Raising Funds and Raising the Bar: Hats Off to Practice Fusion

When Practice Fusion recently announced it’s spectacular $70M financing round, cheers went up not only throughout the healthcare sector, where the company is one of the fastest growing health tech pioneers, but also within the halls of Cooper, where the design and prototype for Practice Fusion’s 2013 IxDA award-winning ipad app was born.

Stefan Klocek, former Cooperista and now Practice Fusion’s Senior Director of Design, had a critical role in the development of that iPad application while at Cooper, and now that he has joined Practice Fusion, he took a moment to get on the phone with us and share his unique inside perspective on the impact design can have on businesses.

“It’s not been hard to trace how Cooper’s original design for Practice Fusion’s mobile platform became a seminal turning point in how our business makes products today,” Klocek said, after we exchanged verbal high-fives. “Following the Cooper engagement I’ve been able to see firsthand how the organization shifted its perspective from design being something added on later, to actually driving decisions around branding and product development.”

And Practice Fusion’s investment in design is growing. “Our design team went from 5 to 17 people in six months,”Klocek added. “The original mobile app project that Practice Fusion worked on with Cooper really demonstrated to everyone here the value of design, ultimately driving decisions to rebrand our website and redesign our flagship product.”

To which we say, huzzah!

Big congratulations to Practice Fusion for continuing to raise the bar and the standard of data management for healthcare.

UX Boot Camp with Marketplace Money

Old School Radio Meets the Digital Age

Take a look inside Cooper’s June, 2013 UX Boot Camp with American Public Media’s Marketplace Money radio show, where students explored the next horizon of audio programming—a paradigm shift from broadcast to conversation-based platforms.

The Challenge
Students rolled up their sleeves to help the show respond to the trend away from traditional radio by finding the right mix of alternative distribution platforms. Marketplace Money came equally ready to take a radical departure from their current format in order to create a new model that redefines the roles of host, show, and audience in the digital age. To reach this goal, students focused on designing solutions that addressed three big challenges:

  1. Engage a new, younger audience that is tech savvy, and provide easy access to content via new platforms, such as podcasts, satellite radio shows, and the Internet.
  2. Inspire audience participation and contribution. Facilitate conversations and inspire people to share their personal stories so that listeners can learn from each other.
  3. Design ways for the host to carry an influential brand or style that extends beyond the limits of the show and engage with the audience around personal finance, connecting with listeners in ways that are likeable, useful, and trustworthy, making the topic of personal finance cool, fun and approachable.

At the end of the four-day Boot Camp, student teams presented final pitches to Marketplace Money, and a panel of experienced Cooper designers offered feedback on their ideas and presentations.In the following excerpts from each day, you can test your own sensory preferences for receiving content as you see, hear and read how design ideas evolved at the Boot Camp, inspiring new relationships between people and radio.

Marketplace Money Class

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Deconstructing the Keyboard

Guest blog post by Zak Brazen, Creative Strategist of Brazenworks, a design and ingenuity lab we invited to create a branded object for our new studio. What we got was a work of art!


The truth is, we take computer keyboards for granted. They’re too familiar; like the picture of that dolphin that’s hung in your bathroom for years. In fact, we often view them as an impediment to our productivity or creative expression.

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Cooper helps Chefs Feed launch new social features

Who do you trust for food advice? Review sites like Yelp are bloated and contain a cacophony of opinions. Others just aggregate shallow star ratings. Reviewers often have tastes and preferences that might not match your own. And even if you find a good restaurant, how do you know what is the best thing on the menu?

The idea behind Chefs Feed is that the best food advice comes from experts – professional chefs, and friends with discerning taste.

Currently available in nine US cities, the app doesn’t just tell you where to go, but also what to order, providing an insider’s look at each city’s eateries.

When Chefs Feed approached Cooper, the startup was about to make a big leap. Lots of people were downloading the app, but its functionality was limited to a few features like reading and bookmarking chefs’ reviews. With the user base expanding quickly, Chefs Feed needed a blueprint for making the app a platform for interaction between chefs and foodies. The app also needed features to help friends trade dish recommendations and share their passion for food. In short, the app was to get social.

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Fixing a broken user experience featured on Smashing Magazine

There’s innumerable ways to arrive at a state where a company’s product offerings present a frustrating or broken user experience. Few organizations can’t realistically throw everything away and start over. If it’s broken, you need a strategy that allows you to iterate toward a better user experience. Cooper’s Stefan Klocek outlines one approach Cooper uses with clients to improve user experience across an organization’s suite of products.

From the article:

Unless you’re developing completely new products at a startup, you likely work in an organization that has accumulated years of legacy design and development in its products. Even if the product you’re working on is brand spanking new, your organization will eventually need to figure out how to unify the whole product experience, either by bringing the old products up to par with the new or by bringing your new efforts in line with existing ones. A fragmented product portfolio sometimes leads to an overall broken user experience.

Understanding an organization and its users and designing the right interaction and visual system take exceptional effort. You also need to communicate that system to teams that have already produced work that doesn’t align with it. This isn’t easy work. In this article, we’ll introduce you to a strategy for fixing the broken experience that starts with surface improvements, goes progressively deeper into structural issues and ends with a big organizational shift.

Read the rest of the article, meet The Hierarchy of Effort (pictured below), and enjoy the discussion over at Smashing Magazine.

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Elevating the brand and visual strategy with the experience workshop

Defining and creating a memorable experience for your customers is no easy task. Product owners and development teams can easily rattle off ideas to designers about what features are necessary to stay competitive. But if you ask them to share their vision for the overall more subtle emotional aspects of the experience, they often get quiet or resort to the familiar old UI clichés of “simplicity, intuitiveness, etc.” This means that you often start your design work with less insight than you need to drive visual and interaction design.

Enter the experience workshop – a collaborative meeting and setup where clients can really talk about what a great experience can feel like among a sea of inspirational images, digital interfaces, products, services, brands, cars, textures, and more. Companies that build digital products and services are engaging in a new level of competition; it’s no longer good enough to deliver a usable product. Our designs must reach an aspirational vision that elevates the experience beyond mere usability, and a visual, collaborative workshop pushes people to explore and discuss the possibilities.

The workshop helps teams discuss what attributes are inherent in these other experiences that are meaningful to the experience they’re defining. After a process of prioritization and discussion, the end result is often a huge cloud of ideas and words that sit on a spectrum from a poor experience to an ideal experience. The examples aren’t what’s important for our output. We collect insight from the discussion, the words, that help us define the ideal experience.

The workshop brings teams together to learn and collaborate on the experience. What I love most about this activity is the connections made from people across different teams that can relate on a personal level because of their shared experiences. It’s not just a visioning exercise for the future; it’s a team-building event.

Check out the above video to see a glimpse of the workshop in action. And if you want to learn more about how to conduct a workshop and integrate this new approach into your company, you can sign up for an upcoming Cooper U Visual Interface Design course. In fact, we have just a few spots left in next week’s class (May 7-8), if this post left you inspired…

Beyond the pixel: Measuring visual designers’ strategic value

I collaborate with clients about how to scope and staff project work, and they often have questions about when to bring a visual designer into the process. In the early part of my career, I wouldn’t have had a good answer; it likely would have been something like, “at the end.” But after 20 years of working in-house and as a consultant with product teams in various capacities — and having no background in visual design myself — I have a much different perspective on the value that visual design thinking has throughout the process of building a product.

Visual designers bring a unique perspective to product vision

First, visual designers are uniquely skilled at defining the overarching experience strategy, called attributes, for a product or service. These aren’t specific design principles, but rather descriptions of what the experience should feel like for users, customers, and anyone interacting with it.

One way to define experience attributes is to conduct an experience workshop, where you facilitate a brand and “look and feel” discussion with stakeholders. Framing the discussion by using visual artifacts (pictures of products, cars, buildings, interfaces, art, etc.) helps stakeholders to engage at a visceral level instead of relying on cliché’s or generalizations. Visual designers, on the other hand, are great at this, as they are skilled at talking about how the things we see translate into certain feelings and emotions, and how visual elements relate to brand perception.

experience workshop
Facilitating an experience workshop with images makes it easier for participants to articulate what visual approaches feel appropriate and inspiring. A visual designer is skilled at using this input to shape a visual strategy.

Even for companies with a well-defined brand and digital branding assets, it’s vital that the product team has a good understanding of what the brand means in the context of the product or service you are designing. This isn’t just about proper logo use and the corporate font. It’s about knowing how your company wants users to feel when they are using your brand, and about how your users want to feel while using them. Understand that intersection, and you have gold.

Look at things differently during field research

During design field research activities, a visual designer can focus on things like the visual look of the physical environment in which people use the product or service we are investigating. For example, in a medical setting, the visual designer may pay special attention to the signage and décor within a hospital. We wouldn’t mimic this in an interface, but getting a feel for the environment can give us clues as to what kind of visual styles may fit—or not fit—within that setting.

visual design research
Jayson, a visual designer at Cooper, gets to experience user research firsthand at a doctor’s office.

I recently worked with Jayson McCauliff, a visual designer, on a product for a large technology manufacturer. The product’s users were internal, so Jayson took photos of lobbies, wall art, the small in-house museum, and even the cafeteria. The effort was worth the funny looks he got, as the images later helped give him inspirations for some subtle background textures that made a direct appearance in the interface. (See more about how visual designers work at Cooper)

Early design thinking should include visual language explorations

While the interaction designers begin a design solution phase by exploring key interactions and high-level workflows, the visual designer can explore high-level visual style approaches. Because stakeholders may not be used to or comfortable talking about aesthetic and brand, having someone who understands visual design but can communicate about the effects that color, shape, white space, etc. have on users and brand are vital to making sure that everyone is aligned. It takes skill to talk about style concepts without having the conversation degrade into an argument about the specific shade of blue in a style study, so it’s important to have someone who is proficient in facilitating these discussions and in creating artifacts that solicit the right kind of feedback.

visual studies
Visual language studies keep initial visual strategy conversations focused.

Defining and building a winning product includes attention to the aesthetic and overall experience

Last, visual design isn’t just about producing beautiful visual assets for the development team. It’s also about creating a coherent product or service in the first place. A visual designer brings a unique perspective to problem solving that augments the other design team members. We find that having the visual designer involved early in design exploration activities makes our design concepts better and more well-rounded. When we are fleshing out the design framework, early and consistent involvement from the visual designer ensures that the interaction design isn’t getting too crowded, and that the overall experience is achieving the experience strategy we defined early in the project.

During detailed design activities and implementation, the visual designer needs to be able to react quickly and fluidly as the design and implementation iterate and get refined. If the visual designer has been involved with the project from day one, it’s easy for her to work in an agile way while still maintaining the original spirit and intent of the design, and she’ll be able to make good decisions and recommend improvements because of that greater understanding.

As you plan your next redesign effort, make sure that a strong visual designer is part of the team from day one. You’ll not only gain efficiencies when it’s crunch time during implementation, you’ll gain a valuable strategic partner and an overall better experience.

Sign up for the visual design course

Learn more about the role of visual design, experience attributes, experience workshops, and effectively presenting visual design to stakeholders in Cooper’s Visual Interface Design course on February 6 – 7.

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Platfora website debuts!

Platfora, a new startup in the Hadoop business intelligence space, is working with Cooper to design an elegant, intuitive interface to bring clarity to the chaos of big data.

After Platfora received 5.7 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz; Cooper worked on a rapid, collaborative two-week timeline with a team of five designers to create their website, www.platfora.com. Platfora CEO Ben Werther said, “we wanted to convey the clarity and simplicity that we are striving for in our product experience — without showing actual screenshots. Cooper’s design work on our website conveyed this message perfectly.”

Credits: Jim Dibble, Golden Krishna, Martina Maleike, Doug LeMoine, Nick Myers

A clean sans-serif designed by Minneapolis type foundry Process combined with rich, vibrant visualizations designed by the Cooper team combine for a unique and beautiful site we’re proud to have been linked to in the Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch and New York Times.

Immediately after launch, the site received rave reviews on Twitter:

See the site at www.platfora.com.

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