Diversions

projekt202 at Dart Bowl 2014

There’s been a flurry of new projects and work at projekt202 over the past few months, so the Austin office made some time to relax and celebrate at the local Dart Bowl. Designers, developers, managers, and executives bonded for a few hours last Friday over lacquered wood floors and legendary* enchiladas.

Below are some of the pictures that Jannis Hegenwald, Will Yarbrough, and Mike Townson snapped of the crew eating, drinking, and bowling. You can also see more pictures here (with captions courtesy of Mike Townson). Special thanks to Kijana Knight-Torres and Derek Rosenstrauch for planning our end-of-week getaway.

*or so says Derek

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projekt202′s Favorite Posts of 2013

There’s no shortage of posts that inspired us and sparked lively conversations over this past year. Out of those, in no particular order, are some of our favorites. We’d love to hear what was on your radar.

1. Andy Budd and the dirty little secret of our industry

“We live in a world of instant gratification, so is it any wonder that clients expect their projects to start yesterday and ship tomorrow, irrespective of how long the work actually takes? Clients usually don’t know—and often don’t care—about the intricacies of our business, and why should they? Instead they rely on our feedback to assess their schedules.”
From The Pastry Box Project

2. Butterick’s Practical Typography by Matthew Butterick

“A few hundred years of type and typography have established rules that only a fool would ignore. (Or a graphic designer keen to impress his peers.) For all those who need to communicate clearly and even add a modicum of aesthetic value to their messages, this publica­tion provides everything you always wanted to ask but didn’t know how to.”
From PracticalTypography.com

3. The Dribbblisation of Design by Paul Adams

“There are divergent things happening in the product and interaction design community. On one hand, we have some amazing pieces of writing from the likes of Ryan Singer and Julie Zhuo, moving our craft forward. On the other hand, we have a growing number of people posting and discussing their work on Dribbble, the aggregated results of which are moving our craft backwards. This post is not about Dribbble itself, it’s about what the community on Dribbble value. I’ll use the term ‘product design’ throughout, but I’m including UX and interaction design when I do.”
From Intercom

4. How Food Companies Watch What You Eat by Mark Garrison

“Creating kitchens with this level of fine detail required entering customers’ lives. Researchers, including trained anthropologists, may spend hours with a family. It’s deep dive, personal research, the opposite of mass surveys.”
From Marketplace

5. How the ‘Failure’ Culture at Startups is Killing Innovation by Erika Hall

“Far from being the measure of disgrace it once was, failure now seems to be a sort of badge of honor. But underlying many popular Silicon Valley failure clichés is entrepreneurs’ belief that “starting companies these days is akin to doing research in the past” — as if we don’t need research when the opportunity to fail is so readily available.”
From Wired

6. Has the Recession Taken Your Experience to the Dark Side by Paul Brooks

“When a new milkshake bar opened in my local shopping mall, I was very excited; I went right over and ordered my favourite flavour (coconut, of course). The cashier responded “Would you like a regular size?” and I agreed. I paid what I considered a high price for a medium-sized milkshake and, as I left, I noticed the sizes available weren’t “Small, Regular, and Large” (as I might have expected), but rather “Tiny, Small and Regular.” Realizing I was duped, I lost my incentive to return.”
From UX Booth

7. The One Cost Engineers and Product Managers Don’t Consider by Kris Gale

“Complexity cost is the debt you accrue by complicating features or technology in order to solve problems. An application that does twenty things is more difficult to refactor than an application that does one thing, so changes to its code will take longer. Sometimes complexity is a necessary cost, but only organizations that fully internalize the concept can hope to prevent runaway spending in this area.”
From Firstround

8. The Redesign of the Design Process by Jared Spool

“Today, the best designs aren’t coming from a single designer who somehow produces an amazing solution. The best designs are coming from teams that work together as a unit, marching towards a commonly held vision, and always building a new understanding of the problem.”
From User Interface Engineering

9. CIOs Must Become Design Thinkers by Joyce Hostyn

“Delight. Beauty. Happiness. Purpose. These aren’t words you’re used to hearing when it comes to business outside of a few outliers like Disney, Apple and Zappos. But that’s starting to change. Companies like Rackspace, Intuit, ZipCar, FAB, P&G, Samsung and Commonwealth Bank of Australia are embracing emotional concepts like these as a core element of their business strategy.”
From CMS Wire

10. Good Design is Becoming a Must-have in the Enterprise, Too by Katie Fehrenbacher

“Over the past few years, a wave of consumer web startups focused on design have been making their mark on shopping, fashion, communications and social networking. But, as these startups — from Pinterest to Instagram — become billion-dollar players influencing how consumers use the web and mobile apps, the trend of design as a major tech differentiator has started to infiltrate the world of the enterprise, too.”
From Gigaom

11. How Designers Destroyed the World by Mike Monteiro

“You are directly responsible for what you put into the world. Yet every day designers all over the world work on projects without giving any thought or consideration to the impact that work has on the world around them. This needs to change.”
From Webstock

12. The Future Of Technology Isn’t Mobile, It’s Contextual by Pete Mortensen

Next up: Machines that understand you and everything you care about, anticipate your behavior and emotions, absorb your social graph, interpret your intentions, and make life, um, “easier.”
From Co. Design

Bonus Love, Hate, and Empathy: Why We Still Need Personas by projekt202’s very own Kyra Edeker and Jan Moorman

“Good personas that enable us to have extended role-play with our users serve a need that isn’t currently filled by anything else. If the design community throws personas in the trash, they’re back to square one: the standard old argument around the product team table based on everyone’s personal opinion. The user is lost in the equation.”
From UX Magazine

projekt202 Labs: Die Tur

By Mark Power-Freeman
projekt202

We’ve assembled quite the collection of powerful minds here at projekt202, and, as the air finally starts to cool down in Texas, we’ve tapped into that power to launch an in-house innovation generator called projekt202 Labs. The projekt202 Labs initiative aims to give everyone at the company — not just the user experience design crew — a creative outlet to propose solutions to user experience problems without the constraint of platforms, code, materials, or devices. Two words sum it up best: What if…?

Although we have only the sky as a theoretical limit on the output of projekt202 Labs, we brought along our proven user-centered design research process for our first endeavor. You must start with what you know to go beyond what you know. So after gathering some generative research from the putative user base, we ideated, sketched, wireframed, applied visual design, and then presented to our target audience. For our first Labs project we decided to investigate whether there was a better way to manage conference rooms. In a nod to the origin of our company’s name, our answer to this particular What if is: Die Tür.

Before going into details about Die Tür, let’s rewind a few ticks of the clock. Like the Brady Bunch (or Voltron or The Avengers – take your pick, based on your preferred cultural milieu), we had to come together as a unit first and decide on a mission objective.

We see a lot of bumper stickers here in ATX exhorting us to keep things local. We took that to heart and thought about both our office and the general urban area when brainstorming world-changing ideas. Among the considered topics:

  • Traffic help – alternate routes to get around heavy traffic; solutions to company parking lot woes
  • Homelessness – providing/communicating services to the homeless; community partnership to end homelessness
  • Encouraging personal responsibility - Dirty dishes in the sink; stinky fridge syndrome
  • Improving plant health – Right time to water, fertilize, trim, etc.
  • Grocery – “Best-path” for grocery shopping (multiple stores, specialty items, etc.)
  • Street parking – finding parking spots; better ways to pay
  • Noisy neighbors
  • “The Gauntlet” – dangerous crosswalk in front of the Austin p202 building

Any of those would have made for a fun and exciting design challenge. But as the crew bandied ideas and proposals about, we noticed that the issue of room reservation and management seemed to elicit the strongest responses. We put it to a vote, and the room management issue won with a significant plurality.

We could have moved immediately into ideation from this selection. This was, after all, one of those rare situations where we could both design a solution and benefit from the solution as users. One of the strengths of the lab initiative, however, is that we drew members from across practices, and with Design Researchers on board, we thought it would be cool to use a simple survey to get some good old-fashioned user input from people who weren’t directly involved in the project. We also “observed” some of our office mates selecting and reserving rooms.

The survey results and direct observations both confirmed what we’d believed: nobody was happy with the way rooms are managed, labeled, and reserved…in any of our p202 office locations! Common responses included: not knowing which rooms were which, not knowing who had a room or for how long without having to go back to one’s desk to look it up in Outlook, and not having any idea about the suitability of the various conference rooms for the needs of a meeting.

We took these responses into account when we moved to the next phase: brainstorming solutions.

Which begat a presentation to our “clients” – in this case, the rest of the office. But we didn’t just want to put together the all-too-typical deck for this presentation. Since once of the directives of projekt202 Labs is “Have Fun”, we put together a film to showcase both the process and the solution, and we think it’s ready for Cannes and Sundance:

So far, the most common response to the video is “Can we have this right now?!” We researched the materials needed to bring something like this to life, and…who knows? Maybe the next effort from the Labs crew will be to build this and market it.

In any event, we enjoyed having this opportunity to stretch our minds a bit, and we’re confident this is only the first of many exciting and envelope-pushing ideas that the Labs initiative will produce.

There’s a New Meme in Town

To great surprise (and amusement), our meme Stocking Is the New Planking is getting some traction on the web and has gained a few followers and participants. As researchers, we’re definitely interested in examining the analytics and looking at how an idea spreads. As designers we’re reminded that the best ideas are often the simple ones and born out of collaboration. And as creative types working on the internet, we’re excited about seeing how other people adapt and remix our little jolt of craziness.

We’re not sure where this will go, but we’re going to have a little more fun with it. Check it out – you might see some familiar faces.

Oh, did we mention that we are taking submissions?

selected images from "Stocking is the New Planking"
selected images from "Stocking is the New Planking"

Augmented Reality and a New Age of Interface

by Matt Nesbitt
projekt202


The Augmented Reality Event 2011 just wrapped up in Santa Clara last month and I am excited by what was going on there. Flat pieces of paper that come alive as interactive, virtual product displays; Books that explode with the depth of a pop-up book combined with a movie; Art that exists all around us, yet unseen to the naked eye. This augmented world is brimming with stuff that we are just now getting the commonplace technology to effectively see. While the industry is maturing beyond the initial wave of exploratory applications, it still has lots of potential. We at projekt202 were inspired by all of this and sat down for some concept studies of unique Augmented Reality(AR) products that both solve a real need and utilize existing technology.

AR in Construction

Today, architects and engineers are creating 3d BIM computer models of their projects, but these models are only being utilized at a fraction of their potential. These parametric models are rich with information; however they are mainly only utilized in the design process and not during construction. For construction, the digital models are ossified into sets of 2d drawings called construction documents. This invariably results in wasted time and energy when architects and contractors meet about a 3-dimensional detail that is difficult to understand from the 2d construction documents.

What is missing is a way to get that rich, 3d information into the field without printing out large and potentially outdated paper documents or gathering around a computer and monitor. The job site is a harsh condition and it is hard enough to find a place to set the construction documents, let alone a desktop or laptop computer to view a 3d model, so the value of the model is unrealized.

The solution is to utilize the latest in Augmented Reality on mobile devices to display the architect’s virtual model over a contractor’s live phone camera feed. The mobile phone already plays a prominent role for contractors as it is usually the only method for communication on-site. By leveraging this ubiquity, the contractor would be empowered with the richness of the 3d model and be able to increase efficiency and construction schedules.

AR for Networking

What if you could know about your next important business contact before you even meet them?

The social connections we make have always been important to being part of the business community. Networking and conference events provide great opportunities to expand those connections, but often the events are chaotic and intimidating. Because there is limited time to network around an event, you want to make sure you spending your time efficiently by meeting with the people that are most important to your business.

With Augmented Reality on mobile devices you could find out who you need to meet – without having to rely on someone else to make that introduction. Utilizing facial recognition technology similar to what Facebook has today, attendees of a conference could be scanned with your phone’s camera and relevant CV data displayed directly on your screen. You would be able to sort through the attendees’ information and find the ones that mattered to you. You would even be able to learn a little about them beforehand, allowing for a natural conversation starter.

So how will we interface with these new products? The mobile, touch-device platforms seem the most promising. But it may by a hybrid of Kinect-like spatial sensors combined with touch. Or even onscreen, composited interactions between the virtual and real objects. Whichever path, we look forward to the next chance to explore these ideas in greater detail!

You Got Bebop in My Norgie

By Peter Oshima
projekt202

Our Music Fridays came to a halt after a bit too much Endless Love flowed from the speakers. With peace restored for a while now, a fellow p202er sent an office-wide email recently, raising the question: “What music do you find yourself listening to the most while you work in the office?”

A few people chimed in, sharing what they felt helped them while performing different activities: writing, wireframing, and designing, while others wrote to recommend what they listen to when needing concentration or energy. While trying to think of something to contribute, I wondered if music was necessary at all, and if so, what would really be the best for visual designers? Occasionally, the mere act of putting something into or around my ears was enough to help me concentrate, and I would often forget to hit “Play”. It got me into the zone in the same way I would imagine helmets would work for football players on the bench, or goggles and a scarves would work for pilots on the ground: necessary just in case, but not impossible to do without. With the portability of music, and the abundance of streaming media available online as well, it’s not a question of should or should you not listen to music…but what kind should you listen to?

Researchers at the University of Wales in Cardiff have recently found that listening to music while performing some tasks actually hurts concentration. Their recommendation was to listen to music that we like separately from performing tasks that require concentration. Now, if we were performing solely cognitive tasks such as information recall, perhaps this may apply, but for designers everywhere, headphones and speakers would fall silent if we were forced to listen to music we didn’t like – much like our Music Fridays. The researches added that the study doesn’t necessarily negate the popular Mozart Effect studies that come out in the 90s, since those studies focused more on “therapeutic interventions, rather than performing tasks while background music is being played.” So could it be that the benefits of listening to music all depend on individual mental tasks and personal tastes? Sure it can. But what if there was something more to the music we listen to in what inspires us and fosters creativity?

For me as a designer, I can usually point to any one of my comps and remember what I was listening to at the time. For example, country western and enka music helped inspire early Georgetown Rail and Charles Schwab designs, and disco (no lie!) was used very often when doing visuals for projekt202. For inspiration in the office (as well as learning and entertainment), I listened to everything from old time radio plays and yé-yé to classical music and synthpop. But out of all the things that I’ve listened to while designing visuals, only one genre has constantly worked the best for almost every task from rendering concepts to posting specifications: jazz!

I didn’t always listen to jazz music while doing creative work, and so this recommendation doesn’t come from a fan’s perspective, but from a designer’s perspective. Modern, modal jazz music encompasses three major themes that I found essential in visual design: 1) the pursuit of new style through improvisation 2) embracing and respecting structure and standards and 3) communicating and sharing “solo time” between individuals. As Dizzy Gillespie put it, “Jazz is supposed to be the most unselfish of art forms. In jazz, you give yourself completely to make somebody else play their best. You try to do something to make them, inspire them to do something.” While these themes have always been good to keep in mind, and can be dissected out of almost every typical performance, practically speaking, I’ve found switching between a state of actually listening and paying close attention to the music (and keeping those themes in mind), to zoning it all out into the background and concentrating only on the design itself or the task at hand is easy with jazz.

The relationship of listening to jazz and creative work has been established from a scientific point of view as well. Sr VP of the MITABrain Based Center, Robyn McMaster, PhD writes, “listening to jazz, chock full of improvisation, can enhance creativity as you work on most any project.” She refers to Dee Joy Coulter, Ed.D. of the Kindling Touch Institute, who says that listening to jazz can “lift the listener into theta consciousness.” According to them, the slower theta brain waves are “considered the most highly creative brain waves, and give birth to artistic and spiritual insight.”

Creating jazz music also has its perks. Charles Limb, M.D. and Allen R. Braun, M.D. at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine published a recent study on jazz music and creativity, in which they found that artists enter a different state of mind when improvising jazz music. You can see Limb’s TED talk here. Their research found that parts of the prefrontal cortex linked to self-expression and activities that convey individuality, such as communicating and language, light up when improvising.

While you can listen to a number of things while working, listening to the right music at the right time can really do wonders for your concentration and creativity. Give modern jazz a try! Even if you dislike it, it’s got to be better than Endless Love, right?

I Should Be Number 1!

I Should Be Number 1!

The other day I came across one of these many lists ranking the 10 most promising professions for 2010 and although Design researcher, Interaction designer or Visual designer was not directly on the list, I did find a few professions on the list that certainly made our future at projekt202 look pretty bright. On most of the lists, number 2, 3 and/or 4 was Computer software engineer or Software Analyst, which is probably not a surprise to anybody since pretty much everything nowadays involves a computer or piece of code in one way or another. However, the upswing on this is that everyone knows that these people also need a designer like us at p202 to make their creations user friendly through some amazing User Interfaces (UI).