Intelligent design: What makes these 5 Chicago tech design teams unique

Written by Alton Zenon III
Published on Feb. 13, 2019
Intelligent design: What makes these 5 Chicago tech design teams unique
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We all recognize that code is important in today’s technology landscape. But what good is the best code if the interface is ugly to look at and clunky to use?

This is where the skills of design teams are tapped. These creatives work to shape not only the front-end feel of technology solutions, but a range of other products and projects as well. We spoke to design leads at five Chicago tech companies about what differentiates them from others and what they’re working on now.

 

Uptake design team in team photo

Uptake provides software to industrial companies that uses data science and machine learning to help them make informed predictions that increase their efficiency, productivity and safety. Valerie Craig, Brand Director at Uptake said diversity in the work keeps her design team on its toes, thinking creatively on a myriad of topics. 

 

What are some of the practices, technologies or challenges that make your design team unique?

Projects come in fast from all over of the company. It’s our team’s job to dynamically adapt our workloads and ‘design-hats’ to service the entire organization — making sure everything is up to brand standards. Externally, we’re responsible for Uptake.com and Uptake.org and brand presence at the many events we host or attend, as well as all marketing and sales enablement materials. Internally, we do corporate culture initiatives like swag and new hire experience and refining the physical office spaces with wayfinding, custom murals, neon signs and engaging with our architects as we expand our footprint.

It’s our team’s job to dynamically adapt our workloads and ‘design-hats’ to service the entire organization.”

 

What’s one new practice or concept you’ve recently implemented or are looking to implement and why?

We have a Conscious Leadership practice on a monthly basis. We get together as a team and discuss individual successes and challenges, both in and outside of work. It’s an opportunity for us to have open dialogue, build empathy and more personal relationships. We’re a team first, but these sessions help us connect on a deeper level, which has absolutely strengthened our team.

 

The Marketing Store design team in group photo

The Marketing Store is an agency specializing in developing customer engagement solutions, like contests and loyalty programs for companies. Chief Creative Officer Michael Rivera said the company’s designers get frequent opportunities explore their individual creative impulses surrounding projects and to constructively challenge things. 

 

What are some of the practices, technologies or challenges that make your design team unique?

I think we’re fairly unique in that we have design teams representing multiple specialized design disciplines that include graphic design, content design, UI design, UX design and package design. We leverage this diverse mix of design capabilities by promoting and enabling collaboration amongst various design disciplines as we assemble teams. Through intentional mixing of diversely talented design teams, informal lunch-and-learns and formal training that intentionally takes designers out of their comfort zones, we infuse unexpected perspectives into much of our design thinking and solutions.

We leverage this diverse mix of design capabilities by promoting and enabling collaboration amongst various design disciplines as we assemble teams.”

 

What’s one new practice or concept you’ve recently implemented or are looking to implement and why?

One practice we’ve implemented is ‘Break-It Sessions’, where we ask our app design teams to ‘break’ the current design of features or functions of an app they’re working on with their own, gut-level, fresh and audacious ideas or approaches. Break-It Sessions free up creativity and allow designers to share their personal instincts and truly explore new design territory, independent of a formal brief or requirements. As a bonus, it allows us to take proactive, unsolicited design concepts to our clients, which they love because it gives them a chance to challenge their assumptions and set beliefs of what makes their apps great. 

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Solstice team members laughing in a conference room

Solstice develops tailor-made digital solutions for enterprise companies that are meant to refine customer experiences. UX Design Principal Mark Ritchie said open communication between teams, sometimes globally, keeps ideas fresh and team members connected.

 

What are some of the practices, technologies or challenges that make your design team unique?

I believe that the ways in which we partner with our clients is really what lets us stand out from other design teams. We recently received client feedback that stated they appreciated that Solstice helps to find and define problems rather than simply delivering solutions alone. This stems from two of our core values as a UX design team: collaboration and having a shared understanding of the problem, and adaptability to remove the rigidity from our way of working. These beliefs allow us to better partner with our clients and solve problems together rather than doing things in silos.

As we continue to grow our UX design team, we are constantly looking for ways to stay connected, and we do this by having regular events.”

 

What’s one new practice or concept you’ve recently implemented or are looking to implement and why?

Connection. As we continue to grow our UX design team, we are constantly looking for ways to stay connected. We do this by having regular events. UXD Round Up is our weekly team meeting that we use to make sure we are keeping up with each other as a team and staying in the know of what we are all working on individually. Design Labs is a recurring time to share and discuss new thoughts, concepts, practices and ideas. Our Buenos Aires office has led us in Design Battles that take us out of our day-to-day to have fun and be creative with different people. Most recently, we’ve started meeting globally with our other design teams within our parent company, Kin + Carta, to learn and share knowledge from one office to another.

 

One North Interactive team in group photo

One North Interactive is an agency using digital strategy and technology implementations like web development, UX design, brand research, data implementation and more to evolve how businesses connect, communicate and engage with their audiences. Creative Director Joseph Peart said his team is currently working on creating experiences that are accessible by generally everyone — regardless of what they’re doing or whether have disabilities. 

 

What are some of the practices, technologies or challenges that make your design team unique?

We’ve done a really good job of giving our team opportunities to explore other mediums within design, ranging from brand interaction and user interface design to front-end design. We like the T-shape skills model, and increasing your knowledge across work types will improve how the work influences the other ends of the spectrum.

If you always consider inclusivity right from the beginning, the experiences you create will have much broader and wider engagement.”

 

What’s one new practice or concept you’ve recently implemented or are looking to implement and why?

Continuing to push for inclusivity and accessibility and the myriad of ways to consider how digital experiences work for people with different needs. In doing so, we start to become more empathetic towards people we may have otherwise not considered when building or solving complex design challenges. For example, we make sure our experiences work for people with color blindness, or someone with temporary eye issues like cataracts, or even a distracted driver. If you always consider inclusivity right from the beginning, the experiences you create will have much broader and wider engagement from all types of audiences and the scenarios they come from. 

 

Built In staff members chatting in a conference room

Built In brings together tech companies and tech-savvy, passionate individuals with a desire to make great products for a better world. Our Senior Art Director Aimee Houck said communication and collaboration across teams is a practice that has been tried and true in leading to overall success.

 

What are some of the practices, technologies or challenges that make your design team unique?

What makes our team unique is our steadfast workflow that we utilize to support all different types of design collaboration across the business — from new product sketching sessions to brainstorming with our software engineers to developing customer-facing collateral, we keep things moving on time and efficiently. What’s most exciting is that we get to constantly test, iterate and experiment with each project, which directly impacts the business and is incredibly rewarding for our team.

We get to constantly test, iterate and experiment with each project, which directly impacts the business and is incredibly rewarding for our team.”

 

What’s one new practice or concept you’ve recently implemented or are looking to implement and why?

Critical to our process is communication, empathy and flexibility. We schedule a kick-off meeting for every project, big or small, to make sure we have input from all stakeholders. This gives us an opportunity to understand the goals and requirements and brainstorm with the team in real time. From there, we begin the design process by conducting market research, checking out what design styles are trending, iterating based upon feedback and bringing the project to completion with a final review with all stakeholders — all to push our brand forward.

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Photos via featured companies unless otherwise stated. All responses have been edited for length and clarity.

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