03 Apr

Moving Away From the Screen : Can It Improve Our Designs?

With the age of technology, we are able to do so much more and reach so many more people in literally seconds. But does all of that time in front of a screen start to have a negative impact on our creativity and thoughtfulness? Can moving away from our screens change and improve our designs?

Can adapting to a screen-less approach have a positive impact on:  
  • Our Time
  • Collaboration
  • How We Listen
  • Perspectives
  • Creative Solutions
  • Engagement
People computers = the key to designing interfaces

Yes, most of us are designing for screens, but our users are not spending most of their day interacting with screens. They are interacting with real world objects and people, so shouldn’t we be doing the same while designing those interfaces?

Challenge your design process or your team to try new ways to problem solve and discover. We don’t need our fancy programs to design, we just need brain power and a problem. So let’s stop clicking and start thinking!

Getting away from the screen – what to do instead:

Research and Discovery 

Product AuditTake the time to discover everything about the current tool/new project from speaking with the stakeholders.

Kick-off MeetingsGet everyone in a room for a whole day – or more! This is a useful strategy for business, development, content, and design.

Competitive AnalysisGo to real locations of similar and non-related businesses and ask all the questions you would normally discover from website competitive analysis.

User Interviews/ResearchUse IDEO Methods (IDEO Method Cards are tools that we can use as designers to research our users, products, and potential projects). Talk to real people.

PersonasTeam scrapbooking for real people you’ve met in your research. Pull faces from magazines or other papers.


Determining Scope and Priority

Include all team members in the planning effort (yes Devs, you too)!

User Journeys/ScenariosGet everyone’s perspective to create User Journey Stories on a white board. Make it a team discussion!

Requirements DocumentMake more than a designer’s checklist…. Get everyone’s perspective on what will happen and when. Your requirements start to form your product’s culture. Who/What > Action > When.

Prioritization and TimelineDon’t start by using a fancy online system like Monday or Jira. Ask everyone for input on prioritizing tasks from the Requirement Documentation.

Structuring Your Project

Conceptual Models – Go to the same places your users go when interacting with like-products or in similar environments like the one you’re creating. Are there any common concepts the users may be used to, like a shopping cart? Can and should these be relayed to the screen?

Information Architecture – Get out the cards! Time for some classic IDEO card-sorting. There are so many amazing hands-on ways to discover a hierarchy that makes sense for your content.

Error Handling – Pick up the phone OR go offsite to better understand how businesses and people handle errors in the real world.

Structuring and Language – Time to make another stop! Head out to where your users would interact with the content of your product. Finding any familiar/unfamiliar language? What kind of process do user’s go through when coming to these locations?

User Flows – Break out the sticky notes! Create a tangible, yet visual way to organize all of your content, pages, and features. Get the team in on this one!

Drafts, Sketches, and Wireframes

Navigation Design/Wayfinding – Go to locations that typically have strong direction-based environments. Think of places like IKEA, a popular trail, malls, etc. Note the way yourself and users navigate through and around the location.

Brainstorming Session – The more brains, the merrier! Don’t slump back into your cubicle quite yet. Share all your findings and hear what your team has to say! You might be surprised by what you’ve missed along the way.

Thumbnail Sketches – Sharpen those pencils and get to drawing. Don’t be precise! You should spend 30 seconds to a minute on each sketch. Include the whole team on this one! You’re not the only one who can make boxes and arrows.

Wireframes – Sketch, Illustrator, and XD, OH NO! Grab your graph paper and pencil to cleaner lines and more accurate positioning. This is a time for some epic iteration. Share with your team, try and grab some real users. Just keep drawing!

Creating the Final Look

Use All 5 Senses – Use all of your senses! Everyone knows what Christmas smells like and everyone can picture the feeling of crunching down on a leaf in the fall. How can you take advantage of all of your user’s senses to create a well-rounded brand?

Mood Board – Go hunting for inspiration, no not on the internet. Find actual objects to represent your brand’s look and feel. Go into it with some key words and ask your team if you hit the mark.

Typography – Don’t just pair fonts… Take images of existing fonts from real life. Compare them to our mood board of senses! Do they fit in? What type of fonts match the best?

Style Guide and Mockups – Bring in the Developers and determine all of the elements you need based on your wireframes. Bring print outs of your wireframes and have coloring sessions with your brand colors to determine final look.

Halie Wickiser

Halie Wickiser has worked as a Senior UX Designer at Eleven Peppers Studios for over a year. She has over five years of UX and UI design experience creating intuitive and user-centered applications.

19 May

Pepper Talk with Katie Burns

Welcome back to Pepper Talk, this month we have Katie with us. Just a little background before we get started, Katie is relatively new to Eleven Peppers Studio. She mostly works on projects for the private sector but writes content for 11P blogs and social media posts.

1: Do you have any nicknames?
Kate, KitKat… my favorite is earth-to-Katie, typically used when I drift into “Katie-Space”.


2: What is the first thing you do when you wake up?
Kiss my husband, cuddle our two dogs, drink hot lemon water and then workout. The workout ensures that I don’t feel too guilty with the next thing that happens… typically a not-so-healthy sausage, egg, and cheese on an everything bagel [grins] mama gets hungry!


3: How would you describe your design style?
I don’t have any [laughs], just joking. Since I’m not a designer by trade, I’ll relate this question back to content creation. My style is conversational, witty, a bit sarcastic… which doesn’t always translate well. Oh and self-deprecating.


4: How did you get started?
After college, I started working as a program manager on a small web-development team… really I translated all that software-dev “speak” to customers and vice-versa. This ensured that everyone was happy with the final product. I’ve always been drawn towards people’s stories/ideas/needs and I love capturing their unique voice. It seemed like a natural fit to take over creating content for the company’s social media presence.


5: What are your favorite tools of the trade? What are the worst?
For social media I love Buffer to schedule our posts. Planoly is another great app to make sure your feed flows and is well curated. Huge fan of auto-correct and spell-check [smiles], my mother taught high school English back in the day and always corrects me, so these tools give me a leg up.


6: Do you have a set process when beginning a new project?
I’m a start now and think later kind of gal. I rarely brainstorm on a project for too long before jumping in. My motto: go with your gut and then revise the heck out of it… and spellcheck!


7: What do you draw inspiration from?
Everything… I’m constantly scrolling through Instagram. As a creative company we follow a broad range of companies, all with different styles and voices. It’s the perfect storm of inspiration.


8: Rapid-Fire Round:

Caffeine or no: Caffeine… tea, not coffee.
Sweet or Savory: Savory, give me a loaf of bread any day!
Favorite Movie: Return to Me, classic.
Guilty Pleasure: Oh, any of those ridiculous Valentine’s Day, New Years Eve, has-everyone-and-their-mother’s-mother-casted movies.
Hobbies:: Beach volleyball, cooking/baking, shopping at Home Goods.


9: Okay, admission time… If you could pick one design that you wish you had come up with first, what would it be?
Again, going to go with content and I’d have to say pretty much any quote about “Mondays” ever.









Thanks for meeting Katie. As always, stay tuned for next month’s Pepper Talk to meet another member of our team!

21 Apr

Pepper Talk with Brian Lynch

Welcome back to Pepper Talk, this month we have Brian with us. Just a little background before we get started, Brian is one of Eleven Peppers Studios more recent hires. He is one of our Principal Software Engineers and works directly with our federal clients to build websites and web apps to help make their jobs easier.

1: Do you have any nicknames?
“Brian” doesn’t lend itself to many nicknames. Bri is about the best I’ll get and will occasionally just sign an email that way, if not just B. Or I guess there are other names that just aren’t appropriate to be repeated [grins].


2: What is the first thing you do when you wake up?
After my alarm goes off – only on a work day – and my wife jumps in the shower, I usually just lay in bed with my eyes closed not wanting to open them. Not too long ago I set up some home automation stuff in my house and I can now tell my Echo “Alexa, turn on bedroom lights” and they come on at about 30% brightness. I’m still not happy about the light being on, but at least it’s not a complete shock. Otherwise, some phone surfing before crawling out of bed and getting dressed.


3: How would you describe your design style?
Since I’m not a designer, I do better when trying to mimic or improve rather than create new. The best perk-up to my career was meeting the Peppers. I worked with several before becoming one myself, so having my now, coworkers put together designs for the websites I build, or at least having them to bounce ideas off, has become my design style.


4: How did you get started?
This could get really long if I let it… but, my dad was in the computer field my entire life and that let me get into the weeds of them very early on. I took a lot of electronic and programming classes throughout school, and graduated from UMBC with a Computer Engineering degree. It then took me another five or so years to realize that front end development – mobile, web, etc – was what I liked the most.


5: What are you favorite tools of the trade? What are the worst?
If I say MS Paint, I’ll have to duck from the things getting thrown at my head, but I’m not a designer so I mostly use software development tools. Any uncomplicated IDE is generally all I need. Eclipse is far too bulky, but I’ve figured out enough of its shortcuts to make it useful. Apple’s Xcode for mobile development has a nice look and feel to it, but also has somewhat of a learning curve. Atom on Linux isn’t too bad. Notepad++ is always a great go-to. It’s hard to say I have a favorite. Give me jQuery and something to type some code in and I’ll spit out a website in a week. However, development platforms that need a month to configure with several dozen files cluttering up space and style platforms that try to put a one-size-fits-all approach to displays are the worst in my opinion.


6: Do you have a set process when beginning a new project?
I might run through a few looks at the data I’ll be using and if I’m lucky enough to have a few designs to build from I’ll start creating some skeleton files for my site. If I have access to some of my past work that could be used in the new project, all the better. Otherwise, I just start knocking out some code just to get a display up on the screen. I tidy it up later once most of the functionality is in place. [Thinking out loud] Maybe I do have a favorite tool of the trade… in-browser dev tools. They let me do some on-demand styling to see what I might need to plan for later.


7: What do you draw inspiration from?
Definitely my fellow Peppers when I have access to them. Otherwise, if I need to style a button or table, I’ll usually poke around google images or some CSS sites to see if a style pops out to me.


8: Rapid-Fire Round:

Caffeine or no: Yes, Caffeine. All the coffee.
Sweet or Savory: Usually Savory.
Favorite Movie: Fight Club and Deadpool are my go-tos.
Guilty Pleasure: Hmm… Bourbon Barrel Aged beers?
Hobbies:: Playing guitar, brewing beer, making things look good, pretending to be athletic.


9: Okay, admission time… If you could pick one design that you wish you had come up with first, what would it be?
I think I have more of a problem with not following through with my ideas and seeing someone else do the same later on. I wish I could say that hasn’t happened more than once.








Thanks for meeting Brian. As always, stay tuned for next month’s Pepper Talk to meet another member of our team!

24 Mar

Pepper Talk with Ashley Philip

Welcome back to Pepper Talk, you just couldn’t get enough of the first one so we’ve added in a couple more questions and a rapid-fire round! This month we have Ashley with us. Just a little background before we get started, Ashley has been with Eleven Peppers Studios for a little over a year now. She works with our commercial clients on all sorts of projects and also designs graphics for various in-house and social media channel campaigns.

1: Do you have any nicknames?
Not really [pauses] most people automatically just shorten my name to “Ash” anyway.


2: What is the first thing you do when you wake up?
Check my phone to see if I missed any calls, texts, emails, Slack messages [grins].


3: How would you describe your design style?
Timeless. I like making complicated things look completely effortless. I’m interested in anything that can last through the years and aren’t just “trends” at the moment.


4: How did you get started?
I went to school at UMBC for Visual Arts and volunteered with AIGA Baltimore overseeing all their social media graphics and various other marketing materials for each of their events.


5: What are you favorite tools of the trade? What are the worst?
Ooh very hard to say because each software does a job. [pauses to think] My favorites would have to be Illustrator and Sketch. Illustrator mainly because that’s the software I remember most of the key commands for and plus, it’s precise and Sketch is like a mini-version of Illustrator although much more efficient. The worst for me, I would have to say Photoshop, sorry designers, but I’m not the biggest fan [laughing].


6: Do you have a set process when beginning a new project?
I remember when I was in school, the second I received a project brief, the very first thoughts I had running through my head 99% of the time, would always be the best idea/end result. Anything that came after were duds. I kind of need to picture the end result of something first, this is when I delve into the ample amounts of research to see whether or not the idea will work or what I can do to make it even better.


7: What do you draw inspiration from?
Literally everything! From photography to fashion to architecture, I’m incredibly interested in what makes something resonate with people and am continuously trying to implement that in my own work.


8: Rapid-Fire Round:

Caffeine or no: No, I never understood the caffeine craze.
Sweet or Savory: Uhm, both?
Favorite Movie: A Walk to Remember, because who doesn’t love
a sappy love story.
Guilty Pleasure: Reality TV of all kinds.
Hobbies:: Working out, spending time with friends and family.


9: Okay, admission time… If you could pick one design that you wish you had come up with first, what would it be?
Mhm hard to say. I can appreciate anything that is very well designed but it doesn’t make me wish I came up with it first. Instead, I’d like to pick the brains of these people to further understand how they got to their end result. When I see a great design, I’m so much more curious about the journey.








Thanks for meeting Ashley. Like the additional questions? Make sure you let us know on social media. And remember, we’ll be introducing a different pepper each month so stay tuned!!!

24 Feb

New Series: Pepper Talk with David Meade

Welcome to Pepper Talk, a new series here on the Eleven Peppers blog. Each month we’ll be sitting down with one of our peppers to get all the goods. This week we have Dave with us, he has worked for Eleven Peppers Studios almost since the beginning! Dave has a background in video and currently does UX design for the private sector.

1: Do you have any nicknames?
Well, obviously Dave [grins] but I’d say Davy, Joe Dave-o (typically shortened to Dave-o) and the Beer Dumpster or Dumpster. It just depends on my circle of friends.


2: How would you describe your design style?
I have no style, or, too many styles. I see other things that I really like and I try to find a way to make it my own. My design is like my personality, it has many looks. I’m like Fletch (dated reference). If there were a pattern, it would be clean and uncluttered. For instance, I don’t like modern art, so there goes designs with stuff scattered everywhere.


3: What are you favorite tools of the trade? What are the worst?
Oddly enough, the tools I love are the tools I despise at times: Photoshop, Illustrator, and After Effects, which is my all-time favorite, probably because of my background in video. I have a love hate relationship with all of them.


4: Do you have a set process when beginning a new project?
It depends on the project, but I typically research the h*** out it first, too much some people say. Same goes in my personal life, it took me at least 6 months to pick out my truck.


5: What do you draw inspiration from?
Everyone and everything around me: architecture, personal styles, coworkers, etc. Seriously, the colors in those flowers [pointing to the flowers next to us], other people’s artwork, other pepper’s portfolios… I feel like I’m not creative at all [laughs] so I look around me.


6: Okay, admission time… If you could pick one design that you wish you had come up with first, what would it be?
There are a lot, mostly beer labels. I’ve wanted to come up with my own beer label/logo for years.






Thanks for meeting Dave. Remember, we’ll be introducing a different pepper each month so stay tuned!!!

20 Jan

5 Podcasts that Inspire Creativity

Anyone else feeling the winter blues?

Here on the east coast it is oddly not frigid, which somehow makes winter even harder to get through. We keep looking over our shoulders for the “real winter” to get here. Regardless, even with the 50-something degree temperatures, right now it feels impossible to get the creative juices flowing, especially early in the morning, when the sun isn’t even out yet. Where are you sun?

As much of an over-exaggeration as that was, sometimes it’s just plain hard to sustain creativity. We all have our slumps. When we, at Eleven Peppers, hit one of those speed bumps we find it extremely handy to look toward the creative community for inspiration. One way we do this is by tuning in to our favorite podcasts; so here is a starter set that we believe will burst open the figurative imagination-dams and let the brilliant ideas flow.

99% Invisible: Episode 128 – IKEA Hacking
Because who doesn’t love a good IKEA hack? This episode dives into the worldwide phenomenon with guest, Jules Yap (pseudonym), creator of the popular website. The site allows innovators around the world to contribute to an extensive library of “hacks”, share their how-to guides, and trade tips with each other. Although we rarely hack apart and put back together furniture for our clients (okay, never), the ingenuity packed into this podcast is awe-inspiring.

After the Jump: Episode 62 – Sources of Inspiration
Literally a “jumping-off” point for figuring out where to look for inspiration and more importantly, how to harness it once you’ve found it. The show’s host Grace Bonney discusses her personal sources of inspiration. We find that hearing about how others’ stay creative only fuels our own creativity.

How I Built This: Episode 1 – Spanx
If you love TED Radio Hour (see next podcast suggestion) you may love this even more! Each episode features the founder(s) of popular brands and companies. In particular, their first episode with guest Sara Blakely (founder of Spanx) is an inspirational, sweet, yet self-deprecatingly funny depiction of how the mega-brand started from the meekest beginnings. It reminds us that no matter how small our idea is today, we have the power to make it grow.

TED Radio Hour
And of course TED Radio Hour. Each episode combines TED Talks that converge upon a central theme.

The Power of Design: Design is all around us. This episode touches on how design is and can be used to influence personal experiences, thoughts, feelings, and much more. Just remember to use that power for good.

How Things Spread: The various speakers in this episode provide unique views on how things, like laughter or viruses, spread and how those same concepts can be applied to other endeavors. It will really open your mind.

Of course there are plenty more, but we hope that this little “booster pack” will evoke creativity, inspire innovation and remind you that “winter is coming”… just kidding, winter will come to an end, as will any slump you find yourself in.

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!