Blog (old stuff at

I've blogged on various platforms over the years as a way to express my thoughts on things important to me, though undoubtedly irrelevant in the greater social discourse. For me, this is my Theseus' ball of thread, a token of memory made permanent so that I may look back and judge my intellectual growth – and any audience is just an artefact of chance. 

I did spend some time on Medium but as its focus on long-format has sharpened, it no longer suits my snippet-like musings. But if you're interested...

2019.11/ November

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In brief
I recently listened to a mother express concern over artificial intelligence and the worry that her teenage children may choose careers which may no longer exist when they graduate. My advice was to consider any path that embodied creativity, people or technology – ideas and innovation will not be replicated by machines, there will always be people to manage, and understanding the building blocks of the future will guarantee work. But most of all, know how to work with people – connecting and getting the most out of them will be the greatest skill of all. Read

AI will still need humans
There's a lot going on in the AI (artificial intelligence) and ML (machine learning) space – it's the new buzzword that both startup and endup (new word for corporate) are scrambling over. Many of the technologists in this space have highlighted what can go wrong if we don't look beyond the flashiness of the promise e.g. this opinion piece, and are re-visiting the work of Dr Joseph Weizenbaum in the 1960s for ethical guidance. Dr Weizenbaum's book Computer Power and Human Reason lays out:

While Artificial Intelligence may be possible, we should never allow computers to make important decisions because computers will always lack human qualities such as compassion and wisdom. Weizenbaum makes the crucial distinction between deciding and choosing. Deciding is a computational activity, something that can ultimately be programmed. Choice, however, is the product of judgment, not calculation. It is the capacity to choose that ultimately makes us human. Comprehensive human judgment is able to include non-mathematical factors, such as emotions. Judgment can compare apples and oranges, and can do so without quantifying each fruit type and then reductively quantifying each to factors necessary for comparison.

Looking forward
"Your windscreen is larger than your rearview mirror". Innovation does not come from the past. Watch

Everything you wanted to know about the design industry
The Design Census 2019. Read

et cetera
Companies will no longer be afforded the luxury of social, ethical and political neutrality. They will need to align with their customer's personal value ecosystem or risk fading into obscurity as brand loyalty wanes. Read

We all wonder why taxes, home loans and budgeting weren't taught in schools. Here's an organisation tackling the issue of financial literacy for kids in an engaging way. Web

Nerdom has risen in cultural status such that 'high' streetwear brands now source them as inspiration. Read

"Work which materially affects the wider business is usually of a greater level of impact than work which affects just the individual." How to measure a designer's worth. Read

The Double Diamond of Design grows up. Read

If you set your social media profile to public, is your data then free for anyone to use? The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says 'yes'. Read

The history and future of machine learning – a repeated story. Read

The future of Marketing is forking a tech branch that focuses on digital transformation, personalisation and growth. Read

Life not giving the zing it used to? Perhaps a dopamine fast is the answer. Read

When the collective use their power for good – ethical hackers search for missing persons. Read

Sneaker culture's latest buzzwords – sneans! Read

Glossary of trending sustainable fashion terms. Read

Faith has embraced digital (wearable). Read

There actually is an order in which to sequence adjectives. Read

How advanced is AI? It isn't. Watch

Ton Ha
2019.10/ October

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In brief
This is a selfish venture. I never did get into writing letters or keeping diaries – for me, it was blogs. I did it mostly to look back, perhaps to chuckle at my foolish naivety, marvel at my youthful aspirations or lament lost opportunities and bad choices. And while this newsletter ultimately serves the same purpose, hindsight and inspiration may present as a small gift for those few who choose to read it.

The Company-Customer Gap
Luke Wroblewski is a Product Director at Google. I've watched the rise of his career with admiration and envy. His recent talk resonates deeply with the UX community's frustrations – product and strategic decisions made to drive short-term company objectives at the detriment of the very customers they look to serve. Watch

A deeper look at gamification
There is a strong sense of excitement whenever gamification is raised but the commercial world was burnt by the primitive promises of points and badges. In some ways, it's a blessing that allows us to do it better the next time around. By rights, it's game mechanics to promote interaction – we just didn't look at the right ones. Read

Once more with feeling
I've come to UX through a design path and find am finding the research component quite exciting. While consciously trying to be open-minded, I still find myself snagged by assumptions and misconceptions – it's true, people will always surprise you. My branding background features many similarities with user experience... I talk about delight, being inspired, uplift and sense of achievement, all terms that don't mesh well with engineering types and managers.

It's ironic that the studies in which CEO presentations reference say that experience is the key differentiator for businesses moving forward, yet it always comes back to 'pragmatic' metrics i.e. simplicity, usability, functionality. I doubt these terms are ever mentioned when strong memories are evoked... "I remember that summer after I had just turned six and grandma took me to Disneyland as a surprise. It was clean, easy-to-get-around and accessible." Read

Buttsss: A story of ideation and iteration
If you were ever interested in the design process and how digital things are made, here it is! Read

et cetera
A scientific approach to measuring the emotional impact on customer behaviour. Listen

Being left-handed, the phenomenon has always intrigued me. Apparently, it's determined by society's cooperative vs competitive pressures. Watch

How do we get everyone in the world to experience the overview effect? Read

Bigorexia is a problem in Australia. Watch

Mobile battery levels affects your self-identity. Read

Android's emoji update include gender neutrality. Read

Truth distortion in mapping. Read

Rethinking product roadmaps. Twitter thread

A case for bottom navigation for mobile UIs. Read

Ton Ha
The path of peace

If I were to offer any advice on taking steps for self-defence, know that there are few wrong paths. There is no 'best' as the fundamentals of striking, blocking and movement will serve you well regardless of style or system. Also know that it is a long road and your proficiency is a product of your input and perseverance.

Awareness and being mindful of your surroundings is first and foremost. Avoid, minimise, de-escalate and disengage where possible. There is no problem if you do not let a situation become one.

Once an engagement presents itself, seek to solve the problem quickly with purpose and aggression. Know that an opponent is rarely alone. Know that anything can be a weapon (or a shield). Know that you will be hit. You have one goal – survive.

Take up boxing for the cardio, fast hands and combos. The fitness itself is worth the price of admission. So is being comfortable in-close and taking strikes. Train so that delivering a combinations becomes second nature.

Take up a traditional martial art for the discipline, the culture and efficiency of movement. Respect the history and find the path of peace – know that this is real. Train so that your movement and strikes do not give away your intention.

Take up kick-boxing for the aggression, expression of power and the additional toolset of knees, elbows and clinches. Explore what it is like to explode with rawness and primal intent – feel its effect and consequence and from it, learn control. Train so that you can be effective at all ranges.

Take up wrestling or jujitsu for the groundwork, control and submission. Know that prolonged engagements rarely remain standing. Be comfortable with restriction. Be comfortable being close. Embrace the struggle. Train so that you have options regardless of your position.

Take up Krav Maga for the reality of combat and self-defence solutions. Know that life is not fair and gentlemen's rules do not exist. Be comfortable fighting dirty and take every advantage. Prepare for the worst and know that there will be more. Train so that you place your survival above all else.

Beyond this, there are three other skillsets that will serve you well. Take up parkour for effective pathfinding. Take up gymnastics for flexibility, power and body control. Learn physiology for knowledge of vital areas and anatomical limitations.

I have varying levels of expertise in each of these areas and the advice is merely a reflection of my journey and experience. For some, true success is defined as a lifetime of training without encountering an incident. For others, "it is better to a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war." For myself, it is the confidence that allows me to walk in peace.

Ton Ha
The many moves of Spiderman

The long-awaited Spiderman game has dropped on the PlayStation 4 and by all accounts, lives up to the hype – the Marvel Universe's version of New York City is absolutely stunning. But unfortunately, the heavily borrowed combat from Batman's Arkham Asylum series is perhaps not as polished. 

The Bat's gritty brawler crossed martial artist style gives way to the fluid acrobatic agility-based movements of the Spider. Polygon's journalist Patrick Gill breaks down his interpretation of Peter Parker's combative influences to capoeira and lucha libre.

Personally, I find the dance-fighting inspiration a long bow to draw especially given the double-kicks are clearing kung fu or similar. But, I can see where he's coming from.

Lucha libre on the other hand, took me somewhat by surprise and I totally agree! The wrestling roots are a not-so-subtle nod to the comic lore and the costume would not be out-of-place in a real-life arena. The over-the-top and exaggerated moves only add to the superhero mythology and video game immersion. 

It is truly wonderful to see such niche styles cherished this way. 

Ton Ha
The faces in the mirror

For all the race talk of gangs in Melbourne and the greater immigration debate over assimilation of values, all I wanted during my childhood was to fit in.

I arrived in Australia when I was quite young and while my comprehension of the slang was rudimentary, my command of English and the accent were spot on. It's a trend I see of all immigrants that learn the language rather than grow up with it – our spelling and grammar are often a level above native speakers. 

As the only person of Asian descent in the neighbourhood on the outer suburbs of Brisbane, my world was seen through Caucasian eyes. My friends, teachers and everyone I interacted with were white – over time, I had reached a level of comfort and belief that I too was 'normal', a fact only shattered when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror or in the eyes of bigoted strangers.

It's a pain I've hidden for many years.

In an interview for the upcoming all-Asian Hollywood movie, Crazy Rich Asians, the cast tell of its significance and more importantly, their childhood memories. These resonant stories are echoed by the overwhelming tales on social media of others like me and in some semblance of validation, I am glad that I was not alone. 

If I was able to send this message to my childhood self, perhaps I would have smiled more often.

Ton Ha
A place in a crowded space

While consulting on a SaaS platform in the media industry, I came across an article that highlights and reinforces the value of branding and market fit.

The ability of just about anyone to create a product is a boon for innovation but it definitely turns up the volume in terms of competition. Never before has the need to stand out and provide that special niche service been more important. For example, the marketing technology landscape has ballooned from 150 companies seven years ago to now over five thousand.

Five thousand.

The game is no longer to be good at something – it's to be great at something and let everyone know about it. Without visibility, there is no scale. And without solving a problem well, simply and intuitively, someone else will.

Ton Ha
A new look for an old fox

The Firefox brand is looking to refresh and Mozilla has opened the discussion up to the public. My thoughts, as follows. 

It is unfortunate here that we have a distinct choice between legibility and character. 

System 2 has a cleanliness in its use of shape and linework that conveys meaning more readily at the sizes often found in the digital space. However, as the prevailing design language of the internet, is also suffers from a familiarity and blandness – gradient and dimensioning on generic icons conjure a fusion of Material Design and Microsoft Office from years past. 

System 1 houses a playfulness from the illustration-inspired design trends of modern SaaS startups. But it comes as a cost, especially in this iteration, of a bloat and chunkiness that renders the visuals into blurred gradient shapes at sizes where icons are most useful. Out of context, even the most digital savvy would be guessing. 

The Fox Head of System 1 rings the bell of nostalgia for those who saw the demise of Netscape and wished for an alternative to Explorer. But to the Chrome generation, could they have deduced the cunning animal from such abstracted geometry? 

In short, System 1 for its potential but not its execution. 

Ton Ha
The waterfall of life

I was sent a video via email, one of those that screams 'viral has-been' given the source and indeed, it was one that circulated back in 2011. Nonetheless, it was a slow news day and decided to watch it. 

The video tells of the reintroduction of wolves back into Yellowstone National Park in 1995 after being absent for many decades. What followed was an eye-opening rejuvenation of the entire ecosystem in a process called a trophic cascade

Whether sensationalised for a bite-sized viewing or whether nature's resilience to bounce back cannot be underestimated, I was blown away by the complexity, interdependence and scale at which the food chain has been optimised and balanced through evolution. 

My takeaway is that even though we're enjoying the most significant technological and information boom in our history, we do not understand our environment or the impact we place upon it. Current extinction rates of species are alarming for those who care to be aware of it, and I can not imagine what miracles and discoveries we deny ourselves by their absence. 

Ton Ha
Of time and space

As a shy kid in grade school, I never liked having others looking over my shoulder. In a Batman-like hunch, I would shelter my thoughts from the world until it was ready. When the open-planned office evolution overtook the workplace, it was history repeating all over again.

I would gravitate towards the ends or have my back to the wall – being caught in the middle or next to a walkway was a trigger to finding another job. Strangely, there were those who loved the spotlight and actively sought it.

I've come to realise it actually benefits some professions. Those who are reactive or feed off other people's energies find the communal configurations empowering. But for anyone who requires contemplation, introspection or deep thought, it's a productivity killer. 

With the changing standards to cultural workplace norms, headphones have allowed individuals to create their own space within the chaos, a bubble of silence or customised ambience away from the office politicking and gossip.

Google has awoken to this fact and provide a variety of workspace types and environments, a biome to suit every job description and personality. 

This is a lesson that collaboration spaces such as startup hubs need to learn. There are many work styles, approaches, and cadence, all of which each requires it's own time and place. 

Ton Ha
Walking Dead is the new Pokemon

There was a time when kids were told to go outside instead of playing games, slouched on living room floors and tethered to TVs. The mobile revolution flipped that paradigm and gaming is now anywhere, any time. 

Niantic, the studio behind Ingress and Pokemon Go, live by a mission of encouraging players to discover their communities, and the process, build them. While the fan run Ingress events of thousands have flown under the mainstream media's attention, it wasn't until Pokemon Go brought the rabid masses out into the streets that this mobile genre garnered interest. 

As augmented reality hogged most of the spotlight, it was actually the nostalgia of a generation grown up on an emotional narrative and now with the means via expensive devices that boosted the numbers. Attend any lunchtime raid, and it is thirty-somethings tapping away on multiple devices. Pokemon Go isn't going away time soon – Nintendo's marketing machine has made sure of that.

The recent San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) showcased a few new copycats who've also doubled-down on beloved franchises. An upcoming Ghostbusters beta features cartoonish sprites, monster collecting and evolution, and a seemingly complex capture system. Pokemon Go's simplified mechanism has an edge here on an action that is performed at ad nauseum each day. 

The Walking Dead launched its game, Our World, and provides an all-together different experience, one with a remarkably more interactive cadence and gaming loop. Together with its richer Google Maps interface, it has managed to draw my attention away from Pokemon Go in the past few days – a feat not many other mobile games have achieved. 

It is here that I would recommend Ingress take note. With very few polished games in this genre, Pokemon Go is already feeling dated in visual presentation, interaction, and mechanics. That said, with full confidence, I am sure Ingress have many tricks up their sleeves for grander reveals on upcoming IPs – Harry Potter, here we come!

Ton Ha
Body language

Neymar is the gift that keeps on giving. From tennis stars to school kids, TV ads to countless memes, the overly theatric appeals for fouls has earned the Brazilian soccer poster boy a collective internet Oscar. 

The online design niche has also recently contributed to this treasure trove of embarrassment by immortalising the Paris St. Germain striker as a typeface – all twenty-six letters each formed by the contortion of a body writhing in faux agony.

To be fair, there are robust discussions around the somewhat plausible reasons why diving and carrying-on is 'mandatory', from subversive thuggish defenders to selectively blind referees. But regardless of the nuance, the round ball-loving public can only marvel at the fragility of the great Neymar. 

Ton Ha
Roy G. Biv

Lilac, canary, mustard, slate. As a visual designer, my colour vocabulary has significantly expanded since first learning about the rainbow's hue composition in grade school. And yet, it still pales in comparison to some of my contemporaries in such disciplines like interior design with their seventy 'practical' shades of white. 

As such, I was blown away by a piece of trivial history stating there was a time when the colour blue did not exist. Physically it has, but in literature, the sapphire-like radiance was never mentioned in ancient times. 

Homer's The Odyssey famously describes the sea as "wine-dark"... the same discrepancy is found in all surviving Ancient Greek texts, with a substitute colour always appearing instead of blue. Curiously, this linguistic blind spot occurs in most other ancient languages too.

This descriptive glitch apparently comes down to classification. In modern times, we make the distinction that a pale red is defined as pink but make no such allowances for example, between a light orange and dark orange – nomenclature-wise the same colour, but just different shades or tints. 

In this respect, ancient scholars considered blue to be a deeper shade of green and this throwback is still present today in some cultures. Crazy huh? 

Ton Ha
The other fairytale

It's not coming home. 

The popular media in the lead-up to England's clash with Croatia rode the nostalgic sentiment of the Three Lions in their quest win a second World Cup and fulfil a thirty year old dream. Alas it was not to be. 

Having broken their penalty shootout curse, the fanciful and fleet-footed sported a stylish white strip to take an early lead, courtesy of a masterclass in set pieces and a reminder of where the catch-cry 'bend it like Beckham' originated. As too often in this bizarro-world contest that has seen football's powerhouses falter, the tendency to adopt a defensive position ultimately proved to be the wrong tactical decision. 

If you were to take two key insights away from this cycle of football, it's that you can't win games if you cannot score from open play; and regardless of your strategy, being flexible to counter the opponent's is a must. Staying true to the game plan has definitely not worked. 

"One man's pain is another man's profit," lamented the commentator on an injury substitution, but this as a broader view from Croatia's rise is also true. As a relatively young country of twenty-something years, it is now contesting its first World Cup final. And while most punters may have resigned Croatia as a dark horse, few would have predicted the result.

For a country of just over four million, perhaps that's the greatest fairytale of them all.

Ton Ha
The family secret

To a child, family is everything and the template for how the world should be. But as the child leaves the nest, albeit gradually to school, and then more regularly as adulthood settles in, one's view of family inevitably comes to the notion that 'my family is weird'. 

And this feeling is more true for immigrant children. For whatever normality may exist, it is still likely different in the cultural context – and all the weird is amplified more so. 

Ironically, through the process of discovering our differences, we will meet those who aren't so. As immigrant children connect and share, there comes the realisation that weird is actually special, and that sometimes it's also actually more normal

Family is not perfect, but it is familiar. 

Ton Ha
The test of time

If you've ever taken the time to hear someone's story, you'll find it as interesting as any bestseller. We all have our trials, triumphs and regrets, and while we aren't the chosen few who were first to touch the moon or discover distant lands, our stories are inherently fascinating for one reason – they're about people struggling to find their place, be it in family, society or culture. 

They say history is written by the victors, but in the age of social media, it is more often trolls and click-baiters looking for their fifteen minutes. One such recent meme plays on a cultural and temporal displacement of beauty, reducing the individual's life to a mere laugh for simpler folk.

The reality is that she was a born leader and in her time – "There are instances of her using her influence with her father [the king]... Like other royal women at her father’s court, Esmat appeared to be a competent woman with a fair amount of agency."

The generic nature of the meme also obscures the achievements of another:

"Taj was a feminist and a nationalist who supported a cultural and constitutional revolution in Persia... [and] articulated some of the most eloquent arguments put forward by women for unveiling as a first necessary step toward women’s participation in education, paid work, and progress of the nation."

In this context, it is only of pure ignorance that we disrespect the greatness of others lost in time – everyone has a story... will yours survive?


Ton Ha
On the line

I recently came across a job description that asked for examples of 'projects that you've done in your own time'. Given this was from an industry-leading consultancy anchored in the social good, I immediately felt unable to meet this criterion... I spend most of my day focused on work and most of my time outside of work thinking about work. 

What could I possibly do, participate in, or advocate for, that would impress?

For some, they organise rallies to bring light to injustices or fundraise for their cause or charity, but for someone like me, perhaps it's enough that I put my body on the line to teach women that it's okay to defend themselves, not be afraid, and feel empowered.

I teach Krav Maga for when civility is disrespected and liberties are discarded – for once you're safe and the assailant is disabled, then is the time for talk. And for whatever it's worth, that's my contribution to the greater good. 


Ton Ha
The generation bridge

The generation classifications are broad and fuzzy at best. While GenX was defined by the 'isms' and rallied with irony against their Baby Boomer parents, the Millennials embraced a digital world that afforded unlimited opportunity and connection. 

But for some of us, our childhood was threatened with the analogue drudgery of pay phones, encyclopedic collections and mixtapes, only to then witness the birth of mankind's greatest achievement – the internet. It was a rough start of course, with dial-up, mp3s, brick phones and T9 texting, but those early days provided us with a headstart. 

It was us that populated Geocities, popularised online chat and embraced the possibility of the new digital playground. Primed with finishing college and eager to forge a career in newly-created economies, this niche generational subset straddled both the old and the new, blessed with the good old days and a bright new dawn

We are the Xennials.


Ton Ha

From the microcosm that is one's own backyard entrenched in an island mentality, I get it – why do I have to buy something that was once free?

Australia's plastic bag ban has finally peeped its nose from under the twentieth-century blanket and decided to join the rest of the world in cleaning up the place. Everywhere from the Americas to Europe, this has been the norm over the past many years but wow, you wouldn't believe the howls of murder from this corner of the planet.

Given the history of descending from the other whinging lot on the British Isles, perhaps it's in the DNA. Whatever it is, there's a certainty that the land down under is currently a laughing stock by the way it's carrying on – this article's last few lines sums it best:

β€œBag rage!?” wrote one incredulous Facebook user. β€œYou’re not serious. Apparently the US doesn’t have the market cornered on entitled douchebags.”

It’s not every day that a nation’s people can be called douchebags by a country that elected Donald Trump. Take a bow, Australia. What a time to be alive.

Ton Ha
This is America

Man-of-the-moment Donald Glover is the very definition of culturally woke and as one Tweet proclaimed, "As god closes a Kanye, he opens a Childish Gambino" (that's his stage name FYI).

For some, they use their fifteen minutes blinded by the lights and spiral to Earth with vertigo, while others build wings to keep aloft and add new perspectives to the public discourse. As the crescendo of cultural waves overlap, Donald has lent his voice to the chorus of thousands in amplifying the #TimesUp message

For what some consider common sense, it is a sad reflection of our society that this sort of anti-harassment guide needs to exist. 

Ton Ha
The walled garden

A recent NYT article unearthed the brains behind what they call an Illuminati Tinder, a dating app for the rich, famous and interesting. Originally a curated community for creatives and free-thinkers, it's now a velvet rope for A-listers, movie stars and sporting royalty. 

I recommend the read.

The greatest piece of insight, however, was in the author's summary:

It’s hard to remember now, but there was a time in which niche interest groups were exclusive and self-moderating. The nerds had their subreddits and Metafilter threads, the artists had their zines and Tumblrs, the 9/11 truthers had their email lists and subway pamphlets.

Then social media companies came along, broke up the clubs and forced all the gamers and sports fans and Instant Pot moms and neo-Nazis onto the same three apps, then acted surprised when nobody got along.

I genuinely had a moment of pause. In product development, we often aim for endless up-and-to-the-right growth as we users what they want. But perhaps, it's time for us to ask users who they don't want. 

Ton Ha