The Most Intellectual Justification for Remote Work — and why we Built a Virtual Design Studio

Go remote! A two-word solution to all of your work-related problems right? OK… not so fast. But there is some truth to this mindset; surely you’ve heard this phrase before. Maybe you’ve said it to a friend or family member in need of a quick mental boost. Because the idea of working remotely is enough to overcome a case of the “Sundays” — you know, the dread you’ve felt from the thought of going into the office on Monday.

To be fair, plenty of people don’t mind facing the day after Sunday (shh, don’t speak its name), but that doesn’t mean they don’t value the option to work remotely. In fact, having options is the secret to creating loyal, happy, and productive team members; it’s good for everyone. It cultivates a sense of flexibility that permeates through the business.

The Iron Triangle of Employment

During his TedxRichland talk titled Remote Working Revolution, Justin Jones introduced three decisions that a person must make prior to accepting a traditional job, using the iron triangle of product development. This design principle states that you can prioritize any (and only) two of the following three results at the expense of the other: quality, time, cost.

Justin’s example, “the iron triangle of employment,” is a spin-off of a product development principle that reflects the three factors influenced by traditional jobs: where you live, where you work, and what work you do. Very rarely does a person find alignment among all three factors.

To his point, remote work empowers a person to choose their location, employer, and type of work, eliminating the need to choose between the three. When you can choose all of the factors, life is good. (Although at DN we always insert a 4th option to this equation too, that people and employers must also know their ‘why’ — but that’s another topic.)

The Iron Triangle of Employment

Richard Branson and David Coplin — Remote Work

Since the creation of Designing North Studios in 2012, the team has delivered many solutions to happy clients all over the country, all without a central brick and mortar office.

Continue reading on Medium…

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.

First Orion Website Launch: UX Design & Messaging

Discovery

First Orion was building products with passion. They were on a mission to tackle the large-scale epidemic of scam and robocalls to consumer mobile phones. But you wouldn’t know it from their website or their messaging.

During the discovery process, as we learned more about First Orion, we realized that all of their differentiators were not coming through in their online presence.

First Orion Website Redesign | Designing North Studios

First, they are filled with real data scientists creating the algorithms that allow their specialists to analyze the data around the scam and epidemic of robocalls. Which, let’s face it, is real superhero stuff. And like any good superhero, being authentic about their mission, especially for a company like First Orion, is truly about ‘sharing what’s “under the cape.” And what’s under there is not just the data and the knowledge, it’s a palpable drive coming from their team to protect people. We felt it during discovery; the people at First Orion displayed a sense of passion for protecting us. Just as we communicated a passion to craft a solution for their current problem: an outdated digital presence, lacking a story, lacking a customer journey with these superheroes.

Designing North Studios Cape Design for First Orion

There wasn’t a person at FO that didn’t express a true desire to do the right thing. It was refreshing to see such autonomy around ethical decision making. They could see all the data, all the bad actors trying every second to get through to our phones, unrelenting, and it was so inspiring to unearth this amazing commitment to be part of the change, part of this kind of ‘protection team.’

The Design Challenge

Content is the biggest challenge for every project. But we have techniques to organize process. We introduced something new to our process this time called ‘priority guides’ that allowed the client team to not get distracted with visuals and really focus on the content and message. The design team was then able to mock-up wires with real content vs. your standard latin placeholder. It’s a hard technique, because most people can be very visual — but it forces everyone to read.

In terms of the First Orion voice, it flowed well for us after our interviews in discovery. There is quiet confidence, a humble pride, and a heartfelt knowledge that comes across from everyone. It was important for people to know that First Orion knows their stuff, they are careful with data, but that it’s all wrapped in a good sense of polite Arkansas humor. It makes you what you are: approachable. And this is what the new content communicates.

The ‘Aha! Moment’ — Yes, we had it

The Aha moment was the combination of our initial ‘superhero’ idea for website launch 1.0 combined with the transparency visualization. That everything coming through the phone would be in full color (or transparent) if your mobile carrier chose FO as their protection partner. Hence all the main areas of the website showing full color via the phone, black and white/blue-tint everywhere else. Illustrated well with the home video where a phone is being waved over a crowd of people seeing only color via the phone screen — and every other customer being protected with the FO logo on their phone.

Soon after we felt the superhero emerge for us as a creative team. We drew a cape on one of the data scientists, because we had written that heroics were emerging from their product line. From there, we were inspired to move away from showing real devices with real product shots, and we just sketched. The telecom space is crowded; everyone looked the same. We wanted to introduce simplicity but ensure that FO stood out from the crowd… We were moved by the First Orion mission statement and subsequent tagline (Transparency in Communication) to illustrate transparency and what that really meant. This led to our idea of the phone becoming a trusted source again, where in full color, you could see who is calling and why.

Designing North Studios UX Design for First Orion

A unique truth to this project: it was the client that inspired us most. They are superheroes, but not in a goofy way. Their “powers for good” are understated and authentic — like a sketch or doodle you make on a piece of paper. Because when you’re sketching or doodling, truth emerges. And we think the truth is pretty hip. So ‘hip’ just came naturally — feedback we received directly from First Orion upon launch: “The new website feels decidedly more hip than a traditional corporate website.”

Favorite Design Element

We love the subtlety of the cape. You find it in a few places; it covers (no pun intended) a few themes. It symbolizes that First Orion, carriers, businesses, consumers: we are all superheroes in this fight against mobile scam, robo, and spoof calls. Coming together is what makes us stronger. But it also illustrates that unlike many data companies who may have something to hide. First Orion wants you to see what’s under the cape. This aligns with their mission of Transparency In Communication — so the cape does its job in many aspects.

First Orion and Designing North Studios website Redesign

“We’re a hip, progressive, start-up company with a flair for creativity, said Traci Campbell, Corporate Marketing Manager for First Orion. “We’re packed full of professional and smart people, but we don’t need our voice to be overtly corporate.” The friendly style, tone and language begins to create a cohesive “First Orion persona” across all our digital marketing efforts, including social.” The cape is the perfect symbol for this message. But this benevolent character is non-fictional, and their powers help create super consumers.

The Final Product

It speaks to each audience uniquely now. What First Orion is to a mobile carrier is different for a mobile consumer. We crafted numerous journeys to the right message, the right product, the right information on how to be a part of this ‘superhero league’ in support of First Orion’s quest for complete transparency.

We met them and considered them true heroes in this battle. And believed they were truly fighting for us. So we positioned them as the heroes we knew them to be, succinctly explained why to each of their very important audiences, and hit the launch button so they could share their story everywhere.

Of course, the client always gets the last word: “FirstOrion.com has undergone a complete makeover, thanks to our own Corporate Product Marketing Team and the brilliant folks at Designing North Studios. They have worked countless hours to give a new look and feel to the website, designed in mind to speak to each of our unique audiences. The combined team put together a concept that paints our employees as the superheroes of call transparency, tirelessly crusading for justice against spam, scam, and robocalls and battling for people to trust their phones again.”

First Orion Website Redesign by Designing North Studios

Sharing her feedback on the redesign, Traci Campbell said, “The new site gives First Orion a fresh persona in the marketing world. It also got into the nitty-gritty of what First Orion provides to carriers, businesses, and consumers. This new space will allow us to provide more information to each of our customers in a way that speaks directly to them and lets us showcase our products in a new and exciting way.”

About Designing North Studios:

Designing North Studios is an interactive design studio focused on digital solutions for web, mobile, and branding initiatives. Our mindset: attention to small UX extras makes for big UX impact. A bit different than your average agency, we were started by UX designers and can engage in a project as a team (Hire-A-Team) — or you can rent one of ‘ours’ (Rent-A-Star) for yours. If you have a project you’d like to discuss or are in need of a *designing north star* for your existing team, give us a buzz or shoot us an email.

Bring This Mindset to Every Project, Leave a Lasting Impression on Clients

When you freelance for a living (that is, a paycheck isn’t guaranteed every two weeks), leaving your client with a positive lasting impression is critical to your success. And when you are responsible for sourcing new work, reputation is everything, worth its weight in gold. So how you approach projects and interact with clients matters. It’s part of your brand, and serves as the foundation of your brand equity. But what if we told you our approach to success was really just a different way of thinking, one that fosters extra effort no matter the circumstance — Would you want to see it in action?

We call it the Designing North mindset, and it goes a little something like this:

Some people add a little extra to everything they do. They perform north of expectation with a focus on — and appreciation for the small details. By celebrating the small, they illustrate the belief that being a hover above ordinary has a larger, cumulative effect on good work.

As a design studio we celebrate them: she is; he is; they are — Designing North. The only question we have is, “Are you?”

A bit different than your average agency, we were started by UX designers and can engage in a project as a team (Hire-A-Team) — or you can rent one of ‘ours’ (Rent-A-Star) for your project. Of course, this position carries significant responsibility to uncover the right people for each and every project. This is where ‘the mindset’ reveals its merit, time and time again.

The nature of our work demands a continuous quest for those with this mindset, and in doing so we uncover the people adding a little extra to the world around them. Using their thinking and action as an example, let’s see what ‘the mindset’ looks like in its purest form so you can think about how you might position yourself a hover above the rest in your line of work and in life.

Dorothy Largay

Linked Foundation

Dorothy Largay

She is* a techno-philanthropist on a mission to change the lives of women living in poverty in Latin America. But don’t let the diminutive figure of former director of worldwide leadership development at Apple, Inc. fool you. Because of Dorothy’s Linked Foundation and its dynamic partners, thousands of women and their families now have access to basic health needs through their rural pharmacy models.

After receiving a ‘windfall,’ both she and her husband, former Google Vice President of Engineering Wayne Rosing, decided to focus their talents and treasure on the things that interested them most. For Dorothy, that meant launching sustainable and scalable health initiatives in Latin America, and for Wayne, it meant developing a global network of telescopes to advance astronomy. Dorothy treated the foundation like a start-up. It was 24/7 in the beginning, but is now chugging smoothly along, thanks to hard work, a great team, learning from mistakes, and sharing successes.

“My husband and I have a very nice life, but we wanted to keep it simple – uncomplicated. We didn’t want to spend our time managing our ‘things’. That has zero interest to me – too much complexity. We were excited about the potential to make real change in our own lifetimes.”

Check out more on Linked Foundation’s initiatives here.

Cafe Momentum, Chad Houser

Cafe Momentum

Chad Houser

“Come for the mission, stay for the food…”

That is the tagline for Café Momentum, a new american restaurant in downtown Dallas, TX. What sets this restaurant apart is its founder Chad Houser, and his purpose: “I take kids out of jail and teach them to play with knives and fire – and make the community better.”

Café Momentum’s staff is composed mainly by boys and young men who previously served time at a detention facility for nonviolent juvenile offenders. During a 12-month, post-release internship they earn $10 per hour while gaining experience in all aspects of the restaurant business.

The restaurant also includes a classroom where the interns receive instruction on skills such as financial literacy, anger management, art, and social media.

“It’s not just about giving these young men a job,” Houser says. “It’s about creating a holistic environment where they can be immersed in all the tools and resources they need to be successful in life, which extends far beyond working at a job.” “I’ve been told every reason why it won’t work, everything from ‘these kids will never show up, these kids can’t cook this food, restaurants constantly fail’… over and over and over and over again,” said Houser in his original promotional video. “Someone has to believe in these kids. Might as well be me!”

Since its opening two years ago, Cafe Momentum has garnished a 4.9 star rating and even earned a grant from a youth opportunity fund to help provide opportunities for more young adults.

MeWater Foundation

MeWater Foundation

Eddie Donnellan and Tim Gras

Eddie and Tim’s friendship began as two teenagers surfing the San Francisco coastline together. Not only was the Bay Area their home but it also provided an escape from the challenges they faced in life. Many surfers are drawn to this sport for its thrill while others enjoy the competition. For Eddie and Tim it was different, less personal and more about harnessing the healing power of the ocean to eventually share with others.

Into their professional careers the duo worked together at the Edgewood Center For Children and Families, in the mental health field. It was here where they witnessed how the simple things in life had a transformative effect on troubled children who were labeled as “lost hope youth.”  Things that we take for granted, like access to the ocean and mother nature were eye-opening experiences for their patients – even life changing. Both Eddie and Tim never lost hope, no matter the circumstances of the child.

With a strong belief in their work, Eddie and Tim decided to channel their passion for helping others to create the MeWater Foundation – a program to inspire, educate and empower youth as well as their families. In their eyes, they owe it all to nature. Whether it be the ocean or the mountains, they spend their days exposing children to the outdoors, away from the hardships of inner city life. The mentorship they get from MeWater uncovers an emotional intelligence that these youth would otherwise never find. They begin to develop social skills they never knew existed — A life changing moment.

Kim Skarritt

Kim Skarritt, once a professional canine problem solver, is the proud owner and facilitator of Silver Muzzle Cottage. Here, in Northern Michigan, Kim and a small team of supporters run this 501(c)3 as a hospice care center for older dogs that have nowhere else to go. Other than the shelter, of course. But we all know that a shelter is no place for a dog, especially an old one living out its last days.

“We feel they deserve more, that they shouldn’t die alone in a cage. They deserve love and dignity in their final days, months and years. We’re dedicated to the rescue, adoption and lifelong care of these senior dogs.” – Silver Muzzle Cottage

Kim’s mission began while running Bowsers By The Bay, the only 100% cage-free boarding and social rehab facility on Northern Michigan. As her training facility grew, Kim started connecting with local shelters, where she learned just how many old dogs were abandoned or overlooked. Even left on the roadside in some instances.    

Although Kim understood the difficulties of caring for older dogs, she still couldn’t live with the thought of loving animals, loyal to the human beings kicked to the curb.

As Kim explains it, Many people will say “I just don’t think I could do it – I couldn’t take on a senior, knowing I would lose them so soon.”

But Kim and her team approaches these situations with a slightly more positive mindset, one that is capable of solving this all-too-common problem.

That was the only motivation she needed to do something about this problem; Silver Muzzle Cottage was born. Fast forward two years and Kim is still making a significant impact in her community. Don’t take our word for it. Check out the Silver Muzzle Cottage Facebook Page to see the cute faces that have come through her doors. Who doesn’t love a heartwarming story of human kindness towards animals, to brighten the day.

Coral Restoration Foundation

Coral Restoration Foundation

Ken Nedimyer

Ken Nedimyer has dedicated more than 40 years of his life to diving in the waters off the Florida coastline. Year after year, he watched as the area’s coral reefs begin to die, one after another. When the reefs died, the fish disappeared, abandoning the only environment they called home. Across the entire globe, coral reefs occupy less than one quarter of 1% of the marine environment, yet they are home to 25% of all fish species. Understanding the science, and therefore the problem at hand, Ken decided to dedicate his life to regenerating coral through farming.

In a recent interview with Great Big Story, Ken Nedimyer explained his simple reasoning for becoming a coral farmer, “ I’m tired of watching it die, I need to do something about it.”

It all began with the idea of propagating staghorn coral in an offshore nursery. It’s often difficult to cross the threshold of idea versus action, but Ken passion for reefs was too great to be hindered by skeptics. He “dove” in head first, starting with his underwater garden. And just like a traditional roadside farm, Ken learned to follow specific seasons: one optimal for planting and the other, harvesting.    

Pretty quickly, Ken gathered help from his family and friends to begin scaling his efforts. And this became the basis for the Coral Restoration Foundation. Astonishingly, Ken and his team are planting twenty to twenty-five thousand reef fragments a year. Something that many critics said could never be done. Ken is living proof that a little passion and hardwork can go a very long way. But he isn’t one to boast his success. Rather, he has a more humble way of looking at it: “another day, another coral.”

Chris Malloy Unbroken Ground

Chris Malloy

Like his brothers Keith and Dan, Chris Malloy started on the scene as a traveling surfer with a knack for big waves — his success eventually landed him a spot in the 2006 Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational. As if that wasn’t enough adrenaline for a lifetime, Chris also completed multiple expeditions across the globe.

Perhaps Chris Malloy is even more synonymous with adventure films. After all, he did produce nearly two dozen, many of which were well-regarded among the filmmaking ranks. After achieving fame in the action-sports industry and experiencing many parts of the world, Chris decided to focus his future on values such as simplicity, tradition, creativity, sustainability and conservation. He now resides on a ranch in Lompoc, CA with his kids and wife, Carla. In their transition to a more sustainable life, Chris and Carla have become ambassadors for a “food movement” — teaching others how to consciously choose sustainable food sources while questioning the origin of market bought goods. They even travel the state teaching others about their findings and physically showing people how their local communities can be the best solution for healthy, freshly grown food.

After traveling for months on end to better understand the latest problems in the agriculture business, Chris Malloy partnered with Patagonia Provisions for his latest documentary, Unbroken Ground. The short film highlights four main food-production problems in the United States (and more importantly, the brilliant minds working against the status quo to design a solution) that all pose a very serious threat to the safety of our environment (and the world’s environment), health of our communities, and ability to feed the ever-growing population. These thought leaders are confident that their work is designing more sustainable methods for food production; they are the ones dedicated to current problems that often remain outside of our influence: regenerative agriculture, restorative grazing, new crop development and selective-harvest fishing.

These are the people behind the movement:

Wes Jackson of The Land Institute

Dr. Stephen Jones of Washington State University Bread Lab

Dan and Jill O’Brien of Cheyenne River Ranch

Ian Kirouac, Keith Carpenter, and Riley Starks of Lummi Island Wild

Haven’t Seen Unbroken Ground? Watch it Here (25 minutes long):

https://www.patagoniaprovisions.com/pages/unbroken-ground

We recently had the pleasure of Joining Chris and his family for a viewing of Unbroken Ground, followed with a Q&A on the journey he took during the film. The event, hosted by The Ecology Center of San juan Capistrano, California, brought the local community together for a sampling of food harvested onsite and a think-tank on how ‘we,’ as a community, can adapt our habits (eating and purchasing) to support regenerative-food production while restoring the environment.  

But even more important, is the reality that farmers, fishermen, landowners, store owners, and consumers can all share the benefits associated with ‘smart’ eating choices that benefit ‘our’ planet. We salute Chris, his mindset and his effort to bring like-minded people together for the cause.

The Takeaway

You don’t need to go big to have an impact. And you certainly don’t need to be extraordinary to find success in the long run. Instead, approach your work and relationships with a mindset that *hovers just above*, one that motivates you to always give *a little extra effort* and *delivers just a bit more* than what’s expected. Small goes a long way. This is the sweet spot we can all find with the designing north mindset, a simple way of thinking beyond mediocrity and meeting expectations that rewards those who adopt it entirely. In essence, when looking to impress clients, don’t be what occurs most; be a permanent reference point for what is desired. You won’t be forgotten.

*designing north* : it’s not a location, it’s a mindset.

 

Crafting a New Reality for Education and Career Decisions: Lead With UX

The take-away feeling an end user records from an experience in a digital environment reigns supreme. With almost any product or service accessible via wifi and a connected device, user behavior is most accurately analyzed with patterns of interaction between people and technology devices. In fact, many people spend a significant portion of their day “glued” to mobile screens (for the average consumer, that’s 5 hours per day), scanning social accounts, browsing trends, visualizing their ideal self and inevitably measuring digital self-worth.

Equally important, people search for answers to difficult life-questions using digital experiences as validation. And they are convinced by their findings, certain their devices (and someone else’s experience) confirm reality. Whether this is good or bad, it supports the idea that people can arrive at sensible conclusions upon interacting with well-designed digital touchpoints — websites, web apps, and mobile apps.

With this understanding of the digital world, we believe the described experiences increasingly influence the way a person thinks about the following four questions:

Who do you want to be in life?

What do you want to do?

What makes you happy?

What is your passion?

Referring to younger generations (ahem… millennials and gen z), people commonly learn about their “authentic” desires through research conducted on a smartphone, often dreaming vicariously over project photos or videos shared by someone with a “purposeful” occupation/existence. Ultimately, these experiences influence the discovery phase for both students and young working adults:

What do you want to study?

What school do you want to attend?

What career path do you want to pursue?

What company do you want to work for?

John Richardson, an adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa and head of English at Ashbury College reiterates that “Technology is less intentional and more intuitive for 32% of the population, and their social skills are morphing into a hybrid of technology and face-to-face contact” — therefore, solutions must be designed to reflect these nuances.

Most importantly, if digital thresholds have become the gateway for self-discovery, we (as journey crafters) want to further examine this same process in order to support young people in making better (well-informed) choices about their education and career. We repeatedly talk about the rising costs of attending universities and how difficult it is to correlate a degree with success — or passion with career prosperity — in the real world. And it’s time we further examine the many options already being touted as the future of learning, the ones that have been available for years and may simply be in need of experienced and strategic UX designers to better craft their purpose and impact for developing generations.

Believe in the User and Their Experience

It’s time we embrace the inherent superficial value of digital and social media as a life-advice tool — our pixel reality — that empowers people to believe in themselves, explore new opportunities, and provide constant reinforcement through it’s craftily designed feedback loop: claps, likes, shares, comments, or “You have to see this!”

While watching the ‘Astrology’ episode of the Netflix series, Explained, scientists and current astrologists presented data supporting the idea that something doesn’t need to be real in order to have real effects — sorta like social media. It’s called the placebo effect, and it states: The belief in something can be enough for it to work.”

In fact, further research proves that many people admittedly know they are taking “the fake pill” (or accepting an absence of the real thing) yet still record a positive effect.

Feel better faster with the reassuring words from the doc; a bit of wishful thinking, don’t you think? Not quite. A new study conducted by Stanford University revealed the true power of believing in a positive outcome: healing. The study, published by Alia Crum, assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University’s School of Humanities and Sciences, hints at the use of the placebo effect beyond pills. Healthcare providers, in this case, significantly reduced healing times of allergic reaction patients using encouraging words about recovery times.

As you can see, if the effect (and affect) is in our minds, and belief is enough to inspire realness, companies should be more willing to support UX designers and more importantly, the UX process. UX practitioners craft journeys that empower people to be moved: students to personalize their education, workers to develop their professional path. All according to what people want, feel, and most importantly, believe.

Academics, careers and finances; these are key factors every student should consider before making one of the most important decisions of their lives: what college to attend and what career to pursue. But how does a developing adult gather the key information required to make sound choices on such weighted subjects? e believe personalized digital experiences can have a profound impact on a person’s choices, leading to greater feelings of success and ultimately happiness.

‘Money’s Build Your Own Rankings’ tool is a great example: it enables prospective students — and parents — to quickly adjust their needs (the input) and receive a research-supported list of schools and programs best suited for their life (the output). Not only does this provide simplicity, it reduces the frustration felt by those who truly don’t have the time and resources to independently identify their best options.

Good Design and Passion for the Problem

Considering the obstacles students and institutions currently face (affordability, location, academic preparedness, program choices, etc.), Designing North Studios recognizes that addressing these challenges with good design solutions is also really good business.

As the previous Director of Web Communications & Branding at Stanford Law School, Lisa Peacock (Designing North Studios’ Executive Creative Director) has been thinking about this for years, and was asked to  develop a tool for law students while at Stanford: SLS Navigator. This web app enables students to not only find courses offered at the law school based on their area of law interest, but across the entire university as well. It also suggests journals to reference, blogs to read, influencers to follow, and in some instances connects them with alumni who work day-to-day in those areas. The real stand-out feature, is that it also helps the students to ‘cover their bases’ – if they can’t decide between criminal law and corporate law, the app shows them courses they can take that work for both (just in case). That saves students from not heading down one wrong path, or delaying graduation because they didn’t take the right courses. What a concept, right? When asked about the project, Lisa had this to share:

“I think that every school should have something like this. I started with the following premise: what do I want to be when I grow up? Then you can take courses, read things, follow people, etc. that might cover various paths — so when you finally decide on a specific path, you’ve at least made some initial broad decisions that still count towards graduation and your focus.”

Simple, user friendly, and results oriented, SLS Navigator is still relevant ten years after its inception, and remains a testament to the positivity felt from good, inclusive design. Additionally, as it pertains to the student experience, let’s acknowledge that the process involved in choosing an education and career path must always account for the evolving needs of a digital-savvy (not dependent) generation.

The amount of data at our fingertips today is unprecedented, and what better way to use this information then design solutions to reduce uncertainty for students burdened with life choices: what school to attend, what career to pursue, where to live, and how much to spend. In a way, this approach embraces the art of paying it forward — helping the people who society will eventually rely on to create positive change in the future.

At this very moment, designers, scientists, and educators are looking for new ways to collaborate, with the vision that all students will eventually feel empowered to personalize their campus — or virtual — experience. As a design studio, it’s our goal to simplify the digital matrix of tools, processes, and lingo which serve as a means to this vision, while crafting thoughtful experiences for everyone involved. It’s what we love to do.

 

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.

 

Pick Your People, Your Success Depends on it

As one of the NFL’s most prolific leaders, Aaron Rogers said it best, “Surround yourself with really good people. Because the people you surround yourself with are a reflection of you.”

The application of this message for your life may be slightly different than Aaron’s, but the end result remains the same: the people you pick will largely influence your success in life, including the levels of happiness you experience — so pick’em wisely.

From Aaron’s football field in Green Bay (with ten other teammates) to our design studio in the San Francisco Bay Area (with an ensemble of creatives), we believe the most influential factor in determining success is choosing the right people: the people you work with, partner with, and associate with.

It’s a mindset we carry into every client project, using it to make “game-time” decisions: do we go for it — or not? Do we submit the proposal — or direct our attention elsewhere?

Rarely does it fail us.

Because (in the words of legendary NFL coach Don Shula) “The one thing that I know is that you win with good people.”

So, using our mindset as guidance, let’s take a look at what it means to pick your people.

Who You Work With

Success doesn’t occur in a closed work environment. Remote or on-site, cultivating a functional team that jives is dependent on laying the initial foundation: choosing the right people.

And more often than not, this choice aligns with a specific mission statement. That is, you choose to work with individuals who align with the company purpose — and/or — business culture.

For example, Patagonia employees are hyper-involved with the recruitment of new team members, often inquiring about one’s interest in the environment and sustainability, even asking prospective team members to consider the footprint of their application materials — the potential waste involved.

If you read Patagonia’s mission statement (“Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis’), you can see why they have been successful over the years: pick good people and let those people choose who they want to work with.

As the Executive Creative Director for Designing North Studios, Lisa Peacock is viewed as the architect for the current team of designers, strategists, and creatives that all work together today. But we must reiterate, this didn’t happen in a vacuum.

When selecting her starting team, Lisa relied on the designing north mindset to guide her through the growth process:

“It takes dedication, commitment, and most importantly, really good people to make a design studio tick” she says.

“I always knew that the people I was looking for to work at Designing North Studios would be my Designing North Stars.”

Finding these people, attracting them, and creating a studio environment wouldn’t have been possible without a shared purpose: really good people coming together and displaying their talents, and delighting clients in the process.

To this day, our studio members add a little extra to everything they do — it’s who they are. Their career, how they live, the relationships they nurture — it’s all influenced by delivering results just north of expectation, embracing the small details throughout any process.

This approach, believe it or not, really does add happiness, success, peace, and love to the global experience — which for us, is the biggest UX of all.

Who you Work for

Whether choosing who you work with — or for — the premise remains constant: it’s important to pick your people. Remember, your success depends on it.

Speaking to the strength of today’s most successful companies, the ability to inspire employees around a mission is a powerful tool. In fact, this messaging helps influence a person’s choice with regard to employment or collaboration.

Similarly, this inspiration often permeates throughout an industry, reaching potential partners, clients, and firms who are out there searching for ideal work — and people.

In essence, they’ve learned to choose who they complete work for, connecting the dots between happiness and success by way of affiliation, fulfillment and satisfaction — a result of associating with like-minded, purpose-driven people.

Hipcamp showcases this mindset flawlessly: Reviewing their checklist for prospective talent, the first — and most crucial — bullet point reads:

“As a team, we’re committed to striving toward and evolving these shared values in ourselves and in other team members.”

Through this lens, working for an employer versus client may share more similarities than previously thought.

In both scenarios, a conscious choice is made to spend significant time working; choosing people, teams or companies that strongly align with your values offer the reward of time well spent, elevating the human experience.

Your human experience.

Using our studio example, choosing a project (who we do work for) is an extension of who we choose to work with as individuals — those who relish in the small details and strive to deliver effort that’s a hover above expectation. Values, mindset, and even subject matter all deserve attention when making this decision.

We know from experience: Alignment with a client’s mission equates to optimal engagement and communication, the pinnacle of choosing who we do work for, especially in the journey-crafting business. Essentially, we look for that mindset in all directions, be it freelance talent or the ideal client.

Our best partners, for example, understand world challenges; are dedicated to the future of education; and are passionate about heading in the right direction — their projects reflect this ideology.

Others have been voted the most ethical companies by industry and peers.

Some even challenge traditional business norms in order to lift entire communities from poverty. It’s all really good work that deserves to be supported with passion and commitment from fellow believers. That’s us!

Ultimately, choosing who receives your time and energy can significantly impact your feelings of success. Money aside, it’s an opportunity to enrich the human experience with a sense of purpose, satisfaction, and belonging.

If you are like us, you want more of this. Not just for yourself, but for others as well.

Who is in Your Network

Interconnectedness. Support. Opportunity. Exposure. Everyone wants it, but few know where to find it. And crafting the right network is a crucial step towards experiencing personal and professional success.

Fortunately, personal and professional networks function to serve the people who maintain their existence — you! Of course, networks require cultivation — and grow best when crafted with care and intention, with a greater-good value proposition.

We aren’t the first to proclaim the importance of networking for a successful career. In fact, current research reinforces the importance of face-to-face networking for career growth.

Even with a plethora of technology tools, the human component remains most valuable. However, if you expect your network to have your back, there’s one factor you should pay extra attention to: the people!

That’s right, a network is only of value if you can build it with the right people.

But how do you decide who is right for your network? Well, why not start by looking to the people you choose to work with — and for. Chances are good they know exactly where you need to be networking.

As creatives living with the mindset, many of us share ties to the same networks embedded within the digital design industry.

Past jobs, current friends, old co-workers, etc., they all shape who we are in the present and influence who we will become in the future.

That’s the beauty of cultivating a network reflective of your true values and interests: It’s always working for you — much like smart investing.

However, pursuing interests by way of networking will present person challenges. Always keep your eyes peeled, there are limitless temptations of money, greed, and fame within various industries these days.

Take the tech startup community, for example. From hidden agendas to a plethora of funding channels, it’s not uncommon to witness the suppression of values in the name of making investors smile.

It’s OK to be stubborn.

It’s OK to be picky.

It’s OK to vet before welcoming new members — it’s your network! And it’s “health” depends on you. So be patient. Cultivate and curate on a regular basis.

Collaboratively, we branch out to meet new people, learn of new opportunities, and even cross digital borders, accessing other communities of interest; let’s say from a design community to a primarily tech community, for example.

If your visualizing an imaginary “jump” from one social channel to another — let’s say, instagram to LinkedIn or Twitter to Vimeo — you are spot-on.

Each community brings new introductions and opportunities for connecting with good people. People chosen by you.

From the American Marketing Association (AMA) to the Professional Association for Design (AIGA) to DribbleBehance, and even LinkedIn, these communities shape the larger network we associate and interact with — and call our own. These are the people we choose to associate with.

Designers of various disciplines (UX, UI, XD, IxD), Illustrators, graphic artists, writers, videographers, creative directors, etc., all form the design “arm” of our individual networks.

Similarly, each person may have complimentary network extensions created with connections from previous employers and friendships.

Using the studio for reference, part of Lisa’s network may offer consistent resources in the form of design projects for the team to work on, while that of a team member may uncover new freelancers to join the team, further growing the studio’s presence.

Their titles may only identify their outer layer (what we see on paper) but their work and communication symbolizes what lies beneath. A mindset for success.

Picking your people is undoubtedly one of the most important decisions you will make in life. Viewed as an opportunity to control destiny, this responsibility is ongoing, surfacing every time new relationships are made.

Who you work with, who you work for — or complete work for — and who you form a network with all play an active role in shaping what success looks like for your life. If you haven’t figured it out yet, people are the second most influential component of your life.

The first is you.

So go ahead, get out there and choose wisely.

Your future-successful-self will thank you.

 

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.

 

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.

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