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Bringing Users Into Your Process through Participatory Design

We've been seeing an intense pressure on businesses to rapidly make sense of customer needs and demands, then incorporate that feedback into new or existing products. For today's designers, it can be challenging to make well-informed decisions about the large and small details that comprise these products, especially when working within the constraints of an agile/scrum methodology.

At frog, one of the methods we turn to regularly to identify and incorporate user feedback into products is participatory design. Participatory design aims to bring users into the design process by facilitating conversations through the creation and completion of a wide range of activities. We create activities to facilitate sharing and conversation with users, providing them with materials to descriptively discuss their personal experiences and express their desires for ideal solutions. By doing this, we are able to work directly with current and future users of products and services, quickly discovering important criteria to fold into the next iteration of a product, service, or experience strategy.

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The 10 Building Blocks of Design Studio Culture

The 10 Building Blocks of Design Studio Culture. Great studios are able to balance all of these factors as part of their day-to-day operations. (Illustration by David Sherwin.)

This is an excerpt from from my new book, Success by Design: The Essential Business Reference for Designers, out now from HOW Books.

Culture is everything people in a design business do that supports the process of making work happen. Culture can create joy for designers, while improvements in process can facilitate profit. A common misperception is that culture emerges organically based on the decisions of a business owner or CEO. But a design studio’s culture is not created solely by those at the top. For a design-led business, culture is generated from ongoing contributions and discoveries from both studio owners and employees.

In researching my recent book on how design businesses can be more successful, I began to see important building blocks that were present in the most successful studios. These building blocks are divided into two groups: hard building blocks and soft building blocks. Hard building blocks are realized through a budget, meaning that you can allocate money and time for them as part of business overhead. The soft building blocks can be created through the decisions employees make over the course of their daily work, life and play (with less material investment by the owners).

A healthy studio culture draws equally from both types of building blocks. They provide emotional and material stability to employees in the face of ongoing work challenges, and often clients, family and the general public perceive them as ingredients of the company’s brand. These building blocks are equally present within design firms and in-house design teams—though for the latter, the composition of some building blocks may be heavily influenced by the company's overall behavior and needs.

Let’s take a deep dive into these building blocks, with important questions to ask yourself (and your team) in order to create a strong studio culture. 

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What Aspiring Designers Need to Know About Strategy

Segmentation strategy... for Cute Overload

This is an exclusive excerpt from my new book, Success by Design: The Essential Business Reference for Designers, which was recently released by HOW.

As I read through his resume, the designer stared at me expectantly. He had a wealth of great design projects under his belt. He had been seeking out personal projects to build out his portfolio. He had internships with sterling businesses and design studios. But there was one thing that leapt out at me from the list of core skills he’d listed at the top of his resume: strategy.

Not brand strategy, content strategy, interactive strategy, media strategy, or the MBA-land of business strategy. Just plain ‘ol strategy.

This has been happening more and more frequently, for a few reasons. In the process of providing strong service to our clients, we increase the likelihood of becoming a strategic partner. We finally have a seat at the table when the client is talking strategy—and we can offer a range of strategic services that verge outside what may be considered a designer’s core area of expertise. This is a good thing. With the ongoing expansion of design’s role in business, today’s designers are helping to solve problems that transcend mere decoration and instead impact the core functions of a client’s business.

But in our haste to be strategic partners, I’ve discovered that many designers don’t fully grasp how strategic services fit into their client offerings. And when I ask designers out of sheer curiosity how they’re functioning as strategists—what experiences they directly bring to bear on being strategists rather than having a strategic orientation—they can’t easily answer the question.

If you’re going to run a design-led business, it’s inevitable that you will need to talk strategy with your clients. So let’s explore the types of strategies you might create as a design businessperson, as well as how they may support the efforts of your clients. It’s my hope that this information will open up some new paths for you to explore in your career as a designer.

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How Are You Using the Collective Action Toolkit?

 Collective Action Toolkit - Action Map from Official Chinese Edition

The SCAD graduate students split up into teams and gathered around their copies of the Collective Action Toolkit (CAT), considering their homework assignment for their next class period. Their task: To pilot the first activity they would use with local high school students as their first introduction to working together in a group. In two days, they’d have to do a dry run with their classmates. As they looked over the toolkit’s action map, they began to where they should they begin? By having a “Knowledge Fest” or a “Skill Share?” By helping their group identify a goal right away, or by having fun and getting to know each other?

The CAT has been out for almost two months, and from the emails and conversations we’ve received since releasing the CAT, situations such as the above are happening more and more. The toolkit is being deployed far more broadly than expected, such as in our new Chinese language edition. People are finding new uses for it, from local education to entrepreneurship in global organizations. And we’ve embarked on our first educational pilot, working with SCAD’s Design for Sustainability program.

How did this happen? And in what ways can you use the CAT that you may not have considered?

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Slides from "Design Is Hacking How We Learn"

This past September, I spoke at AIGA Seattle's Into the Woods, a multidisciplinary retreat whose theme was "Survive and Thrive." Five speakers were asked to speak on that theme through the particular lens of their practice, on topics as varied as sustainability (Scott Boylston) to inspiration (Jeanette Abbink) to creativity (Howard Lichter) to business (Seth Johnson and Karen Kurycki). The topic I was asked to speak on was design and education.

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Making Clients Part of the Design Process

This weekend, I participated in HOW Design Live, a U.S.-based conference intended to help designers, in-house design managers, and creative freelancers gain the information and inspiration they need to succeed with their design work. One of my contributions to the conference was a talk about facilitated collaborations with design clients.

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Design Challenge: The Game of Sustainability

The Game of Sustainability - Design solution by Jake Zukowski, Abdullah Shaikh, and Jeff Glasser

Until the end of the year, I'll be sharing design challenges from my book Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills, which was just released by HOW Design Press. The book consists of 80 creative challenges that will help you achieve a breadth of stronger design solutions, in various media, within any set time period. Each exercise includes compelling visual solutions from other designers and background stories to help you increase your capacity to innovate. Here's the fifth one in this series, "The Game of Sustainability."

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Design Challenge: TechnoYoga

TechnoYoga - Challenge Solution by David Sherwin - 2 Hour Design Solution

Until the end of the year, I'll be sharing design challenges from my book Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills, which was just released by HOW Design Press. The book consists of 80 creative challenges that will help you achieve a breadth of stronger design solutions, in various media, within any set time period. Each exercise includes compelling visual solutions from other designers and background stories to help you increase your capacity to innovate. Here's the second one in this series, "TechnoYoga."

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Design Challenge: More Is Less

My Sweets by Tithi Kutchamuch - 1

Until the end of the year, I'll be sharing design challenges from my book Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills, which was just released by HOW Design Press. The book consists of 80 creative challenges that will help you achieve a breadth of stronger design solutions, in various media, within any set time period. Each exercise includes compelling visual solutions from other designers and background stories to help you increase your capacity to innovate. Here's the first one, "More Is Less."

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Becoming a Design Leader

The following I'd written in preparation for my presentation with Justin Maguire, "Work in Progress: Thoughts on Design Leadership", delivered on April 14 for AIGA Seattle's "Design Business for Breakfast" Series.

I'd like to pose a question to you: What does it mean to be a design leader?