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4th October 2017 - No Comments!

Design Sprint with Leeds Beckett

A couple of days ago I took the Numiko design team to see some students who are studying the BSc Creative Media Technology at Leeds Beckett. They are first years and have just started a few weeks ago so I think we might have been their first 'industry' presentation. I hope I didn't put anyone off. Instead of the usual 60 minutes of show and tell I wanted to get them doing something and give them an opportunity to interact with us and each other. Could I intro our company in 15 minutes and do a Google Ventures style design sprint in 45 minutes? Probably not but I thought I'd give it a try.

Setting the problem space
One of their first briefs was around wearable tech for professionals. I had a look at it and decided to tweak and tighten it up a bit so we could be on the same page and move fast in the same direction.

    Wearable devices for families

    With the looming crisis of children getting gradually more obese, Nike have decided to enter a new market and create a device, for families, that will help encourage higher levels of exercise among the children and adults. They have already created a watch series that is built in various sizes to fit adults and children. The primary feature that excites them is the ability to have the watches communicate with each other over long distance via 4G network. They think this will open up a variety of new types of interaction between family members that could encourage increases in movement.

    Technically the watch will have a small touch screen and include various features to help track movement: GPS, a gyroscope, pedometer and a 4G connection to connect the family of watches together.

    Nike invites you to think about the technology available and ideate some creative ways to
    use the watches to encourage family members to stay healthy together.

    Areas of opportunity
    • Gamification
    • Competition
    • Encouragement

Sounds quite good... Actually I wonder if this could be a real thing. Being a Dad myself I'd probably like something like that.

I also pulled out some slides from a Public Health England research paper which highlighted the problem.
- One in five children in Reception is overweight or obese
- One in three children in Year 6 is overweight or obese
- By 2034 70% of adults will be overweight or obese

God this actually makes me cringe. Its not good is it. Anyway it seemed like a decent problem to try and solve. Maybe the family aspect of it would be lost on these youngsters but I hoped they could build a mental model of the situation from their own childhoods.

The Sprint

As I had very little time I had to set a super tight agenda. It just about worked although sadly we didn't get a chance to do the final presentation - I would have liked to get around the other 2 groups to see what they started to hone in on. Also the feedback was limited but I think we (the Numiko design team) managed to give each student a few pointers. Ideally we would have had more time and encouraged them to give good constructive feedback to each other.

• Set the design problem (5 mins)
• Split into 3 groups and find an area to work (5 mins)
• Sketch out a bunch of different ideas (10 minutes)
• Present favourite idea to the group (1 minute each = 15 minutes)
• Steal the best bits of everyone else ideas and sketch out 1 higher fidelity concept (5 minutes)
• Present idea to team (30s each / 5 minutes)


My group very quickly oriented towards a competitive approach that included rewards. Something along the lines of a league table (based on walking distances and intensity of activities) that paid out a reward / punishment at the end of each week/month/year. If you come bottom of the league you have to do something horrible like the washing up etc. If you come top you get to decide something like what's for Sunday dinner.

Sadly they all had to rush into another session but the lecturer grabbed a few bits of paper of some students today and sent me a snap. I'm hoping to get some more, steal their ideas, and turn it into a real product. Kickstarter here we come!

All in all I was pretty happy with the hour. We intro'd them to Numiko and get them working together in teams of around 10. They still didn't know each other's names so hopefully the session will have broken some ice.

6th May 2016 - No Comments!

New job & new workflow

So I’ve recently started working as Head of Design at a digital studio called Numiko in Leeds. I’ve been invited to the team to raise the quality bar and streamline the design process. From the outside looking in they have a pretty nice looking portfolio and the work was way more useful and cultural than the marketing lead work I did previously. This was the main draw for me but it was just time for a change - I like change - be that keeping on top of new programs that speed up the job or new locations to explore.

The design and development team set up

So one of the first things on my list was to see how the design team was working at Numiko and how they collaborated with the rest of the team. As you can imagine this was a bit of a suck and see process. I just wanted to watch how the whole group worked together. First impressions were good. Admittedly very different to my last place, The Neighbourhood, as the digital team was much bigger (5 at the 'hood - 20 at Numiko). Mainly just a lot more developers and a clear split between front-end and back-end whereas I was used to working with developers of the full-stack variety. The company has a much more developer centric attitude that other places I’ve worked which is great in some ways; as I feel I’m at the helm of a starship with a tonne of awesome engineers, and bad in others; 

The design workflow

The designers use Photoshop. I haven’t used Photoshop to design since…. When I worked at De-construct about 7 years ago so this was going to be fun. At some point when I was freelancing, and continuing at AllofUs, I moved to using Illustrator to design. It was (still is) faster and art-boards happened to be super useful. The design to developer handoff process wasn’t as smooth as it could have been - talk through designs and hand over PSDs. To be honest its pretty standard way of working in the industry although I think now we have better tools for the job. Presenting to clients was also a bit sluggish PNGs > Basecamp > Skype + producers & clients adding comments. Quite hard to keep track of whats going on and can be open to interpretation as clients can be looking at the designs in whatever image viewer - maybe not at 100% - not understanding the feel of the website etc. 

Where does Zeplin fit in the workflow?

I’m a big fan of working in Sketch, designing at speed, with many eyes on the work (developers & client) to reduce the time spent designing unwanted things. I wanted to introduce, and enhance, the workflow out that I’d developed at my last company: Design in Sketch. Send clickable prototypes to the client in Invision. Provide Invision to developers and give them Sketch files to pull design details from - or if I have time produce a style guide of some description (not very often sadly). Sketch is a load easier for front-end developers to use than Photoshop - its been built from the ground up with these things in mind. The only problem was that half the developers work on Windows at Numiko and Sketch is Mac only. I needed a way of translating this work into something useful for those guys - after a quick google I stumbled onto which looked ideal. In fact it looked better than ideal - it was going to further streamline the process. After a quick test we cracked straight on and started a project with Zeplin being used to create a more developer friendly design environment. 



Things I am loving about Zeplin

  • Being able to create a style guide of all the elements and see little inconsistencies in typography and colours. If I’ve create a couple of type sizes or colours that are almost the same I’ll try and merge them - and if I can’t I know why. Its not just a designing fast oversight. 
  • Being able to update a design, sling it into Zeplin, and have the team updated via Slack. This although at the start of the project can be a bit OTT in Slack its a huge time/mistake saver nearer the end the project. Trying to keep a small team updated of every small tweak is hard as I don’t want to spoil their working flow. But if the client, producer or developer asks a question about something, I can modify the design and upload it and its ready to go.
  • Seeing the relief on a developers face the first time they open Zeplin and see all the code neatly written up for them to grab. Yeah its not perfect and will require work but its just saved them a day open and closing various Photoshop files looking for type sizes and line heights, spaces between objects etc.
  • A single point of truth. The Zeplin project area is the place the team go for the latest designs. Not the server for Sketch files or PSDs. This is a huge benefit. I’m not sure how other companies create projects on their servers but I’m yet to see one that is minimal enough to be easy to use. They are generally over convoluted and a pain the ass.