For Long-Term Success as a Remote Worker, Seek Joy

Working remotely; you either love it, hate it, or have no idea what to think since it’s not an option at the moment. If you fall into the latter, be patient — your time is coming. At least that’s what the data tells us.

Did you know that 43% of today’s workforce spends at least some time working remotely, according to Buffer’s latest report on remote work? If you are eager to partake in this autonomous lifestyle, rest assured it will be commonplace in the near future.

A virtual studio with a design and development team spread across the globe, we’ve learned the ins and outs of what it takes to succeed as a remote workers. In fact, we see this shift to virtual teams as a part of elevating the human experience, a component of living well Monday through Sunday, not just on Friday and Saturday. But to be honest, the majority of this experience rests on the company culture itself. Remote isn’t a destination, it’s a mindset.

Remote teams function best within a company culture that embraces communication, collaboration, and of course, distance learning. Additionally, no matter which group you identify with (love it, hate it, maybe in the future), there’s one incredibly important detail to consider when working remotely, one that we see overlooked time and time again.

That is, you are a product of your environment. Which why we encourage you to take a cold, hard look at your workspace (current or future) and design it to be your ideal working environment. Even better, craft it to be a space that delights your senses and invites feelings of joy throughout the day. Because it’s the small details that have a big impact on day-to-day happiness as a remote worker.

Whether you are a designer, writer, social media strategist, marketing consultant, etc., becoming a productive remote worker is dependent on feeling good in the moment, and accomplishing this begins with controlling your environment. As a remote team that has successfully navigated challenges associated with telecommuting and freelancing (feeling of isolation, lack of communication, disengagement, etc.), we believe one universal factor of remote work deserves extra attention.

It’s called joy. To find it, optimize your physical environment and stimulate mental cognition. With personal examples to share, let’s walk through how you can increase your happiness as a remote worker by paying special attention to your environment and feelings of joy.

Take Control of Your Space

While discussing the concept of “finding your flow,” Managing Director Lisa Peacock touched on the importance of having control within the working environment. Specifically, she shared,

“I need to first get control of my environment, this means 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.”

As it relates to psychology, 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.’ The importance of flow and its contribution to success as a remote employee can’t be overstated. And it directly correlates the designed environment to having control over personal choices.

To gain control, identify your ideal setting —  where do you work best? What do you need around you to feel at ease? (For us, the ideal setting means pets close by, or a window setting that allows for ‘California Dreamin’: plenty of natural light, a view of the outdoors, and visually pleasing elements that balance the physical space with color and shape.)

To accomplish this equilibrium, start by designing a space that reflects youand empowers yourchoices. As your vision unfolds, think like a UI designer — fixate on the look and feel of your workspace. If possible, start with a blank slate; remove clutter or clear out a room completely. Next, choose wall colors (if you don’t know where to begin, start with white — you can introduce color with objects and art). From there, choose objects, mixing color with texture and even smell. Try being creative with a wall gallery and add small plants throughout the room and on the desk. Finally, add your technology tools and ensure you have space to move and remain organized. These small details culminate into a “healthy” environment, one where the nutrients take the form of color, shape, smell and sensation.

In her book Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, Ingrid Fetell Lee talks about creating a space “where you can never be real sad or angry.” She further explains, “…designers were making me realize the kind of abundance that really matters, not material accumulation but sensorial richness.” Applying this mindset to your remote environment, the ideal aesthetic can be created by layering color, texture, and pattern, and you don’t need much stuff to achieve this.

Pioneering the ‘100% distributed culture,’ the Dribbble communityoften shares their experiences working as remote freelancers across the globe. In a recent blog post, a multidisciplinary designer described his connection with the “chosen” environment versus one that’s forced:

  “Comparing my office space with the spaces I use working at home, I noticed that I’m way more productive when I can choose my workspace. Hopefully, in the future, more and more companies in Germany will realize that remote workspaces are a good thing.”

Get Organized, Stay Organized

Remember, creating success in the remote environment means paying special attention to the small details, embracing those moments of elation and flow that lead to joy. Fortunately, there are well known “tricks” for you to keep in your back pocket. One in particular entails organizing your space, even increasing its functionality whenever possible. Whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly, get in the habit of rearranging items in your office, adjusting seating arrangements, location of the computer or your orientation towards the window. Add organizers to the desk; swap plants and restore the “white space” surrounding your tools. For example, here’s a look at a single workspace rearranged to accommodate additional accessories, while creating more functional space and, you guessed it, organization.

Remote workspace ideas | Designing North Studios

As Buffer’s 2018 work report concluded, the vast majority of people working remotely do so from their home office (78%), not coworking spaces and cafes. So although social media portrays a remote workforce dominated by the “WeWork empire,” people are actually finding the most success at home. And personal organization is a contributing factor.

Of course, staying organized pertains to more than the desk and project folders. You — the remote employee — are just as much a part of the workspace as your computer and must clear your mind to be productive. However possible, do this daily — make it routine. Advice given by author and subject matter expert Brianna Wiest, ‘begin and end the day by taking notes; put your thoughts (and feelings) on paper and review your emotions’ — and how they impacted the day. This builds awareness and trains you to “go positive” during your most productive hours, creating an environment conducive to good work and good vibes.

Getting (and staying) organized calls for a commitment to oneself, accepting the ups and downs and knowing when to work — or when to take a break. So, along with the to-do list, outline your day as often as possible and pay special attention to your needs (i.e., breaks, outside communication, focus, inspiration, and finding flow). Ideally, getting organized will facilitate a sustainable workflow that aids in long-term happiness and satisfaction with work. Additionally, staying organized and in control of feelings and emotions is the key to crossing current goals off the list while preparing for what lies ahead.

Stay Active and Over-Communicate

Office chat… it’s often taken for granted by office-bound employees. But finding joy as a remote employee is partially dependent on talking with team members, often. Cats are great and all but they simply can’t provide healthy dialogue throughout the day. (Yes, we’ve seen the Facebook videos and were just as impressed as you. Still, you need more than moew-speak.)

A point well-articulated by the Ladders blog, successful remote workers establish an active morning, afternoon and evening routine, rich in team communication. This includes regular phone and video calls, even for the sake of clarity on a task. Additionally, get comfortable ending project calls with brief conversations about last night’s game or that ridiculously emotional episode of “This is Us.” Don’t worry, you aren’t losing focus for doing so; you are connecting with coworkers the same way an office employee would. We’ve already become avatars thanks to our new iphones. For the sake of joy, let’s preserve human-to-human conversations while working in the remote environment. ‘You’re going to be smiling and laughing less at work as a result of being alone, and spending less time around your coworkers. Do something to make yourself laugh.’

“You communicate too much,” said no remote team member ever. Strict meeting policy or not, consistent communication is a gift among those without a central office. It’s value is realized beyond the boundaries of team performance or project success. On a deeper level, communicating daily replicates the quality interaction employees require to remain engaged and productive. In fact, by establishing a schedule of one-on-one calls, team video chats, and project-performance round-table meetings, remote workers can derive more joy and feel better about their position.

Increased productivity and focus are a byproduct of consistent communication. Words shared by the studio’s Executive Director, “It’s about sharing good content when found, being inclusive, highlighting people’s accomplishments, encouraging them to share with each other, be funny, be accessible, let go where you can, and assist where you see struggle.” It may require more work, but communicating effectively leads to feeling more joy in the remote setting.

American author Chuck Palahniuk said it best, “Find joy in everything you choose to do. Every job, relationship, home… it’s your responsibility to love it, or change it.” When you filter out the many surface-level reasons people choose remote work (all valid), this decision almost always boils down to a search for happiness and joy. Fortunately, accepting the responsibilities associated with remote work grants you control over the physical working environment, and therefore the joy it provides. A design studio with creatives located across the country, Designing North Studios believes a positive space influences good work. So, if it’s joy you are looking for (along with cool team members and engaging projects) we think you should check us out.

Five Artists Designing an Emotional Response to Ocean Plastic

Plastic waste — it’s everywhere! Every ocean. Every beach. Every river. Every community. It’s even in your drinking water. (Deep gulp. Swallow. Raise eyebrows and open eyes wide — yeah, we had the same reaction.) In fact, current research (A global inventory of small floating plastic debris) estimates that every year 5 million to 13 million tons of plastic ends up in the sea — picture that for moment; in reality, it’s far worse than what we can visualize. Even so, the production of single-use plastics continues to increase across the globe as humans find it difficult to forgo a convenience-based lifestyle for something a bit less harmful on the environment. We are all guilty. Still, we all have the power to reverse this trend. As Captain Charles Moore said in response to discovering the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 1997,

Humanity’s plastic footprint is probably more dangerous than its carbon footprint.

From corporate programs to government regulation, many people (and groups) are showing intense interest in reducing plastic waste, or better, stopping it at the source. And this mindset absolutely makes all the difference. Clearly, we need more of this thinking.

We need large populations to form emotional bonds with the places most affected by plastic waste: the ocean. We also need people to better understand the ocean’s role in our health and survival. Although educational efforts have made progress, it’s the creative lessons that seem to resonate the deepest, the non-verbal forms of expression which strike a nerve and influence action. Much like the classical lessons we all learn from the humanities, art has proven to be a powerful tool for communicating the dire need for immediate change on how we use and discard plastic waste.

From developing a sense of what activists and designers are currently doing to communicate their concern for the plastic-waste issue while inspiring others, it’s clear that artistic creation is the preferred channel of expression. No paid ads. No digital strategy. Just art. Art that incorporates the physical pieces of plastic removed (by hand)  from a local beach, river or the stomach of a dead seabird — harsh. These may be creatively-gifted minds, but they are keeping it real. And somehow transforming a dark problem into a pretty call to action.

The Designing North mindset speaks to our belief that everyone is creative in one way or another, and by practicing artistic creation, a person can design a life that’s more enjoyable and fulfilling, even if it entails tackling the heart-wrenching reality of ocean plastic.

The following artist-driven projects are some of the best ocean-plastic campaigns on earth, especially with their success in transforming the way people are educated about the severity of plastic waste. These people — artists, non profit organizations, and activists — are making a real, measurable impact in the world by designing a life that promotes sustainability; a life where art speaks louder and with more authority than words ever could; a life of creativity and learning in the name of environmental healing. Let’s find more of these creators. Let’s celebrate them — now and forever.

Angela Haseltine Pozzi: Washed Ashore

Prior to attracting hundreds of volunteers, it was just Angela Haseltine Pozzi. An Oregon native, Angela was moved to do something about the relentless waves of plastic waste washing up on her local beaches. As an avid beachcomber, it was only natural for Angela to begin collecting ocean plastic and transforming it into artistic sculptures for others to see. Little did she know her heartfelt creations would create such a widespread movement for others to join. As an artist and activist, she designed a community doing what she loves most: advocating for the ocean environment.

As a multi-talented community of activists, artists, and recycling “pros,” Washed Ashore offers a clean perspective towards removing plastic from the ocean: even small actions make a positive difference.

We collect trash that has been removed from beaches through volunteer community cleanups. This trash is then washed, sorted and prepared for the creation process. Each sculpture is designed and directed by a professional artist and then formed through a collaboration of Washed Ashore team members, volunteers and students.

A work of art is born. From tons of plastic pollution, monumental sculptures have arisen to awaken the hearts and minds of viewers to the marine debris crisis.

Their plastic art is making a difference:

  • 90% of marine debris is petroleum based
  • 95% of all debris collected is used in the artwork
  • 300+ miles of beaches cleaned
  • 60+ sculptures have been created
  • 38,000 pounds of marine debris has been processed
  • 14,000+ hours have been contributed by volunteers
  • 10,000+ volunteers have participated

*Stats by Washed Ashore 

Washed Ashore plastic whale exhibit

Of course, you have to see the Washed Ashore Traveling Exhibit for yourself — and possibly walk ‘through’ the skeleton of a whale made completely from ocean plastic. How cool would that be!

 

Alejandro Duran: Washed Up Project

Washed Up Project

Mar (Sea), 2013, Alejandro Durán

The beauty of Mexico’s Caribbean coast is undisputed; but the influx of ocean plastic washing ashore isn’t adding to this appeal, especially since the local population has little control over how much plastic arrives on these beautiful stretches of coastline. Documenting the litter firsthand, Alejandro Duran, a photographer and artist from Mexico, has “identified plastic waste from fifty-eight nations and territories on six continents that have washed ashore along the coast of Sian Ka’an, Mexico’s largest federally protected reserve and an UNESCO World Heritage site.”

Best identified as a ‘plastic artist,’ Alejandro collects plastic debris, organizes it and creates an installation depicting the influence that the trash is having on the local environment. Beautifully described on his website,

At times he distributes the objects the way the waves would; at other times, the plastic mimics algae, roots, rivers, or fruit, reflecting the infiltration of plastics into the natural environment.

Washed Up project

Brotes (Shoots), 2014, Alejandro Durán

Although his creativity and artistic touch is beautiful, his greater goal is to educate and influence others to notice the problem, influencing change through awareness. Not many people take just a few minutes during the day to realize the immense crisis our planet is facing regarding plastic waste. There is no such thing as a safe zone; UNESCO World Heritage site’s aren’t immune to pollution. But with the mindset, determination, and creative abilities of Alejandro, a more positive future with less plastic waste is possible. And just maybe, enough people will share his work to influence a community to create the change needed to save this one-of-a-kind landscape.

Chris Jordan: Albatross

The way photographer and artist Chris Jordan sees it, plastic waste is a ‘gut-wrenching tragedy.’ And although this project is much too serious to be characterized with a witty pun, “Albatross” is a visual journey into a grim existence for one species of seabird (the albatross) that’s being devastated by ocean plastic. As Chris discovers, his annual journey to the remote Pacific where he and his team document the cycle of birth, life, and death of Albatross and their chicks, is far more than a reminder of the impact humans have on the environment and creatures that inhabit it. It’s a catalyst for the intimate connection that many of us feel with this earth, inspiring real people to take notice and change their habits for the benefit of others, both human and non-human.

Both behind the lens and on the screen, Chris Jordan takes viewers on a visual expedition that’s both heart stopping and difficult to comprehend; it’s a compelling narrative which demands an emotional response towards unnatural death and a problem so immense that it tends to be swept aside.

Where most documentaries drop off, Albatross guides viewers with a lyrical journey to a place they have likely never been. So the question remains, will this film move you to be the change you want to see?

Liina Klauss: Salvaged Flip-flops

Liina Klauss Salvaged flip-flops art installation

Liina Klauss

With the help of Potato Head Beach Club — a resort location offering some of Bali’s best sunsets and tropical-modernism vibes — Art activist Liina Klauss is  using artistic creation to communicate the harsh reality of marine pollution. Giving life to this project, Klauss enlisted a small team to collect 5,000 flip-flops (soles) from Bali’s west-coast beaches. After a series of six clean-ups, sorting, and two weeks of constructing the installation, the large-scale “color-wave-sculpture” now rests on the beach club’s property and serves as a reminder of what Potato Head stands for: ‘providing good times and doing good in the world.’ Additionally, no detail was overlooked during the creation process, even the frame used to join the flip-flops was made from sustainably harvested bamboo (IBUKU) and thread constructed from recycled bottle caps. For those lucky souls traveling to Bali this year, you can experience this installation in person through the end of the 2018 summer season. But remember, please keep your flip-flops close, they are yours to keep and the ocean has no use for them.

Although this display of marine debris serves as a reality check for us humans, Liina has a specific message she wants to convey: “I want to show people a different perspective on what we consider ‘rubbish,’” says Klauss. “Everything we throw away comes back to us (via the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil we grow crops and raise animals on). Flip-flops are just one example; there is potential within all these materials we waste and consider worthless.”

About Liina Klauss

A German artist living in Hong Kong, Liina Klauss specializes in creating installations and paintings made from man-made waste. An environmental artist to the core, Liina’s ultimate goal is to raise awareness for the threatening impact humans have on nature; and It just so happens that colorful salvaged sandals happen to be in abundance at the moment.

Mandy Baker: Photographing Marine Debris for Science and Activism

Mandy Baker

Mandy Baker

Scrolling through her detail-oriented instagram feed, it’s no secret that award-winning photographer Mandy Baker is a true storyteller, one that has dedicated her craft to documenting the adverse effect marine debris has on our environment and wildlife — such as seabirds. However, there’s much more to this story than just an artists perspective; Mandy has made it her mission to increase the “shock value” that people have when they see marine and plastic debris. She does this by coordinating her work with scientific projects, integrating factual statistics with undeniable artistic talent. The two really is a lethal combination, and it’s hard not to be engulfed in emotion when viewing her final product — a brilliantly composed image of finely curated plastic particles swirling in what appears to be complete emptiness. Could this be a visual metaphor of what is to come for our oceans if no action is taken? Oh. And did we mention — the plastic is often sources from the stomach of a deceased Flesh-footed Shearwater?

About Mandy Baker

The aim of my work is to engage with and stimulate an emotional response in the viewer by combining a contradiction between initial aesthetic attraction along with the subsequent message of awareness. The research process is a vital part of my development as the images I make are based on scientific fact which is essential to the integrity of my work. The impact of oceanic waste is an area I have documented for more than 8 years and am committed to pursuing through visual interpretation. In collaboration with science I am hoping it will ultimately lead to positive action in tackling this increasing environmental problem which of current global concern.

These five artists are designing a response to ocean plastic in the most creative way possible. They are providing a pretty solution to an ugly problem, and educating the public in the process. In sharing their work with you, we ask that you take a moment to reflect on their work and ask yourself, what can I do to make a difference? How can I add a little bit of extra effort to create positive change in the battle against plastic waste?  We know you have it in you. You are designing north.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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