One of the first projects I’ve undertaken since joining Atlassian was to drive our participation in the AIGA SF Design Week Studio Crawl. It was fun to help bring this event to life, and to take photos on the evening. For a full write-up, see here.
This week we’ve been visiting Nashville. The primary reason was for a wedding, and thankfully we got a day to explore and be tourists too. You can’t visit Music City without visiting a few honky tonks on Broadway (where we caught the amazing Johnny Hiland playing a cool set), and we had to check out the Country Music Hall of Fame too. As a designer though, the highlight for me was the Hatch Show Print tour.
Hatch have been producing beautiful letterpress designs and gig posters since the 1800s, and in all that time the technology has stayed pretty true to the traditional methods. As someone who’s been using a Mac for their entire design career it’s truly eye-opening to watch these designers concept, set up, and print their designs themselves without ever opening Photoshop.
As part of the tour we got to print our own small piece. It would have been great it we could have designed something ourselves, or even typeset our own names, rather than print the Hatch logo, but the experience was great.
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.
As a design manager I’m constantly looking for good sources of advice on the challenges I face, but in a sea of corporate textbooks it’s difficult to find meaningful guidance for a creative environment. So, when one of my teammates referred to Creativity, Inc. as the best book on creative culture he’d ever read I immediately ordered a copy. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull is the story of Pixar Animation Studios from the truly thoughtful perspective of their management and leadership philosophies. Capturing everything I learned from this book would involve writing another but I wanted to share five of the lessons that resonated most in the context of my own team.
1 . Managing Isn’t Easy
Who knew, right? It should be a given that leading is hard but the best managers I know give the impression they were born with it and the poor ones just appear to lack the personality. In either case it seems more like a natural ability (or inability) than a learned skill. I’m sure many Pixar employees consider Catmull a natural leader but he was honest about his initial shortcomings in the book.
In the early days of the company Catmull jumped on the pricing advice of other executives. Being unsure of himself, it turned out to be a mistake born from “seeking simple answers to complex questions”. Resolving problems and choosing a course of action usually require some experience and deeper consideration. Maybe that’s common sense but it’s easy to forget when others make it look easy, and quick fixes are seductive.
Steve Jobs, who Catmull spoke of him in glowing terms, is often considered one of the most intuitive leaders the business world has ever known but even he tripped up occasionally. When he licensed NeXT software to IBM he seemed to play all his cards correctly, but in reality the terms created bad feeling. Catmull relayed how Jobs learned from the experience and that over time he “became fairer and wiser, and his understanding of partnership deepened”. I’m sure good intuitions give you a head start but it’s reassuring to hear that even great leaders are constantly learning.
2 . Build the Right Team or Nothing Else Matters
The first time I hired someone the process felt like a full time job. Reading resumes, reviewing portfolios and screening candidates was overwhelming and exhausting. There were so many variables and I felt the weight of getting it right, but I was wrestling with another concern too. More than one person advised me, ‘hire someone better than you’, but it’s human nature to feel a little threatened by that.
In his first hire Catmull recalled the same uneasiness as an “instinctual twinge”. Thankfully we both ignored it and learned, as he said, “the obvious payoffs of exceptional people are that they innovate, excel and generally make your company — and, by extension, you — look better.” The validation was nice but it’s not always possible to hire people with the track record you need to make that call, so what then?
Catmull had advice for that situation too, suggesting, “Give their potential to grow more weight than their current skill level. What they will be capable of tomorrow is more important than what they can do today.” These two approaches have helped me build a great team of designers with different levels of experience, but I also learned they’re easier to follow under ideal circumstances. When you’re in growth mode and the work is piling up it can be tempting to just fill a position, so maybe the most important advice is to remember why it’s so critical to be diligent and put the best people in place.
“Getting the right people and the right chemistry is more important than getting the right idea”, Catmull explained. “If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.” Essentially, if you don’t do your job when building a team, you can’t expect them to do their job when they they join it.
3. It’s Your Responsibility to Establish the Right Environment for Your Team
I wasn’t naive enough to think that hiring the right blend of talented people would mean time to sit back and let the results role in. I knew there were all kinds of challenges ahead, but one of the biggest pain points I’ve seen in my career has been any kind of design review. Whenever you ask people to exercise their creativity before opening themselves to feedback it’s a potential recipe for disaster. They can take things personally, doubt themselves, force their opinion, or fail to speak up. But a design team is only a team when they leverage their collective ideas and I worried about how to nurture that. Catmull knew how critical this was too and said, “My job as a manager is to create a fertile environment, keep it healthy, and watch for the things that undermine it.”
Maybe the first challenge is getting people to speak up, and sometimes that means coaxing opinions out of them. “There are many valid reasons why people aren’t candid with one another in a work environment.” said Catmull. “Your job is to search for those reasons and then address them.” He goes on to suggest framing feedback as candor rather than honesty because it sounds less like something they’ll suffer repercussions from. To be honest, that seemed like semantics rather than a game-changer to me, but every little helps. The more important part is being receptive to feedback in the first place.
The idea of constructive criticism and focusing on the problem, not the person, are not radical, but they’re tougher than you’d think to achieve. Catmull said, “Candor is only valuable if the person on the receiving end is open to it and willing, if necessary, to let go of the things that don’t work.” Pixar’s solution for this is a regular forum known as ‘The Braintrust’. During the making of a movie periodic Braintrust meetings are held to identify and solve problems with the script in an environment where straight talk is nurtured.
During Braintrust meetings team members challenge anything they think could be improved and throw out lots of solutions. But critically, the director has the autonomy to use (or not use) feedback as he sees fit. “The Braintrust has no authority.” Catmull wrote. “This is crucial: The director does not have to follow any of the specific suggestions given. After a Braintrust meeting, it is up to him or her to figure out how to address the feedback.” And he suggested the format can be used by any creative team. As a manager I’ll admit it’s sometimes hard to take my hands off those reins but that’s why you build a team in the first place.
4. Failure is an Essential Part of the Process
The benefit of a nurturing environment within your team is that you work through problems together, but that doesn’t mean eliminating failure. I know that my personality type, like many others’, is driven by the desire to avoid mistakes, but I’ve learned that they’re not only an essential part of the creative process but that leaders must show that failure isn’t something to be feared. “Mistakes aren’t a necessary evil. They aren’t evil at all.” explained Catmull, “They are an inevitable consequence of doing something new (and, as such, should be seen as valuable; without them we’d have no originality).”
It makes sense in theory, but most people aren’t naturally wired that way. We like to plan ahead and show our best work. Basking in the glow of success is much more fun than publicly tripping up so design teams need to remember that, as Catmull said, “The more time you spend mapping out an approach, the more likely you are to get attached to it. The nonworking idea gets worn into your brain, like a rut in the mud. It can be difficult to get free of it and head in a different direction.” Essentially, mistakes may be necessary, but so is the ability to move past them, and that’s where the manager can help.
Catmull suggests two techniques to embrace mistakes and the first is to account for them in the process. Showing your work early and often will allow mistakes to be identified and resolved before they become a bigger deal. The second techniques is harder and it involves building trust. He wrote, “It is not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It is the manager’s job to make it safe to take them.” They can do that by showing that creating an environment where fear doesn’t come hand-in-hand with fear. Unfortunately that’s not easy, but Catmull said, “Leaders must demonstrate their trustworthiness, over time, through their actions–and the best way to do that is by responding well to failure.”
5 . Research is the Difference Between Craft and Artistry
Lots of designers will identify with this process: collect a bunch of inspiration, assemble it into moodboards, pick a direction, and create something new from the pieces. More often than not it’s a serviceable solution to produce a design, but, as Catmull said, “When filmmakers … or people in any other creative profession merely cut up and reassemble what has come before, it gives the illusion of creativity, but it is craft without art. Craft is what we are expected to know; art is the unexpected use of our craft.”
Not every design project can be a masterpiece, and not every design can achieve the prestige of a Pixar movie, but surely it’s worth shooting for the stars when you have the opportunity. So how can you elevate the craft and make sure it’s not derivative, especially when you’re producing it to order?
Catmull suggests authenticity, fueled by research: “Research trips challenge our preconceived notions and keep clichés at bay. They fuel inspirations. They are, I believe, what keeps us creating rather than copying.” That’s hard when you don’t know what you’re looking for but breaking out of the design blogs and thinking about the user or industry in question is more likely to produce something meaningful and original.
I encourage everyone who works or manages in a creative environment to read Creativity, Inc. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Comic Artists Inspiration, Part 3
If Hergé was an inspiration to me because of his clean, considered style, Bill Watterson, and his newspaper strip Calvin and Hobbes, was an inspiration for the opposite reason. That’s not to say his style was unrefined – I’m sure he worked hard to perfect such a consistent look – but it wasn’t clean. You could see the brush strokes and lines were loose, but it was so expressive it felt packed with energy. Where some newspaper strips feel tightly constrained in three sharp panels, Calvin and Hobbes was full of motion. It was fun and it taught me how to appreciate contrasting styles.
If the most important parts of a newspaper strip are the humor and the artwork, Calvin and Hobbes was one of the greatest because it consistently delivered on both accounts. The drawings were not only expressive, but full of emotion, imagination and beauty. In addition the stories provided plenty of slapstick and one-liners, but the longer plots and well developed characters produced a more subtle and genuine humor too. I learned that consistent success requires a more complex application of multiple skills.
The final aspect of Watterson’s work I drew inspiration from was his integrity. In a world awash with Garfield merchandise there was surely a huge market for Calvin and Hobbes products, but Watterson stuck to his artistic principles and resisted the licensing of his characters outside the medium. As a result, when the strip leaned towards social commentary and took a principled stand, it rang true. And Watterson also knew when to quit. After a decade of Calvin and Hobbes his interests and priorities shifted. It seemed like this wasn’t something he was willing to compromise on and made sure to leave with his legacy intact.
Comic Artists Inspiration, Part 2
The second comic artist I highlighted as an inspiration was Hergé, the creator of Tintin. His artwork was defined by his 'ligne claire' style: clean lines, all of the same weight and without the shading and solid black areas that define much of the genre. The tidy, considered style appealed to me on an aesthetic level and his choice of colors looked so refined. It seemed like he was making a lot of smart and informed decisions.
If Dudley Watkins was the first comic artist I actually realized was creating this artwork, Hergé was the first I saw to be elevating the medium and going beyond what was either necessary or expected. I didn’t immediately appreciate this, but he studied Constructivist design, Modernist architecture, and Eastern art. They all influenced his work and as a result his compositions and color schemes were far beyond anything else I saw. It made the whole genre seem more credible.
Today one of my favorite comic artists and writers is John Arne Sæterøy (usually just called Jason), a Norwegian who tells short stories with expressionless anthropomorphic animals. They’re often dark, subtle and touching stories, delivered with a very dry sense of humor. These are perfectly to my taste, and while they’re not for kids, I see a direct relationship in the artwork to Hergé’s style. To think that you can find inspiration in one aspect of something, then take in another completely different direction and make your own thing is very exciting.
If there’s one other aspect of Hergé's work I find inspiring it’s the evolution of his craft. Looking at the early books beside the later ones you can see how the artwork evolved from simple comic strips to sophisticated graphics. And it wasn’t just the artwork. Some of the early books have been called racist. They're certainly of their time and occasionally depict characters that are, at best, racial stereotypes, but just as the drawings evolved so did his writing. Hergé not only improved in that aspect, he became critical of racist attitudes and attempted to educate his audience on that subject in books like The Blue Lotus. In a time when artists aren’t always given the opportunity to develop it’s fascinating to study the transitions in Hergé's work.
Respond on Twitter: @derickcarss
Comic Artists Inspiration, Part 1
In a recent DSGN HAUS Design Jam, a monthly get-together where we discuss our work, influences and design in general, everyone on the team shared someone or something that inspired us. The only requirement was to choose something that wasn’t directly related to our specific roles. That could, for example, be a film, a genre of music or an author, but not another designer or developer.
I chose to share five comic book artists who have provided me with inspiration. I didn’t go into great depth with any, just touching on a few key points of influence, but I thought they’d be worth sharing here too. The first person I chose was Dudley D. Watkins.
Watkins was an illustrator who made his name at D.C. Thomson in Dundee, working as a cartoonist from the twenties through to the sixties. He contributed to most of the comics they produced, although probably most famously for their leading publications The Beano and The Dandy. His style was widely recognized and influenced a generation of British comic artists.
I think Watkins was the first person I ever realized was behind the curtain. When you’re a young kid reading comics you take it for granted they arrive fully-formed in the newsagent. I didn’t stop to consider that someone has to write the stories, someone has to draw them, and often there’s a colorist, typographer or other specialist crafting everything into a finished product. I remember seeing Watkins’ signature in the corner of some panels and it began to dawn on me that someone was responsible for creating these. And maybe they were actually getting paid for it! That seemed like a job I wanted.
As I learned more about the Watkins and his work I realized how prolific he had been. I had to pick up old comics and annuals at thrift stores and jumble sales, but his unmistakable style was everywhere. He drew Desperate Dan, Lord Snooty, Biffo the Bear, Ginger and a bunch of other strips. The output wasn’t something I admired until much later, but it seemed like he worked the way a child does: don’t overthink it, just sit down and draw. It all seemed so effortless, natural and a lot of fun. It made me think there was a creative job waiting for me one day.
The final reason I saw Watkins as a source of inspiration was his work for the Sunday Post. His two full-page strips every week, Oor Wullie and The Broons, were the highlight of the day. They were just as entertaining as his other strips, but the characters spoke in a Scottish dialect decades before Irvin Welsh was acclaimed for the same thing with Trainspotting. It was like being in a select group who could decode something secret. I started to sense that no matter where you were from you could create something with your own voice and it would always be valued.
Respond on Twitter: @derickcarss
Learning from first-hand experience
Before I moved to San Francisco I was a designer at Bureau Blank. As a consultancy we valued the importance our clients’ specialities and knew great work begins with a deep understanding of the problem, the context around it and those who experience it. Research can take many forms but sometimes it’s useful to take a step back and get to know your client’s business from a holistic point of view. On a photography project for one of our clients, an expert developer and operator of energy businesses, I was lucky enough to experience this perspective with site visits in three countries.
Our first stop was a wind farm in Brazil. It was fascinating to see the huge turbines towering over the landscape, but it was the company’s social projects that really made an impact on me. I understood their commitment to sustainable energy but as we visited schools, arts classes and sports activities I better understood their vision of sustainable communities. Meeting the children who benefited from guitar lessons or learning how to grow vegetables gave their work a sense of authenticity I could bring to the designs I produced.
From Latin America we flew to Europe to visit solar energy and natural gas plants in Italy. The employees ensured we were properly instructed on all the safety procedures and wearing the correct equipment. It’s easy to grasp the importance of safety in principle, but as we stood on the roof of a factory fitted with solar panels, carefully harnessed to the support wires, the reality of the situation for those who work there ceased to be theoretical. When I think of the employees they’re no longer personas to consider, they’re real people with genuine use-case scenarios.
Our final location was Bulgaria where the alphabet is constructed with Cyrillic script. As I studied corporate newsletters and posters in a language I couldn’t read the familiar aspects of the business came into clear focus. The words may have been translated but everyone was dealing with the same challenges and goals. It was through these channels that the importance of a united brand shone through.
In total I traveled to five power plants with a photographer to capture images of the client’s work. Seeing things first hand brought a deeper level of understanding and a fresh sense of their mission. We may have spent the majority of the trip looking through a camera lens, but really I was looking through a new perspective, one I recommend seeking out in every client relationship.
The importance of ongoing learning
Originally published on the Bureau Blank Blog
In a recent blog post I discussed the myth that design is the mastery of a medium. The concept of specific skills and techniques that someone could become proficient in, then apply over and over with successful results was always a simplified view that didn’t encourage new ideas and fresh thinking, but as both technology and its users evolve at pace, anyone who stands still is soon left behind. Ongoing education has never been more important in the field.
Over the past three months I’ve been studying User Experience Design at General Assembly. While some of the curriculum covered issues I was already engaged with in my day-to-day work, I had a fantastic tutor, Luke Miller, who brought a great deal of real-world experience to every lesson and encouraged me to tackle a project that would really push me. I decided to create the user experience for a hiking app on the Apple Watch, a technology that isn’t even available yet.
In the course of my research I defined a user persona who didn’t really want to engage with technology at all; they simply wanted to enjoy the great outdoors without the interruptions of a glowing screen, but they still needed subtle directional cues. This was an interesting challenge that meant focusing on the essentials, but designing for the Apple Watch pushed things to the extreme because the tiny screen left no room for embellishment.
Thinking in the context of a device that functions differently to every other medium I’ve designed for forced me to focus purely on the problem and move away from design patterns I was familiar with. I had no benchmarks for reference and had to rely on user testing for guidance on what was successful. This is where the real lessons were learned and by application, became ingrained.
In the end I was really pleased with the concept I produced and the skills I learned, but there were other benefits too. In my classmates I met a great group of people with a diverse range of backgrounds and perspectives. Their creativity both inspired and energized me. This explains our belief at Bureau Blank that ongoing learning is not an optional extra but an essential part of the designer’s role.
Finding design inspiration in creative writing
Originally posted on the Bureau Blank Blog
To get into the Halloween spirit, the Bureau Blank design team have been reading a book by the master of horror, Stephen King, but probably not for the reasons you’d expect. Good design is about successful communication and so designers must also be competent writers. We decided, therefore, to read On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft for some practical communication advice.
On Writing was full of technical tips but as King described grammar as “the pole you grab to get your thoughts up on their feet and walking” I realized the writer’s tools of structure and vocabulary are directly comparable to the way a designer considers composition and the elements of typographic style. The more I read the more it became apparent how much designers can learn from the creative writing process.
The blank page is intimidating for writer or designer but a solid grasp of the fundamentals ensures you have a head start. King advises writers to construct a toolbox of skills, “Then, instead of looking at a hard job and getting discouraged, you will perhaps seize the correct tool and get immediately to work.” As writers construct one paragraph at a time to produce a novel, designers can rely on their knowledge of fonts and color theory to lay the foundations for the most complex of websites.
The real challenge is to produce something that’s greater than the sum of it’s parts. Readers of fiction are less interested in grammatical correctness than being entertained by a story and you can bet they don’t care about the grid system that underpins the magazine they read it in. King described the magic in stories when they “pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow.” A cast of realistic characters will follow their own motivations until the plot has a life of its own. Designers can experience the same satisfaction with a successful branding project. When you create a cohesive system of logo, color and type it forms a tone of voice and identity that carries far beyond the individual components.
King writes with a single reader in mind, specifically his wife Tabitha, and states that “the reader must always be your main concern”. Designers should also be aware of their responsibilities to the target audience. Obviously an app for young children will require different design than for other demographics, but even the subtleties of user experience between an audience of four year olds and eight year olds should be addressed. User testing may not be appropriate for every situation but audience research is essential.
As King describes omitting needless words and, “taking out all the things that are not the story.” Editing is as critical for a designer as a writer. This is as much a question of confidence as anything; avoiding the passive tone in either medium with “fresh images and simple vocabulary” leads to refined and elegant work. That doesn’t mean everything should be minimalist, but making informed decisions and cutting distractions ensures more effective communication.
On Writing is primarily aimed at fiction writers and inevitably there’s a point where that creative path diverges from the designer’s. John Maeda said, ”While great art makes you wonder, great design makes things clear.” Writing and design may both be about communication but successful design answers more questions than it raises.
The evolving role of design
Originally posted on the Bureau Blank Blog
In our recent blog post, UX Design for Government and Public Services, we discussed some great examples of evidence-based design. As a designer at Bureau Blank, I have to understand users in order to produce digital products that meet their needs. User research is a relatively new challenge for many designers but is essential for gathering the evidence we need to inform our decisions.
Jesse James Garrett said, “Traditionally [people] thought of design as the mastery of a medium … but as we look at the world of user experience this point of view starts to seem outdated.” He went on to explain that if your medium is experience, a subjective and intangible subject, it can be a hard thing to master. Experiences are very real to your users, however, and we must design with that in mind.
The concept of User Experience (UX) Design is appreciated more than ever as we engage with digital products in every aspect of our lives. As a designer, I must consider every aspect of a website from the user’s perspective to remove stumbling blocks, promote confidence and focus the task in hand. Steve Krug summed this idea up in the title of his book Don’t Make Me Think, but reaching that point is impossible without user research to inform my choices.
Tom Tullis, a usability expert, recently presented The Evolution of User Research and Usability Testing: A Forty-Year Perspective to NYC UXPA. Using his own comparable experience testing physical products, including a dangerous voltage detector that revealed a potentially fatal problem, he demonstrated that user testing is a well-established and valuable practice. This may not sound like the classic role of a designer, but that role is constantly evolving and making digital products more usable is definitely our responsibility.
As we endeavor to create more effective designs we must produce better experiences. User research is essential for collecting the evidence required to make the right choices and as designers we must, therefore, engage deeply with our audience.
A process for change
Originally posted on the Bureau Blank Blog
Some books have the ability to change your perspective and inform your decisions thereafter, while others reaffirm your opinions and let you know you’re on the right track. The Bureau Blank design team just finished reading Design is a Job by Mike Monteiro, a book that primarily reminded me why I chose a career in design and reinforced the reasons I work here.
Design is a Job talks about the reality of working in a creative industry, how to balance business with craft and ultimately deliver a better service to everyone involved. One key aspect is the importance of process. Monteiro describes the unrealistic expectations of some designers, “expected to succeed based on instinct, rolling the dice every time, rather than on a methodical process that can be repeated time and time again.” As strategists, designers and developers we don’t look to pull ideas out of the ether, but to solve our clients’ problems. That means conducting research, evaluating goals, weighing up options and through this process creating solutions that address all those points. Without strategy, we’re just making things look nice and without development we have no metrics to evaluate. That’s why we have a team ready to collaborate, why design is so much more than the traditional notion of creativity, and why I find it so fulfilling.
If I told you the idea of working on a glamorous campaign to sell expensive sneakers held no appeal whatsoever, I’d be lying, but it wouldn’t necessarily address the reasons I work in design. Design is a Job makes the case that as a designer, “you are responsible for what you put into the world” with the logical conclusion that you should choose your projects carefully. Our economy may rely on selling commercial products, often with the ability to improve lives, but that’s not the only challenge a designer can tackle. Bureau Blank works with clients from government, academia, infrastructure and non-profit (you can read more about GAIN here) because they offer problems we consider worth solving and that’s how we choose to be defined.
In my opinion, Monteiro’s most compelling statement was, “Not only can a designer change the world, a designer should. This is the best job in the world! Let’s do it right.” When we designed the Bureau Blank website, we decided to showcase every member of staff on the People section. You’ve probably seen our oversized faces grinning back at you. Potential employees always seem pleasantly surprised that we’d give everyone that recognition, but it seemed obvious to us. Without the right, like-minded people, we can’t collaborate and without collaboration, we can’t solve problems. When we’re solving problems, we’re doing it right. That’s why I’m glad to be one of those oversized faces and, hopefully, why you’ll want to work with us.
Checkout Design is a Job here and let us know what problems we can help you solve.
Telling compelling stories with numbers
Originally published on the Bureau Blank Blog
Recently we were presented with an unusual challenge from ChangeLab Solutions. They were interested in the possibility of creating a tracking system to measure the activity of multiple organizations working to combat childhood obesity.
We realized the largest problem was not building the technology but motivating people, busy with the task in hand, to adopt the system and actually record their efforts. We considered a number of solutions, but the most interesting was inspired by an unlikely source: Florence Nightingale.
Collecting information is important if we want to make better decisions, but focusing on the input is only one side of the equation. A tracking system is only useful when married with an output and so a method of sharing the metrics with key influencers was the next logical step. In a connected world we accept that transparency is important, but without understanding it’s meaningless.
Florence Nightingale understood the value of a compelling story. As a nurse treating injured soldiers in the Crimean War, she witnessed many preventable deaths resulting from poor hygiene but knew that raw data alone would not inspire reform. Instead, she created a series of pioneering infographics, popularizing the use of the pie chart, and presented a case with far greater impact.
Our solution to motivate users was to develop a platform that would not only capture and relay data, but also generate meaningful resources. By combining the output with understanding we can create an ever-evolving system. Those who see the results of their actions are inspired to contribute and the more they contribute, the more valuable the results.
Keeping it simple and direct is the best way to communicate
Originally posted on the Bureau Blank Blog
This website [Bureau Blank] is an exercise in simplicity. We stripped away all of the extraneous pages, sections and features leaving only the core words, pictures and ideas we think are representative of our team. Designing the mobile experience first really helped. The site is responsive so your experience adapts based on the size and proportions of your screen. With only three sections everything is easy to find and we present the most important content first.