Posts About ZURB
Posts About ZURB
We're starting the new year with some new hires — actually three plus one who just moved in. The coming year will give these new ZURBians plenty of challenges, but we know they're smart, capable, and willing to take on 2015. So without further ado, let's meet Mandi, Shaina and Tim, our awesome new designers!
Mandi Saeteun: Chasing Big Dreams, Craft Beer and Comic Books
Mandi spent most of her early career growing a company with her mother literally from the ground up in Sacramento. In school she discovered that aesthetics weren't as fun as problem-solving —so she jumped from an Art Studio major to Design. That led to a Bachelor's degree in Design from UC Davis. The next step was obvious: She joined ZURB as a design intern. But that didn't satisfy her desire for experience.
To pay the bills (and feed her comic book habit), Mandi worked at Excel Interpreting, a language interpreting and translation company, creating marketing collateral. She also worked with developers to build a proprietary scheduling database. Her work there fueled her desire to solve real problems.
Inspired by our manifesto, Mandi came to ZURB to find her path in an industry that keeps changing. She now is a full fledged Zurbian — after only three months as an intern!
Shaina Silver: My Name is Shaina, But My Friends Call me Shane
Shaina claims to be a new designer, but you could say Shane earned a lot of experience already.
She studied communications in San Diego before traveling around the world to finish school in Singapore. Her time there exposed her to TV and media production as she worked on the school's weekly television news show. She then traveled to London to head up the Social Media Department for a fashion company at London Fashion Week.
Shane's background in journalism lead to a job writing obituaries — yes, obituaries — for the San Diego Union-Tribune. But it wasn't a long-term career move. "I quickly realized I was hungry" she said, not only for new opportunities, but because she was tired of being a starving journalist. So she decided to change to a more lucrative career.
During her job at Fandango/NBCUniversal as a front-end web developer, Shane strove for quality work on the company's website. They used Foundation, which is how she learned about ZURB.
She joined us as a Product Designer to make the internet a better place, and looks forward to collaborating with her fellow designers and learn from their experiences.
Tim Hartwick: Pug Enthusiast, Impeccable Bug Tester, Design Aficionado
Growing up in Cincinnati, Tim was fascinated with art and visual design. His interest grew when the web took off, and he went on to graduate from Ball State University with a B.S. in Advertising and a Master's in Information Communication Sciences.
But before that, there was a pug. At least, there would have been, and it would have been awesome. Tim thought about driving across the nation with his (yet-to-be-bought) pug, taking photos of his "lovably awkward" pet they traveled, and having a great time taking a year off from college. His parents, however, said um … no.
As a graduate of Ball State, Tim's no stranger to ZURB. He was first introduced to our team through a fellow Ball State grad who was then a ZURB designer and, when he heard that a second friend had hired on as a ZURB designer, so he decided to pay us a visit. A free lunch didn't hurt either. Working here, he said he's finally found a place that encourages synthesis of the two into something that helps the world use and understand technology.
It's a craft-beer-loving, nicknamed, bug-hunting trio of talented designers. You can just feel the potential these three will bring in 2015. So let's give a warm welcome to our newest ZURBians!
Often confused as a boy band runaway because of her gravity-defying hair and her tendency to belt out pop songs, our newest ZURBian's interests actually skew toward visiting aquariums and playing video games. So with that, please say hello to …
Jeanie Chung, Angular Engineer
Jeanie hails from South Korea, but grew up in Chicago. She attended Washington University — the one in St. Louis, MO. After deciding that med school was not the life for her, Jeanie switched into engineering and earned a Bachelor's in Systems Engineering. Following her interest in the health sector's big picture, she became convinced that her goal was to save the world with engineering and public health.
Things took a turn when she applied her engineering smarts and took a job at Razorfish, her first foray into web design. But it was hard to ignore her passion for public health, so she took a position at Northwestern University in Chicago with the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies (CBITS). There she would build apps and websites for collaborators and researchers, who aimed to address health behavior issues through technology. Her supervisor at CBITS loved to experiment with new technologies and frameworks. Jeanie soon found herself hacking through Angular JS, and although it was tough to get started, she soon learned its many ins and outs.
When Jeanie rebuilt her personal website on Foundation and Angular, she began reverse-engineering our framework. That also prompted her to learn about ZURB. This led to a pretty great match where Jeanie can happily help us up our AngularJS game in Foundation for Apps alongside other ZURBians.
So everyone please welcome Jeanie, our newest engineer!
Last year we moved into a fantastic new space after spending a year renovating a worn down, multi-tenant space. Today we're happy to share that our building was honored with a 2014 Design Award by the American Architects Institute of Santa Clara County (home to some of the most recognized technology companies in Silicon Valley).
We'd like to thank our architect and congratulate David Fenster and Modulus for an amazing job. After working in the space for the past year, we can attest to David's work as it continues to surpass the test of time! It's an amazing space and we're thankful everyday for the opportunity to work in a building specifically designed around the needs of our business.
Interior Spaces Designed for Designers
After spending many afternoons learning and observing how we worked, Modulus was able to design different spaces for the needs of our team. They spent countless hours going back and forth with us discussing everything from lighting to acoustics. It was incredible. Designing for a bunch of designers isn't the easiest of jobs.
Each room has a specific purpose and it provides our employees opportunity to spread out. Below are a few interior photos.
A Multi-Purpose Space
The design, city approval process and construction took well over a year to finish. By the end of the process, it started to get hard making constant decisions, but the team stayed focused up until the end.
The space has been used in many different ways. In the past year we taught elementary students about design thinking, ran a healthcare hack-a-thon, finished our 7th ZURB Wired, and hosted numerous Soapbox speakers.
Before the Renovation
For those that are interested, we captured some pre-construction and building images in a previous blog post. As you can see, the team did an amazing job turning this old clunker into an amazing space!
Leading the charge at ZURB since 1998
Designers have been told that they have a gift, or are somehow different or more creative. They've been classified as right-brain thinkers. We know the brain is divided into two hemispheres — the common notion, psychologically, is that the left side of the brain holds language and is more logical, while the right brain is more creative. The problem is, it's not true.
Creatives are right brain dominant, or so the theory goes. Over time we've perpetuated a myth that designers have been given special creative talents. It's hurting our ability to create great products.
Moving Beyond Creative Stereotypes
Research has shown that it's not that simple. We use our whole brain. In our last article on gut-thinking, we discussed the problem with companies not trusting designers — part of this lack of trust is built on the myth that creatives might lack the sense of logic or reason that comes with left-brain thinking. Designers perpetuate this logic by suggesting they have 'taste' and are better at all the user stuff.
Taste is a component of design, for sure, but a more significant problem facing designers is that they're not learning to bring experiences together. There is research to perpetuate the idea that some are creatively gifted, but it's not because of their talents, but the socialization that happens in our education system:
Of 1,600 children aged three to five who were tested, 98% showed they could think in divergent ways. By the time they were aged eight to 10, 32% could think divergently. When the same test was applied to 13 to 15-year-olds, only 10% could think in this way. And when the test was used with 200,000 25-year-olds, only 2% could think divergently . . . Education is driven by the idea of one answer and this idea of divergent thinking becomes stifled.
Designers need to bring divergent thinking to organizations. They also need to find the overlap in critical thinking in different parts of an organization. To create real impact and success in companies, designers are going to have to work much harder at connecting their own experiences across disciplines to create value for users.
What We Know About the Brain
The right brain, according to the left-brain, right-brain dominance theory, is best at expressive and creative tasks. Abilities popularly associated with the right side of the brain include: recognizing faces; expressing emotions; music; reading emotions; color; images; intuition; and creativity. The left side of the brain is considered to be adept at tasks that involve logic, language and analytical thinking. The left-brain is described as being better at language, logic, critical thinking, numbers, and reasoning.
While many of these core functions have their roots in a specific portion of the brain, the science is actually much more complex. The connective tissues that bind the left and right brain play a large role in amplifying thoughts:
It turns out though, that we use virtually every part of the brain, and that [most of] the brain is active almost all the time. Let's put it this way: the brain represents three percent of the body's weight and uses 20 percent of the body's energy. - Neurologist Barry Gordon of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Scientific American
The corpus callosum carries electrical signals between both sides of the brain. It stretches nearly the full length of the brain from behind the forehead to the back of the neck and is the dense network of neural fibers that make brain regions with very different functions work together. This part of the brain, however, is still a great mystery as scientists try to figure out how this complex network of neural fibers works.
The Einstein Genius
A recent study on Einstein's brain found that he had a larger corpus callosum than the average person. Interestingly, Einstein was an excellent musician and some studies have suggested that his interest in music may have contributed to this abnormality. Einstein stated, 'If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.'
What's interesting about one of the greatest thinkers of the last century is how he thought.
Einstein first described his intuitive thought processes at a physics conference in Kyoto in 1922, when he indicated that he used images to solve his problems and found words later (Pais, 1982). Einstein explicated this bold idea at length to one scholar of creativity in 1959, telling Max Wertheimer that he never thought in logical symbols or mathematical equations, but in images, feelings, and even musical architectures. -Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein, Psychology Today
One of the world's greatest thinkers thought in images. Amazing! But what is of more interest to designers is that he found words later. Today we might define this way of thinking as design thinking.
Another finding from the research on Einstein's brain suggested that his genius may not have been caused by the size of his brain. Rather his brain was larger in those connected areas between hemispheres because he exercised those areas more than the average person. Researchers have found that enriched learning environments can help contribute to the survival and integration of new brain cells. It seems that genius maybe rooted in working different parts of the brain with regularity.
Expanding our Design Literacy
Product designers must practice and expand the critical thinking parts of their brain to reach the rest of their organizations. Critical thinking becomes a bridge to connect with employees who might have been conditioned by society, traditional schooling and corporate structures to only think analytically. Designers can facilitate design thinking, but they need to overlap their experiences with the knowledge that organizations already hold, specifically critical thinking.
Designers have the ability to show the rest of the organization how to bring experiences to the forefront — they practice more than the average worker to bring creativity to their work.
Artists showed lower activity in part of their frontal lobes called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during improvisation, and increased activity in another area, called the medial prefrontal cortex. The areas that were found to be 'deactivated' are associated with regulating other brain functions.
Design literacy across a business is necessary if companies are to become more design centric. At ZURB, we've been using progressive design to bring the knowledge of a team into the design process. Making connections is key to making this happen, as Steve Jobs eloquently captured in this 1996 Wired article:
Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they've had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.
Unfortunately, that's too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven't had very diverse experiences. So they don't have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one's understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have. — Steve Jobs
While the vast majority of workers stay siloed in their organizations, most designers are guilty of failing to learn across the organization. The over productionalization of design forces most organizations into a factory line of critical thinking, which kills innovation.
So where do we start? Practice.
Designer Practice Makes Designer Perfect
In product design, you carry a lot of design decisions in your head. Learning to prioritize those ideas and get them written down allows our brains to focus on processing ideas — not carry the baggage of stress or product team problems. You can't make gut-thinking decisions with mental baggage. In a production line model, designers spend too much time using their brains as production tools — which is ultimately a Photoshop button replacement.
We've talked in the past about how design collaboration is lonely. And for designers to truly collaborate in a meaningful way, there needs to be more attention to practicing critical thinking as part of the design process. Designers can't make the necessary connections across an organization without first learning and practicing to articulate their ideas. This happens through writing and sketching.
For designers to be successful, getting ideas out of your head takes practice, but the effects of writing and sketching have immense implications on the satisfaction of one's work. People feel more engaged, more productive, and have a greater sense of meaning in their work when they record even the most minuscule of accomplishments. Design teams can capture this power if they learn to harness these skills in designers. Most designers stop at visual communication. Or don't have the skills to articulate their ideas.
Designers must learn to sell their ideas through writing them down. Persuasion happens with confidence, and learning to articulate ideas through words can help build confidence. Designers also need to ask more questions. While most professionally-trained designers have learned the art of the critique, most educational systems still lack the training necessary to drive the dialog through a complete design process with a cross disciplinary team. We started talking about progressive design recently and a clear benefit of learning to write in this model is that it encourages designers to sell and purge ideas to keep momentum in a project.
Exercising Our Brains
We've committed ourselves to writing and fostering ideas in Tavern to grow and shape product design. With the shutdown of Forrst, we asked ourselves how we could learn from inviting designers into discussions on a broad range of product design topics, all while keeping the format simple. We took the banana leaf parable to heart. What can we write in a day on a topic? How does the commitment to these ideas shape the way we solve problems everyday?
We're just over 100 days into Tavern. It's been an amazing opportunity to grow and learn with a group of designers. Learning to question and challenge ideas is a core part of what being a product designer is all about. Product design is a horizontal discipline that requires significant investments among team members. Tavern has become a structured environment to keep the learning extremely focused. One hundred days in, we've had nearly 5,000 contributions from some amazing and articulate designers like Ren Walker, Bryce Howiston, and Antonin Januska.
As we explore the broader goals of product design with designers through Tavern and the University, we're also working hard to release improved tools that help design teams facilitate better design communication through an improved Notable. We're all in on trying to figure out how to build strong design teams through progressive design. We even share our team building exercises in our Friday15 site.
Progressive Design [Thinking]
Twitter quips, weather apps and Dribbble shots are part of the design lexicon. They've engrained simplicity in designers' heads and helped people find creative outlets. But there's a difference between creating a simple result and oversimplifying the problem. Being 'creative' or a' right brain thinker' isn't going to solve our problems without more attention to actual thinking. We solve this at ZURB through progressive design by taking a practical approach to design thinking.
A designer's job is to help companies figure out how to make the complex, simple. This requires a commitment to selling ideas internally and moving their team through a creative process. It requires gut-thinking — thinking that's evolved by overlapping convergent and divergent thinking, synthesizing company knowledge together with customer feedback and using experience to drive decisions. Effective designers must continually practice these skills in their work and find connections across organizations. It's not just a right brain activity. And companies shouldn't make it that.
Companies need designers to make decisions from the gut to move quickly through a design process. But it's not going to happen without regular training and practice. Designers need to commit to ideas and sell visions that can be understood by a wide range of people across a business. When designers figure out how to do this, companies will in turn trust designers to think from their gut.
Leading the charge at ZURB since 1998
Our newest marketer hit the right note when we first met him. Not only did he impress us with his marketing skills, but his musical talents were off the charts. So without further ado, let's introduce you to ...
Daniel Codella, Marketer
Daniel spent his high school years traversing the globe, learning about different cultures. Most of all, he learned about his passion — music. You see, Daniel is the son of two musicians, so you could say music is in his blood. He's released several indie albums and singles, and had a chance to work with Jason Slater, a former member of Third Eye Blind.
Daniel was also a finalist in the John Lennon Songwriting Competition. Career wise, he thought he become a writer, but music kept calling his name so he pursued that instead.
However, the music industry changed with the arrival of MP3s and streaming services. So instead of the sitting on the sidelines, he put on an event — "Sound Advice: Making a Living in the Music Industry" — to help him and his friends find a place in a changing musical landscape. At that event, Daniel met his future boss, president of Sonoma Wire Works, an audio software/hardware company. Soon after that, Daniel joined Sonoma's marketing team. As he says:
Connecting with people, and more specifically, connecting different groups of people, is something I really enjoyed and seemed to have a talent for.
Marketing seemed like a perfect fit for Daniel because he was able to combine a love of music and technology, as well as connecting different groups of people at the same time. Now he's pushing his love of technology and connecting with people even further as ZURB's marketer! And he's looking forward to learning more in the days to come:
Even though I have only been around the ZURBians a short time. I am already in awe of how dedicated the team is to being efficient. Everyone seems to be in love with learning, sharing and discovering new information.
Last week, we wrote about the the conundrum design agencies and in-house design teams face in growing successful design teams. While it paints a rather doom-and-gloom picture, the reality is that these are company problems. The role of being a designer is flush with opportunity. The challenge for designers, however, is picking a direction that provides the most professional growth and fulfillment. But there's a catch.
While design opportunities are plentiful, most jobs don't provide designers with a way to shape design problems and create enough value in an organization. Companies are struggling to utilize the talents of designers in a meaningful way. But it's not every company's fault. Companies need to trust their designers to make decisions. Designers, for their part, will have to think. Gut-think.
The Stupidfication of Design
Solving 'user experience' problems won't be solved by narrowly focusing designers around production work. There's only so much companies can do to productionalize a design process without causing huge problems to the overall quality and delight of a product. The trend of educational bootcamps and online learning has become a way to close a talent gap by thousands, but it's exposing a need for design leaders who can inject thinking and emotion into design work.
As an industry, we've been told people don't read. That people don't have time to do X. To make it simple. And designers have bought into this logic, which does not help them learn to synthesize ideas that actually make it easier and more enjoyable for people to use products. Simple is actually very complex to design when it comes to interactions. We're stuck designing around press releases, despite the goal of two pizza teams creating more value. When you couple this with "always on" internet products, designers are asked to work in an industrial revolution-like production line to quickly solve problems. It's not the future, though. It's making us stupid.
Although we've moved past the idea of magic Photoshop buttons that solve design problems, we've also introduced new problems of putting bodies on design work that requires nuanced thought and presentation. Corporate hierarchies, agile pressures and MVP products all but rob us of a chance to create real impact.
We Need a Better Approach
We're about two decades into this whole commercial internet thing. Design as a profession has progressed significantly, but we're going to have to change our tactics if we want to break free from the unnecessary burdens of company structures. Evolution is inevitable. Let's not get overly frustrated though — we get to shape that evolution in a way that creates momentum and satisfaction, especially if we invest our efforts right. It takes time for industries to find clarity and it will require different approaches than the ones we use today.
Today's digital knowledge workers are no longer efficient or effective when working in a production-line model, which takes the emotion out of producing design work. The future depends on a practical approach to design thinking that enables designers to make decisions based on synthesizing rational thinking with emotions. Product designers need to work through the entire product lifecycle, shaping decisions that have big implications on the technology, business goals and customer needs.
Product Design Requires Gut-Thinking
If we're to succeed in dismantling production lines then we need to prepare designers to think through user and business decisions. We've talked in the past about the dribbblefication of design and the need to work through feedback. Making this problem more complicated is that online products don't shut off and the process of producing product updates is a race against time. Designers must learn to fail fast and make adjustments. Whipping out Photoshop or pushing code to Github is a great start to get the muscles working, but ultimately we need to make adjustments with our whole mind and body.
Product design requires making a ton of decisions and often works best with a bottom-up strategy. It's not a production role; however, the greatest design leaders stay close to the medium. Our history is full of designers who have used the hero design method — Eames, Loewy and Starck have shown great design work happens when emotion and thinking become part of the equation. They worked from the gut. Today's product designers should embrace this approach and use their techniques for inspiration, as the results are undeniable. Companies will need methods and processes for incorporating these ideas.
Designers need to get better at articulating their ideas through direct business communication so they can think from the gut. Producing beautiful imagery and soft emotional rationale isn't going to cut it — thinking from the gut requires quick decision making to persuade teams to move forward through rational decision making. Gut-thinking is the same fight or fleet thinking that happens when a speeding car is heading in your direction. Your body takes over and quickly reacts by moving out of the way.
Designers need to perform under similar duress in businesses where executives can often feel like speeding cars. Learning to quickly absorb and synthesize harsh feedback starts in the gut. It should push designers to take action. This effort requires significant and purposeful practice because businesses and organizational structures aren't constructed with empathy in mind. Designers and companies need to find common ground to move forward as an industry. Businesses must acknowledge that this type of thinking is good for product design. Designers, for their part, need to show that gut-thinking is grounded in logic and produces results. Thinking from the gut can be systematized and learned.
What Happens in Vagus, Shouldn't Stay in Vagus
Here's where science comes in — it just so happens that there's a nerve that connects the brain to your guts. It's called the vagus nerve, it's over 9 meters long and there are over 100 million neurons that act as a second brain. As a designer, there's a real and tangible connection to our guts that helps us react to situations and come up with quick design solutions. This shouldn't be overlooked in the design process.
Designers must learn to sell complex ideas to marketers, customer service people, engineers and the suit-and-ties, all while shipping code. Being data focused can be helpful, but it's got its limitations to help push through big ideas as Doug Bowman steadfastly declared (companies have since wised up ' even Google has a mandate to make things beautiful). Communicating product ideas must come from confident decision making and solid emotional grounding. Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California and head of the Brain and Creativity Institute, makes the case:
Rather than being opposed, emotion and reason are deeply interrelated: if you're going to make sound and rational decisions, [Damasio] contends, you need to have first done prior accurate emotional processing. If you have done such processing, then your emotions accelerate your decision-making — in the form of intuitions, hunches, and gut feelings.
If gut-thinking is so important to design, where are designers learning to work through their ideas and emotions? Companies aren't opening themselves up and designers are not practicing enough. So which is it? Are companies too stuck in their ways or are designers too scared to think from the gut? We need a process to support design thinking and decision making.
Gut-Thinking in Progressive Design
Designers need simple tools for organizing their thoughts to drive design problems within a team. Gut-thinking produces positive feelings. With a positive attitude, designers can create momentum for the team. At the heart of this problem is learning to communicate and facilitate decisions on behalf of product teams. Progressive Design is an effective way to build momentum and harness the power of gut-thinking while providing a structure for teams to feel confident.
We've worked for the past decade and applied these learnings to our design work across startups and large companies. Using a progressive design process has enabled us to reduce the design synthesizing and processing time, and enabled our designers to help companies make solid design decisions from the gut. Gut-thinking has been shown to create better results, is faster for us and has more momentum and satisfaction for our designers.
We'll continue to share our ideas and get more into how designers can learn to get better at gut-thinking through specific techniques and progressive design.
Leading the charge at ZURB since 1998
The design agency world has turned upside down with the recent news of Adaptive Path finding synergy with a bank, Smart Design calling it quits in Silicon Valley, and [insert design shop here] getting scooped up by the Faceoogleboxes. Silicon Valley, which is known for putting whole industries on notice, has quietly killed the design agency. Or have they? While Silicon Valley isn't afraid to eat its children, it's also thinking an internet generation ahead as it produces hit after hit. So with chaos comes clarity, then chaos. It's a cycle. Until the next innovation.
The Design Industry is not immune to this fact. Silicon Valley wants to scoop up all the star design talent. But it's not as easy as hiring design talent in-house. You need a way to scale and bring purpose to the work at hand.
The Traditional Agency Model for Product Design Won't Survive
ZURB is a product design company. We've learned quite a bit over the years providing services by avoiding the traditional model of handing stuff over the "agency wall." Product design doesn't work well in a typical agency model because creating great products is more than 50% operational. Great products require investment across many different parts of a business, so we put a bigger effort on collaborating with our customers.
Will "web" agencies exist? Sure, but if they want to create a high-margin business, they won't be able to provide services in the same way. However, chop shops will continue to exist. There will be plenty of work out there, just not the type of low-margin business most agencies desire. IDEO went through this transition 15 years ago with physical products. I briefly worked there when they acquired the startup I worked for. The writing was on the wall — that they couldn't sustain their business with only huge amounts of engineering work.
The traditional agency model is a transfer of bloat and processes into what is perceived to be a short-term consulting cost for the business instead of hiring. And because this model is flawed from the outset, it doesn't change the organizational dynamics or shift the way people think about building great products. It's a costly "butts on seats" strategy, where projects with more people convey importance to the larger organization.
Getting Their Design House in Order
Facebook and Google went on a design/product buying spree specifically because they needed to figure out how to own design thinking on their team. It's too important to their businesses, as Eric Schmidt recently shared in a presentation titled, "How Google Works." Other tech companies have followed. Traditional firms will follow as well, though this will take awhile. Companies WILL figure this out. Great companies WILL create environments that creative people want to work in. If design is a strategic part of their business, they're going to work really hard to figure it out.
Does this mean agencies won't exist? No, but the nature of the services provided will change. When most of the design work has been commoditized, why would a company want to pay three times more for a specialist? That's where differentiation comes into play. It's also a wake up call for agencies that think their commodity services, void of training and education, will be enough to keep them going.
When will companies get a clue? Well, it's already happening, though it's going to take some time to get right. Companies are recruiting highly-specialized talent to do a waterfall process, passing work from one person to another, leaving the designers to work in silos and create relatively low value for their cost. Meanwhile, startups are building very small teams of product designers who do the whole stack. These startup designers get domain expertise, which agencies can't quite match, but they tend to focus designers on feature sets rather than bigger vision goals.
Companies seek us out to understand it through more collaborative engagements where knowledge sharing happens at a high level. It might take a long time for this to completely shift an industry, but it's going to happen. We saw what was happening in the mid-2000s and I committed ZURB in a blog post, titled "The Dreadful Mission Statement," to what I believed would be the next generation of design companies. As a learning organization, we've always prioritized learning as a key part of our customer interactions and it made complete sense.
20 Years in the Valley Will Harden Your Soul
I can distinctly remember sitting in my one-bedroom apartment in the early days of the the first Dot Com Boom turning down work as a consultant. The person on the the phone was desperate to get me onboard for her consulting project at a large agency. It was a name-your-price opportunity that had to start in a day, but also had vague goals that needed to get done ASAP — all the red flags of a consulting gig trap. I was so busy at the time, I had to turn the opportunity down, but I remember the 10,000-person company closing its doors soon after.
Then BAM! 2001 was an amazing swing of events and suddenly the internet world was not flying so high anymore. The internet now had a bad sting to it and Silicon Valley suddenly shed everyone who couldn't find an opportunity to learn how to web. The 101 became a string of ghost towns connected by a freeway. I focused on my craft by finding ways to create real value in the web product cycle. This meant taking more time to educate, explain tactics and train companies. It was energizing and it had me reinvested back into why I loved the web in the first place.
Once Bitten, Twice Shy
Companies in the Valley were pretty quick to rebound, but what became clear is that they needed something more to sustain growth than just being an "internet" company. Over the last decade and a half, Apple created a new design awakening with their cool iPods and iMacs. One out of every two clients I worked with wanted to be like Apple. 'Make it like Apple,' they said. Most of this thinking was surface level, but over the last decade companies started to grasp that there was more to the problem than just glossing things up at the end of a product cycle.
As an industry, we've slowly moved past digital brochures. The Apple fetish has turned to interactive discussions about what people actually want. Companies flashed "UX" in their organizations to say, 'We get it.' In our ZURB work, we started to overlap with internal design teams. While there was harmony in the need for design thinking, there was something also horribly wrong with the approach companies were taking. UX design is completely misguided.
UX Design Isn't a Department
UX Design dept/agency as a concept isn't a model that will last. UX design was an opportunity to change design management — something that has existed for many decades, but rarely executed in way that shapes organizations around the user problem. Most designers, however, don't have the management skills to do this kind of work. Wireframing and dreaming new flows are great, but that's not a department. It's a skill.
Google tried this model, but disbanded the notion of a centralized group. This might have changed, but I don't believe setting up a UX group is the way of the future. It's certainly not a way to drive design innovation in an organization. And the problem with UX teams is about the lack of need for "UX design" not about companies setting them up right or using agencies to outsource this effort. It's a siloed activity on its own that doesn't create momentum across the product life cycle.
Agencies, Design Thinking and the Need for Progressive Design
Just last week we were writing about design thinking and the immense pressure companies are facing to make design a focus of their business. Ten years ago, this was the bread-and-butter of agency life, but companies aren't really sure if they want an agency experience. Agencies have been promising the fruits of design thinking for years now and companies are trying to figure it out, but it's still a mess. Many companies have decided to take on the burden of just dealing with the mess rather than spend money on outside help.
At ZURB, we were well aware of what was happening, and committed to an approach we've been using for 15 years that provides huge value to our clients by keeping the bloat of a traditional agency out of our engagements. Typical agencies have project managers, account managers, and specialized front-end people to provide services with segmented, specialized skills sets. Our approach is more nimble — we remove project managers, invest clients into the work and focus on smaller deliverables to create momentum. We invest a small group across the entire product development cycle, thus providing value beyond just wireframe flows.
Progressive Design is a collaborative approach that works for companies that need the expertise of a design specialist, and provides a structured approach so that they too can drive design in their organization. We even augmented our business strategy by releasing tools, open source software and training to help shape this new reality for companies trying to harness design capabilities. And it's working. Foundation is an example of how our own learnings have been packaged into an open-source responsive front-end framework.
All Hail Progressive Design, Death to the Agency
I won't lie to you that it's a rewarding feeling to have seen ahead, past the initial UX trend a decade ago. We've found harmony in a sustainable, actionable way to create design momentum in a company.
"Innovate or die" goes the saying here in Silicon Valley. Typical agencies need to heed the calling and differentiate. There's too much noise in the market now for companies to simply slide in under the guise of bringing design thinking to a company. Companies in turn will need to adopt an operational approach that focuses their money and approach not just on 'UX' wireframes, but the entire product life cycle. This requires spending on higher-value work and a knowledge transfer across their organization.
I'm just guessing that companies' need for design help won't disappear, but their expectations will be bigger and their eyes wide open instead of just throwing bodies at problems. We've been successful building a design company since 1998 and we're excited to share our knowledge, culture and design approach with the world. Progressive design is amazing and we're pumped to help companies figure it out.
Update: We recently continued this conversation in the post Fat Cows, Disillusioned Scarecrows and Greener Design Pastures.
Leading the charge at ZURB since 1998
We looked high and low, and after a long search (OK, maybe not too long) we found her: a fantastic Operations Administrator to keep the engines of our HQ purring so our team can focus on designing. So without further ado, say hello to …
Nathalie Smith, Operations Administrator
Our newest ZURBian was originally from nearby Los Gatos, and then Carmel, but spent most of her early years growing up in mysterious (and hot) Las Vegas. There she watched movies, went bowling, hiked through mountains, watched movies again — there's only so much a minor can do in "Sin City."
Yep, she's our youngest ZURBian to date — fresh out of high school, class of 2014, which she said was an amazing experience. She wishes she could go back — except that she found ZURB.
The chance of expanding her skills in a real office environment was too good to pass up, and now she's helping to make ZURBians' lives a little easier. Soon, we hope, she'll earn her driver's license and be able to run errands. Meanwhile she's learning what makes a company tick — not just their services, but the important (if unsung) administrative tasks. Although office admin might not be her career — she's studying both business and communications at West Valley College — she said ZURB ought to give her experience that no college class can.
I want to learn how a business runs from an operational point of view. If I ever start my own business, I want to know what makes a business work daily.
Nathalie had been in the Bay Area for two months — collecting sea glass and sand dollars, and starting college — when someone she knew suggested she apply for our Operations Administrator job. She applied, we hired her, and now she's with us three days a week getting the "real world" experience she wants. The story of Nathalie Smith has just begun.
You're a designer ready for the next big thing in your life. Maybe you just finished school or a boutique training course, or maybe you're ready to move on to a new adventure. Whatever your reason you're fresh on the market and you're ready to crush it! That's all well and good, potential employers like people who are excited. The problem is that excitement alone doesn't always get you very far.
We've learned something from 16 years of hiring designers. And we have a few tips for you to amaze a person looking to hire their next designer. After all, you're just one drop in a sea of drops. You have to stand out! Let's take a look at a few ways you can do that and what we tend to look for in a candidate.
Wow Them at the Start
Your email/cover letter has to be unique for every place you're applying to. It doesn't have to be amazingly complicated. The reality is, less can be more. We have a great formula for your first steps to get noticed:
Catchy Subject Line
This screams "LOOK AT ME!" But don't be obnoxious. Why? Because you don't want to appear to be too arrogant. HR people are privy to physiological cues, stating "I am the Droid You're Looking For" may not get you the result you want. Remember you want to join the team, not necessarily the other way around. Be humble.
Let's take a look at an example from Brandon, who knew us for a long time, coming to our events and using our stuff. He was hired as a designer sometime back and is now one of our design leads. When Brandon applied for the designer position, he sent us a letter that caught our eye. His catchy subject line: "Let's make the web simple."
The subject line is specific and gives us a sense of what Brandon hopes to accomplish with us. He followed that up with a short introduction: "Hi, I'm Brandon. I'm looking for a career as a designer at ZURB."
Your Top Three Skills
What are you good at? Is it your ability to code? Are you awesome at coming up with lots and lots of ideas? What can you bring to the team you're trying to join? Whether it be an actual skill requested in the job post or that little something extra, let us know. Be focused, don't make blanket statements. If you're 'Great at talking to people,' what does that even mean? Teams will appreciate that you're an awesome conversationalist at lunch but won't be too enthused with you if you're not comfortable talking to customers.
Back to our example. Brandon outlined his top three skills right after his introduction, and highlighted things we were looking for:
- "I come Foundation ready" — It was important to know that he was familiar with our responsive framework, Foundation, and had used it on a variety of projects.
- "I work for humans" — This was important to know because our motto is "Design for People," and we look for people who are like-minded.
- "People skillz that make people feelz" — In this section, Brandon lets us know his skills at working with others as well as representing his work with clients.
Your Best Teamwork Tactic
The way this question is answered gives us HR Wizards some insight on how you solve problems and the role you take in a group. Depending on how this question is answered we figure out if you take charge in a group, go with the flow and follow along, consider other teammates suggestions to solve problems or are capable of solving the problem on your own and guiding the group to that conclusion. And there are no 'wrong answers' here.
Back to Brandon. He stated his teamwork tactic as one thing: "Yes, and — " Which is an improv technique that helps focus build on ideas, very important in collaborative work.
Why Do You Want to Work for X
OK, Jeopardy question. Did you do your homework? This is the part of the cover letter that isn't necessarily all about you. It's telling the story of the company you want to work for and how you fit into their story. It's the difference between doing a book report after reading the whole book or just reading the cover. You won't fool anyone by repurposing some of the companies catch phrases/mantras and stringing them together in paragraph. Also, there's no love for convenience either. Companies don't get excited that they are within walking distance of your house. We want to see your value, not how we can make your commute more enjoyable.
One last look at Brandon's letter. Here's how he ends it:
You guys have taken the process of web design and turned it into product design. I'm looking forward to prototyping ideas, testing them, and then improving upon them. Simply put, ZURB doesn't just make the lives of consumers easier, but the lives of designers and developers easier as well. I'd love to be a part of it.
And that's what got him his job. :)
Impress With Your Personality and Your Work Too
So your catchy subject line and email got you noticed! Awesome. Now it's your time to shine. Your resume will most likely be viewed next and you have less then 10 seconds to impress. Yep, we're fast. Because we know what we're looking for in a resume. And if it doesn't have the right things, we put it aside.
Your resume should be readable. Let us say that again: your resume must be readable. Use visual hierarchy and keep in mind you have less then 10 seconds. If your resume isn't easily scannable that may be the end of the road for you. So what is it that we're looking for? Let us show you.
We're looking for:
- Your Personal Info — Your name, address, phone number, email address and portfolio link.
- Employment History — Your most recent or current employer and the dates and previous employment.
- Education or Skills — Depending on the company, they'll look at your highest level of education, especially if it's listed in the job post or your skills.
Avoid visual styling or pictures, save it for your portfolio. You want to avoid any chance that your resume will be discarded. And make sure you provide the information we're looking for and ask for in our job listing. For example, people have become reluctant to provide phone numbers on their resumes. The reality is, if we can't easily call you, we're not going to. Fact.
Once we've scanned your resume for all the vitals, we'll actually digest the contents. The truth is: how you word things is really important, and honesty is key. Again, no blanket statements. If you 'oversaw the launch of a new product,' briefly explain what that entailed. Give the recruiter something they'll want to ask you more about during a phone interview. We love that stuff.
Don't be negative in your tone either. Don't say things like you "dealt with customers." That's negative. Keep things positive, such as you "assisted customers do x."
Finally, your portfolio. As a designer, you need a portfolio and you should build it yourself. This is where we want to get a sense of who you are and what you're about. I want to be able to work with you and be excited about the things you get excited about. Your portfolio puts you as well as your work on display. And if you don't have a lot of work to show, put some extra work in and create something. You can't hide behind an NDA because there is a wealth of talent here (in Silicon Valley) and we can be selective.
Here's what we're looking for in a portfolio site.
- Can you build on opportunity? Do you seek out how to solve problems, do you try something new and take risks? We want to know what you've tried to do. Show us a project that was hard for you. Tell us what you did to solve it.
- Can you stay open-minded? Are you open to trying new things? Can tackle a problem that you don't have the answer for?
- Can you fail? Remember that thing you tried. Did it work out? We want to know if it didn't and want to know what you did differently. Tell us how something didn't work. Show it to us, then show me what you changed and tell me what you learned.
- Can you be a coach? Have you ever worked in a group? Like a hackathon what was your role? How did you contribute?
Your portfolio tells the world who you are. Please don't just show us the pretty end results to projects with three-sentence blurbs about the tools you used. We want the nitty gritty. We want to hear about the struggle. Give us your story. Please don't just link to your social networks for us to get a sense of who you are. Don't just tell us you have a passion for design. Show us.
Give Yourself the Edge
Interview processes are hard, and can feel like gauntlets. The best thing to do is to give yourself an edge on the competition and don't get discouraged if an opportunity doesn't pan out. Have a reason for applying, find a few things that get you genuinely excited about each potential employer and take notes. If you're ever asked 'Why do you want to work here?' Please don't ever say 'Why not?' and leave it at that. Now all you have to do is practice and it just so happens that we have a few opportunities available. And we look forward to learning more about you ;) .
Design is hot. Design executives are being tasked with being design-driven, but don't have the tools or processes to sustain this effort. They embrace design thinking, but it's unclear how their companies will embrace its ideas. VC's are telling founders to hire a design leader, but it's not clear who this mythical, unicorn person is who will drive the design approach across the company. It's entirely possible to grow this person in an organization, but not likely to be someone who comes in with magical fairy dust to make everything Apple-esque.
Design thinking is a broad term with no specific directives. It's open to a lot of interpretation. It's too big and too lofty for most businesses to embrace. Throw in a couple inexperienced designers who are students of the idea and you've got yourself a mess. Most designers don't have the authority (nor desire?) to take on all the crap necessary to change an organization to be more design-centric. That's a shame because design can truly transform the way companies solve big problems.
The Problem with Design Thinking
Design thinking has its detractors for a good reason. We've all been in lamestorming meetings looking for aha moments that suddenly produce a clear path forward. Businesses struggle to function with 'sorta' answers — they need clarity to build confidence, which can be found in spreadsheets, science and engineering. PRDs and MRDs are great for covering your ass, but won't produce a great result without a build and test model that brings in the best practices and knowledge of a cross-disciplinary group. The processes and methods of design thinking cannot easily produce the straightforward answers that businesses want, even if those same answers are not what they need.
In some ways, designers and design managers have shot themselves in the foot — design thinking neither negates nor replaces the need for smart designers doing the work. And because design thinking has many paths through parallel phases, it seems fuzzy compared to the process of creating code. Compared to analytical thinking or science, our industry still doesn't have a consensus on what design thinking means. Most designers couldn't tell you what it means.
It's been 20 years since I was ingrained with the concept that the designer mind could think much differently than a marketer, engineer or the guy in a suit-and-tie. Yet, for all its power and inspiration, I still don't completely understand the meaning of design thinking. Should we abandon the concept? Absolutely not. I use the methods and ideas that it espouses daily. I believe we just lack some of the tools necessary for the practical application of these methods to stick within organizations.
What I Know About Design Thinking
A significant portion of the term "design thinking" can be traced back to Stanford. I was fortunate to study and work with two of its biggest proponents in the Stanford product design department. Ralph Faste, who was my adviser, taught and expanded on Robert McKim's ideas as a method of creative action. David Kelly, who was an adviser and also my boss when I taught in the program, expanded the commercial opportunities through IDEO (where I also briefly worked). David went on to start the dSchool at Stanford, which has truly created an opportunity for fertile, cross-disciplinary studies.
At ZURB, we embraced design thinking very early on in our web work when most people were still trying to create digital brochures in 1998. It made for many awkward meetings and arguments with clients — some of which still happen today :). Yet, it's helped our company create an identity around problem solving by using design as a business tool. Our approach makes us ZURB. It's unique to us. However, design thinking is not a panacea for every company as many people have discovered.
Most recently you've seen us write about, "What Are You Even Designing?", "Designers, You've Made It to the Table. Don't Screw It Up" and "How Designers Do Dumb Design and Why Design Presentation is Your Deliverance." These ideas stem from our desire to seek design truth, to understand why what we do works for ZURB. Hopefully our thoughts elicit a strong reaction and a desire to also explore the fringe of design. If you've taken our class on Mastering Design Feedback, many of these ideas have been synthesized into a process. Our approach utilizes the concepts of design thinking, but it's still ZURB.
Looking for a Practical Starting Place
Design Thinking is actually less about thinking and more about doing. It's not something you have, it's something you do. With digital development life cycles moving faster than ever, it's incredibly important to put an emphasis on output. But that output needs to address the endless array of devices and contexts that come with designing products in a digital environment. At ZURB, we have a five-step process that addresses many important aspects of design thinking.
Yet, 250 startups later, our Studios group has taught us that it's not just our process that produces the magical results, it's the combination of our methods and culture that propel companies forward. Our work wasn't easily 'summed up' into a replicable design thinking process.
That left us with an opportunity. We asked ourselves, what if we could simplify and condense the most practical aspects of our process, methods and culture? Instead of defining design thinking, we've identified the core components of our work that resonated with practitioners of design work. We're excited to introduce progressive design.
Progressive Design Defined
Progressive design uses the principles of design thinking while providing a simple and robust design feedback loop that drives work forward. It places an emphasis on doing and driving work forward. Progressive design is making a lot of small decisions that together move people-centered design work forward. It's active participation and iteration with a goal. This isn't lean, or agile, or some magical customer exercise. Progressive design optimizes for results, not production sprints or a MVP product. Iterations don't need to be time-based or feature constrained. It can move fast or slow or varied. It's a user-focused approach that embraces business goals while addressing the technical feasibility.
Progressive design incorporates a design feedback loop that's practical and easy for an entire team to participate in. It requires the expertise of a design practitioner, but it becomes easier for non-designers to drive design work forward because the steps are well defined and it utilizes a simple feedback loop. It amplifies the work that team members produce. It works for a small project, but works just as well for a larger project that requires hundreds of iterations.
It's meant to create design momentum. Here's how it works:
- Design work: The foundation of a solid design process is high-level execution of design work. This could be need-finding, wireframing, prototyping, coding, etc.
- Design presentation: In a traditional business presentation, we might just throw work into a PowerPoint presentation, but in design thinking we need ways to carry conversations toward possibilities. Linear presentations are often too stiff to illicit the type of feedback that is necessary to create something truly amazing.
- Design feedback: The collection of feedback can be exciting or belaboring. But it needs to happen and designers are in a position to drive this across in the design process. Soliciting and giving feedback can happen across your team, customers and users and your target audience.
- Design iteration: Driving design work forward happens when ideas are synthesized. If overlooked, the entire loop completely falls apart. When all parties are happy with the result of the design work (or some other constraint limits time), it's then possible to move on to another phase or method.
Making Design Thinking Actionable
Design thinking is a great concept. It's full of potential, but it also lacks the foundational pieces that make it something that can be easily reproduced in an organization. We're suggesting an approach that makes it easier to get started with more clarity.
Progressive design is a design thinking building block to drive design in your organization. Based on our experience, teams need to believe in an approach that they can get buy in from across an organization. Progressive design provides an easier tactical approach to problem solving instead of shifting an entire organization. It's easier to train teams of people to work together with tangible tools and it has a lower cost/downside of trying to change an organization.
Over the next few months, we're going to release services and products that support this vision so teams can reach their potential and embrace design to build better products for their customers.
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