April 4, 2020
Building & Growing a Digital Agency | Matt Faulk CEO of Basic | Awwwards Conference San Francisco

Building & Growing a Digital Agency | Matt Faulk CEO of Basic | Awwwards Conference San Francisco

so yeah you did a great intro but I am
Matt Falk and I am the CEO at basic and you know I was asked to come here today to
talk a bit about the agency and what we do I’ve evolved the topic a little bit
that’s definitely gonna talk about objectivity a little bit about the art
and science but candidly I kind of put this thing together kind of last minute
but I’ve got some good topics that are inspired by it so I’m gonna get into it
so I’m gonna talk a bit about who we are as an agency I don’t know if you guys
are familiar with basic but I figured it might help with the context what we’re
gonna get into along with that I’m going to talk a bit about strategy and intent
as it relates to our company and how we go about things some guiding principles
that we use and the work we do and then I’m gonna share some work to kind of
pull it all together and then give you with a couple takeaways at the end
something to note I talk pretty damn fast so if I get going I’m also on a lot
of caffeine so let me know if I get going I’ll slow it down for you all
right it’s ready kick it off all right let’s
do it there we go so basic is a brand name and
experience design agency we’ve got three offices our headquarters in San Diego we
just moved into a beautiful new HQ we’re really excited about it’s really noisy
right now though because the construction I think I’ve got a couple
team members here that can attest to that on top of that we have a new studio
we just opened that many people don’t know about in st. Louis so we call it
studio 240 we had a couple employees that worked out there that we’re working
remote we’re like hey guys let’s put you in a room rents cheap let’s see what the
make of it so they’re all stoked JP one of our designers his dad actually
decided to kind of pimp it out so it’s a pretty rad space we also have a very
large team dedicated to Google so we have embedded team at Mountain View
can’t get into it so there’s a building but you know we do some really really
great work with them and something exciting I’d like to share is that we’re looking to move to San Francisco we’re
looking to possibly expand our barrier presence outside of this mountain view
and kind of see what we can do up here in the bay there’s so much talent and
opportunity with clients and things so we’ll see what it turns into it’s
expensive I know but hey tough it out so as far as our team goes
you know we’re 92 people and growing since beginning we’ve really been
focused on bringing diverse individuals to come to come to come together through
the passions and interest they share you know we’re growing we’re continuously
evolving to that point we are hiring so if any you’re looking for a job let
us know your basic agency com4 slash careers you know but what we do if you
were to join us is you would get to work with on brand programs and digital
platforms for some of the world’s most innovative companies so over the past
year year and a half we were working with companies like Google Under Armour
Patagonia doing everything from digital transformations to experience vision to
game identity for companies like EA our agency kind of became known and renowned
for doing work such as our digital transformation for beats by dre when
they kind of went through the Apple acquisition so we help them establish
new design system design language poured over the experience strategy on how they
would kind of connect the two experiences for shopping so it’s really
really fun thing to put together this led to a bunch of in-store retail work
this is one of the projects that kind of put us on the map if you will as things
are driving notes along with that you know we do work in other spaces such as
with we work we work with we work on helping them think about digital and how
it can better help them connect their community to their brand so really fun
exploration and vision work with them and then another project if we haven’t
been able to formalize yet or announce that I’m gonna go ahead do it today is
our partnership with riot we worked with riot back in 2017 on a complete overhaul
their identity and visual language so I don’t know if you guys know riot but
they’re the biggest game development company in the world they oversee or
create League of Legends but League of Legends so strong that they had no brand
equity and the riot brand and so they wanted to recruit and so they reached
out to us to kind of help them create just a system and a language and really
help them recruiting and the vision the company they’re going through some
challenges right now but I’ll let that be but we were involved in that to that
end you know this is a statement here that I’m personally proud of and I know
our company is you know basic helps brands connect with culture it’s such an
interesting thing to have that said about a group that really creates you
know ecommerce flagships digital products and services and things because
you know well does that 9 and tech or the kind of the core offering of what we
do culture is always our through line and
the fact that how do we recognize that and brands that kind of come to us for
recognize that is something that you know really excites me and the reason we
do that is we believe that people need you know more than utility you know
we’re always so focused on utility especially in the world of tech
especially up here on the bay it’s about function purpose and things
like that but what we always believe it basic is that people need to still feel
something and so you know features are expected but experiences are not and so
that’s what the premise of my talk is gonna be about today is really kind of
around this thing still how we design experience is a basic you know and why
we use objectivity and subjectivity to build brands that connect with people so
here we go alright so as we all know there are many debates because that kind
of go on on Twitter I don’t know if you guys are a part of design Twitter but
how many times you guys seen discussions kind of like this what comes first art
design design art what matters more or there we go are you experienced design
or visual designer or are you designers designer do you design buildings are you
product designer you make cars for a living
no I design digital websites oh well okay do you really design cars you know
it’s that argument I still don’t get it we just say designer it basic but I
understand the premise of it or data versus intuition you know what matters
more healthy debates around that one to the on the discussion two debates a
couple I want to just put out there for you guys or hopefully kill sketch versus
Photoshop guys come on now let’s graduate from
that let’s also kill this one while we’re at
it okay let’s let’s just not have that be the last one which is my personal pet
peeve just come on there’s so many tools and things now do it you’re great at
anyways let that go but on the nod of kind of discussions and debates the one
that I personally interested in is the idea of should design be objective or
subjective you know it’s a very healthy and interesting thing because
objectivity and subjectivity kind of go hand in hand and a basic we really
believe that good design requires both so you know objectivity brings the
function you know it’s the science in what we do
it’s the conditionals is the consideration set it’s really intended
to kind of you know lack bias and be highly functional you know it’s really
there for us to kind of inform our design process or guide us through it
we’re subject team Lee brings a feeling it’s the art of it all you know this is
the decisions we make based on the objectivity we put forth this brings
forward your personality colors tonality use things like that and so that’s
something we really look to do is kind of figure out how we balance those two
things together with that said though to capitalize on both you really need to
find clarity of your intent and to do that you know viñales that’s it perfect
clarity of intent translate into clarity of result and so I’m gonna talk a bit
about strategy and how many kind of look at these things how we uncover insights
that ultimately inform what we do it basic and then I’ll get in some work as
I mentioned how am i doing on my speed am I talking too quick keep it up all
right all right all right let’s see this where am i throwing umm so strategy
intent so strategy has actually been a key practice at basic since the
beginning um you know I’m a designer with a dream as the cheesy bio says but
really I studied up on design as well as the business and strategy that went into
it because I loved the craft I always knew it in order to kind of make it
compelling and actually it’s all true business problems I was gonna have to
understand what it was I was kind of chasing and so this is really informed
the way that basics makeup is in fact I would argue that our creative directors
or more planners and they are kind of creative ideas you know they’re they
really think about the business and how the work we do is going to kind of align
with them not just now but in the future and so what we like to do a basic is
really kind of a line on two core fronts when it comes to our strategy and intent
and that is obviously the brand side of things and the people side of things but
this isn’t fully original but what we look to do is just really figure out
those ideals and interests that people share with the brands that because at
that intersection is where some great things can happen so as we go about it
you know we really start with just kind of understand what we’re trying to
achieve the truth is we’re usually trying to solve a challenge or to make
something better I mean it doesn’t really get much more complicated than
that but there are so many intricate ways that this can go both bad and good
and I can tell you the agency we’ve had him go that way both ways so step one is
really good to know the brand you know and I don’t know how often you guys do
research in your design but it’s really really important not just user research
which is we’re far too many people focused but actually getting into brand
the business in the industry so of what are the objectives you know think about
that like what are really trying to achieve do we really need to be chasing
them as a business owner or stake holder what are you worried about what’s
keeping you up at night you know that’s always a big one that I asked b2b people
when they reach out to base it’s like well what’s keeping you up at night you
know because I know what that is for me and you could probably sell the shit out
of me if you’re to solve that problem so something we think about where’s the
business headed where are you going how can we as designers help you get there
you know what’s the purpose of your business what’s that mission statement
do you truly live it what are your values your DNA your purpose your intent
and then what’s that unique value prop you know these are just a couple key
questions that we ask but I mean obviously they can go on and on and on a
much deeper and deeper deeper with that you know you kind of think about your
audience this is the people aspect right I think it’s really key to understand
their desires and the behaviors far more than intentions or patterns
they use but really what drives them is people what are they doing out in the
world how can products and general services
really align with them along with that you know you gotta understand their
interests what are they into fashion sports entertainment those things really
influence things because you take inspiration from other things they’re
doing their life to influence your products and then their expectations
what are their expectations for your product this is their to surprise and
delight them so there or purely functional value you know
these are the things that really matter as you think about their motivations as
they use any of your products so from that I’m gonna take a step back there we
go to look at the larger context of things I think it’s really important we
know as creatives we’re always in it you know we’re chasing deadlines we’re doing
a lot of different things and I think we sometimes forget to take a step back
from the trees you know and look at the whole forest and that’s what this is
really all about you know it’s really going deeper into the shared interest I
think far too often we stopped at that human alignment with the unique selling
proposition right it’s like okay we’re aligned that’s not true I read something
on the internet like two weeks ago that basically said if you designed just for
need you’re selling yourself short because if the person is hungry we all
eat and you offer food does that mean the cheeseburgers best for you probably
not and I think that’s where you ought to go deeper understand the intention
are they on keto are they vegan I mean all these different considerations sets
really matter so don’t just make an assumption that just because you’re
offering is something they could take it means it’s right for them also culture
you know what’s happening in culture there’s so many things going on in the
world around us you know privacy design intention you know phone addiction I
mean there’s so many things happening so what how does that influence the work
we’re doing and then of course the industry itself where’s the future of
the business going I can tell you in design I’m worried about AI how is that
gonna play a part in the work we’re doing what does it mean for technology
we’ve got these new emerging softwares so how do we kind of adapt to stay ahead
and then where the opportunities you know thinking of big ideas brainstorming
around how I how might we just really kind of putting a bunch of things on a
wall that kind of tie back the objectives so that we can get some
considerations for us it kind of make some decisions on a couple fun
experience design principles too that we use are at work you know with a strategy
in place you know is the biggest thing we say at basic is our job is to provide
people with this right solution at the right moment in a proper context this is
where objectivity and subjectivity come together because we can think we have
the right solution we can think we know the right moment and we can also think
we have the right context but the truth is the decisions we make to kind of
deliver that is where the subdued subjectivity comes into play so and I
think tha this is why experience matters most
people do not give a shit about whether your site is responsive or mobile or
throwing your tablet or if it’s an app or a website what they care is about the
experience they’re having with the device with your platform at that time
you know I can have a very different experience when I’m waiting for an uber
and fresh way because I have no Wi-Fi first is one I’m sitting at home bored
can’t sleep browsing on Instagram and so I think when we’re going about this we
need to understand that our job designers is to really align with people
because we’re augmenting their life’s journey you know so we need to do our
best to understand all the inputs that are kind of going through them and what
might impact them throughout the day so you know we’d like to focus on feelings
because feelings are memorable so we always designed to you know the Welcome
feeling and we do this because humans are emotional you know
yes it can be usable but it needs to be enjoyable I think it’s really really key
to have that and you know as we go through this like if you remember from
earlier I talked about the idea of functionality being expected but
experiences aren’t so how do you kind of tie in that human aspect to the work
we’re doing best practices you know they weren’t a best practice for there was
another best practice right they’re simply a foundation that’s where you
start you don’t chase that you know what you really should be chasing is
establishing new ones it’s really kind of progressing yourself and finding new
ways to bring utility and value to people along with that is context over
consistency this is a big one for me so many design systems and things are out
there right now really talking about consistent experiences and stuff like
that awesome great I believe in it as a human I’m dressed
this way right now tonight I might be dress in PJs taking a nap I’m still me
right but that situation is more ideal for me to go to bed than wearing these
clothes so you need to have some flexibility or system come on you know
so we believe that system socially flexible you know it doesn’t make sense
use a kitchen chair as a toilet like you always try and slap modules and repeat
elements into things and it just we got to take a step back from that so what I
want to do now is just kind of take you through some work I got two projects
that I want to take you through just kind of talking about the business
challenge some of the insights we uncovered and then also we how we kind
of pulled together this idea of objectivity and subjectivity
all right so Harrods you guys all familiar with Harrods it’s it’s in the
UK I don’t know if you yeah well it’s pretty badass I went there for the first
time I was overwhelmed and the girls were
with for the trip we’re like immediately trying to shop and buy shoes and it was
it was nuts but so hair just like the world’s most luxurious fashion mall I
guess you can call I don’t even know if you’d call it that but it’s a shopping
destination people fly from all over the world to buy really really cool
expensive things so they came to us to really amp reimagine you know what
Harry’s gonna be online so essentially thinking about their vision where they
go in their future they had some ambitious brand goals you know you know
bring the the Harrods retail experience online along with that has serves the
needs and aspirations of their customers the luxury consumer is evolving I’ll
talk more about that in a second and then lastly is elevate integrate the
editorial content they’re doing a bunch of things that kind of immerse people in
their world and how to connect with them so how do we kind of create that better
content and commerce aspect if you will but audience you know so we did a lot of
research on the audience not just in talking to them but actually doing
research on trends behaviors retailers and we learned that you know luxury
shopping demands are evolving you know service and personalization is now super
demanded along with that customers are more informa making purchasing decisions
social media social context social proof you know ratings reviews I mean the list
goes on but most of the biggest insight we kind of identified here was that
customers want something priceless Millennials specifically you know they
value experiences over possessions and so what does that mean for luxury when
you’re buying a status well step this is evolving because that is now achievable
you know brands like coach for example have looked to kind of change the
perception of what modern luxury is and so what they really are chase is a
differentiated experience so we took this idea and really kind of looked at
the industry truths and thought you know well experience is the new luxury it’s
how do you travel how do you go about things what is that that priceless
moment that you get one experience of this handbag etc and we use that to kind
of inform our approach which is a create a transformative experience that shapes
modern luxury culture so what’s it look like so with an objective of kind of
being that central source of exploration we really wanted to kind of show the
world what modern luxury can be so let’s create a hub you know where everything
for such a service story personalization all come together in a way that
complements traditional retail experience in an omni-channel
environment along with that you know impulse is still the dominant factor
when making a purchase decision when it comes to retail especially with luxury
and so we wanted to find little moments to create discoverable present present
rich stories alongside product inspire our users and fostering desire you know
again capitalize at those moments of impulse if I see something I like how do
you support them in their journey stories you know soar is the best way to
connect emotionally and people purchase based on emotional decisions it’s also
according to I never get his name right but you’re a Hassan he’s a Princeton
neuro scientist he does big studies on this stuff and he actually says that
stories are the best way to get a person to conceptualize an idea as if it’s
their own so you think about that in the work you’re doing if you can bring
narrative to it your whole goal it’s create an experience where they can
actually think about it and see the product fit into their lives stories the
best way to do it becomes it comes real they see it as theirs you’re no longer
advertising to them you’re supporting them you’re inspiring them you’re
encouraging them and then we can do that online because digital allows us to use
motion interactivity and seamlessly kind of bring stories and content together
you know romancing the products as well as the customers shopping online is kind
of a pain in the ass I’m still not used to it it’s not my favorite thing and I
design a lot of e-commerce websites the biggest thing is form fit flow those
kind of things so how do we kind of create an environment where people can
understand for how something fits the way it flows the size of parameters you
know the story behind the product especially when it comes a luxury the
stitching the handbags what the tactical feelings you know let’s bring that to
the product detail pages in a way that inspires and hopefully converts along
with that is just you know personalization if you’re a member of
Harrods we should know you so thinking about seasonal picks pulling in calendar
data understanding getting smarter and smarter and smarter with each and every
interaction with the brand that way you can service things like kiosks and
different things that kind of really mimic the retail experience and then
enable people shop based on their mindset I think this is something that
still isn’t done properly is filtration and just thinking through how people
live their lifestyle and what the calendar is you know let’s mimic how
they think when they’re actually in that mindset and then you know Harrods has
these pop-up shops and these really cool exclusive partnerships they do these
rooms for so how do we kind of bring that into the in-store experience to
really kind of show what’s happening there if you like pop-up shops just
really immersive experiences that really differentiate from other e-commerce
destinations such as Nordstrom’s and things so that’s Harrods what I wanna
talk about now is why very tired is our collaboration with
Google so this partnership came in reality back in 2017 it was it was a
really exciting opportunity for us we went up against all the biggest agencies
in the world and we know taking the business and they kind of challenged us
to help them you know essentially make buying Google products as good as using
them and so the challenge was simple build a best-in-class brand commerce or
brand experience that also is a shopping channel okay but to that point they had
some different things you know Google is Google so they needed to build their
brand and deep in consideration people aren’t familiar with hardware offerings
you know typically you think of in-home products I think of Alexa you think of
phones you think of Apple and so what we were kind of brought in to do was help
them kind of obviously elevate that but at the same time figure out ways to
drive commerce as well as improve conversion so we had to create a system
for global growth that was another thing to the business of rapidly scaling and
moving so we really had to think about this with them so audience findings you
know what’s crazy is that data is a challenge at Google because they respect
privacy so much and so what we found though through conversations is that
people really like Google but the hardware is so new they’re not familiar
with it it’s not established to them and the big thing with them is they want to
see how products will fit into their lives and then ultimately a motion
really is gonna drive their consideration but the functional
benefits still matter so we kind of thought a lot about it and once we came
back with this kind of industry truth that features are now table stakes
I mean iPhone X pixel three a megapixel nine million you know they all kinda do
the same thing and shoot good photos and stuff so what is your reason to buy
why does a reason to either switch from Apple or Samsung and actually get on to
a pixel so what we came through with was the idea of bringing the Google’s
software and hardware brand story together you know people love Google
software you know we use it every single day so most visited website in the world
is Google com along with that you know things like the assistant Maps I mean
all these integrations I just saw a billboard the other day that showed an
iPhone and a Google phone and it just said basically has Google software is a
Google phone or something it was pretty funny you should see it later anyways
fuck that up so to that point you know what we want
to do is take people on a journey so how do we contextualize the features that
Google’s offering to kind of sell it so we really looked at things objectively
right data told us that people are scrolling and that when they actually
interact with experiences they’re actually higher converting so we really
use this to inform our design language and approach so through people because
we learned that people want to see how products fit in their lives we’re
showing in this showing what it might be like to take a photo with the X versus
the pixel 3a or how portrait mode may work so you can see these very simple
scroll based behaviors all you’re doing is free schooling and the work is doing
it for you and then also bringing a software hardware store together so it’s
not only taking photos with our hardware we’re storing it for free and unlimited
software so again just really trying to contextualize things for the users to
hopefully convert them from a browser into a buyer along with that you know
other opportunities for this you know again just taking that idea of next so
getting tired you know the other thing is to oh now I know where was the idea
of taking people on a journey you know you don’t have to do these crazy rich
interactions either you can use really great content to do so just beautiful
imagery you know very structured layouts there’s a lot of different ways to get
people in to kind of discover where they’re going what they’re doing the big
thing that I think was really fun for us is that we wanted to mimic the offline
experience online you know a traditional retail you go in you can try tech
products you can demo them you can experience them and so what we actually
did during our pitch was we actually built a fake prototype of what a beat
like to talk to the Google assistant on a website and not really excited them
and so we actually were the first group to ever bring the live version of online
assistant to the web so never been done before and it’s actually on G store
right now but you can touch it try it essentially with voice and one a big
insight we learned too is that people fully aren’t comfortable talking to tech
yet you know it’s kind of awkward still so how do you create that behavior to
build that familiarity and show how these products do work better together
also sweating the little things you know like a color picker obviously a phone
has three to five colors but why not make it more immersive or experience
well why not allow people to rotate the phone and see this to see the finish the
feeling you know actually have it represent light so this was a pretty
hard thing to do Google’s latency issues and things what
we’re able to pull it off was also fun as that it actually use your
accelerometer in your mobile device to rotate as well so again those little
moments that might surprise a delight to hopefully again convert um and then
keeping things simple Google store before we took it over and overhauled it
all had a bunch of carousels and as we know carousels don’t really work for a
couple different reasons one it’s an investment in the user but secondly it
hides content and if you’re trying to surface all the information how can you
that in a simple way well this what I was talking about earlier where best
practices can continue to be improved so you can see here we just simplified and
introduced this top module so it’s scannable
but you can invest if you want to to kind of see the investment within it so
you can take everything in based on how much time you want to invest in the
experience those are the things that’s where you deliver true utility and true
value to people and a real song gets real live right now I absolutely hate that song it has been
a pet peeve of ours since we actually put and start putting the real together
so every launch we have to kind of let the organization know what happened and
stuff so that’s that’s what we put together for that so some final thoughts
with that said so you know as you think about objectivity and subjectivity I
think it’s important remember that we’re designers and in doing that you know we
need to understand business we got to continue learning we got to understand
that you know design is business we always ask for seat at the table but I’m
sorry guys like most designers still don’t get it
just because you can push some pixels around doesn’t mean you have any
influence and key decisions so how do you kind of push yourself to get there
along with this and I cannot stress this one enough it’s master the art of asking
questions I read sales books all the time not just
because of the fact that you know it’s part of my job as a cell services
clients but also it teaches you ways about psychology and thinking that will
influence how you can kind of create experience that are better for users you
know it’s important you can have all the insights in the world but it’s what you
do with them that matters you know far too often we get so caught up in
collecting data data data then we lose sight of what really matters it’s great
you have a collection of it but it’s just like having a bunch of ideas you
don’t execute on so what do you do with them and how do you kind of push it to
that end you know data isn’t can doesn’t tell you the best path forward that’s
something really remember it can actually mislead you and guide you a
wrong direction and that’s why exploration and intuition does you know
you got to trust the process and believe in your gut a bit you got to take the
data and let that inform your decision that’s the science of it right you have
that criteria but now it’s your consideration set it’s the art of how do
you bring that forward you know we could have designed those that Google page of
a million different ways but you know our intuition and based on the data we
found is what led us to that path you know we continue to iterate based on
more data and a more exploration so I’m gonna leave you with one final thought
you know my challenge to you is you know think about subjectivity and objectivity
at work you know and use up that objectivity to do work that’s easy to
understand and subjectivity to work that’s impossible to ignore thank you so
much I’m at fault

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