#WeekOfIcons – Celebrating Iconic Craftsmanship


Creative Cloud

180 million graphics are created on a monthly basis in Illustrator CC, and many of them serve as a gateway to interactions with the physical and digital world. From the street signs that keep traffic moving, to the graphics on food packaging that tell you what you’re consuming, to the navigation icons on your phone that help you communicate.

Icon design begins with a sketch. Whether on paper or in a app like Illustrator Draw, designers begin to transform their idea into an icon by combining lines and shapes to form a vector object. The Pen Tool, Pathfinder Tool, and recently added Shapebuilder Tool have formed the core toolset for icon designers.

Along with these tools, the Illustrator CC workspace is a key foundation designers have used to build out vast icon collections. With the latest release of Illustrator CC, designers now have the ability to create more than 100 artboards to hold all of their icons. New features have been added to help designers organize and tidy up their artboards as well.

Beginning this week, we’re partnering with Iconfinder to showcase beautiful, innovative iconography from designers around the world. Best of all, we’ll be giving away free sets of 100+ icons throughout the week. These icons sets take advantage of the expanded artboard capabilities in Illustrator CC.

Follow us on the Illustrator Facebook and Twitter page with #WeekOfIcons today!

Here are the icon sets and designers that will be featured this week:

Monday, Nov. 13
Designer Name: Ramy Wafaa a.k.a. Roundicons
Icon Set: User Interface Icons (Download available now)
Behance Site: https://www.behance.net/designersrevolution

Tuesday, Nov. 14
Designer Name: Icojam
Icon Set: Unigrid Phantom (Download available 11/14)
Personal website: http://www.icojam.com/

Wednesday, Nov. 15
Designer Name: Gasper Vidovic a.k.a. Picons
Icon Set: Picons Thin (Download available 11/15)
Behance Site: https://www.behance.net/matrixd0e2

Thursday, Nov. 16
Designer Name: Dmitry Mirolyubov
Icon Set: Kitchen and Food Icons (Download available 11/16)
Behance Site: https://www.behance.net/DmitriyMir

Friday, Nov. 17
Designer Name: Jory Raphael
Icon Set: Symbolicons Pro (Download available 11/17)
Behance Site: https://www.behance.net/sensibleworld

To learn more about how to create eye-catching icons, tune into Paul Trani’s livestream on November 13 1pm PT, and don’t forget to download the free icon sets available during our #WeekofIcons Campaign.

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

We Need Design at the Executive Table, and Here’s Why


Creative Cloud

As part of our exclusive Design is Power program, you’ll get articles like this plus resources and inspiration just for design leaders. Join here: www.adobe.com/go/designispower

Even as Apple, Nike, and Airbnb outperform others by leading with design strategies, many companies still treat design as the extra touch, the bonus, the beauty of a product—which means the case for incorporating design and the best user experience into corporate goals and outcomes is still a hard sell in most of the business world.1

“Non-design-led companies think design is about ‘beauty,’” author and brand consultant Debbie Millman says, “and it’s actually about marketplace results, brand relevance, having a strong customer experience strategy.”2 The design perspective is a powerful agent in the success of business decisions and outcomes, making that role in the boardroom critical to business longevity.

Creative executives and leaders use design to identify problems and truly understand customers, building solutions on that information to improve the end product and the customer experience. The engaged and understood customer means a happier and more loyal one, contributing to company success.

When incorporated into boardroom decisions, design leads to more than just an isolated final product or experience. With a collaborative approach and constant focus on the user, it’s a necessary executive partner for business success.

Get the view from the other side.

Designers are well known for taking empathic approaches to understanding their users—putting themselves in the user’s shoes. When it comes to communicating with executives, the same rules apply. Whether it’s the role of branding, financial objectives, or market demands, all parts of the business need to be understood before making the case for design strategy and leadership.

Director of MINE, Christopher Simmons may have summed it up best when he stated, “It’s not appropriate to say, ‘I want to tell you how to run your business, but I don’t want to understand how your business runs.’”3 In other words, designers need to both hear the business plan and the goals and think about how leading with design would carry it forward or even improve it.

We tapped the senior director of UX Design at Intel, Andrew Hooper, for his best practices around design-led strategy. As he saw ad and branding agencies getting a seat at the table before him and larger budgets than his design team, he realized he needed a stronger grasp of how other parts of the business grow and evolve.

“I felt that for me to understand the business of design, I had to understand business,” he says. “There’s nothing worse than walking in… as the expert on a specific area, without any understanding or knowledge of the other domain or expertise around the room.”

Hooper’s time as a business development leader at Frog Design gave him valuable insight into and respect for those business roles, perspective that he then took back to the creative side. “If you come rolling into that environment without the intelligence to understand the experts in the room around that business,” he says, “you miss a golden opportunity.”

This translates to a need for constant education in several forms. It’s critical that the design leader deeply comprehends not just the executive goals, but also the existing market as supported by market data, where the business is currently, and where it needs to go. Part of this includes staying up to date on products in the works, as well as assessing successes and failures in both internal and external landscapes.

But all the knowledge in the world won’t help you without a clear dialogue and strong rapport, starting with listening to the business partners, responding to their needs, and most importantly, engaging them.

Connect, engage, energize.

The key design principle of putting yourself in your user’s shoes also comes in pretty handy in engaging with leadership. Hooper holds what he calls “building the narrative” as one of his best practices. It starts with understanding the existing marketplace and which teams and skills are needed and involved, and then slowing down that initial rush to create, to ensure everyone’s in agreement about what they’re making together. The key to this, he says, is a guideline as simple as a one or two sentence brief, but one that’s written to connect emotionally, and galvanizes the teams with the impact and relevance of the project.

“There’s a value for crafting and building [the brief] in such a way that it’s the rallying cry for what we’re trying to do—and it also defines what our goals are,” says Hooper.

Engaging business partners and executives involves using the same design principles that create positive customer experiences with lasting impact and increased customer loyalty. Appealing to ease, effectiveness, and emotion, says Allegra Burnette, principal analyst at Forrester Research, is the same intentional plan and approach that design takes to a user experience.

“Design is both visual interface and interaction,” Burnette says, “but it’s also about that problem understanding and problem solving.”4 The more this is demonstrated for executive partnerships, the more the value of design is seen as absolutely necessary.

Collaborate considerately and cost-effectively.

Education and engagement get design a seat at the table, but consistent and effective collaboration will help design stay there. When you’re able to show that involving design early in the process saves time and money while creating a better product, design becomes indispensable. Hooper strongly advocates for this as well, especially in light of a recent user experience that was brought to his team only when it broke apart after launch.

“The entire thing had to be rebuilt,” Hooper says, “and that costs time and a lot of money. If done properly, you can prove that you can save time and money if you employ these skill sets at the right phases of the program.”

And keeping those skill sets connected through all phases of delivery is just as important, he says. “Because then we can start to synthesize [questions and research] into insights and really understand the pain points, and then have some data around that to make those changes.”

Something else to keep in mind: Maintaining open communication and appreciation of work makes for positive collaboration. In referring to working with developers and other teams that might not see eye to eye with design, designer Luke Jones wrote on Medium that mutual respect and allowing ownership of work is crucial for teams to come together. “Mutual respect gets rid of the us and them mindset,” he wrote.5

Hooper also advocates for building strong partnerships with the teams beyond your own walls for visible success. Establishing solidarity and trust with other project contributors is just as important as connecting with the leadership level and also raises team value, he says.

“If you don’t align, then you just won’t get people’s attention,” he says. “You have to build that level of credibility and share passion and the commitment that you’re really there to do the right thing, and [show that] you’re trying to help a group or a team solve a problem.”

Defining design as merely beautiful finishing touches doesn’t just limit its effectiveness—it denies business the possibilities of elevated and multi-level success. From customer satisfaction to saving costs with aligned collaboration, the necessity and impact of including the design perspective can no longer be ignored in the boardroom. Designers show that they can grow and lead business success by building strong, lasting partnerships, understanding and working for business goals, engaging other leaders and teams, and connecting to the heart of customer desires.

Want to get more articles like this delivered to your inbox each month? Learn more about our Design is Power program and sign up here: www.adobe.com/go/designispower

1Westcott, Michael. “Design-Driven Companies Outperform S&P by 228% over Ten Years.” Design Management Institute. March 10, 2014. http://www.dmi.org/blogpost/1093220/182956/Design-Driven-Companies-Outperform-S-P-by-228-Over-Ten-Years–The-DMI-Design-Value-Index

2,4 “What is ‘design-led’?” Adobe Creative Cloud for Enterprise. https://video.tv.adobe.com/v/18495t1/

3Benton, Dave. “How Designers Get a Seat at the CEO Table.” 99U. http://99u.com/articles/33909/christopher-simmons-designers-incharge

5 Jones, Luke. “Designers. Work Better with Developers.” Medium. March 17, 2016. https://medium.com/swlh/designers-work-better-with-developers-ecd509a00d30

Artboard Enhancements In Illustrator CC


Creative Cloud

With the new release of Illustrator, you can create up to 1,000 artboards — a tenfold increase of your creative potential with same power and performance as before.

With more artboards to keep track of, we also added a few enhancements that let you manage them better. Now you can select artboards in bulk using the Shift key and move them without losing the artwork on them. If you need to resize all your selected artboards you can now modify them all in bulk by defining the height and width values.

In addition, you can also tidy up your Illustrator file by bulk organizing your artboard grid by rows or columns, automatically spaced however you’ve defined. You can also align and distribute your artboards just as you would for any object.

Update to the latest Illustrator CC today

AI and Your Business: Questions and Answers from Adobe MAX


Creative Cloud

Art and science are often considered opposites, but history proves that when the two combine, each is strengthened. From Leonardo da Vinci, the ultimate Renaissance man, to today’s digital design platforms, human progress requires the melding of creativity with the insightfulness of science, and that’s never been more true than with artificial intelligence (AI).

As artificial intelligence becomes more prevalent, questions and misconceptions continue to arise. Since AI is growing in importance in the business world — even the products in your Creative Cloud for teams membership lean on AI to help them be effective — it’s necessary to understand what it actually is and how it can help companies improve. Chris Duffey, Senior Strategic Business Development Manager at Adobe and Tom Goodwin, EVP, Head of Innovation, Zenith Media, provided some answers to these common questions at this year’s MAX session “Putting AI to Work In Your Business.”

What is Artificial Intelligence?

When people hear the term artificial intelligence, they tend to think of humanoid androids like the characters in the movie iRobot, but AI simply refers to the technological method used to digest data and innovate old processes. Developers believe AI should enhance efficiency and effectiveness, build the emotional connection to consumers, and lead to experimentation that helps businesses discover what works best.

How can AI help my customer base?

The purpose of artificial intelligence — from a business standpoint — is to bridge the gap between the customer and the company. AI gathers and analyzes data, gaining important insights while respecting the needs of the customer, then reports back to corporate decision makers. Chris says, “If you look at some of the most recent stats about the digital transformation from messaging to experiences, 86 percent of businesses say they are trying to build a better customer experience. Yet only one percent of customers feel that they are getting a great experience from the businesses they patron.” AI is meant to show companies how to better deliver what customers actually want.

Will AI replace human jobs and human creativity?

Instead of thinking of upcoming improvements in AI as “man versus machine,” think of the relationship as that of conductor and orchestra. The human is the creative director, the one who tells the machine how to perform. Artificial intelligence is more of an intelligent assistant, or an intern who does all the grunt work so the higher-ups don’t have to. The main worry about artificial intelligence is that it will make humans obsolete, but machines can’t and won’t replace human creativity. Throughout history, people have worried about being replaced by machines, but technology doesn’t erase jobs; it creates new ones. Humans will always be needed to program and run the machines and to creatively implement the information gathered.”Since 1890, only one American job has completely disappeared — the elevator operator,” Tom says. “History shows us that everyone else is safe.”

How is AI already improving customer experiences?

The most obvious example is the rise of voice assistants. Each new iteration — Siri, Alexa, Cortana — adds something new to the consumer experience. Their main purpose is to simplify some mundane human task that usually takes more time than required, like checking the weather or searching for something online. People can ask the voice assistant a question or ask it perform a simple task without taking time away from other important activities. And as companies work to expand the services and responsiveness of electronic assistants, customer satisfaction will also improve.

What about my consumers’ personal data? Doesn’t AI put all our data at risk?

Artificial intelligence is designed to protect and respect the consumer. The internet has given these consumers a nearly infinite amount of options, so companies must step up to ensure customer loyalty. If customers don’t receive the experiences they want or need, they won’t continue doing business with the company. If a company uses artificial intelligence in a dishonest way, it loses its clients’ trust. Adobe, for instance, is committed to protecting its customers’ data. Like any other business practice, using AI should be driven by customer satisfaction and honest business practices.

What is Adobe Sensei?

Adobe Sensei is the technology that powers intelligent features across all Adobe products to dramatically improve the design and delivery of digital experiences, using artificial intelligence and machine learning in a common framework.

What will the future look like as AI becomes more common in the workplace?

Few businesses incorporate game-changing technology into an existing infrastructure. When companies do update their processes, they often just build on the existing method, instead of starting from scratch with something more efficient. For example, airplanes still require boarding passes, although they now accept digital ones. Tom points out that there is no real reason for boarding passes to still be necessary for check-in, since the available technology can check people in without a document. But customers are used to boarding passes, and companies aren’t willing to overhaul their systems.

In the future, as companies and consumers begin to better understand and trust AI, the new technology will become commonplace and intuitive. Instead of technology being adjacent to our lives, it will flow seamlessly through our day-to-day activities. For example, television can become more interactive, with users being able to operate the TV with their voice, and interact with ads. Technology will truly become an invisible assistant, and humans will have more time and energy to direct toward creative pursuits.

Technological advancements benefit the consumer and the company, and businesses that start to incorporate high-quality artificial intelligence quickly will have the market advantage. Through Adobe Sensei, we are incorporating AI into our apps and services to make creative work easier for you — starting with the tools available in your Creative Cloud for teams membership.

Contributor Spotlight: Tithi Luadthong AKA grandfailure


Creative Cloud

Tithi Luadthong, who goes by grandfailure on Adobe Stock, is an interior illustrator by day, and a fantastical stock artist by night. We caught up with the Thailand-based artist about his journey into stock, and the creative process behind his science-fiction inspired illustrations.

Adobe Stock: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? Did you always want to be an artist?

Tithi Luadthong: I am from Thailand and graduated from Interior Architectural Design in Bangkok. Since I was a child, I loved to draw pictures and copy the drawing techniques from manga cartoons, and I wanted to become an artist since I was about fifteen years old. Today, I am a full-time interior illustrator.

GRANDFAILURE / ADOBE STOCK

AS: How did you get started in the stock marketplace?

TL: I found the information about stock photography from the discussion web board in Thailand and it sounded very interesting. For me, it is wonderful to pass on the joy that my own paintings give to me. Stock illustration is the best hobby for me because I can create what I like, whenever I am free from my job like the weekend or in the evening.

AS: How do you decide what illustrations to create and sell on Adobe Stock?

TL: The illustrations I sell on Stock are my creations and have no boundaries. I am very proud of all of my creations, and I am so happy to see that my illustrations are applied on the products such as bags, blogs, album covers, and more.

GRANDFAILURE / ADOBE STOCK

AS: Can you tell us a little bit about the creative process behind

Normally my artworks are scenery paintings, like a landscape or cityscape. When I paint this style, in order to make it different, I decided to put story, theme and emotional in my picture. When I have a new idea, I start drawing sketches. Then I start coloring with the main color and gradually add in more details and other colors. When I create my artworks I use Adobe Photoshop. This program is flexible when I need to adjust tone colors. I use the brush tool and adapt it more texture when I paint everything.

AS: There are elements of science-fiction in your work – are there any artists or genres you look to for inspiration?

TL: My favorite artist is Tsutomu Nihei, who is a manga artist. His artworks is outstanding, especially sci-fi scenes.

GRANDFAILURE / ADOBE STOCK

AS: Do you have any advice for illustrators and graphic designers trying to get started on Stock?

TL: It’s important to enjoy what you do, and specialize in it. There are many customers who buy illustrations from stock website, and I believe that the market is growing, so it is a worthwhile venture to explore.

GRANDFAILURE / ADOBE STOCK

See more stunning artwork by Tithi Luadthong aka grandfailure on Adobe Stock.

Header image by grandfailure.

Moving Art: How to Create a Rotoscope Animation in Photoshop CC


Creative Cloud

Human beings are programmed to notice movement. It’s an innate behavior that helps keep us safe, but for designers, it’s a quality that can help audiences notice and connect with your work. But how can you incorporate motion in a way that enhances your art and doesn’t take advanced animation skills?

With the right tools, you can create a simple animation, like a GIF, in a few short steps. And if you think that making a video clip into a GIF leaves little room for creativity, think again. Graphic designer Lindsey Deschamps specializes in unique motion graphics. “GIFs and funky illustrations are what I live for,” Lindsey says.

Using a few easy tricks in Photoshop, Lindsey is able to transform a video clip into an illustrated GIF. The technique is called rotoscoping, which means tracing over video footage to produce a hand-drawn animation. “Rotoscoping is a great way to get started in motion design because you can incorporate captivating movement pretty quickly, without having to know all the principles of animation,” Lindsey says. “Static design definitely has its place, but sometimes messages that have movement and life speak a lot louder.”

Learn how to create your own rotoscope animation by following Lindsey’s steps below and download the accompanying source file here.

To start, open up the video timeline in the window menu (Window>Timeline), then click ‘Create Video Timeline.’

Set your frame rate from the Timeline flyout menu>Set Timeline Frame Rate. 10-12 frames per second is the range I usually stay in because it takes a lot of time to draw each frame, but any less would make the animation more choppy. However, you can go down to 6 or 8 FPS if you’re pressed for time.

Go to File>Place Embedded to bring in your video footage.

Under the Layer menu, select Layer>Video Layers>New Blank Video Layer. Now we can start drawing the frames of the video.

4) Set your foreground color to black. Using the Brush tool, select a small, hard brush, and draw the outlines of each frame. Navigate to the next or previous frame with the left and right arrows, or move the playhead on the timeline. Outline as many frames as you’d like in your scene.

Next, create another blank video layer for the color fill. Go back to the beginning, and color in each frame of outlines using the brush tool. I used a mix of different watercolor brushes from https://www.kylebrush.com/ to create varying textures for each color.

Do this for each scene in your video. The outlines are optional; for the boy and girl scenes, I skipped the outlines and just painted with the watercolor brushes on one layer.

Finally, you may create transitions between each scene if you have multiple scenes.

I find it very helpful to use onion skins as guide when doing animation without a video reference. They show you frames before and after the current frame as a guide. Go to the Timeline Flyout menu>Onion Skin settings to set how many before and after frames, and make sure to ‘Enable Onion Skins’ from this menu as well.

To export your animation as a GIF, go to File>Export>Save for Web (Legacy). Select ‘Forever’ under looping options, then ‘Save.’

Add a Design for a Cause Project to Your UX Portfolio


Creative Cloud

For designers working on building their portfolios, adding a design for a cause project offers an opportunity to enhance your design skills and boost your portfolio while also benefiting or contributing to a social cause.

What is design for a cause?

MD Riyadh, the founder of Common Giving Labs, which provides pro-bono UX and web services to charities, non-profits, and like-minded organizations, said that these projects have the capacity to amplify a portfolio while making a real difference.

“To make it simple I use an analogy of run for a cause. When you’re running for a cause, it extends the benefit to society. Similarly, when you are designing for a social cause it goes beyond the design itself and reaches society. It makes the design more powerful,” he said.

Common portfolio pieces include redesigning existing applications or websites or developing mockups for imaginary services. Why not build something that will actually exist in the real world, providing you with valuable work experience along the way?

“I wanted to design an app as a side project to improve my portfolio. As I was doing this without any funding it had to be simple and I thought rather than making something random, I can probably help someone with this app, help a charity or a like-minded organization doing good work for society,” Riyadh said.

He happened to know someone at an education-based charity, so he reached out to his contact directly.

“I shared my idea with him and he seemed to love it actually because they’re getting a free app out of this,” he said.

5 Benefits of Design for a Cause Portfolio Projects

The organizations benefit by getting a free service out of the deal, but you also reap the rewards. Here are five of the many benefits design for a cause projects can offer you as a UX designer.

  1.   Design something tangible. Show potential employers an actual product you built that demonstrates your understanding of UX and highlights your design, communication, and problem-solving skills.
  2.   Get experience working with a real client. These projects provide an opportunity to work with an actual organization, helping you to better understand the client and user needs—and the difference between the two.
  3.   Contribute to society. Choose a cause you believe in and feel good about volunteering your services to make a difference knowing that you’ll be leaving the organization with a tangible product at the end that is aligned with your values.  
  4.   Hone your problem-solving skills. Design for a cause projects requires you to think outside of the box to create solutions that balance your design skills with the organization’s needs. You’ll start asking questions and discover new ways to solve problems, all while boosting your team building skills and incorporating different ways of thinking.
  5.   Learn something new. Every project offers the opportunity to learn something, whether it’s a new program, tool or technology, a better way to optimize your design process, or what questions yield better answers, and thus better results. Each lesson is a gain and will help you become a better UX designer.

“I learned a lot during this process,”  Riyadh said. “To write the app, I had to learn a new framework. I had to talk to different people in the charity while I was doing it, and it gave me a sense of engagement to the community and also that I’m contributing to their cause. They’re working for education, basically providing education for the underprivileged population, so I got a feeling that I’m also helping those people out with my work. A lot of things are happening with just one app.”

How to Approach Design For a Cause Projects

First, spend some time researching local organizations that align with causes you care about. Reach out to your network to see if anyone is part of or can connect you with someone at a like-minded organization who may be in need of design services. Send a cold email to an organization that sparks your interest. These types of projects require you to take the first steps. Embrace this! It’s all part of the challenge.

If you’re just starting out or transitioning into a new career as a UX designer, don’t hesitate to share your portfolio intentions with the organization. If you’re excited and passionate about the idea, there’s a good chance they’ll be open to hearing about it too.

Riyadh already had experience working as a UX researcher and a developer, so he didn’t mention the portfolio component when he reached out to the charity of his choice. Make the call that feels true to you.

Since you’ll be working with real people, it’s imperative you outline the scope of the project and what you have to offer.

Be transparent about your skills, the amount of time you have to donate and how long you think the project will take you. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Instead, focus on designing something simple and within your means. Even a small project can have a big impact.

Inspiration For Design For a Cause Projects

Riyadh decided to build an app for his design for a cause project, but he encourages other designers to feel empowered to approach these projects in a way that suits them.

“Designers have their own creative ways to think about things and I’m sure every designer will have unique ideas about design for a cause,” Riyadh said. “If designers keep the social good in mind and in their design discussions, they can identify their own ways to do this. This is just one way to do it.”

Other ideas could be to:

  • Conduct a usability audit at an organization that has never worked with a UX designer before
  • Redesign an existing app or website so it’s more user-friendly (for those who have coding skills as well)
  • Develop user personas so their design team has a better understanding of who they’re designing for/who their users are
  • Create something internal for the organization to make fundraising or something else easier or more accessible for them
  • Create something open-source that others can use to help solve a social problem

“I think if designers keep social cause as one of the factors in their design assignments, they’ll improve their portfolio while helping to contribute something to the community,” Riyadh said.

There is no better way to put your design skills to good use in a portfolio project than by incorporating an element of social good. Design skills are powerful. Where will you contribute yours?

How do you approach design for a cause in your projects? Do you have any additional advice to share with other UX designers looking to add a design for a cause project to their portfolio? Please share in the comments below.

How to Design a Report People Actually Read


Creative Cloud

A decade ago, before advertising made a sizeable push on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, client deliverables were just that — reports given directly to a client and its various stakeholders. And while design was important in these deliverables, data was king in driving the relationship.

But the game has changed. The public hangs out on social media talking about brands, exchanging ideas, and sharing what they like. The key there, of course, is the “like” part. Brands cannot hide, but can be drowned out in a sea of information and visuals vying for attention. So, what’s required to stand out? How do you design reports that are both parts data-driven and interesting?

As part of our tips on how to incorporate design into your marketing strategy, we have a few more ideas on how to create fascinating reports your audience will want to read. Whether your report is geared toward informing investors, recruiting volunteers, reaching potential clients, wooing donors, or educating the general public, every report can benefit from these core principles.

Communication Strategy Building

Vague, right? Let us explain.

Your report, whether it be an infographic used on social media, a quarterly report, or a proposal to prospective investors, needs to assert direction and confidence to your audience. Jessica Bellamy, an Adobe Creative Resident and master of the infographic, calls this process communication strategy building, of which there are three parts.

First, is what she calls advocacy facing, also known as active voice.

“This is making sure that you are being assertive and passionate about the way you are relaying your message versus being objective,” says Jessica, who holds degrees from the University of Louisville in Drawing (BFA), Graphic Design (BFA), and Pan African Studies. “The materials you are creating are sharing data, yes, but you are also advocating for your brand.”

Second, in addition to driving an assertive, passionate voice, it’s important to frame your assets positively, instead of focusing on the problems, or potential roadblocks.

“If there are negative findings in your data, be transparent, but you want to take that as an opportunity to focus on the future and be solution oriented,” Jessica says.

Third, focus the report on highlights and points of interest. Reporting that scratches the surface of all areas is less effective than tapping into what your audience cares for and what you care about. If you have more information to share, you can always put together a longer, more expansive report and link to it in your original document.

Focus on Visuals

There’s virtually no better way to capture the attention of your audience outside of impactful visuals. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need pictures or images, but they boost engagement when appropriately used. Using typography and whitespace is just as likely to create the response you want if done correctly. Learn one design technique for accomplishing this in this video tutorial on data visualization in action.

“Have images that directly relate to the content. A photo or a graphic should add to the content and allow viewers to immediately know what the report or the specific section is about,” suggests Jessica. But be careful to incorporate images wisely. Using an image because it is beautiful or aesthetically pleasing can throw people off to the point of not actually receiving the intended message.

Try to show, not tell.

Use a graph or chart in place of a paragraph of data. Create a graphic to share your information and then highlight it in the text. Think of text as a limited commodity, not an endless supply.

If you’re going to use one color, stick to one. If you want to use multiple colors, use no more than three outside of black. Be clear and strategic in the ways you use color.

When composing your report, think about composition. Heavy text blocks or too much information on a page can be daunting and stress your audience out. Give your page space to breath.

“Don’t be afraid to have a page that has minimal text and mostly an image that’s really hitting the point of what you are trying to make,” Jessica says.

You may think you want to recreate the wheel with your design template, but that’s not always possible or cost effective. Try one of the many free artist-created templates in InDesign.

Clarity Outweighs Design

Much like a novel or textbook has a chapter page, introduction, or both, so should your report. Make clear what information you’re about to present with a summary page and/or cheat sheet type page with clear titles and headings before each section.

“One thing that I have learned from the reports that I have made is that people may think a report is beautiful and they love it, but they always want to know what the main point is, or else it isn’t worth their time,” Jessica says.

Getting to the point is part two of clarity. Readers tend to want the highlights — paramount concerns, relevant data, and action items. Most reports are skimmed to find these specific bits of information. “When people feel overwhelmed by text, they put the report down,” Jessica says. “You can always make additional information available for interested readers to research more deeply on their own.”

Cut down wherever possible and keep each section to 500 words or less. If you think you can get the information across in four pages or less, do it.

Typography and Summary Sentences

A serif font, in general, is easiest to read in text heavy paragraphs, but that’s not to say it’s required. San serif fonts are what we’re getting more accustomed to, and that’s great, but think about your audience when deciding your font.

“If this is something that is just highlighting overviews — say for an entertainment magazine — why not san serif. If this is an editorial news magazine, go serif,” Jessica says.

Choose simple fonts and forgo more stylized typefaces.

“Legibility is key, especially if there is a long walk through content. If it’s more than one page, I would not use a stylized font. It can be a nice font, but it needs to be legible,” Jessica says.

Not sure if your font is too stylized? Jessica suggests printing it out and taping it to the wall. Walk away from it for a while and return and try to read it from a distance. You’ll know quickly if you can read it or not.

Pull quotes, the likes of which are found in magazines and editorial pieces, are excellent when trying to drive a point home or to emphasize crucial information. People tend to scan documents — pulled quotes can ensure the reader’s attention is grabbed where and when you want it.

Remember, reports like case studies, infographics, and brand presentations provide the critical social proof consumers need to engage with your brand. It’s all about creating content that is equal parts visually-engaging and data-driven. That’s powerful, and that drives engagement.

Make All of It Happen With Adobe Creative Cloud

Adobe Creative Cloud offers the tools needed to create professional, eye-catching marketing materials. Not sure where to begin? Access how-to resources and tutorials to get started.

Machine Learning Comes to Life


Creative Cloud

If you’ve ever asked Alexa to a play a song or turn your lights off, you already know how a bit of artificial intelligence can change everyday tasks. This month, we’re thinking about how high-tech tools impact and inspire artists, and we’re starting with a deeper look at AI— where is it now, and where is it headed?

AI Gets Personal

As AI and machine learning become more powerful, companies are racing to integrate them into our everyday lives. Right now, developers at Amazon and Google are designing AI digital assistants that will go beyond answering simple questions and helping control our devices. They’ll also connect to us in more “human” ways. To make it happen, developers are drawing expertise from surprising places — including comedians, novelists, poets, and animators — to create personalities for AI tools.

And it’s not a big jump to think consumers want deeper, more personal connections to their digital assistants. When Daren Gill, director of product management for Alexa, talked to New Scientist last December, he explained how attached people already are: “Every day, hundreds of thousands of people say ‘good morning’ to Alexa.” Not only that, he reported that half a million consumers have professed their love for Alexa, and another 250,000 have proposed marriage.

AI Moves into the Design Studio

While companies develop AI for our personal lives, the technology is also making its mark at work. Industries from retail to manufacturing are using AI and machine learning to automate repetitive backend processes. The goal is to free up humans to focus on what we do better than machines: creative problem solving.

This is how AI is filtering into the creative world, too — it’s automating the tedious tasks that eat up hours a designer would rather spend creating. We talked to artists using the AI tools in Adobe Stock, including visual search, which finds images similar to one another, and automated keywording, a tool that generates automatic keywords for images, to get their take on how AI fits into the creative process.

Graphic designer Jesús Ramirez used visual search last year as part of his Make a Masterpiece project — a challenge from Adobe to recreate a famous work of art using only stock images. “I needed to search through thousands of images looking for very specific things, so visual search really sped up the process. For example, I needed hands in a specific position, so I took photos of my own hands mimicking those positions and used them to search. In the past, I would have had to type in ‘hand,’ but how do you describe hands doing a certain thing? And even if you could, what are the odds that the creator used those same keywords? For things like that, AI is great.”

Jesús also counts on automated keywording: “Now that Sensei [Adobe’s AI tech] is integrated with search in Photoshop, I don’t have to tag my photos. I can have thousands of photos uploaded to the cloud and just type a keyword like “cat” or “building,” to find what I’m looking for.”  

How Creative Will AI Get?

When it comes to what’s next, graphic designer Tina Touli is hoping AI will advance enough to communicate in more intuitive ways, and take over jobs that don’t involve much creativity: “I’m looking forward to AI tools that will understand how to do small tasks when I talk to them, as you would talk to a human. You’ll be able to ask for minor visual changes, such as trying different colors or fonts, without having to do a single click,” says Tina.

“I’m excited about AI that can recognize the level of noise in an image and be able to either remove it, or match it automatically if I add an element from another photo,” adds Jesús. “It all goes back to the tedious task s— I’d like them not to take so long.”

But is there a point when it’s too much? Will AI start to step on artists’ creative toes? “When the camera was invented, people thought we wouldn’t need painters anymore,” says Jesús. “With AI, I think some people have the impression that the computer is going to do all the work, but at the end of the day it’s just another tool. I’m not afraid of AI taking over; I’m just afraid that’s the perception people are going to have.”

Tina agrees that human artists can’t be replaced by technology: “The passion you put into your work, the pleasure of creating something — that’s always reflected in the work. A machine can’t achieve that.”

More on Tech and the Creative Life

Follow us the rest of the month as we consider artists who use tech as their creative inspiration, and talk to photographers whose work captures complex machines. And visit our dedicated gallery of Adobe Stock exploring how tech is changing our world.

Simple Tips to Improve User Testing


Creative Cloud

Testing is a fundamental part of the UX designer’s job and a core part of the overall UX design process. Testing provides the inspiration, guidance and validation that product teams need in order to design great products. That’s why the most effective teams make testing a habit.

Usability testing involves observing users as they use a product. It helps you find where users struggle and what they like. There are two ways to run a usability test:

  • Moderated, in which a moderator works with a test participant
  • Unmoderated, in which the test participant completes the test alone

We’ll focus on the first, but some of the tips mentioned can be applied to both types of testing.

1. Test As Early As Possible

The earlier you test, the easier it is to make changes and, thus, the greater impact the testing will have on the quality of the product. A lot of design teams use the excuse, “The product isn’t done yet. We’ll test it later,” to postpone testing. Of course, we all want our work to be perfect, which is why we try to avoid showing a half-baked design. But if you work too long without a feedback loop, the chances are higher that you’ll need to make a significant change after releasing the product to the market. It’s the classic mistake: thinking you’re the user and designing for yourself. If you can invest energy to learn early and prevent problems from happening in the first place, you will save a tremendous amount of time later.

The good news is that you don’t need to wait for a high-fidelity prototype or fully formed product to start testing. In fact, you should start testing ideas as soon as possible. You can test design mockups and low-fidelity prototypes. You’ll need to set the context for the test and explain to test participants what’s required of them.

2. Outline Your Objectives

Before starting usability testing, be crystal clear on your goals. Think of the reason you want to test the product. What are you trying to learn? Ask yourself, “What do I need to know from this session?” Then, once you understand that, identify exactly which features and areas you want feedback on.

Here are a few common objectives:

  • Find out whether users are able to complete specified tasks successfully (e.g. purchase a product, find information)
  • Identify how long it takes to complete specific tasks
  • Find out whether users are satisfied with a product and identify changes required to improve satisfaction

3. Carefully Prepare Questions And Tasks

Once you have an objective, you can define which tasks you’ll need to test in order to answer your questions or validate your hypothesis and assumptions. The objective is not to test the functionality itself (that should be a goal of the quality assurance team), but to test the experience with that functionality.

Actionable Tasks

When designing tasks, make them realistic and actionable. These could be specific parts of the product or prototype that you want users to test — for example:

  • Getting started with the product
  • Completing a checkout
  • Configuring the product

Prioritize Tasks

Don’t squeeze in many subjects in your usability testing checklist. Conducting the tests and analyzing the results will take a lot of time. Instead, list the important tasks in your product, and order them by priority.

Clearly Describe Tasks

Testers need to know what to do. Make it easy. Users tend to become discouraged when tasks are unclear.

Have a Goal For Each Task

As a moderator, you should be very clear about the goal of a task (for example, “I expect that users will be able to complete the checkout within two minutes”). However, you don’t need to share that goal with participants.

Limit The Number Of Tasks

Patrick Neeman of Usability Counts recommends assigning five tasks per participant. Considering the time of the session (usually 60 minutes), leave time for your questions, too.

Provide a Scenario, Not Instruction

People tend to perform more naturally if you provide them with a scenario, rather than dry instruction. Instead of asking them something like, “Download a book with recipes,” you could phrase it as a scenario, like, “You’re looking for some new ways to cook beans. Download an ebook with recipes.” A scenario provides some context and makes the task more natural for the user. The more naturally participants perform the task, the better the data you will get as a result.

Test The Set Of Tasks Yourself

Go through the task several times yourself, and work out appropriate questions to ask. It’s hard work but will definitely pay off.

4. Recruit Representative Users

Finding the questions you want to ask is important, but also, the people who participate in your test should be representative of your target audience (user persona). There’s no point in watching people use your product if they don’t match your target audience. Therefore, as soon as you have some idea of what to test, start recruiting. Carefully recruit people based on your goals. Be advised: Finding people for usability tests is not easy. In fact, recruiting is one of the biggest reasons why many companies don’t regularly talk to their users. Thus, put in the extra effort to find people who represent your target audience.

Analyze Existing User Data

If your product already has a customer base, then a quick analysis of available information (for example, analytics data, customer support tickets, surveys, previous usability sessions) will help you assess what you already know or don’t know about your users.

Numbers provided by an analytics tool on how the user interacts with a product — clicks, user session time, search queries, conversion, etc. — will help UX designers to prepare for usability tests. Image: Ramotion

Test With Users Who Aren’t Only Friends or Family

Of course, feedback from friends and family is better than nothing, but for better results, you’ll need independent and unbiased users, ones who haven’t used your product before. Your friends and family are too close to the product to know how real people would perceive it for the first time.

Define Your Criteria

Before recruiting users, you’ll need to decide on the type of people to test your product. Define criteria and select testers according to it. For example, if you are testing a mobile app for ordering food, most probably you’ll need feedback from people who order food regularly. Translate this requirement into precise, measurable criteria, so that you can use it to screen prospective participants: people who order food at least once a week from different delivery services (participants should have experience with at least three services).

In addition to specifying the users you want to talk to, think about people you don’t want to see in any of your sessions. As a rule of thumb, avoid testing with tech-savvy users and early adopters, because such testing might not be as revealing as you’d like. Also, avoid participants who have conflicts of interest (such as ones who work for competitors).

Create Screener Questions

Next, create a screener questionnaire to identify people for your testing sessions. As with any good survey or questionnaire, avoid leading questions. An example of a question that would reveal the “right” answer is, “Do you like ordering food using a smartphone?” Most people who want to join a testing session would surely answer yes to that question.

You can prepare a list of questions in the format of a survey and ask potential testers to fill it out.Google Forms is a great tool for creating screeners and collecting the responses in a spreadsheet. Because responses go right into a Google spreadsheet, you can sort and filter them.

Get People to Fill Out the Screener

Next, you’ll need to get people to fill out the screener. One way to achieve this is to create a job description with a link to your survey. In the description, explain your expectations, and offer an incentive to motivate people to show up (such as a $100 Amazon gift card for a 60-minute interview). Craigslist, Twitter and Facebook are the most obvious places to post the job description.

Things will be a bit harder when you need to recruit very specific and hard-to-find types of users. But even in this case, it’s totally solvable:

  • Talk with your sales or marketing team to see if they have lists of contacts they can share.
  • Find contacts in relevant community groups and professional associations.

Tip: If your product is on the market, you could show a message — “Want to give us more feedback?” — somewhere in the user flow, which leads to your screener form. Also, if you use a service such as Intercom, you could automatically email new users after they have used the product five times, inviting participation in testing.

Think Quality, Not Quantity

Some product teams think they need a lot of participants for usability testing. In fact, testing with five users generally unveils 85% of core usability problems. The most important problems are easy to spot for people who are new to your product, and difficult for you to spot because you no longer have fresh eyes. It turns out that you’ll learn a lot from the first person you talk to, a little less from the next, and so forth.

Once you collect the responses and filter the list of potential participants based on your criteria, select the five candidates who fit your criteria the best.

Clearly Instruct on How to Join the Session

When you schedule a test session, provide all details in a confirmation email to participants:

  • The time (if you do remote testing, provide the time in the relevant time zone)
  • The location (including building, parking information, etc.)
  • What test participants need to bring with them (for example, personal ID, a mobile device with iOS or Android, etc.)
  • Your phone number (in case they have questions or need to reschedule)

To minimize frustrating no-shows, you could ask users to reply to confirm. For example, your subject line in the confirmation email could be something like, “Usability session scheduled on May 14 at 3 pm. (Please reply to confirm).” You could also call participants to remind them about their appointment on the day before the session.

5. Get The Most Out Of In-Person Testing

Hearing directly from users is one of the fastest ways to learn about and improve your product. By watching someone use your product, you can quickly identify areas where the product isn’t clear enough.

Building a Good Rapport

When a session begins, the participant might be nervous and unsure about what to expect. The quality of a usability session is directly related to the rapport you build with the participant. The deeper the participant’s trust in the moderator, the more frank their feedback will be. Conduct the test in a way that participants will feel comfortable giving you honest feedback.

A few things to remember:

  • In case of failure, people tend to blame themselves, rather than a flaw in the design. Thus, make sure they don’t feel like they’re being tested. (For example, “We’re not testing you; we’re testing our design. So, nothing you say or do is wrong.”)
  • You want participants to be as candid as possible. If they don’t like something or they think it’s silly, make sure they say so. Some participants don’t like to share such thoughts because they are afraid of hurting your feelings. Just tell them something like, “You won’t be hurting our feelings. We haven’t been involved in designing these screens at all.”
  • Start with easy tasks or questions. They won’t yield any juicy insights, but they will get people talking and will help relax them. Learn a bit about the person. Try to find out what the person likes or doesn’t like, their hobbies, as well as tech habits. This information will help you better evaluate the results of the test.

Listen, Don’t Lead

Once you have presented the task, everything should be led by the participant. Your goal in this session is to understand how users will use the product. For example, if the participant takes an unplanned route through your app, don’t correct them! Wait to see what happens. This is valuable learning.

Don’t Judge Participants

Your participants are there to teach you something, not the other way around! Judging users or trying to educate them during the test would be counterproductive. Your goal is to get as much information as possible in the time available and to understand it all from their perspective.

Thus, avoid phrases like, “That was obvious, right?” and “Do you really think so?” while raising your eyebrows, even if something seems obvious. Instead, ask something like, “How easy or difficult was it for you to complete this task?” or “Why do you think that?” There should never be any judgement or surprise in either your tone or body language.

Don’t Explain

When you explain how the product you’re testing functions, you’ll almost certainly be introducing bias to the test. In the real world, your product will live on its own. You won’t be there to guide users along and tell them exactly what to do and how to use it. Participants should have to figure things out based on the task’s description and what they see in the interface.

Don’t Interrupt

When participants start a task, try your best not to interrupt them. The more you interrupt, the less likely they’ll have the confidence to complete the task. They’ll lose their flow, and you won’t see anything resembling natural behavior.

Don’t Draw Attention to Specific Issues

Drawing attention to specific issues that you care about could cause people to change their behavior and focus their answers on the issues you’re emphasizing. This problem is particularly common in discussions on user interface design: If you were to ask people about a particular design element (such as the color of the primary call-to-action button), they’ll notice it thereafter much more than they would have otherwise. This could lead participants to change their behavior and focus on something that doesn’t matter.

Use the Think-Aloud Technique

The think-aloud method is critical to getting inside the participant’s head. In fact,Jakob Nielsen argues that it’s the best usability tool. Using the think-aloud technique, the moderator asks test participants to use the product while continuously thinking out loud — simply verbalizing their thoughts as they move through the user interface. Using this technique for the food-ordering app, most probably you’d get responses like, “Hm, this looks like a food-ordering app. I’m wondering how to order food. Maybe if I tap here, I’ll see a form to request a meal.” The technique enables you to discover what users really think about your design and will help you turn the usability session into actionable redesign recommendations. Responses like, “Oh, it loads too slowly”, “Why am I seeing this?” and “I expected to see B after A” can be translated into actionable design changes.

Tip: Because most users don’t talk while using a product, the test facilitator will have to prompt them to keep talking. Ask something like, “What’s going on here?” when test participants interact with the product.

Observe Behavior

Mind the distinction between listening and observing. While both methods will provide UX designers with valuable information, many UX designers focus too heavily on listening. Observing users can uncover a lot more in a lot less time. You can learn a lot by listening to people, but you can learn way more by seeing how they react to a product.

Most people want to look smart, which is why during testing sessions, you’ll notice participants struggle through a task but then tell you that it was easy for them. Thus, focus on their behavior, not their opinion.

When in Doubt, Clarify

When you’re not quite sure what a participant is talking about, ask for clarification. A simple question like “When you said… did you mean…?” will make things clear. Don’t leave it to the end of the session. The end of a session is too late to go back and figure out what someone was talking about.

Follow Up With Questions

Be eager and curious to learn as much as you can about the user’s experiences and perspectives. Don’t settle for the first answer you get. Always dig deeper by asking follow-up questions. Follow-up questions will give you a lot of insight into what has really happened. People often can’t clearly state their motivations without being prompted. A simple well-timed follow-up question will usually yield a more thorough explanation or valuable example.

Answer Questions With Questions

During the session, participants will certainly ask you some questions. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • “Should I use it?”
  • “What do you think?”
  • “What did others think about this?”

Resist the temptation to tell them all about it! Ask them a question right back. It’ll reveal a lot.

6. Treat Design As An Iterative Process

A lot of product teams think about the design process as a linear process that starts with user research, has a phase for prototyping and ends with testing. However, treat it as an iterative process.

Testing, as much as coding, designing and gathering requirements, has a place in the iterative loop of product design and development. It’s important to test at each interval of this process, if resources are available.

Feedback Loop

The best way to avoid having to rework a product is to inject feedback into the process. Regular user feedback (not necessarily in the form of usability testing, but also in online surveys or analysis of customer support tickets) should be at the heart of the UX design process.

7. Don’t Limit Yourself To In-Person Sessions

Testing in-person is a great way to understand user behavior; unfortunately, it’s not always possible. What if you need to test only one small feature, or your test participants are dispersed (for example, if your product targets international customers), or you need results fast (ideally, today)? In this case, focus on remote testing. But how do you handle remote sessions?

Use Tools for Unmoderated Tests

Nowadays, a ton of tools are available for you to run remote unmoderated tests. Here are some:

  • Lookback: This tool allows for both remote live moderated testing and unmoderated testing. Live sessions are automatically recorded in the cloud — no uploading, waiting or managing files.
  • UserTesting: UserTesting allows for easy remote usability testing. You can run an unmoderated test on your website with a predefined user base.
  • Validately: With Validately, choose either unmoderated or moderated testing. To test a product, add a link to your website or prototype. Testers will receive a URL to take the test or join a moderated session. After the session, you’ll receive a qualitative report and sharable videos.
  • Usabilla: Collect both qualitative and quantitative insights from users to make the right design decisions. Among testing deliverables, you’ll receive nice heat maps.

Conduct Moderated Remote Testing

You could conduct remote moderated sessions using Google Hangouts or Skype. Simply ask users to share their screen, and then see how they interact with your product. Don’t forget to record the session for further analysis. (Record both video and audio; without audio, it might be hard to tell why certain behavior occurred.)

Avoid “Professional” Testers

The downside of remote testing is that many participants get tested so frequently that they’ve learned to focus on certain aspects of a design. To compensate for possible “professional” testers, you’ll need to analyze the test sessions (for example, by watching the video recordings), and exclude results from people who don’t seem to provide genuine feedback.

8. Engage The Whole Team In The Process

Involve the whole product team in the testing process. Having an opportunity to observe users will help the whole team understand the problems with usability and to empathize with users. Testing enables you to build shared understanding, even before the team starts designing.

Discuss the Testing Strategy With the Team

Product design is a team sport. And because testing is an essential part of the design process, it should be discussed with all team players. Direct involvement in preparing the test will make team members more interested in the activity. As the person responsible for UX research, you should make it clear how your team will use the findings from the usability tests.

Ask Everyone to Watch the Sessions

You can’t expect the entire team to join the testing sessions. In most cases, it isn’t necessary for everyone to observe all usability testing first-hand (although it might be desirable). But you can record the testing sessions on video and share it with colleagues. Video can be extremely helpful during design discussions.

Ask Team to Help With Analysis

One thing that slows down many forms of usability testing is analysis. Extracting findings from the data collected during testing sessions could take days or even weeks. But if the entire team watches the sessions and takes notes, they will be better able to summarize the findings and decide on next steps.

9. Test Before, During And After The Redesign

A common question among many product teams is, “When should we test?” The answer is simple: Test before a design or redesign, test during the design, and then test afterwards, too.

  • Before a design or redesign: Testing would be conducted during the discovery phase of the UX design process. If you plan to redesign an existing product, usability testing could help you identify the biggest pain points in the current version. Consider testing competitors’ products, to compare results.
  • During a redesign: If resources exist, do this at every milestone of the project. In the time it takes to build and launch a new product or feature, you could run several testing sessions and improve the prototype after each one.
  • After a redesign: Knowledge of how real users use the product will help you make it better.

10. Don’t Try To Solve Everything At Once

Trying to solve everything at once is simply impossible. Instead, prioritize your findings. Fix the most important problems first, and then test again. However, if that’s impossible (for example, if the problems are too big to tackle), then prioritize problems according to their impact on revenue.

Conclusion

You can’t afford to skip testing, because even a simple round of testing could make or break your product. Investment in user testing is just about the only way to consistently generate a rich stream of data on user behavior. Thus, test early, test often.

Further Reading

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