The Carbon Five Guide to User Research: Starting Your Research Project

By on in Design

So, you’ve read the introduction to the Carbon Five Guide to User Research and you’re ready to get started. Welcome!

During this step we’ll be working through what we’re hoping to find, who we’re hoping to talk to, and what we’re hoping to ask. If you’re trying to convince someone else in your company to invest in a research project identifying the basic assumptions and outcomes like this is a great place to start.

We’ll be using the hypothetical company Delivery Healthy. Delivery Healthy is a startup that serves people who are trying to eat healthy while still ordering a lot of take-out, because they say you should write what you know.

Ready? Let’s go!

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The Carbon Five Guide to User Research: Introduction

By on in Design

What is User Research?

User Research focuses on understanding user behaviors, needs, and motivations through observation techniques, task analysis, and other feedback methodologies.

User research helps us understand the constraints and opportunities of the audience we’re building for, and is a core part of building a successful product.

Why Research?

Let’s say you’ve got a great idea for a product. Will your users agree? How do you reach them? In order for your product to succeed, it needs product/market fit.

Defining the users you want to reach and talking to them before you build will will give you empathy and a clearer sense what your users hope to achieve using your product. It’s much easier and more effective to design with a specific person fixed in mind than a set of demographics without a distinct voice.

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C5 Labs: Daily Ascent

By on in C5 Labs, Design, Development, Mobile

da-tv-inuse

There is plenty of research to show that taking stairs is one of the best ways to work out without taking time out to exercise. Taking the elevator wastes electricity, and the stairs are a great opportunity to improve overall health. With this in mind, we wanted to encourage people to start thinking about using the stairs over elevators.

Though there are lots of great social health tracking apps out there, we wanted to try using wellness as an excuse to build community around a physical location (the Edney building staircase).

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Design by Listening Inside and Out – Carbon Five LA Talk Night July 20th

By on in Announcements, Design, Events, Los Angeles

Designing good UX is an iterative process that begins and ends with the same core action; listening. But who do we listen to and how? As the speakers of our July 20th design themed Talk Night will demonstrate, you listen to everyone! Whether they’re the person you believe your product is for or your fellow teammates facing the same issues you do, listening and processing their feedback guides you to designs that delight and deliver.

Kicking off the evening is Carbon Five alum Alexa Roman, giving a talk titled “Metrics That Matter”:

Design and engineering have value. We need to do a better job of proving it. Too often, we leave metrics to someone else, when we can directly learn and show the impact we’re having. Learn how to initiate and implement a metrics strategy from someone who really cares about money. And people. But mostly, money.

Then, LA design community leader Geremy Mumenthaler talks about his experiences with The Noun Project as they learned “The Largest UX Team is Also the Smallest”:

Noun Project created its newest product Lingo by listening to the of problems our community and empowering our whole team with UX tools to understand those problems. Through prototyping, iteration, and a scrappy attitude, we launched a brand new product that teams needed.

Our doors will open at 6pm with pizza, drinks (including non-alcoholic options), and of course wi-fi provided. The talks will kick-off at 7pm, with Q&A interspersed throughout.

So sign up on Meetup, and show up with your questions and ideas. We’re ready to listen!

Update: We have a change of speaker from own Nicole Thayer, who sadly could no longer present, to Alexa Roman, who generously agreed to step in. Thanks, Alexa!


Before You Build: How to Get Your Startup Off the Ground Without a Team

By on in Design, Startups

A group of people sketching

Photo from my colleague Yasmine Molavi’s sketching workshop

You’re starting a company. You’re so full of ideas that you have three PowerPoint decks! Wowza! You have a couple co-founders or maybe even an employee. If only your team had some engineers to build the product…

There are many, many important things you can do to give your product momentum before you build any software. Even if you have engineers, your team can (and should) do some of these activities in parallel to engage your audience, strengthen your product and beat out competitors. It’s important that the founders lead these activities because no one cares about the success of your company more than you.

This post covers finding customers, getting your brand and web presence started and how to get your product off the ground. The two most important things a founder can do is find their customers and establish channels for them to find you. I’ve helped to launch over forty websites and apps in my career. The ones that are successful had a growing list of interested customers (or an existing customer database) before launch. Continue reading …


April 21st 2016 Talk Night at Carbon Five LA – Sketching for UX

By on in Design, Los Angeles

sketching

Great communication is at the heart of a great team with the free and clear exchange of ideas flowing between design, development, and product. However, we’ve all had moments where the team gets “blocked” on a design; some members struggling putting their thoughts into words, others feel they have to provide high quality comps, while others remain silent feeling they don’t have the skill or place to contribute.

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Flexing the Rules of Material Design

By on in Design, Everything Else, Mobile

About a year ago I worked on my first Android app at Carbon Five. Having been an Apple junkie for years I decided to take a deep dive into the Android world. I switched up my phone to a Moto X (which I’m still sporting) and spent some time reading the Material Design guidelines.

Man bending backwards

I immediately fell in love with the guidelines because you didn’t need to be a designer to understand them or apply them. The digestible explanations of the fundamentals of design like grid systems, typography and color theory made it simple for our team to understand the behavioral and visual design used by comparing elements of our digital product to physical objects and how they would behave in relation to objects around them.

 

But, as a designer with a past in branding and advertising I had to step back and ask, If I’m following these guidelines word for word, how will I allow my brand to look and feel like itself rather than Google? I knew I had to answer this question before visually designing for the project I was working on and the best way to do that was find out: how other apps were using material design, who was getting recognition for using it well, and why?

 

After looking at dozens of apps I started to realize most apps were and still are using the guideline as a coloring book. They are grabbing elements off of the stickersheet that Google provides as a resource and changing up the colors of elements like buttons and cards to match their own brand colors.

 

However, the ones who are using it well and are getting recognition for it were flexing the rules to leverage their own brand identity. New York Times was awarded for “elegant use of typography” by Google in their Material Design Awards and they were hardly making any use of Roboto. Weather Timeline was recognized for “crafted simplicity” and were using four primary colors as opposed to the prescribed 1 primary and 1 secondary palette. AirBnB was featured on Play Store’s editor’s choice list and completely broke free of burying navigation in the NAV drawer.

 

3 Android apps and 1 talk at Droidcon DE later, having seen the good and the bad, I’ve created a 5 step process to help make sure we always maintain the identity of the brand while using Material Design.

Step 1 Reset Your ThinkingStep 1: Reset Your Thinking

If you’ve been working on your app for a while, reset your thinking. Try and look at it like you’re on boarding to the product team and ask yourself and your team members these questions:

  • Who is your product for? Who is your Primary customer?
  • What’s the primary function? What goal is your customer trying to accomplish?
  • Why does your customer need your product? Is it addressing a pain point that they have?
  • How will it be used? In what space/context is your customer using this app?

Knowing what your product communicates to customers and potential customers and what people see, hear and think about your brand is a great way to identify what parts of your brand makeup are core to your visual and verbal identity.

Here at Carbon Five we have devoted project rooms to put up our product artifacts. I recommend you grab a role of tape and put up your findings from this step in your workspace. Surrounding yourself with artifacts that form your knowledge of a product will help engrain your findings in both your team’s understanding of the product and your own.

Step 2 Grumpy Cat

Step 2: Work With What You’ve Got

As designers on a product team we commonly inherit existing designs whether it’s a marketing site or a logo on a business card. Most often than not we have to incorporate some of these elements. Start this step by creating a minimal style tile of assets your brand may already have like logos, emblems, images, fonts and colors.

Again put up your findings in your workspace and identify what makes you unique when compared with Google’s Material Design Guidelines. You’ll also want to ask if your current visual esthetic communicates the tonality and context you identified in Step 1. If the answer is no, identify the minimum visual changes you can make to your brand to be on equal planes of communication visually and strategically.

Step 3 Rules to FollowStep 3: Rules to Follow

As you approach visual ideation and adding Material Design into the mix consider a few recommended rules to follow:

  • Respect Ratios
    The incremental growth that Google uses both within their design grid and typography is a great rule to apply. It helps set up a level of hierarchy in your app that is fundamental to any good design navigation.
  • Use Shadows
    Remember Material Design is a physical way of viewing digital objects and physical objects always have shadows.
  • Pattern is Language
    Apply as much of the visual pattern as you can because it’s the language your customers’ speak.

Step 4 Minimum Viable Design CustomizationStep 4: Minimum Viable Design Customization
If there are 2 things you can do quickly to customize your android app from out of the box Material Design it’s this:

  • Customize your color palette:
    This is the step everyone seems to be applying.
  • Customize your font:
    Customizing your font is the quickest way to making your brand feel more like you and less like Google. Roboto is a system font and it’s not necessary for it to be your font.

Step 5 Sketch It OutStep 5: Sketch it Out
Keeping in mind everything you’ve learned about Material Design and your brand gather your team and ideate on paper how you can establish your own look. Sketch out basic UI elements like buttons, icons and cards and see how you can make them unique to your brand. Six up sketching is a great way to ideate this without getting stuck in the visual design phase too early.

Put these up along with your other artifacts and see what feels right for your product. Maybe it’s just as simple as rounded corners don’t match my branding or the system icons are too cute for my brand’s tone of voice. The goal here is to identify what changes/additions you can make to quickly identify your own look and feel.

Ultimately you want to be compliant, but not a copycat. Material Design guidelines may seem prescriptive but they’re really meant to be adapted for your brand. By getting to know your brand you can pick and choose what parts you should apply strategically.


A panel, a talk, a workshop @ Silicon Beach Fest 2015

By on in Design, Events

Silicon Beach Fest is coming up next week! If you’re in Los Angeles or can travel there, get your tickets before they’re gone. (Note: open the design guide for a special discount) Carbon Five is involved in the Design Track and we’d love to see you there. The Design Track takes place next Friday, June 26th at the Marina del Rey Hotel.

Silicon Beach Fest panorama of Cross Campus

Get Tickets

For those of you who haven’t been, Silicon Beach Fest (SBF) is a conference based in LA focused on entrepreneurship and technology. The last few years it has drawn more than 2,000 attendees and media attention, most notably from the New York Times and TechCrunch. SBF has helped countless founders, designers and technologists find support in the form of advice, teams and services.

Join us for the Design Track on Friday for: Continue reading …


Mise en World

By on in Design

I gave this talk at Kluge’s Evenings at the Loft on March 20, 2015. The theme of the event was Aesthetics. Skot Carruth and Jeremy Mumenthaler also spoke. Video is forthcoming. Special thanks to Arturo and Cameron at Kluge and to David and Courtney at Carbon Five for helping me shape this.

mise en world title

My background is in filmic set design. I started in film school, ended with a degree in Visual Art and Art History and spent a brief period of time in architecture school. Given my background in physical design, when I started thinking about the theme of aesthetics, I couldn’t restrict myself to screens.

This is my vision for user experience design, leaping off from aesthetics as a starting point.

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