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JournalNotes & Thoughts

Trust Your Gut Instinct

Matt Hamm

This is a talk I gave for “Smashing Borders” – SmashingConf Oxford 2014 Warm Up Party

Trust your gut. Trust your instinct. You are the design professional. Because more often than not your gut will be right.


Make mistakes

When I first started out as a designer I made plenty of mistakes and it isn’t until you’ve made those mistakes that you’ll become more intuitive. Intuition is based on our ability to recognise patterns and interpret cues.

More experience counts

The more experience you have as a designer, the better these design decisions will be. Gut Instincts are learned, and these instincts are learned by paying attention to the details in the world around us.


Subconscious Mind

According to a study by the University of Alberta, when we make decisions our subconscious mind is much more mind blowing than you think. A lot of creative decisions that we make as design professionals are based on things that we are not really aware of. The subconscious mind is very powerful indeed.

Design intuition

Have you have been given a design brief and quickly knocked out a design not really fully thinking through your design decisions? Then once you’ve had time to mull over the complexity of the problem and attempted to make more logical design decisions based on data it becomes harder to accomplish and invariably not quite as good as the first shot. Have you ever made lots more design iterations or concepts considering more in-depth problems and just gone back to the first one that you made?

Hillman Curtis

I once had the privilege to chat with the late Hillman Curtis. He said that when he designed the Yahoo! homepage, which was one of the most visited webpages of all time, they provided him with reams of user statistics on which shade of blue was best to use for links.

This was design by data which typically makes things look and feel bad. It’s design by mass committee. It never works.

Hillman’s reasoning for using the particular shade of blue that he used for links was just because HE liked it and it felt right.

That’s design based on instinct, it works. We need to trust the designers instinct. Trust your instinct.

Data vs Design instinct

These days analytics measures the effectiveness of every single design decision that we make.

In future perhaps the designers role will no longer be required. As engineering and design merge more on the web we need make decisions with a good balance of data and instinct.

It’s essential to do user research and see the world through the users eyes. Yet user research is really just another stream of data. Yes. Let’s Use A/B testing, it’s useful, but only for making small and tactical improvements, rather than a basis for all design decisions.

Don’t send a design you are not happy with

If you’ve got a design concept to show to the client or your boss for approval and something doesn’t feel quite right, then it’s probably wrong. Trust your own instinct and spend more time making sure the design feels right before you seek feedback. Only when you are 100% satisfied with your work should you send it out for review by anybody else. How are you going to win those design reasoning battles if not?

New Clients

At Supereight we increasingly make important decisions about taking on new clients based entirely on a gut feeling.

If the first email contact or Skype conversation rings any alarm bells or makes us feel like that client *could* be nightmare to work with, we turn it down, regardless of how much money they have or how cool the project seems.


Don’t ignore your gut feelings

Most of the time we may use a more traditional informed by data decision-making process, but we shouldn’t ignore our own instinctual gut feelings as part of that process.

Let’s always design with data in mind, but NEVER let it rule what we do or how we do it.

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Plant Powered. Ish.

Pete Orme

In mid-September I enjoyed a weeks holiday lounging around in Portugal. As ever, I was keen to get stuck into a book for the week and, following a recommendation from a friend, I decided to go with ‘Finding Ultra’ by Rich Roll. To summarise very roughly, it’s about Rich’s journey from being an alcoholic with a bad diet to successfully competing in Ultra Man triathlon races. Having decided to train for and take part in a few triathlons in 2013, I figured this would be an interesting and inspiring read and I wasn’t disappointed.

'Finding Ultra' front cover

Rich Roll is ‘Plant Powered’, as he calls it, and his long training and racing efforts are fuelled by a vegan diet. I wasn’t particularly aware of this and as the book developed it started to focus a little more on how he’s changed his diet over the years and finally gives examples of what typical meal times look like. All supported with some interesting scientific research highlighting the health benefits of a ‘Plant Powered’ diet.

30 days

I have no interest in going vegan, not at the moment anyway, but I’m always keen to eat as healthily as possible and if it helps me with my triathlon training along the way then I’m  definitely interested. Roll doesn’t suggest trying to change too much too soon with your diet but simply trying some of his eating habits over a 30 day period to see if they work for you. You never know, some of it might just stick! And so, after returning from holiday near the end of September, I decided to give it a go in October and with the month drawing to a close I thought I’d share the changes I’ve tried and how they’ve made me feel.


Breakfast is all about putting natural ingredients into your blender and making a healthy shake. In the book, Roll says ‘Get used to the idea of having a salad for breakfast!’. I bought a new blender and went for the NUTRiBULLET. This bad boy makes light work of blitzing everything into a smooth shake, effectively pre-digesting it before drinking.

The more varied the ingredients the better and I’ve changed the mix every day but typically it includes a few of the following: Spinach, kale, pak choi, tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, kiwis, apples, bananas, pineapple, goji berries, oranges, almonds, walnuts, coconut, hemp seeds, hemp protein, pumpkins seeds, chia seed, Spirulina, acai and water. The output is green. Always green. Mainly due to the Spirulina (a marine algae) but I can assure you that it always tastes delicious!


Lunch times has meant two things. Firstly, spending an hour, normally on a Sunday evening, prepping food for the week. Secondly, using said food to make up a tasty lunchbox. Typically, this has included some combo of: brown rice, quinoa, lentils, various beans, sweet potato, peppers and various green veg. A dash of salt and pepper and maybe a little humous, guacamole or salsa and another delicious and healthy meal.


Evening meals have involved lots more veg and other ingredients similar to lunch but this is where I’ve departed from the vegan vibe and eaten the odd bit of fish and meat if I’ve fancied it. After a cold breakfast and lunch, dinner has to be hot and Squash and coconut curry has become a favourite!

What have I left out?

Switching to the above has obviously meant leaving things out or changing to a healthier alternative. I’ve largely left out bread and pasta but gone for gluten free options when I have had them and instead of white rice i’ve had brown or basmati. The only dairy I’ve had is the milk in my morning coffee. I decided to give up milky tea for the month but can’t go without a morning coffee. Not yet anyway. With cereal, I’ve gone for almond milk which is surprisingly good. I can’t recall having cheese or butter at all.

I’ve also cut as much processed crap as possible and stuck to ‘real’, natural food. No crisps, very few biscuits and very little chocolate. Instead, I’ve snacked on things like  fruit and organic nuts and the odd bit of gluten free fruit loaf with almond butter.

Finally, the biggie, i’ve pretty much had no meat! I really thought I’d struggle with this one and I can’t to claim to have cut it out completely. I’ve had fish maybe three or four times at home and the odd piece of chicken while under the influence*. I haven’t been super strict in general and if i’ve been out for dinner at the pub or a friends, for example, I’ve just eaten whatever I want. The only rule I’ve set myself is that if I’m at home and in control of what I eat then I stick to the plan if I can.

What have I felt?

As Rich Roll suggested I would in his book, I started to experience the benefits of this kind of diet almost immediately and have continued to feel really great throughout October.

I’ve felt alert all day. No more mini crashes after having bread for lunch and snacking on simple, processed sugars. This is particularly pertinent right now as we have some big deadlines looming over us at Supereight and I’ve really noticed a surge in my productivity and the quality of my work.

I’ve saved a lot of money. While there was a little outlay at the start of the month for some of the supplementary ingredients for morning shakes, I’ve generally just needed to top up on a few bits here and there and get most of it from the local Guildford market for half the price of the supermarket. I’m happy to support my local producers. Leaving out meat is obviously the big money saver.

I’ve slept really well. I’m often tired after training but this has been really deep sleep. ‘Out-for-the-count’ stuff!

I’ve recovered  much better between training session. Getting far more natural nutrients and vitamins from the morning shake has really boosted my recovery. I’ve lost a little weight. I don’t need to at all but it’s a natural symptom of a low fat diet. Healthy fats (the Omega’s) are hugely important and they’re always included in the morning shake and when cooking with oils.

What has stuck?

There’s an interesting passage in Roll’s book where he talks about microbes, or bacteria, in the stomach and how they send messages to the brain to influence our cravings. The more you eat of something, the more your microbes crave it. I’ve noticed that after 29 days i’m now craving these new foods instead of what I was eating before. Crazy stuff.

Surprisingly, most of it has stuck. I’m going to continue with the morning shakes and the veggie style lunches and try to lay off the gluten and dairy as much possible. I will still eat meat and fish here and there and generally enjoy what I want whatever when I’m out and about.

I don’t feel inclined to go vegan or anything as drastic as that but I want to continue experiencing the benefits I’ve noticed this month. I can’t say I’m ‘Plant Powered’ for now. Maybe just ‘Plant Powered. Ish.’


* I haven’t given up booze. I’m a lightweight so can’t take a great deal anyway!


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