Tag Archives: Company culture

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. 

What role does empathy play in the OST culture?

27 Apr

And now, for a Lesson in the Greek… Empatheia!

Empathy. Say it a couple of times… heck, say it out loud twenty times in a row. Say it until it has no meaning for you anymore then back off, wait a minute and write it down on a piece of paper in front of you – then study it for a bit. Think on it. What does it mean to you?

Empathy.

Here is a word we hear all the time. But what does it really mean and why is it important? Why is it a valuable trait in our work and home lives? What does it truly mean to be “empathetic”? How can we increase our empathy and be thoughtful about employing it?

empathy

The etymology of the word empathy is from the Greek word “em” which in English translates to “in” and “pathos” which translates to “feeling”. Put it all together and the actual entire Greek word is “empatheia”.

“Empatheia”.

So the ancient Greeks had a word which roughly translates to “in feeling” and which we use to describe an ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Or, in other words, to “put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.” Our usage of the word indicates that it is outside of ourselves and focused upon an external agency. I can “see it from his side”. I can “walk a mile in her shoes”. I can “feel your pain”. So, clearly the word and the idea has a strong place in our interpersonal relationships – as supported by the use in our popular vernacular. But is that the extent of it? Is that all there is to this? And how does it relate to our OST world?

Here are some thoughts I have around empathy in our world.

First off, from the perspective of our OST employees and teammates, empathy is the core foundation of our first belief, “honor our people and their families first”. We internalize the needs of individuals and their families and make them our own. We recognize when we need to put them first, ahead of ourselves and ahead of the needs of OST. We are constantly on the lookout for the opportunity to recognize a need and make sure it is met. We sacrifice our time and efforts to make sure that others get what they need, and we have expectations that others will reciprocate when we need. The reason we can do this is because we are actively “in feeling” with our OST family members and that allows us to care for them and their needs in a way which is not reflected in society as a whole – especially in the context of a corporation.

Empathy is a strong player in our second core foundation as well, “we will delight our clients”. How can we delight our clients if we are not “in feeling” with them? In other words, if we do not understand the true needs of our client how will we ever be successful in delighting them? There are those who believe that simply completing a task or project “on time and on budget” is the definition of delighting our client but I know it goes much deeper than that. To truly delight a client, it is not enough to just do what they ask, we need to understand what they really need and help them to get there! We need to be “in feeling” with them and taking our knowledge and skills and leveraging that understanding to build solutions that give them what they absolutely require, which is often quite different from what they have asked.

Look at our next guiding creed, “we serve with humility”. There are many definitions of service, but in this case  we mean that we provide “acts of helpful activity or aid”. Disregarding the obviously redundant nature of that definition (thanks for that dictionary.com!) it is clear to see that without an understanding of the need, without being “in feeling” with the one we are serving it will be very difficult to provide service which is of value. And how about that last little bit… “with humility”. What does that mean if not serving the individual in such a way that they feel (“in feeling!”) that the servitude is motivated by caring and compassion – not from a self-centered or selfish desire, but truly for the benefit of the one being served. As one being served you cannot feel that servitude is of pure motivation (which I believe is required in order to really feel good about it) unless it is delivered with humility.

Back to our usage of empathy as supported by our popular vernacular. Focused on others and aligned to interpersonal relationships, but is that the full extent? What about being “in feeling” with ourselves? What about giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt from time to time? What about recognizing the flawed humanity we all are and giving ourselves a break occasionally? We all need to remain aware of the fact that we need to serve ourselves too, and in order to do so we need to understand our own feelings and motivations. This blog post is not a suitable forum for a full exploration of this topic, but I know that some amongst us work on ourselves through therapy and coaching, while others meditate and journal. (Some of us stand thigh deep in freezing rivers in rubber pants waiving a stick too… there are many ways to explore yourself!) I’m sure though that many of us are not working on this enough, and that is something we should all spend more time on, time thinking about and taking thoughtful action to be more empathetic to others and ourselves!

We say it all the time, and we live it as well; we are a family at OST. We care for one another, we serve one another and we honor one another. At work and outside of work. And you know what else? We bicker and we argue and we dishonor one another as well, just like a real family! And just like at OST, the tenant of empathy is important at home with our own friends and families. Some of us are better at it than others… and some of us need to work on it a bit – both at work and at home. Safe to say that none of us are as good at it as we could be though!

As I close these thoughts today, the last thing I am thinking about is the role of empathy in design and design thinking. If you examine the approach and focus of human centered design, it is all about empathy. Empathy in understanding the user’s feeling towards a product or a service. Being “in feeling” with the user such that decisions and directions become more clear, and results are demonstrably better. If I had to point out one thing that I have found personally valuable from our close partnership with Visualhero as we have worked to merge our teams, it is the constant examples of empathy as it relates to our clients, each other and ourselves. Probably because of the design ethos which values empathy so greatly, the team at Visualhero practically oozes empathy in every single thing they do or say.

So… I am currently “in feeling” with you, kind reader, and see clearly and understand without question that you have had enough… so I will thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading this far and bid you “Avtio” for now!

 

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.

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.

How to plan a successful enrollment fair for the adoption of a new technology solution

30 Mar

If you are just joining us, be sure to check out Part 1, “Why hosting an enrollment fair is crucial to the adoption of a new technology solution”.

What goes into planning, executing, and ensuring a successful enrollment fair? There are a few key resources and processes that we need for this.

  1. Location
  2. Equipment
  3. Volunteers
  4. Schedule and Communication
  5. Script, Elevator speech, and tracker

A location must be secured for the enrollment fair. Ideally this is a public area where you can interact freely with your end users. The tables and volunteers should be highly visible.

You’ll need some equipment to make this all work. Obviously, you need tables to work from. Chairs for the volunteers to rest. Banners and signs for way finding. Most importantly you’ll need the proper devices or technology to demonstrate the solution. If the solution requires users to input their data to be enrolled then ensure that the equipment has this capability otherwise you’ll have issues!

Volunteers have to drive this fair. Where do the volunteers come from? The organization itself! As this is a project, most likely, the project team members should volunteer and they should recruit others from their respective teams and departments to help. The executive sponsors of the project would be highly visible and should be encouraged to participate.

You need to develop a schedule for the enrollment fairs that coincides with your go live or deployment schedule. The enrollment fair comes first, then a deployment, then a fair, then another deployment… This plan needs to be communicated clearly and often!

Finally your volunteers need a process to follow. This process may be a simple script, an elevator speech for example. They will also need a way to track who comes to the enrollment fair. This is useful for gauging the impact of the fair and tracking how many people are educated about the technology solution.

If you’ve made it this far you probably have two opinions:

  • “This is a great idea and I agree that we should do this!”
  • “I don’t think this applies to me, this sounds like a lot of work, the end users will adapt anyways.”

If you have the first opinion then congratulations – you get it! You understand the important of connecting with your end users. You understand how critical it is to align with your business and partner for results. If you have the second opinion… I’m sorry but your project may be doomed for failure. However if you do have this second opinion and would like to discuss it more then give me a call – I would be happy to talk about the reasons why this applies to your specific situation and why you need to do this to be successful.

 

Sr. Enterprise Virtualization Consultant

Sr. Enterprise Virtualization Consultant

Richard Maloley is a Senior Consultant within the Enterprise Technology Services group at Open Systems Technologies. In this role Richard focuses on managing large scale transformational projects with a focus on end user computing technologies. Richard has been a consultant for 4 years at OST and worked in-industry prior. With a passion for people Richard approaches customers and projects with a people-first attitude in order to positively change and improve the relationships within an organization.