Posts About ZURB
We've been talking a lot about frameworks lately, whether it's a responsive front-end one like Foundation or an email one like Ink. One of the advantages of a framework is that allows product designers to worry less about building across devices and spend more time improving their skills. After all, for a designer, there's always a new skill to learn or improve on.
For our team of product designers, the skill to keep pushing has been visual design. Our projects have always had a simple set up: one designer, one design lead. Since each designer owns the whole project from start to finish, they owned the visual exploration phase as well — until about a year ago. That's when we decided to spice things up and split the exploration between three designers, giving the team an opportunity to learn from each other. Which incidentally allowed us to show a greater variety of options to our clients. Everybody wins.
It was a great idea. We saw a big increase in the overall level of visual design skills here. Though to be fair, the improvement was mostly evident among the designers who volunteered themselves the most.
Now we're iterating on this process again. To see how we can level up the entire team. We're mixing a bit of the old with the new — putting the pressure back on project's designer to own the majority of the exploration process, but giving fellow designers an opportunity to inject a bit of creative spark into it.
Clients always want options. Distinct, viable, amazing options. Creating distinct, awesome options is hard. Many designers tend to fall into their own comfort-style and getting out of it means to challenge your skills. It's difficult. And absolutely necessary for the first exploration pass.
Our new approach has the project's designer creating six to eight quick-and-dirty layouts — we call them directions — in about three hours. This pushes the designer to think in broad strokes, keep moving and not fixate on details that don't create value. In the end, each direction must have a unique point of view, a story.
We found that when a design direction doesn't tell a story, it becomes impossible to defend and get buy in from stakeholders. When the only distinction between options is the color of the top-bar or header font, you can find yourself in a debate over personal taste versus what the visual says about the product or user you're designing for.
Bit of Healthy Competition
Somewhere deep inside every designer just wants validation that he's good designer. We want to see how another designer solves the same problem (and gauge our solution against theirs — we know you do that too). We saw that when we pitted designers against each other, they pushed themselves hard to design something the others would admire.
We also noticed work getting better overall. Our visual design rockstars were teaching others their craft without even realizing it. Simply by explaining their process and how they made design choices — typography, color, imagery, all the little details that make a design unique — they were influencing how less experienced designers tackled their next project.
From the first exploration of six-to-eight directions, we pick the three most promising and divvy them up between three designers. They are asked to iterate on the direction, not start from scratch. Why? Because the story has to hold up after they're through with it! After a day or so of work, we reconvene and review the work. We talk about it, are brutally honest with each other about what works and what doesn't. Then we go back to make it better.
Dishing It Out and Taking It
We have become super adamant about using design terms and principles when giving each other feedback. We can't just say "This typeface doesn't work." We have to say why. This forces us give concrete reasoning for our feedback — maybe the font is illegible or doesn't complement some of the iconography — that actually gives the designer something to work with!
By looking at each other's work and critiquing it, designers started seeing their own layouts in a new light. After you comment on someone's margins a couple dozen times, you start paying attention to yours. It's just natural.
Plus, giving each other feedback has given us ammunition for presenting work. We have trained each other to validate design decisions and preempt questions the viewer (say, a client) may have. We have fun practicing these skills too. During our weekly design team scrums we often play a feedback game, changing up the rules every time, like:
- Two teams take turn giving feedback on a layout. Team who uses the most design terms wins!
- Paired up designers have to give feedback together. One person starts and the other has to finish their thought.
- Break designers into two teams. One has to defend the design, the other has to tear it apart.
- Designers randomly pick flashcards with design terms, which they have to use in their feedback.
Hey, we like to have a bit of fun with our work. Well — a lot of fun.
It's Not Always Talent. A Lot of It is Just Practice.
If we had learned anything from changing up our visual exploration process is that designers can have tremendous growth by practicing visual design skills. That's because design is not art. Design is solving problems through a visual language. And you can get really good at solving design problems by tackling a lot of them, and often.
The only way you can improve — well, just about anything — is to get feedback, iterate and get feedback again. Being open to other designers' opinions and practice actually makes you a better designer — we've seen it work wonders in the last six months. We have a super passionate, committed team. We encourage and push each other. And every single project is upping the ante on the one before.
The response to our Foundation 5 launch has been incredible. Over the first 36 hours, we had 190k visitors to our properties and 800k pageviews. The average time on Foundation was seven minutes. We reached 180 countries and territories in that time. Keep in mind, this is an open-source code project! It's amazing to be part of a project that millions of designers and engineers use on a daily basis.
What We Learned From Foundation
We've learned quite a bit about frameworks over the course of five Foundation releases. The first, and most valuable, is that creating something of value takes time. Lots of time. Foundation is now over two years old and we've committed and removed thousands of code bits. We've answered countless emails. Since April alone, we've answered over 3,000 cases via email. The ZURB team has been incredible and stepped up to support the community. And that's just email support. We've made over 5,000 code commits with the help of the community, toured the globe speaking at events and hosted lots of meetups for our fans.
The second thing is that we can provide even more value by creating revenue streams that support its growth and ensure its success (all the while continuing to keep the project open for the millions worldwide that depend on Foundation). Projects like Drupal, Wordpress, Ruby on Rails, and Node are examples of open-source projects that have companies who are heavily invested in the code and community. Based on our experience, we believe most companies would prefer to use an open-source framework and pay for services, instead of managing a costly solution of their own.
HTML and CSS Still Rule
With the proliferation of devices over the last couple years, companies understand that they need to create products that meet the growing demands of users — sitting in front of a desktop computer won't be the primary use case for customers. Heck, looking at a phone may not be either. iOS and Android are exceptional platforms that companies will need to invest in, but the open web will continue to be a huge part of what users expect as well.
HTML is now over 20 years old and CSS is not much younger. Technologies have come and gone, but these two have continued to survive. With more "dumb" and smart devices emerging, we're firm believers that companies will depend on these proven technologies for their visual interfaces. Which means that companies need a way to manage how they produce their interfaces across all these devices.
Front-End Frameworks to the Rescue
It was clear when we developed Foundation that we needed a way to standardize our coding approach across our company. As early as 2007-08, we were starting to standardize our approach to make it easier for everyone on our team to contribute to a project. Standardization and speed were two huge benefits. Our style guide also encouraged best practices.
By early 2011, we had built the first version of Foundation and collected a lot of feedback. It was clear this was huge for people who built applications and websites. But with mobile growing, we knew that our framework had to be responsive. Foundation 2 was the first responsive framework. We followed this up by introducing Sass, semantic markup, and a mobile-first approach in the next versions. We learned a lot — what to do and not to do when it comes to standardizing our approach. Creating a code base wasn't just about the code, it was an operational problem that required getting people to accept a solution. Now that frameworks exist, it's much easier to get a team onboard with the concept.
It's clear from our experience that companies need a framework for their front-end development. It's simply too costly and painful for companies not to have a standard. Whether it's a custom implementation, pattern library or pulled code from an open-source framework, it really doesn't make much sense to hand code everything. And yes, we understand the purists will shout out. But we believe the need for most people to create front-end code may not even exist in the not-so-distant future.
Providing a Professional Solution
Creating a framework can be a costly endeavor, it makes sense to adopt an open-source solution for most companies. Open source is a choice many companies make, but that's an argument that you either believe in or not.
With our latest release, we're making it easier for companies to invest in the Foundation framework as part of their development stack. Our Foundation Business group is now providing support, training, consulting and products to support these companies. As part of this effort, we're also supporting our new responsive email framework, Ink.
We understand that for many companies making technology decisions aren't easy, but for those companies who are already invested in Foundation or want to make the switch from their own set-up, we're giving companies the peace of mind that they're not going alone. If your company is interested, please check out our Foundation Business site to see how we might be able to help you.
The final countdown to the release of Foundation 5 has already begun around ZURB HQ. And we can't wait to hear what y'all think. Whether it's via email, tweet or Github, we enjoy hearing from those using our framework. We also love it when we can meet face-to-face like at our Foundation meetups. Which is why we're really excited that next year we'll be going on a World Tour. We'll meet with our global audience and learning how they use Foundation to solve product design problems.
For two months in 2014, we'll pack our bags and jetset to 15 or more international locations, such as Melbourne, Buenos Aires, London and Munich. We're taking product design on the road so that we can go where our customers are. And with the global attention Foundation has garnered since its initial release in 2011, we could no longer sit still in our comfy chairs from little ole Campbell anymore.
Something Magical Happens When Meeting in Person
Airbnb's Joe Gebbia told us a fantastic story once about the importance of meeting your customers. One day, Y Combinator's Paul Graham took a look at the plans for Airbnb and told Joe and his fellow founders that it wasn't going to work. Then he asked them a simple question, "Where is your market?"
The founders said New York. Paul then gestured wildly and said, "Your users are in New York and you're here in Mountain View. What are you still doing here?" So Joe went to New York and met with his customers, learning more about his own product than he could've learned sitting in Mountain View.
Meeting other product designers, whether individuals or large teams, gives us more opportunities to learn about the problems their trying to solve. We also want to learn how Foundation fits in people's workflows. And we've found over the years that when we go speak somewhere and meet people sparks even more ideas on how to improve our products. Magic happens when you can directly see how your customers use your tools.
On the Road Learning
We built Foundation and our product suite to help others build better products that work faster on any device. One aspect of our latest Foundation release is faster learning. We've rewritten the docs with more detailed and new code examples, a new Getting Started guide and a forum to get help from other Foundation users. Why? Because learning is very much who we are. It informs everything we do.
One of the reasons we're going on a World Tour is to have a product design exchange with other companies. We want to learn how other people practice product design, and show them how we approach it. We're also game for on-site product design training, including tips on Foundation, as part of our ZURB University efforts. Or if we want, we can tackle a practice three-day project that accomplishes design goal using our Design Process.
We'll also host meetups for both Foundation and our new responsive email framework, Ink. We'll chat about where we're going next and give tips on using our frameworks.
Want Us to Come to Your Town?
We've got a handful of cities already on our hit list, and we're looking for a more. We'd love to drop in. Tell us a bit about your company and the type of event you're interested in, so we can start planning our time together.
We're pleased to see Foundation continue to grow by leaps and bounds. And as we're poised to launch Foundation 5, we're happy to announce that we've added a new ZURBian as our second Customer Advocate who'll be working with our Foundation fan base.
Without further ado, we'd like to introduce you to ...
Rafi Benkual, Customer Advocate
You can blame Rafi's great passion for cutting-edge technology on his dad, a hardware engineer. Rafi was born in Israel but spent much of his life growing up in Silicon Valley. His love for technology really blossomed in high school and he never looked back!
Before joining ZURB as our new Customer Advocate, Rafi managed people, stores and small organizations. You can say that Rafi has been helping customers for a long while now. In fact, he's quite passionate about it. And he's happy he's found a place at ZURB, which shares his passion for customer advocacy.
I have learned so much about design recently and love the industry. I can't wait to be involved in exciting and challenging projects at ZURB!
As a Customer Advocate, Rafi will focus on Foundation. He'll answer any questions you have about Foundation and solving any problems you might encounter. You can chat him up on @foundationzurb or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rafi keeps himself occupied outside of work. He claims he's never bored. That's because he's always active. He plays soccer, and when he's not kicking goals, he mountain bikes and rock climbs with his fellow ZURBians. His favorite movies are anything to do with science fiction or espionage. And he's quite a handy fella, building computers, portable speakers and furniture.
So please everyone give a warm welcome to Rafi!
Today we updated our Studios website. For those who hadn't noticed, we changed the generic name from "services" work to Studios this past summer. With the evolution of our business, it was a great opportunity to highlight our core competency and reinvigorate our team.
The video that greets visitors to our new ZURB Studios site.
Why the Name Update?
We're four years into the evolution of our business strategy. As we push to build out the remaining parts of this strategy, it's important to focus on what got us to this point. "Services" didn't quite capture that. Studios does. It better reflects how we think of our work. Why? Because we're collaborative and creative, working alongside clients at every step of our design process. We don't do big "Mad Men" reveals at the end of projects. Services doesn't imply that close, collaborative, creative relationship. But Studios does. It's where good stuff happens.
At ZURB, we enjoy tinkering with technology, exploring paths that could lead to the next big thing, like our upcoming responsive email framework. A studio is where you toil over your passions like we do. It's where great things can happen. Where a chance conversation can ignite sparks. And a studio feels small, more intimate, which mirrors our project dynamics. Our consulting projects are typically teams of two people — a lead and a designer — and rarely have more than three.
But the biggest boon of the name change: it reflects our ability to get stuff done. A studio implies focus, and that is central to our growth. As we grow, we want the focus on this ability to remain a lynchpin of our business. And Studios, as a name, just felt right.
We got positive reactions whenever we talked about the Studios name internally. The name evokes a place as much as it does a concept, and that's important. That's because unlike some businesses that push for remote workers, we opt for a place where people want to visit and collaborate. A studio you can visit. Santa's studio, a recording studio, a movie studio — all are magical places where great things happen.
Finally, it allows us to clarify our consulting and differentiate it from our training and education, which is now called ZURB University. As we grow our Foundation business, it helps to differentiate design projects from the support and implementation help we give to customers.
A Site Update That Further Gives Identity to Our Consulting
With the site update, we wanted to make clear what we do as a Studios service. We wanted to highlight how our process works and outline what makes our projects strong. We gave new polish to our case studies, which we haven't been good at keeping up-to-date. Since product design can be a bit messy, our new case studies reveal more about the sparks our work creates.
We've also put a ZURB face to the work we do. Sprinkled throughout are quotes from our team, bringing out the human quality in our consulting. A video montage captures the mood and feeling of our Studios, so you can get a sample of the magic we create.
With the update and the new name, our consulting service has solidified into a place as much as a concept. A place where great things have happened and will happen for years to come.
This summer we were thrilled to have an amazing group of design and engineering interns. But now, as September approaches, many of them have gone back to school. One or two went on to full-time jobs.
But sometimes our interns won't go away. They keep working on projects, happily showing up each morning and staying after hours. Their time at ZURB ends but they still want more. That's when we stop calling them interns, and start calling them ZURBians.
Eric Morris, our newest developer, is such a dedicated new hire. Born and raised in the snowy expanses of Upstate New York, Eric migrated to California in search of a place where he could build things and change the world with product design.
Prior to arriving at ZURB, Eric had worked as a designer, a developer, a social media marketer and a freelance photojournalist (not all at the same time). He loves building things and solving problems — almost as much as he loves working with people.
While at Cornell, Eric helped run POPSHOP, an entrepreneurship co-working space serving the Cornell community (he also designed their website, which is featured in the Responsive Gallery). His fascination with entrepreneurship extended to working for a few startups, as well as helping to found one.
When he's not programming, designing or dreaming of a better future, you can find him hanging upside-down off a rock wall or biking — but not too far. We need him to carry on the project he started in May.
Design is in the DNA of our newest designer. She was pre-destined to be a designer since her pre-school days when she was awarded "Most Cheerful and Dramatic Artist." Of course, she told us that she would get in trouble for drawing and doodling rather than paying attention in class. Now, as a full-fledged ZURBian, she doesn't have to worry about sketching. After all, it's part of the job.
So without further ado, please welcome Jessica Phan to our team!
Jessica was born in San Francisco, but spent her childhood in a small South Carolina town. She came back in the Bay Area for high school where her biology teacher encouraged her to study design and illustration. That's because her lab results weren't great. However, the teacher thought her chromosome sketches were spectacular. With that motivation, Jessica ended up at San Jose State to study design. She briefly worked to get her MFA in Graphic Design, but dropped out because she wanted to expand out of print and explore the wide world of the Web.
She then became a Photoshop wizard and ecommerce nerd for an internet retailer company, but eventually made her way to us. So everyone say hello to Jessica!
Last week we embarked on our sixth annual ZURB Wired — a 24-hour marathon project in which we help a nonprofit to overcome design problems or create great marketing campaigns. This year we helped Rebuilding Together Peninsula celebrate their 25th anniversary. The deliverables included:
- Microsite with CMS
- Promotional video
- Thank-you notes
- Bus ads
- Yard sign
- Vehicle sign
- T-shirt design
Miss out on the action? Don't worry we took a time-lapsed video of it all. Check it out:
The video above captures one frame every minute for the duration. It felt as active as it looks. Now let's delve deeper into what we accomplished.
Microsite with a Big Purpose
We built a website with two sides — a public face and a backend administrator. On the front, the general public were able to learn about Peninsula's 25th anniversary, and to sign up for their celebratory event. The administrator side behind-the-scenes let the non-profit:
- Create and manage events
- Sell tickets
- Track attendees
We Made a Video in 24 Hours
This was the first ZURB Wired in which we produced a video for our partner non-profit. Eight minutes covers the mission and history of RTP. It uses new and existing footage to talk about the donations, the growth, the volunteers, the most memorable projects, and the next 25 years. We sent a team to shoot new footage on-site, and cut all the footage together in our world headquarters.
Printed Collateral: Start the Presses!
Part of our 24-hour project included items that had to be done well ahead of 8am Friday. The print deadline was tight, but we got through it.
Brochure to Match the Branding
Peninsula needed one brochure to rule them all — something that could target donors, volunteers and potential clients. We came up with something that could be distributed no matter the venue, no matter the audience. We designed it with the nonprofit's established brand and website while conveying the theme invented just hours prior.
Invitations to the Gala
With Peninsula's 25th anniversary only a few months away, we designed an invitation that showed the organization's humanitarian side. We showed people impacted by the nonprofit's work, including photography and testimonials from happy homeowners. The look is somewhat more sophisticated compared to the other print materials to reflect the formal nature of the event.
A Theme in Posters
What do we do when people have so many different ideas of "home"? We use them all. Our two poster designs carry the slogan, "Home is where ____". Each variation of the poster fills the blank with a homeowner's testimonial about why their home is special to them — what makes a home more than a building.
Gratification in Thank-You Notes
Everyone loves a little pat on the back now and then. We created multi-purpose thank-you cards for volunteers, donors, and friends of RTP, to express gratitude for their dedication. The design includes a mosaic of photos showing the people touched by RTP's work.
Other Printed Materials That Weren't Printed ... Yet
Our designers don't like to sit idle. When the print materials went to press, they began dreaming up additional items to be printed at a later date.
To be thorough, we applied the new look to letterhead for official Rebuilding Together Peninsula documents.
Yard sign to be placed in the yards of homeowners currently working with RTP, to promote their services.
Relive the Action
We've officially kicked off ZURBwired 2013 with Rebuilding Together Peninsula! Over the next 24 hours we'll publish our progress through blog posts, photos and videos. If you curios about how this will unfold, check out our previous years to see what amazing groups of people can accomplish in 24 hours.
Follow along over the next 24 hours as we race to help this non-profit creating an amazing marketing campaign for their 25th anniversary:
August is just beginning, and we've already added a new designer to our team. Self-described mad man — and forever plaid man — Brandon Arnold is a South Bay native who grew up not far from our world headquarters. His mother was a nurse and his father an engineer; from his mother he took away an empathy for people and from his father a curiosity for how to improve on everything.
For the last decade and a half he's studied both design and improv. One skill affected the other, and he began performing — and instructing — improv professionally with ComedySportz in San Jose.
His love of design lead to a love of advertising. Attending San Jose State's advertising program led to a web designer at an ad agency in Campbell. There he worked on print campaigns, video production and websites with Foundation. A long-time ZURB fan, he says starting his design job here was "probably the best thing to happen for the past few weeks."
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