me publish this site as I want it. Here are a few of the key plugins I currently use on Stopdesign.

  • Amazon Showcase by Aaron Forgue
    Drop in any ISBN and this plugin takes care of the rest for Amazon reading and recommendation lists.
  • Live Comment Preview by Brad Touesnard
    Lots of plugins generate a real-time comment preview. This one seemed to be easy to configure and get working right away.
  • Postalicious by Pablo Gomez
    This plugin automagically pulls in my Delicious links on an hourly basis, publishing an entry for each link I create. (It can also be configured to publish sets of links in a single entry too.) It’s a useful plugin for automating posting of links created elsewhere — it can also handle ma.gnolia, Google Reader, Reddit, or Yahoo Pipes. Pablo, the author, is incredibly responsive. After I emailed him a casual suggestion on a Saturday afternoon, he had a new version of the plugin (with my suggestion incorporated) in my Inbox later that same evening.
  • Twitter for WordPress by Ricardo González
    Set it, and forget it.™ Once installed and configured the way I wanted it, I’ve never had to think about my tweets showing up on the site again.
  • WP Super Cache by Donncha O Caoimh
    A must for speedy page-load times and to keep the server humming along, especially on high-traffic days.
  • Search Unleashed by John Godley
    Does several cool tricks with search for a WordPress site, including query term highlighting and searching across every post and comment field. I’m using the plugin for the results page, itself. But I wasn’t able to use the query term highlighting on entry pages because that conflicted with pages cached with WP Super Cache, and I wasn’t able to figure out how to prevent caching of entry pages referred by a search.

A friendly reminder: some authors put in lots of time and effort into plugins that are free for us to use at will. If you can afford to, send a donation their way, especially for plugins that do any heavy lifting for your site.

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