Category Archives: big thoughts

What an Agile Design Process looks like

This isn’t the first time I’ve thought a lot about what an Agile Design process looks like. We practice it every day at SPARC without any formal definition. As our design team has grown in the past 3 years, we’ve let go of some traditional design practices in favor of ones that more closely match the work we’re doing. Our projects range from UX for software to marketing websites. Each project is slightly different, based on the team and the overall goal. When we call it a process, we’re really just looking at the common practices that make any type of project successful inside our environment.

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Using Keynote during your design process

keynote screen design

Using keynote as an organizer for your thoughts during the design process:

  • Create an outline or screen inventory towards the story I’d like to tell.
  • As I’m working through the wireframes, I’ll record my thoughts as bullets into the keynote
  • Formatting your thoughts – keep it simple, go high level then break out specific UI elements.
  • Most importantly – always be ready to present your ideas, at any stage in the process.

Formalizing designs in a presentation has it’s advantages:

  • Keeps you focused
  • Keeps the audience focused
  • Is portable – can be emailed later w/out lengthy explanation
  • Is progressive – once begun, you can simply layer increasing information on top of the first presentation.
  • Is repeatable – once done, you can leverage the same presentation style for other projects.

 

Pro-tip: I work almost exclusively in Adobe Illustrator when wire-framing. It works great for layering increasing detail/resolution on the design from functional wireframes to final designs. Since the most recent Keynote software update, Keynote has issues copying vector designs from Illustrator directly to the page. Before you copy an element from Adobe Illustrator, outline the text (Command + Shift + “O”) in Adobe Illustrator, then copy to Keynote. It adds a step in the process, but is quicker than going between Illustrator > Photoshop, and the Keynote/PDF you result with is high quality with a smaller file size. Small file size is key if you’re uploading multiple version to Basecamp or sharing in email. 

 

The career of a modern designer.

finding direction

Sitting in a kick-off meeting, little tedious, sometimes steals your energy. Simultaneously reading email, IMing, listening to the client, giving feedback. Occasionally thinking how lucky I am to be in this room, in this conversation, & what/who we’re designing the software we’re creating.

Don Draper now builds software for a living.

Clicking through the email subscriptions and discovering a conversation about why they’re doing software vs. advertising. nice. These are the small points of validation when you think your life/career works more like a series of winding rivers, and less like a decision.

http://www.fastcodesign.com/3025950/why-i-left-advertising-to-become-a-software-designer

There are some great gems in this article about WHY software needs design. & how people with creative backgrounds can influence in a positive (designed) way that people interact with software. Smaller software tailored to the user, not enterprise. Making it technically “work” is no longer the need, making it usable is now the hard part.

“…Charles Phillips, puts it: “using enterprise software sucks.” It’s ugly. Cumbersome. Difficult to use. And impossible to love. “When engineers started to build these incredibly complex systems in the early ’90s, their biggest concern was: how are we going to make it work?” …. Now that business technology can deliver those basic user needs, it’s time to ask: How can we make business software work beautifully?”

Great food for thought for those of us who get up in the morning sometimes not knowing what the day brings, but feel purpose & drive towards a longer goal. Making things work beautify is the same in User Experience as it was in Advertising. When it works, you know it.

Creating an “Architecture of Participation”

design team tabletime at sparc

This past Thursday I was fortunate to hear Bill Taylor of Fast Company speak at the Charleston Chamber of Commerce annual event. There were a lot of components to his talk that sounded like the culture we’ve created Sparc. The phrase that caught my attention was the “Architecture of Participation“. There have been many times that I’ve thought of gathering the right people in a room as being an “architect” of people. My friend Taylor seems to be an expert at that. Or when my developer buddy Josh “architects” a solution by knowing what technologies play well together & essentially get shit done. This type of “architect” means as a leader, you facilitate problem solving by leveraging your team for the solution. That’s why we have a team, right? I think we were already doing this well, but sometimes having a word for it helps bring these quiet practices to light; formalizes them.

What interests me in the Architecture of Participation is how it calls out a leadership style I’m very comfortable. Traditional leadership has relied on the leader to identify & solve a problem on his own, then project the solution onto the people below them. The concept of leadership through participation means that rather than working in a vacuum, I can leverage the smart people around me. In the end, they’re typically the ones implementing the solution – this helps them “own it” as well. The Architecture of Participation simply means I facilitate the conversation & then let people be good at what they are already good at. Coming from a creative background, we (my team) is already skilled at working as a team – nothing new here. Learning & creative process intentionally leverages diverse skillsets, so why not problem solving on a leadership level?

I moved forward w/ a plan this past week to create “advocates” within our design team. Motivated individuals who can help lead the team in one aspect of design. This scales me, and offers the opportunity for these smart people to own a focused element that we need as a team. The advocates focus on aspects such as design quality, user experience or front-end development. Things our team need, but I can’t always facilitate the conversation 100% of the time on.

It’s a great thing to work with talented people. By creating an Architecture of Participation, we enable more creative solution & allow the smart people we work with to scale the team as a whole.

 

 

 

 

Balancing what’s important

Here’s to the big changes that fundamentally make you shift your life and try to balance what’s important. With the arrival of the little man and some down time for work, it’s been hard to focus on any one thing (besides sleep), but taking the writing in my head and trying to get it somewhere has always been therapeutic. Cheesy dad stuff, but looking at this little guy really does put everything quickly into perspective. Call it “the shit that matters vs. the noise”, but it’s finally time in life to be a little introspective about the last 6 years journey to get here, and again, what really matters. I still plan to write when possible here, but having an outlet for all the cuteness is equally important.

More on the little man over on his site, the Adventures in Creative Parenting blog: Naish.Kaloupek.com

 

SPARC520 goes public TechCrunch (or deep thoughts on collaboration in design)

This last year at SPARC has been a pretty trans-formative experience for me. As someone who is use to designing everything, to a role now where I lead others and offer guidance towards how the design should work. It hasn’t been an easy transition – learning to delegate and learning how to improve communication to other designers. Not a new experience, but much more of it that I’d previously had. The other challenge is “what am I creating”. The emphasis on “I”; good designers have to be a little selfish and a little passionate. It’s in our nature and to ignore it is to just be submissive. So now I have 4 other designers who look for me on guidance from priorities to major UI decisions. It’s rewarding in ways that designing isn’t and the learning process is really rewarding. The struggle becomes, what am I creating? What did I do yesterday? Well, many things, but very little I can point at and say “I” did this.

So, yesterday’s article on techcrunch.com was awesome publicity for SPARC and our product(s). It was fun to send out to Mom and tell my friends about. But it also left me introspective about the selflessness of good design and truly what my role in the collaboration means. http://techcrunch.com/2012/07/11/va-goes-green-with-sparc520/

Design vs Organizing

New habit: try and read an interesting design article with lunch.  Site like Ted.com, fastcompany.com or Good.is have great conent, and are not always conventionally about design.

Came across this interview with James Victore yesterday. Points such as work is work – get it done and get out, and using traditional sketching methods were interesting. But what really resonated was his argument of Design vs. Organizing. In his context, I’m a terific Organizer. It’s what I do 90% of my professional career as a “designer”. I take information and “organize” it into a layout, or a webpage, or a hierarchy or a mindmap. All these things are byproduct of an idea and communicate efficiently. But how often am I truly stepping back and designing.

Great read: http://the99percent.com/articles/6944/james-victore-dont-be-a-design-zombie

Maybe another habit should be to blog more often….

Good finds on a Wednesday

Every once in a while, you hit up something pretty cool over your lunch break reading. Today was two in a row, both dealing w/ design and css-3 properties I wasn’t completely familiar with.

Rotation in css-3. Or moreso it’s application in a baddass little poster experiment: http://www.everydayworks.com/css_typography/everydaytweet.html

And a sweet read on typograpy using css-3 that was well illustrated with some great usage examples: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/03/01/css-and-the-future-of-text/

It’s the kinda reads that make me look forward to my lunch breaks again!

Being a design despot.

A continuing part of my new life in Charleston is the new job that comes with it and re-wiring my brain around what design is. Moving from a creative agency to a software company, an intimate client facing environment to a larger, corporate environment has had some interesting effects. But one of the most interesting things has been the opportunities to design and think about what design can be.

inside-steve-brainMy current morning practice is to get up a bit early and get in an hour+ of design work in, or read a good book to get my day off on the right foot. For the moment, that book is “inside Steve’s brain” – one that’s become increasingly popular around my company, and for good reason. As the company grows, they are increasingly looking for a brand to consolidate their array of products. And looking at the process of design, as the company shifts from one that makes software to one that is selling a brand. Increasingly, design leads such as myself are being looked to for advice – again opportunity.

This morning was Chapter 2: Despotism: Being a one-man focus group. Some really interesting take-always for me, especially considering I’ve been functioning as a one-man design show for years and the context of my new position. A lot of what I read has been reassuring in many ways – coming at design from a different direction than those building the product, gives you a unique understanding. Steve’s main asset isn’t that he understands the technology as well as the engineers creating it, but that he understands the users and is always pushing design. This is a strong concept for me, as it helps me think about where my value as a designer is to a company that writes software and needs that outside voice to help understand how to package and interact with the things they create.