Skillful human-centered design is an epic force for good
Starting in late 2018, I led design for an early-stage startup targeting an exciting new market (cannabis!)
Become the most beloved brand in California's cannabis market.
I rallied the executive team around the insight that people fall in love with brands that love their customers.
We would show love to our customers every step of the way, from our first contact through their journey of product discovery, shopping, delivery, customer support, engagement on social media – every engagement. We would be fanatical about creating outstanding experiences for our customers.
To deliver on this vision, I charted the path forward according to the proven human-centered design process (shown here in simplified form).
Design Process Overview
Design Process: Research & Define
In addition to being the starting point and foundation of all our work, this is also an ongoing process that continues to be updated and improved throughout the prototyping & implementation phases.
Key elements of our research & definition phase consisted of:
- Contextual inquiry - Observe people shopping for cannabis, learn about their processes, walk in their shoes & develop empathy, identify patterns, & document findings
- Heuristic evaluation of the legacy website, including severity rankings
- Competitive analysis - List & rate competitors' design elements, strategies, strengths & weaknesses
- Define key research findings & design strategy via design artifacts including personas, user flow diagrams, information architecture, & a design style guide
Design Process: Ideate & Prototype
Translating the key insights of research into tangible, interactive models that can be tested & rapidly improved.
The ideate & prototype phase consisted primarily of:
- Wireframing & rapid prototyping - Create numerous divergent design explorations that meet the defined user & business needs
- UI & Interaction design - Design all the user interface elements and behaviors, & document in the design style guide
- Visual design - Design all the graphic elements, including colors, fonts, padding, content, & layouts
- Clickable prototype design - Render the solution that best meets the user and business needs in high fidelity, interactive mode
- Product specifications – Document all design guidance in detailed specs that include colors, patterns, behaviors, interactions, & microinteractions, and clickable prototypes
This clickable prototype of an early version of the e-commerce site redesign shows how different key user flows look & feel.
Early e-commerce clickable prototype
Design Process: Test & Implement
Does the prototype meet the users' needs? How useful do they find it? Where are their pain-points? What can be improved? Usability testing allows us to find these things out and make the necessary corrections before launch.
Testing of our early prototype (above) revealed the need for the following key UX & UI improvements:
- scrolling notifications on the top notification bar
- larger click zones on the product cards' onHover/onTap states
- ability to index the weight up/down on the product cards
Also, the executive team flagged the need for the following UX & UI improvements:
- more product type identifiers
- change the "curtains-closed" age-gate to a version that provided a view of the products on the site
All of this was built into subsequent versions of the prototype, documented in the design spec, and ultimately launched on the live site.
Branding & Marketing
In addition to e-commerce design, I did a complete rebrand of the company. Working closely with the CEO and CTO over more than 30 iterations, I designed new logos that profoundly elevated the look & feel of the brand.
My initial design experiments involved sans-serif shapes that played with the mirror-image nature of the word "bud," and rendered the ".com" much smaller. The early concepts felt modern & minimal, but also rather cold, and therefore not in sync with our target users.
Also, given the company's distinctive three-letter domain and the strategic importance of driving traffic there, we decided that the ".com" should be the same size as the "bud." To warm things up and make the wordmark feel more welcoming, I shifted to a flowing cursive style. Combined with a deeply saturated orange-red color (#e43d19, a warm tone that alludes to the heart and the love we feel for our customers), this ultimately created the desired effect.
Once the wordmark was dialed, the design of the brandmark flowed quite naturally.
Given the fact that bud.com specializes in the delivery of cannabis, and that maps are such an essential part of the delivery process, it felt fitting to integrate the shape of a map pin into the design of the brandmark.
Due to the fact that we were running a fast-paced startup, it wasn't possible to spend as much time testing these designs as I would have liked. However, our guerilla testing produced unanimously positive results, so our entire team felt good about rolling out our new identity to the world.
Bud.com Teammate Feedback
"Shalom joined our team at a very early stage. As Design Director, he immediately put on many hats: redoing our logo, managing contractors for art production, engineering a redesign of our e-commerce website, and developing a social media presence - executing on each skillfully without many resources. He drew upon his deep experience in human-centered design to hold a torch aloft for our customers. It was a busy, hectic time in a chaotic, emerging industry, and Shalom’s positive attitude kept us aloft through difficult months. He fearlessly dove into learning and connecting with people inside and outside of the company. His documentation was impeccable, and his use of our internal tools vigorous. We will miss Shalom's infectious good cheer and rigorous approach to our design challenges."
- J. H., CTO
"Shalom is a leader unlike any I’ve experienced before. His level of creativity, integrity, and genuine concern for people (customers, teammates, & everyone) is off the charts. The way he puts all his heart & soul into his work inspires us all to do the same, to be constantly listening and improving, and to be fanatical about customer experience. I learned so much while working with him and seeing how he puts his heartfelt human-centered design philosophy into action. Any company would be super fortunate to have Shalom expertly leading the charge for design."
- J. G., Customer Service Lead
Starting in 2018, I taught the theory & practice of human-centered design at General Assembly
"It is the supreme joy of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge."
- Albert Einstein
As an avid practitioner of human-centered design, I felt honored and excited to help train the next generation of designers. When I was scouted by General Assembly to become one of their design instructors, I recognized this as an excellent opportunity to give back to and fortify a practice that's deeply meaningful to me.
I taught 3 immersive cohorts, each of which was 10 weeks long and ran 40 hours per week, for 20+ students each. This added up to a total of 1,200 hours of instruction for over 70 hard-working design students.
Instruction included a combination of lecture-based and project-based learning. In order to successfully complete the projects, my students had to demonstrate proficiency in applying their newly-minted design skills to solve practical problems.
My main lecture topics included:
- User Research
- Contextual Inquiry
- Competitive Analysis
- User Scenarios
- Task Analysis
- Hand Sketching
- User Flow Diagrams
- Information Architecture
- Project Planning
- UI Design
- Visual Design
- Interaction Design
- Usability Testing
- Feature Prioritization
- Mobile & Responsive Design
- Mobile Commerce
- Design Presentation
- Design Critique
I followed up each lecture with hands-on exercises that challenged students to apply the design theories & principles they'd just learned to solve practical problems – e.g., design a better BART kiosk experience. [Wouldn't that be dreamy?]
Of the 5 total design projects, the fifth and final project required students to team-up to define, research, and solve the real-world needs of a local business... and then to offer a compelling live presentation of their design solution to their key stakeholders.
Many of my students landed design jobs at A-list companies, including Apple, Google, Samsung, Huawei, LinkedIn, JP Morgan Chase, & UC Berkeley, plus a host of promising startups.
General Assembly Student Feedback
"Shalom is easily one of the best instructors I've ever had. His enthusiasm and passion for design are clear from the very minute you meet him—he truly embodies what it means to be a human-centered designer. I'll always thank Shalom for completely changing my perspective and teaching empathy to someone who didn't really understand it before."
- Y. S.
"Shalom not only embodies great design but also design with purpose. He seeks not only to solve problems but also to produce meaningful change through his work. As a budding designer, it was his instruction that inspired me to go above and beyond in the design process. Shalom is also a fierce advocate for accessible design, and it was his story that has given me a framework for making the world more accessible through UX."
- E. W.
In 2014, I joined Autodesk to help transform 3D printing into a delightful experience
The Problem / Opportunity
In early 2014, the promise of 3D printing far exceeded its actual rewards. The hype cycle had wildly inflated the public's imagination about what this technology could achieve.
"THIS MACHINE WILL CHANGE THE WORLD," declared Wired Magazine with evangelical zeal. Its cover showed Bre Pettis (the founder of the most popular consumer 3D printer), holding one of his world-changing MakerBots.
In stark contrast to the hype, many of the early adopters of 3D printing were having miserable experiences – print failure after print failure.
3D printing customers were toppling off the peak of inflated expectations down into the trough of disillusionment. They needed a lot of help up the slope of enlightenment to reach the plateau of productivity.
The Mission of Our Product
I joined an agile R&D team (which literally included rocket scientists). We defined the following mission for our product:
Transform 3D printing from a failure-prone & frustrating experience to a productive & delightful one for 3D printing professionals.
This was no small task, given the multiple points of failure across the interdependent domains of software, hardware, & printing materials.
Our team's strategy was to create an ecosystem in which we seamlessly integrate the software, hardware, and materials of the 3D printing process.
We called ourselves the Integrated Additive Manufacturing team.
From the ground up, we created the software, hardware, and materials of what ultimately became Autodesk's first professional DLP 3D printer.
We named it Ember.
The Initial Research Phase
As the Lead UX Designer, my first task was to spearhead the rigorous research that would lay the foundation for the design of our product, with the understanding that research would (of course) need to be an ongoing process.
The research phase primarily involved:
- Competitive analysis - Studying and documenting the strengths & weaknesses of the leaders in the field, including FormLabs, EnvisionTEC, 3D Systems, & DWS
- Task analysis - Breaking the overall 3D print-prep, printing, and finishing process down to their sub-tasks, and documenting the flows
- Ethnographic research & contextual inquiry - Traveling to 3D printing labs, observing people in their work environments, and documenting their processes
A technician does finishing work on 3D prints in a dental lab in New Mexico that I studied early in our research phase.
Designing Ember's Front Panel
As the human-machine interface that would enable users to control their 3D printers, and which would provide essential feedback about the status of the printing process, Ember's front panel would ultimately create an experience of either easy utility or frustration. Therefore, special care was given to its definition, interaction design, and hardware design.
Analysis of our research combined with our strategic goals to shape the definition of its many product requirements.
Key requirements for Ember's front panel included:
- It shall allow the user to easily control all phases of the printing process
- It shall be able to operate while the user is wearing protective gloves
- It shall provide feedback about the status of the print that's visible from a distance of up to 20 feet
- It shall place a load that is within the functional capacity of the microprocessor
- It shall have as few buttons as possible without compromising its usability
Pixel-placement guidance for the content to display on the control panel's OLED screen, including the main display area and the dynamic labels for the soft keys.
Based on my understanding of our target user's needs and behaviors, I designed the overall concept of the front panel – a central screen with two buttons, encircled by an array of animated LEDs that provide feedback about the key states of the printer, including:
- System starting up
- Loading print data
- Ready to print
- Print % complete
While the industrial designers further developed this concept into production-ready plans, I worked with the engineers to define and encode all of the states and sub-states into what would become Ember's embedded system.
Designing for Sustainability
From the onset of the design process, I collaborated with sustainability experts at Autodesk and beyond to minimize the environmental impact of manufacturing and operating Ember.
Our key sustainability initiatives included:
- Collaborating with UC Berkeley's Center for Green Chemistry and The Biomimicry Institute to support the development of nontoxic printing materials that function like photopolymers
- Analyzing & working to minimize Ember's overall power consumption
- Designing for repariability & easy disassembly
- Identifying sustainable packaging materials (instead of typical petroleum-based packaging)
In recognition of my sustainable design work for Ember, I was honored to receive Autodesk Foundation's Impact Peer Award.
Integrating Software, Hardware, & Materials
Did we succeed in our ambition to create a seamless 3D printing experience for our users? Once we started shipping our product, this question was top of mind for our whole team, as well as for our executive stakeholders.
We looked to our users. I closely monitored our online forum and customer support tickets. Over time, as the data points grew, we started recognizing patterns.
We had not managed to completely eliminate 3D print failures. We were able to identify the root cause of most failures: suction and adhesion forces on the PDMS membrane (the active printing surface), resulting from chemical reactions in the photopolymerization process.
This problem was not unique to Ember. In fact, most stereolithography printers struggled with this issue, and the larger the surface area of the print, the larger this problem became.
We explored numerous strategies to increase Ember's printing success rate, including:
- flagging issues in the print preparation software that would likely cause the prints to fail, and offering suggestions to fix them before running the print
- developing a closed-loop control system
- altering the chemistry of the resin
- developing an enhanced peeling system
We had a lot of ground to cover in order to achieve our ultimate goal of making 3D printing reliable and delightful for our target users. Our VP created a strategic vision over the course of the following 5 years – 5 generations of printers would build up to our ultimate goal of offering seamless, reliable, fully-automated 3D printing – "lights-out additive manufacturing production." However, just as this plan had been formulated, our CEO departed, and with no further executive support for our product, Ember was end-of-lifed.
Growing the Design Culture at Autodesk
In addition to my product design work at Autodesk, I was an active member of Autodesk's cross-divisional human-centered design community and served as the leader of several design teams, including:
- Co-leader of the San Francisco human-centered design community, SF LUMA
- Leader of the XD Communications team
- Manager of the SF risograph printer
As a passionate supporter of Autodesk's mission to "Imagine, Design, & Create a Better World," I was honored to design the event poster for a presentation by philanthropic artist, Brian McCarty, who work was helping raise awareness for UNICEF's #ChildrenInWar campaign.
I also gave numerous presentations about the open source bionics work of The Luke Hand team (scroll down for more info about this).
Autodesk Teammate Feedback
"Shalom is one of the most thoughtful, intelligent and driven designers I have had the chance to work with. When we worked on Ember together he thinks of the user's experience and needs throughout the product design process and isn’t afraid to stand up for what he thinks is right, and backs it up with data. His work was professional, innovative and focused on the problem at hand and finding the right solution without cutting corners. Shalom's passion for design is infectious, and I hope I have the opportunity to work with him on future projects."
- S. B., Lead Product Designer
"Working with Shalom was one of the highlights of my time on the Autodesk Hardware Team. His positive attitude is contagious and always made the lab a fun and welcoming environment. As the voice of reason in a sea of engineers, Shalom always kept us on track by ensuring our design efforts brought value to the customers. Shalom has an innate ability to discover and understand people's needs, a passion to design delightful experiences for them, and a gift of working with a team to accomplish this."
- D. P., Engineer
In 2003, I co-founded Blend Images, a stock agency that celebrates multiculturalism
Starting with a loosely-connected group of commercial photographers and an exciting idea, I co-created the world's leading stock photography agency offering imagery that's focused on celebrating multiculturalism.
Elected to serve on the board of directors for 7 years, I helped Blend grow its annual revenues in excess of $5M.
Blend has since been acquired and absorbed into another agency.
Blend Images Teammate Feedback
"Shalom and I worked together on the founding of Blend Images. As business partners, we also served together on Blend's board of directors. Shalom has an exceptional ability to work with others in a collaborative and constructive way. His exceptional energy and positive spirit were very important to Blend's founding and eventual success. He also has great instincts about visual and social trends. It should also be noted that Shalom has very good skills at some of the nuts-and-bolts of business such as being able to review and suggest needed revisions to legal documents. Such a broad array of skills is not very common but Shalom is an exceptional person."
- L. Z., Co-founder & Director
"Shalom is a breath of fresh air, I learned this while serving on the Board of Blend Images together. He looks at situations from a totally different and unique perspective. He is thoughtful, inquisitive and upbeat. He can brainstorm like no other and keep a room on track. He would be an asset to any organization."
- S. C., Co-founder & Director
Here are a couple of personal projects I did purely for the love of it...
"We make a living by what we get,
but we make a life by what we give."
- Winston Churchill
In 2015, I started The Luke Hand project to help accelerate R&D for open source bionics
It became obvious to me that technology is failing people with hand amputations. The only bionic hands that are currently on the market either offer limited utility at an exorbitant price, or extremely limited utility for a moderate to cheap price. I knew that as a technologically innovative species, we could do better.
Inspired by Luke Skywalker's dexterous bionic hand, I created The Luke Hand open source project with the intention to help make science fiction science fact for people with hand amputations.
We started out with the ambitious goal of designing a hand with the functionality of a human for a 4-year-old within four years. Many supremely-talented and well-connected people joined the cause (you can read more about it on Medium). While we haven't yet achieved our goal (nor have any other companies, for that matter), we have catalyzed the creation of 3 functional prototypes.
In 2014, I created artwork that was launched into space & deployed into near-Earth orbit
Planet.com operates the world's largest fleet of Earth-imaging satellites. Based in San Francisco, they bring Silicon Valley ingenuity to the aerospace industry. And they have an appreciation for the arts.
Therefore, they wanted to do more than simply build and launch satellites into orbit; they also wanted them to be beautiful. To make this happen, they offered an open call for submissions of artwork for their satellites. The selected works would be laser-engraved on the sides of their satellites, launched into space, and deployed into near-Earth orbit from the International Space Station.
Two of Planet.com's satellites being deployed from the ISS
As someone who had dreamed of designing spaceships as a child, I'd been hoping for an opportunity like this for most of my life. I drew obsessively for months. I emerged with two pieces (one for each side of the satellite), called Ascension & Dove Dance (the Planet team called their satellites "doves").
These pieces were inspired by archetypal themes of mythology, masculinity, femininity, nature, technology, and the interplay of all of these things.
My wife can attest that when I learned that my work had been selected, I shot straight up to Cloud 9. [No rocket required.]
This National Geographic video provides more info about the project (including a few clips featuring yours truly).
A bit more about me...
I live in the San Francisco Bay Area with my beloved wife, our two beautiful children, one high-energy Chihuahua, and lots of lovely plants.
When I'm not working to help make the world a friendlier place with better design, you might find me playing with my kids, tending our garden, or writing a poem under a tree up on Mount Tamalpais.
Did my portfolio spark any ideas for you?