Designing Your Life Using Artistic Creation; a Lesson in Mental Clarity, Empathy and Fun

Have you ever thought about designing your life? Essentially crafting a “tomorrow” that gets you excited, feeling ready for what’s next. If you have, good for you — you’re one step ahead of most. Our tips will keep you moving forward. And if not, we can help you get started. Echoing the words of every parent, “You aren’t getting any younger!”

The most common question we encounter is where do I begin? And from our many experiences in the design studio, working with others to develop the ‘designing north mindset,’ we can confidently say that artistic creation is a great place to start.

As American writer, filmmaker, philosopher and activist Susan Sontag once said,  

Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.

She was talking to you. Yes, you! And like Susan, we believe in you because you are artistic.

Whether you just smiled in acceptance of this warm complement or smirked and replied, “yeah… right — that’s me,” the truth is that artistic ability resides within you, and with a little bit of time and practice you can experience the many benefits associated with it. One of which is the ability to design your life, creatively building out a plan and executing specific steps to reach your goals outlined in that plan.

So how exactly can this be done?

Well, unlike most aspects of life, art is entirely subjective; it is not confined by boundaries nor does it adhere to strict qualifications. In fact, if you were to paint, draw, build, or design something (using your creative brain, of course), you have the freedom (and right) to call it art. That’s the beauty of it! Art empowers our minds to think beyond what we know and reach for our curiosities.

Using a digital experience presented by The Washington Post, This is Your Brain on Art

As one freelance artist puts it,

Pursuing art is a really great analogy for the rest of life, some days you make that beautiful painting or the sun is out perfectly, and other days you are really in the throws of life.

It’s subjective nature is best understood by the way architecture or fine art can elicit completely different responses from people. We once stumbled upon a quote that read, “architecture is the art of wasting space beautifully.” Our perspective on creativity changed from this day forward. Now we help others craft their ideal life, putting their artistic skills to work.

Artistic Creation Organizes Emotions and Feelings

During her TED Talk “Powerful Art Activist,” artist, Zaria Forman related human actions to behavioral psychology, explaining why humans take action and make decisions based on emotions, above all else. Zaria also shared her belief that art is one of the most effective methods for reaching our emotions. In other words, art can be a tool for accessing feelings you never knew existed, or that you have been trying to reach for years. Hint: you will need these to begin designing your path forward.

But how does the act of creating something (anything) through artistic ability impact your emotions and allow you to uncover feelings?

The answer can be experienced when you first clear your mind and dedicate yourself to the act of creating. You see, artistic creation is free of rules; the only limitations are the ones you impose on yourself (so, stop it already!) — this is a refreshing change from most of life’s responsibilities. Whether you pick up that pencil, pen, brush, tool, mouse or instrument, in that very moment you are actively making sense of whatever thoughts or ideas you have stored away. And often, these ideas are the result of things you have felt, heard or seen at one point in time.

So, when you tap into your creative brain, to physically create, you allow yourself the time and mental capacity needed for reflection, adding context to life…your life. It’s this self-reflection that gives way to reasoning which leads to understanding, which results in a feeling and finally translates into emotion. We need this process as humans. If we don’t get it, tension and frustration slowly creeps in. Hint: some tension and frustration is natural; however, if it’s constant you likely need to design a new plan.

As you will see, artistic creation is a powerful tool that you have access to — you just need to learn to use it. When you do, it can offer clarity on what “living” truly means to you.

Artistic Creation Cultivates Empathy

Have you listened to those prescription medicine commercials for stress or depression that usually end with a lengthy curated list of terrifying side effects? And somehow they play it off as though it’s no big deal.

Well, you might be surprised to learn that using artistic creation is also synonymous with a long list of side effects, but not the type you should cringe at. In fact, they will probably bring a smile to your face. The cultivation of empathy is a prime example; being creative in an artistic manner allows you to learn to be empathetic, and if you already have a high level of empathy it increases your ability to reason and adapt to other people. Hint: working well with other people is a sure way to get to where you want to be much quicker. In essence, don’t be afraid to collaborate. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

This idea is also linked to self reflection, as turning experiences into a tangible, creative form (art) forces you to remove yourself from the problem (not so fun) and inspires an openness or mindfulness towards others. As you create and accept the subjective nature of art, reactions towards others become more sensible, and the concept of understanding becomes less confined to strict rules or the reliance on what we know versus what we have to learn. And yes, there is in fact an undiscovered world out there for you to explore, and having empathy will make it much more enjoyable. Remember, just because it’s unfamiliar doesn’t mean it’s not for you.  

When you begin sharing your creativity with others or allow others to share theirs with you, skills such as collaboration, communication, and problem-solving will become second nature thanks to empathy.

As you work on your artistic craft, try creating work from a different perspective, maybe one that challenges your routine or go–to process. Think about people you look up to; someone you are intrigued by; or a piece of work that can reach many different people who may interpret it in different ways. Can you adjust your perspective to meet their preferences? This certainly isn’t easy, nor is it intended to be. Creating for others draws you out from your comfort zone to look at a world that is filled with unfamiliar ideas, values, and behavior. This builds empathy. This builds character. This makes you a more effective designer. And you can’t design your life until you think like a designer.

Artistic Creation is a Process for Fun

That’s right, FUN! For so many activities in life, especially daily routines, the word fun rarely creeps its way into the equation. This is why, when you finally discover the fun of creating, especially using processes you share with others, it feels really good (all tingly inside) and nothing like work. And… It feels easy; it’s accessible; it doesn’t cost very much apart from a few tools or supplies, and you can fit it into your schedule. So when you learn to make time to create you are actually learning to have fun. See, doesn’t that sound fun?

We recommend making time for artistic creation for the same reasons we recommend drawing at work or taking pictures on the weekend: these activities offer stimulation and pressure you to respond with feeling and emotion without fear of being wrong or the criticism of screwing up. Remember, art is subjective. If you say it’s art, well guess what, it’s most definitely art. Others like you will embrace this mindset.

Artistic creation also alleviates too much exposure to “the process.” Think about your job or school, they are defined by some sort of process that gets you from here to there, or from this beginning to that result. And that’s fine for some things in life but doesn’t it seem like we have created a process for everything? Sure it may increase efficiency, but usually at the expense of fun. This is why artistic creation is such a valuable activity to explore. The process of creation and using artistic abilities to express the meaning behind your thoughts and perspectives can be wildly rewarding, especially when those around you recognize and appreciate what you’ve created. Once you share this excitement you will want to experience more of it. Although being creative can still a process, it’s acceptable to omit the parts that don’t suit you and just do the ones that are enjoyable… don’t try that in the office!

A critical step in designing your life, sometimes you have to re-learn how to have fun, a mindset you were told to “grow out of.” With the help of societal pressure (yeah, it’s society’s fault!) we over-fixate on hard work and production and fun never has an opportunity to surface. But with a small mindset shift you can adjust your habits to make room for that feeling we all seek in our lives: fun.

Artistic Creation Transcends Reality

This doesn’t happen often, but we are in fact encouraging you to be unrealistic. Because why not! Through learning to make time for artistic creation to expressing yourself and developing empathy to accepting that it’s good to have fun more often than not, leaving reality behind becomes perfectly acceptable behavior. In fact, it makes you a more desirable person to be around and therefore a more desirable person to work with. It doesn’t matter if you have been an artist for years or are just getting started, it’s OK to “go rogue” or “get wild” using your artistic abilities — the result will likely be more interesting to others.

Artistic creation is an invitation to think way outside the box. Think about how you live your life today and compare that to how you would like to live your life tomorrow. Best of all, think about what you do to earn a living compared to what you wish you could do to earn a living. These are the thoughts that make artistic creation so much fun, and they serve a valuable purpose in fostering all of those “unrealistic” ideas that most people don’t want to hear about.

For example, about two years ago I mentioned to a friend that I wanted to build a small container home where my wife and I (and at least one dog, maybe four) could work/live in a modern studio that perfectly fit our needs. You know what he said to me? “Get real.” So I decided to create a Pinterest board solely focused on this vision, and continue to complement this by writing about what this life will look like when it’s actualized. Fast forward one year and I now have all the urban planning and building information required to find out perfect plot. Not to mention detailed boards of what I want every square foot of the home to look like. I even have a list of companies willing to get started on the project — thanks Pinterest!

Case in point: artistic creation lets your mind trespass on ideas we train ourselves to think of as “off limits.” The farther into your dreams you dive the more reward you are likely to experience. So, whether you are a realist or surrealist, practicing artistic creation lets you freely transcend the two worlds without criticism. Simply put, it trains you to embrace the unexpected, a concept best described by an inspirational young man (Sef Scott) from Plano, Texas. “Remember, if you are following in someone’s footsteps, you will only get where they want to go.”

High school senior with autism, who is usually nonverbal, delivers an 'unexpected' speech

High school senior with autism, who is usually nonverbal, delivers an 'unexpected' speech that steals the show at his graduation ceremony."Do the unexpected. It is your life that you are living, not anyone else’s, so do what fulfills you." https://abcn.ws/2LQIfj4

Posted by ABC News on Thursday, June 14, 2018

Artistic creation will set you on the journey of designing the life you want. It’s an intangible tool that nobody can take from you. It has the power to uplift suppressed emotions and bring feeling to a mind that was left for numbness. By simply practicing with art you can learn to be empathetic and collaboratively share your ideas with others.

No matter the form of artistic creation you seek, the process is unlike most others — it’s fun! And possibly the most important benefit of all, actively using your creativity will provide a valid reason to be unrealistic and, just for a moment, see things the way you dream them to be. It may be just the tool you need to turn a dream into reality. Now, get designing.

 

Good Design is Inclusive, and Inclusive Design is Good for Everyone; These TED Talks Prove it

Life creates many problems for humans; some, you may be familiar with. Fortunately, designers create many solutions for life’s problems. Using the principles of Life Design and a human-centered approach, there are many creatives, technologists, and educators in this world who dedicate their time to thinking differently and creating a “better path forward” — usually for the benefit of others. They are designing north.

As it stands, there are many talented designers and thinkers in this world all working diligently to help us understand how good design can change the world. We recognize them; we thank them; we support them. Now, let’s celebrate them. The following TED Talks discuss the transformative power of good design, leading with examples we can all understand and relate to:

When we Design for Disability, we all Benefit

“I believe that losing my hearing was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received,” says Elise Roy. As a disability rights lawyer and design thinker, she knows that being Deaf gives her a unique way of experiencing and reframing the world — a perspective that could solve some of our largest problems. As she says: “When we design for disability first, you often stumble upon solutions that are better than those when we design for the norm.”

We are all Designers

Journalist John Hockenberry tells a personal story inspired by a pair of flashy wheels in a wheelchair-parts catalogue — and how they showed him the value of designing a life of intent. (From The Design Studio session at TED2012, guest-curated by Chee Pearlman and David Rockwell.)

The Art of Designing New Perspectives

Before Daniel Disselkoen studied at the Royal Academy of Art in the Netherlands, he read through his share of textbooks while studying law and philosophy. One day, he realized he didn’t want his own ideas to be tucked away in journals. Today, Daniel is one of the leading interactive artists of his generation. Daniel runs Headmade: a concept studio where he and his team turn thoughts into tangibles. His ongoing fascination in social behaviour and interaction results in playful interventions in the everyday life. Daniel believes curiosity trumps routine.

Simple Hacks for Life With Parkinson’s

Simple solutions are often best, even when dealing with something as complicated as Parkinson’s. In this inspiring talk, Mileha Soneji shares accessible designs that make the everyday tasks of those living with Parkinson’s a bit easier. “Technology is not always it,” she says. “What we need are human-centered solutions.”

Shape-Shifting Tech will Change Work as we Know it

What will the world look like when we move beyond the keyboard and mouse? Interaction designer Sean Follmer is building a future with machines that bring information to life under your fingers as you work with it. In this talk, check out prototypes for a 3D shape-shifting table, a phone that turns into a wristband, a deformable game controller and more that may change the way we live and work.

Design with the Blind in Mind

What would a city designed for the blind be like? Chris Downey is an architect who went suddenly blind in 2008; he contrasts life in his beloved San Francisco before and after — and shows how the thoughtful designs that enhance his life now might actually make everyone’s life better, sighted or not.

Brilliant Designs to Fit More People in Every City

How can we fit more people into cities without overcrowding? Kent Larson shows off folding cars, quick-change apartments and other innovations that could make the city of the future work a lot like a small village of the past.

A Robot That Eats Pollution

Meet the “Row-bot,” a robot that cleans up pollution and generates the electricity needed to power itself by swallowing dirty water. Roboticist Jonathan Rossiter explains how this special swimming machine, which uses a microbial fuel cell to neutralize algal blooms and oil slicks, could be a precursor to biodegradable, autonomous pollution-fighting robots.

When Art Collides with Data

Charts and graphs are the default for data analysis, but some data sets require a little more humanity. What do you call a hairpiece worn by a man? How southern was William Faulkner? Carrie Roy answers these questions and more though sculpture, woodwork, fiber arts, photography, and even virtual reality.

The Beauty of Human Skin in Every Color

Angélica Dass’s photography challenges how we think about skin color and ethnic identity. In this personal talk, hear about the inspiration behind her portrait project, Humanæ, and her pursuit to document humanity’s true colors rather than the untrue white, red, black and yellow associated with race.

As Tim Allen of Microsoft sums up our approach to design, “We should all … understand how each of us is an individual and is unique, but also focus on what is universally important to all of us. That way, we can increase access, reduce friction, create a more emotional connection — in literally whatever you design.” This is inclusive design. Good design.

UX, Positive Change and Togetherness: Murals are Societies Best Tool for Expression

The events of 2017 have positioned 2018 to be a year for recovery, growth, and healing from recent events: political chaos, global humanitarian crises and environmental injustice to name a few. Feeling humanity’s readiness, Designing North Studios is on a mission to find and highlight the small details making a difference in society, starting with the collective effort witnessed from the creation of murals as a form of communication.

Cities across America are in desperate need of more public art — something thought provoking; emotional; relatable or just plain fun. Something to communicate positive vibes and inclusivity rather than negativity and fear. Could murals be the solution? A refreshing user experience for us all? We think so.

You see, murals are to the public as paintings are to gallery attendees: a visceral experience that requires little more than attention and interest, with the offering of pure enjoyment.

Deceivingly stationary, murals hold the power to larger movements, creating change and cultivating togetherness. Murals are the answer to designing more liveable communities for many important reasons: they are conducive to a person’s and group’s user experience (UX) within public spaces, they motivate positive change without name calling, and build community bonds through peaceful, artistic communication.

Murals Enhance User Experience

Murals of Venice, CA, Designing North Studios

As a member of your own community, you might ask yourself, “what is there to do/see around here.” As a UX designer however, the question might sound more like this: How can I interact with my community in a way that’s enjoyable?

And through the lens of a UX designer (using design thinking), answering this question with a solution that provides equitable impact for both a business and the surrounding public will generate the most impactful outcome. Murals are proving to be the ideal conduit, straddling the border between tangible satisfaction and intangible fulfillment.

Whether it’s measured by local foot traffic, tourism or social media insights, the impact murals have on the user experience (UX) recorded by a person in a public setting is felt throughout many large cities. From San Francisco to Manhattan, urban murals have become an embedded attraction, a reason for people to visit a specific area within a city to see with their own eyes what the hype is about — searching for a genuinely unique experience. From interviewing people on the streets of our local community, the most common reason for visiting a mural is to personally see what the artist has created, digest the artistic message being communicated and somehow capture the moment to share with others — both friends and family.

 The Audubon Mural Project

Most often, discussions around UX are directed towards a digital product, however, the physical world also benefits from good UX design — especially urban environments where many people are interacting with complex systems. Los Angeles is a proof of concept: from Venice to West Hollywood, the city is plastered with influential murals created by amature artists and historical muralists alike. If your asking why, you are thinking like a designer! A two-pronged answer, many of the murals were first painted in the mid 90s for various political, social and humanitarian causes — a way of communicating change at the time. But now, the city is again home to a “mural boom,” a strategic tactic to improve the experience visitors have within evolving neighborhoods.

The city of Los Angeles, along with small business owners along Venice’s iconic Abbot Kinney Blvd have made mural viewing a visually rewarding activity, one that is user friendly to visitors on foot exploring the outdoor shopping hub. From corner to corner, local business owners have allowed their exterior walls to be used for large-scale murals, fueling the efficacy of this outdoor retail marketplace. At a time when the greater retail industry is synonymous with “retail-apocalypse,” components of user-centered design (UX in this case) are naturally adding value and reinventing the shopping experience — a concept we believe will define ‘modern retail.”

A recent visit to Abbot Kinney revealed a flow to it all. Almost all of the murals were on walls primed for photography — especially portraits, a.k.a., selfies. And they also ran perpendicular to the main street, giving visitors adequate opportunity to interact and hangout for a few minutes before their next stop. We also noticed that most murals seemed to be strategically located on the exterior walls of highly desirable restaurants, coffee cafes, and shops, a brilliant solution to reduce discomfort over wait times or purchase decisions (customers leave with a positive view of their overall experience). You may disagree, believing these factors to be too small and explained by coincidence, but we simply refer to that as good UX. (If it feels natural and compliments the overall environment, designers did their job.) And as Lisa Peacock, our Executive Creative Director, would say, “Small doesn’t even need to be recognizable to make an impact. That’s its beauty.” When all of the subtle, small details work together, like the murals within a vibrant community, a form of capital is created for that specific region; experiential capital as we call it. And it’s inclusive.

Murals of Venice, CA, Designing North Studios

Murals Facilitate Positive Change

An extension of a good artist, a mural has the power to speak without ever saying a word–the popular “Isabelle Gorilla” murals found throughout Venice, CA, are a great example–one look and you’d swear the Gorilla was telling you to change your lifestyle, maybe even “slow down and chill.” Although they may speak differently to each individual, the unique interpretations often lead to inclusive discussions rather than divisive belief.

Of course, change can come from many sources, but very few of those create desired change purely from spoken words. Often, expression, action, or in the case of murals–artistry is needed. An important detail, murals speak to all humans; race, age and ethnicity are not a factor. This is something Stanford Medicine has been sharing with its community since 2015 when Fair Oaks Health Center (Redwood, CA) revealed a mural in the pediatrics waiting room. A volunteer for the project, Stanford art practice lecturer, Lauren Toomer, MFA, strategically incorporated letters, numbers, shapes, and images of the Redwood City community, as well as three interactive learning panels into the artwork. With the goal of supporting pre-kindergarten-aged children, this mural serves as a tool to educate young children during their visits to the pediatrician–often the only contact they have with professionals of any sort. Part of a larger effort, this mural now aids many children from low-income families who simply don’t have the means to pre-school, setting them up for greater economic potential from a very young age. Now, you don’t need us to remind you of the cumulative benefits on society when all members have access to more schooling and therefore professional development later on in life (higher education and job opportunities, to name a couple). And to think, all of this positive change from the use of a mural…

Just three years later, MayView community Health Center in Mountain View, CA, is also using a mural for positive change within its pediatric care division. Replacing a TV, clinic workers have identified the value murals bring to both the children and the community, addressing knowledge gaps in relationship to other children their age from families with greater means to education and learning. A key component of Stanford’s Pediatric Advocacy Program, murals are creating measurable change for many families in the community.

Similar to the walls of a pediatrician’s office, the urban landscape serves as an artist’s canvas, prime real estate for displaying visual art to convey important messages and change the status quo. A project accomplishing just this, Sea Walls by Pangeaseed Foundation uses public art to spread the message of ocean conservation into the streets. Since 2014, the group has created nearly 300 murals throughout 12 countries, including multiple pieces in San Diego, CA. And with over 200 artists on board, this community isn’t painting in the streets simply to display their talent, they are collaborating to change the way people see the ocean environment; murals are their medium. As Pangeaseed explains, these murals have a dedicated purpose:

While our oceans are the Earth’s life support system, providing 70% of the oxygen we breathe, a sixth of the animal protein people eat, medicines that keep us alive and healthy, and so much more, human impact in the form of overfishing, climate change, development, plastics, and other forms of pollution are taking a toll on the health of our seas. Unfortunately, these critical issues are often complex, multi-faceted and hard to understand for the average citizen. Through public art, Sea Walls has the opportunity to translate facts into visual stories that engage the public in a non-confrontational manner, and increase awareness.   

A lesson for all of humanity, why not let murals be our muse and allow them to communicate sensitive topics to a large audience without the anger-filled media battles? No matter what side of the fence you are on, art is always subjective–an effective method for communicating without insult or attack.

Murals of Venice, CA, Designing North Studios

Murals Create Community Bonds

From Harlem to Portland, murals are much more than artwork, actively driving collaboration and cultivating a narrative for the communities in which they are created. From facilitating coordination among the public, media, local leaders and the artists themselves, a simple creative idea can quickly transform into an organized public event, a process Forest For the Trees does exceptionally well. Curating both local and international artists, this nonprofit puts creators on the center stage. From sketch to unveiling, the entire project displays each artist as an individual but remains cohesive as a city-wide event. That’s the objective according to organizer, Gage Hamilton, “All the artists have their own themes and styles that they work within, and it was really up to each individual and pairing what direction they wanted to take. I just matched them up with property owners that liked their work, and all the property owners were cool enough to keep an open mind.”

Murals have significance in the Portland area, largely due to the bonding influence they provide. As this project displays, the local government doesn’t need to be relied upon for funding; by rallying local businesses and public supporters, community-wide mural events create more inclusiveness than a 4th of July block party. As the organizers had planned, Forest For the Trees wouldn’t have been possible without the help of many locals; because they had a hand in the facilitation, a sense of ownership was felt resulting in accessibility for everyone who wished to join the fun. For humanity, this is a rewarding experience, one that can be replicated from one community to another.    

Designed around a theme, The Audubon Mural Project is the perfect example of how murals can facilitate bonding within a community.

A city not often identified for wildlife viewing, Harlem, NY, now has some of the state’s best “bird watching,” with around 80 completed murals out of the 314 that the National Audubon Society and local gallery,  Gitler &_____ Gallery, wish to complete. Unique significance now resides on Harlem’s urban walls, covering the 314 species of birds labeled as threatened by climate change. You might ask, why Harlem of all places? Well, it happens to be the home of and final resting place of Mr. Audubon himself; a historical fact not recognized by many residents, that was until their home began receiving public art that made headlines across the country.

From Allen’s Hummingbird to a Swallow-Tailed Kite, avian masterpieces are splashed across Harlem neighborhoods, covering everything from aged brick high rises to the security gates of dental and vision offices. And this is all part of the design — when businesses close up, residents and passer-byers have something colorful and awe-inspiring to look at: birds!

Complementary to anyone wishing to view all eighty murals, a project map has been created for self-guided tours around Harlem neighborhoods. Communicating global challenges, this project is attracting accomplished artists from all over, further adding value to the experience of being a local resident, community leader or business owner. When people exit their apartments or visit the gas station they are greeted with lively artforms. It’s something different, something unexpected, yet so rewarding. This is the power of a mural.

Murals of Venice, CA, Designing North Studios

From feelings of unity and togetherness to cultivating thoughts for change, murals hold the power of influence. An answer to designing healthy communities, murals are conducive to a person’s and group’s user experience (UX) within public spaces, they motivate positive change without name calling, and build community bonds through peaceful, artistic communication. We say, let’s create more murals in 2018.

5 Stories That Will Make you say, Go Humanity in 2018

If you haven’t already heard, 2018 is the year of humanity: a year of inclusivity, togetherness, and kindness. In fact, it’s a chance for ordinary people to be celebrated for the small details and a reminder to everyone that we don’t need to be extraordinary to feel humanity. The fact remains, we all have a little extra to give society and one another, rallying together using action for the greater good — we can’t help it, it is our human nature. To demonstrate this mindset, we have curated the following five examples, which speak to the heart of humanity and reinforce our belief that humanity will validate the power of good in 2018. So, as we say, go humanity! We encourage you to say the same using #gohumanity2018 in your social-media conversations and visit gohumanity2018 for more feel-good stories and inspiring acts of humanity.

A feeling of “we are all in this together” for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard team in Pyeongchang.

This may not have been his first experience on center stage, but Shaun White’s reaction to seeing his fellow Americans’ cheer for him during a historic gold-medal run was a priceless — a reminder of how connected we really are, especially during events as symbolic as the Olympics:

Lifting women and children out of poverty with help from four-legged friends and a dedicated mentor: that’s The Grooming Project.

Natasha Kirsch’s pursuit to create change for the homeless women she worked with reminds us that as humans — we all have the power to make a difference in another person’s life. With a focus on the small details, her ingenious solution has led to employment and personal development for those who never had a chance.  Although dogs weren’t part of the initial plan, they now serve as the means to a sustainable future for these women and their families.

A collective for creatives seeking big change for a small island using small efforts: FUERTE by Focus Lab — humanity rests in the people of Puerto Rico.

Focus Lab FUERTE Campaign

Six months later and many Puerto Ricans continue to live without food, water, and electricity as a result of hurricane Maria. At a time when confusion and political agendas have overshadowed the regions call for help, a small group of creative professionals are reminding the public that their small contribution can make a big difference. Their individual efforts may be small and seemingly ordinary, but their collective energy is anything but:

“‘Daddy, I love that you’re kind,’ he said to me.” “And if when I’m gone, that’s what my son says of me, I’ll rest in peace.”  A professor’s extra effort and kindness comes full circle:

Dr. Henry Musoma of Texas A&M University is known for always adding a little extra to every one of the classes he teaches — extra engaged, extra supportive, and extra caring. As a student in one of his classes he makes one thing very clear: he cares about you.

The garment industry is showing a commitment to people in 2018, and it’s good business:

Over 100 companies sign to renew the transition accord, covering over 1,200 factories and over two million Bangladeshi workers from workplace dangers including: fire, structural and electricity dangers. In May of 2018, this legally-binding document will go into effect, supported by some of the largest garment brands in North America and beyond. Not only is this a significant leap forward for the industry, it’s a reminded that every business must put people first if it wishes to truly succeed.

See the complete list of brands and retailers that have signed the 2018 Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.

 2018 Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh

Only a small sample of the positivity experienced throughout society this very moment, these five stories have us feeling pretty good about humanity in 2018. From kindness and togetherness to celebrating the small details, there are many people in this world contributing to the vision for a better tomorrow for all. Whether it’s a friend, family member, random person or yourself,  if you have a story to share we’d love to celebrate it using #gohumanity2018 visiting our good-news feed.

User Experience and Retail Strategy, Together Again

User experience (UX) and and retail are getting together, again. But this time, it’s going to be different.

This time, retail strategy and UX are going to get things right; brick-and-mortar and digital will finally accept their marriage as a lifelong union with their sum being greater than their parts, and relationship goals will soon refer to the comfortable, personalized attention that a “store” experience should provide customers.

Wait a minute… did we say customers? We meant people! That’s right, these renewed vows between design and retail will make life easier and more enjoyable for people — they have feelings after all.

These two fields of practice (retail and design) will finally share the responsibility of changing retail for good; they are poised for a new beginning, and ready to commit. And through strategic senior leadership, retail professionals and creative pros will commence thinking around experience design and more specifically, getting the right people on board to craft the ultimate user experience for people and the communities they associate with. People aren’t satisfied with simply living anymore, they want to design their lives. So… as we like to say, it’s time for a redesign.

A UX Perspective on Retailing

We were once students of retailing sciences in the Retailing and Consumer Sciences program at the University of Arizona. And to be honest, after learning to analyze people and their purchasing behavior we never really stopped being a retail student. In class we (myself, peers and professors) would discuss a controversial question that served as a “hot-button” for many students: “Is retail dead?” Of course, we all had unwavering beliefs as college seniors, but still, a handful of us — including myself — felt a bit of uncertainty and perhaps, fear towards this question. Could we really be investing so much time and money into a dying practice?

It wasn’t until we gained exposure to UX design that we finally had the answer: Retail is not dead. In fact, retail was never close to dying, nor did it need to. Sure, it may be going through a prolonged midlife crisis… but then again, maybe it just needed to find a partner to guide it in a more promising direction.

From attending conferences and listening to the many podcasts and webinars that discussed the world of retail, it’s no secret that even the most prominent retail giants are constantly searching for a ‘better way’ to grow their physical presence, or change it up completely. But in a time when technology literally brings the world to our fingertips, what is left for retail, and even more importantly, what can retailers do to provide this field a new “lease” on life?

The answer lives in the “UX of it all” — how does a user experience translate into a feeling or emotion that people want to relive and can recognize time and time again with satisfaction?

Companies such as Nordstrom, Apple, Goop, and even Nike are embracinguser-centered design to provide class-leading UX for brick-and-mortar; they are no longer designing solutions ‘for’ people (there we go with people before customer), but rather, ‘with’ people. The people they are designing for never leave the center of the equation, everything revolves around them. And as we have learned from the many digital projects we worked on in our studio, this is the way it should be. It has potential to breath new life into the paradigm around retailing. So, although many of these names have been around for many moons, they are what we consider the new retail — a stark contrast to the legacy retailers we are so familiar with.

The New Nordstrom (User) Experience

“John W. Nordstrom believed success would come only by offering customers the very best service, selection, quality, and value.” Although the world has changed significantly since 1901 (Nordstrom’s start), Nordstrom’s ideal customer hasn’t; and both the in-store and online journeys are still crafted with these values in mind. Only now, the company has more advanced capabilities beyond just the omni-channel mindset. In fact, it’s expected that the Nordstrom guest will have a personalized, unique experience that is convenient for their life. The company’s latest store innovation reinforces this point: although people have time (to shop), they don’t have time to waste.

As Nordstrom explains their latest concept, “We know there are more and more demands on a customer’s time and we wanted to offer our best services in a convenient location to meet their shopping needs. Finding new ways to engage with customers on their terms is more important to us now than ever.”

Nordstrom’s latest store concept (3,000 square feet, instead of a typical Nordstrom box size of 140,000 square feet), aims at offering an experience that reinforces the positive interaction among people based on wants and needs, while matching those to the brand’s personality (in this case, Nordstrom). From stylists to beauty service providers and consultants, guests will have access to the ‘full fashion treatment.” But calling this an enriched experience would be an understatement. With “bars” in the stores, where thirsty shoppers can order juices or wine; visitors can completely “let go” and relax as though they are at a special event. The company noted that skilled retail professionals will still be an integral part of the redesigned UX, and stylists will be doing what they do best: curating outfits for shoppers while reducing, if not completely removing the stress they feel when searching for that perfect outfit.

The retail atmosphere has much to learn from the digital space, and Nordstrom is proving that they can enhance the UX of a store by following digital trends. We know that websites have at most 15 seconds to win the attention of a visitor, and that’s on a very, very good day. So, as technology further integrates the on and offline channels, should companies expect different behavior for store visitors? We think not. But companies such as Nordstrom are learning how to quickly gain the attention of visitors by creating and therefore offering ‘WOW’ moments in stores.

Today at Apple

Soon, a typical conversation with friends and family will begin with, “Today, at Apple…” That’s how good the Apple experience is expected to be with their ongoing store-experience redesign.

When I think of Apple (the brand), the first visual that comes to mind is that of an Apple store. You know, the one with the perfect lighting, modern-display furniture and big glass windows that often showcase a clever merchandise arrangement.

Why though?

It’s because we can recognize the in-store experience of Apple. Purposeful UX practitioners have made it instinctual.

As our Executive Creative Director & Managing Director at Designing NorthStudios, Lisa Peacock explains the reasoning for my recognition:

“Well-constructed experience design (backed by well-understood psychology) presents people with things that are recognizable. And it doesn’t even have to be exact. By providing people with familiar visual, auditory, even tactile cues, they are able to tap into associative memory much faster with less cognitive load; decision making becomes instinctual and follows a pattern of flow, and recognizable experiences provide a sense of calm and enjoyment — the pinnacle of user experience.”

The user experience (UX) associated with these retail locations is engaging, friendly and interactive. You don’t forget it, even if you only visit a couple of times. Plus it transcends into Apple products; once you use an iPhone or iMac you recognize the experience across device interfaces (UI), and after visiting their store once you quickly learn where you need to be to find the assistance or information you need.

The process is also repeatable and usually very satisfying. This is the foundation for Apple’s continued success with brick-and-mortar, and with the success of their brand in general. It’s the driver for continued innovation in a discipline (retail) that hasn’t been kind to most large companies. From the digital-device solutions to the shopping and technical support, everything Apple designs is reinforced by user feedback. Apple’s senior Vice President of Retail, Angela Ahrendts, says it best in an interview with CBS This Morning,

“Our soul is our people. And our job is to enrich their lives, change the world.”

Wouldn’t you support this mindset?

These are the words you want to hear from a retail leader, especially when they speak to the importance of user-centered design. They aren’t enriching their lives with a product, they are doing so by providing a curated opportunity for people to have life-changing experiences using technology (the product is simply a tool). In other words, the store, “it’s the largest product that Apple produces.” If this statement caught you by surprise, you’re not alone. But isn’t it refreshing to hear that retail is in fact, not dead?

All 500 of Apple’s retail locations will soon offer a redesigned experience (beginning in April) through the implementation of new hardware, further transforming the retail experience (or “Town Square” as Apple calls it) to embrace community gathering, education, and engagement.

Lined with trees, The Genius Bar matures to The Genius Grove (in a few locations) and the expertise of its support offering evolves as well: staffers called “Creative Pros” will specialize in music and photography to educate and assist, and even more importantly, further develop the bond that Apple has formed with its loyal community. This is the face of a “new retail,” one that is determined to connect people rather than sell products. This is “Today at Apple.”

This is the paradigm shift we will all come to embrace as the brands we already love, continue to learn more about us and the lives we ‘want’ to live. The way I see it, if brands such as Apple successfully create the ideal store environment, the term ‘shopping’ will no longer be a worthy descriptor of the dynamic relationship between person and store.

The Goop Lab

From the sound of it, it might not be what you expect. But what if the “new retail” had very little resemblance of the old version. What if transparency of a seller’s intentions wasn’t an issue because the customer was in complete control of how they record their experience?

Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand, is rewriting the script for how a retail store should look, feel and function, and the latest rendition involves a journey into brick and mortar as an experience (and mindset), not just a location — hey… I’ve heard this before. But don’t for a second think GP is doing things the old fashioned way. If anyone has a modern mindset for what the word retail means, it’s GP and her team of design thinkers.

GOOP Lab Brentwood, CA

Titled Goop Lab, this space is less of a store and more of a state of mind. Designed by the creative visionaries (Standefer and Alesch ) who also crafted her personal residences, Goop Lab is an extension of GP’s life (including her childhood) and all of the experiences that have made it so memorable. In other words, the physical location is an exploratory experience of what home should feel like. Goop Lab is a narrative of the brand, and it was created to be a permanent location for people to bask in this story and share the vision.

Situated in Los Angeles’s Brentwood Country Mart (a dreamy neighborhood for many Hollywood stars), Goop Lab includes a fully functioning kitchen, greenhouse, porch, and living room, allowing visitors to feel at home. Their dream home.

This unique experience is also interactive in a way that will remain with visitors long after they leave and return back to their own homes. It’s also educational by design and offers hands-on learning from the kitchen to the garden and beauty room. Rather than design a store, GP and her team crafted journeys, and ultimately these journeys were conceptualized into a user experience. This is the saving grace for retail as we know it.

As Standefer says most eloquently, “This idea that retail is dead . . . it’s nowhere near it. But it’s about doing it in a way that’s really soulful, and thoughtful and truthful.”

Nike and Coach 2.0

If what we are hearing is true, size doesn’t matter for the future of retail.

As the physical and digital worlds converge in a ceremonial “joining of hands” for what we hope is a lifelong honeymoon, many upscale retail brands are scaling down rather than beefing up the UX associated with their store experience. And it’s quite possibly the answer that humans need to once again make lasting memories with the products about which they are passionate.

Rather than scaling back the number of stores, these innovative brands are opening new doors and embracing a mindset of quality over quantity. But don’t let size fool you, these smaller environments are bespoke in nature and educational by design. The following brands are both physically and psychologically designing a future where UX design and retail strategy are partners in innovation.

The New Nike

With an already impressive digital and physical store presence, Nike is turning to the people who know them best (their customers) to design a new store experience. Certain flagship locations, like the one recently opened in SoHo, are encouraging people to lead their own experiences with a much more personal setting.

With more resemblance to a training center than a store, these locations put visitors in the driver seat. Whatever the sport may be, Nike has outfitted these locations with loads of software and interactive technology, offering animmersive learning environment. Their adjustable basketball hoops and virtual courts provide a user experience that’s truly unforgettable and undoubtedly fun. And there’s a “kicker,” the digital experience doesn’t end with the virtual touch points; guests can order their gear on-the-spot and have it shipped to their homes with the confidence that it will fit and perform as expected.

Sh. Can you hear that?

That’s the sound of retail professionals around the globe clapping for a (what could be) permanent decrease in online-return rates. Also, and it’s a big also, guests can save data collected from their Nike+ App and use it later for purchasing gear online; it’s the ultimate user experience. There’s no pressure! And yet, the entire experience is still very simple: guests participate in a clinic, workout and purchase, all wrapped up in one engaging package. Oh yeah, that’s what really good UX looks like.

A Design-it-Yourself Experience

Unlike other brands that are speeding forward with technology, Coach is welcoming guests to their New York flagship store to slow down and enjoy the moment through learning and interaction. Made to order isn’t a new term for the retail industry, but it is one that breaths new life into the store experience. For this iconic handbag brand, it’s being reinvented as Coach Create: a design-it-yourself experience.

Coach’s newest flagship store embraces the values associated with craftsmanship and learning. Not only can guests watch artisans physically make new bags, but they can do so after ordering the exact design that they like best. From this offering, we can again learn how good UX puts the customer in charge of the solution-forming process. As guests choose their dream bag, craftsmen consult and build the item piece by piece for onlookers to watch. In doing so they form a bond and naturally learn about the goods they are purchasing (or planning to purchase). Although it doesn’t get much more authentic than this, Coach is actually strengthening their digital personalization program as well. It’s yet another testament to UX design and a bright future in retailing.

The Retail Experience Then Versus Now

The companies we’ve highlighted are investing in a ‘new’ brick and mortar concept. And although their physical stores will be smaller in size, the experiences associated with them are larger than life. They are transforming the stigma people have regarding traditional retailers (the ones who have focused on product and sales formulas for so long have fallen behind, their values no longer aligned with the modern human. Although criticism is easy to give, we understand change isn’t always easy; it takes time. So as new leaders emerge, others will follow.

There is a new and emerging importance for values such as enrichment, education, community, and purpose. Legacy retailers must design a reason for people to visit them, and they must do it with greater detail. A new shipment of merchandise, end of season sale, or sporadic discounts on select goods that may or may not be in stock when a person arrives is no longer a measurement for satisfaction. People want clean, design-oriented stores, friendly and engaging staff (REI and Nordstrom), targeted, well balanced product selection and most important, an environment that puts the visitor in the driver’s seat, guiding them through their journey; a mapped out experience for every step. This may sound complex but it really isn’t.

We design this online experience every single day. With the right investment in technology, even legacy retailers can change in a big way and design their own path forward. For the sake of discussion, let’s place Best Buy in the hot seat. Their stores used to be synonymous with immersive experiences and highly passionate employees. Now, you’re more likely to find generic accessories rather than devices themselves, and oh yeah, how about you come back for a Geek Squad service plan when you eventually find what you’re looking for.

With the continuous surge from Amazon on the digital front (their purchase of Whole Foods, their introduction of Amazon lockers), and encroachment from off-price retailers who specifically target the merchandise mix of legacy retailers, every current and new retail store must serve a purpose. Or better yet: create a new one. As we see it, that purpose must be to provide a new and rewarding experience, one that will require the skills of UX designers and knowledge from interaction design (IxD) to get right. An active example, PUMA city is a ‘mobile’ store that encourages visitors to hang out enjoy the scenery and show off their new kicks.

UX design and retail strategy are “getting together” for good. And we will all benefit from it. Our lives enriched, our experiences enhanced and our time-well spent. Said eloquently by Rachel Shechtman, founder of Story, “If time is the ultimate luxury and people want a higher return on investment of their time, you need to give them a reason to be in a physical space.”

The first steps will be simple — discover what people need and design new solutions to exceed them. And for once, the product doesn’t need to be the center of attention. Instead, the people using the product get to drive their own experiences seamlessly across a digital and physical landscape. So the next time someone asks you if retail is dead, you can look them in the eye and provide them the ‘no’ they are looking for.

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?

The Education Versus Work Experience Dilemma: It’s up for a redesign

Can you really know what you like or dislike if you haven’t experienced ‘it’?

We like to think we can, and often, we convince ourselves that we have the answers for questions to what we ‘should’ be or ‘want’ to be doing for our careers. But when this vision is finally realized, the expectation of excitement and fulfillment is nowhere to be found.  

There’s a good explanation for this feeling or lack thereof: the importance of the ‘it’ too often is overlooked; stripped of its magic as we are conditioned (by the education system) to use research and personality tests as the “governing body” over our professional, and subsequently, personal success in life.

Whether it’s our own fault for simply being human — using our brains to over think our situation — or it’s at the hands of an outdated education system (many institutions are designing innovative solutions to this problem), the education versus work experience conundrum isn’t any easier to solve today than it was ten years ago, and this isn’t a problem we can shrug off.

A better way to learn?

In a conversation with our Executive Creative Director at Designing North Studios, Lisa Peacock, she reminded me of important conversations already happening throughout the higher-education arena, some of which are also being discussed within design fields.

One such conversation, as she explained,“How do we transform learning? Not just so young students don’t waste personal time when they set off on a pre-determined path, but also so that we can educate more people (beyond a residential experience) in the right way (experientially, via distance, collaborative learning, etc) to also solve problems that are becoming increasingly more and more complex as we evolve: the planet, our political system, racism, poverty, war, etc… If higher education doesn’t figure it out (leaving many capable minds for solving such problems behind) there will be no personal time loss to worry about — Life on this planet will be lost.”

Public or private, a university is a business; I get it; I have been a “customer” myself, and am a “customer” this very moment. Yet, the majority of the professors I have come to know well don’t teach for earning potential — they do it for the reward of working with students and serving as SMEs (subject matter experts) in their field. And to this day (seven years later) they continue to develop forward-thinking programs based on producing ‘experienced’ graduates; they are taking the education process one step further than previous generation educators, or better yet, pioneering new methods for students to overcome the challenges of adapting to what life ‘really’ looks like after school.

Should they really have to take matters into their own hands? Sure, to some extent it’s their job, but I see the corporation and executive board sharing in this responsibility with professors — adequate budget and technology tools should come with the gig. Still, when discussing the idea of introducing integrated learning programs based on real-world working demands, the common response is doubt induced by small budgets and staff.   

What’s even more interesting, these professors I observe aren’t working on projects to help students determine what they are good at, and what they find most interesting about their field of study. Instead, they are asking students to physically enter the real world (business arenas across the globe, often in a virtual presence) and identify opportunities that aren’t being met or can be improved upon. From here, skills of interest can be developed into a toolkit that transcends many fields.Furthermore, they are sending their students down a “road of discovery,” where the destination provides clarity on what they ‘actually’ want to do in contrast with what they ‘believed’ they wanted to do. What a concept!

WHAT IF learning on the job was more closely connected with time in school rather than in the workforce; an internship consumed 4-5 years (across multiple disciplines) rather than just one summer. This could provide students with the time needed to make more polished decisions without being coerced into a curriculum based on traditional constraints associated with school: time, money, grades, job outlook etc…

The frustration felt by professors who fixate on a single-specialization approach must be challenging. Given today’s disruption-prone workforce, I imagine they often reconnect with past students who don’t report back with stories of success, positivity, and progression. We can’t all receive a trophy like our beloved parents once promised, but that doesn’t discredit the time and hard work educators dedicate to producing successful graduates. It doesn’t have to be this way, we can design a more successful system geared around realistic preparation.

Visualizing a model for success

Now more than ever — with the millennial generation placing greater emphasis on soul-searching — the model for a ‘successful graduate,’ ready to tackle what life has coming, must be made more clear and beneficial to the many young learners chasing their dreams… or so they think.

We must also not forget the old model — law school was a great example. It used to be common for big firms to recruit graduates from fancy programs and offer irresistible salaries while billing them out to clients. This lasted until clients realized they were paying top dollar for untrained lawyers; the model had to change thereafter, once the big firms began losing business to smaller ones who provided more qualified resources.

I believe current learning models can be shaped by making slight tweaks to experiential learning. It’s no different than the first five years in the workforce, except you get paid to try new things rather than pay to learn about what you might later want to try, and if that doesn’t work out, well too bad, pay off your loans, go back, and learn about something else you might want to try. Shouldn’t students at least pay to actively try the many/few subjects that interest them, checking some off as they go while also uncovering skills that might otherwise remain buried by the pressure of discontent and fear? This is undoubtedly what the current model breeds — just ask five random people what they do for a living, and follow that up with asking what they would rather be doing for a living. I’m confident the two answers will be in misalignment.

I call it the “pick it and stick with it” approach. It’s not working. It hasn’t worked for decades.

The constraints of time and competition are leveraged to corral pre-professionals into “choosing” their path forward in society. Again, as a current paying customer (grad-student), I see experiential learning across multiple fields to discover what makes us “tick” as a superior approach to strategic selection based on what’s realistic and in alignment with personality, grades, background, and let’s not forget, affordability — queue the phone call to dad, ring-ring-ring: “hello. “ Hi dad, I think I want to go to med school… research says I would make a great doctor.”  

Experiential Learning Designingnorth.com

Experiential learning is the process of learning through experience, and is more specifically defined as “learning through reflection on doing. — Purdue University

I’m confident an institution-wide shift in mindset — with processes following behind — towards embracing discovery among students’ interests and imaginations will lead to a more effective population of young professionals entering the workforce. Speaking from what I learned along my journey, I met more people who were constantly searching for what could be, or what’s next. Very few people were excited with the present, and I attribute this to a fear of failure, a side effect to specialization too early in one’s career. Once you accept that you only fit into one small nook of the workforce, it’s easy to close yourself off from the plethora of knowledge and opportunity out there.  

There’s no good reason why working and living can’t go hand-in-hand… in harmony. But hope is on the way: shiny-bright lights are beaming down through the clouds with the help of the modern-education leaders who agree with my perspective on experiencing to learn rather than learning to experience. In fact, one in particular has curated a group of professionals from a similar educational/professional background to mentor his upcoming senior class: we will be guiding them through the transition phase of student to workforce-team member, and sharing the ‘experiences’ we recorded during our journey while equipping them with the tools and knowledge we wished we had just five or six years ago — I like to call this “paying it forward,” or “sending the elevator back down.”

There has to be more to the work experience than this.

This is a thought that has been repeated far too many times in my young career. And I’m not alone on this island. In fact, the majority of my previous coworkers and current friends share this perspective, they too are spending more time ‘searching’ rather than living. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

You see, we’ve come to agree on one thing: without experiencing something you don’t know with certainty whether or not it’s a good fit. And this mindset works both ways: there are plenty of undiscovered interests and talents in this world that are hidden simply due to lack of exposure. This theory resembles the way most kids are raised in the U.S. : parents enlist them in as many sports leagues as possible, allowing them to discover where they belong, and what they can derive happiness.

When I talk with fellow peers who, like me, are living out the last years of their twenties (I know, it’s terrifying), we frequently joke about getting ‘older’ and entering the age of no return: 30 — Yikes! Mentioning this is usually followed with a deep sigh.

It’s not the hesitation of tacking on an additional year to my age that scares me, but rather the concept of time running out before I gather enough experiences to identify my ‘it’ — ideal form of professional contribution or body of defining work. I have learned  about what I really don’t like and definitely don’t want to do. Looking back, I recognize missed opportunity that proved to be too “risky” at the time.

Have an open mind; allow new ways of thinking to influence the direction of your life, you will be happier person for it.

The post-college years should be a time of exploration and discovery in the professional world. Before family or a mortgage, you should feel justified in experimenting with career paths. But be prepared to fail, start over, and fail again — failure is a sign that you are actively designing. It’s OK to run into challenges right out of the gate — remember, it’s a marathon not a sprint.

At the current rate of change among companies, you will likely need to be good at many things to maintain a healthy career.

Current systems do in fact facilitate failure, and for some reason this is still viewed with negativity. Rather than manage success rates, it would be more productive to prepare professionals for what comes next: the getting back up and try something different part.

This is what you learn in your late twenty to early thirties (if you’re being honest with yourself). It’s the ‘I wasn’t expecting this part of life’ when the shortcomings of the education industry become transparent. So much is learned and achieved when the big-life plan fizzles out before it “booms,” but of course, you don’t know or understand this upon leaving the comfy confines of school; how could you?

The lessons learned during this stage of life (it really is just a phase many people experience in their lifetime) prove that you don’t know enough to pursue just one path. But for some reason society finds justification in criticizing those who don’t specialize in a single field of professional practice. This is the difference between learning in school and working in the real world: you don’t know all of the available opportunities until you are ‘in’ each unique work setting where stones can physically be turned over, and new doors opened.

For example, when I was in business school I didn’t know that I could enter the freelance economy if I choosed; I didn’t know that I could work on multiple projects at once as a consultant; I didn’t know that my education in marketing was just a foundation for a plethora of career tracks — I would still need to determine what the heck I was interested in (in the workforce), let alone good at and qualified for. And this caused significant tension — how could I become qualified for something I was advised to specialize in as a “best option,” not due to a deep interest, but rather a need to ‘simply’ pick something. And to think, I was paying to learn about a single subject I wasn’t confident I would enjoy… 100k should buy you a bit more experience, and a bit less book time — I think my fellow constituents would agree.

The truth is, you can be whatever you want to be in life, and that includes professionally; age doesn’t dictate what you can or can’t become. And figuring out what you want to be doesn’t always happen while in school; it may not even begin until entering the workforce — you just don’t know enough about the subjects you know nothing about. The elusive idea that we can excel at multiple things and build professional equity through a multidisciplinary approach is slowly becoming understood, especially as technology innovation powers full steam ahead and companies need their “rock stars” to manage numerous challenges at once.

As more and more industries transform in response to increased technology and competition, education institutions have an opportunity to follow their lead, while empowering professors to finally redesign the user experience associated with learning at a university. With this shift, learning would encompass more than subject matter, and would include the behavioral and psychological tools needed to make an impact in the workforce without regard to where you end up once the training is complete.

We are all fledglings at some point in life, but maybe a little more time in the nest would do us good.

These experiences will further train young professionals how to envision their true self, not just rely on their everyday self for answers and guidance. More importantly, they will empower students to seek multiple areas of interest, and develop a mindset that embraces transferable skills. The ultimate goal for education leaders will not be to graduate the most skilled engineers or marketing coordinators, it will be to shape problem solvers who are comfortable in many environments, and can alter their understanding of broad concepts to further absorb new knowledge. It’s this idea that will help shed more light on building transferable skills for the workplace while also exercising the human ability for rapid learning.

These are the changes we can make to fix the current education and work experience conundrum — it’s the firmware update this system has been waiting for, and it’s just in time for the arrival of smart machines. I’m not asking for a reinvention, I just want to see it designed better than before, to a level where it supports idea sharing, new ways of thinking, and most importantly, a greater value in oneself. One day, employers won’t need to evaluate education versus work experience to determine if a candidate is ‘ready’ for the gig. Can you see a similar future?

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What Is UI Design? Six Articles To Help You Understand

What is UI Design?

Once again, we turn to the Designing North Studio team (only a couple are dedicated UI practitioners) to share their their definition of UI Design in one sentence:

The translation of UX design into a visual interface, where the color, composition and placement of various interactive elements reinforce the user experience principles that have been deemed most important for a given interaction.Click To Tweet

“When function and art move in together before they tell their parents.”

The balance of visual design, layers of presentation, and interactiveness to provide a satisfying look, feel, and experience.

The translation of UX design into a visual interface, where the color, composition and placement of various interactive elements reinforce the user experience principles that have been deemed most important for a given interaction.

UI Design is the creation of graphics, illustrations, and/or use of photographic artwork and typography to enhance the display and layout of a digital product within its various device views.Click To Tweet

Have you ever heard someone say, “Wow, that website has horrible UI,” or “The UI of this app is the worst”? Similar to our comments on What Is UX Design, if you aren’t around designers all day this acronym is likely meaningless. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But to understand User Interface Design (UI), is to have a greater appreciation for the way designers craft  the look, feel and even responsiveness of a digital product, which all accumulates to interaction.

However, we understand that much like UX (user experience design), UI (user interface) is often interpreted slightly different depending on who you ask.  

At its core, User Interface Design creates the the look, feel, and interactiveness of a digital product — think web experience or app. But this is only the basis for understanding. You see, good UI is a multidimensional approach that enables a product experience to be responsive to a human being. It’s the Xanax of the design world. Remember that short animation that perfectly substituted the need for a thousand words? Or even that website that you navigated as though it was a guided tour. Now, that’s some good UI.

UI articles to help understand design.

Now, let’s paint you a more thorough picture of User Interface Design with these six articles:

1. UI is this, and UX is that:

https://medium.com/blu-mint-digital/ui-design-vs-ux-design-whats-the-difference-af97c2ff052a

2. UI basics, let’s start here:

https://www.usability.gov/what-and-why/user-interface-design.html

3. Good UI gets out of your way to help you complete a task:

http://blog.teamtreehouse.com/10-user-interface-design-fundamentals

4. Four ways color explains good UI

https://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2017/06/4-ways-vibrant-colors-boost-ui-design/

5. UI explained in 60 seconds. Starting now:

https://www.oho.com/blog/explained-60-seconds-ux-ui

6. These big design buzzwords make you sound more experienced — UI is one of them:

https://www.upwork.com/hiring/design/ux-ui-ia-digital-design-terms-explained/

Have a burning UI/UX question? Let’s chat!

Designing North Studios Playlist: Volume 1

“Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents.” — Ludwig van Beethoven

This is affirmation for every designer who stands on a musical foundation to power through the day.

Design and music goes hand in hand. Similar to art and a paint brush. With the majority of our time spent in front of the computer, we need music for many reasons. Music offers an escape to a place of focus; where creativity can be felt, absorbed, and expressed.

Day after day, we pour our heart and soul into our work, in the the design studio, striving to produce impactful results for every body of work that enters our virtual doors.

It’s here where we live, think, and invent with the intent to make the world a slightly more enjoyable place for all.

But this wouldn’t be possible without music. Our feelings, energy levels, and focus all rely on music in one way or another. Without even considering its power, we rely on music to set the mood, each and every day.

And contrary to popular belief, work is in fact a place for sound; a place where turning up the music leads to an atmosphere primed for creation not distraction.

From Stanford to Johns Hopkins, extensive research has been conducted, supporting the positive impact that music has on the learning environment.

A student is to learning as a designer is to creating, and music is the glue that bonds passion, focus, and intelligence to production and results.  

Although our favorites remain intact, we enjoy creating new playlists as we discover tunes that inspire and motivate us while in the design studio. Let us know how we’re doing and feel free to share your favorites along the way.

Designing North Studios Spotify Playlist: Volume 1:

Horse On The Loose: A Designer-Sister Duo Passionate About Equestrian

What do you get when you cross an illustrator and a graphic designer that both share a passion for all things horses? Horse on the loose, of course!

Horse on the loose is a collaboration between a sister duo who were looking for a way to share their love for everything equestrian with the world. Sister Andra happens to be a member of the Designing North team as well; we are very proud!

From shopping, to work and travel they envisioned a product that could be seen by others and instantly recognized by the larger equestrian community. Naturally they landed on the trusty tote; a bag for all purposes. But not just any tote. These bags are custom printed in Los Angeles, CA with unique illustrations representing dressage, jumping, and southwestern equestrian culture.

 Of course, there’s always more to the story than meets the eye. To go beyond the vibrant colors and flawless horse silhouettes, we asked Andra for her inspiration behind Horse on the loose, and the details that led to its launch.

Horse on the loose Story

“My sister Roxana and I started Horse on the loose at the end of last year. I live in Los Angeles, California and she lives in Transylvania, which is in the northern part of Romania. The two of us share a passion for horses and all riding disciplines. I’ve been taking dressage and jumping lessons for more than 9 years; incorporating this style into our designs was a natural progression for me.”

Horse on the loose tote bag

“I currently ride at an eventing barn called Goldspirit Farm in Los Angeles, CA. My sister has also been riding for two years now in Cluj-Napoca, Northwestern Romania. Although we are over 6,300 miles apart, we often spend holidays together and love to go horseback riding wherever our travels take us.”

“Besides having a passion for horses, we are both artists by trade. I am a graphic designer and and my sister is a painter and illustrator. Since my earliest memories, we have been drawing horses for fun, and to this day it’s still our favorite subject. With such a great distance between us, it’s comforting to know that my sister and I share the same passions and enjoy talking about art and horses whenever possible. But Horse on the loose is so much more. From two different continents, we are building a brand based on a shared interest and are able to display our talents in the process; I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Inspiration for the Designs

The inspiration for the designs originated more from a graphic design approach, rather than illustrative. The horses are very clean, edgy and stylish; we want people to recognize the designs without leaving too much room for interpretation. However, the designs cater to riders in the various disciplines, leaving room for a little personalization. These riders are a more sophisticated audience, seeking something unique that speaks to them.

“I’ve been to quite a few tack stores throughout the years and never found a tote bag that “spoke” to me. Most were either too generic looking and childish, or super high end and overpriced. I guess I simply wanted to produce a product that is affordable yet still looks great for everyday use. Secretly, I am my ideal customer — I’m an artist after all. “

Horse on the loose tote bag design

With the recent ban on single-use plastic bags, totes are more than a trend at the moment and you can take them everywhere, including the barn! But these bags give riders the opportunity to show off their hobby to the outside world as well.

How did you end up with these unique designs? And where can enthusiasts find them?

Funny enough, I was working on a wall graphic for an equestrian event management company in San Diego. I presented them with various looks, amongst them was something similar to the style we ended up using on the bags. They didn’t choose that look (my favorite of course), so I decided to use it for myself.

Horse on the loose tote bags for equestrian

Besides selling the bags through our online store, we are sending a few to some equestrian shows across the country as competition prizes.

In the future I hope to expand the line to feature more horse-riding disciplines such as racing and polo. Maybe we can put the designs on other merchandise; only time will tell! Until then, I hope you enjoy the bag designs and please share them with other horse-loving friends.

Are you an illustrator, graphic designer, or enthusiast for all things equestrian? If so, Horse on the loose would love your support!

 

 

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