San Francisco is an amazing city, but my favorite thing about it might be its location. Just drive and hour or two in any direction and you'll stumble across any number of scenic locations. The fact that Pigeon Point Lighthouse in Pescadero isn't even that well know is a testament to how beautiful California is.
This is the best time of year to explore Mount Tam and the Marin Headlands, with fog rolling in almost every day.
A c90 MCMLXXXIII mixtape for vacationers.
"If the writing is honest it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it."
New Order, Aztec Camera, Culture Club...
A c90 MCMXCIII mixtape for groundhogs.
"A mind is like a parachute. It doesn't work if it is not open."
Nirvana, Belly, Manic Street Preachers...
Long before I started my career in design I knew I wanted to work in an agency. It wasn’t even a question. I wanted eclectic, exciting work with consumer-facing clients, so I consider myself fortunate to have worked for boutique agencies in New York and the UK. Not every client was a household name, but every day was challenging and our small, agile teams were never bored. After a decade though, I was curious about other paths and decided to try something new.
Now, on the third anniversary of my tenure with the in-house design team for a B2B tech company, AppDirect, and having been honored to sit on a San Francisco Design Week panel focused on the subject of enterprise design, I’ve been reflecting on both aspects, and the misconceptions I had about this side of the fence.
Going deep with a brand
In agency life we created identities from scratch, breathed life into them, and got them walking. But having a client select your design and releasing it into the wild was often a short-lived thrill. As part of an in-house team we nurture the brand every step of the way and it’s so rewarding to write an ongoing story, not just the introduction.
Living with the consequences of our actions
Good designers always care deeply about building successful brands, but when your touch-points are limited, success in an agency is often measured by having your design accepted and getting paid. In-house we support a sales function and share their success. That doesn’t end once the design is shipped, and the consequences of decisions we make today are our concern long into the future. If you enjoy strategic thinking and directly impacting the health of the business, that’s a challenge you can get your teeth into.
Not being the person we’re designing for
As part of an B2B company, our team market a large product suite to multiple industries. Personas, strategies, and messaging frameworks are incredibly diverse, so design skills like research and testing go hand-in-hand with business and marketing expertise. If you enjoy learning the things they don’t teach you in design school there’s no better place to be.
But, sometimes being the person we’re designing for
The buyer might have a very different persona to anyone on our team, but our brand represents our company, and as an employee there, it represents us. We’re not just designing something that works, we’re invested because we’re expressing ourselves.
Dealing with internal vs. external stakeholders
When the decision makers work in the same office you do, it presents a unique challenge. I assumed that design presentations would theoretically be simpler because you have an established relationship and you know how they think. But the problem is, you have an established relationship and you know how they think. That makes it easy to get caught in the trap of designing something you know will get sign-off, not necessarily the right solution. Continually checking yourself is essential.
Fighting for user experience
Enterprise design is inherently different. As the saying goes, nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM. When that was coined––with the best will in the world––IBM wasn’t the sexy option (although it might be now), it was the safe bet because it worked. That cuts to the heart of the issue that people traditionally bought enterprise software based on features, not user experience, but in a fragmented marketplace there’s more choice than ever and users have a louder voice. As a designer, with the skills to improve user experience, that presents a massive opportunity to impact business success.
Thinking big picture
Design systems are a hot topic at the moment as brands are expected to stretch across every conceivable application with consistency and personality. Establishing brand guidelines isn’t enough; we need pattern libraries, style sheets, and content management systems. Crafting the details is essential, but understanding how they fit into a much larger picture, and then maintaining that system, is where the real challenge lies.
Staying in motion
Just when you think you have your design system in place and there’s a harmony to everything, you remember that a brand is always evolving and done is never the end. You’re not going to get bored in this field.
Raising the bar
Quality design hasn’t been exclusive to consumer-facing businesses for a long time. Take a look at any successful B2B company and you’ll find impressive, creative design at its core. In a world where analytics and user experience count, enterprise design is finding it’s voice. There’s no room for excuses, just opportunities.
Even if everything else here fails to convince you that enterprise and in-house design positions have more than enough to keep you interested––and we all have days when it’s hard to maintain enthusiasm––there’s always your team. Having people around you on the same mission is a great boost when you’re in the trenches. If you need ideas on how to foster that kind of support I recommend checking out this article by Samantha Salvaggio.
I’d never steer a new designer away from exploring agency life. To bust out all the clichés, it really is a trial by fire and a great way to cut your teeth, but just sometimes, the grass actually is greener on the other side of the fence.
In all the time I've been exploring the Marin Headlands I can't believe I'd never visited Muir Beach Overlook before. This is a location I'll be visiting again.
Monterey might be a tourist trap, but there's a reason. The landscape all down the coast is just stunning, and the animals who live there are incredible. My favorite thing, however, is the way the ocean clouds often diffuse the sunlight and cast everything in a dreamy haze.
Pinnacles isn't, at first glance, the most picturesque of National Parks. The rock formations are often bleached in the sunlight, and the caves have challenging light conditions for photography. And while the condors are truly amazing creatures, they have the kind of faces only a mother could love. But as the sun goes down and the animals appear it's a fun place to be, and when the stars fill the night sky, it's awe-inspiring.
A c90 MMIV mixtape for Anchormen.
I must have visited Rodeo Beach ten to twenty times to take photos, and it seems like every time I go there's more photographers setting up tripods with the same hope of capturing something special. It's always fascinating to see what everyone is doing differently to get the image that appeals to them.
For me though, the most interesting thing is how it changes over time. The tide might be high or low, the weather clear or not, and the sun setting in a different spot. At certain times of year the sea seems to dump much more sand around the rocks than at others, so even the makeup of the landscape changes frequently. It makes it worth returning to old haunts.
Sometimes it's great to just take photos with no agenda: landscapes, wildlife, old places or new. Leaving the house with no expectations of taking any photos is like hitting the reset button.
A c90 MCMLXIV mixtape for strange lovers.
The more time I spend photographing wildlife the more I enjoy it, but what constitutes a good shot is evolving. At first I was just excited to see the animals in the wild and a photograph was a just a bonus to prove I witnessed it. Getting a shot that was well composed and in focus was obviously the next step up. And soon I was interested in capturing some of their environment too, highlighting how natural and adapted they were to their surroundings. But now I'm focused on characteristics and behavior.
Learning more about their behavior and studying their character not only reveals more personality, it allows you to predict how best to compose the shot or when the best time to hit the shutter will be. When I learned that herons also hunted on land I knew to wait patiently until it pierced the ground and came up with a gopher in it's beak. Knowing how a coyote moves made me think of composing it sneaking through the grass, partially hidden. And in return I now want to learn more about the animals I'm photographing so I can improve every time.
I'm really going down the rabbit hole of wildlife photography now. I'm still trying to work out a style, especially one that gels with my landscape stuff, but a couple of hours at Cosumnes River Preserve this weekend produced a few images I was happy with. And they seemed somewhat consistent in tone too, which I liked. I realized that one of the reasons I like long exposure shots is because they reveal something that's there in nature, but not immediately visible. The zoom lens gives me the same feeling because when I see birds in their natural environment I don't get to see them in detail until I use photography, so that reveals something too.
This week I had a great surprise: a photo I submitted to LEE Filters – Winter Storm, Yosemite Falls – was one of 5 chosen to be critiqued by landscape photographer David Noton. Great honor! Here’s what he said...
Dappled light on the landscape is so much more dramatic then blanket illumination, isn’t it? This is a wonderfully atmospheric picture. OK, Yosemite is epic, we all know that, but the most dramatic landscapes are often the hardest to shoot. To capture something special in such well known and overly photographed locations we really have to dig deep.
Derick has captured an image full of dark mood here. Too dark? Those shadows on the left are awfully dense, but then again there’s beauty in a rich black. I may have teased out a bit more detail there, but I applaud Derick’s courage in embracing the darkness.
He’s used his filters subtly too, with no obvious grad line darkening down the top of the mountain and good detail in the heavy threatening sky. I’m not quite sure what the use of a Big Stopper achieved though; an exposure just a few seconds long would blur the water fall nicely. But who am I to question? It’s worked, and by the way; it’s another minimal colour image! Don’t you just love them?
– David Noton
As to my “embracing the darkness”, I kind of like that!
With a powerful zoom lens it's tempting to just get as tight a shot as possible when you encounter animals in the wild, especially as you can give them the respect and distance they deserve. And to some extent that's been fun to experiment with this week at Point Reyes and Corte Madera Marsh State Marine Park. But I've found that zooming out a little and showing them in context is more interesting. You can see how perfectly adapted they are for their surroundings and suddenly the importance of the whole ecosystem makes sense. In these four shots each bird (a northern harrier, a yellow-rumped warbler, a snowy egret, and a red-tailed hawk) is so vastly different from the last, but they all have specialist skills to survive in close proximity. That blows my mind.
The wildlife photography safari I took in Point Reyes last year has inspired me to up my game there, and I just acquired a Tamron 150-600mm lens to make the most of it. Today was really just an exploratory trip to check out some new areas of the park and test the lens. I didn't see a lot of wildlife, but I was really impressed with the quality of the few shots I got.
Photo trips have been few and far between recently but this week I went out with a MeetUp group. I found it under the photography section of the site but the excursion was actually made of people from multiple groups and I was really the only photographer there. That was disappointing as we were hiking and nobody else was stopping to take photos. I got a few shots in though and got to explore a new part of the coastline.