Life Design With a Trip to Big Sur

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

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

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

Life Design with a Trip to Big Sur

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

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

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

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

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

Murals Enhance User Experience

Murals of Venice, CA, Designing North Studios

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

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

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

 The Audubon Mural Project

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

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

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

Murals of Venice, CA, Designing North Studios

Murals Facilitate Positive Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

Murals of Venice, CA, Designing North Studios

Murals Create Community Bonds

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

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

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

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

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

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

Murals of Venice, CA, Designing North Studios

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

The Art Of Paying It Forward Without Spending A Dime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Offer mentorship

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

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

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

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

4. Write positive reviews for small business that you support

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

5. Offer your seat/place in line

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

6. Teach someone else a skill you have mastered

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

7. Spend a day complementing those around you

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

8. Donate blood at a local drive

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

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

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

10. Facilitate progress in helping someone realize their dreams

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

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

Sunday on the Sofa – Good UX and Bad UX

Like any red-blooded, country-loving, digitally-engaged American couple, my husband and I spent last Sunday morning shopping online. He for some bike rack attachments for a road trip, and I for new sheets to replace our frayed sets.

This is a rather pathetic first-world problem, but we are selling our home, so I didn’t want to invest in a whole new design/style for our bedding – just in case our new digs have a different vibe.  After hearing an annoying satellite radio ad over and over again for Boll and Branch sheets, I thought I’d check them out.

I found the whole user experience remarkably easy and intuitive. I was greeted with a $30 off-my-first-purchase-coupon-offer, which I quickly dismissed after determining that my satellite radio coupon code would give me a better deal. The website’s photos were big, bold, and beautiful, and visually answered nearly all my questions. Option selections such as size and color were in big print and simple to navigate – a bonus for my deteriorating middle-aged vision. The checkout process was a walk in the park. No hassles, no long processing waits while you’re wondering if you actually pressed a button or not, no repeat entries – clear bold calls-to-action (CTAs) so you know exactly what to do next.

Meanwhile, as I was delighted with my quick and facile purchase, my husband was grumbling loudly at the other end of the sofa.

“Jule, you gotta check this out,” he said.

I gathered my robe, and slid my coffee over to his end.

“I mean look at this! It is so irritating!” I knew where this was going.

“I know exactly what I want to look at, but they’re making me enter all this junk first. Okay, so now I’ve done that, and I have no idea if what I’m seeing matches what I need now. I want it for my truck, but they’re modeling the rack on a car.”

good-ui-not-equal-good-ux-designing-north-studiosHe was exasperated. The company was Yakima, one I hold near and dear to my heart due to a native allegiance to the Northwest. We have spent thousands of dollars on Yakima equipment – from Rocket Boxes to ski racks to bike racks for just about every motor vehicle imaginable. Suffice to say, we’re fans. I’d almost go so far as to say to we’re influencers in the parlance of Malcolm Gladwell. But here’s the deal, my husband was so frustrated with the user experience, that he abandoned the purchase. He figured out a way to make due with what we had. If you go to the website, it looks beautiful. The user interface or UI, is modern and appealing. It’s the user experience that was miserable.

So there we were. A once blissful couple wiling away our morning with our laptops, Meet the Press, and our credit cards burning in our hands – both intent on a purchase. And due to user experience (UX), the too frequently ignored brethren of UI, one purchase was gleefully made, and one purchase was angrily abandoned.

If you’re building a new digital product or updating an existing website, make sure the firm you’re working with knows the difference between UI and UX. Designing North Studios’ Managing Director Lisa Peacock likes to say, “UX should inform the UI. We’ve all been to art school – we know we can make it look good, but can we make it useable.” That’s the problem your firm needs to be able to solve.

Think of the money, time, and effort you expend on finally getting BUYERS to your website. Not just looky-loos, but BUYERS. Don’t blow it once you’ve got them there. UX is not optional. Our weekend foray resulted in one happy customer, (who will be a return customer), and one temporarily lost customer. Had we not already been avid fans of Yakima’s products, we wouldn’t consider trying again. Fortunately, the coffee was good, the PJs were cozy, and Meet the Press was entertaining. Not even crummy UX could spoil our Sunday on the sofa.

Yup. Mobile. Again.

We really don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but it continues to amaze us when we see successful companies which have still not addressed their unresponsive (read: not mobile-friendly) websites. This recent chart from the insightful folks at Statista underscores the trending well.

decline-of-global-pc-market

PC sales have done nothing but decline since 2011, and are forecasted to eventually stabilize per research from International Data Corporation (IDC). Tablets, phablets, detachable tablets, and phones have all impacted the market substantially. There are, of course, other factors such as the general economy (commodity prices and foreign currency headwinds for example) and perceptions regarding added value or lack thereof of new PCs that affect these trends.

But let’s face it, most of us are hard-pressed to think of a day in which we haven’t used either our mobile phone, tablet, or phablet to access a website.

And there are few things more irritating than landing on an unresponsive website. Your handy hand-held now requires two hands as you try to awkwardly use your fingers to blow-up the micro-text you’re trying to read. Then you have to slide around in an attempt to find a tab in the main navigation to get to your intended destination. A few expletives, and BAM, you’ve abandoned the site in search of greener pastures.

We’re pretty sure that most university marketing programs do not stress a make it hard for the customer to find your product or service philosophy. So why isn’t every company on the planet jumping into website redesigns? Good question.

We think there are four main reasons:

 

You can't WISH away mobile. [Photo credit: SuperFamous.com]

You can’t WISH away mobile. [Photo credit: SuperFamous.com]

  1. They don’t think there’s a big problem with having an unresponsive website.

We can always point to Google’s demoting of non-mobile friendly websites as the most actionable reason to believe it’s a big deal to have an unresponsive website. And now Google is preparing for what some are calling Mobilegeddon2. In May 2016, Google plans to,“…start rolling out an update to mobile search results that increases the effect of the ranking signal to help our users find even more pages that are relevant and mobile-friendly.” As a design studio that’s deeply involved in creating fantastic and intuitive user interfaces and user experiences, we struggle to digest that a successful company doesn’t view unresponsiveness as a big problem.

2. There’s no money in the budget.

This one we understand. Depending on the size of an organization, the move to a responsive website and/or a mobile app can be a considerable undertaking. We get that. As with most new marketing initiatives, we recommend that you put together a compelling rationale plus ROI that your senior management cannot ignore. Here are few thoughts to bolster your argument.

3. It’s a big undertaking because they need to update the whole website anyway – it’s easier to just keep putting it off.

It’s like dieting. You’ve been adding a couple extra pounds every year, but instead of jumping on it, you’ve let it slide and now you need to do something serious. A few pounds has become an even 10. Your favorite jeans don’t fit. You don’t want to go out. It’s like that with your website, if you haven’t been consistently addressing its upkeep (let’s face it, it’s hard to fit everything in), that killer bod is now, well, rather unsightly.

You have to face the facts. It’s only going to get worse. Mobile is not going away, nor are all those updates and subtle improvements that your website needs. The sooner you get it into a more manageable configuration, the better you are going to feel. Just contacting a design studio to start the conversation will help. So hop on the treadmill and cut the carbs. You’ll feel better once you get started. We promise.

4. Aliens have invaded their bodies with no concept of Earthly digital interactions.

We’re closet nerds. It could happen, right? Plus, it would explain a lot.

What are you thoughts? Are we missing something?

If you’re ready to dive in – or perhaps put a toe in the water, GIVE US A JINGLE.

 

 

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