Useability

Useability

What makes something easy to use? What process will set you up for success every time? These are the questions at the core of design usability.

Sometimes we (the end users) internalize poor design usability. If you’ve ever been frustrated because of something working poorly, you’ve probably been the victim of bad design. This is why design cannot happen in a vacuum (hello design thinking). Something that is designed with usability in mind will be designed to succeed. This applies to so many things beyond print materials for non- profit organizations.

If we imagine what can happen in a perfect world and create solutions for that world, our solutions will always fail, because they aren’t based in the lived experiences of the people they are meant to help.

For example, a logo that is difficult to read or does not reproduce well in many formats is poorly designed for usability. Consider the end user, but also consider what has to happen to get an item in the hands of the end user. Usability extends to the pain points that might prevent an organization from fully employing all of the materials and tools available to them. Knowing what you want your materials to do is just as important as having them in the first place.

Anyone else love to come up with perfect solutions while completely ignoring who they are in real life?!

For example, if I make a dinner date and know that it takes me an hour to get there, know that I don’t finish work til 6, the logical thing to do would be to plan for dinner at 7. But somehow I always think I can teleport and make the plans for 6. Totally unrealistic. Then I feel like I failed because I didn’t make it in time — but I set myself up to fail. Design takes into account real world limitations of the materials and people using them.

Usability is not just what the end user does, but what happens to get something in the hands of the end user in the first place. If we don’t think through the way we think and do things on a day to day basis, and work with our real limitations, we will never get our work into the hands of the people who need it the most — that’s usability. Literally, what is useable. What is doable. What’s realistic given the limitations of the circumstances we’re facing.

 

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Professionalism

Professionalism

Is your design professional?

Often, smaller organizations launch with materials designed by a volunteer or a student. While that may be appropriate in the early stages, as the organization grows and seeks greater opportunity and influence, the quality and professionalism of the design need to keep pace.

Being professional is like being dressed right for an event. You might be able to get away with some thrift store gem at a black tie affair (ie keeping your student-designed logo as you step into the big leagues), but that’s going to be a rare case.

Having professional design isn’t just about the finished product, it’s about the process of getting the work done in the first place.

Professionalism also extends to working with the designer, you want your experience to be fun and pain-free, you want someone who “gets it,” without weeks (or even months!) of revisions. Experience lends itself to professionalism — you need the job done well and the process to have a sense of ease.

In the end, a professional design has an intangible quality that you might not be able to explain, but you’ll know it when you see it. The visual world has its own language, the good design allows messages to be understood by your ideal audience. The level of polish in a design is part of this message.

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Consistency

Consistency

In design, as in life, consistency builds trust.

We all had that “fun” friend in our twenties who was super cool to hang out with, but when you really needed someone who could show up on time, be supportive, and generally act like a responsible adult, they were nowhere to be found. They probably also changed their hair a lot, had a different job every few months, fell in and out of romantic relationships with ease, but they never really had it “together.” They weren’t the person you called in a crisis.

But what does a look back at the toxic relationships of our twenties have to do with the non-profit we work at now?

If your materials and messaging aren’t consistent, you are this friend. Worse yet, you’re coming across as the flakey friend to people who really need your help!

Do you have too many variations in your materials? One type of font & color scheme for one event, and something entirely different for the rest? While this is not generally an issue for smaller organizations, larger companies with many departments may find that they’ve lost control of the brand. This is an excellent reason to revisit the design — and create a strong Identity Standards Manual — and then make one person responsible for managing consistency.

While you deal with your brand day in and day out and know it like you know your Starbucks order but your audience will never be as familiar with your brand as you are.

If you truly want your organization to make a positive impact on people, you first have to earn trust. If your branding materials are inconsistent, you’re creating unnecessary obstacles for your clients to benefit from what your organization has to offer.

 

 

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Is your design working for you?

Is your design working for you?

At some point, you may wonder if your design is working against you. If you saw our previous post about the success of design-driven organizations and felt a sinking feeling wishing your organization was more design driven…don’t despair! We’re going to give you some things to think about when putting some razzle-dazzle back into your design.

Strategy.

The best identity systems are those that are based on solid strategy. Consider your overall business objectives and review your logo, brand, print materials & website from a strategic perspective. Has the organization’s focus shifted from the original designs? If you have grown significantly or are reaching a very different audience, it may be necessary to redesign to more accurately reflect your current (and future) growth. We’ve covered strategy here, here and here.

Professionalism.

Is your design professional? Often, smaller organizations launch with materials designed by a volunteer or a student. While that may be appropriate in the early stages, as the organization grows and seeks greater opportunity and influence, the quality and professionalism of the design need to keep pace.

Equity. 

Not all logos need updating. Consider your audience’s relationship with the logo. How much equity does your logo have? If your audience is very comfortable with your current logo, it’s wise to tread lightly when it comes to redesigning. In some cases, a beloved logo that would otherwise benefit from a revision might be better off with the most modest of updates.

Usability.

A logo that is difficult to read or does not reproduce well is a good candidate for a redesign. Consider how the logo is used and note any difficulties you have in its application. Usability extends to the pain points that might prevent an organization from fully employing all of the materials and tools available to them. Knowing what you want your tools and materials to do is just as important as having them in the first place. 

Consistency.

Do you have too many variations in your materials? One type of font & color scheme for one event, and something entirely different for the rest? While this is not generally an issue for smaller organizations, larger companies with many departments may find that they’ve lost control of the brand. This is an excellent reason to revisit the design — and create a strong Identity Standards Manual — and then make one person responsible for managing consistency.

Competition.

Consider how your branding and identity materials fit among your competitors/peers? Gather the logos from all organizations in your niche. Do any stand out as particularly well- or poorly- designed? If your logo looks out of place when viewed side-by-side with your peers, you should take a deeper look.

Resonance.

Beyond the specific design elements, a strong logo furthers positive associations with your organization. Do you feel that the logo accurately represents the organization? Do you like it? Are you proud of it? Does the logo —and the broader brand system— trigger positive emotions?

Undertaking this type of analysis of your materials and assets puts you in a great position to make more strategic and effective design decisions.

For more information or to enlist Union Design to provide a Design Audit of your logo or other marketing materials, send a note to hello@uniondesignstudio.com.

 

 

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The Value of Design

The Value of Design

Have you ever wondered how much value design adds to your organization?

As the design field moves toward greater accountability through data & analytics, we are finding more ways to measure the value of design. A 2015 report by the Design Management Institute found that design-driven businesses are correlated with greater profitability. Design-driven companies outperform the S&P 500 by 211% over the last ten years.

You don’t have to be a Fortune 500 company in order to benefit from investment in design. Whether you’re running a non-profit or a start-up, ROI of design increases as it moves up the organizational ladder. When design strategy is integrated with business planning at the highest level, you’re setting yourself up to win.

Here are a few ways to increase the value that design brings to your organization:

Improve visual quality.

This applies to products, services, and communications. It’s not just about looks (it’s never just about looks, come on, you know that!). Search for ways to optimize the experience your audiences have with your organization. Show your audiences that you care about them by first understanding them, then developing communication materials that are clear, consistent and engaging.

Unify your design approach.

As customers interact with different aspects of your organization, make sure they are getting the same message and the same quality of presentation and care. Consider all of your materials (print and digital) as a cohesive unit. Identify areas of disconnect and move toward a more consistent organizational look and feel.

Integrate design with overall business strategy.

Perhaps the most important way to boost the value of your design is to think of graphic design as a business tool, not as window dressing. To see the real results design can deliver, time and effort must be spent developing strategic materials with the audience in mind. Skipping over this crucial step limits that value that design can add — and why would you do such a thing?! Develop a design strategy that supports the most important goals of your organization. Using an iterative process around design to drive innovation will improve the user experience and pay off for your organization.

As you become more intentional about your design strategy, measure the results of design improvements so you can see what resonates with your audience.

Get in touch with Union Design to learn more about what good design can do for you.

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You can read more about DMI’s findings here.

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2018 Moon Calendar Is Here!

2018 Moon Calendar Is Here!

In case you haven’t noticed, Union Design’s 2018 Moon Calendar is here!

We love our Moon Calendar tradition and are always so happy to have people display these in their homes!

The second full moon of 2018 is already upon us — January 31 will mark the second full moon of January.

And while usually “once in a blue moon,” means something rare, there are actually TWO blue moons in 2018, they happen in January and March.

A year with 13 full moons typically happens once every 2-3 years, depending on when the moons fall.

2018 also started with a full moon.

We enjoyed finding the moon patterns and facts while working on this calendar. You can purchase the 2018 Moon Calendar here!

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How the magic happens.

How the magic happens.

Last week we talked about how a consult can help you get to the root of the problem you’re solving, and I find it’s helpful for people to know what comes after identifying the problem.

My process is highly intuitive, which comes from experience, but there is a strategic method underlying that intuition.

We start with a kickoff meeting where we dive deeper into the problem we need to solve and also make sure all of the relevant parties are identified and involved at necessary points. We also audit existing materials.

The audit is a key part of the process for understanding what has been done, what has gone well, and what direction the organization wants to go in, we really strive to get all of the relevant information out in the open. Discovery is an intense but necessary process.

Like death and taxes, we predictably start with strategy. One way to frame the strategic thinking is with who, what, and how?  The “what” phase is really about the “why.” And Who’s on first. You’re following, right? 🙂

A great deal of what we work on in the first phase of discovery is understanding the SMIT or the Single Most Important Thing. With the focus provided by understanding our SMIT (not to be confused with Smurf) we are able to navigate the entire project with clarity. When we try to do too many things at once, we can’t excel at any of them.

The second goal of discovery is to help the team get buy in from their superiors and decision makers. This goes back to having clarity around goals and understanding the stakes and the why of the project. Often people closest to the project get excited about the new direction, but struggle to “sell” that to their superiors. Discovery helps put the project in context so that the meaning stays connected to the goals and metrics.

After what and why, comes who. Who is the audience for this project? We delve into questions around the audience and existing landscape. If an organization doesn’t know who they are talking to, their ability to communicate effectively significantly diminishes.

The third phase of discovery is the “how.” During this phase we ask what the strategy for achieving our goals are, we discuss the tone, message, and visuals. I draw on all of the information that has been discussed up to this point and I create something that aligns with the goals and messages we’ve discussed.

While design can be central to our daily lives, we rarely take the time to stop and think about the process of how something came to be what it is, (unless it doesn’t work). The purpose behind the Union Method is that we think about what we want something to be so that what we create is effective. Join us in the journey to design intentionally.

 

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Can you ever really solve your own problems?

Can you ever really solve your own problems?

Is that philosophical question, or what?

It could be argued that if you could solve the problem, it wouldn’t be a problem in the first place. But most non-profits deal with problems — problems of their clients, problems of their employees and usually people end up on this blog because they’re trying to solve a design problem. The good news is that you don’t have to solve your own design problems.

The first step to working with me, and getting your problem solved is booking a consult.

When people book a consultation, I start gathering information, my gears are spinning from the first contact. The investigation starts right away!

This can be overwhelming, but my experience helps me guide people through the process. At times, people aren’t clear on what their project goals are, or what they need, I get to the core of the project right from the beginning. We talk about all of the things I’ve been writing about for the last few weeks — audience, purpose, goals, intention — so that I can draw out the most essential information and start the design from a place of strategy. 

After a call I’m able to put together a project proposal, outlining all of the deliverables, deadlines, client responsibilities and cost. This ensures we all start the project with the same expectations and understand our responsibilities.

Once the ink is dry on the contract, we get to work!

If you’re struggling to articulate your goals, or understand the purpose of what you’re doing, don’t feel bad, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture when you’re focused on the day to day. Why not book a phone call and get some help?

 

 

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Intention + Intuition

Intention + Intuition

*The Union Method*

Uniting strategy and visuals to create the impact you need.

What happens in the mind of a “creative” person is always mysterious to a “non-creative” person. It’s true that intuition is a powerful tool for creativity, but it’s also true that intuition is born from experience. Creative work is work — it takes practice, discipline, thoughtfulness, and skill.

While creating something that is visually pleasing is always an important part of what I do, something that is only visually pleasing, that doesn’t rely on any strategic intentions, is worthless. Getting to the goals, intentions, and strategy is the foundation of the Union Method — the process every client and every project go through to make the most effective design possible. 

What’s valuable about having a repeatable method is that it’s strategic in and of itself. The Union Method is designed to be flexible enough to work on different types of projects, but concrete enough to get the results needed in different situations. It’s both intuitive and intentional, so clients can trust that the work we’re doing is effective, without needing to micromanage every aspect of the creative process.

 

 

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