Here are some shots that we peeled off with our internal photo studio to develop a style for Finish Line’s new partnership with Macy’s. Even though these are Nike products, I tried to steer clear of the monotonous Nike trap that most retailers fall into. These shots personify the shoes, put the viewer into motion and bring feeling to an otherwise lifeless object. The great part about this is that it was all done in camera with little Photoshop work - besides some scrupulous retouching of the details. From these shots we’ll create online brand ads using branding and type treatments that play off of the depth and motion. It’s possible this could work its way into in-store creative as well. For the next round we’ll be pushing this concept further to visualize sneakers in relationships with each other beyond showing them in everyday action.
Design is about having a clear point of view and communicating a message. Design is not always a means to an elaborate end. Sometimes, the most mundane things can be the most fun to design. For example, most often the layout of documents like a brief go completely overlooked and are left to perils of such tools like a Microsoft Word templates. A brief is an important document. Not only does it need to unmistakably define the project goals, scope and details, but it must also serve as the primary reference for bringing people together to work on a project. An element with such an important role to the success of the project deserves some love. I took a crack at organizing a brief that would speak to the immediate needs of everyone it touches based what defined as important information as well as providing more detailed information that is essential to the execution of the project. As a designer, I don’t limit myself to working on “high caliber” projects. Identifying and taking on any design challenge keeps any designer limber. And seeing how it can impact people and a process is the true essence of design.
Through out the most recent 2013 redesign of burton.com there were many enhancements. The biggest part was something that goes largely unnoticed - the responsive design. Like good editing in a film, you don’t see it unless something is wrong. All of the content on the site (and there is a boat load of it) is designed and developed in a way which displays seamlessly across desktop, mobile and tablet. Defining measurements of success is the foundation for evaluating strategy. The magical world of Google Analytics allows us to listen to users and understand what they want through their behaviors. In this instance we understood what they were looking for (the ability to easily view content our content on desktop, mobile and tablet) and we gave it to them. The info graphic below shows the success we’ve seen so far. This execution isn’t about the brand or about sales, although they both benefit. It’s also not about thinking about mobile before desktop, as most responsive advocates will tell you. It’s about the user and thinking about them first.
When the end user engages with something interactive, they are meant to feel inspired by its simplicity and beauty . Behind this beauty lies a very ugly process. The digital process can cumbersome, complicated and heavy. Ironically, it’s not meant to slow down any projet. In fact, the intention is of course to make it go as fast and efficient as possible. And it’s not about bringing design and technology together, it’s about bringing people together. Jake O’Neil and I created this document to outline a process that is successful for our current team and management structure. It describes contributors, cycles, deliverables and points of collaboration for each step. It’s not perfect and it’s not static. People, technology, design and the way that we work together is always evolving and so should any good process. This document is best used at the start of any project, setting a path to shared success by setting clear expectations as to how, when and where everyone fits in. When projects get gnarly, the only true steering mechanism is your process. Interactive is a craft and you have to love every piece of it.
It’s easy to get caught up in the design of what looks great. Those details are certainly close to me and my process. But, it’s not the most important part. In order to blend design and technology into innovative solutions, you must first understand the problem you’re trying to solve. Thinking that you can understand it alone is a mistake. Inviting the right people into the conversation to help define the problem and understand what success is may the the most important piece to the puzzle for me. Ideas come from understanding people. Once you start to build empathy for the person that you’re designer for, you begin to see the nuance of what’s meaningful to that person. Bill Moggridge embodied this spirit and truly showed that designers have the ability to effect peoples everyday lives in meaningful ways.
For the past few years, I’ve kicked off the major redesign of burton.com with a document that sets the strategic and design direction for the year. These docs are huge - sometimes up to 40 pages and a work of multiple contributors from design, development and analytics. They start with some over arching themes about the past year and set the tone for the next year with broad goals. The remainder of the document breaks down each section/page/tool that we have on the site and goes into in dept analysis of the design, technical construction and user performance. Auditing these three pillars gives a foundation for putting out ideas for the new stuff that we will hone in on for the following year. It’s a pretty deep process. At the end, I present it all to Sr. Management. This document is also used to build the project schedule based on time estimates from myself and the Sr. Developer.
This is a fact, but I still do a shit ton of it. Drawing for me has always been a form of communication rather then an art. Sketching is how I hammer out ideas. As I start on a project, this is the foundation of making stuff. There are no boundaries, the sky is the limit. Sketches allows me to easily explain my thoughts to others and get feedback. I can change stuff quick and evolve ideas. If an idea sucks, it’s just a sketch so it’s real easy to throw away or shelf. Evolution is important through every part of creating web stuff, not just in design. From sketching, to photoshop, to html/css to development. It’s all an evolution. To think that a Photoshop comp is going to be the end all is cutting yourself and your project short. As a project moves through the process things change and as a designer you have to be flexible to adapt to those changes.
The last few months, I’ve been in desperate need of a book shelf to house my ever growing collection of books. My selection of books often change by projects that I’m working on or by fleeting interest (of which I have many). I searched up and down for something that would work. I’m picky so it was a hard task. I eventually did find a few, but each had it’s short comings. So, late one night I sketched up a design for something that would suit me. The design is simple and modular so I can move the shelves around as needed. I reclaimed some sweet old 2x6 cedar planks, cut 1 inch pipe for the frame and welded some brackets to attach it all together. Creating stuff off screen is as much of a passion as creating stuff on screen. Because at the end of the day, when I turn off my computer or phone or iPad, it’s still there. Something that I’ve always struggled with in my work.
I took my crew to Barcelona for the 2012 OFFF design conference. This was by far the best conference that any of us have attended. What made it so good was that none of the speakers really talked about their work as it related to the end product. They spoke about their process and inspiration. The main theme (for me anyway) that ran through the three days was do it for yourself. Not for your company, not for your client, but for you. Often designers hold higher standards themselves then their clients or companies do anyway, so this oddly works to their benefit to. Being a designer is not a profession, it’s not 9 - 5. It’s an innate perspective to consistently change and improve everything around you. Blogs, and reading books is great, but in my mind good designers are those who really understand people. To do that you have to get out and experience different cultures and places for yourself.
Here’s some things that I’ve come up with to keep myself on track. With the only constant being change and last minute decisions changing the course of projects, I thought it important to give myself some guidelines to help me keep on keeping on. Oh, these are always trumped by the golden rule - Don’t Fuck it Up.
Not knowing is a great place to come from. Innovation is all about not knowing, at least initially. That’s why you have to rely on faith and confidence in yourself and your team. Designing for the web, there is a functional element of not knowing between Photoshop and reality. That’s why I’m quick to use HTML, CSS and JQuery, Actionscript, etc to test ideas and uncover new ones. Because at some point you have to know and show absolutely how something will function. What I love about web is that it’s not just about creating beautiful static Photoshop files - that’s for print folks. It’s about creating well designed, usable devices and understanding the details and boundaries but not letting those things restrain your perception or ability to create something new. This is an old example that I just dug up of how me not knowing how to create and use array’s in Actionscript lead me to something new.
Aaron Draplin is a big dude. His stature, his placement in the industry and his personality. I recently saw him speak in little ol’ Vermont. It was actually a great talk and a welcome from the norms of the big bloated ego centric speakers that fall in line with conferences like SXSW. What I like about him is that he comes from very little and has deep roots in hard work and dedication to achieving his goal. The best part about it is that the room of 100+ attendees was mostly dirt bag creatives working in VT and kids that are soon to graduate or recently graduated wondering what the hell to do now. As far as a designer, I don’t really have an opinion. I dig his shit, but it all has similar characteristics. Progressing in my own career I don’t really have a specific style. The fundamental difference here is that people come to Draplin, well for Draplin. For this reason, he’s more of a business model then a designer (no disrespect) but this guy has really fine tuned that way that he can crank mass amounts of options out and make his clients happy. You can bet that his executions, while there may be a shit ton of them are all maintain a similar approach - simple two or three color vector graphics with great use of space and geometry. This fits any medium, logos, posters, ads. He’s made his design do it all. Draplin seems happy, but I personally couldn’t do it. I need to explore and use all the elements of design from photography, scanning, color, type, layout, etc. These devices are essential to keeping me content and encourage me to question and prospect design directions. While I dig all parts of the design process for different reasons, that is part of my process that I could not live without.
I went to go see Lance’s exhibit on his work creating snowboard graphics at the Helen Day Art Center in Stowe, VT. I took a bunch of photos of his sketches, notes, and letters back and forth with riders during the process of creating some of snowboardings most iconic work. I kept mulling over the photos thinking there was something there. In end, those things tell a really cool story, but this quote pretty much says it all.
Some of the most important stuff that makes a design successful some people wouldn’t really consider design at all. It’s research, analysis and groundwork. For me this happens with the upfront iteration of wireframes and user flow charts. It’s here that the real ideas happen and “design” in it’s sense of how does it look, doesn’t matter. Understanding how things work, creating models, identifying problems and solving them is the purest form of innovation and leads to successful visual design. It’s critical that this part of my process is not done in a vacuum. Working with others is essential to gaining insight and knowledge. This user flow was used in conjunction with wireframes to define an application we developed called “Bag Check” which helps users find the right kind of bag, snowpack, luggage, etc. based on specific criteria they define. I didn’t execute the visual design of the application - I guided my team and let them own that part process. But it’s success relied being able to clearly communicate the problem and show the solution. Which is what design is all about.
As usual, Google has created another pioneering product. But, the product isn’t the best part of what they’ve done. The greatest part is about the process of how they defined what exactly is was they were going to create. By working with old advertising guru’s that created some of the most iconic ads (during advertising’s golden days) together they took a crack at how to bring the fundamentals of what made those ads great into today’s advertising space. What came out of this one is pretty damn amazing. Again, the best part about this isn’t the technology (that’s actually quite simple, which is what makes it beautiful). It’s the process on how they got there and of course Harvey Gabor, a huge hero the ad world.