Brian Feeney

March 01, 2024


Duolingo and You, or Not

Dave Rupert made some smart comments on Duolingo.

Slowly you realize the truth about Duolingo; it's not a language learning platform, it's an engagement platform. And through that engagement you might pick up some language skills. Duolingo does little in explaining how rudimentary concepts like verbs or participles work and instead lets you piece it together solely from repetition and context clues. Repetition in learning is important but without ever addressing the fundamentals of a language Duolingo reveals it's prioritizing something else over language mechanics.

He's right in that Duolingo prioritizes repetition over language mechanics. I can't argue with that. Except to say that the repetition is what makes it work for me. I don't open Duolingo to learn the rules of a language (French, in my case). I use Duolingo as a reliable way to inject 10 to 20 minutes of French into my life everyday. And I reinforce that education with a twice-monthly one-on-one lesson with a private teacher.

If you're using Duolingo, I'd recommend ignoring every app mechanic but the streak. Keep the streak going, because it's the daily bit of language which keeps it alive in your brain. And don't expect to become fluent from the app, either. It won't do that for you (unless maybe you dedicate an hour or more a day?). For that reason, I think Rupert is right walk away, having read his explanation. If you don't have enough motivation to learn a language with other supportive practices, Duolingo is probably not going to provide much benefit to you in the long run.

I could replace Duolingo with daily reading in French. I have French books and I do read them, but I'm constantly going to the dictionary to look up words and conjugations. There are thousands of idioms and colloquialisms which need googling to understand. What makes Duolingo better, in my opinion, is that it keeps it simple. It grows the vocabulary slowly, repetitively, and the translations are always a click away, should you need it. And it's on my phone, which is with me all the time. I can do my daily 15min from anywhere at anytime.

So I'd agree with Dave that Duolingo is not the perfect way to learn a language on its own. If it's not working for you, let it drop. But for me, it's the exact kind of reinforcement which propels me forward into fluency. For anyone who truly does want to learn a language, my advice would be to take regular lessons or classes, but to support that with a daily Duolingo habit. Or maybe use Duolingo to find which language you truly want to learn. You might think it's Spanish, but maybe you find you really enjoy German? In any case. it's an excellent app. I've found it incredibly useful. Especially when my expectations for it are in line with what it provides.

February 26, 2024




On Saturday, we met some good friends for lunch and day drinking. Bounced around a few places. Had a great time. On the way there, we passed this place where a dozen dogs were doing some hanging out, too. 

February 19, 2024


It's Nice That featured a few brick and mortar projects by design studios. It's a trend, apparently. I know I'd be tempted if I ran a studio, myself. Especially if that was in a smaller town with affordable retail real estate.

February 11, 2024


The Office

WSJ Office

I've been going into the office more often, lately. Midtown is still a drag, but it's nice to see my colleagues in person.

February 10, 2024


Cory Dransfeldt writes a reminder that "renting your music means accepting that it will disappear." This is the main driver behind my interest in vinyl. I don't listen to much music on the turntable, but I do intend to buy all of my favorite records as LPs. As many as I can. One day, my 25,000 track collection on Apple Music will disappear. Either because Apple closes it down or a random bug wipes it all. I'm resigned to that happening. Everything digital is temporary.

February 10, 2024


Every time we plan a trip to a place relatively new to me, I scour the web for the general weather I should expect in that location around that week/month. There's a nice tool at Google for this: the Well-Tempered Traveler.

February 09, 2024


I really enjoyed reading Bobby Aaron Solomon's process in his just-for-fun book cover design for McCarthy's Blood Meridian. Made me miss my graphic design days.

February 08, 2024


The Gulf Between Design and Engineering

I couldn't agree more with Rune Madsen's article on the gulf between design and engineering in some organizations.

I believe the way most organizations produce digital products is fundamentally broken. The elephant in the room is a dated understanding of the role of both design and engineering, which in turn shapes how organizations hire, manage, and produce digital things. These companies invest billions of dollars building teams, processes, and tools on top of an immature discipline and an outdated waterfall model that ends up being detrimental to productivity, team happiness, and ultimately, the resulting experiences we bring to life.

I work at a company which is a nestled set of orgs within orgs. A sibling design department to mine has recently finalized their waterfall process with a very detailed document. It's really well done, and a big achievement for our Design Ops. I'm reading it, though, and realizing that it could not possibly work for my department without introducing bottlenecks from design and slowing down the rate with which we ship. That documentation clearly solves an org problem, albeit one out of my view — I suspect a political one concerned with executive reporting. That's fair. There are many acceptable reasons for leadership to prioritize what they choose. In a big org like the one I'm in, accountability can take precedence over product. Again, fair.

My team — as opposed to the others — operates as Madsen describes: integrated with engineering. Every week, we're shipping new features across multiple Publishing tools. And at various levels. Sometimes the feature is a new button in the UI for a new function. Sometimes the feature is a systems-wide capability which cuts multiple steps out of a newsroom workflow. The high speed with which we work depends on the tight partnership between design and engineering. Because of this, possible ship-sinking icebergs in the engineering phase can be avoided by steering design in the right direction from the very beginning. We move smoothly and quickly from concept to launch.

It's very worth reading Madsen's entire article. I started to clip quotes from it and couldn't stop. What I'm going to continue thinking about is the various reasons an org may choose to operate differently. What are the orthogonal complications which prevent a team from working this way? What other company priorities may be worth sacrificing this efficiency for? (via Brad Frost)

February 07, 2024


NYC Phil

Lincoln Center

Rob invited me out to the NYC Philharmoic on Saturday. We started the night with dinner at Jeju in the West Village, an excellent Korean place I'd return to. I had the gochu ramyun, Rob the donkatsu, and we split the fried chicken app. We had extra time, so we grabbed some scotch at the old Art Bar; place was still packed and going strong.

The performance was really nice. I don't have the words to appropriately describe the pieces, but I did learn plenty from Rob, not only about the music, but how orchestras and players work as an industry and career. 

The program:

  • Mozart: K.505 aria
  • Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major
  • Mahler: Symphony No. 4

February 05, 2024