the power of a good prompt, small teams, extreme questions to trigger ideas, working online/living offline
plus, Bianca Aguilar down the cross-cultural design rabbit hole
Welcome to the startupy newsletter, a laid back column about very serious ideas.
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Cool things curated in our universe
ON THE POWER OF A GOOD PROMPT
Fantastical interiors generated with AI by conceptual artist Hassan Ragab
If you’re struggling to get dazzling work out of AI engines, PromptBase is a marketplace to find top prompts and sell your own prompts (curated in jobs of the future and weird internet careers - because prompt engineering is quickly becoming a viable career path).
ON SMALL TEAMS
Impressive things accomplished by small teams:
Instagram had 13 employees when they were acquired by Facebook for $1 billion. They had 30 millions users at the time.
Mojang (the company behind Minecraft) had 37 employees when they were acquired by Microsoft for $2.5 billion. At that time, Mojang had revenue of about $290 million annually with profits of over $100 million.
WhatsApp had 55 employees when they were acquired by Facebook for $19 billion.
BuiltWith generates $14 million/year with a single employee.
The Gartman Letter had a single employee and was rumored to be doing $25M/year
Kylie Jenner sold a 51% stake in the Kylie Cosmetics for $600 million with just seven full-time and five part-time employees.
Craigslist generates around $1 billion/year with about 50 employees.
The progress that the Wright brothers made on powered flight was so unbelievable that they had to spend two years convincing the US and French governments that it was true.
THE CREATIVE ACT: A WAY OF BEING
I don’t typically like the genre of “successful person writes about how you can replicate their success”. But something about Rick Rubin’s book hit different - it felt less like a book about how to be creative and more like a book on how to become yourself. Full highlights here, but this is the one I’m mulling over:
We tend to think of the artist’s work as the output. The real work of the artist is a way of being in the world.
EXTREME QUESTIONS TO TRIGGER BETTER IDEAS
We create so many unseen barriers. One way to open our minds is to ask insane questions, like:
If you were forced to increase your prices by 10x, what would you have to do to justify it?
If all our customers vanished, and we had to earn our growth and brand from scratch, what would we do?
If our biggest competitor copied every single feature we have, how would we still win?
ON WORKING ONLINE, LIVING OFFLINE
Manila-based designer, educator, and writer
Rabbit hole: Cross-Cultural Design
Why is Cross-Cultural Design interesting?
When I was getting started with product and service design, I was stuck in a Western bubble; the practitioners I first looked up to tended to be white males, while the platforms I would refer to as examples usually came from Silicon Valley. However, design isn't fully universal; just because an app succeeds in America doesn't mean it'll do as well in Southeast Asia. A significant chunk of Internet users belong to the Majority World/Global South, yet there is so little we know about them. As a Filipino woman myself, I struggled to figure out how to adapt my design practice to my own local context, and I feel like I'm still learning. Hence why I want to advocate for this topic. I have compiled resources on how to practice cross-cultural design alongside various examples of technology in non-Western countries.
A podcast worth listening to on the topic?
I highly recommend Traces: a podcast that dissects how technology and design impacts culture in developing countries (currently focused on Myanmar).
Things worth reading and watching on the topic?
First, here are some of the books I find essential:
Cross-Cultural Design: Designer and creative director Senongo Akpem shares a clear and accessible methodology for designing across cultures: from performing socially conscious research, to building culturally responsive experiences, to developing meaningful internationalization and localization approaches.
The Next Billion Users: Digital anthropologist Payal Arora invalidates multiple assumptions about internet use in developing countries by sharing insights from her extensive fieldwork in India, China, South Africa, Brazil, and the Middle East.
Next, here are some of the online resources I constantly refer to:
Web Design Across the World: This series of articles exposes global web culture, technology, education, and design, one country at a time.
Inclusive Design in Southeast Asia: This study explores how far Southeast Asia organizations incorporate inclusiveness and accessibility into their digital products.
Finally, a case study that has left a big impact on me is Designing for Developing Markets: a talk where Jay Demetillo, Lead Product Designer of Grab, shows how he strategizes, researches, and designs for different regions, discussing everything from ideologies to design systems.
Projects worth following on the topic?
Two projects that I'm excited by are:
Chamjo: Created by an all-Indonesian team, this Mobbin-inspired collection consists of design patterns used by Asia-based apps.
AI in/from the Majority World: This project by Data & Society invigorates existing efforts to reframe the "Global South" as home to the majority of the human population, while aiming to understand the diverse ethics, politics, and everyday experiences of living with data and AI. So far, this project has come up with a primer on various jargons and an anthology of parables.
Aside from these, I have also gained unique insights from the following publications:
Rest of World: a global nonprofit publication covering technology beyond the Western bubble.
Chaoyang Trap: a newsletter about everyday life on the Chinese internet
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