Design Brief: Learning to Love the Moving Target
Design Brief is a blog series examining One Design’s perspective on industry trends, practices and processes.
Think back to when you were learning to ride a bike. You started out with a low-to-the-ground, comfortable Fisher Price model. Someone eventually decided it was time for you to graduate to a two-wheel push bike, and as you grew, you moved on to a bigger bike with training wheels.
When your parents noticed that your balance was improving, they took off the training wheels—and that first pass down the street was the closest thing to magic next to seeing Santa Claus himself.
Even though—suddenly—it seemed like cruising down the sidewalk with no hands was a no-brainer, how you got to that point was the result of deliberate and iterative changes to your process.
Our daily experience is enriched by little, iterative design choices that make huge impacts on our behavior. VELCRO® instead of shoelaces. Swivel caster wheels on chairs. Escalators instead of stairs. The world around us is a living, breathing thing—and design must respond to shifts in environment, behavioral patterns, cultural trends, and more.
What we create as designers and engineers is not static. This has always been true to some degree, but never quite as apparent as it is today given the rapidly evolving state of technology.
Long gone are the days when you created a “beautiful” piece of design, sent it to press, celebrated with a round of high fives, and went on your merry way. No, now—if you’re going to deliver true value to businesses, whether it be through brand strategy or interactive solutions—you need to be able to pivot on a dime and do so with intent in service of impact.
“We’ve developed a thoughtful, systematic process around discovery, design, and development to create an experience and take ‘live,’” One Design Founding Partner Sam Rosen says. “But when something is live, it’s not necessarily done—it’s just accessible to the world. It’s the reason why I got into web design. You build this live mouse trap and you think you know how the mice are going to travel, but when you actually see them using it, there’s always something that keeps you on your toes reacting.”
DISCOVER, HYPOTHESIZE, TEST, OBSERVE, ITERATE, REPEAT.
At the very beginning of our inceptions, we make it a point to understand the client’s business objectives. The goal? The solution we create for them, be it an application or an identity, has to help accomplish those goals—and most importantly, it gives us an opportunity to track and analyze data when we’re following through after launch.
Have you ever noticed these things improve over time? Or maybe you didn’t even notice? That’s because design is a continuous cycle of learning, making, testing, iterating, and improving. Ideally, the basic steps of the design process continue indefinitely; most folks—in our experience—stop far too early in the process and never move beyond the initial deliverable.
How do we actually know what moves to make? How do we look at the work we put out into the world and understand the right things to tweak over time in service of a more impactful and successful design solution? With most of our digital projects—and that could be everything from a preliminary wireframe prototype to a fully functioning e-commerce website—we’re not just paying attention to basic analytic data.
“We’re looking at behaviors related to UX—how are people using features we’ve designed,” One Design Creative Director David Sieren says. “We’re looking at the impact of UI decisions—how people respond to layout variables and aesthetics. We’re objectively looking at messaging—is there one way of telling a story that triggers a deeper level of engagement from the user? We can objectively test any element, from messaging and aesthetics to the functionality of a product or experience. And we do this with every project—it’s crucial.”
In principle, no matter how many thoughtful designers, seasoned strategists, and genius engineers you throw at a problem, you never know quite how the world will react to what you make—and what a client has invested in—until the general population takes a crack at it. So rather than fear the public domain, we embrace it as the ultimate testing laboratory.
TAKE THE TRAINING WHEELS OFF
Keeping pace with user behavior
For our ongoing work with Field Notes, we leverage tools that allow us to observe the behaviors and actions of site visitors down to the level of cursor moves and mouse clicks while maintaining user anonymity. We can see if people are pausing over a certain bit of content, opening a menu, or clicking a button.
Of course, all of this data still needs to be parsed and interpreted by the design team. However, this window into real-life user sessions is an invaluable asset when it comes to guiding tweaks to improve performance and create even more memorable experiences.
The next time a Field Notes fan comes to the site, they might not notice that something is different—but chances are something definitely is. With small, iterative adjustments, we can increase performance in a meaningful way that's minimally disruptive to the user.
Influencing and monitoring culture
This philosophy is equally applicable to a foundational branding engagement—long before we think about creating any digital experience. Considering how our work impacts behavioral change beyond the screen within an organization is critically important.
When reflecting on a company’s brand, we’re examining how a strategy impacts and influences decision-making, behaviors, and attitudes—things far beyond the scope of messaging and visual expression. So how does one measure the effectiveness of brand strategy that doesn’t immediately lend itself to digital observation and data collection? The same principles of user observation apply.
Long story short, the research cycle that informs strategy doesn’t stop as a project moves forward. Regular check-ins and ongoing observation—from user interviews and surveys to on-site observation and more—is a constant, allowing us to keep a pulse on organizational culture. Monitoring adoption and behavioral change is essential, and we’ve gone as far as to help teams integrate aspects of their brand positioning to regular performance reviews and team workshops
For example, when we collaborated with Pepper Construction to develop a new brand positioning strategy, our work didn’t end with a messaging platform and new design program.
The success of brand strategy is rooted in authenticity, which requires a deep level of commitment and collaboration. Our process is designed to engage individuals at all levels of an organization, who co-create the work with us playing a role more as facilitators rather than dictatorial consultants.
A brand launch then is less of a reveal and more of a celebratory workshop—explaining not only why, but how this can impact your day to day. We made sure what was implied by our brand refresh was operationalized throughout the company in a realistic and attainable manner, so it could light the path ahead for years to come.
And follow-up workshops trained individuals to embrace the empathetic approach to their work—from pitching new business to planning engagements to managing project teams—that aligned with organizational values. These behaviors were linked to regular reviews so, if things weren’t performing as expected, we’d have a clear window of insight which could help us pivot and adjust as needed.
METRICS MOVING THE INDUSTRY
Somewhat surprisingly, “measurement and iteration historically haven't been a primary focus for design firms,” Rosen says. “Their focus has been building great work, getting it live, and then moving on to the next project. The thing is—when something actually goes live, the fun is really just beginning.”
A designer’s goal is to understand and solve problems.
We need to use research methods and technological tools to analyze the world around us, guiding us towards constantly evolving solutions to the problems at hand. If we stop analyzing the environment around us too soon, we don’t fully understand how to tackle problems in our ever-changing, dynamic world.
And at the end of the day, clients hire us to move the needle and make a meaningful difference. It’s the difference between a dynamic and a static solution.
So hop back on that two-wheeled bike, and consider what new paths need to be explored to experience a better ride…
Read the first installment of our Design Brief posts, where we discuss how an empathetic, user-driven design approach helps us move the needle for clients.