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it’s our own fault for simply being human — using our brains to over think our situation — or it’s at the hands of an outdated education system (many institutions are designing innovative solutions to this problem), the education versus work experience conundrum isn’t any easier to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?

SaveSave

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!

What Is UX Design? Six Articles To Help You Understand

What is UX design?

Before diving in, we asked our Designing North Studio team (only a couple are dedicated UX practitioners) to answer this question in one sentence. Here is what they had to say:

UX design is a solution for understanding the user/customer/employee experience(s) with a business and/or businesses product(s) and the identification of what, if anything, that should change about those experiences to affect any identified business problem(s).Click To Tweet

A tool to reduce thinking during a user experience

UX design in the entire digital user experience with a brand’s product or service; sight, touch, sound, and feeling.

UX design focuses on optimizing the usability of a product, enhancing the interaction between the user and the product, and ensuring the user is able to get what they want out of the experience.

UX design should follow this simple tenet: Just make it bloody useable.

UX design is a body of ideas that shape an experience with a product.

UX design is the process of marrying usability data, visual cues, information architecture and a number of other factors to ensure that a user’s experience with a digital product requires the lowest possible cognitive load, and has the least amount of friction while completing an intended task or interaction.Click To Tweet

As you can see, this question can often lead to complex answers, and even experienced design professionals will have to stop and think a while before responding.

When you really ponder the idea of UX you start to understand that it’s not confined to the design realm.

UX design is everywhere. And It’s main focus is always “the user.”

UX design is in our homes, our work, and even our cars.

What we wear; we play with it and what we eat/drink are all influenced through UX design. In one way or another, UX design is a key part of your daily life. And when it’s implemented well, it enhances your experiences without recognition.

In reality, the majority of us aren’t trained to think about this concept, but that’s not to say that you shouldn’t start. Even if this practice isn’t a part of your current job — or it is and you just didn’t realize it — now is a great time to understand the basics of UX design. Or, at a minimum, identify what it is and what it is not. Who knows, it may inspire you to look at the world differently. 

Understanding UX design

To get you started, we have curated six articles that will help answer the question, what is UX design?

1. A  discussion with Andy Budd of UK-based agency, Clearleft and Digital Arts Magazine, on the classic role of a UX Designer:

http://designingnorth.com/2016/10/digital-designers-and-drug-dealers-we-all-need-the-user/

 2. Revealing the meaning behind the acronyms UX and UI:

https://careerfoundry.com/en/blog/ux-design/the-difference-between-ux-and-ui-design-a-laymans-guide/

3. How to explain UX Design to anyone using simple thoughts and few words:

http://marianogoren.com/how-to-explain-ux-to-anyone/

4. The role of the UX Designer is still widely unknown. This article will help you explain UX to your team:

http://uxmag.com/articles/explaining-ux-design-to-your-team

5. What exactly is UX Design all about? How can I really make sense of it? This article from The Next Web (TNW) labels the key points to walk away with:

https://thenextweb.com/dd/2016/08/11/what-the-hell-is-ux-design/#.tnw_RfyMdXxN

 6. Learn the key differences between User Interface Design (UI) and User Experience Design (UX):

http://usabilitygeek.com/the-difference-between-ux-and-ui-design/

Still have questions? Send us a note! We’d love to help.

SaveSave

We All Need To Design A Life With Purpose, On Purpose

Learn how to design a life with purpose in four easy steps, or your money back! Well, unfortunately it’s not that easy; you can’t buy your way to a life with more purpose.

 But often, impactful change begins with the smallest shift in a way of thinking — a mindset adjustment.

 You see, finding purpose in life often sends people down different paths with unique experiences. Even so, many people never search for their “calling” out of fear for the unknown and uncertainty towards success. If we have your attention it’s time to listen up. These four steps will help you live with a purpose while making every second count.  

Think Less Act More

From childhood you’re repeatedly told to think through thoughts before taking action. And rightfully so, it’s easy to make mistakes in life, especially as a young adult. But there comes a time when thinking too much can be a nuisance to finding happiness; this is one of those times.

You can’t think your way into a purposeful life, it just won’t get the job done. You have to design your way. Uncovering the things in life that make you “tick” require action. By accepting that designing  is stronger than thinking, you can be well on your way in this process. It also means that all of the “what-ifs” in the world are irrelevant to your life.

Get started by creating a Pinterest board (any digital mood board will do) for each of your goals. Every time you discover a source of motivation, save it to the board as a visual reminder; even snap a photo and upload it as needed. It’s a fun way to consistently visualize what you’re about and it’s always accessible when inspiration strikes. Whether it’s via ipad, phone or computer — your goals will travel with you. These goals will become more personal as you build out each board, offering some clarity on why you are “designing.” Furthermore, they will provide direction on how to continually move forward with action rather than thought — don’t stop, keep doing the design thinking and open the door to a life of possibility rather than limitations.

Test Your Passion

Living a life with purpose and following your passion are two closely related concepts that fuel each other, yet are not the same. This quote helps to better understand the passion vs. purpose relationship: “Purpose is the reason for the journey, passion is the fire that lights the way.

” In other words, to live with purpose, follow your passions as they will often lead you in the right direction to live ‘on purpose’.

Lighting the fire that illuminates the way — a.k.a. your passion — takes some initial groundwork, or testing as we like to call it. Similar to the world’s most successful athletes, you have to practice in order to succeed. Ask yourself these three questions to identify what drives you:

1. What do I love to do with my time?

2. How can I add value to the world?

3. What am I good at?

It’s important to think these answers through. Try your best to not allow life restraints to limit your thinking. This could be a prime opportunity to volunteer your time at a place of interest while learning how to pay it forward.

Once you have your honest answers, it’s time to test! Do something in your life related to the answers you collected. This is you “designing” versus thinking. By volunteering in a certain field, accepting a new job, or even reading a new book, you are initiating the search for a purpose. Finding a balance or happiness won’t happen immediately, and you can expect more than one occasion of error but this only makes the end goal that much more fulfilling. You can’t have a ying without a yang, and there’s no magic number of attempts at  right or wrong, only experiences that will reveal where and when you fit into the world.

 More Heart Less Brain

Where does love come from? Your heart, of course!

Finding your passion means doing what you love, and doing what you love is a very effective method for living and designing a life with purpose. You see, it’s all starting to make sense. Exploring a life with purpose means leading from the heart and not allowing your brain to get in the way.

The heart is the command center for the entire body, and knows what’s best for you. The more you listen to it, the more inspiration will enter your life. As you test and identify the things that bring you joy, it’s the heart that alerts you when you’ve got it right; the ultimate system of checks and balances. This interconnectedness allows the inspiration to flow freely, both inward to the soul and outward into the world.   

Learn a new skill and repeat

In living a purposeful life, there is no room for thinking that you are meant to do only one thing in life. By focusing on one passion, you are limiting your world to a narrow scope, and will continue to seek more than what you have. Instead, embrace the uncertainty of life and be open to the idea that you have multiple passions to indulge in.  

 Learning new skills is an effective way to get in touch with the activities that fuel your creativity and inspiration. They can be seemingly simple like advancing your writing, or more technical such as designing a website. And why limit yourself to the indoors, get outside with surfing, hiking, running, cycling… or try them all! The more you do the more you know and the more you can learn about yourself. And most importantly, by adding more passion to life you will have more to act upon.

Living a life with purpose from this moment on, will require you to do more, test your passions, lead with your heart, and learn new skills. The more attention you pay to these ideas, the more connected you will become to the human experience. After all, what is living if you can’t understand what you’re living for? The more of a passion-filled life you seek out the greater your ability to live a life filled with purpose, on purpose. Are you ready design your way?  

The Art Of Paying It Forward Without Spending A Dime

We’ve all been there before, caught up in the routine-of-things with little thought for what life has to offer outside of “the daily grind.” Rarely, do we take time to think about the others before us who “paid it forward” in one way or another, granting opportunities that would have otherwise never presented themselves.

When we pay it forward, we commit and act of selflessness that transcends our connection to other humans on the planet, elevating the human experience in a positive way. Whether it’s an act of kindness, faith, or even compassion, it all makes a difference and can potentially set off a chain reaction of reciprocated behavior.

Just imagine a world where a simple gesture could snowball into a global movement; wouldn’t that be something to witness?

Life presents many opportunities to pay it forward, often when you least expect it. But you don’t always have to wait for someone else to initiate a good deed. The truth is, you can be the catalyst to set things in motion, with any person you interact with.

Here are 10 fulfilling ways to pay it forward without spending a dime:

1. Substitute reimbursement with a request to “pay it forward”

You’ve just helped a fellow driver install a spare tire on the side of the road. He/she kindly offers a twenty dollar bill for your time and efforts. The temptation for “cold cash” may be strong, but chances are good you didn’t pull over to make a quick buck. Instead, ask the driver to return the favor for someone else who experiences a similar situation, in the future.

2. Offer mentorship

Regardless of age, profession, or relationship, everyone can benefit from a mentor in some aspect of their life. But finding one can be tricky. Sharing your time, knowledge, and experiences with others following in your footsteps, creates a feedback loop for personal development that strengthens the human experience. As the saying goes, “Be the mentor you wish you had.”  

3. Call a friend, family member, or acquaintance to see how they are doing, and listen

Life is busy. We get it. But everyone can make time for family and friends, right? The funny thing about life, it has a way of coming between you and the people you most want to spend your time with. Again, you’re not alone.

Those who most love you likely thought about you at least once, this very day. So why not give them a call and ask how they are? A simple gesture, it affirms that they are in fact important and top-of-mind, even during life’s busiest moments. Be an ear to talk to; pay it forward without speaking more than a few words.

4. Write positive reviews for small business that you support

These days, reviews are everything. They can make or break even the most successful business. Just look at social media’s impact on the boom of new products and services; it’s all about how many people “like” your business. When you have a stellar experience at a store or service provider, let others know how good it felt while also helping the business serve more people, and do good work in the process.

5. Offer your seat/place in line

As simple as it seems, why is it so rare, to see people give up their place in line… time and competition possibly? Lines are a daily routine, and yet they never get any easier to stand in. Even so, there are those who struggle both physically and emotionally, to stand in lines, to access needed services. Offering up your place in line to someone who could use it, goes a long way in paying it forward. Simple and selfless, it’s sure to brighten someone’s day.

6. Teach someone else a skill you have mastered

Mastering a new skill is a highly rewarding experience for most people, and often motivates continued education. In a world with so many like-minded individuals, there’s always another person trying to pick up the skills that you already have. Why not help others along, saving time and money with their efforts — chances are they will feel inspired to do the same. Think of it as a power to teach and influence through generosity. Now that will put a smile on your face.

7. Spend a day complementing those around you

Could you be positive for an entire a day? What about offering up nothing but compliments to everyone you speak to? Not an easy task! But when you see the good in others you are seeing the good in the world, and helping others do the same. Not to mention, it feels pretty good when you can be the root of someone’s happiness.

8. Donate blood at a local drive

Paying it forward with the “gift of life.” When you are healthy, you have the remarkable power to help someone who is not. Local blood drives make the process as convenient as possible and add immediate aid to the healthcare community. By sharing your experience with your network of friends, you can be a difference maker for someone in need while influencing your peers to get out and donate.

9. Spend some time picking up trash in a public area

Paying it forward has never been easier. Trash is everywhere, and always needs a trashcan to call home. Most people understand that we share this responsibility yet it’s more appealing when they see someone else initiating the action. Next time, try becoming the leader of a cleanup movement in your local community.

10. Facilitate progress in helping someone realize their dreams

“Keep dreaming,” a phrase that we toss around regularly to ease the letdown of reality. But what impact could we make if we all helped one another inch closer to our dreams? Yeah, it could be HUGE. Often, we hold the “golden ticket” to another person’s progress, and with a little generosity, can facilitate the realization of another person’s dreams. Whether it’s providing an invaluable contact or something larger, think about offering it up next time someone shares their dreams with you.

Think of paying it forward as an art form — the art of harnessing compassion, kindness, or faith in society. The more of this art you practice, the more beautiful the world can be. These forms of selflessness are far more impactful on society than we often give credit, and inherently provide food for the soul, long into the future. Even more exciting about “paying it forward,” it doesn’t have to cost a dime. And why not get creative in the process. Here at Designing North, it’s our mission to design a community that lives north of expectation, in the name of elevating the human experience. Be the global count.  

Digital Design In Motion: Designing North Studios

It’s not a location, it’s a mindset.  

This is the brand tagline for Designing North Studios, our digital design and development studio based in the Bay Area. It’s meaning runs deep in the veins of the studio, and serves as the guiding light for every team member that walks through its doors — we like to call them Designing North Stars.

Designing North Studios is the product of many years of hard work and planning by Managing Director, Lisa Peacock. From the name, to the logo and color palette, and most importantly the mindset, Lisa’s vision always included motion in some way or another — it just took a few years for this vision to be brought to life:

“I’ve always envisioned that the Designing North logo would move. It’s not super easy to recognize that the DN from DESIGNING NORTH flips and glides together with our Yummo Font forming the combined ‘DN’ mark in our DN badge.”

The joining of the Designing North logo and motion marks a pivotal moment in the studio’s existence. It takes dedication, commitment, and most importantly, really good people to make a design studio “tick,” and that’s exactly what we do.

It’s all about designing a community that lives north of expectations.

Using Motion In Branding

Although motion and branding isn’t a new art form, augmented experiences are becoming an important part of our daily lives — across all screens. With more eyes on mobile, people want to experience a brand, not read about it.

As digital devices pervade all aspects of the human experience, motion design is an interesting and informative way to share the big idea or story; our story.

The Designing North interstitial display, designed by the talented Nick Alexander – expresses that marriage of the D, and then the N falling sideways, to form the mark.

Motion Design Inspiration

As the Executive Creative Director, Lisa Peacock envisioned every movement that takes place in the interstitial. It all has meaning, as it adds life to the Designing North name:

“It was important to give recognition to the use of the STAR in the logo badge. Even though a simple symbol, used by many – I always knew that the people I was looking for to work at Designing North Studios, would be my Designing North Stars. I had no one at first, but I knew they would come. And they did. So it serves both a tactical purpose of displaying the ‘mark’ inspiration, and it illustrates the aspirational side of the designing north mindset: we know the stars are out there, swirling around somewhere, and eventually we hope they land here and work with us at Designing North. But even more broadly: we know there are those out there, swirling around, ‘designing north’ wherever they are, and wherever they land. And we salute that mindset most of all.”

Preserving A Fishery With A Mindset Above Average

With the lobster fishery closed for the season, it was now up to locals to design a community for conservation.

It all began with a young man dressed in flashy swim trunks, sprinting up the beach towards me as I sat in the sand photographing nearby surfers. I have always considered the beach to be my second home; the ocean is a very important part of my life, and I have always been a strong believer that I must be active in protecting the things closest to me. This explains why I was alarmed by this lone runner; it’s not like running on the beach is odd, but for some reason this instance felt different. And boy was I right.

In this moment, I was completely committed to this stretch of beach, as a participant in its beauty and steward for its existence, which allowed me to recognize that this was no ordinary young man out for some exercise.

Living near the coast for so many years has conditioned me to care deeply for it. It’s no longer a choice but rather a natural thought I have or action I take to keep this environment free of conflict. Most often, a donation to a local marine conservation groups does the trick; facilitating a greater impact than I can physically provide. But on this day no such monetary exchange was required.

By the time the runner had stopped he was already waving his hands in the air, almost as if he was trying to flag down someone in the surf — fairly uncommon behavior unless jumping jacks are involved — they were not. I then thought, “is someone in trouble; should I offer help?” The wild arm waving lasted only minutes before a single diver popped his head above the surface like a seal scanning the shoreline.

I spent my childhood on this very coastline, free diving and spearfishing with friends. Yet, scanning through all of those memories I couldn’t recall an instance when I had tried to communicate with someone on the beach, at least forty yards away. Again this situation proved to be different. The two young men appeared to be in-sync with one another; whatever they were up to was intended to be disguised from everyone around them.

Like magnets, the pair continuously moved closer to one another until the young man on the shore was knee deep in the water. Again the diver showed odd behavior in remaining on his stomach when he could clearly stand. At this point myself and a fellow group of four beach-goers were standing, intensely focused on this pairs activity. This beach in particular had a modern tower for state park employees and ranger, yet nobody was home at the time. Coincidence? More like a stroke of luck for these two.

Out of nowhere, two plastic bags were abruptly yanked from a backpack and double-bagged in perfect fashion. Either this guy was a supermarket attendant in his profession or had plenty of experience doing whatever it was he had planned next. Seconds later the diver presented at least two large Spiny Lobster — attempting to hold them below the surface, out of sight from us onlookers.

Pacific Spiny Lobster

My instinct urged me to confront the young men head on, but my lack of legal knowledge restrained this response. Instead I pulled out my phone and visited wildlife.ca.gov to verify the exact dates of California’s lobster season. The results read: March 16, 2017. Additional text stated that each count of illegal capture could carry a fine of $1,000 and possible jail time — no wonder these two were acting with such deceitful intent. The day’s activities suddenly fell into perspective.

With the sight of lobster antenna crawling through an opening in the bags, beach-goers began approaching the pair with smiles of intrigue and curiosity. Clearly this attention, although harmless to their mission, was unwanted. With the obvious risk of being spotted by the park rangers the lobster catch was stuffed into a backpack and thrown over the man’s shoulder; followed by a mad dash back down the beach towards the parking lot.

Witnessing this blatant disrespect for not only the law, but also a place I cherish, was more than enough to incite my involvement. As I searched for the park ranger — he had passed by me only twenty minutes prior — I made contact with the only group who was noticeably disturbed by the brazen heist of a highly regulated marine asset. They too were ready to take action, with the mindset that we all share a responsibility in protecting our local environment.

Our physical presence on the beach, just outside the state park tower, served as the flare needed to direct officials to our cause . What began as individual efforts soon progressed to a group cause fueled by a desire to act beyond expectations — providing a voice to the environment that we call home. This wasn’t a new scenario for the on-duty rangers. In fact, as soon as they heard of our account they assembled their search crew within seconds with eyes already over the beach exit; it was time to let them get to work on foot and by air.

As I returned to my car I couldn’t help but fixate on what had transpired; thinking about everything else that could have been done to stop the day’s unfortunate loss, the moment they trespassed on our coastal environment. I asked myself, if it were an elephant being slaughtered, or a bear being trapped, would everyone have paid attention — am I missing some unidentified threshold for tolerance? In a time when poaching and wildlife crime is considered a global crisis, there’s no room to turn a blind eye, not even for a pair of irresponsible teenagers who seemed to fit their surroundings well.

As frustration eased, I wrapped my head around a lesson to walk away with, and share with you:

Not one person HAD to pay attention to these people as they commit their crime — but a few of us were compelled to do so. We went beyond what anyone would have expected us to — the ‘designing north’ mindset. This mindset is in you too, in ways you may have already discovered or will eventually find.

Although I may never know whether or not my actions served as a voice for the voiceless, I am certain that they brightened the day for the law-enforcing professionals I collaborated with. The feeling of camaraderie and sense of pride that I would want, if I were in their shoes, is exactly what this experience provided.

Healthy marine life, healthy marine ecosystem, and a happy coastal community; it just takes a few good people to make a world of a difference. And why not be one of the few. Many people go beyond what is expected of them: in their career, how they live, the relationships they nurture, or through just a simple random act of kindness – we call it   ‘designing north’.

Do you know someone that is ‘designing north’? Maybe it’s you? Tell us. We’re looking for the global count.

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.

Digital Designers and Drug Dealers: We All Need The User

Nobody wants to be called a user. In grade school, that meant you only pretended to be friends with Tina because you really liked Amy. User. In high school, when your mom found Jack’s badly rolled joint in your jeans pocket on a pre-wash inspection, she freaked. Oh my gosh honey, are you a user!? But once you found yourself in the digital design world, the seemingly unsophisticated and often maligned moniker ‘user’ took on a more positive mantle. In fact, it opened the door to thought-provoking conversations about design, experience, and the joy that is felt as people interact with something that is well-designed. More recently, it’s being treated as an undesirable label again, attributed to a form of rather careless behavior on the part of the digital labeler: Oh no, we shan’t call them ‘users’.

Sigh. I think we’re going to have to toughen up. The practice of UX (User Experience) in its classical sense, demands a conceptual context with a blend of human factors and ergonomics that without a doubt, needs a user. Co-founder of the UK-based agency Clearleft, Andy Budd, recently participated in a lengthy and enlightening interview with Digital Arts that thoroughly covered his take on the biggest morphisms in UX; much of which relates back to the term ‘user’ and its unique meaning for the niche specialists who use it as a part of their profession. Andy illuminates the classic UX designer role while educating his audience on the murky waters surrounding title confusion within the field of digital design.

Watch the full interview here: Digital Arts UK | UX in 2016: An in-depth discussion of today’s big issues with Clearleft’s Andy Budd

We can’t all possibly be UX designers can we?

Over the past five or six years an interesting shift has taken place within the digital design market that has resulted in mass confusion among the greater industry. This includes clients of design firms, employees within these firms, as well as new professionals who are seeking to join the industry in their career search. As Andy points out in the interview, this shift in professional title and qualification is simply a result of supply and demand. As demand grew rapidly for classic UX designers, supply couldn’t keep up, leaving prime opportunities on the table for other designers who have similar skill sets. In theory, a niche group suddenly opened its door for others to join the cool kids.

Before we share any further insight from Andy Buddy, let’s quickly cover the core competencies that make a UX designer such a commodity in the first place:

  • Interaction Design
  • Design Research
  • Information Architecture
  • UX Strategy

Many industry professionals fail to recognize that UX design is more scientific theory with well over 20 years of practice behind its title. In fact, the UX community should be looked at as a body of knowledge in its own right that is approached with well tested theory and dedicated practice.

If we go back to Andy’s point on not seeing enough initial supply in order to fulfill the demand for classic UX designers, we can understand why it was fairly easy for other skilled designers from slightly different disciplines to fill the void. From a client’s perspective, it’s not easy to differentiate between all high level designers while identifying exactly what expertise they need for their project. This explains why a large number of predominately visual designers (or UI designers) have filled the gap in supply and demand with a quick transition into the UX field. They may be talented within their area of expertise, but that’s simply not an automatic qualifier for the UX title, and the same goes for all speciality design fields.

UI designers are often experts in:

  • Visual Design
  • Interaction Design
  • Experience Design

In addition they commonly follow the mindset of:

I designed an experience, I then designed a thing, so I must be a UX designer. Andy understands this reasoning but proves that it’s a bit misleading as he explains, “I believe you can’t design an experience. You can only try, and that it is much more of “a layered practice” with lots of practitioners adding to that experience.” We believe the same. You can’t design an experience, but you can design strategic paths for it to unfold. We can see first-hand that this idea of everyone being able to call themselves a UX designer is causing the strategic approach of design to be overlooked and possibly even archived for some unknowing clients. For a large pool of clients who understandably don’t know exactly what kind of ‘U’ or ‘X’ or ‘D’ they should be looking for, they may be finding talented individuals, but might not be finding the best tool for the task at hand.

The simple truth is that you need specialists when you are building complicated things. Andy Buddy said it best, “If everyone is responsible for everything, nobody is responsible for anything.” So lets keep it straight, UX design is not experience design (XD). A classic UX designer taps into the human factors discipline to understand interaction, can analyze your business problem, employs research-based design practices, knows how to structure content, and will strategize your customer journey before any visual designer should even hit the sketch pad. Experience design is broader. It’s what designers want users to feel when they interact with a brand across all its various touch points, beyond digital. It’s the layer of intuition and visualization atop a solid foundation that gets uncovered as the entire design team does its strategic thinking (or discovery). A design team will all be solving the same client problem, but will be doing so from different perspectives and much different lenses. Super key! You wouldn’t use a telephoto zoom lens for a portrait photo shoot unless of course you found out your client was selling the next great acne cream. Then, only your visual designer might insist on real proof and switch up the lens.

No one tool will ever do everything that you need, and the more often companies chase this dream of the multi-acronym designer saving the day, the further down the rabbit hole they will fall. Moving into the future, Andy expresses that designers need to consider themselves as a toolbox. A toolbox full of skills clearly knows what it can do best, but also knows that it may need to collaborate and learn before embarking on complex digital projects.

Designing-North-UX-User-Example

It’s quite interesting to watch the digital design industry burst at the seams with professionals, cringe as the acronyms morph, and sigh as the term ‘user’ gets dropped from many UX conversations. We get it. The subject of UX is a confusing topic and it doesn’t show signs of simplifying anytime soon. Whether the term ‘user’ is considered impersonal, not representative of a project’s defined persona, or even feels a little drug-den-ish or mean, it’s still an integral front-end component to the Experience Designer title if that’s what one is really practicing. In some disciplines, redefining titles to better align with a more familiar subject is appropriate (like, vice-president of people vs. vice president of human resources) but that’s not the case in this design realm. In a way, removing the U from UX would be comparable to asking a chef to make your favorite meal without him inquiring as to the name of your dish, or at least some hints on a food group. Or better yet, it’s like Jack’s joint getting that whirl in the washing machine: Mom didn’t do her usual ‘research‘ and just wanted your jeans to ‘look and feel‘ pretty.

As the industry moves forward, it’s vital that rising design leaders receive broad exposure to all the various lenses and mindsets of UI, UX, XD, IxD, et al. In doing so, they will be better suited to bring the right mix of design minds to the table while trying to create a collaborative environment and strategic approach for client projects. With so many X’s in our world it’s not shocking that the classic discipline of UX has been misrepresented through title confusion and task semantics. Regardless, the interesting evidence in throwing around the UX term so liberally is somewhat indicative that more and more clients and designers are recognizing that digital projects are indeed complex and strategic exercises: touching all aspects of a client’s business ( marketing, sales, customer service, IT, HR, etc.) Digital agencies like us understand that no longer are we in the website design business. We are in the crafting customer journeys business. And like so many of us operating in our own dark den somewhere: we all need the user.


Do you subscribe to Designing North Stories yet?


5 Tips for Managing the Digital Product Design and Development Process

Everybody knows that the three most important words in real estate are location, location, location. But did you know that the three most important words in managing digital product design & development are communication, communication, communication?

No, this is not a new Geico ad. We recently interviewed Designing North Studios’ Managing Director and Executive Creative Director Lisa Peacock  and Head of Technology Nigel Peacock about how best to navigate the sometimes stormy seas of digital design and development. The interview was timely, as we just completed a retrospective on a major digital product design (yet to be unveiled to the public) – a process we undertake religiously after every big digital endeavor.

What tools or processes are most critical to the successful execution of a digital development project?

Nigel:

If the decision is solely ours, then we employ the Agile development methodology, which has consistently worked well for us. Depending on the Nigel_Peacock-colorclient’s preference, we can employ offshoots of Agile such as Scrum, Kanban or even Extreme programming.  That doesn’t mean that we can’t adapt to other more traditional processes, however, such as Waterfall or Critical Path Method (there’s one for the teenagers). That said, we often find ourselves working in a hybrid environment to accommodate a particular client’s internal processes. Whatever the preferred methodology, we do insist that a decision is made early on in the engagement usually during the discovery process which ensures that we get everyone on the same page thus completing stage one of “communication, communication, communication.”

Lisa:

Yes, and I think that the daily stand-ups are probably the most beneficial or critical element of that process. Every team member who is deployed on the project is part of the daily stand-up, and is expected to report on what they’re working on that day, what’s next on their task list, and any blockers or impediments that might cause them to not complete their task.

Nigel:

I would add  that it’s imperative that those meetings are kept to the brief three-point agenda that Lisa mentioned. In fact the meeting leader, the “Scrum master,” has a responsibility to keep the stand-ups organized to the point of being regimented and steer each contribution to a 5-10 minute slot at the same time every day.  Longer discussions can be saved for the “Meet After” or “Huddle.”  Working with a virtual team means that we don’t have the luxury of “water cooler” discussions, so tools like Slack and Basecamp are vital additions to our project arsenal, and allow us to continue conversations outside of the stand ups. Or we can just say “Hi’ to make sure we keep the team socialized and the energy levels up.

You’ve both managed countless digital projects over the course of your collective careers. What are the biggest potential pitfalls to be wary of – the perennial hang-ups?

Lisa:

designing-north-studios-lisa-peacock-pointingTwo Things: Business Requirements and Business Rules. Not keeping requirements top of mind throughout the project, and not documenting the product’s business rules effectively so that they are not lost in the hand-off between Design and Tech is critical. Establishing requirements up front, which is part of an Agile process or any project process for that matter, is the easy part. But it takes strong leadership to continuously circle back and hold both the requirements and subsequent business rules up against decisions points as the team progresses through a project.

Nigel:

Yes, and steady tracking of the requirements and designs makes it easier to eliminate disagreements as they arise. When you encounter a conflict between a proposed UX solution from the designers and a technical solution from the developers, we’ll grab the applicable business set to help inform a direction. I would also add that guiding the customer toward defining the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is paramount to any product launch success. It’s super easy to get excited as the product begins to take shape and keep adding more and more bells and whistles until you eventually have a difficult time reaching the finish line. Keeping a backlog of great ideas, with a quick prioritization indicator for add ons later is critical to keeping the creative thinking logged. It also helps to remind clients that you can eventually get everything you want, but not all at once. This is where Agile, used properly, can be a real asset.

Speaking of settling conflicts, how do you solve conflicts that aren’t necessarily settled by a review of the business rules?

Nigel:

branding-design-gallery01Even the most well documented, evolved business rules can still be open to interpretation when the development rubber meets the road. It’s really important to have members of the design, development, and analysis teams joined at the hip from the project inception to deployment.  Rather than constrain enthusiasm or creativity, we tend to let ideas flow freely, then before committing to them, we’ll have the Tech team make sure that designers aren’t writing checks that can’t be cashed.

Lisa:

Hey now, expertise comes at a cost my friend. Ha! No, this is true. Creativity can jeopardize scope. A good creative director will spot it when its happening. I would also add that the designers can often help to rein-in the tech team too when their solution is more elegant than might be needed for a particular requirement or business rule. Again, daily stand-ups can give tech a better understanding from the design and business teams as to what the customer not only wants but really needs. Then assumptions aren’t made along the way that can cost everybody extra time and money.

You touched on time and money and that translates to budget. What tools do you use for scheduling and for tracking budget?

Nigel:

Typically we use Microsoft Project for the project schedule and Google Docs to communicate high level planning.  Depending on the customer preference we will use a variety of development planning tools, but most often focus on Microsoft Team Foundation Server (TFS) or JIRA for sprint planning.

Lisa:

In terms of tracking project budget, we’re a Harvest shop. Everyone works to a detailed time sheet that’s approved every week. Harvest reports make it easy to see exactly where you are, and forecast burn rate which is especially helpful when talent is working on more than one project at a time. Specifically, for tracking design deliverables, we like Trello, and find it to be an effective way to assign tasks, see what’s coming up next, what’s in-review with the client, and finally fill-up the complete column once a deliverable has been handed-off to tech.

What happens when a designer or a developer just isn’t getting it?

Nigel:

You know, that’s honestly one of the best parts of our business model. We’re a blend of freelancers who have worked together on a variety of projects. When we select our team, it’s after Lisa and I have a good feel for the type of client we’re dealing with, the type of project we’re tackling, and the methodology that’s going to work best for the client. We handpick the team from there. We’re not saddled with having to use anyone “on the bench” just because they’re filling seats at an office.

Lisa:

And look, despite that flexibility, we still need to have the fortitude to acknowledge when we’ve got the wrong person for a particular task. We recently had a very talented designer who came out of the chute with the client’s favorite overall design for a digital product, but whose follow-up design comps kept missing the mark. Rather than beating our head against the wall, we just made the change; swapped out one talent for another talent more suited to the pace and ‘feel’ for the product brand direction. It worked out great, in no time, we were back on track. It was the right move.

Nigel:

Again, our business model gives us a lot of flexibility. We usually shoot for the Extreme Programming model in that we assemble a team dynamic which comprises a mix of business experience, technical talent, innovators, and leaders but most importantly a team that works together, understands each other, and just gets off on producing quality products.

Any final thoughts or advice?

Nigel:

No process is perfect. We see digital product design & development as an iterative process always. We’re continually improving and refining how we tackle new projects. But without question, effective communication between team members and between DN and the client, is paramount. And actually, a true strategy we believe in.

Lisa:

I agree with Nigel, and would add that having people who are generally happy, energetic, and who come to the table with the DN mindset we’re always looking for in our stars, is what I strive for. We put together teams filled with people who enjoy what they do. It makes life much easier during crunch time. You can have the best full stack developer on the planet, but if everyone hates working with him, it can make for a rough project. Respect for one another and collaboration are key.

Nigel:

And I think that when team members have a common goal and a mutual respect for one another, it also eases the process. When everyone has a solid understanding of the scope of the project and has respect for each other’s abilities, it goes a long way. 

Top 5 tips for effectively managing a digital product design & development project:

_______________

1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.

Conduct daily stand-ups. Every team member knows what he or she is working on that day and that week. Blockers are addressed and mitigated.

_______________

2. Revisit requirements & business rules.

They’re established during discovery with the client and are revisited frequently – Scope creep kills the project, erodes motivation, and makes planning a pain in the ass.

_______________

3. Establish an MVP.

Make sure the project plan has a clear definition of the MVP and successfully execute that first. Refer to the “wouldn’t it be great” list later, and don’t let that distract anyone.

_______________

4. Assemble the right team.

And don’t be afraid to make changes when needed. One wrong apple makes the whole tree look like it needs water.

_______________

5. Iterate.

No process is perfect, so keep striving to refine your processes with each new project. Wisdom comes by learning something every single day.

_______________

Ready to get started on a new digital product or redesign?

GIVE US A HOLLER

_______________


Subscribing to all our storytelling yet?


Northern California
studio@designingnorth.com
888-850-NORTH
© 2016 Designing North Studios. The Creative Division of The Carrera Agency. All rights reserved. Privacy | Terms