Terrible Blog

Because Terrible Labs loves you.

Prototyping Products at Redstar Ventures

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On Wednesday, Maggie led a workshop with the Redstar Ventures team on prototyping product ideas. The workshop ran through the process we use at Terrible Labs to help clients take their ideas and turn them into high-fidelity prototypes.

I’m a big fan of this workshop because I think any person that wants to build a tech product should know how to prototype, especially if they don’t have the financial resources to hire a professional to do it.

We are huge advocates of prototyping at Terrible Labs. For some companies, development can be a big investment. We advocate to many companies that reach out to us to test their hypotheses through prototypes prior to a development engagement. Most companies will even work with us to go through a discovery and design engagement where we will wireframe, prototype, and test their hypotheses with them.

Prototypes can be built in a fraction of the time as development and are often mistaken for a finished product. If done well, your prototype should have enough fidelity where you’ll be able to test if a user can achieve your intended use of the product.

If you haven’t take the time to learn how to prototype, I would suggest to wait no longer. Check out Maggie’s presentation to see the resources you can leverage to build your own prototypes.

Even More Prototyping at Intelligent.ly

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As you may have seen, I’ve been speaking about prototyping quite a bit in the past few months. Time and again, I’ve seen first-hand how effective even the simplest prototypes can be in communicating our ideas, and how much we can learn from the process of building them. That has made me very enthusiastic about the topic; now I’m on a mission to spread the word about its importance and value.

Building a prototype can be surprisingly quick and easy. Perhaps no tool I’ve worked with over the years has been as transformative as the simple act of sketching – it’s an integral part of my design process. The immediacy of pen and paper makes sketching one of the most effective tools for exploring the problem space and evaluating potential solutions. The emergence of some incredible new tools has made paper sketching even more powerful, enabling us to quickly turn rudimentary drawings into highly interactive prototypes.

Next week, I’ll be running a prototyping workshop at Intelligent.ly, during which I’ll help you sketch, highlight and demo my favorite tools, and show you how to build an interactive prototype of your product. Whether you’re a designer interested in exploring new ways of presenting or validating your work, or a founder in search of better ways to communicate and evaluate your ideas, I hope you’ll check it out:

Codeless Prototyping for Web and Mobile Apps
Tuesday, July 23rd, 6:00 - 7:30p.m.
Intelligent.ly Campus
500 Harrison Ave
Boston, MA 02118

If you’re already attending, I’d love to hear from you – drop me a note to introduce yourself, let me know whether your idea is for a web or mobile app, and feel free to ask any questions you might have about the workshop.

Hope to see you there!

Epiphanies Are Hard Work

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When I discover a new product that solves a meaningful problem for me in a really elegant way, I’m often tempted to imagine that the creator came up with the idea in a flash of brilliance and then executed it flawlessly on first try. It’s a nice thought, because if it were true, I could keep playing Temple Run all day while waiting for my own moment of inspiration to arrive.

The reality, of course, is that great ideas, and great products, are a result of considerable effort. The products we build are experiments, and their success depends in no small part on our ability to test and validate our assumptions and quickly iterate and refine our ideas.

Last month, I spoke about this topic at One More Thing – an iOS design and development conference in Melbourne, Australia. The talk covered key approaches to prototyping iOS apps, underlining the value of low-fidelity deliverables and highlighting some of my favorites tools.

Videos of all the conference talks are available for only $39 from the One More Thing website, and cover a wide range of relevant and interesting topics. Jamiee Newberry, a UX strategy and design consultant, spoke about great ways to think about the personality and tone of your apps and how to write better copy. Lex Friedman, a senior writer for Macworld, explained how to stand out from the crowd with your press release. And Karl von Randow, developer of Camera+, gave an inspiring talk on the nature of our industry, and how successful the energy of beginning can be.

Those are just a few highlights of an excellent event. If you’re interested, head on over to onemorething.com.au to check out the full 2013 lineup and the videos. You can also check out a slightly pared down version of my deck below:

Boston/Cambridge Tech Community Blood Drive

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You may have heard that the Red Cross has an ample supply of blood on hand, even with the extra demand due to the Boston Marathon bombing, and that donors have been lining up to do their part. That’s true.

What you might not have heard yet is that the Red Cross has some planned training for their staff coming up soon and they’ll only be at 40% capacity for 5 weeks.

So let’s help keep the stock ready for people in need! We’ve set up a blood drive with the Red Cross for tech companies in the Boston/Cambridge area.

You’ll be graciously hosted by the good people at hack/reduce in Kendall Square. The Red Cross will have some Red Sox t-shirts to hand out to donors, not to mention an energizing snack of orange juice and cookies!

And, as if you needed any extra motivation…


Monday, June 17, 2013
2:00 - 7:00 PM


275 Third Street
Kendall Square, Cambridge


Please, if you work at a tech company in the Boston/Cambridge area, round up your coworkers and join us.

To sign up to be a donor, please visit our blood drive registration page hosted by the Red Cross.

And don’t forget to tweet about the event to help get the word out!


If you have any questions, please email jeremy@terriblelabs.com. Thanks!

Fundraiser for Victims of the Boston Marathon Bombing

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Yesterday’s horrific event at the Boston Marathon affects us all, but especially those who were killed or wounded and their families.

Please join TUGG, Terrible Labs, and the rest of the Boston tech community in this fundraising effort. Donate what you can – every little bit helps.

For more information, please visit https://www.fundraise.com/technology-supports-victims-of-boston-marathon-bombing.

Donate Now - Secure Online Fundraising

Building a Prototype Without Writing a Line of Code

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A few days ago, I had the privilege of speaking at the Harvard Innovation Lab about the importance and value of prototyping. Using actual projects we’ve completed at Terrible Labs as examples, I illustrated several prototyping tools and techniques that ranged from low-fidelity paper models to very polished and functionally-rich prototypes – all built without writing a line of code.

By prototyping before we commit considerable resources to the design or development of a product, we can test many of our assumptions about its usability, feasibility and even value, thereby greatly increasing our odds of success.

Here’s the deck from the presentation, for anyone who might be interested in learning more:

Stupid Vim Tricks: How to Change Insert Mode Cursor Shape With Tmux

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Rails developers spend a lot of time in the terminal, to say the least. tmux can be a powerful terminal productivity tool, with its ability to split terminal windows into panes, jump between sessions, and script all sorts of goodness. You’ll get the most out of tmux when it’s paired with an editor like emacs or vim, running natively inside the terminal itself.

When I made the jump from using MacVim exclusively to running vim inside a terminal session, I found that I really missed how MacVim changed the cursor shape from a block to a vertical bar in insert mode; it’s a great visual reminder of your current mode that doesn’t make you look away from where you’re currently working. Luckily, terminal vim inside tmux can emulate this behavior, but it’s a bit tricky to set up.

First, you’ll need a recent build of iTerm that supports the escape sequences we’ll use to change the cursor shape: this one or later should work fine.

You’ll need an updated copy of vim, if you’re still using the one that ships with OS X:

brew install macvim --override-system-vim

Now, in your .vimrc, we’ll add:

" set the cursor to a vertical line in insert mode and a solid block
" in command mode
let &t_SI = "\<Esc>Ptmux;\<Esc>\<Esc>]50;CursorShape=1\x7\<Esc>\\"
let &t_EI = "\<Esc>Ptmux;\<Esc>\<Esc>]50;CursorShape=0\x7\<Esc>\\"

At this point, vim running under tmux should switch cursor shapes when going back and forth from command mode to insert mode. Hooray! However, there’ll be an annoying one-second delay after changing back to command mode before the cursor changes shape. I’ve found the following admittedly hacky combination of settings eliminates this delay. Again, in your .vimrc:

" upon hitting escape to change modes,
" send successive move-left and move-right
" commands to immediately redraw the cursor
inoremap <special> <Esc> <Esc>hl

" don't blink the cursor
set guicursor+=i:blinkwait0

And finally, in your .tmux.conf:

# don't wait for an escape sequence after hitting
# Esc. fixes insert mode exit lag in vim
set -sg escape-time 0

Figuring this out helped me make the jump to using tmux full-time and it’s been a great thing for my command-line efficiency. If you’re looking for a good introduction to using tmux, check out The Pragmatic Programmmer’s tmux: Productive Mouse-Free Development.

Human Behavior Test - Dishes

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Let’s be honest, no one likes doing their dishes. Even less so when they are at work. At Terrible Labs we have a small kitchen with a wash basin sized sink, no dishwasher but a very nice drying rack. The drying rack usually rests on a plastic mat which catches any water from recently cleaned dishes and deposits it back into the sink so that the counter doesn’t end up soaked.

When the drying rack rested on the counter to the side sink, it created as much working space in the sink as possible. As with any busy person at work, it’s easy to place one’s dishes in the sink and quickly move on to the next thing. But each dish adds up which then leads to a full sink of dirty dishes.

In an effort to relieve this problem, Joe decided to alter the makeup of the sink area to see if it would be possible to change the behavior of how people interacted with the sink space. Rather than keep the drying rack to the side of the sink, he suspended the rack over the sink to leave only half of it available.

The result… Clean dishes!

Talking Startups at HackHarvard

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I was fortunate to participate in the first HackHarvard demo day 3 years ago. Peter Boyce, Brandon Liu, Lexi Ross and team were using their winter breaks to create Hack Week, an environment that mentors and encourages current students to build web and mobile products. At the end of Hack Week, students demo their products to a packed auditorium of investors, students, professors and fellow entrepreneurs.

It was great to see how much Hack Harvard has grown over the past few years. This year, I saw familiar faces and but many new ones as well. I was also pleasantly surprised to see how many Harvard Business School students participated and developed their own products.

Prior to the student demos, Hugo Van Vuren of the Experiment Fund gave a great talk on taking chances and saying ‘yes’ to opportunities that present themselves. He highlighted his recent adventures, starting with graduation, heading to Y-Combinator, South Africa, and back to Boston.

After Hugo, Brent Grinna of EverTrue moderated a panel discussion with a few of us from the Boston tech community about how to get involved, meet people who can help and where to go to polish your skills.

If you have the chance to check out a Hack Night at HackHarvard, I highly recommend it. Also, make sure you keep an eye out for next year’s Hack Week and go check out what the student body at Harvard is cooking up.

A big congratulations to all the students who presented.

Teaching Ruby on Rails at Xcelerate Harvard

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I’ve always been impressed with how the Harvard student community continues to pull together top notch programming to help their fellow student body. Peter Boyce of HackHarvard and Kasey Uhlenhuth of Harvard College Venture Partners have spent their Winter breaks putting on Xcelerate Program.

The program is a crash-course in entrepreneurship, teaching student entrepreneurs best practices for startups. It included sessions on business development, writing a business plan, recruiting, fundraising, marketing, customer acquisition and software development. This year, Kasey and Peter brought in some great speakers including Matt Lauzon of Gemvara and Kent Bennett of Bessemer Ventures.

Jeremy and I were fortunate enough to hang out with the students and speak to them about building a web app using Ruby on Rails. If you’re interested in learning why Rails might be a good fit for your application, check out our future talk at HackHarvard this Spring.