David Cole

I'm the Director of Design at Quora.


A professional history.

I'm currently a product design manager at Quora. I reside in my hometown of Mountain View, California with my wife and son.

Other companies I’ve designed for include Disrupto, Etherpad, Disqus, and Fluther.

During 2010 I ran a studio with my friend Tag called Sleepover, focusing on boutique and experimental online publishing.

Occasionally you can find me teaching and fiddling with game design. One time I accidentally inspired a small subculture of Pokémon fans to tweet in character.

More Writing

Other bits on design, games, and pizza.


What should everyone know about video games? A rare moment where I engage in a games-as-art conversation. Determinant Tournaments Exploring the role of chance and advantage in different competitive games. Why I Watch StarCraft Contrasting my experience following competitive StarCraft with other professional sports. Is L.A. Noire any good? I really do not like this game. Am I missing out by not playing any video or console games? Observing the birth of an important medium. Removing the Limitations on Agency from Cooperative Games Notes from an attempt to design a board game.


Is the new Apple iOS 7 look an improvement? Looking past the visual to find the heart of iOS 7. The Rise of Product Design Sort of an earlier version of my Applied Discovery talk. Why is consistency important in design? Basic primer on the promises we make to our users. Startups and Studios Defending startups as a viable choice for designers looking to gain career experience. Design design design. On the many ideas of design and how those affect our thinking. How do you know when it’s time to do a redesign? Somewhat nostalgic: one of my first design answers on Quora.


Cartoons & Forked Reality A swirling conversation with Frank Chimero. When did the term “douchebag” enter the popular parlance? I do some etymological research on a highly important subject. What are your biggest pizza pet peeves? In which I lose all credibility thanks to California pizza. Interview with Chris Wayan About constructing artificial worlds as a form of art and commentary. Why are there so many David Cole’s in my life? I crunch the numbers, sorta. Are there good software libraries that accurately model mixing of different colors? For some reason, I love HSL. What is Mario and Luigi's last name? I get to the bottom of a burning, vital question. Review of Ike's Place I trash a completely honest and respectable business. When were paper planes invented? Yet more internet research on a trivial matter.

Personal Canon

These are the pieces that I find myself referencing regularly in my work life. Big, small, philosophical, practical, and between.


The Top Idea In Your Mind Paul Graham on a simple idea: what you think about in your spare time is probably important. This article has guided much of my work. The Web Is a Customer Service Medium All of Paul Ford’s blog is recommended, but this is a particularly useful lens for building consumer products. The Beginning of Infinity Easily the most important, transformative work in the list. A mind-altering exploration of the nature of progress. Deutsch’s notion of a “good explanation” has become a fundamental concept for my thinking about design. Applied Discovery The material from a talk I gave at Build about the history of our field, and an argument for a fundamental shift in our identity as designers.


Design & Compromise Mills Baker delivers an incredibly compelling case for preserving a singular vision for design. It’s not arguing that designers ought to make every call, but rather that a compromised design is inherently flawed. The kind of piece everyone should read, designer or not. “To put it briefly, the difference between the designer role and the manager role is whether they have the luxury of thinking about one problem at a time.” Ryan Singer of 37Signals answers the question, “Given that the qualities of a good UX Designer and a good Product Manager seem so close, what are the distinguishing features of the two roles?” with such clarity that it’s become my standard definition for the two roles. A key insight is recognizing them more as modes than distinct titles. Metrics-Driven Design Joshua Porter (of the also-canonized Designing for the Social Web) gives this excellent talk on the interplay between metrics and design, with a perspective that thoughtfully recognizes both the costs and the benefits. Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule Developing self-knowledge about your own productivity rhythms is really important, and Paul Graham explains why many of us haven’t had a chance to figure it out. The Tipsy Triangle of Software Startupdom David Sherwin expertly frames the core dimensions of startups and how they are in direct tension with each other. There’s a large movement towards design-led products, but it’s dangerous to mistake design for the whole.


“You show up and marvel along with all of the other fans of architecture. Maybe you return for one of those nights where they stay open late and there is a band and drinking. ‘A great space,’ you think.” — Tag Savage on Path and creating spaces meant for user-generated content. A string of great insights. Designing for the Social Web This is usually the first book I recommend to people who want to “get” product design. There’s almost nothing in here about interaction or visual design, just pure product and growth. Zag I don’t have much experience with branding work, but I found Neumeier’s arguments incredibly fruitful. It’s a very prescriptive, conceptual book that gives you a solid framework for how to think about positioning. Getting Real Many of the ideas in Getting Real have become commonplace in the startup world, but it remains incredibly vital. A bunch of basics stitched together. Understanding the Kano Model A fundamental framework for understanding the role of features and how customers perceive value.

User Experience

To The Right, Hold On Tight An incredible breakdown of how level 1-1 in Super Mario Bros. teaches you the rules of the system without an explicit tutorial. This ought to be the gold standard of usability, engagement, and surprise that product designers aspire to. What happens to user experience in a minimum viable product? Another from Ryan Singer. This is one where the visualization has stuck in my mind. It’s both an argument for sticking up for design, and for being conservative with how much you’ll invest in design. Visualizing Fitt’s Law A basic usability principle, but the visualizations really drive it home. The core principles apply to mobile as well. Don’t Make Me Think This is the book everyone in the world will recommend when you’re first learning interaction design, and for good reason. It remains at the center of every good software design decision.


Visual Display of Quantitative Information The principles in this book apply to many aspects of design, not just data visualization. Tufte is one of those characters, like Krug or Neumeier, that resides in my brain while I work. I ask myself: what would he think about this? Realism in UI Design A simple, small idea, but one of those immediately useful conceptual frameworks that improves your work by just that much. Styling for change with rules and exceptions Ryan Singer with a critical idea for writing good CSS for interfaces: the code should reflect the designer’s intent. “All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap…” Ira Glass on living up to your own expectations as a beginner. In Defense of Eye Candy Aesthetic success is really hard to measure, but this ALA piece makes a strong argument for investing in visuals based on how they drive outcomes.


Stock and flow — Snarkmarket Many of Robin’s posts on Snarkmarket are applicable to product design work, and this is really more about content than design, but these terms have proven very useful to me, and not just in the context of publishing. Notes from Peter Thiel’s CS183: Startup Some of the most dense, thoughtful writing on the business of startups that you can find. Often erratic, occasionally dubious, but the sheer volume of insight is tremendous. At the bare minimum, these notes are useful for understanding a dominant, influential perspective. E-mail Addresses It Would Be Really Annoying to Give Out Over the Phone Not particularly useful, but spot on, and I’m always referencing it when I get a poorly considered wifi password — which som