Blue Planet II, the Ocean Experience we all Need Right Now

Blue Planet II is expected to be a thrilling journey, and David Attenborough will once again be our tour guide across the ocean.

With over 43 million views on its trailer video in under a month, Planet Blue II is poised to make an impact across the globe, starting with Europe on October 29th.

Us unfortunate ‘blokes’ in the states will have to wait until early 2018 for such pleasure. And the timing couldn’t be better. You see, the world’s oceans are under siege, battling the constant barrage of plastic waste, overfishing, illegal dumping, poaching and dare we say it: climate change. No. It’s not political. (And somewhere in this mix of obstacles we forgot to give a shout-out to climate deniers; or those who simply can’t fathom a world where man’s impact on the planet is influential enough to cause great harm and destruction.) We are confident that this ground-breaking series will extend a welcoming hand to those who are still shying away from fact: ocean plastic will soon outnumber fish populations.

Why is Blue planet II an important documentary for everyone to watch? Because the impact that climate change is having on the ocean environment is staggering; its importance as a discussion point among the human race deserves attention. And most importantly, the health of the ocean is a direct correlation to the health of our human population, and therefore our ability to thrive on the face of this Earth. It’s time to think about your children and your children’s children.

Who better to pioneer this discussion than the unmistakable voice behind the Blue Planet (and Planet Earth) series, David Attenborough. With David’s voice, Blue Planet II will highlight the threats to our magnificent ocean as much as it will showcase the marine life that makes it so unique and awe-inspiring. David Attenborough is far more than just an interesting voice; he is an influencer for ocean activism and conservation, and has been from a young age. But with the ocean environment in a state of emergency, it’s his research and experiences that can have a positive impact on how others can learn and adjust their mindset to create change. Fiona Harvey points out in her article with The Guardian, Attenborough feels more free to speak out about controversial issues surrounding the challenges we face as a booming population. In other words, Blue Planet II won’t shy away from tough conversations; it will tell the world what’s really going on, not what the media feels is “safe” to talk about.

Additionally, we look forward to listening to a man who hasn’t just talked-the-talk, but one who has walked-the-walk. An integral part of Cambridge University, he is leading an effort to integrate many academic disciplines in the name of collaboration and cross-pollination of thoughts and ideas. It’s an attempt to break down barriers, be a catalyst for rapid change and as we at Designing North Studios like to see it, an effort to design a community that’s willing to do a little extra in the name of the ocean. Or rather, our ocean. As Fiona Harvey writes, “Viewing conservation as part of the whole future of humanity, rather than a thing apart, is one of Attenborough’s great legacies.”

Blue Planet II is not a show, it’s an immersive experience. And it’s all new.

The original Blue Planet (aired on September 12, 2001) was a memorable experience for many that introduced the world to the ocean landscape. Not just a show or series for quick entertainment, Blue Planet was a different experience that transcended the coziness of a living room to the bow of a research vessel, and dared people to think beyond their existence with a curiosity towards ‘what else is out there’ in this great big blue ocean-world of ours. Centric to an ocean that plays an integral role in every humans’ life (70% of the Earth’s surface), Blue Planet was addicting to learn from. It was adventurous. It was fun. It was the ultimate opportunity to “explore” places where most humans can’t go. In a rare occasion for television, this documentary considered more than the crew or script, it put you at the center of its storyline, and guided us through a journey on the seas — it offered the ultimate viewer experience for the time. And because of this, we recognize those feelings and emotions of excitement felt many years ago, ready to do it all over again. With our tanks prepped and full of oxygen, we are eager to dive back in with Blue Planet II.

Many of us still own the complete DVD-set, which we keep as a reminder of just how mesmerizing this ocean journey was to watch. One that influenced viewers of all ages to care more about the ocean after watching than they did prior to tuning in. At the time (2001), Blue Planet revolutionized the way humans experienced a nature documentary. Not only was it filmed with cutting edge technology, but it also crafted a story from the wild places that exist in the world’s oceans and the plethora of creatures that call it home. By simply following along with the now infamous David Attenborough (the curious yet confident voice narrating what seemed like a personal expedition across the ocean), we as viewers learned more about the ocean than we could have imagined. But even more important to this learning experience, we were able to see it all with our own eyes. And now, in 2017, Blue Planet II will “enter new worlds and shine a light on behaviours in ways that were impossible just a generation ago” as Mr. Attenborough puts it.

It’s one thing to hear or read about the changes taking place in the ocean environment, it’s another to see it: the many islands, archipelagos, coastlines, trenches etc., all captured with stunning detail thanks to modern science and technology, and delivered to our devices in seven episodes. For many people, a documentary such as Blue Planet II is the bay-window into a world they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to. And during this current time period, we all need to try and see things a little more clearly; understand what’s ‘really’ going on out there in the “great big blue.” After all, you don’t have to believe in science to accept the fact that this planet is in fact primarily ocean. Good enough reason to refer to it as the ‘Blue Planet,’ and understand the importance this series has for both educational and entertainment purposes.

Of course, similar to the work of UX designers, creating Blue Planet II required hours upon hours of strategy, journey crafting, and production. In fact, the experience that each viewer will have at some point in time while watching is partially influenced by the people who were behind the camera. As BBC News reports, “Blue Planet II involved ‘125 shoots, 6,000 hours filming underwater and 1,000 hours filming in submersibles’, explains production manager Katie Hall.” We must also not forget how advanced the filming techniques are in order to allow viewers to have a truly transformational  experience with the footage. The team even built new technology allowing viewers to see the ocean in a way that’s not possible on their own (unless they happen to have their own megadome lens or tow-cam). This is special. And we feel strongly that people will value the design and creativity of the final product. Where else can we see above and below the ocean’s surface at the same time? Where else can we swim full speed with wild tuna or a pod of dolphins? Thanks to Blue Planet II, our brains will be hard at work, saving information, painting pictures and recording an experience that will likely serve as the basis for which we “see” the world’s oceans.

It’s true. We can’t wait to tune in. Will you join us?

California’s ‘Super-Bloom’ 2017: User Experience Design Madness

California’s ‘super-bloom’ leads to a ‘super-boom’ of tourism, traffic, and confusion.

Wildflowers are popping up all over the map in Southern California — a place largely known for mars-like droughts — is turning once desolate landscapes into a colorful array of white, yellow, orange, and purple — the ideal contrast for your Instagram feed or Facebook wall. And as we have learned time and time again, when all media streams descend on a single subject, reality is quickly distorted; reflecting individual imagination and creativity in a method that portrays a universal reality.

We all want to experience the same feeling of excitement as the next person — missing out might trigger anxiety. It’s commonly referred to as FOMO (fear of missing out), and represents the California wildflower ‘super-bloom’ very well. In order to keep our dreams in sight we latch onto pictures, videos, and written words from strangers who have been where we have not. Sounds harmless, right? Unfortunately, it’s quite the opposite; something the town of Anza Borrego recently learned.

The LA Times reported: JoAnn Maiter, a part-time employee of the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce, said she couldn’t remember how many phone calls she’d answered. Dozens and dozens.

“We’re swamped. You can’t even get into our visitor’s center right now,” she said, adding that nearly 300 people had already signed into the visitor’s log by noon on Friday. “They’re coming from everywhere — absolutely everywhere: Canada, Minnesota, Chicago.”

From a user experience perspective, you can’t design a guaranteed outcome, you can only design for an experience — which may or may not lead to the desired outcome. Even with all of the user research in the world there will always be situational factors that a designer simply can’t control — unless artificial intelligence has something up it’s sleeve.

External forces such as social media, rarely follow this thought process and often distort reality to a level that we can’t recover from — the ‘Super-Bloom’ is a prime example.

Impact of Media on Perception

A well respected photographer uses his highly trained eye, creative vision, and advanced equipment to capture a brilliant image of the desert bloom. As most experienced photographers do, he then uses post-processing skills to perfect the image and shares it with her thousands of eager followers; with a well written message of inspiration and eternal wanderlust. It’s a dream-worthy scenario and nearly every human on the planet wants to experience this feeling personally. And this is the expectation they have, all the way up to the moment they finally do — “the moment of truth.”

As was the case for many visitors, the ‘super-bloom’ introduced a reality that wasn’t entirely true to the stunning imagery and influential media viewed online — an all-too-common scenario in this “digital age”. Just like a moment in time, every human can’t experience the exact same event the way another person did previously. 

Anza Borrego Wildflowers

Instagram photos by professional photographer Scott Kranz

From a user experience perspective, I am able to understand why a highly anticipated natural phenomenon has turned into a complete headache for thousands of people. A quick comparison of expectation versus reality reveals two different scenarios; we all want the one that aligns with our media viewing experience. But not everyone will experience the event in the same manner; under the same conditions.

The first 500 visitors to the region likely had a great time; roads were clear, the sun was still rising, services were accessible, and fellow adventure seekers weren’t breathing down their throats. By the time ten thousand people flooded the park, reality took a turn for the worst.

Importance of Understanding User Behavior

When talking about the field of UX, understanding ‘user’ behavior through and through is a fundamental rule. Unfortunately, most professional industries — outside of the digital design or human factors realm — forget to rehearse their use cases, often leading to more harm than good.

Read more on the differences between UX, XD and other practices around UCD.

In predictable fashion, the governing bodies that control this impacted region, have been promoting the “super-bloom” for months — picking up the intensity over the past few weeks — as they prepared for this abundance of excitement in their own backyard. Shortly after, the media took hold and the conversation snowballed from there — fake news!

Because our studio practices the user-centered approach, I quickly recognized a parallel between the work of a UX designer and the experience that these state parks and media outlets were hoping to deliver. More importantly, I concluded that the managing bodies of these parks didn’t do their research on the possible user groups that might ascend and make up most of their visitors. As you might expect, the resulting experience was best described with frustration and disappointment — and that’s putting it politely.

Whether they were in communication or not, the media and state park services did a fantastic job promoting this natural phenomenon; you might even believe that it was a planned event from the look of coordinated PR efforts. In this case, it’s not what they did, but rather what they didn’t do that made the experience memorable.

Whether it was the severe underestimation of potential attendance or lack of education leading up to the event, the disconnect between visitors (users for all intended purpose) and the parks themselves was too great to recover from. From a user’s perspective, this is where the disconnect made the most impact:

I was promised once-in-a-decade-flowers yet I was never educated on what a super-bloom entails; how it looks and how it’s different from my garden at home — a bed of roses is far more spectacular than a patch of dandelion. Given the rarity of this phenomenon, it’s safe to assume that the majority of visitors didn’t have detailed knowledge on what exactly they were going to see; Leaving this experience up to my imagination was a risky approach to rely on.

Apply Design Thinking

Prior to the weekend, visitor estimates were casually tossed around. Whether a backup plan was strategized or not, it was evident that the actual attendance to the region was far greater than expected. The lack of parking — yet alone physical space — direction, and transportation resources caused a once relaxing environment to quickly become stressful and borderline dangerous.

Design thinking example

Hosting a large number of visitors — similar to a sporting event — called for an increase in staff or personnel to at least assist visitors during their travel, yet alone manage their experiences while visiting. This region in particular required off-road access to view some of the most appealing landscape. With no prior education or experience in off-roading, hordes of visitors took to the trails without proper equipment or professional direction; conflict ensued for many, positioning select groups against each other. Have you ever seen a Hyundai Sonata attempt a water crossing? We hadn’t either until this trip.

With consideration for the needs, wants, and limitations of visitors, the ‘Super-Bloom’ experience could have been something special. And had I not been working shoulder-to-shoulder with a team of UCD practitioners, reminding me daily how design should solve problems, I’d still be confused and frustrated from the tension felt during the experience. Understanding the gaps, missed communication, and lack of research helps to alleviate the disappointment I felt (kinda). Who knows, in the next decade we might just see designers in charge of the solutions to the problems we identified — wouldn’t that be smart. The events of the 2017 California ‘Super-Bloom’ are a reminder that design thinkers are needed everywhere; in every company and perhaps most especially when it comes to serving the people experiencing government services.

Design thinking can transform. Let us show you how that paired with a UCD approach can open the door to new possibilities.

A Night of Knights: Crusading Against Mediocrity

Our inaugural Night of the Roundtables event kicked off with flair. More importantly, it finished in success. No, we didn’t gather 18,000 freelancers’ contact info, nor did we book a million dollars of new business. And no, it wasn’t on TV – in fact, the press wasn’t invited. It was a success because it represented who and what we are: We are Designing North. A company with a mindset.

Freelancers don’t have company picnics in the summer or holiday parties in the winter. We tend to work alone, collaborating on projects when necessary, but typically from remote home offices or workstations. We wanted to host an event that was fun. Fun to eat, fun to listen, fun to converse, fun to just be, without worry that the ask was lurking somewhere in a nearby corner. We wanted to play with potential colleagues, and we gave these brave souls little indication of what the evening held.

After mingling at the picturesque bar of the Allied Arts Guild in Menlo Park, and swapping Hello My Name Is stickers for retro pharmacy wrist tags that proclaimed each individual’s favorite addiction, guests were invited to take a seat. No seat assignments. Sit where you’re comfortable. The evening’s emcee, Pat Hazell, former writer for Seinfeld and one of DN’s favorite creative directors, gave instructions about menu selection: pick four items, from the list of 22, for each of the four courses. Simple right? Well, not really. Here’s a sampling of the menu: Lanced Armstrong; Mini HTML; Jesus’ Treadmill; Fowl Ball; A Mazing Grace – all without explanation. In addition, he recommended that attendees take particular care of their round *TUIT* chips, as their value would become apparent as the evening progressed.

Night of the Roundtables

I welcomed the guests and the evening began with a Thick Toast…vichyssoise in a champagne flute. Reaction to the first course varied from startled to enchanted to consternation. One gentleman found himself with a spoon, a knife, a Weizen glass of beer, and a toothpick. Another guest found herself with a crisp salad and no fork. Enter the barter system. What we termed a *Tuit* (essentially a wooden chip) could be traded for utensils or food items from either the kitchen or one’s neighbor. Conversation flowed in a lighthearted, collaborative manner rather than the tired old, So, what do you do? diatribe. The more pressing question was How do I swap out my spoon for one of those bacon, almond, cheese thingees…they look divine!

Night of the Roundtables

With a nod to Proust, Head of Technology Nigel Peacock took us Inside the Designer’s Studio and asked each guest a question as the second course was prepped. Like the admissions officers at Ivy League schools, we knew that our guests, like student applicants, were all highly qualified individuals in terms of raw capabilities. But we wanted to know who our guests were as people…are they peeps we’d like to spend time with in the future? With questions like, What’s your favorite curse word? and If in fact there is a God, what would Peter say to you as you enter the Pearly Gates?, guests had to think on their feet and be pretty confident about who they are. All prompts were lobbed out randomly with Nigel’s charming British accent, and responses revealed some of the quirkier aspects of the evening’s personalities.

Night of the Roundtables

By the time we’d made it through the fourth course, Pat had entertained us with his comedic remarks and invisible card trick, and we found ourselves sated both literally and emotionally. Pat had one last request. Determine whether or not your round tuitchip is graced with a star. And then the double entendre question of the evening was asked: Are you a Designing North star? Three lucky winners won prizes: a pair of mustached shot glasses; (2) tickets to Pat’s hilarious one-man show The Wonder Bread Years; and a $100 Apple gift card. The remaining attendees, although sans a star on their chip, had clearly still demonstrated that they too were Designing North stars. We had finally gotten ‘round tuit’: the real value of the chip; the real value of being a part of Designing North Studios.

Night of the Roundtables

The Night of the Roundtables illustrated the essence of who we are. We’re seasoned enough to know that we place deep value in with whom we will spend our time. We want to work with people who are happy, love life, are passionate about what they do, enjoy a good laugh, and will always put in that extra effort – that hover above good enough. People who can check their egos at the door. Few guests realized that they were seated in a room with a veteran from Industrial Light & Magic, a former editor-in-chief at Wired Magazine, a designer at Fitbit, one of first designers at Frog, three former vice presidents of Digital, and an entrepreneur that helped build YouTube’s DigiTour which incidentally just sold to Ryan Seacrest’s company for millions. It didn’t matter. We were simply a bunch of creative people taking a little time out for frivolity. Roundtablers. Where no one was king, but everyone was a beloved knight.

Yeah, we’re pleasers – we admit it. We do the extra credit. Not in the brown-noser ass-kisser kind of way, but in the because it’s what we do kind of way – it’s our mindset. We revel in delighting our clients; and seek others to connect with who believe in the same. We’re the foe of average – the archenemy of mundane – and with a modicum of luck, our guests drank in that vibe on Thursday night.

Cheers

Night of the Roundtables

PS – Many thanks to our extraordinary celebrity chef Josh Alkire of San Diego who contributed his creativity to the menu and delivered cleverly crafted fare, whilst working with a rather bamboozled wait staff! Tanya Samuels our dedicated head of opportunity who helped put the entire evening in perfect order. And finally, our Designing North Studios photographer Georgia Gregory who never ceases to capture the real moments in every snap.

To see more photos from the Night of the Rountables please visit bit.ly/dnsnotrphotos.

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