Agile In Design With Jon Aizlewood

My good friend Jon Aizlewood recently wrote about his approach to keeping ontop of design patterns that emerge during an agile, or sprint based design process for a project on his blog http://jonaizlewood.com/articles/visual-inventories-for-agile-design.

In the years that I was at Clearleft, I got to work with Jon the most. As with any collaboration, after a few projects we really found a rhythm, and shared with one another our approaches and methods. Jon’s technique in Sketch at first seemed like insanity with this giant canvas and loads of things sprawled across it, however as he mentions in his post if you scroll out you get this incredible 30,000ft view of the design construct, very much like looking at a teardown photo or unboxing that have become so popular in recent years.

Disassembly photo of a bicycle by gizmodo
Disassembly of a bicycle Source: Gizmodo

As the part of the duo that focussed mainly on the content aspect; and order of the structure, I was really there to provide Jon with real content that he needed to stress test his design language. This ability to zoom in and out of the page types and having this scratch pad of emerging patterns and where they currently appear meant much faster development of new page & content types as we progressed because I had this option to zoom out, and search for whether we have tackled a similar problem in a previous sprint and whether it can be either re-used, or extended.

Find a base and extend it’s use

This idea of extension becomes much easier to sketch out in rough once you have an understanding of what the base component can be. There’s nothing in my portfolio I can use to illustrate this, however if you were to look at penguinrandomhouse.co.uk You’ll see that Jon and I developed this idea of a card based system for housing certain types of information. This evolved over a number of sprints by being able to look at the content pattern and then add to it new data, this is how you go from a person card, to a building card, to a book card. The core design principle for housing this data is ultimately the same, but we’re extending it to include a new data attribute.

Without the ability to look at all the patterns that are emerging within each sprint and viewing each page type this not only could have taken longer, but we may have exhausted time developing design patterns which we thought were unique when they were in fact just an extension of an existing one.

Back to School

Back in October, Ben White, Viviana Doctorovich and I were given a unique opportunity to teach a one-day introduction to User Experience Design at Ravensbourne College in London, an institution that specialises in design, art and media.

The workshop was run for students in year 2 & 3 to coincide with the kickoff of their end of year project which would be focussed on digital product design. The day had a full attendance and by the end of it we had introduced the students to some core exercises and skills from the UX arsenal. We set them a brief for the day with a loose brief of designing an app for students to use during their first week as new students at Ravensbourne College.

Into the Den

Last week, I was invited back, along with faculty and another industry figure to act as a review panel for the end of year projects for year 2. It was surprising to see so many of the students who had attended the workshop had incorporated some of the design thinking exercises and skills we had taught during our workshop into their projects, notably some well thought out user journeys using both storyboards and flow diagrams.

During a back-to-back day, we were presented 14 product ideas and asked to provide feedback to the students. I was there to provide feedback on the product design, whilst my industry colleague provided business advice ranging from presenting skills to whether an idea is sellable. This is where at times our opinions differ and it was a shame that part of their project brief had been to find ways to monetise their apps and that there was a note of adding ‘social integration’, both of these requirements academically meant that many of the projects suffered as they looked for ways to tick boxes and crowbar requirements in (how familiar is that?).

There were some truly outstanding products and not a single group had created the same thing, they weren’t even in the same ballpark. Most groups had thought about genuine problems that concerned them and then thought about how to solve the problem. Almost all of the groups concluded that this was a solution only a ‘native’ app could solve; I highlighted that it wasn’t necessary to many as they had made website prototypes that worked better.

Students Want Insight

One project in particular struck a chord. One group had been looking into ways in which they could bring students, soon to be graduates and recent graduates, closer to people within the industry explaining that, as a young designer finding their way there are so many websites, so many design companies that it is impossible to know where to find the right information, inspiration and discover people’s work which may sway you to seeking employment with them.

The concept had some solid ideas, but a little lost in the ‘I want to make an app’ ideology, and I think is viable, to the point that I requested they get in touch to see whether we can make it happen.

It became the theme for the day. Why I was there was because the lecturers had acknowledge that there is a separation between academic study and application in the business world and we all need to work towards bridging that gap. Much of the feedback reflected on the research undertaken, the methods they could have used for more accurate results and how we would approach this research in a commercial environment. There are things which we do by instinct in our business lives which students are not being taught. Research methods like user interviews, or competitor analysis are not modules in schools and colleges, or at least not encompassing the exercises we carry out, and the way in which we choose to present and use this data.

This year we chose to not run any internships. 2015 sees us opening that door again which I am excited for, it was sad to not share our style, and work with a new generation of designers and to see what ideas are emerging from these new bloods. If you are interested in exploring what we do and spending a few months with us in Brighton, please send us your details to info@clearleft.com.

A year at Clearleft, come and play

The end of summer, Monday meeting at Clearleft

At the end of August 2013 I got invited into a little room in the Clearleft office at Kensington Street, Brighton joined by Andy and Richard. I’d been freelancing with them since February, working on projects with Rich and welcomed into the Clearleft family. Even as a freelancer, I was invited on companies days out to the Design Awards in London, a trip to the new offices for a hackday to design the interior and many, many lunches. In that short time I was sad to see the departures of both Harry Brignull, who had been my lead when I had first started there and then Josh Emerson, a formidable young man with a very bright outlook that managed to cut any negativity that may be in the day with his presence.pa

My contract has reached its end and I walked in presuming I would be asked to stay on for a few more weeks to help cover the end of the project I’d been working on. I was more than excited when instead, I was offered a permanent role. A year has passed and Clearleft has grown considerably since I first stepped through the door on a Friday afternoon back in February.

Andy Dennis, headphones and a squint, standard

For those first few months, there was still this almost ad-hoc startup vibe. Andy Dennis, another contractor at the time and I spent most days working from a Sofa or Beanbag hidden behind the chairs and tables of Jeremy, James Bates and Mikey. I barely saw Andy, or Boxman for the first 2 months with their schedules a mixture of intensive on-site working and conference speaking around the world.

James Box, Nordic to the core

Being my first job back in Brighton, those first few months gave me the opportunity to rediscover all the things I loved about this town/city that I had lost working in the wilderness of Sussex and Kent. I was introduced by Batesy to the perils of the Chorizo and Cheese Sub at Hells Kitchen, routine trips to Pompoko and the endless discussions about where we were going to eat. And they are endless. Clearleft has an eating problem, one that you must fully embrace and allow yourself to get swept up in. Lunch is a big deal here, and whenever it is possible everyone sits and eats together, whether it is in the office, the park, the pub, or this year a lot of time on the beach. It’s the first place I have ever worked in where seeing somebody have lunch at their desk is scarce.

There are conversations of all kinds, every day, whether it is industry opinion and sharing our beliefs and ideas of how we can make the web better, weather we should listen to 90s shoegaze or 00s house, what film we should all go to watch at the cinema, or whether to have our own movie night instead, get some beers in, some pizzas and veg out. Together.

In the past year, we’ve moved home to 68middle.st, Sophie became a permanent member of the team after project managing the new build, Viv started in the height of the summer bringing her Argentinian flare, Tessa joined as we began moving home allowing Kate to focus more on our series of events. Graham upped sticks and moved from ‘the north’ to the sea; A man with many names, Gary, Philip, A certain Princess. I was incredibly sad to see Paul move on to great things at The Guardian just before Hackfarm, Ant started on the first day of Hackfarm, where I was fortunate to have an intensive induction into his wonderfully colourful character along with our 3 interns Victor, Zassa and Killian who have certainly left a mark and perhaps a little hole in our nest.

The Interns

In the last 9 months the family has grown again with the Granola and Legume munching Ben White, and Andy Thornton. We are now a company of 3 Andy’s, 2 James’s and 2 Ben’s. Barking at one another across the office space has become a gamble, never sure which person you’ll reach, but we get by.

It’s a diverse group. As long as you can accept that you will never beat Mark at anything, seeing as he now holds several world records for a few races that are a mere 100 miles in length, or that Jon will, know every single Canadian you meet, that you may have to queue for the coffee machine, and don’t mind the ongoing saga of Brighton’s best burger, then you quickly see that this is a place for friends, not just colleagues.

I’ve worked on projects with almost everyone now and have to say, I have never felt surround by so many intelligent, humours and loving people before. If somebody is down, we pick them up, if you need help, you just have to ask, it doesn’t matter whether it’s in or out of the office, work or something at home – there is not a person that wouldn’t give you the time and listen if you ever needed it. This is what makes Clearleft such an incredibly place to be. I’ve learnt a great deal from everyone at Clearleft, hell, I may have finally found a way to curb some of the teenage angst I’ve been so reluctant to let go of, although only through Mikey and I making a bet which I really don’t know whether I can keep up my end of all the way to Christmas and I am sure that Jess, will be trying her hardest to to push my buttons and make me crack, ever the mischievous one.

Jess wasn't a fan of Gastronamy at Hackfarm

We believe in working on projects that interest us, and give us the opportunity to work with new ideas, ideals and grow our own skills and knowledge. This is not a group of individuals who’ve taken their years in the field and are now coasting. Everyone is given a considerable training budget with no limitations on what you use it for, learning is the most important thing. We regularly have internal sessions to share things we have seen or learnt – just today Andy B, did a talk about why he loves Burning Man, having returned from another successful year and I am totally sold on this temporary city full of creative minds and exploration.

3 guys a cup and a sofa

And now, we’re looking to welcome another member. As our output has increased we’ve expanded teams, people have taken on additional roles on projects and we’d like to have another project manager. If you would like to join me, if what you’ve read today gives you even the slightest inkling as to the sort of place Clearleft is, please get in touch or check out the position on our site.

Brighton Digital Karting 2014

At the start of the year I had two social events I wanted to put together as an opportunity to get to know more people within the Brighton digital community.

Events like UX Brighton or AsyncJS (which now has a permanent home at 68 Middle Street) are great ways of expanding your skillset, sharing your work and learning new things. But I wanted to do something that was more about bringing together people to do something completely different to their day jobs.

Clearleft has in its ranks a number of petrolheads, and a group of us occasionally go racing or attend race meets both on 4 wheels and 2. For the team that was assembled for a project with Dennis Publishing to look at the future of [Evo Magazine](http://clearleft.com/made/evo-magazine) in digital form it was a match made in heaven.

With the [Digital Festival](http://www.brightondigitalfestival.co.uk/) coming up in just over a month, what better way to get together some of Brighton’s talent than putting them on a race track and let them battle out at Teamsport Go-Karting in Lancing?

And with that I give you Brighton Digital Karting on Thursday, 18th September 2014. A night of endurance racing open to anyone as part of the Brighton Digital Festival. You can get some more information and register your interest at https://ti.to/clearleft/bdkarting, I’ll be opening registration for teams during the week with 10 team slots available (4 drivers per team).

If you want to be like Honda, there’s no reason not to have a Factory Team and a Satellite Team entry, just remember you only get 1 engine per race and there’s only one choice of tyre compound – whatever is on the kart when you turn up.

I look forward to meeting some new people, and getting to know a few familiars better.

See you on the grid.

Day One – Future of the left

August 1st 2013. This is my first day as a member of the Clearleft team.

I have been here in what will soon be know as the old office since mid-February. My first assignment was assisting Harry Brignull on quite a challenging project which appealed to his making right of dark patterns. Since then I have helped out at Responsive Day Out, UX London and Ampersand Conf. Continue reading Day One – Future of the left