Apr 09, 2013

Five Building Blocks of Great Digital Products

Victor Brunetti's picture
Victor Brunetti
Director, Brand Experience

Think of the digital products you love. The ones you use the most, that augment your life, your business, your hobbies, your whatever. What do they have in common?

Well, for one, they’re probably easy, or even elegant, to use. And they almost certainly boast a really nice visual design too. Those are givens.

But even more than that, the best digital products–and indeed the many of the best physical ones, too–are services. They build lasting relationships with their users by meeting real needs and solving real problems. 

Mar 25, 2013

Who’s on First? An Approach to Mobile-First Responsive Design

Marsha Plat's picture
Marsha Plat
Director, User Experience

We are trending towards a mobile-first world. Nearly a third of US citizens use mobile devices as their primary way of accessing the web. If you want to reach this large group of people, your product or site needs to work on mobile devices.

Dec 31, 1969

Persuading Seekers to be Shoppers

Marsha Plat's picture
Marsha Plat
Director, User Experience
Mar 07, 2013

Takeaways from IxDA ‘13

Annie Nguyen's picture
Annie Nguyen
User Experience Designer

I recently had the opportunity to attend my first IxDA (Interaction Design Association) conference in Toronto. As a first-time attendee, I absorbed a lot of the excitement and lessons from talks, learned about IxDA history, and grew to know the network of people—both newcomers and seasoned returnees, students and professionals—that’s grown through the IxDA community.


Jan 17, 2013

Robots, Refrigerators, and (Virtual) Reality, Oh My! A Report from CES 2013

Anisha Jain's picture
Anisha Jain
User Experience Designer

I just returned from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), that annual tech behemoth in Las Vegas. Before I forget the blur of walking through a seemingly never-ending labyrinth of rooms and booths (Note: CES is massive. It takes organizers a month to build it. Wear comfortable shoes.), I’d like to share my personal highlights and takeaways:


There were some really wonderful startups, and a lot more hardware startups than I expected. There were also a TON of non-Silicon Valley startups, which was refreshing. Some particularly playful ones:

Dec 31, 1969

Mobile Content Strategy: “We Can Fix This” says McGrane

Karen McGrane says there are a lot of content management systems that “look like a database got drunk and vomited all over the screen.” Designers can do better, McGrane insists. “We can fix this.”


Nov 29, 2012

Design Thinking and Building Resilient Systems

Annie Nguyen's picture
Annie Nguyen
User Experience Designer

Being a user experience designer and researcher, I tend to question the status quo and think about how to improve experiences. And since Sandy hit New York, I’ve been thinking a lot about storm preparedness, response, recovery, and relief.

The interesting thing about designing in today’s age is that we can no longer create rigid solutions and expect them to be meaningful 5, 10 or 20 years out, as the population increases and the environmental shifts continue. Solutions must be more flexible and adaptable, especially when they apply to one of the most complex systems of all—cities.

Oct 04, 2012

Research @ Hot Studio: Getting Schooled with Pint-Sized Feedback

Wendy Owen's picture
Wendy Owen
Principal, Research & Strategy

As Principal of Research and Strategy, I oversee how Hot conducts research to answer tough questions for clients. We factor some kind of research into every problem our teams take on. At times we need to use deep ethnographic research, lightweight methods (like guerilla research), or user testing. Our StoryPlay team recently conducted user testing at the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco to get feedback from kids on Hot’s new storytelling web app.

Oct 02, 2012

Rapid User Research at the California Academy of Sciences

Dave Eresian's picture
Dave Eresian
Director, User Experience

As designers and problem solvers, we know the importance of incorporating feedback from real people into our design process. User research helps build deeper empathy with audiences, as it enables us to witness experiences from their perspective. Research can reveal opportunities and inspire design ideas, and it can help us evaluate the effectiveness of our solutions. It can also help align teams around shared goals. But when projects run on tight deadlines and budgets, incorporating user research can seem challenging. So what are some lightweight, nimble ways to approach evaluative research? Recently, we had the opportunity to lead a fast-paced project for the California Academy of Sciences, and needed to come up with creative approaches.

Cal Academy asked Hot Studio to conduct a user study with a rough cut of its Earthquake planetarium show. The overall goal was to evaluate how well viewers could understand the geology content in the show, such as the causes of earthquakes. Our research would be used to recommend any potential adjustments to the film’s narration and visuals.

We were thrilled about the prospect of working on this project—and intrigued by its challenges. How would we recruit and interview a large number of participants with our tiny project team? How might we collect quantitative data to support qualitative interview data? And finally, how might we design the research activities to foster rich conversations about specific sequences of the film, without interrupting the film’s playback?

These challenges pushed our Hot team to be resourceful, organized, and creative. This article describes the some of the keys to our approach, including:

  • Start with the end in mind
  • Take an iterative approach
  • Create activities, props, and tools (as well as great questions)
  • Enlist colleagues or clients as assistants
  • Leverage tools wisely

Start with the end in mind
Before you start any research project first clarify your goals. What exactly do you hope to learn? What questions do you need the research to answer? Which hypotheses do you need to validate? Then craft your approach to the research accordingly. Clearly articulated objectives will give you the focus you need to select research methods and activities, ask the right questions, and frame your results. This goal-directed approach is paramount for any research project. For rapid user research, consider the top few questions you need to answer in order to proceed to the next step of your project; focus your research on these core questions.

For the Cal Academy project, the high-level goals were to evaluate how well viewers could follow the geology content, and to recommend potential tweaks to the film. By sitting down with the filmmakers, we clarified which specific aspects of the geology content were most important, and which sequences of the film were potentially unclear. We discussed what could be easily modified (like narration) in the event that we wanted to recommend changes. Based on our goals and meetings with the Cal Academy team, we made a list of research objectives. And with clear research objectives in mind, we were well-equipped to plan our approach and activities, and start crafting an interview guide.

Sep 11, 2012

The Rise of Content Strategy—Trend #5: Content Strategy as a Business Tool

Margot Merrill's picture
Margot Merrill
Director, Content & Brand Strategy

Finally! Some Good News

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