Subscribing to the Agile Mindset: a Clear Opportunity for UX Designers and Developers to Make Great Products

A collaborative relationship using agile methodology among digital designers and developers can ultimately be the biggest factor separating a good final product from one that is great. Of course, this perspective assumes both teams are authentically agile, and embrace the Agile mindset using Agile strategies — yes, Agile is equal parts culture and lifestyle. All or nothing. Traditionally, using the same word four times in one sentence would be considered excessive; however, in the digital environment, designers and developers must be agile and do Agile, embracing the word as both an adjective and noun.

Adaptability, pace, and continuous improvement are often the words spoken when describing the advantages of using agile methodologies for development teams. And on a similar note, a UX practitioner might be heard describing their process as incremental and iterative with a focus on thoughtful features requiring sprints. In both instances, there’s an understanding that the customer must be heard and the end-user must be happy.

So, although differences between these two departments exist, each having slightly different needs (such as constant communication among developers versus time for research required by designers), a partnership with shared goals is most conducive to fostering the agile environment. Most important, we believe UX designers and developers can occupy the same sandbox in harmony, creating a much more productive environment than if they were separated. Reviewing the thoughts and advice presented by industry experts, we have identified the most important factors to consider when integrating design and development teams in an agile environment. This is how both teams can subscribe to Agile:

Co-design and Co-create

Participatory design, as it is referred to within the design community, describes the act of stakeholders designing with one another rather than in separate silos. An important detail for truly agile teams, this shared or co-design activity serves to meet the needs of end-users and most importantly, guarantees that solutions are usable and rewarding.

However, a nuance of co-design as it relates to cultivating an agile environment, practitioners should bring developers into the design process and developers return the favor for designers. Similar to making smart financial investments, designers can approach co-design (participatory design) with a give-a-little-get-a-lot mentality. By sharing important details, explaining their significance, and proving their value, designers can set the tone for inclusivity on most projects.

Co-creation on the other hand, the act of bringing people together for a mutually inclusive outcome, is critical to the modern agile team of designers and developers. In essence, this concept emphasizes that design and development should happen simultaneously, with both teams sharing responsibilities and working in unison for a more valuable outcome. A transformative experience for agile teams, co-creation motivates project members to be involved in each others work. And that’s the secret sauce. The more developers believe that designers are listening to capabilities of the technology, the more engaged they will be when receiving requirements — the fruit of user research and customer journeys.

As the agile development cycle illustrates, design and development shouldn’t happen in succession. These two teams of practitioners should place equal importance on planning, research, design and development, ultimately allowing them to successfully co-design and co-create — the embodiment of interaction over process.

Flexibility for All

A collaborative relationship between digital designers and developers, one that embraces agility, is dependent on everyone embracing the art of showing flexibility. Unlike waterfall methodology, agile values interaction over process, forgoing strict rules to allow for continuous iteration and change. Of course, some processes still exists in the form of research. Both designers and developers should “have the ability to respond gracefully to change,” says the Norman Nielsen Group.

The truth is, if just one person rejects this mindset the team and therefore company is not truly agile. This is often a common misconception made by both internal and external stakeholders; it’s either all in or not in at all. Therefore, for modern technology organizations or digital design firms where the design and development teams live under one roof or in close proximity, project success is largely determined on everyone’s ability to expect, anticipate, and invite change.

Through the lens of a UX professional designing in a healthy agile environment,

“Flexibility is dictated by how comfortable developers are with UX designers working ahead of sprints, especially on user-research and thoughtful design ideas,”

says Lisa Peacock, Executive Creative Director of Designing North Studios. “Being in-sync doesn’t necessarily mean working at the same pace; teams can still be on the same page when designers gather optimal information and data to effectively report back to DevOps.”

Similarly, flexibility also represents designers’ efforts to respect managed task lists and development timelines, as well as having mindfulness towards how many iterations are too many. Additionally, agile teams outperform the rest when they “win” at the game of trust. Of course, designers must understand that trust is earned not granted.

UX professionals are at the mercy of the user but wouldn’t have it any other way. The user-above-all-else mindset is one that values research, real-world testing, and solutions-crafting to make experiences pleasant and memorable, especially for digital products. Although this mindset is largely driven by creativity, important processes exist to uncover key requirements for the project, and designers should validate these requirements with developers using transparency. Supporting sentiments from the Nielsen Norman Group express that “UX professionals must rigorously validate design ideas, improve them, and communicate that rigor to the rest of the team in an honest and approachable way to gain developers’ trust.”     

The User is the ‘North Star’

Agile teams that seamlessly integrate both UX practitioners and developers wholeheartedly believe in the power of the user. In other words, their work evolves with the end-user at the center, from beginning to end. This inherently adds immense value to the groundwork a UX designer is accountable for: user-research and user-testing.

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. From a client’s perspective, it’s not easy to differentiate between all designers while identifying exactly what expertise they need for their project. And often, this is true for developers as well. This explains why a large number of predominantly visual designers (or UI designers) have filled the gap in supply and demand with a quick transition into the UX field. Unlike teams that “get UX,” teams that don’t do agile well will likely fall into this trap and ultimately serve up a biased solution to a real and complex user problem.

A team of UX designers and developers thriving in an agile environment views user behavior as a framework, mindset, and strategy. They measure their work in unison with data to ensure that final products are best for users rather than a reflection of what one person assumed to be the best solution. And like all good things in life, the balanced application of UX knowledge is viewed as a principle rather than input on thriving teams. Any potential gaps between design and development are quickly filled by finding common ground — understanding of the user’s needs. Specifically, the acceptance that thoughtful and considerate design details are paramount to a great final product, and the time it takes to craft these details respects the speed required to remain agile. As a good mother says often, “everything in moderation.” This couldn’t be more true when weighing time constraints versus the need for thoughtful details.

The simple truth is that digital products are most useful when UX and development teams effectively operate with each other, embracing the agile mindset. A key factor to all digital solutions: specialists are needed when building complicated things. More specific to our discussion on thriving agile teams, specialists should understand and embrace each other’s work and most importantly, want to work together for the greater good of the end-user. With the right people in place and the right leadership to guide these people, the critical factors of speed, efficiency, and detail can in fact exist harmoniously. So, as it stands today, agile environments most conducive to long-term success are defined by co-creation, flexibility, and a user-centric approach. If your team is currently in the process of applying agile or wants to understand what techniques should be used, these core factors offer a great starting point for integrating the complex roles among practitioners.

 

Finding Your Flow Like a Designer With Advice From an Executive Creative Director

What is flow? What does flow mean? And how on earth can flow be experienced? (Outside of the Progressive insurance commercials).

For the longest time, these questions lingered among the team at Designing North Studios as we navigated the sea of creativity and requirements each project demanded. But that was then. Now, with the guidance of our Executive Director, Lisa Peacock, our team has learned how to position our schedules to find our individual flow. And you can do the same: by following our lead!

Whether flow is a new term for you, or you simply haven’t had the time to explore it prior, we have some advice on where to start and how to access it again in the future.

To start, let’s cover the framework we use to understand what flow is, using this ‘pitch’ from Lisa:

I have to be ready to find flow. I don’t do this consciously, but if I analyze my behavior in retrospect – I get visually geared up to focus. So, focus and flow go hand-in-hand, with a need for focus before I can expect to feel “in the zone.

I need to first get control of my environment, this includes that everything around me is visually pleasing – which brings about a calming effect (that includes noise and movement as well) to create an internal organization of thought. Feeling the calm allows me to jump into the storm of flow where my immersion in whatever I’m doing goes unnoticed until I’m done with my work. That’s the funny thing about this concept, I never know I’m inflow until I’m on the other side of it. It’s like you’re asleep, and then you snap out of it! Being interrupted in flow is tantamount to being woken up suddenly in your sleep. Like my cat Dave Mason does at least once a week.

Flow Explained

As it relates to our psychology, flow is a state of deep concentration that causes time to “stand still” or “fly by” — figuratively speaking, of course. As it relates to our studio members, flow is a state of mind where our actions and cognitive thoughts progress with seamless transition, providing incredible satisfaction and enjoyment in what we are doing. And according to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow is a finely tuned sense of rhythm, involvement, and anticipation.

Finding flow during a project is a pinnacle moment in identifying what makes youtickas a creative. This sweet spot for concentration allows complete immersion into any activity, although we most often relate it to working. But much like working on your favorite projects, it indicates a correlation between happiness, interest, and performance. For example, if you love the outdoors and dislike confined spaces, flow likely won’t be experienced in an office cubicle (unless of course, your office is filled with puppers, friends, ping pong and catered lunches). So when you try and make sense of this concept, think of flow as a placewhere you go when it’s time to do your best work; be your best self; and connect with your calling. In short, when the opportunity presents itself, go with the flow.

Watch how one artist/athlete explains her perspective on flow:

You can’t force yourself to find flow, but you can:

  1. Clear your mind with a ritual that relaxes your thinking (monitor your routine and identify what works and what doesn’t). (For Lisa it’s a full coffee press and morning emails answered)
  2. Organize your day, every day — alleviate tension from the to-do list (Lisa uses 1 to-do app called Swipes — that goes back years: everything from current client project to-dos to buy paper towels to remodel the master bathroom. The ‘swipe’ to complete the ‘do’ is elation, but the pressure feels minimal.)
  3. Build a wall between distractions (i.e., put the phone away; use headphones and close your email!) (We all know if we don’t hear from Lisa right away, she’s not ignoring us, but rather in flow — which acts as a strong reminder to get there ourselves.)
  4. Identify your ideal setting — where do you work best? What do you need around you to feel at ease? (The overwhelming DN team ideal setting means animal close by, or a window setting that allows for ‘California Dreamin’)
  5. Practice with your attention span — reduce habitual media checking! (We’re on Slack for Teams and rely on each other to share anything really important in our #creative channel — good news being, it’s there when we’re ready to check it.)
  6. Record your moments of flow after the fact — analyze the situation and try replicating it. (During the research for this article, the DN team decided to create a #flow channel in Slack so that we could share what moves us in and out of our creative selves. #stuffworthsharing)

Common Side Effects of Flow

Most critical to a design profession, flow can increase artistic creativity.

When you are “in the moment” with strong focus and good energy the creative brain comes to life. With less thought capacity being consumed by stress and tension, you are left with more creative juices for self-expression and creative production. This is all according to science, of course.

Flow eliminates the suppression of ideas. You are sitting at your desk when a good idea, better yet, a great idea strikes. Your instinct is to tell someone but as you prepare your words doubt creeps in, and you eventually scrap the idea. Unfortunately, this happens often — way too often. And you know why? Because you weren’t in flow. When you are in the zone doing what you enjoy and experiencing satisfying results, doubt, fear, and uncertainty doesn’t stand a chance. In other words, your ideas are free to surface and come to life.

Flow can reveal your calling your ideal workWe have learned that finding flow often occurs during a stimulating or enjoyable activity. Be it work or play, there is enough interest and happiness involved to tune out everything else in the world, leaving room for complete focus. And so, every time flow is experienced, write it down with a description of what you were doing and where; make it a routine, you will likely begin to understand what you should be doing more of in work or life. This step is all about practice and repetition.

Flow positively affects your mood. As simple as it sounds, flow feels really good. Every time you come out of it you want to do it again, wishing that every day could be filled with these moments. When the brain is happy the heart is happy, therefore you are happy.

Flow can increase your performance. From designing a website to running a marathon, flow allows you to be at your best and do your best work. This concept is connected to focus, motivation, and drive; when you are motivated to do something (usually by a perceived reward), you focus on getting it done and are driven to do it well. It’s not just theory, if you learn about what you enjoy doing, you can do more of it, and do it well. But don’t just take our word for it. When you discover your flow, compare your performance on that task to one from a less memorable time; it won’t take long to “connect the dots.”

Flow motivates you to design your life. Designing your life isn’t easy. And deciding how and where to begin can be the hardest part. But finding your flow adds clarity to this process. In creating the life you want to live or the life you dream of living, you need to know what interests you, what you are good at, and what is most important to you — flow can answer all of these questions. Next time you are “in flow,” go with it, and take note of how you got there. These findings will point you in the direction your life needs to go in order to feel more happiness and create your purpose.

Flow makes you a more passionate person. Using artistic creativity, sharing good ideas, doing ideal work, being in a positive mood, achieving higher performance, and designing the life you want, in combination, help to make you a very passionate person. And passion can be applied to everything, not just work. When flow is influencing life in the most positive ways, all other aspects of life align — life is good.

The point is, all of these factors culminate to designing a better you, a you that has more to offer this world. A you that cares for the well-being of a community or team. A you that wants to not only see a brighter future for all, but is also willing to contribute a bit of extra effortto design the best life imaginable. And in return, you will live a life that hovers above the rest. At least that’s how we see it. Would you like to see our vision in action? Please, get in touch.

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.

Life Design With a Trip to Big Sur

Fascinating. Soul-cleansing. Metaphorical. Big Sur is like nowhere else on this Earth. It’s a true playground for those seeking change and a training ground for designing your life.

Big Sur helped open our minds and our hearts to the world, starting with the natural world. It helped us become true listeners. It helped us design our lives. All of the problems that had been causing tension for the past year were being washed away like driftwood heading back to sea. It was this special place that taught us how to design solutions to the problems harassing us as humans. The ones our digital devices reminded us of daily. It shed new meaning on the phrase: “No service, no problem.” This trip was everything we needed to put us back on our tracks. Somehow, it was everything we needed and the only thing we needed all in one.

We are confident the Big-Sur experience is everything you need as well. To see how Big Sur can help you adopt this mindset, click on the image below (McWay Falls) and let the journey begin:

Life Design with a Trip to Big Sur

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.

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.

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.

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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.”

Northern California
studio@designingnorth.com
888-850-NORTH
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