A look back at our 15-year journey to impact people’s lives positively through design and engineering.
2018 marks our 15 year anniversary, and we’re enjoying our reflection on the incredible journey it’s been thus far. Early on, we embarked on a mission to plan, create, and grow digital products with utility and substance, designed to improve life. We didn’t want to be just another digital agency; we had to do it with soul. We must be an agent for change—applying design and engineering to a productive end—to make the Internet an extension of our lives, our work, and our ambitions, not a distraction from it.
Originally published in Web Designer Magazine (January 2018, issue 269).
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Design is woven into the DNA of AREA 17. From its inception, the ambition to transform communication using diverse channels and approaches has shaped this studio. Today, few can match the breadth of understanding AREA 17 bring to the digital channels and beyond.
Since our early days, we’ve kept a public archive of most projects we’ve designed, a collection of used, unused, and refused work. It contains nearly every pixel we’ve pushed since 2003 and is not curated. Today we’ve updated it with works from 2015-2017.
When we were approached by the Barnes to redesign their website we couldn’t have been more excited to work with them. Not only were we huge fans of the museum, but the more we engaged with Thom Collins (Executive Director and President) and Shelley Bernstein (Deputy Director of Digital Initiatives and Chief Experience Officer), the more we were inspired by their vision to reinvigorate the experience of the Barnes—and their recognition of the role design and technology can play. If you’ve been following along, you’ll have read about the Barnes’ forthcoming wearable and how they are rethinking museum collections online. It wasn’t just these refreshing initiatives that impressed us, but the user-centered, data-driven approach that supported them. Our ethos was aligned and we just had to work with them.
Mobile site vs. native app visibility from the OS perspective.
When AREA 17 first designed Quartz in 2012, our client at The Atlantic was forward thinking in their brief: ignore desktop. A simple, yet revolutionary statement.
By ignoring the desktop context, we had the freedom to serve the mobile context. We killed the homepage, dropped the right column, inserted premium native ads and reduced the navigation and branding. Context is a primary consideration when designing a user interface. This is understood by most UI designers and as mobile asserts its dominance, many of us adhere to a mobile-first approach.
The Pixel School is a design methodology created by Arnaud Mercier (May 10, 1972 – September 26, 2011) and formalized by AREA 17. It is a defined way of working that has great impact on the final product. It consists of a set of design principles and the techniques to achieve them.
Disenchanted with the quality of design on the web, Arnaud created the Pixel School in 1999. It became a cornerstone of his design process and the predominant characteristic of his influential body of work. In 2005, Arnaud established the Pixel School as AREA 17’s design methodology. Later, it was formalized in collaboration with Kemp Attwood, David Lamothe and Martin Rettenbacher.
The Pixel School is a living document, updated as we refine our design approach and process. It is part of a series of guides that define how we do things as an agency. While all other guides are private, we have made the Pixel School available to the public.
We like logos – making them, looking at them and taking them on long walks on sunny afternoons in the park. Please don’t laugh, it’s unkind.
The process of exploring a symbol for someone or something presents so much potential. The road is clear, the sky is blue and the options are many. Creativity abounds, imagination runs wild and our electrons and neurons bounce around in an ever changing free-for-all that would make quantum theorists proud.
And then, the dreaded day comes, the selection process. One by one, the mark flecked, the seal splotched, the stamp smeared, the emblem blotched. One by one specked, stained and smudged until the one—that one—stands out.
Previewing my favorite apps with the long press
If you haven’t played around with Wildcard yet, you should definitely check it out. The news and entertainment app for iOS and Android provides additional context to curated top stories by collecting articles from multiple sources and splicing them with summaries of key milestones as the story develops. Beautifully designed and high-performing, one of the most pleasing aspects of the app are its subtle use of tactility and animation. The other day the app prompted me to press and hold a card for additional options — sure enough, that gesture introduces a modal view where users can quickly share and save the article for later without the investment of loading the card itself.
Segment enables you to collect customer data with one API and send it to hundreds of tools for analytics, marketing, and data warehousing.
As digital product engineers, there are a few over-riding principles that govern our work. As an agency, one of the most critical of these is “build once, use many times.” Using existing building blocks for standard features allows us to develop rapidly while leaving budget for the innovative features that will actually differentiate our clients’ product.
In many cases, these building blocks are part of our own arsenal of code, standardized for reuse. In other cases, we evaluate 3rd party services that allow us to introduce production-ready features without the expense of developing and maintaining them.
If you’ve ever worked in publishing you know designers loathe ads because they tend to force web sites into banal, homogenous layouts based on a few arbitrary but standardized ad sizes. Much worse, however, ads tend to be distractingly ugly and, in a digital world, they literally get in the way of the content. We’re forced to overlook this offense to aesthetic purity and a zen reading experience, of course, because advertising is generally what pays our salaries.
In July of this year, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer, Peter-Paul Koch (PPK), published an article on his blog, Quirksmode, called “Stop pushing the web forward.” When PPK publishes, people tend to listen and at AREA 17, we’re no different.
PPK always sparks debate