Thoughts on experience architecture, interface design, and design education

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June 16th, 2012

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Today I’d like to share something with you. My brother Alejandro and I are starting a design firm. We are having fun searching for the right (perfect!) studio office, recruiting people and all the other things that have to come together to really kick off including of course, clients :). We will keep you updated and will let you know as soon as we are open for business. If you need a hand with Windows 8 and Windows Phone design and UX, just drop us a note and we’ll be sure to help you as soon as possible.

 

Toledo Design Cards

 

We wanted to share with your some of our thinking behind the studio. We believe we need to have some strong philosophy behind what we do. We are crafting our design principles (we are calling them Alpha) and defining our mission. Let us first share with you our tagline:

 

“We are an experience architecture, interface design, and design education firm. We are an extension of your team. Your design team.”

 

Let’s breakdown this tagline to take a closer look at our goals for the studio. Let us know what you think, your feedback, ideas, opinions. Please leave us a comment :)

 

Experience Architecture

Why architecture and not design? I have found time after time that the level of detail and depth required to define an experience has grown to the need of creating design systems. Designing systems is something that traditionally architects do. I’m referring to both building/houses architects as well as software architects. Well, just like those professionals, a user experience architect also defines (or designs) visual, interaction, motion and experiential systems.

Make sure to watch this amazing video that explains what architecture is

 

What makes a cup, a cup?

 

Throughout the last decade, all of us as an industry have grown to become more mature professionals, more inclusive, deeper and more conscious with the processes and methods we use to craft experiences. The level of complexity for creating digital experiences has grown and the teams have grown just as much and as fast. Being a visual designer or interaction design is not enough anymore. Teams have specialized professionals on visual, interaction, motion design, research, usability, accessibility, localization, branding, marketing.

As architect I might be biased and it might simply be a matter of semantics (Architect = Noun, Design = Verb or the other way around?) but I believe that what we do today or at least we should, is first, architect experiences. Some even go as far as saying we cannot ‘design‘ experiences . By elevating our practice to experience architecture we increase the level of responsibility but I think the world needs that.

 

“As experience architects we create design systems. We architect the experience.”

 

Just a few years ago, if a client asked me to design a website, I’d design it. Simple. And my test matrix was simple: Internet Explorer 6 or 7. Today, take a look at what we are all dealing with: four/five major browsers in multiple screens, three phone platforms and three tablet platforms with a range of resolutions (and different versions… cough-android…). In addition there are proprietary app platforms like iOS, WinRT or Android plus you could opt to create web apps. The test matrix we need to deal with today is huge and it is multidimensional. And don’t get me started with input methods.

 

Animoca - Android article

 

Today, to be able to define an experience around say, running or shopping, you really need to think architecturally. In the near past, when clients wanted to have digital presence, it was simple, a website. Period. But today, defining the end-to-end digital experience for a client requires of a bird’s eye view of entire ecosystems.

That is the way we will be approaching our practice. Helping drive projects from the beginning (when possible) and influence the multi-screen and multi-device experiences.

 

Interface Design

There’s been a long and big discussion around the difference between UX and UI. The way I described it in Quora was: “The difference are the materials you use to craft each, UX = Emotions, UI = Pixels”.

I think the long and sometimes heated discussions are due to the fact that one can’t be without the other. But make no mistake, user experience is THE king. Even content, which sometimes we elevate as the most important ingredient is subject to the experience.

We are deciding to refer to experience architecture and interface design as two different aspects of the studio. This is for a simple reason: we know that many times our clients will already have designed or built prototypes or even what they think is the final app and we will be hired to contribute with designing (or re-designing) the user interface without the possibility of influencing “too much” on the flow or information architecture of the app. Some designers might pick on us for selling out :) but we are not – it’s just the reality of life – that many times designers are asked to participate in a project later in the process.

We acknowledge that the best way for designers to drive and influence the final outcome is to include them from the beginning. We want to be able to help our clients from the beginning but we know this will not be the case many, many times and we are ok with that. We will help our clients on interface design opportunities as well as with end-to-end experience architecture opportunities. Designing the user interface will influence the experience, so even if we participate on a project at a later stage we will be thrilled to take our client’s projects to the next level and influence the experience.

 

Design Education

We will be sharing our design methods and practices with developers. We are currently crafting a series of online and offline design courses and workshops. Learning from these last 7 years of experience in training developers and designers around the world, our studio is crafting the best of the best in person design workshops. We are integrating a number of fun and creative activities that end up taking you and your team to the next level in conceptualizing and designing multi-device and multi-screen experiences. That is a core aspect for us, to empower you to design across screens. We will begin with Metro design workshops and we’ll extend to include iOS, Android across phones, tablets, laptop/desktops and TV as well as with different input mechanisms like touch and air. Helping the developer community enhance their design skills will be our mission. Contributing to the worldwide design community online, blogging, at events and conferences and via IxDA and other design associations will also be our mission.

 

We are an extension of your team.  Your design team.

Here’s the key differentiation of our studio from other studios in the ecosystem: we are focused 100% on helping development (engineering) shops. This means it is not our goal to directly attend clients like Nike directly (sorry Nike :)). We are interested in attending system integrators, ISVs, tech startups and enterprise development and IT teams. It’s a very specific set of clients.

 

Toledo Design fits in your engineering and business model.

 

Why are we deciding for this focus? Throughout the years we’ve spent a lot of time meeting and learning from developers. We understand their needs and thinking model. We also know that today as never before, development shops understand the need of incorporating experience, usability and design best practices into every piece of software they produce. Long gone are the days when software could simply be “functional”. The experiential connection between user and software is fundamental. This is true for both consumer experiences as well as business applications. Experience can deliver a better ROI. We will act as an extension of your team, as your design team.

 

We are focused 100% on helping development (engineering) shops. We are an extension of your team.

 

About the Name and Logo

The name of the firm is read Toledo Design. The logo is inspired in swiss typography. It is very simple. It is made of Swiss Medium type. We reduced the tracking to keep it nice and tight adjusting character by character. The number 2 in the logo has its baseline at the center of the O. It is also Swiss Medium. The orange in the number 2 is strong and vibrant and has a multiply blending effect to make it overlay on top of the O generating translucency. I liked how we first established a visual rhythm with T O L E D O but then we kind of suddenly or abruptly break the rhythm with the number 2. The metaphor also describes how TOLEDO is really just part of the equation as reading the logo literally gives you “Toledo raised to the power of two”. While we might think this power of two is Alejandro and I, well, in reality we think it is us and You :). We are not complete without you and your team.

Toledo Design Logo

We considered using other names for the studio but realized that at this point most of you know me by my name. For all of us, our name is our brand. I also got influenced by architects who only a few times get to use a commercial name like Morphosis or Asymptote. But at the end it is the name of the people, in this case Tom Mayne, Hani Rashid and Lise Anne Couture, who are recognized by clients. From Saha Hadid to Daniel Libeskind, Frank Ghery or Luis Barragan, architects tend to name their studio after their own name.

 

Stay Tuned

We will keep you updated with plans :) In the meantime please share any ideas or feedback you might have. Thank you!

Arturo & Alejandro



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