Stock Content Wanted: Environment and Industry


Creative Cloud

Adobe Stock customers are looking for images, videos and vectors of the environment and industry – everything from scenes from the farm and the factory, to people interacting, protecting and improving the natural environment. More and more brands are becoming environmentally conscious and with Earth day only a month away, the time to submit your environment and industry images is now!

If you have content that falls into any one of these categories, we encourage you to upload them them via our Contributor Portal, or directly from Lightroom CC or Bridge CC.

Green living

Green living spaces, environmentally friendly vehicles, and people interacting with the environment in a positive manner.

MASKOT / ADOBE STOCK

Recycling

Recycling systems, people picking up recyclable materials, and other shots that communicate a positive environmental message.

ROBU_S / ADOBE STOCK

Farm animals

Classic farm animals and modern farmers.

Farming equipment

Close-ups, panoramic shots, and aerial views of the agricultural process: sowing, irrigation, and harvest.

Trade professionals

People involved in outdoor trades such as fishing, roadwork, and construction.

WOLLWERTH IMAGERY / ADOBE STOCK

If your images or videos feature recognizable people or landmarks, you must obtain a model or property releases for submission. For more information on releases and other legal guidelines, visit our Contributor HelpX page. You can see our entire list of Stock Content needs here.

If you’re a first time contributor, watch our tutorial for pointers on how to get started.

The Making of Princess Rap Battles


Creative Cloud

What happens when Snow White and Elsa face off in a rap battle? If you don’t already know, where have you been? Whitney Avalon’s Snow White vs Elsa video has more than 130 million views and counting, and it isn’t alone. After the runaway success of the first princess rap battle, Avalon and her partner Steve Gossett have created many more epic matchups to the delight of their fans.

Avalon, an actor and singer, started creating original shorts and songs for YouTube for fun while pursuing her acting career through commercial, television, and film work. She and Gossett, a filmmaker himself, had no idea that their first princess rap battle would put them on the YouTube map. Today, they rely on Adobe Creative Cloud, including Adobe Premiere Pro CC for editing, to produce their wildly popular rap battles, Avalon’s original content, as well as more traditional commercial and branded content.

Adobe: How did you two connect?
Avalon: We originally met at a small film festival here in Los Angeles called Channel 101. Dan Harmon from Community and Rob Schrab of The Sarah Silverman Program started it and I was fortunate enough to act in a bunch of shorts for the festival when I first got to Los Angeles.

Gossett: One of the things that really drew us together is that we both like quality. We wanted to make all of our content as smart and as high quality as possible, which has been one of our big advantages over people who upload 10 videos a day. That’s not who we are.

Adobe: Where did you get the idea for the princess rap battles?
Avalon: After years of being called Snow White because of my light skin and dark hair, I had the idea of writing a rap about how pale I am and it evolved from there. Snow White was the first Disney princess ever so she’s very old school. The newest Disney princess at the time, Elsa from Frozen, is the opposite ideology so we decided to create a battle between the two princesses. It went crazy viral, and now we spend a lot of our time creating other rap battles and ancillary content. We’ve been very fortunate to work with some incredibly talented people like Sarah Michelle Gellar, Eliza Dushku, and Laura Marano, who are willing to dress up in character and rap.

SNOW WHITE vs ELSA: Princess Rap Battle

Adobe: How much work goes into each production?
Avalon: When we did Katniss versus Hermione, we reread all 10 of the Harry Potter and The Hunger Games books and watched all 11 movies, which was eight weeks of solid research. We wanted to make sure we knew everything about the characters, their relationships, and their back stories before they faced off. Writing and pre-production overlap and take a few weeks, and the shoots used to take a day but more recently we’ve extended them to two full days. We have custom sets, which involve extra days of setup and teardown. They’re actually surprisingly big productions for something that ends up only being a couple of minutes long.

Gossett: Post production lasts anywhere from three to four weeks, depending on the amount of visual effects. We’ve used an assistant editor on the last couple of videos to help streamline our process. Once we get into post we’re usually trying to finish by a certain day. For example, when we did the rap battle with Sarah Michelle Gellar as Cinderella, we want to get it out before the live action Cinderella movie. When we did the Mrs. Claus and Mary Poppins rap battle, we wanted it up for Christmas.

In addition to the main video, we create behind the scenes videos that are pretty popular. I take a lot of joy in showing how everything is made.

CINDERELLA vs BELLE Behind the Scenes

Adobe: What is your post-production process?
Gossett: After we ingest the footage, rename files, and organize it in bins, Whitney and I will sit down and go through all of the footage to identify the great moments and start building around those touch points. Often it will be a key story moment or a fantastic performance that we know we want to build around.

I then create a sequence that includes all of the individual subtitles lined up with the audio track that we used on set. After that, each verse gets its own sequence which means precisely lining up 20+ takes of different sizes on top of each other. Next, I do a prototype of the actual battle, taking a locked off wide shot and creating the battle from each side by punching in digitally to figure out where the cuts will go. I apply those cuts to the stacks for each verse and then use the labels in Premiere Pro to identify the bad, good, and great takes for each cut.

After watching all the great takes together, I’ll edit down the footage until we have a rough cut of the battle. Everything starts to take form with graphics, sounds, and VFX. We use Photoshop for the graphics, our VFX people use After Effects, and I do the color grading right in Premiere Pro. After enough time and effort fixing every little thing you can think of, we’ve got a final video!

Avalon: I’ve created the series logo and thumbnails, as well as retouched all the promotional photos, in Photoshop.

RAPUNZEL vs ANNA: Princess Rap Battle

Adobe: How do you differentiate between your more traditional client content and what you produce for YouTube?
Gossett: Part of what makes it work for us is that we use the same approach for digital and traditional content. People often try to reinvent the wheel but there’s a reason why there’s a person in charge of the camera department and a person in charge of sets and a person in charge of food. Our cast is union, we have insurance, and we play by those rules. Just because the digital landscape is newer doesn’t mean that the old ways are wrong.

Adobe: Do you find that perceptions of YouTube content have changed since you first started?
Avalon: Slowly. People have started to respect original content more, no matter where it originates.

Gossett: It makes a big difference if everybody has seen something you’ve done. More and more people are understanding that high-quality TV doesn’t have to come out of the box on your wall.

Adobe: What are your goals for the future?
Gossett: We’re going to continue to make the rap battles, but we also both want to make longer form content. There are some great opportunities to make awesome stuff that can be seen on lots of different platforms.

Avalon: We also have a longer form TV show pilot that we’re working on and I have more original comedy songs and comedy music planned, both collaborations and originals of me singing. As a production company, we’re still making commercials and branded content. There’s a lot more to look forward to in 2017.

Learn more about Adobe Creative Cloud

How to Create Satisfying Content for your Customers


Creative Cloud

With customers’ today craving more and more content across many channels, the speed at which brands must create highly-relevant, personalized content is dizzying. More than paying lip service to the fact that we’ve created relationships with our customers, we need to dazzle them—and the key to success in this ongoing love affair is content.

As an informed business owner, you know you need content. And you know that you need to deliver it — frequently. But if you’re not doing content well right now, you’re not alone. According to a recent Adobe report on the state of content and design, 41 percent of small to mid sized businesses don’t have a content marketing  strategy in place and only 10 percent are proud of the quality of the connections they are making with their customers.

There’s never been a better time to accelerate content creation for hungry customers. But the real innovators are aligning content creation to the overall experience an audience has as it interacts with it. Content means customers, which means sales and staying in business. Pursuing a deeper commitment to your customer while strategically keeping up with content production, that’s the secret sauce. Here’s how to make your content work for you—to maximize creation with valuable, relevant and engaging content that woos customers on the journey to conversion.  

Learn content synchronization. Work smarter, not harder by getting more use out of the content you’re currently creating. Content synchronization lets you efficiently share assets that already exist with your other teams, avoiding the need to create it from scratch. Give content creators and designers’ access to content through a centralized location—a repository with brand guidelines, colors and logos intact. Access to well-researched content that meets the needs of your customers will give you more opportunities to interact, paving the way to a long-term commitment with regular engagement.

Shape the experience. Great content ties together, clarifies, and enhances the story you want to tell with your brand, but it also taps into the pulse of what your customers want. Don’t guess or rely on whatever worked in the past. Lean on your marketing analyst and customer experience teams to share the data and use it to create a content strategy that works. Shape the experience by breaking down barriers between creators and data analysts to better meet customers’ needs for a top-notch experience. 71 percent of small and medium-sized businesses are looking to invest in mobile this year and 90 percent are ready to try their hand at creating mobile apps. Be sure you have creatives ready with skills to produce mobile-first content.

Repurpose every message. Content — whether it’s your logo, your social media images, or a sales webinar you recorded — can be repurposed for different teams and channels. To keep repurposed content from becoming too familiar and to keep ideas flowing, call in reinforcements. Involve not just your customers, but your other key audiences too — like employees and partners. Building a culture of content with your front-line people, as well as your back-office and sideways teams, will help find the less-usual and even unusual content contributors.

Fortify your bonds. Repurposing content assets and recruiting contributors will help you work smarter. But fortifying your content strategy with processes and tools will get you working smart-est. Your A-team yearns to be not just productive, but profound. And you want this too. Invest in cloud-based technology and tools for smooth, flawless, cross-publishing — versus wasting your team’s time and sapping their dreams with resizing and reformatting. Also, consider managing your volumes of content with machine learning to stay organized and keep files accessible. 56 percent of SMBs surveyed said asset version control is a factor in slowing the content-creation process.
Wrap up a great customer journey with the content to match and break down barriers between design and a truly memorable customer experience. For more details on assessing and managing content, read Mass Producing Deliciousness, and then get to work on building those customer relationships.

Ask Questions, Be Adaptable, Make Prototypes: How to Land a Dream Job in Design


Creative Cloud

Every day, we solve new problems, create new workflows, and push the boundaries of what our platform can accomplish. To do that, it takes people with more than just stellar design skills. Over the years, as I’ve built design teams, I’ve found there are a few additional traits that help designers stand out.

Firstly, I look for designers who are inquisitive. Having a great portfolio and a proven track record will get you an introduction, but the thing that sets a designer apart from the pack is their curiosity and commitment to solving human problems. I want to know you can go deep on a problem and follow it through the entire cycle. This means having a strong drive to ask questions, get answers, and iterate.

A designer’s gift is the ability to synthesize an abundance of information into a coherent solution, but without good information to begin with, even the most accomplished designer will struggle.

Focus on the Problem

During your interview, I want to hear about problems and how you solved them. When you’re showing a project from your portfolio, I want to know:

  • What was interesting about the problem?
  • Where did you encounter obstacles, and how did you overcome them?
  • What research did you do with real customers to solve the problem?

This goes beyond the commonly understood job description of a designer – i.e., someone who produces the raw materials. Design, at its heart, must be customer-centric. Therefore I look for people who are eager to talk with users and study what other companies are doing to solve problems.

Show Your Curiosity

This philosophy extends beyond the hiring process. When a new designer joins Adobe, I always tell them: all I care about right now is how many questions you ask. Initially, it’s not about how prolific you are, or how polished you can be – it’s about how quickly you understand our customers and their needs.

It’s a good sign when a new designer bombards me with lots of questions. Pester me. Annoy me with your inquisitiveness. It means you’re one of those designers who’s not going to give up.

Be Adaptable, Not a Perfectionist

Here’s the thing about software: it’s never done. There’s just the next version of it. We are continuously learning, continuously adapting and continuously improving. Adaptability and a commitment to improvement is much more important than getting a design perfect the first time around.

When you’re moving quickly and constantly re-calibrating your understanding of how to solve problems, you must be comfortable with VUCA:

  • Volatility
  • Uncertainty
  • Change
  • Ambiguity

In short: change is a constant opportunity, not an obstacle.

Prototyping Skills Are Your Biggest Asset

Another skill we look for is the ability to prototype. If you can express your design as an interactive experience instead of a static mockup or wireframe, you instantly add multiple layers of value to our process.

  • You’ve designed for interactivity. Making a prototype forces the designer to consider how the experience reacts to user input – for example, when the user hovers or clicks, when data is loading, or when there’s an error. It also forces us to be honest about how things render on a phone or in a browser. There’s often a big difference between the way something looks on an artboard and the way it actually appears in markup.
  • Your design becomes testable. When you test static designs, a lot of important context about the experience is missing. If a user isn’t experiencing something that feels like a real product, the feedback you’re going to get from that user is going to be questionable.
  • You’ve made a better deliverable. Expressing the solution as a prototype makes for a better design specification than flat mockups, which have to be measured and red-lined. Engineers get a clearer idea of the intended experience when they can be a part of the prototyping process. Furthermore, prototypes are far more adaptable and easier to implement.

Prototyping capabilities are highly valuable to us. If you have these skills, you’ll find that companies like Adobe will make an earnest effort to hire you.

Inexperienced Designers Have An Advantage

All of the attributes I’ve mentioned have nothing to do with how many years of experience you have. In fact, people who have those traits are often the ones who are new to their career.

Designers who have recently left school, or who have just entered the field, often have the mentalities I described above: curiosity, adaptability, and the ability to create a working prototype. This is really valuable to managers like me.

Show me or another hiring manager those traits, and you’re well on your way to landing a great job. Better yet, you’re well on your way to joining a great team on the forefront of design.

Project Felix: A Lovely Shortcut for Selman Design


Creative Cloud

In 2016, Adobe commissioned a group of graphic designers and creative studios to experiment with the earliest version of Project Felix — a rich, new, 3D-compositing tool. Their goal was to intensify their prerelease program by working with a short list of users for which the beta product was being built.

Thanks to its rich, leading-edge history, one New York City firm stood above the rest: Selman Design.

Formed four years ago by Johnny Selman, Selman Design works with a diverse group of clients ranging from The New York Times to the Disposable Film Festival and Google. The agency’s work has been recognized for excellence in visual communication, illustration, and typography.

Our Project Felix Q&A Session

After spending several months in Project Felix’s prerelease program (and now its public beta), Johnny and his creative team — including several members with differing backgrounds who could offer varying perspectives — sat down with us to share their thoughts.

1. Tell us about your process when creating this image with Project Felix.

To experiment with Project Felix’s capabilities, designers decided to create a goldfish that looked as if it was literally made of gold.

Albert Chang (graphic designer with limited 3D experience): We found the most interesting things in Felix to be (1) the textures of the skin that you could put on objects and (2) the ways in which it reflects or refracts light. When Anne was looking through the 3D render library for ideas on what to create, the goldfish — with all its scales and fins — stood out.

2. Anne, from your point of view, how does Project Felix fit into the design process for graphic designers?

Anne Di Lillo (designer and animator versed in 3D software): Project Felix just puts an easy-to-use and easy-to-learn 3D compositing tool in the hands of 2D designers. In the past, to do any 3D work, you used to have to find an expert who would then use these huge, powerhouse programs — like Maya or Zbrush — to create that one goldfish. It often wasn’t worth it, so you would just do the project differently. Project Felix fits in perfectly for any graphic designer who wants to have some 3D assets in their arsenal.

3. How intuitive was Project Felix?

Albert: Obviously, there is a learning curve, but being part of the Adobe family, it was really intuitive to move from Photoshop and Illustrator to Felix. I was able to do effects that I’d imaged in Photoshop — like light simulation, which had been difficult to do before — and it was just really simple to do with Project Felix.

This editorial illustration was created as the cover for The New York Times Book Review.

4. When your team creates editorial illustrations, you’re often on tight deadlines. Does Project Felix open up new opportunities for creating on deadline?

Anne: Definitely, especially in terms of having a simple object like a cardboard teacup with an unusual texture. Project Felix has a cardboard texture that you can apply to teacups and boom — cardboard teacup. Without Project Felix, I can still build this cardboard teacup; I just have to cut everything out and figure out what options I have. If I have a couple of days, I will gladly make the cardboard teacup. But, normally, we don’t have that kind of time. In Project Felix, though, I can do it in two hours.

One of Selman Design’s projects that really caught our eye was “Peace Post.” It’s a beautiful collection of stamps featuring individuals from all over the world who stand against injustice and advocate for peace. What application do you see for Project Felix in a series like Peace Post?

Christopher Schroeder (oversees many of Selman’s major design projects): With Peace Post, we’re usually trying to do things with different textures, pulling references from the artistic traditions of different countries. Sometimes, that leads us to build things by hand or to carve things. Recently, we tried to simulate a bit of marble on a carving, and it proved to be too intensive to do with Photoshop, but in the future, Project Felix would make it easy to switch a model to marble and work with other effects to make it look real.

Selman Design envisions Project Felix being helpful in long-term creative projects using many different textures like “Peace Post.”

6. What has it been like to be a part of Project Felix’s beta group?

Christopher: Testing a new product and looking for ways it could benefit us has been a really good learning experience — a unique one most of us have never been able to have before. As with any new product, there were some bumps along the way, but it was cool on our end to work through the issues and then see how quickly it all came together through the testing. It definitely has a really nice flow now.

Johnny: We use Adobe products every day at work, and it is nice to be able to be a part of this one from the ground up. Project Felix is the new shortcut for how we get an idea from paper onto the screen. The goal is always to make it seem as tangible and real as possible. Project Felix is a lovely shorthand to accomplish that goal.

Want to get your hands on Project Felix? Download the beta app and stay tuned for more stories from other designers who are discovering the graphic- design possibilities that exist in 3D.

March Trend Exploration: The Changing Face of Women in Advertising and Creativity


Creative Cloud

It’s Women’s History Month and we’ve got our eye on how the images of women in stock are changing, and how those changes reflect deeper shifts in marketing and advertising.

As we reported earlier this month, searches for women are rising across the Adobe Stock collection — they’re up 39% year-over-year (YoY). And searches that seek women as the protagonist of the image are 1.8 times more common than similar searches for men. With queries for women up overall, we decided to dive deeper into the numbers (our aggregated, anonymous data for over 450 million Adobe Stock searches in the last year) to learn more about the types of images people looked for.

JACOB LUND / ADOBE STOCK

Some stubborn stereotypes stick around, but there’s evolution, too.

Our research turned up some some interesting trends: Searches for one-dimensional women (for example, a search like “attractive woman”) were down 43% YoY. Instead, we saw a whopping 500% increase in searches for multidimensional women — searches with several terms in addition to “woman” or “female.” Among these complex queries, we saw a 633% increase in searches for images of women who were both “sexy” and “strong,” and a 645% increase in searches for “sexy” and “symbolic” women. Other categories with a major bump included “sexy” plus “authority,” and “symbolic,” “sexy,” and “strong.”This data seems to reflect a lot about how women are represented visually, especially in advertising. Last spring, the New York Times talked to women in the ad industry and discovered that the sexism of the “Mad Men” era isn’t too far in the rear view mirror. While women now make up 50 percent of the advertising industry, only 11 percent of creative directors are women.

And, according to the Times, women inside the industry think this has a big impact on the images in ads: “They recalled times when they were the only woman in meetings with both co-workers and clients. Some pointed to the ads themselves as examples of how the industry’s sexism manifested itself beyond office walls.” This might help explain why “sexy” remains a top search concept, even as searches for women grow and diversify.

IMAGE SOURCE / ADOBE STOCK

But, while sexism may still be alive and influential in advertising, we also think the increasing complexity of searches for women’s images reflects a shift toward stronger portrayals of women. A new film, “10 from 50,” suggests the same. It’s a review of ten British ads over the last 50 years, meant to show how images of women in marketing are changing. The film’s creator, former ad exec Lindsey Clay, told The Guardian, about her findings: Women’s roles in advertising have always been defined more narrowly than men’s roles, and women’s looks have long been central, but changes are happening. It’s now rare to see an image of a scantily clad woman as a means to sell a car or furniture, and gender roles are becoming more flexible, especially with an increase in men nurturing children.

Feminist ads kick old ideas to the curb.

These changes may seem like baby steps, but Clay also notes a newer genre of unapologetically feminist advertising campaigns. Over a decade ago, Dove launched its acclaimed series of advertisements featuring images of real women. And a recent series of ads by Always re-appropriates the phrase “like a girl” to celebrate young women’s strength and determination, and to help girls keep confidence in their athletic abilities. “It made a welcome change from seeing scientists in labs pouring test tubes of blue liquid, or girls on roller skates in tight white hot pants,” Clay told The Guardian.

IKO / ADOBE STOCK

For another strong signal that changes are afoot, consider some of the high-profile, stereotype-busting ads we’ve seen in the first two-and-a-half months of 2017: <Nike featured women athletes from Arab countries, Audi wondered about equal pay and status for women, and GE asked what the world would be like if we treated female scientists the way we treat celebrities. (Check out this Entrepreneur articlefor more thought-provoking ads from early 2017.)

Women aren’t just women, they’re symbols of something bigger.

When we looked into our data, we found something else that we think is a sign of the times. Artists and advertisers searched more for symbolic, iconic, or artistic representations of women (an increase of 43 percent YoY), while searches for photorealistic female images were down 45 percent YoY.

Is this one way that designers and advertisers are grappling with evolving ideas about women and gender? Are they trying to represent conceptual shifts? The most recent surge of feminist ads seems to suggest yes, but more time will tell. Our hunch is that, as more high-profile, feminist-minded ad campaigns roll out, we’ll see growing demand for Stock images that shatter stereotypes and provide new ways to conceptualize gender in a fast-changing world.

MATIAS DEL CARMINE / ADOBE STOCK

See images from Adobe Stock’s top female Contributors in our dedicated gallery.

Ask a UXpert: What’s One Thing Your Users Have Taught You?


Creative Cloud

Usability testing, user research and web analytics are some of the tools you can use to intentionally learn more about your users, but sometimes users will teach you things when you’re least expecting it. They may challenge your perception of who they are and how they behave, or flat out refuse to put on your persona’s clothes. Users are people, and people don’t always do what’s expected of them.

We asked a few UX experts to share a lesson their users taught them that not only lifted the veil on who their users actually are, but also helped them to become better, more understanding designers. Here’s what they had to say.

Don’t assume what works in one context will work in another.

Over the course of my career as a user experience designer, I’ve relied a lot on well-vetted, consistently applied, and highly usable design patterns. After all, no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to form fields or tabs; we know what works thanks to years of usability study on the web. But context really matters, and never has that been so apparent as when I’ve presented drivers with in-car infotainment designs using the same ol’ patterns that are mainstays on the Internet.

Users who are masters at navigating the technology on their phones don’t respond to some patterns the same way when their attention is focused on preventing two tons of metal from careening off the road. Watching seemingly successful designs crash and burn in usability testing has helped me to understand that when designing for a new context, it’s necessary to test even the most assured of assumptions about what patterns work best for users.

~ Emily Mahood Bowman, Senior User Experience Designer, General Motors

 

You will never be the user. Observe and empathize, but never think you truly understand them.

I had to tear up a persona when I discovered the support team teaching a core user about the “back” button on a browser. They never knew it was there. Our primary users were very, very savvy about their domain and their organization, but I’d assumed they used the computer exactly the way I did.

I’ve learned that no matter how I’d tried to “walk in the shoes” of my users, I’m a white male upper middle class American from Oklahoma. My users aren’t. They’re women, people of color, people with disabilities, non-Americans, rich and poor. If I forget that, I’m not empathizing. I think I am, but I’m filling in my own assumptions.

We can create personas, run contextual inquiries, and get all the feedback we can, but when we treat personas as a mask to be worn, we delude ourselves into thinking that we’re empathizing. We’re not. Under the mask we’re still carrying our baggage—our experiences, our biases, our societal and economic privileges.

Observation becomes empathy when we use our design research to confront our own biases and assumptions about who we are, not just our biases and assumptions about who our users are.

~ Dylan Wilbanks, Director of UX at Integris

 

Design for the emotion behind the user’s behaviour.

We all have been guilty at one point or another of saying “I plan to go to the gym Monday through Saturday this week!” (Time to revisit those New Year’s resolutions huh!) But for one reason or another we only end up making it to the gym 2-3 times during the week (if that!).

During one project, I was surprised to learn that while I was capturing user behaviors separately from their attitudes, I wasn’t capturing the NEW attitude that drove the user to behave differently from their logical and rational attitudes. By digging deeper, my user, on his own, clearly revealed his logic-based attitude versus his emotional-based attitude. THIS WAS THE MOJO that helped our team design for the emotional-based attitude that drove the user’s behavior! In essence, by going beyond designing for the user’s behavior, we create not just a functional, but a delightful user experience!

~ Sofia M. Khan, Design Studio Consultant and UX Instructor, General Assembly

 

Henry Ford asked the wrong question.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” It’s perhaps the most oft-quoted mythical justification for innovation in design being a solitary, individual exercise in big idea creation changing the world. My experience working with users has taught me quite the opposite to be true.

Experience working with users has taught me that Mr. Ford simply asked the wrong question and that not asking the right questions shows a lack of understanding. Asking what users want versus what they need is a fundamentally flawed approach. Researching the behaviors of users – taking the collaborative time and care necessary to empathize—often illustrates that what users say they want versus what their behaviors exhibit they need are often diametrically opposed.

It is the responsibility of designers to empathize with and understand users – their motivations, their frustrations, their fears and inspirations – in an attempt to collaboratively solve needs. Addressing what users need versus what they want creates sustainable design not subject to shifts in individual or collective tastes of the moment. I have learned that creating superior user experiences is paramount and that experience is a product of emotion, not technology. Technologies and products can be commoditized, experiences cannot.

~ Scott Forshay, Senior Strategist, Mobility and Emerging Technologies, IBM

 

Your user’s shoes don’t always fit your designer feet.

I worked on a couple projects a few years ago solving problems for college students, including Clustur, an event discovery app. There are tons of services out there that help people find nearby events, but since college students live a very different lifestyle than other people, Clustur had to be different because of the unique goals for this specific user.

These people are going through things you couldn’t even imagine and that will really impact how they will use your product. You want to get your work in the eyes of your users early on in the development cycle. Don’t wait until whatever you’re working on is 100% complete because you could potentially be working on a solution that’s been going down the wrong path all along.

Everyone has their own, unique life. You can make assumptions based on research and demographics, but at the end of the day, you aren’t living your users’ lives. Empathy is a great skill to have as a designer. To imagine yourself in their shoes brings you that much closer to them.

~ Andre Tacuyan, User Experience Designer, Playground Global

What’s one thing your users have taught you? Share your lessons with us in the comments below.

Creativity Matters: Teaching Process While Encouraging Experimentation


Creative Cloud

At SXSWedu, Tacy Trowbridge,worldwide lead for education programs at Adobe, Dr. Keith Sawyer, scientific expert on creativity, and Villy Wang, founder of BAYCAT, led an interactive session on teaching creativity. We rounded up insights from the session.

Creativity Matters in a Rapidly Changing World

For most educators, the experiences of today’s students vastly differ from their own experiences growing up. Many of these students have always had a smartphone in their pocket with access to Google. Students today communicate differently, and they think about what their futures are going to look like differently. Industries continue to be disrupted by technology, leaving educators with the significant challenge of preparing their students for a life that isn’t quite clear.

“The world will change tremendously by the time today’s youth enter the workforce. Once they start their careers the pace of change isn’t going to slow down,” said Trowbridge. “We must prepare students for rapid and ongoing change.”

Society as a whole is also facing huge challenges, and we need creative thinkers and problem solvers as citizens and across industries.

“There is a clear imperative as to why we need to teach students to be creative – they will need these skills for their world of work and to change the world for the better,” said Trowbridge.

Employers increasingly seek workers who are tech-savvy, able to communicate digitally and visually, and creative. And they are having a hard time finding them. Based on research with chief human relations officers and strategies, the World Economic Forum predicts that by 2020, the three most sought after job skills will be complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity.

Gen Z Students Want to Create

Last fall, Adobe reached out to 2,500+ Gen Z students aged 11-17, and 1,000+ Gen Z teachers to ask about how they feel about learning, creativity, and the future. The research revealed a number of things, one of which was students and teachers both agree that learning happens best through doing and making, and least through traditional methods such as memorization (although it is still widely used).

There is a significant gap in how Gen Z students learn best and how they are taught in schools today. When students and teachers were asked how often they learned by doing/creating, students said 16% of the time, and teachers said 24% of the time.

So how can educators teach creativity in a meaningful way that allows for experimentation, but sets up students for a successful outcome?

Teaching Creativity is a Process

When it comes to teaching creativity, Dr. Sawyer discovered in his research with art and design schools that educators are, in large, teaching a creative process that’s deliberate, rigorous, consistent, and critically engaged. While this might not sound like creativity, it certainly delivers successful outcomes. This approach isn’t really specific to art or design – it also easily applies to any classroom.

In his research, the educators Dr. Sawyer spoke with rejected the notion that creativity comes from a big flash of insight. While that might be true occasionally, depending on a big idea spontaneously emerging is no way to be a professional creator. If students go into college expecting that’s what is supposed to happen in order to be a creative, they’ll be frustrated and reject their abilities when a grand idea doesn’t strike.

“Students are taught to follow a process, and successful outcomes will follow,” said Dr. Sawyer. One way to teach creativity is through activities rooted in the design thinking process.

Design Thinking in Action: An Exercise in Creativity

With only a newspaper and a roll of tape at their disposal, the room full of session participants were tasked with a mission to build the tallest freestanding structure possible. Divided up into small groups, they got to work. After 15 minutes of planning and execution, structures of varying heights and stability were revealed.

In the debrief, participants shared their initial thoughts on the challenge. Some went right to building, while others paused to develop a plan of execution. One participant mentioned seeking a leader, not wanting to step on toes. A few asked their group who had completed the exercise previously. In each group, one person assumed the role of “the human tape dispenser.”

When Dr. Sawyer asked, “Did your tower look exactly like you planned it at the beginning?” just a few individuals raised their hand, but not a whole team altogether. Across the board, iterations were made to initial designs once failure points were realized. This creative exercise was an example of creative collaboration in action.

Dr. Sawyer did note that young children do better with this challenge because they iterate early on, and don’t spend as much time planning. “Too much planning doesn’t result in success in creativity. It’s the iterative experimental process that leads to success,” said Sawyer.

It seems students and teachers were onto something when they responded to Adobe’s research that creating/doing was the best way to learn.

A Place to Fail Upward

One program in San Francisco offers a model for inspiring and engaging youth to create and develop essential skills. Villy Wang is the founder of BAYCAT, an organization that educates, empowers and employs youth and young adults to produce digital media that tells their unique stories and engages them to positively transform themselves, their communities, and the world.

“BAYCAT students are interested in careers, in education, in non-profit and finding a way to give back. I think that comes from teaching them to be storytellers and creatives at a very young age to go through the creative process, to fail and to achieve,” said Wang.

Students choose classes they are interested in, all of which culminate into a show at the end of the 12-week program. Things kick off with an interview to get at the heart of the story they are looking to tell, to find out what they’re interested in. Through mentorship and education of creative tools, students develop a skill set that translates to real work for notable brands.

Process, Not Perfection

Employers, students and teachers all agree that creativity matters, now more than ever. Students have an itch and knack for getting hands-on, and educators see the value in that too. Setting students up for success by teaching them how to be creative is critical.

Our schools and educators can teach students to learn, to be creative thinkers and to communicate using today’s tools and formats. And Adobe can help.

For an in-depth look at what forward-thinking educators are doing to teach creativity and prepare youth for tomorrow, visit the Adobe Education Exchange.

Adjust Your Scope: Moving From UX to Product Design


Creative Cloud

With the continued evolution of design patterns and development frameworks, usability and UI seem to have become more commoditized. The scope of UX work has responded by moving even farther into the realm of strategy and research and our industry being what it is, any change should be celebrated with a shuffling of job titles and an eruption of buzzwords. I’m not the only person noticing this trend.

These days I’m a Product Designer (sometimes when I’m feeling fancy I use Service Designer and strut around a bit). The work is a natural progression from what I did before but it took a lot of learning and experimentation to get to the point where I’m confident about the value I can provide. What follows are a few nuggets I’ve found along the way that I hope will prove useful.

Strategy vs. Tactics

As a UX designer, your focus is more squarely on tactical thinking, whereas a product designer should have one foot firmly planted in strategy. I find these roles can be tricky to tell apart, but I define strategy as what we want to do, and tactics as how we’ll do it. Elon Musk famously posted his Secret Tesla Master Plan 10 years ago:

  • Build sports car
  • Use that money to build an affordable car
  • Use that money to build an even more affordable car
  • While doing above, also provide zero emission electric power generation options

That my friends is a strategy. It clearly tells us what we’re going to do and what our priorities are. We need people to buy our sports car, but what tactics should we use to make that happen? How about a kick-ass show room, crazy 0-60 specs , rich corinthian leather, and dozens more. As a product designer you’ll need to be able to contribute to both parts of this equation. Which brings us to…

A Product Strategy Articulates a Business Strategy

If you ever work at a company and the business strategy consists of “make lots of money” then you’re probably there for a good time, not a long time. An actual business strategy like the one above needs to be supported by subordinate strategies in sales, marketing and product. Yup, strategies within strategies! For example your product strategy could be to offer a better experience than an incumbent, or to diversify into adjacent markets, or to convert your product into a platform. As a product designer you should be contributing strongly to the this approach and it should aim to achieve the goals of the business.

Features Are Not the Unit of Value

Many jobs for product designers (and product managers but I’m not getting into that debate) include being hands-on with the backlog and prioritizing features. “What features are we building and in what order? We should be delivering at least one feature per sprint! Our competitor has this feature so we need it asap!”

Obviously I’m not against the concept of features, but it’s bad juju to be making decisions based on short term gains or what’s shiny and new without weighing it against increases in product complexity and achieving established goals. John Cutler has a great in-depth write-up about this here.

Research Doesn’t (Just) Go at the Beginning

Coming from agency work the flow usually went something like discovery, roughly concurrent design, implementation and testing, then profit! In the best cases we would continue to work with the client to expand the offering, but in many cases once an agency ($$$) was done making something then internal teams ($) would take over the care and feeding of it. This means that most of the research would happen up front.

These days I try to set up feedback loops in addition to the initial research efforts so there can be a continuous stream of data to work with. I would even suggest that it’s a good idea to go a bit lighter on the initial research in most situations in favour of getting product into the hands of users faster and being able to work with direct feedback. Obviously this is not a new idea, but coming from an agency background, it was challenging to embrace.

The Promised Land

My work has changed a lot since those early days. The mix of design work, collaboration, strategy, and team building is more diverse, but ultimately a lot more rewarding. If you’ve had a similar journey from UX, I’d love to hear any insights you’ve had along the way. One thing I do know without a doubt is that in this discipline you’re always learning, always growing and always experimenting. And that’s kind of what’s great about it.

From Form to Function, Our Thoughts On Design Are Changing


Creative Cloud

Design is more important to business than ever before, because it’s an essential driver of user engagement. Looking at the recent evolution of user interface design might give you a sense of how user expectations have been changing and what’s coming next. But before we dive into details we need to find an answer to one important question — what is design?

What is Design?

Most people (even some designers) perceive design as visual elements that are added to a product after it’s done; a process that comes at the end of a product’s development, and is treated like a decoration that the designers slapped onto the real work of the engineers. While design is visual aesthetics, it is also much more. As Steve Jobs once said, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” Design is both how product looks and how it works.

The Evolution of Graphical User Interface (GUI) Design

Computers and humans don’t speak the same language. To make interaction possible, designers rely on graphical user interfaces. The recent evolution of GUI makes it clear that design trends are evolving for users. In order to prove this point let’s examine the GUI changes in the last decade.

From Complexity to Simplicity

Towards the end of the 2000’s GUI design started to change significantly due to the rise in popularity of mobile devices. This huge shift in device preference led to designers having to rethink interfaces from scratch, which in turn led to global changes in GUI design.

Looking at the history of the web, we can see that a decade ago websites were rudimentary in terms of design. But visual appearance wasn’t the only problem in this approach to design. Websites tried to provide as many options as possible: all the information a site contained seemed to be available; everything included on a site was ‘equally’ important. Designers thought that it would make websites more valuable to users. Unfortunately this often led to a cluttered interface. In the example below, you can see how distracting a cluttered interface can be from a usability standpoint.

Ryanair’s old website design was completely overloaded with promo information and redundant links.

With the rise of mobile devices designers began to realize that user attention is a precious resource and should be treated accordingly. This lead to the highly focused and very prioritized interfaces. Such interfaces have just the right amount of information available at the exactly right time users need it.

Ryanair’s website now. Site guides users through the flow and make each step clear for the user.

From Skeuomorphism to Flat Design

Do you remember when all touch screen apps looked very physical? At one point in time, almost all apps used a skeuomorphic design style which was based on symbols borrowed from the real world.

The bookshelf metaphor was intended to help users transfer previous knowledge about bookshelves (as a place to store and organize physical books and magazines) to the digital environment. Wooden shelves are irrelevant to the app’s functionality, but were supposed to reinforce the metaphor.

Skeuomorphism wasn’t just a pure design trend, it played an important role in usability. When touch screen devices were fairly new to many users, designers had to make sure users would understand how apps worked. Skeuomorphic designs help users understand how to use a new interface works by making the design familiar. That’s why the iOS Newsstand app in the example above looks like a physical bookshelf. As users progressively became more familiar with touch screens, such design metaphors weren’t needed and this style went away.

When Apple introduced iOS 7 users had already become comfortable with touching glass, they didn’t need physical buttons, they understood benefits.

With the quick adoption of new technologies, there was a movement towards a pure digital look, called flat design. This new style relies mainly on flat textures and icons, typography, spacing, and color to bring order to the digital canvas.

From a Single Channel to Seamless Experience Across All Channels

Ten years ago a major design challenge was to make sure designs worked in every browser. Today, the major design challenge is to make sure your designworks on the devices your users use. There’s no such thing as mobile user and desktop user any more. There are users who may want to use your product in the same way, regardless of the device. That’s why continuity across multiple devices —creating a seamless experience across mobile, desktop, tablet and wearables — is so important. The goal is to put users at the center of your multi-channel design, offering an omnichannel approach that lets users efficiently use product regardless of the device.

Users want to be able to choose when, where, and how they interact with your product based on their personal habits and motivations. That’s why it’s so important to design for the entire journey, not a single Interaction.

From Pixels to People

Modern apps and sites are more than just the graphical representation of a solution — they are complex systems focused on solving user problems and generating valuable outcome. Despite all advantages, these systems have a serious natural barrier — graphical user interface. No matter how good a GUI is, people still have to learn to use it. In order to solve this problem modern UX goes beyond on-screen design and into a world of UI-less interactions.

Time-Saving Design

Today, users expect more user-devoted, frictionless experiences from their interactions with technology. They want to use products designed to save their time. Since time-saving design is all about respecting a user’s time, it’s clear why it’s on the rise. Modern apps strive to follow this trend by:

  • Anticipating user needs Take Dark Sky weather app for instance. Some users might still prefer to open a weather app to check the forecast, but the most useful thing the weather app can do is to alert user about suddenly changed weather conditions (e.g. notify user that it’ll be snowing soon).

Dark sky app for Apple Watch

 

  • Interpreting user actions and goals. When you open the Uber app for Apple Watch, it goes straight to a screen showing how long it’ll be until a car can come get you — no pulling out your phone to drop pins required.

 

Uber app for Apple Watch

 

Self-learning systems (SLS)

Self learning systems (SLS) powered software anticipates tasks that need to be done and simply auto-completes them for the user, or at least gets the user several steps closer to finishing the tasks. Software that functions more autonomously has a major benefit for the users — it requires much less attention. The basic building block of self-learning software is the ability for a system to learn based on experience, analyse incoming data, and take action in response to new events. The challenge with SLS is to design behaviours based on the fewest possible interactions, while focusing on people’s behavior. Why is it a challenge? Because you need to find a balance between saving your user’s time and providing just enough options so users feel that they have control over a system.

Nest learning thermostat

Nest is great example of SLS. It’s a semi-intelligent thermostat that can program itself around user’s life. Each time a user changes the settings, Nest remembers temperature adjustments, and after a few days users will be adjusting Nest less, because it pulls all it has learned into a schedule for the home. Yes, Nest has a lot of downsides (the most critical one is that the system often lives its own way), but still it’s a great example of the next wave of product. Looking ahead, self-learning software will be the one thing that distinguishes legacy apps from modern ones.

Conversational Interfaces

With the advent of iPhone Messages, Slack or WhatsApp, the way we exchange information changed irreversibly. Text messages have become an extremely natural way of communicating.

Chatting is second nature to us since we primarily interact with each other through conversation.

This trend led to the popularization of conversational interfaces. Essentially, a conversational interface is any user interface that mimics chatting with a real human. “Chatbot” is one of the hottest terms in our industry right now. More and more apps are leaving behind the GUI in favor of personal chat. Why? Because conversation feels natural for us and this property makes the use of chatbots much more intuitive than tapping on a bunch of buttons in traditional user interfaces. Another benefit of conversational interfaces is in detalization: GUI can only have a finite amount of options in practice, but speaking to a chatbot can in theory (if designed well) allow open ended discovery and interaction.

Messaging makes for a better user experience than traditional apps because it feels natural and familiar. Image Credit: Isil Uzum

Last but not least, teens and millennials — who represent the bulk of tomorrow’s market — spend more time on messaging apps than on any other apps or sites, creating a huge opportunity for businesses who want to reach this audience.

But chatbots aren’t a final step of conversational interface evolution. Voice interfaces will be a natural next step for chatbots. In the not too distant future, voice interaction will make up a large part of how we interact with the technology around us. The experience of using voice commands to control computers has already been transformed by a new generation of voice-interaction systems such as Apple’s Siri, Google Now and Amazon Echo. The latter doesn’t use a traditional GUI as a means of interaction. But the biggest challenge is to understand how people will interact with voice interfaces. This requires a better understanding of humans — not only the topics they are interested in talking about, but how they are going to talk about the topics.

Echo, a voice-interaction system from Amazon,offering voice interaction with a stationary device.

 

Conclusion

With technology continuously evolving, we are on a path that could make interaction with digital services more intuitive, more accessible, and more efficient. Next generation platforms continue to develop much more like human-to-human conversation. The interface of the future might not always be made of pixels.