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.

Continue reading …


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.

Continue reading …


Scoot & Doodle Featured in the App Store.

By on in Design, Mobile, Process, Web

Chris Egy Rose and Patty Chang came to Carbon Five in spring of 2012 with an exciting new concept around facilitating human interaction and connected learning. The idea was to allow young people to connect with their friends, classmates and families through face-to-face interactions and a shared canvas. The interactive canvas overlay allows participants to use simple tools to create and draw with one another. The initial ten-week engagement happily turned into a rewarding long term partnership that shepherded the product and team through many iterations over many months, resulting in an outstanding, feature rich set of products.

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 11.17.54 AM

Scoot & Doodle’s Scoodle Jam is featured in the Education section of the app store.

Continue reading …


Applying Functional Programming Principles To Your Rails Codebase

By on in Design, Everything Else, Web

All the programmers around me seem to have very strong opinions about functional programming. The Internet certainly loves to talk about it. Some of the concepts are interesting – but many of them (at first) don’t seem to apply for those of us writing database-fronting web applications. What can we apply from a world in which side effects are shunned if the majority of what our application is doing is getting stuff out of a database for display on a web page?

In this article, I’ll share some of the lessons I’ve learned writing programs in a functional style using other languages and how these lessons apply to problems of testability, predictability, and parallelism in the regular ‘ole web application code we’re writing today. I’ll show you how you can increase the quality of your existing application by introducing stateless functions that interact with the state-manipulating stuff you’re already familiar with (and have already written). This article is geared towards web application development in the real world; don’t fret, the word “monad” does not appear anywhere on this page. Continue reading …


Connecting and speaking

By on in Design, Events, Process

Mixing Lean UX with Agile Development

Last night I had the opportunity to do a dry run of my talk for the Flowcon conference coming up this November 1st at the Lean UX SF Meetup. The event was hosted at WeWork which has a beautiful office conveniently right around the corner from ours. Thanks to great promotion by Mike Long and Niley Barros, we had a sell-out crowd which at one point resulted in a line out the door. The folks from WeWork and the Flowcon conference, which was sponsoring the Meetup, were incredibly helpful and accommodating and we packed everyone in that we could fit.

Line outsideLine inside

Getting in front of a room that crowded had me battling quite a few nervous jitters but the friendly, enthusiastic faces in the crowd brought a ton of great energy. By the end of the night I realized how inspiring it can be just sharing stories with people about the work that we are all doing. I know that personally it always serves to refocus my efforts and ensure I’m on top of my discipline going into work the next day.

The slides for the talk are up on the Carbon Five Slideshare account:
Mixing Lean UX & Agile Development

Thanks to everyone that came and for all of your questions and helpful feedback. Really excited for the FlowCon conference on November 1st followed up by Balanced Team November 2nd and 3rd.

pizza