Tag Archives: design

Designers designing for designers are missing something (ditto writers!)

Fascinating article – full version here – talks about how people putting designs on sites like Dribbble tend to have more of an eye on how it’s going to go down with other designers rather than as an actual successful product that works. It’s also a really good example of credible self-promotion, and as applicable to other types of content creation as it is to design – a useful reminder to keep my eye on the desired outcome first, rather than just making more flannel. I’ve cut out a few bits below:  

“…Pixel perfect, retina ready PNGs might look great on Dribbble, but they will have decreasing value as a primary design tool in a real product building environment.

This is why redesigns of other people’s work is pure folly e.g. the new Yahoo logo, iOS7, changes to Facebook, the New New Twitter, the American Airlines rebrand. People have no context for the decision making process involved in these projects, no knowledge of the requirements, constraints, organisational politics.

If product design is about solving problems for people within the constraints of a specific business, then it simply feels that many people calling themselves product/UX designers are actually practicing digital art. They are Artists. They are Stylists. Executing beautiful looking things, certainly an important skill, but not practising product design…

Once you have a clear mission, vision and product architecture, you can start to think about the other details. The goals people have, what makes them happy, fulfilled, successful. The jobs your product does for them, where it works well, where it doesn’t.

The rough ugly sketches and scribbles that describe these things are far more important than the png that ends up on Dribbble…All the whiteboard sketches, hand drawings, and back of the napkin problem solving is what designers should be posting. Show me those things. Even a written description of what is being built is more important than the PNG or PDF.

Design is a multi layered process. In my experience, there is an optimal order to how you move through the layers. The simplest version of this is to think about four layers:

I see designer after designer focus on the fourth layer without really considering the others. Working from the bottom up rather than the top down. The grid, font, colour, and aesthetic style are irrelevant if the other three layers haven’t been resolved first. Many designers say they do this, but don’t walk the walk, because sometimes it’s just more fun to draw nice pictures and bury oneself in pixels than deal with complicated business decisions and people with different opinions. That’s fine, stay in the fourth layer, but that’s art not design. You’re a digital artist, not a designer…

At Intercom, we’re working with Clay Christensen’s Jobs framework for product design. We frame every design problem in a Job, focusing on the triggering event or situation, the motivation and goal, and the intended outcome:

When _____ , I want to _____ , so I can _____ .

For example: When an important new customer signs up, I want to be notified, so I can start a conversation with them.

This gives us clarity. We can map this Job to the mission and prioritise it appropriately. It ensures that we are constantly thinking about all four layers of design. We can see what components in our system are part of this Job and the necessary relationships and interactions required to facilitate it. We can design from the top down, moving through outcome, system, interactions, before getting to visual design.


Amazing: 3D projection mapping on moving objects


Love this sort of thing. Paves the way for amazing theatre but also interactive window displays, all sorts of things.

“Box explores the synthesis of real and digital space through projection-mapping on moving surfaces. The short film documents a live performance, captured entirely in camera. Bot & Dolly produced this work to serve as both an artistic statement and technical demonstration. It is the culmination of multiple technologies, including large scale robotics, projection mapping, and software engineering. We believe this methodology has tremendous potential to radically transform theatrical presentations, and define new genres of expression.” — The Creators Project

The little phone layouts that couldn’t…


Always interesting to see other versions of things now ubiquitous. Such as this great Gizmodo post on The Atlantic:

If you look at the layout of the number buttons on a phone — smart, cell, landline, what have you — the number buttons will feature, almost inevitably, a uniform layout. Ten digits, laid out on a three-by-three grid, with the tenth tacked on on the bottom. The numbers ascending from left to right, and from top to bottom.

This layout is so standardized that we barely think about it. But it was, in the 1950s, the result of a good deal of strategizing and testing on the part of people at Bell Labs. Numberphile has dug up an amazing paper — published in the July 1960 issue of “The Bell System Technical Journal” — that details the various alternative designs the Bell engineers considered. Among them: “the staircase” (II-B in the image above), “the ten-pin” (III-B, reminiscent of bowling-pin configurations), “the rainbow” (II-C), and various other versions that mimicked the circular logic of the existing dialing technology: the rotary.

Everything was on the table for the layout of the ten buttons; the researchers’ only objective was to find the configuration that would be as user-friendly, and efficient, as possible. So they ran tests. They experimented. They sought input. They briefly considered a layout that mimicked a cross.

And in the end, though, Numberphile’s Sarah Wiseman notes, it became a run-off between the traditional calculator layout and the telephone layout we know today. And the victory was a matter of efficiency. “They did compare the telephone layout and the calculator layout,” she says, “and they found the calculator layout was slower.”

Via Paleofuture/Gizmodo

Ooh! Lovely paper alphabet




Spotted by Slevinator, Super Excited! PS, “alphabet” is one of those words that, when you type it a few times, just never looks as if it is spelled right. You know?


And THAT, my friends, is how you design a book cover.


Why a designer made the transition from advertising to a startup

This is a post Keenan Cummings wrote for BEAKER. Keenan is the creative director and co-founder at Wander, a beautiful way to experience and express yourself through places. He spent his career working in branding and design strategy roles at Fwis, Johnson & Johnson, and VSA Partners, before realizing he wanted to build products from the ground up. He spent the last eight months reshaping his portfolio and leaving behind most of the illustration, copywriting, and branding work to focus heavily on product, UX, UI and even some front-end code. He keeps a running log of work and information at blog.keenancummings.com


I was an agency-trained, senior-level, print/branding designer and left to work at a startup. Here’s why:



I want my work to feel valuable.

It seems the higher up the institutional chain you climb, the more abstract the value you generate, and the more you are worth. The roles become so far removed from the end goals they are managing, and you have to wonder how long you can stay focused on what matters — making peoples lives better.

“The vast majority of the wealthiest people I’ve met are far more about building value for themselves than they are about creating value for anyone or anything beyond themselves.” (Are You a Role Model, HBR)

But this doesn’t add up in the startup world, mostly because there is not time nor room in the equation for anyone that doesn’t directly affect the outcomes of pursuing whatever the goals may be.

In a startup, value is a concrete measure of your contribution. I enjoy the clarity and trepidation that brings to the work. Things can fail, and the onus is on the person or team that failed to solve the problem correctly. (No blaming ‘bad’ clients!) Likewise, the triumphs are deeply felt because of the intimate relationship you have with the possibility of failure.



I want to stop talking about good work and start making good work.

Startups are notoriously biased toward action — it’s a survival tactic in a competitive field.

I’ve spent a lot of time on research and development, writing pages of airy ‘positioning statements’ and the like. It often felt like intellectual glut that gummed up the process. “Research & Development” feels valuable, but I’ve found that it rarely delivers.

Startups trade R&D for insight and iteration: talk to users, find a solution, something elegant and surprising and useful, and try it out, not as a print out on the wall to be discussed and over-thought (and yes, over-thinking is symptomatic of many if not most stalled innovation processes), but something out in the real world with other people using it.



I want other people to find value in my work.

That value is directly tied to making people’s experiences — and *hopefully lives — better. You have to deliver on that if you expect any kind of real impact.

Client work can often be far removed from any real world positive affect. When your goals happen to align with a client’s, then sure, it’s great to help them achieve that. You’re lucky if you can build a roster of clients you deeply believe in.

More often you are operating under one major but overlooked assumption — that lending clarity and delight to any message makes the world a better place, regardless of the real value of the message you are helping to sell.

Working as part of the team that is defining not just how a product gets communicated and used, but what that product is and what it does for people — that’s an opportunity you rarely get with client work.

*Part of the reason I have a very specific idea of the type of startup I want to work for. There are plenty of problems I don’t care to solve, and more power to the people out there tackling those.


I want my mom to understand what I spend my time doing.

You ever meet someone very successful and say to yourself “what the hell do they do?” You ever meet someone that can hardly answer that question themselves?

I’ve come to believe that “coordinating teams of interdisciplinary, strategic partnerships for generating long term sustainable growth” is code for makin’ spreadsheets and delegating real work (the spreadsheet has even become the symbol of faux productivity).



I want to design with empathy, and that means being close to the ground.

I want to get as close as possible to the people that will love, hate, use, abuse, praise and sh*t on my work.

There is power in making something for someone you know well, someone that you’ve taken the time to listen to.When you are designing for a real person with a real problem you exercise that designer’s empathy that you’ve been trying to squeeze out of yourself when you read vague marketing reports about a ‘target’ consumer or an archetypal customer.

You sit down for a casual cup of tea and a chat and they blow your mind with insights into what the problem is and how to make something that really works. You take that with you, synthesize and sift through it, and cone up with something that you are uniquely qualified to come up with. It is grueling, sweat-dripping-from-the-brow work — empathy exercise. Getting it right is intense and rewarding.


I want my stamp on the things I make.

I don’t want to contractually hand over credit for my work to any institution. Too many designers do great work that is absorbed by client’s contracts or even by the agency they work for.

The industry is changing. Designers are getting involved long before the brief is created. They are helping identify opportunities and build platforms and even products and in turn, generating an immense amount of value. The industry is demanding much more out of agencies but the rates aren’t changing. And we aren’t just talking learning new tools or building a web team or hiring film producers. Clients are demanding deeper domain knowledge, broader expertise, and bigger ROI.

I can go create this value somewhere else, for something I really believe in, and for a company that is moving quickly and iterating responsively.

Europe according to Berlusconi

(click image to view large – thanks for the tip, Olly! Think I might spend summer on the Mare Criminale)