Posts in Category: Digital

Compelling Characters and Customer Journeys

Character moods, created for a Weight Watchers customer journey map

Character moods, created for a Weight Watchers customer journey map

Just finished a fun project: creating customer journey maps!

Though normally there isn’t much crossover between my artwork and my experience design work, this project fell squarely between the two. I learned a lot while doing it, and the output is fun…so here’s a glimpse at what I created and why.I recently worked with Weight Watchers to distill extensive research into a high-level story about what happens when people sign up for the program. Director of design Vlad Margulis, researcher Paige Bennett, and I worked together to describe the process – which spans a website, in-person meetings, and a mobile app – into one continuous experience. We used personas, spreadsheets, and service blueprints to craft a story with 16 distinct steps. Each step has its own customer & business goals, opportunities and pain points, and even different teams working on them.

High level view of the completed customer journey map

High level view of the completed customer journey map

That’s all design work, though…why use illustrations? With such rich detail about the logistics, the illustrations provide one coherent story arc. It not only shows how one interaction led to another, but also provides insight to the emotional cues: the uncertainties, the curiosities, the victories.

This project was particularly well suited for this kind of activity due to the variety of environments and people that are a part of it. Here are the qualities I’ve found to make these kind of illustrations lively and effective.


Expression. Both the facial expression and pose can speak volumes about what’s on a person’s mind. Eyebrows, shoulders, and overall angle can go far in showing reactions, even with stick figures. I reused drawings of “Jennifer” many times with these small adjustments. When Jennifer’s contemplating something, I have her raise her right eyebrow just a bit higher than the left; asymmetry always looks more natural.

Closed eyes can help reinforce contentment or frustration. On one drawing, I added a little extra blush when one of her fears is addressed. For the meeting portion I introduced Jennifer’s purse as an additional cue about how she feels. The way she holds/interacts with it changes over time as a signal about how comfortable she feels.

Meaningful colors. I started off with more muted tones and made them more vibrant as the story progresses. I also picked a few key colors to make it easier to spot particular items of note. Pink/salmon is Jennifer’s color to help keep the focus on her throughout the story. Green is a cue about the environment she interacts with: from her laptop, to the chairs at the meeting, to her mobile phone. Blue is a cue for Weight Watchers itself, which I used when Jennifer compares plans and imagines what it will be like, and reinforced by the book she receives and the meeting leader’s attire.

Varied layouts. Seeing the same layout step after step can present a quiet feeling, one where not much is happening besides the passage of time. If this is what you want, great! If not, it’s worth varying the size, layout, and/or angle of characters to keep it fresh and prevent them from feeling wooden or lacking emotion. There are three types of layouts I like to use to switch things up.

An Environment layout

An Environment layout

Environment. These are great for establishing shots before getting into details. I also started with one here with a thought balloon to contrast what Jennifer’s thinking about (“what plan should I choose?”) with a reflection of where she’s starting from for food and fitness.

An Over-the-Shoulder layout

An Over-the-Shoulder layout

Over-the-shoulder. It’s handy to see both the person and the thing they’re looking at. In this case, it was more important to see her facial expression and pose than how she was specifically interacting with her laptop or phone. What she sees – the screen – takes the place of the background. It’s what she’s focused on now, after all. I also kept with a cartoony style here to avoid prescribing what the interface itself should look like (and also wanted to indicate locations that matter to her: home, work, daycare).

A Cause and Effect example

A Cause and Effect layout

Cause and effect. I like to use a squiggly line between two things to show different points of view. Since I can assume the team I’m creating this for reads English, I can rely on a left-to-right visual parsing of what I draw. It usually doesn’t take much beyond that, though if it’s a trickier visual progression, characters can look or gesture towards the direction you want readers to see next. If all else fails there’s always arrows, but it’s a fun layout challenge to make it work without them.

Character illustrations can lend a lot of richness to understanding what’s happening with people, and any fidelity will do if you take a little care to keep them lively. I highly recommend using a vector drawing tool so they’ll look good when printed, and you can go far with simple transforms. Draw on!

Kiss for Pie

Alan and I had been dating for about a month here. Aww!

Valentine’s Day at Julian’s (Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo)

I did some quick graphic design work for Hello Good Pie in prep for their annual “Kiss for Pie” event this Valentine’s Day.

Our friend Cordelia started this delightful event based on an event we encountered in college. We all went to Cal Poly SLO which used to have an ice cream shop on campus called Julian’s. Every Valentine’s Day they’d give away free ice cream to couples that would kiss. Cordelia is carrying forward this tradition in Norway by giving away little pies to couples.

Picking up the assets & copy created by Jørgen, I picked a few fonts to perk up the copy. The body font is Arvo which is a serif font by Anton Koovit (via Google Fonts). The fancy font is Amatic which is a handdrawn font by Vernon Adams (via Font Squirrel). Amatic reminded me of a romantic comedy font. The text colors are sampled from the logo.

For the versions with one large photo, I wanted a more decorative edge between the photo and text area. I tried an edge that looked like scrollwork but it ended up not looking right. Instead, I picked a simpler “rick rack”-style edge that evokes handmade valentines.

Last but not least: I was looking for a way to simplify the grid of photos. I ended up using two different approaches here: either interspersing the “Kiss for Pie” text, or alternating the appearance with a simpler black-and-white style. Enjoy!

This was the trickiest one with the grid. The black-and-white treatment helped tone it down.

For Mathallen’s big screen

I ended up adding the line under "for" to reinforce the handwritten look.

For Mathallen’s doors

This is my favorite one!

For S&S’s web page

This grid layout was a little trickier with the text, but it works.

For S&S’s display screens

The simplest one. I mostly just added the rick rack here and scooted the logo around.

For S&S’s web page

Star Trek put to good use


A few months ago the Product group at LinkedIn moved into a new building full o’ corporate cubes and hosted a “Pimp Your Row” contest to spiff ’em up (as documented by my friend Marissa on the Linked blog). I recently switched over to the Enterprise Hiring Solutions team, and got inspired by the Subscriptions team nearby and their Yellow Submarine theme. Hence–the Star Trek (or rather, Enterprise) theme!

My row neighbors braved the ladder to fill our row with planets, glow-in-the-dark stars, and the Enterprise (of course). There was a well-timed quote from LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman to go along with a Data cardboard cutout. We installed the awesome System 47 screensavers on our computers. And–the final piece–I created LCARS-style “interfaces” for everyone in the row that I printed and mounted behind the glass in front of each cube. I created these in Illustrator, and grabbed interesting-looking 3D wireframes from the internets.

As I built it I couldn’t help but build out a somewhat meaningful structure for the “interface”. The structure breaks down to two primary levels: the structure of LinkedIn (your connections, groups, etc) and the info on your profile (your current position, past, etc.). These presumably showing info about the “current” position, so it shows the person’s name, their role, the departments they’re in (e.g. Product, and within that, Monetization), their product (in my case, “candidate acquisition platform” or CAP), and its users.

Beep boop bip


Appropriate beverages

It’s the future!



Happy Holidays 2009!


Holidays are awesome

This is our holiday card for 2009, inspired by We Have Lasers!!!

We shot the photo in our hallway, after fumbling with the lighting a bit until we got various hallway/bathroom lights working reasonably well together with the flash. The lasers are a color-adjusted variant from the hi-res laser background on the aforementioned site. It was a tad tricky to adjust them without killing the glow. Minor retouching courtesy of the Spot Healing Brush and Surface Blur (a tad shiny, yes), and the whole thing is topped off with the year in the ever-classy Brush Script MT font…beveled for good measure. Goodbye, 2009! Hello, 2010!

Reinterpreting the Ugly Cake

What were they thinking?

What were they thinking?

There’s a bakery in downtown San Jose that has very tasty desserts, and so-so service, that I’ve gone to a couple of times with coworkers. The last time I went, I came across this… creation. It fascinates me. I never thought a cake could be ugly, but here it is.

I honestly can’t tell what they were going for here, between the cross-sectioned slab plastered on the side, those hash marks stuck on at random angles, and that poor sugar decoration that just gave up the ghost. I stared at it for a while and could almost see a reindeer, but not quite. My friend Andrea was equally puzzled. So I took a photo for posterity and mostly forgot about it.

Recently I realized this could be a fun artistic challenge: what is this thing? Something about the layout and the color scheme seems redeemable. So here are three interpretations of it made in Photoshop over the course of one movie (Pineapple Express), and two CDs (Creeper Lagoon, Shivaree). I used a Tablet PC, which is challenging due to the parallax and the inability to easily and precisely nudge things. I’m also using it to write this blog entry via handwriting recognition, an exercise in patience.

Tulips near a frozen lake

Tulips near a frozen lake

Genteel gambling

Genteel gambling

A lost Ugly Doll

A lost Ugly Doll

280 at night

Fuzzy headlights

Ouch, pardon the white background here

Over the last couple of months I’ve been slowly repurposing my computer area in our study–first a height-adjustable desk, getting a non-Ikea chair with a footrest, and today I stepped up to a 24″ widescreen monitor, the Samsung T240.

First rule of a new monitor: got to get some new wallpaper. I wasn’t finding as many darker, subtle images as I hope to find online, so I decided to noodle around in PS and see if I could reproduce a look that I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while.

This is my attempt to recall from memory a few things that catch my eye when driving at night: the way the hills look along 280 when you can see just a few stars, and the way the headlights silhouette the cars and bounce off the road. This was a process of layerings lots of very soft brush strokes, and erasing to get the harder edges. It’s amazing how much colors pop when you zoom way out. Sometimes I feel like I’m cheating tinkering with opacity on layers, and running Hue/Sat to fix the colors because it feels like it should be more painstaking than that.

This also reminds me of the title cards from my favorite cartoon ever, Batman: The Animated Series. I might have to do some more of these.