UX Design Inspiration at 1–800 Contacts
Last year, 1–800 Contacts won the Utah Magazine’s Best Companies to Work For award. As 2017 rolls to a close, we’ve been nominated again for the same award; pretty cool stuff! That’s all fine and dandy, but when I read the email today about it, I thought it might be helpful to take inventory of the reasons I love coming to work each day. Don’t get me wrong, having an on-site gym that rewards you for working out and a yummy, in-house restaurant is quite gnarly, but I had to dig deeper to find the real reasons.
As a UX designer, my day looks entirely different than a majority of the other employees that work here. Between meetings, design reviews, hand-offs, and stand-ups, it’s tough to find inspiration for the UX process we bake into each release. However, it’s this very inspiration that drives me and keeps me coming back for more. Thankfully, our management team encourages learning, carving out time to be inspired, and seeking opportunities to teach ourselves something new… and that’s what I love!
First, I’d like to share with you a “day-in-the-life” as it pertains to our UX process. Second, I’ve curated a list of our UX team’s design inspiration tools, websites, and creativity mainstays as we crank out awesome experiences for our customers.
I’d love your feedback too. Please share your “go-to” list when you need to get inspired! Let’s jump right in!
How We Start Our Day
These are quick, 15-minute meetings right at the beginning of the day with our design team. It’s a time to share what we worked on yesterday, what’s on the docket for today, and any inspiring websites or tools we encountered that we’d like to share with the team. If you aren’t doing these in your team, grab your beverage of choice in the morning, then start doing stand-ups.
Deadly Skills Training
What? I know, it sounds out of place, and that’s exactly the point! Our manager came across this book, 100 Deadly Skills, and during our stand-ups, we review one skill per day! It’s silly, completely out of context, and it gets us laughing and talking first thing in the morning. Whether we’re learning how to deliver the perfect punch or how to turn a speaker into a microphone, we most definitely start each day with a twist! Here’s some food for thought from our most recent training:
“Survival is a byproduct of action. Be brave, swift, and violent.” ~ 100 Deadly Skills #063
Our Daily Design Tool Belt
Here at 1–800 Contacts, we’ve embraced the Adobe Creative Cloud and love to design using their products. That being said, we most certainly haven’t written off the plethora of other tools available to the design community. Here’s some of our favorites we use in our daily design process.
(Links to each tool are provided if you’d like to further your design inspiration journey!)
Daily Design Tools:
- Adobe Creative Cloud: XD, Illustrator, Photoshop, Typekit; a bulk of our work (ie: wireframing, high-fidelity, prototyping, etc.) happens in XD. It’s fast, stable, and it’s coming along quite well. (more frequent updates from Adobe would be nice, though!)
- Sketch: I know, you read that we’re an Adobe design shop and gasped, right? It’s okay, we love Sketch too and use it to generate design concepts from time-to-time; Sketch is powerful and it’s integration to other apps and plugins gives it an edge that we can’t ignore.
Daily Collaboration Tools
- KanbanFlow: Project management, simplified. Kanban, meaning “billboard” in Japanese, is our main project collaboration tool. Our PMs, developers, and designers use it to stay on task. We move stories from back logs to a design complete phase and work in unison with our team to see a project to completion. We use the free plan and it works beautifully.
- Slack: Team communication happens through Slack; it’s our quick way of sharing ideas, sending links, and easily messaging across teams.
- Basecamp: Another collaboration and project management solution. Our marketing team lives more on this platform, but we’re exploring it as an all-encompassing solution to incorporate all teams into Basecamp.
Daily Prototyping Tools
Our team embraces the efficacy and need for rapid prototyping with our products. We fail early and test often to design experiences that are meticulously thought out before they reach the developer’s hands.
- Adobe XD: Simple, effective prototypes that we use daily, whether in low or high-fidelity mode. It’s simple and fast to generate a fully functional prototype with minimal effort. Creative Cloud based sharing and commenting on prototypes is equally a plus.
- Marvel App: I love Marvel for its ability to embed sounds and animated GIFs into our prototypes; I’ve coupled its functionality with SoundCloud and it works flawlessly. Also great for your team to make comments on each screen and share across the team.
Weekly Design Reviews
Our team strongly believes in showing our work often and receiving helpful feedback along the way. We do this through a series of “check-ins” if you will, which allows us to be transparent and see the project as a holistic experience. Bouncing ideas off of others inevitably, almost naturally, generates brilliant ideas amongst our team members.
Yes, we have a meeting called, “Bob Ross”, and it’s my favorite meeting of the week! In it, the whiteboard is our literal canvas. We meet weekly both with our web and app development team. We display our work on the whiteboard to discuss current iterations. Depending on the context of the project, we invite UX, lead app/web devs, creative director, copyright lead, product managers, etc. We strongly encourage each in attendance to grab a marker, get involved in the meeting, and share their input.
Show & Tell
This is our UX team’s chance to hang out with our web & app developers to see where they’re at in a project. They invite us in and give us sneak peeks at their progress. It’s not uncommon for us to walk out of a Show & Tell with our minds blown; our devs have some serious talent!
1–800 Contacts has an established brand in the industry. As such, branding, copy, tone, color, look, and feel needs to be spot on before it makes its grand entrance to the public. Our creative team leads this discussion to ensure all releases are cohesive, consistent, and polished.
Okay, meetings are done, projects are moving along nicely… now it’s time to get inspired! I love, love, love the chance I have at work to explore design trends. I do want to note however that it would take half-a-dozen more Medium posts to talk about all the places we go for inspiration; this is a condensed version of the “secret sauce” that keeps our creative clocks ticking at 1–800 Contacts.
Blogs & Design Trends:
- Behance: Adobe’s offering for designers to showcase their work and for others to get inspired!
- Dann Petty’s YouTube Channel: Dann is addictively entertaining and has a skill for making current design-related videos.
- Dribbble: You should already know Dribbble, but if you don’t, it’s a pillar in the design world.
- Google Material Design Guidelines: Google’s system for crafting design experiences.
- Grabient: Slick tool to generate gradients and integrate them into your designs.
- InVision Blog: Design blog from the team at InVision.
- iOS Human Interface Guidelines: With the recent announcement of iPhone X, these guidelines are open on all our screens.
- Little Big Details: “A curated collection of the finer details of design, updated every day.” Fun site, surprising, subtle details we sometimes overlook.
- Marvel Blog: Good design reads from the team at Marvel.
- Medium: I have a personal commitment with myself to read one Medium article a day.
- Muzli: Must have Chrome plugin from InVision that delivers up daily design inspiration to your home page.
- Pttrns: I love that they refer to themselves as, “The mother of all design resources.”
- Twitter: As they say, “When it happens, it happens on Twitter.” Keep tabs on your favorite designers.
- UI-Patterns: See how the industry is solving for and serving up current design patterns.
- User Onboarding: How does PayPal or Instagram onboard their users? The curator of this site, Samuel Hulick, offers up a fun way to show how popular companies are tackling this critical step.
Colors, Fonts, Icons
- Adobe Color Wheel: Create beautiful color themes. I love the feature that allows you to upload your own photos and generate colors from them.
- Font Awesome: 675 icons available to you through the power of CSS.
- Font Pair: Want to see what Google Fonts look great together, Font Pair will show you the way.
- Google Fonts: Nearly 1,000 fonts at your creative fingertips. I call Google Fonts my typography playground.
- Material Icons: “Access over 900 material system icons, available in a variety of sizes and densities, and as a web font.”
- What the Font: “Goodness gracious, I love that font! … What font is it?” Sound familiar? What the Font can tell you.
Oftentimes our true potential is discovered when we introduce newness in our lives. Many on our team have perfected their skills and learned valuable insights through self-taught educational platforms. They have discovered their passion in design & development, simply by having the discipline to teach themselves a new skill. Here are a few ways you could try this approach.
- Lynda: A leading online learning platform that helps anyone learn business, software, technology and creative skills to achieve personal and professional goals.
- Pluralsight: At Pluralsight, they firmly believe, “everyone should have the opportunity to build a career they’re passionate about.” I love this statement and their content. I’ve spent time at their company here in Utah and I’m in awe of the quality material they generate for their users.
- YouTube: Pretty straightforward, but a good resource nonetheless for finding out how to do just about anything you can imagine.
- Read a Book: While we don’t do a lot of this at work, unless maybe on a lunch break, inspiration comes to many in the pages of a book. Here a few of our favorite UX reads:
- The Elements of User Experience, Jesse James Garrett
- Observing the User Experience, A Practitioner’s Guide to User Research
- Mindset, Carol Dweck
- The Inmates Are Running the Asylum, Alan Cooper
- The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman
- Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug
There are countless websites out there that offer free stock photography. I’ve narrowed my list down to a few that I love because of their CC0 Creative Commons Zero license, which in essence, is a “no rights reserved” approach. As usual though, do your due diligence to make sure you’re using these images properly.
There are so many intricately crafted, clean, and delightful style guides out there. Here are two of my favorites.
- Grid Calculator: A simple little tool to create a quick design grid.
- Pomodoro: An excellent time management technique to hunker down, focus, and get things done. Some on our team swear by it.
- Trello: You may have been thinking that I’d left Trello out, but that would not be doing it justice. Trello is great, just not a part of our day-to-day here at 1–800 Contacts. I use it as a vision board, where I lay out my daily, yearly, and life goals and it works beautifully on desktop and mobile.
- UX Project Checklist: Helps us stay tightly connected to the design process with a convenient list of items pertinent to almost any UX project.
- Wirify Plugin: A slick Chrome plugin to quickly view sites at a glance in wireframe form; helps break down the site into digestible wireframe chunks to lead design conversations.
The next time you find yourself up against a design wall and aren’t sure what to do, try something from this list. If that doesn’t work, go for a walk.
“You must do the things you think you cannot do.”
~ Eleanor Roosevelt
Carving out time in my day to get inspired is one of the most rewarding aspects of my career as a UX designer. The culture at 1–800 Contacts affords my team opportunities to grow, learn, and develop our skills together. This allows us to collaborate, critique, and share our findings along the way and it has been an excellent journey.
I’d love to hear your feedback. How do you break through the “designer’s block” and find your UX inspiration?