Tag Archives: Communication Blog

When to Engage an Outside Design Team

8 Jun

Design provides value to a business at any stage, but there are specific points in your company or project where engaging with a design firm provides the maximum amount of value to your organization.

Here are some of the best times to bring in outside support from a design team.

When you need help articulating an idea

You might have specific ideas around the next iteration of your product and are wondering what to do next. Maybe you have some sketches on a napkin that you want to socialize internally or with strategic partners.

At this point, design can help with customer research and validation to ensure your idea is strong and defendable. From there, an infographic, strategy deck, prototype or storyboard can help you start gathering real feedback from your customers or stakeholders.

When you don’t have in-house design leadership

Depending on your company, you might not have sufficient design talent in-house. Maybe you only have access to a small team of designers, but what your project really needs is a seasoned design team to lead the initiative or share the methods and process to inform the organization of a user-centered approach.

Senior designers are capable of seeing the larger project vision. They’re communication double-edged swords: they can keep junior designers on task, while also communicating high-level strategy to stakeholders.

Experienced design teams bring to the table a set of standards and best practices that your team can rely on and reference. The devil is often in the details, which is where a seasoned design team with years “under their belt” can set you up for success.

When there is uncertainty on direction

Have you ever realized that you spend more time talking about what you’re doing than actually doing what you’re doing? If you answered yes, you’re not alone.

This is often a signal that your team is unclear on what you’re building and where you’re headed. Working with a design team at this point helps align the team around a vision — a vision that’s created through the lens of your customers. At this point, design can also help to create a shareable document or prototype to communicate your product’s direction.

There’s too much work and not enough talent

So much to do, so little time — and so few resources. Maybe you just raised money, have a new opportunity or a shorter timeline. Either way, you could use some support to come alongside your team.

Bringing in an external design team, especially one that is accustomed to collaboration, can help give you the extra hands you need while also bringing an often-needed set of fresh eyes.

You’re looking for new ways to serve your customer

There are a million ways to provide value to your customers, but you’re looking to find the one that works best for you. Because you live and breathe today’s version of your business, customers and product, you could potentially use some help planning for the future.

An outside design team is a great way to generate insights, new opportunities and product ideas. They will start by using you and your customers to learn how things are today and then help imagine how they add value tomorrow.

You’re looking for ways to be better

Products and brands can become stale after a while and you may be looking for a refresh. You also might realize that your customers have changed over time and your messaging no longer speaks to them.

Utilizing a design team can help by seeing how you resonate with customers. They can test and gather insights to help with your next iteration.

These circumstances encompass some of the hardest problems organizations face and engaging with an outside design team is an efficient and valuable way to solve them. This inherently collaborative process aligns the key players in your organization to strategically meet your customers’ needs and provide value.

 

Andy Van Solkema, OST Chief Designer

Andy Van Solkema, OST Chief Designer

Functional design systems, and visual storytelling have long been a passion for Andy Van Solkema. From boyhood days of designing a neighborhood baseball league complete with team logos to designing for local, regional, and national companies, his passion has grown and evolved to leading a 12 person studio that is using design for unique outcomes that span stories, systems, processes and experiences.

Andy is a graduate of Grand Valley State University with BFA in Graphic Design and a Master’s of Design from Kendall College of Art and Design. Following graduation, Andy worked as a design consultant in the printing industry, graphic designer and art director in brand communications, and as an interaction design director. He enjoyed the variety of experiences, but ultimately something was missing.

In 2004, he started his own design studio, Visualhero Design. Initially working as a one-person shop in a home office, Andy grew the business in a slow, steady and smart way through the down economy. To differentiate themselves and to offer the most to their clients, in 2006 Andy and his team formally adopted user-center design principles with a research and systems approach to creative problem solving. In 2016, Visualhero was acquired by OST where Andy now serves as Chief Designer.  His team focuses on form, function, and meaning. The scope of work has grown to include graphic recording, data visualization, brand identity, interface design, information architecture, user experience and customer experience. They design brand communication, applications, websites, and business systems and processes that aren’t just easy on the eyes.  More importantly, they are designed for the user today and tomorrow.

Van Solkema has combined a systems and process mind with craft of design and creativity. He spends his time as an advocate for design, creative lead for the team, and managing design vision for OST / Visualhero Design. Although most days are spent directing design, running the business or meeting with clients, he enjoys using his experience helping GVSU Design Thinking Initiative and various nonprofit organizations. He also enjoys leading design workshops at his alma mater and other design education opportunities. 

Andy has been published in design books and publications and received accolades and awards for branding and design. Design has changed and although he is firmly rooted in West Michigan, the clientele has grown to include Amazon, Nest, Apple, Chamberlain, Capitol Studios, GM and a host of local, regional and national corporate clients, a handful of local and Bay Area startups. Well beyond what Andy could have ever imagined back in 2004. 

The Data Doesn’t Lie

5 May

Data is funny.

We use it to tell us all sorts of things. We call it empirical. We talk about how the data doesn’t lie. We look at numbers, look at trends, and we draw conclusions – not just the data scientists in the crowd, but everybody. How much money did you make last year? How profitable is the latest Captain America movie? Who is the most successful batter of all time? The data will tell us.

 

But … will it?

 

Let’s look at a couple of baseball players and examine their batting averages. This is real data I’m using here, and the math is pretty easy. For the sake of conversation, let’s try to determine who was a better batter – Derek Jeter or David Justice. To make things simple let’s examine a data set of just two years, 1995 and 1996, and let’s talk about each player’s batting average – that’s the percentage of time, when a batter is at bat, he gets a hit.

Derek Jeter’s batting average for 1995 was .250 and for 1996 was .314

David Justice’s batting average for 1995 was .253 and for 1996 was .321

What does the data tell us? It’s pretty clear, right? If you’re gonna pick a better batter for 1995 and 1996, you’d choose David Justice. He was a more successful batter that Derek Jeter was. He hit the ball with more reliability. That’s not my opinion – The data says so!

Not so fast. Let’s combine the two years:

For the two-year period combined, Derek Jeter’s batting average was .310

For the same period, David Justice’s batting average was .270

Wait, what?

That’s not a typo, that’s Simpson’s Paradox in action. Edward Simpson first described his statistical finding this way: “Trends which appear in groups of data may disappear or reverse when the groups are combined.” Seem unbelievable, right? It’s not. It’s just math.

Let’s look at the raw data. I put the “winner” in bold in each data set.

 

1995:                           Hits                 At Bats            Average

Derek Jeter                 12                    48                    .250

David Justice              104                  411                  .253

 

1996:                           Hits                 At Bats            Average

Derek Jeter                 183                  582                  .314

David Justice              45                    140                  .321

 

Combined:                  Hits                 At Bats            Average

Derek Jeter                 195                  630                  .310

David Justice               149                  551                  .270

 

The data doesn’t lie. David Justice had a more successful percentage of at-bats in 1995 and a more successful percentage of at-bats in 1996 … and when you combine the two years, Derek Jeter is the better batter. Sorry, David; when you aggregate data, sometimes there’s just no justice.

I’m not saying data can’t be trusted – that’s not the point at all. Data can always be trusted. It’s empirical, remember. Data doesn’t lie. The paradox is that both cases are true. David Justice had a higher batting average than Derek Jeter in both 1995 and 1996. This is a fact. Derek Jeter’s 1995/1996 Combined batting average is higher. This is also true. It seems like these things can’t both be true, but they are.

And that’s the point.

The world isn’t binary. We think if A is true then B must be false, and that’s almost never the case. We think, if we’re right about something, then others must be wrong. We think if what the data tells us is true, then what the data doesn’t tell us is surely false.

All too often, we’re wrong.

Let’s talk about movies for a second. Which movie was more successful, The Avengers, or The Fast and Furious 7? Let me give you some data to help you figure this out:

 

Movie                          Worldwide Gross

The Avengers              $1,517,557,910

Furious 7                     $1,516,045,991

 

The answer is obvious. The Avengers was more successful, right? The data says so. The math is clear. The Avengers made $1.5 million more than Furious 7. Box office numbers don’t lie! But there’s more to the data than that. Dig a bit deeper and look at the movie’s cost:

 

Movie                          Budget

The Avengers              $220,000,000

Furious 7                     $85,000,000

 

So The Avengers cost $135 million more to make than Furious 7 did, and only made $1.5 million more than Furious 7 did. Doesn’t that mean Furious 7 was more successful?

I guess it depends on how you define successful. And that brings us closer to something you can take away and think about. If you define a movie’s success to be a measure of tickets sold (and dollars earned) at the box office, you are correct in asserting that The Avengers is more successful. If you define a movie’s success as the function of the movie’s box office receipts less the movie’s budget, you are correct in asserting that Furious 7 is more successful.

Despite your binary instincts, telling you only one or the other is true, the data confirms for us that both scenarios are true.

It’s all about how you look at it.

Consider this the next time you find yourself in a disagreement with someone about something. What if the fact that you’re right doesn’t mean the other person is also wrong? What if you’re facing Simpson’s Paradox? What if you’re both right?

It’s not always about who is right. Sometimes, everybody is.

Andrew J. Powell Principal- Application Development

Andrew J. Powell
Principal- Application Development

Andrew Powell serves the Application Development practice at OST , providing guidance, strategic support, and candy to more than fifty developers and consultants. Andrew has been a technology consultant for more than twenty years. In addition to consulting, Andrew is a frequent public speaker in technology circles, and loves to talk about the coming Robot Apocalypse and how application developers are positioned to defend the world against our future robot overlords. When not cowering in fear, Andrew makes his home in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

 

When work-life balance doesn’t come easily

6 Apr

One morning last week, I left Lambeau, our dog, outside.

Now, normally this wouldn’t be an especially notable incident – after all dogs are sort of built to be outside – however in this case I was not SUPPOSED to leave the dog outside. I was SUPPOSED to walk the dog, make sure he had some water and leave him to lounge around all day shuttling between the couch and the easy chair to await our arrival back home as a family that evening. This would be his regular and expected daily schedule – leaving him outside would certainly be considered as aberrant to the norm.

I did not realize I left the dog outside. Certainly, if I had realized, I would have taken steps to get him back inside into his preferred environment prior to departing for the office.

So, fast forward to around 10:15 am and I am having a discussion with coworkers, John and Andrew. It was a really good discussion, we were making great progress and finding lots of areas of agreement and alignment – and then my phone beeped. And then it beeped again. So I excused myself to check it and it was a text from my wife, with a picture of Lambeau and the following question:

“Problem with Lambeau this morning? Glad he was still here when I got home.”

vancil- work life balance

Uh-oh.

I shared the content of the message with the group, and Andrew commented something about what’s the big deal, it’s a dog. To which John responded “Lambeau is not the problem, Amy is the problem.”

And of course he was right! The dog had no issues with the situation, in fact as I understand it, he was excited and energized by the whole adventure. Amy, on the other hand, was not pleased. And rightfully so, I might add. I had a responsibility to my family and the dog to make sure I met my commitments and paid attention to the things which are important to us as a group. And I did not – I let myself get consumed by the day ahead of me, the meetings and discussions and the problems at hand waiting to be solved and I forgot about my responsibilities to my family.

So first off, I apologized to Amy and professed the probable need for a lobotomy – which I offered might be self-administered or if she preferred she could do it herself.

And then I started thinking about the situation, and examining why it happened. What could possibly cause me to forget these responsibilities?

You, dear reader, have most likely jumped to the conclusion already. The conclusion that I came to was that I had done a poor job of establishing and maintaining the boundaries of my work – life balance. I let my focus and attention move solely to what was ahead of me in my work day and allowed that to take over my conscious thoughts and intentions. In other words, I absent mindedly forgot the important things right in front of me for the other important things down the line.

It is easy to do, isn’t it? Our work life can be pervasive, and we carry it around with us all day and all night on our smart phones and tablets. I can grab my phone or my iPad and surf my email at any time – and I often do. I respond to emails at all hours and when I have an idea I will pick up the phone, capture it in an email and shoot it off to someone. I respond to texts as they come in and even when the phone isn’t in my hand, thoughts of work are not far from my mind. This is not singular to me either, I notice it all around me.

And guess what? Every time I send an email at 9:00 pm or give in to the 3:30 am idea I had when I couldn’t sleep and send it off to someone, what am I doing? I’m setting expectations for others! That is not good! “John does his email at 9:30 pm, I guess that is what is expected!” This is an expectation I don’t want to set and should not be setting. We want our OST team members to be able to go home and be there for their families and in the “life” side of their world. We want our OST team members to be able to shut things down and recharge – to have outside interests and hobbies and passions which relate in no way to OST and are allowed to get their full attention. We want our OST team members to be able to regulate their work-life balance, and the key word there is balance!

So… what to do? I’m not totally sure at this point – but for sure I have decided to be much more diligent about putting down the phone when I get home. I have decided to be purposeful about separating my thoughts from OST and focusing on my family and personal responsibilities and interests. I have decided to carefully evaluate the situation any time I am thinking about emailing or communicating outside of traditional work hours so that I do not send unintended messages to others.

How successful will I be? Time will tell… I know there will be times and circumstances where I will break my rules – and that will just have to be okay. There will be good reasons for it. But in the main, in the norm, in the day to day, my goal is to find that point where we have more equilibrium and set my fulcrum right there!

And if you have left the dog out lately, euphemistically of course, I think you should spend some time on your work –life balance too… just a thought.

 

Director of Professional Services

Director of Professional Services

John Vancil is a twenty-eight year veteran of the Information Technology field, currently holding the position of Director of Professional Services for Open Systems Technologies (OST) in Grand Rapids Michigan. During his career, John has held numerous development, support, management and staff level positions with companies ranging from enterprise (Electronic Data Systems, Baan) to the SMB space (Nucraft Furniture, OST). Today John is responsible for a $29 million dollar services operation which encompasses Data Center Solutions, Application Development, Data Analytics, Design, ERP and Advisory Services, Security, and Managed Services. John shares his life with wife Amy, daughter Catherine and Lambeau the world’s most exuberant Golden Retriever. When he is not serving the OST team, John likes to golf, fly-fish, compose and perform music and hang out with the family.

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28 Jan

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