Archer Goes Undercover at Comic Con


Creative Cloud

It didn’t take a secret agent to figure out that Archer’s appearance at this year’s Comic Con in San Diego was a little out of the ordinary. Typically appearing on a video to inform the audience why he can’t attend the annual event, the protagonist of the spy sitcom by the same name quickly proved that he was, indeed, a live presence.

Rather than create another video featuring Archer half-heartedly apologizing for his absence, the show’s production team thought it would be fun to change things up, and have Archer interact in real-time with fans. Leading the charge was the show’s technical director, Bryan Fordney of Floyd County Productions, who used Adobe Character Animator to achieve the live animation.

ARCHER—Pictured: Sterling Archer (voice of H. Jon Benjamin). CR: FXX

“We’ve always used Adobe software to produce the show,” explains Bryan. “Using Adobe Character Animator made a lot of sense because it features a similar toolset, and we already had a lot of the artwork on hand.”

At the start of the panel, the Archer character appears on screen, explaining that thanks to some time off, he was able to be at Comic Con. The audience didn’t quite grasp the meaning of this until he called out a woman in red with a “pink thing” in her hair, and asked her to stand up. It was then that the crowd realized there was more to Archer’s appearance than usual.

Meanwhile behind the screen, Bryan and H. Jon Benjamin, the voice actor behind the Archer character, sat at a computer with a lens out to the crowd. While Jon spoke to the audience, Bryan worked the keyboard, enabling Archer to blink, point, and turn his head accordingly. It didn’t take long before Jon caught on, eventually taking control of the keyboard and adding a few gestures of his own.

The interaction didn’t end there. During the Q&A session towards the end of the panel session, Archer occasionally interrupted to add his own commentary—and the audience loved it.

“He got some really good laughs,” says Casey Willis, co-executive producer on Archer. “People were really impressed by the technology.”

The production team was able to take their concept and turn it into reality thanks to their extensive experience working with Adobe Creative Cloud apps to produce the series. They use Adobe After Effects for compositing and animation, Adobe Illustrator to draw the characters, and Adobe Photoshop for background paintings—all solutions within Creative Cloud for teams. Because of this, the artwork was already in place to build the 3D rig.

“We took the artwork and started to experiment using some of the templates in Character Animator,” says Bryan. He built on it from there, piece by piece. The final rig was quite complex, and included several head angles and customized mouths to make Archer’s speech appear as fluid as possible.

Throughout the process Bryan benefitted from some expert advice from Adobe. “The Adobe engineers were great, and gave me some valuable tips on how to tweak it for a live show,” he says. “We spent a lot of time modifying the rig so that Archer looked as natural as possible.”

This side project was in addition to daily production work on the show, which is now entering its ninth season. Storyboards and voiceovers are edited in Premiere Pro. Once cut and approved, they go to various departments for specialized work. The illustration team draws the key poses for every action, every costume, and all of the other visual elements of the show. The background team works with the 3D department to render the backgrounds, which are then painted over in Photoshop.

Once the illustrations and background are complete, they’re sent to After Effects, which contains customized workflows that merge the application’s animation capabilities with its compositing features. The file is then rendered into Premiere Pro, where the final cut is done.

Despite a grueling production schedule, Bryan somehow found time to get his feet wet with Character Animation. With the basics now under his belt, fans are left wondering: will Archer make another live appearance at next year’s Comic Con?

“Archer’s plans for next year’s Comic Con remain top secret,” says Bryan. “Everyone will have to just wait and see.”

Learn more about Adobe Character Animator CC

Try Adobe Character Animator CC

Passion, Timelines, and Curiosity: Design Insights from Adobe Creative Resident Natalie Lew

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Creative Cloud

When this year’s Adobe Creative Residency kicked off in May, interaction designer and recent grad Natalie Lew was ready to get to work; she just needed to figure out what, exactly, she wanted to be working on.

“Rather than tackle a single topic over the course of this year, I’m planning to approach a series of projects, testing out different research methodologies throughout,” she says. “As a recent grad, professional networking was a great place to start.” Over at Behance, Lew gives a comprehensive breakdown of how she pulled together her first project: Veet, an app that examines the future of professional networking. By approaching the issue from a millennial perspective, she was able to take an often overwhelming prospect–making meaningful career connections–and turn it into something manageable, and even personal. (Not an easy feat!)

Here, she shares with us five key lessons to kickstart a kickass UX project:

1. Identify Your Passions–Then Connect the Dots Between Them

I had been circling around a few different ideas and concepts to pursue during the residency. When I was finally ready to dive in, I had to stop and think: What am I really passionate about? I made big lists of topics I was thinking about a lot, and stuff I wanted to improve upon. A few main categories excited me the most:

  • Future technologies and what they look like. This includes AR and VR, UX for voice commands, and how different communities can and will come together.
  • How things are made, and the consequences they’ll have. How might we ensure that those future technologies be equitable and human-centered?
  • What does process look like for me? As a budding designer, I want to work on how I can develop my creative process; take ownership of it; then share the pieces that are successful (and those that aren’t!).

2. Establish a Timeline (and Daily To-Dos) to Stay Focused And Efficient

If you’re working with a client, they’ll have a deadline, and you figure out what you can do for them in that time. For the residency, I’m the client; I’m setting up parameters for myself to make sure that I’m realistic about the quality of the product I can come up, within a deadline I make myself.

I create step-by-step timelines for my own work because it’s important for me to feel like I’m in control of a project–not that the powers of the universe are just, like: “You can do whatever, whenever!” That mentality means I won’t get anything done. So I like to know what I’m doing every day; I need to wake up and say, this is what I’m going to work on. It doesn’t have to be hour-by-hour, but I should have a handle on what I want to think about and get done as if everything is a piece that fits into a larger puzzle. That makes me feel empowered. (Just remember–it’s okay to make mistakes, too!)

One of the most important things a UX designer can do is to figure out their most effective work methodology. Do you like going heads-down for four hours, and when you get up you’re done for the day? Or are you working on something all day long, with little breaks in between? How can you get the most done? Pay attention to that, and build it into your workflow.

3. Abandon Your Expectations, and Embrace Nuanced Research

I love doing research. When I started talking to millennials for this app idea, their responses defied my initial notions. I felt that networking events could sometimes feel awkward, but thought that might have just been my perception. Then everyone used the word “overwhelming” when describing their own experiences. Everyone also seemed to think of themselves as introverts in big social situations but said that one of their favorite things to do was to meet new people one-on-one. I had never heard people discuss these things with such a unified voice before.

4. Ask, Listen, and Observe With Compassion and Intent

You don’t need to talk to a ton of people to get great insights; if you can have conversations with six to 12 people, you should be able to generate really good material. Start with a list of basic, but open-ended questions–like “What do you think of professional networking?”–with additional questions that can lead to rich storytelling opportunities, like “Tell me about a memory you have about a specific networking experience.”

Remember that research activities are not only about talking; they’re about observation, too. When I had people perform the Circle of Trust activity, some would actually grimace or recoil when confronted with certain ideas. Expressions, attitudes, feelings, motions–these are all valuable.

5. Be Curious, and Make Things With People–Not At People

Always ask: How can I learn more, and show my learnings through design? Take time to be knowledgeable about what it is you’re designing, and who you’re designing for. It’s more than a slick UI and visual components.

The most thoughtful thing you can do as a designer is to really consider your role. I don’t think we’re do-all, end-all, be-all heroes; instead, we should be communicating with people who will be impacted by our work, and translating their insights into design solutions. We become the channel that their ideas flow through.

Inspired by Natalie’s approach to UX? Check out these best practices for design that makes users–and their insights, needs, and expertise–a priority:

For regular UX insights sent straight to your inbox, sign up for Adobe’s experience design newsletter! We’ll also be sharing more from Natalie–in the meantime, you can keep up with her latest news on Twitter and Behance!

Payment Revolution: How Apple and Android Are Changing How We Pay for Products Today


Creative Cloud

‘Paying for things’ is a huge business. Everyday, we spend $12 billion in the U.S. in over 200 million payment transactions, and we use our debit or credit cards for a most of that. Essentially, those cards are just little pieces of plastic with exposed numbers and a magnetic stripe interface that is vulnerable to skimmers. It’s so easy for them to be compromised, it’s no wonder people have been dreaming about replacing plastic cards for years.

Fortunately, the way we pay for things is changing–smartphones and wearables are redefining the way we pay for things. More and more, we’re seeing people pay for items in the real world with their mobile devices.

Your smartphone or smartwatch can be your ticket to a more streamlined shopping experience. In this article, I’ll outline two popular mobile payment solutions: Apple Pay and Android Pay by Google.

How They Work

If you put the two systems next to each other, you’ll notice they basically do the same thing, and even their user interfaces are similar. For both systems, users have the ability to add their debit and credit cards directly into the app by either taking a picture of the card or entering the information manually. Both Apple Pay and Android Pay utilize NFC (near field communication) technology to communicate transactions to NFC-enabled payment terminals. Paying using either technology is really simple; you don’t even need to open the app, instead you can just hold it to the terminal to pay.

Apple Pay and Android Pay work with NFC contactless payment terminals. You don’t need a WiFi or cellular connection on your device to complete a payment. Image credit: Google

While Apple Pay and Android Pay are mostly used to pay for items in the real world, many iOS and Android apps also support payment using these services.

Apple Pay and Android Pay allow simpler checkout in apps. For example, you can choose Apple Pay as a default payment option in the Uber app for iOS.

Apple Pay and Android Pay can also be used as payment methods on websites. The next time you make a purchase on the web using your iPhone/Android, check the payment methods and, if you see Apple Pay/Android Pay logo, you can pay in one click without having to create an account or fill out lengthy forms.

Services like Groupon eliminate the need to use credit or debit cards to purchase something.

Which Devices Support Them?

Which payment system you use will be down to which phone you have. Apple Pay is supported on Apple’s devices starting from iPhone 6 and up. Each transaction should be authenticated by using Touch ID or Face ID.

On the Android side, there are way more compatible phones. Pretty much every device running Android 4.4 KitKat with a NFC chip built in can support Android Pay. According to The Verge, Android Pay was already compatible with 70% of Android devices when it was released.

How Secure Are The Technologies?

As with so many new technologies today, the biggest worry about something like Apple Pay or Android Pay is security. We live in an age where security leaks are publicly reported almost all the time.

However, for both payment systems, security concerns are becoming less of an issue. Here are a few facts that show you don’t have to worry too much about security when using them:

  • Real credit card details are never stored on a device. Both Apple Pay and Android Pay don’t emulate the signal used when you make a contactless payment with your debit or credit card. Instead, they create a virtual card that’s used to make payments. If you loose your Android or iPhone there’s no need to cancel your credit card because it’s not stored on that device.
  • Credit card details are never shared during a payment transaction. Both Apple Pay and Android Pay leverage tokenization–each transaction is processed via individual random account numbers, rather than an actual credit or debit card account number. This means during payment transactions the merchant never sees real credit card numbers. In case that somebody intercepts the NFC signal, no valuable information can be stolen.

  • Both systems are able to use fingerprint scanners as an extra level of security (in fact, authentication with Touch ID or Face ID is mandatory for Apple Pay).

Touch ID on an Apple iPhone

  • Finally, payments are only sent out if your phone is working and unlocked. If it is locked and not in use, your account should be safe.

Which Banks Support Them?

All major American banks like American Express, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, BBVA Compass, Capital One, Chase, and Citi support both payment systems. You can see a full list of banks supporting Apple Pay in the US here. Check out this page to see a list of banks that support Android Pay.

Some banks (like Bank of America or Wells Fargo) go even further in supporting payment systems. They’ve installed NFC-enabled ATMs around the U.S., which allow you to access your bank account to withdraw cash using your phone.

Apple Pay and Android Pay now support card-free ATM transactions at Bank of America. Image credit: WhatWhatTech

Which Shops Accept Them?

Currently, Apple Pay is supported by 35% of retailers in the U.S. in more than 4 million locations. According to Jennifer Bailey, the head of Apple Pay, Apple expects that two thirds of the top 100 retailers will support Apple Pay this upcoming year.

As a user, you can check the point-of-sale device for the Apple Pay or Android Pay logo, or another symbol that indicates if contactless payments are accepted.

This symbol means contactless payments are accepted by the device.

How Many People Use It?

According to a report by Juniper Research, the number of Apple Pay and Android Pay users will be 86 and 24 million by the end of the year, respectively. While Juniper expects Apple to dominate the contactless payment market over the next four years, it’s clear that Android Pay is also seeing big increases in usage. Taking the number of devices into account, it could surpass Apple Pay usage within a few years.

Image credits: Juniper Research

Although both platforms have grown since their launch dates, the percentage of users who use Apple Pay or Android Pay is still pretty low. According to Crone Consulting, only 4% of Apple’s users with Apple Pay-enabled iPhones use the service. As for Android Pay, a paltry 1% of users with compatible devices use the service.

The Problem with Mobile Payments

Mobile payments have a few technical issues that will hopefully be solved in the near future:

  • Bank support. While the total number of banks supported by the payment systems is impressive, not all banks are supported and you may find your own bank is missing from the list.
  • Merchant support. Considering both Android Pay and Apple Pay are still relatively new, not all places actually use these technologies. While users may get a new phone every two years or so, merchants don’t replace their POS infrastructure nearly as often. The main problem mobile payment systems face in the U.S. and elsewhere is limited support for NFC payments.
  • Unnecessary actions during payment. Some point-of-sale terminals ask for a PIN or for a signature, even after the ‘done’ chime has sounded. While PINs may be considered a ‘security’ precaution, a signature doesn’t make sense. You can sign anything and it doesn’t matter. This negates one of the best features of Apple Pay and Android Pay: speed.

Mobile payment brings up another problem that doesn’t have much to do with technology–spendaholics love it. Less friction during the process of payment makes it much easier to spend extra money.

Conclusion

It’s clear that mobile payments are taking us one step closer to a wallet-free future. Both Apple Pay and Android Pay are great examples of hardware and software working in tandem. But no matter which service you choose, don’t recycle your old-fashioned leather wallet just yet. The mobile payments revolution is just getting started, and it’ll take some time before most merchants are ready to support mobile payment technology.

Hand Lettering with Adobe Capture: Featuring a Hand Lettering Piece by Esther Loopstra


Creative Cloud

There’s no question that hand lettering is gaining popularity in the design community. Just ask designers like Gemma O’Brien and Christine Herrin who have received recognition for their creative use of lettering. Why the surge in popularity? Hand lettering gives design projects a unique signature; it’s the designers personality manifest in the purest form.

Esther Loopstra believes that audiences have gotten so used to the clinical perfection of computer fonts, they want to see something more human. “People are really craving a more ‘done-by-hand’ quality,” Loopstra says. “They want to see that your work is authentic, finding beauty in the imperfections.”

The natural imperfections in hand lettering — like crooked lines or varying thicknesses in letters — give your designs more personality, allowing your audience to form a connection to the piece. Technically perfect lettering hides a designer’s individuality, but leaving in small flourishes or quirks lets the personality of the designer shine through.

Rather than using fonts, handlettering lets designers feature their most artistic side, using lettering that wholly belongs to them. For Loopstra, hand lettering has always resonated with her personal emotions. “I’ve been doing this type of hand lettering since I was a little girl, although it has certainly evolved since then,” she says. “It’s always different, and that really strikes a chord with the need for creativity and diversity that I have within myself as a designer.”

Prior to Adobe Capture’s launch, designers had to scan a hand-lettered document, open it in Illustrator, and use Image Trace to digitalize it before they could add the lettering element to their designs. “Capture simply makes life easier,” Loopstra says. Digitizing her lettering through an app like Adobe Capture allows Loopstra to design while on the go. It’s a simple process, and it gives her maximum control over what the final design will look like. Here’s how she uses Capture in her daily workflow.

How to create your own hand lettering with Adobe Capture:

Embed instructional video from Esther: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAGf9y-ca8o

1. Like any great design, hand lettering starts with a basic idea. Feel free to be as creative as possible. Consider how you want your lettering to look, what tone you want to convey. “A great way to get inspired is to look at other fonts in the world around you. How do they make you feel? What do you like or dislike about them?” Loopstra says.  

2. On paper, sketch out your text. Experiment with different types of writing materials to achieve the desired look. “The writing material you use has a major impact on the tone of the image,” Loopstra says. “For example, pencils will make your lettering softer and less refined, while pen will make the lettering bolder and sleeker.”

3. Once you have the text written out, open up the Capture app. At the top of the screen you’ll see the icons Shapes, Patterns, Colors, and Brushes. Select the Shapes icon, which opens up your Creative Cloud selected library, and then select the plus button. This begins the process that will allow you to add your hand lettering to your library.

4. Capture opens up your camera and allows you to choose how you want your image to look before taking the picture. Use the slider at the bottom of the screen to alter the thickness of the lines or choose the square at the top of the screen to invert the colors. The wand at the top right is the auto-clean feature, which will clean up your image for you before you capture it. Once you’re satisfied, press the green button to save the image.

5. On the next screen, you can refine and crop the lettering, as well as erase blemishes and remove anything you don’t want to be a part of the final shape. When you’re ready, click Next.

6. Capture will now turn your image into a vector. On this screen, you can choose whether or not you want to smooth out the image. When you’re satisfied, choose Next to save the shape into your CC library, save it in your camera roll, or export it to Illustrator or Photoshop. “Organization is key here,” Loopstra says. “I like to create libraries in Capture that allow me to organize all my different shapes. You can create a library specifically for hand lettering or one for all of the different shapes and elements you will need for a specific project.”  

7. You’re done! With just a few minutes of work, you now have a beautiful, personalized, and vectorized text you can manipulate in other Adobe applications.

“When it comes to hand lettering, don’t hold yourself back,” Loopstra says. “Experiment with lots of different mediums and textures. Try different inks or paints. Use whatever inspires you, and allow tools like Capture to open up a whole new mode of creativity.”

To easily incorporate hand lettering into your work, download Adobe Capture.

When UX Puts Lives on the Line


Creative Cloud

We look at how designing a robotic arm used in neurosurgery came down to UX 101, and how one hospital has doctors and designers working together to enhance the patient experience.

User testing for the Modus V looked a little different than your average usability research. That’s because the users are neurosurgeons and they are testing the efficacy of a robotic microscope by operating on cadavers. Their ability to use the microscope during brain and spinal surgeries depends on a reliable UX and UI, something that must be seamless to use when a surgeon’s hands are busy performing life-saving operations. It’s not something they want to test on live humans without experiencing it firsthand.

The Modus V is a fully automated, hands-free, robotic digital microscope that leverages space technology used in the Canadarm—a series of remote-controlled robotic arms used by NASA to deploy, capture and repair satellites, among other things. The technology is Canadian made, so it’s no surprise the Modus V comes from Canadian company Synaptive Medical.

Reimagined for medical purposes, the Modus 5 was released in October and is part of Synaptive’s suite of BrightMatter™ technology solutions. BrightMatter technologies have been acquired by hospitals across North America including Castle Rock Adventist in Colorado, Cedars-Sinai in California, Northwell Health on Long Island and the University of Oklahoma Medical Center.

It was inspired when Wes Hodges, director of Informatics and external collaboration at Synaptive, together with other members of the company’s founding team witnessed surgeons experience a usability problem in a clinical setting.

“The arm grew out of immersing ourselves in the operating room environment, so immersing ourselves in the problem,” Hodges said.

The team witnessed surgeons using an ecscoscopic camera, meaning the camera is positioned outside of the patient, mounted on a mechanical arm. The surgeons would have to take their hand out of the surgical field to realign and reposition the camera every 20-30 seconds.

“That camera is so zoomed in, every little change you make in the corridor you’re working down requires you to re-center. In seeing this, we said hey why don’t we have that move for you and automate it, put it on a robotic arm?” Hodges said. “The response from the surgeons was fantastic. Wow, can you do that? It’s something that was conceived from immersing ourselves in the problem.”

Since patients are often awake during brain surgery, technology like the Modus V empowers surgeons to communicate with patients while the surgery is underway, giving them vital information as to how the surgery is going and if they’re on the right track. The entire surgical experience has changed.

UX Isn’t Brain Surgery

Despite the complexities of the technology itself, the UX design process remains very much the same whether you’re designing a robot that assists in brain surgery or an app that plays brain games.

“Regardless of the context, it’s extremely important in order to design an effective product that’s going to meet your end user’s needs to really immerse yourself in the environment and the context, and that involves getting to know your users. That’s UX 101. Who is your user, what are their needs, what are the goals they’re trying to accomplish and perhaps most notably, what are the pain points in existing workflows and processes they’re using to accomplish their goals?” said Justin Kirkey, manager of user experience at Synaptive.

“It involves lots of clinical visits to make sure that we’re understanding the clinical context, user interviews with surgeons, neuroradiologists, operating room staff, cleaning department individuals who are using many of the tools indirectly. There is wide slew of clinicians who are involved in this. Understanding the ins and outs of their mental models is key to designing a successful product.”

The products that Synaptive develops may be deployed in highly stressful and sensitive environments where patient lives may be on the line, but from a UX perspective they still need to be validated like anything else. The results have proved rewarding for the team, users and patients alike.

“One of the favorite things for me is seeing an outcome for a patient that a clinician feels wouldn’t have been there, or wouldn’t have been so positive if our technology wasn’t used,” Hodges said.

How UX Is Transforming the Way Thomas Jefferson University Hospital Understands Patients

Just as UX is crucial in the tools and technologies clinicians use in surgical settings, it also factors into the entire hospital experience. Thomas Jefferson University Hospital is one organization exploring the relationship between UX and healthcare innovation.

Tim Moyer is the lead experience designer at Thomas Jefferson University’s Digital Innovation and Consumer Experience (DICE) group and co-founder of DICE group’s AR/VR Initiative. As part of DICE, he explores how technology can enhance the user experience, which is often the patient experience in a healthcare setting.

Part of his work includes developing applications and exploring technologies that assist the entire patient journey, which starts long before the patient ever steps foot through the hospital doors.

“We try to understand where the patient journey begins, whether they’re at home or at work, thinking about visiting a hospital or a provider. We try to ask what will that person’s reality be when they leave the hospital, what will their story be when they’re interfacing with Jefferson, and how did that story begin and conclude for the patient and their family?” Moyer said.

Image Credit: Josh Luciano

To better understand the needs of patients, Moyer works with Pavitra Krishnamani, who is studying to become a physician. One of their projects is the development of a smart patient room that leverages AI technology to enhance and modernize the patient experience.

“I had a chance to learn how my patients perceive their healthcare environment. So much of the work I’ve done so far is as a person providing care, so I understand what happens behind the scenes. Seeing how they perceive that care was quite eye-opening. Taking a step back and looking at patients through a UX lens provided me with insights I never discovered while in a white coat,” said Krishnamani.

“In my time as a clinical fellow, I have found that UX design and medicine are both fuelled by empathy and a strong sense of inquisitive curiosity. As healthcare becomes increasingly patient-centered, our solutions to the challenges we face in the clinical world and healthcare delivery must absolutely follow in the same vein—no pun intended.”

While Synaptive serves as a reminder that designing a user experience always comes down to the fundamentals no matter how challenging or complex the product, Jefferson speaks to the potential for UX practices to revolutionize the entire hospital and patient experience.

When patient lives are on the line, a well-designed UX—whether it’s a medical product or a recovery room—can make all the difference.

Adobe XD and the Fast Track to a Creative Career: IT Pro Owen Modamwen on Becoming a UX Designer


Creative Cloud

As a longtime IT professional, Owen Modamwen knows tech. Managing servers, computers, and networks was no problem for the D.C. native, who’d been in the field for almost six years (and most recently spent time on Capitol Hill setting up new congressional staff with plug-and-play digital systems during the transition between Presidents Obama and Trump). “It’s definitely great being able to provide helpful services for people, but I’d always be sitting at my desk thinking about how I could be more creative.”

This desire for creativity was, in many ways, a desire to return to his roots. He grew up tinkering with electronics and immersed in art thanks to his dad, a sculptor and all-around dynamic talent.

“My father was a major influence on my creativity as a child. This is him in Nigeria in his 20s, making a bronze statue of an Eagle. After losing him this past summer, I dedicated my life to one of health, happiness, and artistry.”

After Modamwen’s own son was born last October, he took the opportunity as a stay-at-home-dad to take on a fresh challenge; during naptime, he began to learn to code. “I started out with web technologies: CSS, Javascript, and HTML,” he says of his self-made curriculum comprised of online tutorials and how-tos. “I got to the point where I could understand the concepts, but then I thought: ‘What am I actually trying to make?’”

Owen Modamwen in his natural habitat–coding at home.

Discovering User Interfaces–And a Secret Weapon to Design Them

Modamwen decided to expand his studies. “I found all these YouTube videos about how people were building user interfaces, and I was fascinated,” he says; but sporadic attempts to master Photoshop and Illustrator as UI design tools left him overwhelmed. “Every time I opened them up, I felt like I was sitting inside the Millennium Falcon, trying to figure out how to make it fly.” When a favorite vlogger introduced Adobe XD, Modamwen figured it could be worth a shot.

“Adobe XD was ridiculously simple to figure out,” he says. “The overall interface was clean and inviting, and the tools were minimized to what I actually needed: rectangles; colors; there you go.” As he continued to experiment and explore, the program became a crucial bridge between his burgeoning roles on the back- and front-end.

“Design and development work in tandem; I believe they’re two halves of a whole,” he says. This inclusive approach that isn’t necessarily common in the industry–the specialties are often separate, though it’s not unheard of for individuals to master both–but was a perfect fit for XD’s streamlined format. Here, he could produce quick, lo-fi wireframes, which he would then build out–and bring to life.

Establishing an IRL Community

Modamwen was going solo on this creative journey until a chance encounter with a fellow coder opened him up to a whole new world of support. “I was sitting behind a guy at IHOP who was talking to his friends about web development; all these tips, ‘do this,’ ‘do that.’ When he was leaving I stopped him to introduce myself, and he invited me to these regular meet-ups he was having with a group of young folks all learning to code.”

The crew would come together weekly at a Korean tea house for feedback on their own projects, for explanations on tricky concepts, and for all-around encouragement that made a massive difference in Modamwen’s own trajectory. “Being surrounded by these other enthusiastic people took my skill level from zero, through the roof,” he says.

Committing to Learn

When an opportunity opened up for a scholarship at General Assembly, Modamwen went for it. His application included a preliminary prototype for an app that redesigned the grocery store experience. “At that point, I didn’t do any research–I just made it for myself,” he says. “But because I designed it in XD, I was able to have the actual prototype on my phone that I could share with friends, or at meet-ups–which was awesome–and I got some solid feedback.”

“Using Adobe XD I can quickly turn ideas into wireframes, then test those wireframes on potential users with the program’s prototyping capabilities.” This is some early work on Cream, the grocery experience app.

He was accepted to GA, and the course itself was an intensive ten-week whirlwind. “The most important thing I learned was to start with lo-fi prototypes first,” he says. “You have to get your ideas out quickly. Commit your early time to concepts, because you’ve got to put those through research, testing, implementation, all these steps and processes. Ultimately, you want to make sure that what you’re putting out actually matches the issues that arise when a user has a problem. It’s not just about the way something looks–it’s about functionality.” He and his classmates produced a few hypothetical projects, a few revamps of existing apps, and a few client commissions. When it was all over, Modamwen couldn’t stop thinking about his grocery store app.

Owen goes analog during his General Assembly course.

Getting Focused on Finishing a Project

“After General Assembly, I decided to see how far I could really push this thing,” Modamwen says. “I had all this new knowledge about user research, design concepts, and different affordances that exist within apps.” Though he already had a high-fidelity mock-up thanks to XD, he put it aside to get going from scratch. “I needed to talk to people who were shopping,” he says–but standing outside the supermarket asking for a bunch of opinions didn’t go over too well. “I changed my approach completely,” he says. The new tactic? Loading up a cart, wandering the aisles, and stopping friendly faces with a single question and follow-up: “What is the number one problem you experience when you go to the grocery? And how would you solve it?”

“The prototype feature in Adobe XD allows me to build the user journey one screen at a time, then see how all screens are related from a bird’s eye view.”

“After talking to users and testing the usefulness of the product, I go on to the next phase of design. Here, I’ve implemented the features and flows that have been suggested by the users themselves for Cream, which I go back to test with them again. I usually know I’m on the right track when I see the excitement in the user’s eyes when interacting with the prototype.”

All of a sudden, people were sharing all kinds of ideas, frustrations, excitement, and solutions. He culled those down into four main categories: identifying the location of items in the store; speeding up check-out; and budgeting. Now he’s busy building it out, and one day hopes to add his app design to the official Apple Store. “It’s all happening–and I cannot wait until it’s a real thing.”

Hey budding UX designers! Are you interested in making a transition into this growing industry? Get a sense of the various job titles and responsibilities; take a crash course in how to break into the field; and nab these top tips on how to ace your first gig. Check out what UX designers work on all day, and have a look at our UX Do This Not That advice for newbies. Or see what the shift has been like for an industrial-designer-turned-UX-designer, and a visual-designer-turned-UX-designer. Lots to learn, and we’re here to help!

**Hey designers: For more insights into the whos, whats, whys, and hows of UX design, sign up for Adobe’s experience design newsletter!

Artist spotlight: Sebastien Hue


Creative Cloud

When selecting an artist to create a piece of artwork on our November Visual Trends theme, “Machine Learning Comes to Life“, there seemed to better choice than French ‘photobasher’, concept artist and matte painter, Sebastien Hue. Fuelled by his love for science-fiction, Sebastien is pioneering digital imagery in this innovative landscape, with incredible depth and attention to detail. We spoke to him to find out more:

ADOBE STOCK: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative background?

Seb: My name is Sebastien Hue, I’m a French digital artist from Paris’ area. Self-taught, I started around 8 years ago when inspired by the likes of Dylan Cole and other famous matte painters. Initially I started out with Photoshop but as I put aside my drawing skills for a while I decided to learn 3D modelling as well to help me build objects or things I could not paint. I felt that environment was more my kind of thing and my passion for Science Fiction fuelled my inspiration and imagination. Formerly Community Volunteer for Deviantart Sci-Fi gallery and Staff-admin for the International Collective The Luminarium, I became officially professional freelance CG artist in 2014 and works worldwide since then for Publishing companies as well as Gaming ones.

AS: How would you describe your style and the techniques you use?

Seb: I don’t know if I do really have a style but it’s a great compliment if so. I would say my style turns towards photorealistic environments and keyframes. That is why my main technique is to use stock photos to achieve this kind of result. I really like to start from sketch painting, then to speed up the process, photobash with some textures and stocks and then paint over to blend everything together.

AS: Where do you look for when needing a shot of inspiration?

Seb: I have several resources to find inspiration but simply browsing for photo references can trigger inspiration. I follow many artists through social media and so it’s part of an inspiration loop as well. Movies are a strong source of inspiration too, so very often I draw some thumbnails on my sketchbook when I see a cool keyframe when watching a movie. Then my sketchbook becomes my own inspiration database.

AS: What’s been your biggest challenge to overcome in the design industry?

Seb: There were so many challenges but the biggest one was to change my life career from logistics to art freelancing. I worked so hard just to be able to make that U-turn and actually live from my art. I think my will to change my pro situation was stronger than all, this will was driven by the passion to learn which turned the hard work into a positive need to become a better artist and produce better and better artworks.

AS: What are your perceptions of stock images, and do you think the perception is changing?

Seb: My perception is that all means are good to produce efficient and appealing art in an industry that wants things in a minimal time with the best quality. So I don’t consider using stock images as cheating, it’s a technique like many others. Some would use 3D instead. So yes I think the perception is changing indeed.

AS: What artists and designers should we be following?

Seb: Those you want badly to be like (laugh). The question is to know your own art path first and what you are the best at. Follow the artists who inspire you so much that it’s a natural source of inspiration for you. Don’t feel crushed by the level of the artist, on the contrary take it as a target and a challenge to take.

AS: What features did you most like the most about using Adobe Stock?

Seb: The synchronization of the stocks you saved on the internet and Photoshop. Having access to Adobe Stock directly from Photoshop is a great tool and time saver. The pre-visualisation of the images you did not license is great as well. You can quickly do some roughs with those and then license the stocks you will actually use in the end.

AS: What’s been your favorite project to work on to date?

Seb: My favorite project is the one I am currently working on. I am concept artist in a French studio specialized in TV shows and live performance graphic layouts and screen animations. I’m working in-house with 3D modellers and motion designers on the next tour of a very famous rock pop French band from the 80s. It’s a big project in which I do concept designs and concept arts, I can’t wait to see it live In Paris Bercy next year.

AS: What music do you currently listen to whilst working (if any!)?

Seb: It depends on my mood but the music does not really influence my painting. It goes from metal music, score music, blues, pop and classical music. What is certain is that I barely work without any music playing.

AS: What design trends should we be looking out for in 2018?

Seb: Honestly I try not to follow too much of a trend that would influence my work. I simply hope that the trend to produce sci-fi games, films and art covers won’t be running out of breath.

Follow more ofSebastien’s work on his website, on Behance, Facebook and on Instagram 

The Biggest UX Design Trends of 2017


Creative Cloud

Design is one of the key elements that define a product’s success. Design is everything, from the way a product looks to the way it makes people feel when they’re using it. Each year we learn something new about design. Now, with 2017 almost over, it’s the perfect time to reflect on the most influential UX trends of the year.

In this article, I’ll overview 14 of the most significant changes in both the visual and technological aspects of design.

1. The Rise Of Minimalism

In 2017 many big brands switched to a simpler, minimal design. Clean lines, generous whitespace, and minimal graphical elements became the basic characteristics of many apps and services, and it’s not a coincidence. Minimalist design aims to address user’s problems through clear visual communication, by bringing forth what’s really important: the content. This design emphasizes content, and a minimalist user interface combined with great usability is really impressive in action. If it’s easy to navigate, a simple app or website can be a very powerful form of communication.

Simplistic layouts became a mainstream trend both for websites:

Web version of YouTube (2015 vs 2017)

And mobile apps:

Facebook for iOS (2015 vs. 2017)

2. Video Everywhere

Sight is said to be the strongest of all human senses. Imagery has long been a staple of user interface design, but in 2017 we saw that its success had slowly paved the way for its natural successor: video. They say a picture paints a thousand words, but a video does that tenfold and there’s a good reason for that– while traditional imagery is static, video is dynamic. By 2017, online video will account for 74% of all online traffic.

Video became a popular option for landing pages. The video showed on the page can be short and broadcast in a loop, displaying a product in a way that will keep the viewer interested in the story.

Video serves as a means of visual storytelling. It’s able to bring a sensual notion of a product or technology that still photography struggles to match. Tesla gives customers an idea of what it feels like to drive an electric car by using video.

Video’s natural ability to attract visitors’ attention right from the start made it a preferred method of content delivery for many information resources. In 2017 many popular news sites started using embedded videos for their articles.

Video can be a desirable addition to text information. Image credits: CNN

Last but not least, 2017 saw a lot of video content generated by users. The fact that a decent video camera now lives in every pocket made live streaming (Facebook Live, for example) and creating micro-videos (through Instagram Stories and Snapchat Snaps) accessible for almost for every user.

Instagram Stories. Image credits: Techcrunch

3. Tailored Images And Illustrations in HD Quality

Tailored imagery is a powerful form of communication–it’s able to clarify messaging by boiling down concepts into easily-understandable visuals and establish a stronger personal connection between a product and a user. This year we saw much more interesting photos and illustrations in digital products.

An increased number of devices with high-resolution screens (Retina) forced designers to use only high-quality images and illustrations in design as imperfections will now stand out.

In 2017 users expected to see pixel-perfect images and illustrations. Image credits: Basecamp

Image credits: Shopify

4. More Functional And Delightful Animations

Focus on details was really important this year. Animations now play a vital role in UX design, especially on mobile devices where users engage in thousands of interactions and micro-interactions every time they use an app. Carefully choreographed animations are used to increase simplicity in digital experiences and enhance digital interactions.

Functional animation generates engagement, making interactions exciting and meaningful. Image credits: AntonSKV

5. Emotional Experience Beyond User Interface

In 2017 we saw a turn towards emotionally intelligent design. Emotions play a significant role in our decision making; they guide every single decision we make. All experiences create emotions, whether or not you design for them, but emotional design consciously tries to create an emotional connection between the product and the user. Emotional design has come to mean humanizing technology with delightful micro-interactions.

Great design isn’t just about making products that are attractive and usable; it’s about facilitating human-to-human communication. Image credits: Snapchat via Wired

6. Vibrant Colors and Gradients

2017 was the year when bold, bright colors and gradients made a comeback. Designers used vibrant hues to make design more memorable:

Image credits: Method

To breathe new life into flat design:

By using one of the bright, saturated colors associated with material design, designers evoke a feeling of modernism. Image credit: Ramotion

Or to focus people’s attention on important elements:

When a visitor arrives on the Airbnb homepage, the brand name and the “Search” call-to-action button immediately catch their attention.

7. Gamification

Gamification was one of the most important UX trends in 2017. The term ‘gamification’ stands for the technique of incorporating game mechanics into a non-game environment. Some apps used simple elements of gamification such as challenges that encourage users to interact more with an app. But for some apps, gamification became a natural part of the user flow. For example, Duolingo, a language-learning website, and app, makes the user feel as if they’re a real player starting a personal journey of product usage.

Gamification is poured into every Duolingo lesson.

8. Personalization

Just a few years ago, the vast majority of apps presented on the market were static in their design and content. They offered the same experience to everyone, regardless of how the user interacted with them.

Recent progress in Machine Learning and AI made it possible for apps to learn about their users’ preferences. This made it possible to deliver the most relevant content to each individual user. Today, users expect to have individual experiences when they interact with products. Users want apps that seem to know them.

There are a few great examples of personalization on the market. One of them is Spotify. Spotify has proven how good machine learning can dramatically increase user engagement. Not only does the app store and play music that a user likes, it also helps that user find new songs or artists they may have missed related to what they’re listening to right now.

We’re all different, so why should the apps we use behave the same towards everyone? Personalized content from Spotify is based on a user’s preferences.

Some apps take personalization beyond just tailored content. One perfect example is the Nike+ Run Club app for iOS. It allows users to choose a workout plan, which then adapts automatically depending on the progress the users makes. Basically, users choose what they want to achieve and the app tracks their progress, tailoring the workout routine for best results. It feels like a real fitness instructor living in your pocket.

Nike understands that each body is unique, and there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all workout routine.

Personalization will remain an important trend in 2018.

9. Mobile Payment and Data Security

The mobile payments space has been touted as the next big thing for some time now. Industry experts have predicted that the ubiquitous nature of mobile devices will lead to the end of the traditional wallet. In 2017 we saw increased evidence suggesting credit cards will soon be replaced by mobile payment systems. Some regions around the world have switched almost entirely to mobile pay. For example, cash is already pretty much dead in China as the country lives the future of mobile pay. Chinese stores and services are increasingly centered around mobile pay apps like WeChat Pay and Alipay.

Cash and credit cards will soon give way to new technology embedded in our mobile phones. Image credits: Apple Pay via Gizmodo

A large number of online payment methods has made security an important trend in the mobile app world. Security in mobile apps will definitely remain an important trend in 2018.

10. Wearables

In 2017 wearables became even more sophisticated. With the recent release of Apple Watch Series 3, users are able to make a phone call using wearables alone. This means that wearables have the full potential to replace smartphones for some groups of users in the near future.

An Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE has the potential to be a true iPhone replacement. Image credits: thenextweb

11. Conversational Interfaces

Both 2016 and 2017 were standout years in the development of conversational interfaces (user interfaces that mimic chatting with a real human), driven by developments of chatbots and voice-interaction interfaces.

Chatbots have found popularity in mobile apps, with popular chat clients such as Facebook Messenger and WeChat. There is lots of opportunity and interest in creating holistic conversational solutions. A study by ComScore reveals that the average smartphone owner typically uses only three apps frequently, and at least one of them is a messaging app. Chatting is a very natural interaction to people since that’s how we primarily interact with each other. This makes the use of chatbots much more intuitive and easier than clicking a bunch of buttons and navigating complex menus in user interfaces.

Facebook M is using this seemingly natural approach to make everyday tasks as easy as sending a few text messages.

Voice interfaces became popular with virtual assistants such as Siri, Cortana, and Amazon’s Alexa. Voice interaction technologies are slowly but fundamentally changing the way users interact with interfaces–instead of relying on touchscreens, mouse clicks, and keyboard commands, more users are gaining an appreciation for hands-free computing for everyday needs such as getting the weather forecast or finding a recipe.

Amazon’s Echo, a voice-controlled system. Credits: ibtimes

Both chatbots and voice-interaction systems will continue to grow in 2018. Conversational interfaces have the possibility of becoming the major type of interface people interact with.

12. Augmented Reality

Besides conversational interfaces, another direction which promises to completely change the way we’ll use apps in the near future is the emergence of augmented reality (AR). In 2017 both Apple and Google released augmented reality platforms for developers–ARKit and ARCore. New frameworks allow developers to easily create augmented reality experiences for both iOS and Android.

While both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are promising new mediums for development, one factor that will put AR ahead of VR is the practical value of it. The biggest benefit of AR technology is that it allows seamless integration of a digital product into a user’s life. The possibilities for integrating the virtual and real worlds are endless. For example, one of the most impressive, useful tools on the AR platform released in 2017 was Measurekit–a simple AR app that can be used to measure almost anything using just an iPhone or iPad camera. It can be helpful for almost any user.

Image credits: Measurekit via TheVerge

13. Virtual Reality For Entertainment

VR is fast becoming the future of entertainment. In 2017 we saw a few great VR experiences such as Beauty and the Beast in VR. It’s predicted that the number of active VR users will reach 171 million in 2018 (almost double the number of users as 2017). However, the vast majority of users will be KT&T and gamers.

Disney brought the magic of Beauty and the Beast to VR. Image credits: Disney

Beyond games, we’ll certainly see VR creep into other aspects of everyday lives in 2018. The fact that VR can now be experienced in the browser means that e-commerce giants like Amazon, eBay and Shopify will be acutely aware of the need to diversify their platform and embrace VR when it comes to online shopping.

14. Design Sprints And Boom Of Prototyping

In 2016 and 2017, design sprints became increasingly popular among product teams. Championed by Google Ventures, the concept has been adopted by design teams all over the world to improve their UX design processes.

A design sprint gives teams a shortcut to learning without building and launching. Image credits: Google Ventures

As well as working together on design sprints, many creative teams realized the importance of prototyping when crafting digital products. New prototyping tools significantly improved the workflow for designers, enabling them to spend more time thinking about end users rather than starting from scratch every time.

Adobe XD allows designers to go from wireframe to interactive prototype in seconds and test the design.

Conclusion

It’s clear that 2017 was as much about the technology as it was about interface design. In the tech world, 2018 will continue to see many changes day by day. As designers and developers, we must adopt these trends if we want to create good user experiences.

#WeekofIcons – Prepare SVG icons for icon fonts

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Creative Cloud

What are icon fonts and why use them?

In the history of the web, designers have tried a variety of methods to use icons on websites. That was for many reasons: scalability, performance and ability to recolor them without maintaining a large amount of image files. Since using non-standard fonts has become commonplace in web development in recent years, this has also lead to the rise of icon fonts, that are simply fonts containing symbols instead of typical characters from the alphabet. 

Implementing icons as a web font has many advantages compared to SVGs:

  • It’s easy to apply CSS properties without editing the icon itself (color, gradient, shadows, etc.);
  • You can use the same icon in different sizes and colors to save time and space;
  • Better page speed performance (i.e. fewer http requests);
  • Icon fonts load faster than background or inline SVG’s (see this experiment).

But to be clear, there are some disadvantages too. Icons from an icon font can only be a single color and, due to differences across browsers, rendering and font smoothing can be unreliable. Nonetheless, icon fonts are, in most cases, a great solution for adding resolution-independent graphic assets to your website.

Now, let’s create an icon font. To do so, we need some icons. The icons have to be consistent and in SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) format. You can also download my free icon set from Iconfinder.

Let me walk you through the steps of creating an icon font.

Using Illustrator’s artboards to easily export a bunch of icons to SVGs

Imagine you have a bunch of vector icons, in different dimensions and styles, each one in its own document and you want to create a consistent and unified icon font. To manage and keep track of a large amount of icons and exporting them to various sizes and formats can be a Sisyphean task. 

Adobe Illustrator has a pretty perfect solution, called ‘Artboards’, to keep up with large amount of icons in one place and being able to export all of them to SVG, with just one click.

Artboards are canvases included in a single document. Each Illustrator document has at least one artboard (the main canvas), but you can add more and have them in a single document. 

So let’s start with a new Illustrator document with 200 artboards, each sized 24×24 pixels, that will be used as the base document for our icon set/font. With the release of Illustrator CC 2018, you can now, instead of 100, create up to 1,000 artboards in a single document. 

If you want to skip to manually copy/paste hundreds of SVG’s to artboards, you can use this handy Illustrator script “Ai Merge” by Iconfinder, which will import your folder with SVG, AI, EPS, and PDF files and place one icon per artboard. The script also creates a new artboard named according to the file name (minus the file extension), places the file contents, centers the object, and aligns to the nearest pixel.

So once we have filled up our new document with icons, artboards will allow us to have a perfect overview and organization for the complete set. The basic rules of creating a consistent and unified icon sets are to set up visual rules and apply them to all icons.

What’s also important is the naming of each artboard. When exporting, the artboard names will not just become the names of our output SVG files, they will also be used for the CSS class naming in the icon font. Take some time and name them appropriately – you will be grateful later on when maintaining the HTML code.

In our example, we will create an icon font with outlined icons. We will select all icons in the document (Ctrl + A) and apply a unified stroke weight (1 px), corner and cap style of the stroke (rounded). If you have downloaded icons with converted strokes, try to use icons from the same collection or, at least, the same designer.

Once you have your icons in place, you can use the ‘Export for Screens’ feature accessible under ‘File’ > ‘Export’ > ‘Export for Screens’. This is the best part of using Artboards. You can export all icons in different sizes and formats. Another great time-saver is that you can export your formats and sizes to subfolders.

On the left side of the export window select all or just few of the artboards you would like to export, and name them, as those names will be used for your output files.

On the right hand side you can define multiple formats and dimensions you would like to export to. To create an icon font we just need all icons as SVG files. 

The files will be exported to the location you choose, named by the pattern you defined in the export window. The filenames will start with the prefix (if set; optional) and followed by the artboard name.

Once you have your desired icon(s) exported to SVGs, the next step is creating the font. 

Creating an Icon font

Fortunately, there are plenty of free and paid online tools that you can use – among them are icomoon and Fontello. We will use icomoon for our demonstration.

Step 1: Drag & drop selected SVG’s and create a new set

Step 2: Select all the icons you wish to include in the font

Step 3: Generate the font

Step 4: Rename all the icons and define a unicode character for each (optional)

Step 5: Download the generated files

Congrats! If you completed all the steps, you have created your first icon font.

To use your icon font on a website 1) copy the CSS code that came in “style.css” to your own CSS file and 2) copy the “fonts” folder to your root website folder. Make sure that the uploaded fonts are linked from the imported CSS and properly placed in “fonts/”.

An icon can be inserted with the following HTML code:

<span class=“icon-write”></span>

The class name “icon-write” is generated from the title you gave each icon when creating the icon font. The classes are referred to styling definitions in the included CSS file:

.icon-write:before {
content: “w61”;
}

The styling can be applied either inline or to the class in style.css. Here is an example of how to set the size, color, and the hover style of an icon:

.icon-write:before {
content: “”;
color: #c0dfe8;
font-size: 72px;
margin-bottom: 24px;
}

.icon-write:hover::before {
color: #000000;
}

Icon fonts are a great solution to integrate icons into your site and style them without using any vector editor. With CSS, the possibilities are almost endless. 

Adobe Illustrator has a pretty perfect solution to keep up with large amount of icons in one place and being able to export all of them to SVG (or other formats and dimensions), with just one click. It also makes it easy to apply style changes to all icons and re-export in literally few seconds. In terms of time savings, Artboards is the best feature ever for icon designers for sure. 

I encourage you to use icon fonts for your next project. And if you want, you are more than welcome to use my free icon set, which includes a handpicked selection of 200 outlined icons from the Picons Thin collection.

Got something cool to share about icons? Share it with #WeekofIcons and we may retweet your work on Twitter!

Defying UX Myths: Why Your Design Doesn’t Have To Be Original


Creative Cloud

Developing original work is something many designers strive for. It’s a natural tendency among creative people to think outside the box, and the motivation is to differentiate themselves as creative artists. We all like the notion that our ideas are new creations. But should we always strive to create original designs? The short answer is no.

In this article, I’ll provide a few thoughts on why original design is not always the best solution for both you and your users.

Art Is Not Design

A lot of ideas about originality in design come from the idea that design is art, but actually design is more of a science than an art. It’s important to understand why we’re designing in the first place: to solve problems. While art is almost always a personal expression and doesn’t have to solve real-world problems, design is purposeful. We design for other people so they can use our products. While in the arts it’s possible to constantly innovate and try out new things without fear of harming anyone, we simply can’t afford that in design. Design should always be evaluated by its effectiveness, or in other words, whether people can use it.

We Are All Influenced by Others

A wise man once said, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” We’re working in a huge creative market where most design isn’t original. It might sound shocking to you, but the vast majority of designs you create aren’t original, even if you think they are. Why? Because you don’t create in a vacuum; you’re influenced and inspired by the designs you see around you all the time. As a result, when we are designing something we are creating designs that are similar to the ones we like (even if we’re trying to be original).

As a designer, it’s inevitable you’ll get inspiration from another design. Image credits: Behance

Design Conventions Are A Designer’s Best Friend

Almost every designer wants to be an innovator. They want to be recognized as the one who rewrote the rules on how we design certain elements. In this endeavor, many designers would rather try to reinvent the wheel than adapt to conventional design patterns. Unfortunately, in most cases, trying to reinvent the wheel fails.

For most design problems, proper solutions already exist. If you come across a design problem that has already been solved by others designers it’s important to consider the solution they found. Not taking this solution into account and continuing to design just to be original is a huge mistake. When you’re designing for the sake of originality, you’ll probably be distracted from the main reason you started designing in the first place–creating effective solutions for people. In most cases, breaking design conventions results in a frustrating user experience.

Left: Conventional icon and color will be familiar to most users. Right: Non-conventional error icon will confuse many users.

Adherence to standard design principles, conventions, and patterns benefit users. It makes design:

  • More usable.Effectiveness of function is more important than creating original forms. Design should be functional first. Design conventions work well because they’ve already been tested for usability by real users.
  • Easy to learn. Users appreciate familiarity over novelties, and since users are familiar with conventions, they won’t need to spend a lot of time learning how to use a product.
  • Long-term basis. Only the strongest functional designs have the opportunity to become conventions.

A designer’s job is to understand the user’s goals and needs, and find the most relevant patterns that help create the strongest products to satisfy those needs.

Non-Original Design Isn’t The Same as A Blind Copy

When talking about non-original designs, don’t think that your design should be an exact copy of something that came before it. A design that’s a blind copy of an existing design is a false finish because it often skips understanding. To create a good design based on existing design, you should understand why that design looks and works the way it does. If you blind copy something, there’s a huge possibility that you’ll miss that. Why? Because you only reproduce the visible layer (the surface) instead of understanding all the layers underneath.

Understanding a designer’s intention is critical for good design, and to understand the intention it’s important to dig deeper than the surface. When you understand the original intention, there’s a possibility you’ll come up with a good design solution. In this case, we’re talking not about a copy, we’re talking about inspiration, and your end result will be different from the one that was a source of inspiration.

Both the Pontiac Firebird 3rd Gen. and Nissan 300ZX were produced in the same timeframe (early ’80s). It’s clear that designers are often inspired by each other. Image credits: Wikipedia

Expanding Knowledge Is The Key

It shouldn’t be surprising to say that everything is built off something that preceded it. Creativity in design is the ability to take past experiences and new information and synthesize them to create something new. That’s why designers should always be passionate about expanding their knowledge of the world and stay up to date with current trends (designers need to understand what is generally acceptable and what has been done before). This cumulative knowledge and experience is what helps us craft more insightful designs.

A designer’s vision is the synthesis of passion and experience.

Conclusion

Mies van der Rohe once said, “Don’t try to be original. Just try to be good.” When it comes to functional design, originality is no measure of success. Useful, usable, valuable, credible–these are the characteristics of good design. Remember that the solution you seek is probably already out there and all you need to do is to find it.