Every once in a while, you get to work on a "dream" project – one that resonates with you personally, and even makes you downright giddy.  That project that reminds you that luck is when preparation meets opportunity.  In 2014, this was just such a project for me.  

When I heard we were pitching to <clientname-redacted> I jumped at the chance to be a part of the project and joined the pitch team as creative lead and story owner.  We won the work and I had the opportunity to serve as Creative Director re-envisioning their mobile experience.

This project wasn't a cake-walk by any stretch of the imagination, but I learned a ton about myself in the process and wouldn't trade the experience for anything.  The experience made me a stronger designer and a wiser, more thoughtful leader. 


The client asked us to submit a proposal for a "elegant lean-back experience for the iPad that would allow their users to leisurely explore the varietal beauty of their photography collections — we want them to leave feeling inspired and creatively energized".

Traditionally, as designers, we know full-well that we are not the customer but we try our best to think like one.  We remind ourselves of this often, so as we explore ideas and solutions we avoid getting derailed by personal preference.  So imagine our thrill when thinking like a customer suddenly became effortless for us.  Because when it came to this client, we are their customer.


My first step was to rally a strike-team and get us all in a room to bang out some ideas for the pitch, as well as identify what research or data we'd need to support our recommendations.

It wasn't hard finding people in the studio who wanted to participate, and involvement was enthusiastic.  But as we went deeper, what surfaced was a consensus that the client's ask in the RFP didn't exactly resonate with us as users.


In order to validate what we were feeling in the brainstorm session, I worked with the project's Strategist to craft a brief survey for colleagues. We sent it out to our respective LinkedIn networks and it confirmed that we suspected:

Creative professionals rarely have time when we can "lean back" and peruse a stock photo site for inspiration at a leisurely pace. For a media company or agency — the client's high-value customer — there are time constraints and deadlines, reviews and approvals, and procurement people pulling the purse-strings at every turn.  


I focused the pitch-story around our findings from the initial survey, combined that with our own informed intuition, and pitched a broader more process-centric solution that would not only be more valuable for their customers but also open up new business opportunities and potential revenue streams.  I dubbed the initiative "TeamStudio".


In a nutshell, we proposed an omni-channel "lean-forward" experience that addressed the primary pain-points identified in each stage of the customer journey, including the oft overlooked aspects of managing and archiving assets (and their license constraints) once a project has concluded. 


ROLE: creative direction, story author/editor, deck design, photoshoot director


ROLE:  creative direction, story author/editor, illustration


After the project kickoff, we expanded our research effort to:

  • Gain insight into the customer’s process for sourcing stock imagery.

  • Define ways in which mobile is, or is not, integrated into the customer’s workday.

  • Understand how and where in the process customers become inspired to find imagery.

  • Identify thinking/feeling/doing so we can define our targets for experience mapping.

The team reviewed and discussed analytics and research with the client. In addition to a more detailed survey, we interviewed 8 people from the provided top customer list within media, publishing, and agency segments, as well as an additional 8 from our own professional networks. Each person was interviewed for roughly 45 minutes and discussed workplace mobile use, stock imagery workflow & process, collaboration, and inspiration.  A summary of our insights follows:

  • Creatives don’t seem to use their mobile device as a primary tool… yet

  • Distractions and interruptions are rampant in the workplace… there’s no time to just stop and think

  • While there is some level of sharing happening, it appears to be inefficient and inconsistent

  • By the time customers get to <clientname redacted>, they are already in a creative problem solving mindset

  • Customers are applying pre-conceived filters before an image search even begins

  • Current organization processes used by customers are cumbersome and inefficient

ROLE: research prep, user interviews, research analysis, creative direction, writing/editing

We also did an analysis of similar digital experiences and the client's most relevant competition and concluded that there were several other companies doing parts of the process in silos, but no one owning the stock imagery ecosystem it end-to-end.


I compiled and synthesized our research into a set of behavioral archetypes that covered all of the key roles that intersect with the stock imagery acquisition process.  We highlighted how these archetypes are distributed across the media, publishing, and agency segments identified by the client, and also captured some key metrics (duration of journey, mobile affinity) which would later serve as important context for the experience map artifacts.

ROLE: research synthesis, creative direction, writing/editing, data visualization

Though archetype groups are segmented according to behaviors, multiple roles can be found within each segment.  Some roles may cross groups, depending on how the responsibilities of those roles are defined in different companies.  

The research also shed some light on the major stages of the customer journey, and the activity levels of each archetype therein.



Once we had a solid picture of our customers, it was time to invite the client to participate in an experience mapping workshop.

Over two days, I facilitated the team’s efforts to plot the customer journey for every archetype (including activity levels for each phase), highlight moments of pain and delight, and capture the commonalities between each journey.  The typical duration of each journey was also included to provide context for evaluating opportunities.

ROLE: workshop facilitation, research synthesis, creative direction, writing/editing, data visualization


As the Creative/UX Director on the project, it was my responsibility to absorb and interpret the client's various brand guidelines, weigh them against what we were looking to accomplish with the digital experience, and formulate a point-of-view for the project team.  This work was the result of a close partnership between the myself and the creative leads on the client side, in order to ensure its authenticity. 

Since the goal of the project had evolved to focus on an app experience for two separate client brands, we took great care to craft a delicate balance between the two from a visual perspective but still have both grounded by the same foundational philosophy.

ROLE: creative director, writer/co-editor


During the course of the project, we were asked to create a pitch for the client to a potential technology partner.  This was mid-stream during two parallel design/dev efforts, so needless to say it was a daunting challenge.  For three weeks, I delegated the main project efforts to my Senior Designers, and singlehandedly crafted an interactive story+demo combo compiled into an iPad app.

ROLE: creative direction, scripting, storyboards, photography, app design, post-production

Click to zoom in/out...

Click to zoom in/out...

Click to zoom in/out...