Category Archives: randomness

Time to be Thankful

It’s been a long and interesting year for me. So many changes in both life and career. It’s been a year of choosing to live deliberately, not settling. Too often, I found myself settling, and distanced from my sense of self. This year has had it’s challenges but is equally balanced by life’s little successes.

A new home: that one falls squarely on Heidi’s great intuition. And great fortune of timing that we were able to find a home as unique as our family. While there is work to be done, it’s an amazing place to call home. I would have never guessed at the impact of living someplace designed with intent could have. It’s funny – I studied architecture, I sell the concept of design daily, but until I’d lived in a home designed with thoughtful intent, I would have never understood it.

Starting over: SPARC had been an amazing journey. The closest I can relate could be college – learning and experiencing so much at such a fast pace. There are many things I’m proud to have accomplished, growing a team and building a brand around a startup software company. But there was also the loss of self, getting a little complacent, and not having the projects to truly engage and grow. It was a hard decision to leave so many good friends, but a necessary one. Leaving a company changes many relationships, but strengthens others. I’m thankful for my friends & family who’ve seen me through this decision.

Finding great work: Taking Kaloupek Design from a side projects to full time consulting happened more quickly than I could have expected. In leaving Sparc, my mantra had been to do good projects with good people. A simple  goal was to find several great clients with good design challenges to solve.  Power Analytics and InKind are two new clients that have allowed me to do great design work again, and I’m thankful for it.


And being with family. With all the chaos in the world today, this is a time to be thankful &  enjoy my family.

Curating Email Subscriptions: You are what you Read

I’ve a big believer in early mornings – it’s part of my creative process to get up at 4-5AM, brew some coffee, and get a fresh start on the day. Before diving into a design project, my mind needs a little time to wander & wake up. Selectively reading through my email subscriptions get’s me motivated and provides the right amount of creative distraction to be productive.

There’s something to having articles delivered and forming a consistent habit of reading, versus searching for content on the internet.

Some subscriptions arrive early in the day, some later in the day. I’ll take pauses throughout the day to check email and find a story worth reading. I’m also a tremendous news junky – it helps my mind flex on something larger than what’s in front of my screen.

The email subscriptions I read could be design focused or could be random. Part of being a designer is maintaining a curiosity about the world around us. That curiosity returns in every project you do.

Top 5 email subscriptions for any designer:

  • Quarz for News. This is probably the first thing I read most mornings. Excellent short write ups on the state of our planet.
  • InVision’s Blog for Design. Besides being a product that’s rooted into my design process, they interview product designers and offer an amazing perspective on our industry. I rarely miss anything they publish and often re-read the articles.
  • Medium – great publishing platform. Of the 10+ items they email, there’s typically one that catches my attention. The articles I read could be design focused or could be random. Part of being a designer is maintaining a curiosity about the world around us. That curiosity returns in every project you do.
  • Co.Design for the business of Design. Fast Company’s design focused news. I make a point of following through and reading at least one article per day here. These often have a business perspective I feel a lot of design writing lacks.
  • Crew inspires growth. Well composed thoughts from a company building their business in the open.  They inspire me to write more and start my own business.

Other things that keep me going throughout the week:

  • Little daily Simon Sinek inspiration never hurt anyone
  • Visual inspiration on Monday mornings from
  • brainpickings is what is sounds like
  • 99U always carries interviews that speak towards learning and career growth
  • and Laura Vanderkamp offers a great perspective on having a family and still being a leader

And of course, filter where you give your attention a bit. That woot deal that just came in may be amazing, but it isn’t the best place to focus your energy at 5am.

Giant Conf Day 1 Take-Aways: Skillsets of a designer and Designing for Experience and Memory

Recapping a couple of things that stuck with me from the 1st day of the Giant UX Conference.  While there’s was a lot of content to cover, it’s always interesting what was sticky and catches my attention the next morning. The presentation by Patrick Neehman on “hunting unicorns: what makes an effective UX professional” got my head spinning a bit. Having had the experience of growing a design team from scratch, a lot of what Patrick resonated. Especially him identifying the lack of definition around our profession.


Specialist vs. Generalist

I’ve mentioned before that we hire generalists, not specialists. Patrick’s talk confirmed: UX is a broad set of skills requiring one to be a generalist. Doesn’t mean you can’t have an area you excel at such as visual design or user research, but any player on a UX/dev team is going to wear multiple hats. There were several talks about a “t-shaped skills” which was a new term for me.

design-disciplines-at-sparcPatrick’s slide blocking out the various hard skills a UX practitioner can have was complementary to something we created to explain the team as it grew. Scott Berkun’s opening talk disallowed the concept that job titles matter – stop creating title with guru and talking about innovation – creative ownerships is gained by doing & making, not by talking about it.  Still, without some definition it makes it a bitch to explain to my recruiting friends how to help scale our team.

IMG_1644Patrick also had a soft skills chart and explanations around what and why they were important to a well rounded hire.  I’d add to that the element of “client facing” – there is a necessary level of maturity needed to explain your ideas and listen when you may be the only person from your team there. And as a hiring manager, there is a lot of trust given when you let someone go in your place.


Our hiring secret sauce?

We may have told recruiting, get me another Matt or another Prashant, but we’ve never hired the same person on the team. Nor should we. Charts like these are great in thought drivers and help explain our professions skills to an outside audience. But little of it matters when you meet the person. Every candidate we’ve ever hired showed up with a skill that we didn’t know we needed. And it’s that hidden skill that brings something new to the team.

And just one more thought: Designing for Experience and Memory

This talk is unrelated but too good to let go. That the high and low points of a person’s experience with your product will average out to be their memory. So not only smoothing out the pain-points, but also focusing on the creative/unexpected high points a good UX designer can include. Those high points help create a better overall memory and create a happy return customer. Great talk by Curt Arledge and my thanks for getting my mind spinning on the subject. 

Agile Design: Crafting a User Experience Collaboratively

The collaboration between a front-end developer and talented designer is how amazing user experiences get built and refined.


Our team does periodic design reviews here at SPARC to review design quality and discuss the design process – what’s working well and what can be changed. Lisa and Harrison are both extremely talented team members on different ends of the design spectrum. Lisa’s crafts beautiful UI & can take a client’s brand and make it sing. While Harrison is a front end guru who helps translate Lisa’s ideas into a User Experience. They’ve worked several commercial projects together and have arrived at a solid working relationship. I’ll often observe them standing at Harrison’s monitor tweaking code and going back and forth. This behavior got me thinking about a few elements of our Agile Design process at SPARC that deliver results.

Separation of concerns: Design and Development 

I refer to a great designer who can design and develop with equal quality as a unicorn – because they don’t exist. Everyone on our team designs and writes code to differing skill levels, but Lisa and Harrison balance each other through the fact each has a specific are they excel at. As a designer responsible for both design & delivering the final code, I’ve found myself limiting the design knowing later I’ll have to build it. Your mind naturally thinks ahead to how it will be coded and not completely about the experience. It’s hard to separate these concerns.

There’s a huge advantage as a designer understanding code, it helps participate in the execution and understand what’s possible. Just as a developer needs to be empathetic to design to understand “why” something needs to work a certain way. But we’ve found being able to separate responsibilities on a larger project allows this pair to excel their specific work and then collaborate on a better end product.

Iterating design in code

One real advantage we’ve found is the ability to iterate in code. Often times we’re only talking about design “concepts” until they’re actually in browser. Our workflow is to move through our design phase quickly into implementing code. When implementing, we discover opportunities, things we missed, and are able iterate. Those iterations then flow back into the visual design.

We try and caution clients not to get hung up on the early visual designs – treat them as concepts, not a complete user experience. Once coded into a prototype or dev environment, you start to understand how the user will experience the app – in browser.

User Experience workflow
  • Wireframes and Visual Design are concepts or explorations
  • Design Implementation speaks to actual User Experience
  • The ability to iterate in code allows us improve the overall User Experience
Most designers operate under a series of assumptions, that change throughout the course of a project. Getting use to iterating in code keeps us agile to these changing assumptions.
  • There are gaps between static designs and interactive code
  • Static designs can only translate user experience 80-90%
  • Optimizing code is cheaper than iterating visual designs

Keeping it Consistent: Pattern Libraries

pattern library

One of the biggest issues in a large app being developed by multiple people is keeping the look and feel, and the mark-up, consistent. This isn’t a new thought. Our front-end developers start from day 1 with adding a basic pattern library into the development environment of the app. This helps the developers find the correct code snippets, and our team style the app in a consistent manner.

We develop most things in Bootstrap – it offers a clean, organized library of components to use as a base. From there, we narrow it down to the elements we’re actively using (less is more) and have a page dedicated to displaying the styled examples.

And people get bored. After staring at something too long, most clients or designers get tired of it and want to make changes. Having a maintained pattern library makes visual updates easy and consistent.

Evolving our Agile Design Process

Collaboration. Separating concerns. Actively maintaining a pattern library in design and code. These are a few of the workflow habits that make our Agile Design process & team successful. Being able to be hands on with the code, in open collaboration between designers and developers, allows us to deliver a refined user experience to our customers.

Always be creating value – Or my evolving role as design director in a start-up.

I have the best, and scariest, job in the world. When I’m doing my job right, everyone else is busy and I have nothing to do. And this isn’t to say there’s nothing to be done, I just haven’t discovered the next design project yet. My job is to insure everyone else is productive & happy, before I worry about myself. My job is to put my self out of a job. And then repeat that process over and over again.

As we approach the holiday season, there’s a lot of change in our office. Like physically: we’re moving furniture to accommodate another 60 friends. And we’re in the process of doing our annual reviews, which leads to a lot of introspection about your year. I could tell you 20 things my team has done successfully this year, but very few I’ve done. My conversation sounds a little like:

“We identified a design opportunity. I gathered the necessary requirements, set the creative direction for the project and delegated to Matt. I backed off & he went full bore and created some amazing logos … “

Did I create anything? Not really, I simply facilitated a member of the team doing amazing work. How much value did I add if I didn’t actually “produce” much of anything?

So my definition of “value” has been changing these past 3 years – from a one-man-band designer to leading a design team. It’s scary stuff as some days, I’m the first one I’d fire. But seriously, as a designer who’s done work-for-hire contractor positions before, you know you must always be creating value. Once you’ve finished the projects you were hired for, you’d find yourself sitting there waiting to be let go… “No more work, we’ll re-hire you in a few months when we need something.” It’s can be really scary shit to not have something tangible in front of you to constantly justify your perceived value. “I’m working on such and such project…”

And defining yourself too narrowly by your craft or what you produce falls into that trap as well.

The shift from execution to strategy leaves you wondering how much value you are creating?

And really, what is “strategy”? Strategy is simply any technique that leads to tangible results. Advertising agencies are based on their ability to convince clients on the value of their intangible strategy. There’s probably a distracting rant built into this line of thinking, but it’s exactly where I find myself. Packaging “intangibles” to generate tangible design results is now part of the value I create.

So what’s my next “project” look like? Last week was an office space redesign. Now that it’s underway, I’ve moved on looking for the next challenge.  Somewhat like captaining open water between the islands that are one project to the next. You can see it on the horizon, but not always sure how you’ll get there and what you’ll find when you do.

Facebook is making me stupid

Or: why important things get dumped off my timeline, while fart jokes and baby photos go to the top?

So let’s get something straight, I do not consider Facebook “serious” media. I don’t look their for breaking news. Maybe 1 in 100 of my friends posts a relevant view of humanity from time to time. Maybe 5 in 100 post an especially good rant. Mostly, it’s fart jokes and baby picks and spying on people you sorta use to know to feel like you still know them. And I accept this.

So again, Facebook is not serious. Shouldn’t be. 90% of the people there are just there are just voyeurs into someone else’s perceived life.

Nor do I profess to be talented in the realm of social media. I post on rare occasions, usually ignore friend requests, send belated birthday wishes, and don’t really check in with much regularity.

So this pissed me off.

Every-once in a blue moon I do have something that does piss me off. That combined with a few cocktails is a bad combo. So when John Oliver went on a rant on about for-profit universities, that kinda got me off my proverbial ass. I re-posted his petition against for-profit universities, added a few of my thoughts at the time, and patted my moral-compass on teh back.

Serious thought

Again, I have less than zero political affiliations, but when it comes to education and taking advantage of people, it hits my moral compass below the belt. I work with a kid who will be paying off his for profit art education for the next 10 years.

Am I right? Am I coherent? Does it matter? Apparently not, since that post never appeared on my timeline.

Now feeling a little bad about my outraged opinion, and breaking some unsaid social norm about everything in the world just being all fucking ducky, I posted something light hearted and stupid to balance it out. Scotch, scotch, scotch… I love scotch. Yes, an immature response to a moment of social clarity. Admittedly, I’m a balance of 10% smart and 90% 12-year old boy making poopy jokes.

I love scotch

So how did a serious thought get buried and a funny joke get liked? Is there a special genie behind the facebook algorithm trying to make sure people still like me and sensed a serious subject?  Apparently not.

When I looked the next morning and saw a bunch of notification my scotch post was liked, but not likes to a serious thought, I basically felt like an ass. Then I went through the phase of denial – maybe I stopped myself from posting it and it never went out?

working from hammock day

My timeline certainly says so… Look, it’s a scotch joke followed by a working from hammock photo…. As epic as working from hammock day was, I’m a little irritated that my serious post fell right off the face of even my own timeline, much less anyone else’s timeline. Weird shit.

Not sure how to finish this thought up except to say, thank you facebook. You are making us all dumber by the day. Somewhere in the near future, when mankind has stopped communicating with each other verbally and instead just stares at their iphone, we will all live in a utopia where nothing is upsetting in the world. Because if there is something upsetting or serious going on, nobody is going to read it anyhow. 

Basecamp archeology

So we use basecamp A LOT or internal design communication, and cataloguing the random ideas that make life amazing. We use basecamp so much we’ve created around 212 projects in a little over 24 months.

A few of the better basecamp projects include titles such as:

  • Brad’s really bad Venture ideas
  • Captains log
  • Sparc Skunkworks
  • #EvenYourKidsThinkYourDumb

Had a co-worker heading out to my old stomping ground of the South Bay of Los Angeles. Decided to make him a checklist in Basecamp of bars to visit. I give you “Where should Andrew drink in LA“.

  • Hermosa Beach – best bet. MTV Spring Break

    •  FFFF (Fat Face Finners Fish Shack) Hermosa pier – boston bar

    •  Henessys – upstairs roof bar, view of ocean, non-annoying irish bar

    •  any other bar with hot chicks. they all have them.
  • Santa Monica Bars – on Main Street SM, not near beach

  • Manhattan beach bars – snobby white people

    •  the beach house – bottom of the main street towards the water, go to the upstairs bar. fancy pants but the view of the ocean is killer.

    •  simmzy’s – next to starbucks, great burger and beer selection, crowded

    •  Ercoles – EPIC shithole, cash only, don’t get in a fight.

    •  Get a bike – ride around. stop at every bar you pass. good luck.

    •  sharks cove – shithole. has beer
  • Playa Del Rey

    •  POW (prince of whales) – there is NO reason to go to Playa, but if you do this place is an epic shithole. think a much less clean version of Maga Rua without the irish theme.
  • Venice bars

    •  Never really went drinking in Venice, it’s a freakshow, don’t go.
  • Redondo Beach Pier

    •  Najia’s – has 500 beers with about 30 on draft. Visit before the sun sets our you’ll be part of a mexican knife fight. really.


and there is my favorite part about where I work, the culture.

Follow up on the “Agile Design” post

We re-posted a few thoughts I had on the Agile Design to our mothership blog on and it attracted some interesting comments on reddit. Got me thinking a little more about the intent of what I was writing and any confusion it may have caused. Probably would have been a better idea to approach the subject in a series of smaller more focused posts, but fuck it, I don’t have that kind of foresight.

These were a few comments that really got me thinking:

RE: What is this Agile Design you speak of?

“Agile Design” is a design process tailored to work closely with developers practicing the  Agile Methodology to build software.

That’s really the cleanest way I can package it up. Leading the design team inside of an agile software development company for the past 3 years, our process is ever adapting to work more closely with the clients and the developers.

  • Communicate – daily stand-ups rituals through agile scrum encourage communication between designers, developers and engage the client
  • Collaborate – teams of designers with different strengths learning from each other
  • Iterate – use sprints to scope work into manageable chunks & know that you will have time to iterate & refine a feature over several sprints
  • Pivot – sprints allow you to pivot to a new goal as the business goals
  • Finish – complete segments of work by aligning to sprint cycle & project goals

RE: value Specialists vs. Generalists on an design team?

There was a comment on reddit about specialist vs. generalists. This may not have been the intent of the original post, but it got my gears turning, so thank you.

We only hire “Generalists“.

Having experienced many different design roles in my professional career, I’ve had periods of time where I’ve focused intensely on a “specialized” segment of work. User experience on the web was a focus for about 3 years. Proper, semantic front-end markup use to keep me up at night for a couple years. Before that it was advertising & graphic design… I’m the generalist because learning new specialties every few years keeps me going.  I’ve worked at places where only one of my skills is valued as a specialist, I’d never want to do that again.

And that’s what I look for when we hire. Someone who maybe very good at an aspects of design, but has the aptitude to learn and adapt. We are in “startup” mode, as another commenter else pointed out. Below is an ugly but effective diagram of the “what” disciplines our design team practices:


We do have several people with “specialize” degrees in Human Factors. They focus primarily on requirements, wireframes, and user testing. But these same people stretch themselves to understand and participate in all the other aspects of design our team does.

Sorry – probably too much on that one…. it’s a topic worthy of a separate post, so I appreciate the original comment.

Closing thought

I’ll admit I might be abusing the term “Agile” for my own purposes. But “Agile Design” is the best way I can understand the process we’ve adopted at SPARC. And in agile fashion, there’s probably a few more iterations to better flush out this concept.

Thank you again for the interest!

Digging out of my own artistic mess!

photo 2There are few breaks in life as a parent, but i’m currently enjoying a short one as Heidi & Naish are up North in the wilds of Minnesota. Since’s Naish birth, my home office (studio?) has become a dumping ground of bills, broken electronics, unread magazines, and anything else that comes along. While it’s gathered a very nice “patina” of artistic clutter, it’s also just becoming an unworkable, disorganized craphole. So much so, that my 5AM wake-ups to “work” usually just involve trying to find space to put a cup of coffee down.

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Giant UX Conference recap: thinking about the “whole” user experience

Rolling through the final day of Giant UX conference here in Charleston as I began to think about what I’d take away from it. It’s been a great experience meeting new people and filling my brain with what I hope to be some actionable new ideas. So much saturation, what would stick.

Maybe it’s because so many speakers oriented themselves to speak about not just design, but experience design. There were several folks, including Jared M. Spool & Samantha Starmer, who hit on this specifically. Jared used references about how the apple store is a vital part of the UX of an Apple product. Samantha got my brain running on integrating physical & digital. Talking about the “space between” when designing a holistic user experience. It’s not just designing for digital, the user-experience needs to be thought of as all encompassing.

It’s an interesting shift for me – with a background in architecture, I was studying to influence the way people interacted with the built environment. Now as a designer of digital & software, we’re circling back to an understanding where the experience isn’t constrained to the device.

Not sure yet how this will manifest itself, but it’s timely after we’ve spend the past 6 months looking at the office environment at Sparc and how that effects our employee’s experience. Seems a little more vague on how to integrate directly into a commercial project, but it reenforces my feelings about user testing what we create in real environments. The physical nature is ever more important, as these things we create digitally now increasingly push back into our physical experience.