Interviewed by Springboard PR

Back in September, NJ Connect invited me to give my talk, “Amazing Design Through Empathy.” I had a ton of fun speaking with the folks in attendance.

The conversation continued, and Benjamin Doda of Springboard PR (the organizers of NJ Connect) interviewed me on web design, empathy, and business. He asked me some really provocative, difficult, and fun questions.

Springboard Geek Whisperer Interview

A number of the questions he asked me about are going to feed the next iteration of my talk.

Here’s an excerpt

When you give an inch, some people take a mile. What are the consequences of designing with too much empathy?

Sympathy is feeling for a person. Empathy is feeling with a person.

It’s the difference between looking at the world’s tallest and fastest roller-coaster and saying “Wow… that looks really intense” (sympathy), versus getting into the roller-coaster and experiencing the ride for yourself (empathy).

Sympathy is useless, and drives a wedge between you and the person you’re dealing with.

To take this one step further, there’s a difference between having empathy, and being emotional.

If you’re feeling with a person, you have awareness, if you’re being emotional, you’re being strictly governed by emotions. In business, being emotional is going to ultimately make you spiral out of control.

Here’s what empathy is in a business context. I have a client who is agitated, passive-aggressive, and inconsistent. He’s incredibly difficult to deal with. Throughout the course of working with him I pieced together that he has a boss who micromanages him, changes his mind at the drop of a buzzword, and bullies my client around. When I look at my client, I understand what he’s feeling. I can identify those same emotions in myself, and I can even remember a time when I had a boss who did the exact same thing to me. What I am not doing is internalizing those emotions, and allowing myself to feel my client’s total panic. I’m identifying with his emotions, and using the knowledge that I have of how he must be feeling to help the situation.

Regardless of whether you feel with a client, or are numb to their emotions, a client can still push you around, and take more than they have paid for.

I have a small tolerance for extra work with my clients. When I start doing extra work, if it’s small, I let them know, “This is above and beyond, next time we’re going to have to talk about a change order and a budget.” If that extra work is a bit bigger, I may issue a no cost change order, and make everyone sign it knowing that the next change is going to cost money.

Some requested changes are just going to cost money. Sometimes you just need to tell the client early and often that future iterations and features are going to require a budget.

- See more at:


Room Escape Artist

If you’ve read this site at all this year you may have noticed that I have become increasingly interested in real life room escape games.

Someone lit a match near that interest, and it exploded into a new website:

My girlfriend Lisa and I have been working on this site (and the corresponding map of room escape games in the US) for some time, and now that it’s getting some traction, we’re actually telling people about it.

Room Escapes of the USA

Humanitarian App Design & the CrisisMappers 2014 Mapping Challenge

Since the beginning of the year I have immersed myself in the humanitarian aid coordination world. Through my employer Phase2, I’ve been designing applications, and iterative improvements for the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). It’s been both the most challenging, fun, and rewarding work that I’ve ever done.

I don’t normally discuss my work in any level of detail in a public forum, however, my client has been tweeting my involvement, and even sharing shots of my wireframes (which is an awesome first for me)… So I don’t feel like I’m divulging anything that isn’t already publicly available.

@HumanitarianID Wireframe Tweet

International Conference of CrisisMappers 2014, New York City

This weekend, I attended the CrisisMappers conference. The conference is “the leading humanitarian technology event of the year, bringing together the most important humanitarian, human rights, development and media organizations with the world’s best technology companies, software developers and academics.”

The event itself was wonderfully informative, and it was cool to see all of the brilliant innovations that people have come up with, while also reinforcing that essentially everyone is grappling with different variations of the same problems.

The event has filled me with inspiration, hope, and a better understanding of where my client fits in within the larger humanitarian world.

Mapping Challenge

Saturday’s sessions largely consisted of a mapping challenge whereby attendees broke-off into groups and had to map something in Union Square.

The overall results were varied and nifty. 

My group consisted of my colleague Brandon Morrison; my client Andrej Verity, and our new friend and researcher David Haynes.

Together we gathered data, and mapped whether stores, services, or features in and surrounding the park serviced locals or tourists.

ICCM 2014 Union Square Local vs Tourist Map

We built it with Leaflet, fed the data in via GeoJSON, and everything is available on GitHub.

Conclusions From Touring 6 Top Matzah / Matzoh Ball Joints in NYC

We chose six well-reviewed Manhattan matzah ball restaurants and proceeded to visit each one over the course of an afternoon.

Our hypothesis

No one’s balls are as good as your grandmother’s balls.

Ask any Italian where to get the best red sauce and the answer is “my grandmother.” It’s like that.

Our bet was that those of us who grew up eating matzah balls would be disappointed by all of the balls because they weren’t the ones we grew up with.

Edison Cafe Matzah Balls

Matzah vs. Matzo vs Matza

It’s the same thing, but the last vowel sound in the word has not single English letter equivalent… So as with most things, Jews can’t agree on the answer leading to multiple transliterations. We prefer “ah.”

Matzah ball soup variables

Matzah ball soup has a lot of variability. Based on our rigorous ball testing, here are the key variables to watchout for:

Broth flavor

Dill? Salt quantity? Too oily? If you add that much fat, it better add that much flavor.

Matzah balls derive a lot of their flavor from the broth they are bobbing in.

For the most part, we had a lot of good broth. Only a couple places did something special.

Ball density

Matzah balls range from too soft to maintain their own structure in broth to very dense. A good general rule is that greater density correlates with more flavor.

Ball size

The larger the ball, the less flavor.

If you like large, loose balls, it’s probably because you like the consistency… The way they feel in your mouth, not that good ole matzah flavor.


Spongy balls don’t need to be flavorful on their own as long as they swim in winning broth. Spongy balls are pervasive.


Noodles don’t add value. They usually just add mushiness. Exception: 2nd Avenue Deli, but only if little pasta squares can be considered noodles.

Kashka is a good thing to add if you like your matzah balls to taste like the root of a plant. Not a root vegetable, an actual root.

Restaurant matzah balls are soft

We both grew up with dense matzah balls. My family’s balls are so hard they’re weaponized. You just can’t get balls that are this dense in restaurants. There’s no apparent reason for it; it’s just a tragic fact of life.

If you like your balls soft, squishy, crumbly, or otherwise flaccid, Blue Ribbon’s are the limpest of the bunch. Personally, I hate these kinds of balls, but I know many-a-person who’s into this sort of thing.

If you like a soft ball that can still hold up under pressure, check out the 2nd Avenue Deli.

Price & Value

We found no relationship between price and quality.

We found no correlation between price and amount of food either.

Price is only related to the ambiance of the establishment.

But while we’re on the subject, Blue Ribbon is a little too proud of their balls. I’m not one to laugh at someone’s balls, but $15 is a joke.

Veselka, the best restaurant matzah balls in Manhattan

Why? Because Veselka’s balls are firm, like our grandmother’s balls and have a distinctive matzah-y flavor. The balls have a density and weight to them; when you handle them, you know it.

They have the saltiness that you expect from balls.

The broth is flavorful, with pieces of chicken. It’s served with slices of sweet challah bread, which balance the salty soup perfectly.

Veselka Matzah BallsThe decisive winner?

Veselka was great, but it’s got nothing on what we make at home.

In restaurants, kreplach > matzah balls

Kreplach are awesome. They are the wantons of Jewish chicken soup.

Restaurants usually make better kreplach than matzah balls. If a restaurant offers Kreplach or matzah balls, go with the kreplach.

Next year we’re going to have to do a kreplach tour.