Just before we begin our holidays here at Designlab, we asked the team to share their top design moments from the past year. Read on to find out our favorite products, rebrands, and content from 2017!
We’ll finish up by recapping our year as a company, which has seen Designlab grow, not only in size, but also in the quality of our educational offering. Wishing you and your loved ones happy holidays, and a transformative new year.
1. Rockin’ rebrands
Dropbox’s visual bravery
Earlier this year, Dropbox unveiled a dramatic and far-reaching rebrand. The company’s old look was light in appearance, dominated by white and a friendly sky blue. Back in October, they replaced this with an illustration style that is arresting, colourful, and energetic.
Dropbox also applied these principles to new animations and transitions, and launched a heavier wordmark and a new iteration on their “open box” logo, lending itself to the “collaboration” theme of their new look. Oh, and they commissioned Sharp Grotesk, a font family with 259 (two hundred and fifty-nine (!)) separate weights.
This relaunch took many designers by surprise, not least because Dropbox’s aesthetic and illustration style had attracted praise from the design world and high levels of brand recognition from users.
As with many rebrands that are initially dismissed, we predict that Dropbox’s new look will stick – and that within a year or two its strategic genius will become apparent. An important lesson from the Dropbox rebrand is that, in the rapidly changing world of tech and digital design, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is not an adequate brand strategy.
Dropbox already had a strong brand, but they recognised that the future of the business depended not on admiring what they’d already achieved, but on understanding where they wanted to go next, and the part that branding would need to play in making that a reality.
- Illustrator Michael Jeter wrote about the previous Dropbox illustration style. Here’s Part 1 and Part 2.
- Evolving the Dropbox brand: the Dropbox design team explain their new look
Medium’s brand pivot
Medium is an online publishing platform. Anyone can write on the site, and posts are then recommended by readers through “claps”. Earlier this year, the site introduced an optional membership model: members can submit their writing for inclusion in the members-only area, and they receive payment for an article based on claps.
We’re excited by this shift, because it represents an innovation in membership models that allows contributors of quality content to be paid for their writing, while preserving the social value of an open platform.
Medium’s pivot also drew welcome attention to the difficulties of publishing quality content in a digital age. As many conventional newspapers have discovered, there is an expectation that online journalism will be free to access.
However, creating quality content costs money. Users dislike paywalls and also hate ads, often blocking them entirely. (Medium experimented with – but ultimately eschewed – an ad-based model.) It remains to be seen whether the new membership system will make for a long-term solution to this problem, but Medium deserve credit for trying it out.
Alongside this strategic shift, Medium also returned to a more premium-looking logo, evoking hot metal and ink on paper, and harking back to the logo that Medium launched with in 2012.
- Medium CEO Ev Williams explains the membership model
- Medium sets out their visual rebrand
- An alternative perspective: Why Medium’s membership and partnership model sucks
Chobani’s packaging positioning
New York yogurt manufacturer Chobani overhauled their brand and packaging design this year. The old geometrical wordmark said very little about the company or their product, so it was definitely time for an overhaul. The new brand system is exemplary – repositioning the product both as more friendly and accessible, and as more premium and professional.
Visually, the wordmark contains beautiful thick curves and gloopy letterforms, directly evoking the company’s product. Lots of thought has also gone into the packaging and illustration – doing away with the off-the-shelf feel of the old pots and replacing it with a container that feels beautiful and valuable.
- Chobani’s own write-up of the rebrand
- Why Chobani changed and why it had no choice, by AdWeek
- Under Construction’s favorable verdict
2. Powerful Products
Apple’s iPhone X
In an age of almost-indistinguishable smartphone handsets, the jury is still out on whether “the notch” is a genius piece of branding or an awful aesthetic aberration. Even the reports about iPhone X sales are ambiguous – with reports of strong sales in some markets and poor performance in others.
However, there’s no doubt that the latest iteration of the iPhone, and probably the most dramatic version yet, has got people talking about Apple again, after a few years of very incremental changes to their flagship handset.
Around the same time as the iPhone X launch, Apple also released iOS 11, which integrated an Augmented Reality (AR) engine into the phone’s software, making it easier for developers to use AR technology in apps.
- Earlier this year we wrote about the challenges and opportunities that AR presents
So much seems to have happened in 2017 that we’ve almost forgotten that back in March Nintendo released their much-anticipated Switch console. It deserves a mention here for its innovative accommodation of the range of ways and contexts in which users today want to interact with products, including game consoles.
The Switch can be used as a handheld console, or docked to a TV. The controllers can be clipped to each side of the handheld screen, or they can be detached and used as separate controllers by two players, while the screen sits on a table with its built-in stand.
To cap off a brilliant year for Nintendo, flagship games for the Switch like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, The Legend of Zelda, and Mario Kart Odyssey were brilliantly executed, with Odyssey in particular netting outstanding reviews both from the industry and from users.
In January this year, Unsplash spun out of Crew, became an independent company, and began to scale in a big way. Photography has long been a headache for designers for two reasons. First, because licensing can be complicated and expensive; and second, because the quality of images offered by mainstream commercial stock photo sites is highly variable, and often stock photography… looks like stock photography.
Unsplash has disrupted this market to the benefit of the design industry. The site offers high-quality images that are free to use, and come with the unambiguous instruction “do what you like”. Thanks to professional photographers who donate some images for use in this way, design students and designers working on low-budget projects now have a way to source high-quality images easily and legally.
3. Killer content
Design in Tech Report 2017
The Design in Tech report is put together annually by a team of researchers led by executive and designer John Maeda. It didn’t disappoint this year, with a raft of timely observations about the industry, including how design thinking is moving into many design curriculums as a result of business demand for those problem-solving skills.
Product designer Ben Brignell has compiled a fantastic new resource – a directory of 1,032 design principles (and counting). He defines these as “a set of considerations that form the basis of any good product”.
Design Better is a new online design library from the team at InVision. Learn about design thinking, product design, leadership, and design systems. These awesome books are written by Aaron Walter and Eli Woolery, respectively VP and Director of Design Education at InVision.
4. Designlab’s year
UX Academy relaunch
Early in 2017, our efforts were focused on preparing a major revamp of our flagship UX Academy program. Although student reviews of the course were good, and the program was resulting in excellent employment outcomes for our graduates, we're always continually looking for opportunities to improve.
To this end, we commissioned an in-depth review of the existing course, conducted by independent educational consultants. They made a number of recommendations, which we implemented by overhauling the curriculum, introducing Career Services, and improving student community by integrating Slack channels and Group Crits into the course experience.
We also made significant changes to how the curriculum is delivered, by adding a course rubric which allows students and mentors alike to assess the quality of work, and to identify improvement. We've got more in store for UX Academy coming very soon – keep an eye out for further announcements in early 2018!
Best Bootcamp Award 2017
Just a couple of weeks ago we were awarded the Best Design Bootcamp award by comparison site SwitchUp – for the second year running. As a team we are working tirelessly to create a high-quality educational product that puts student needs ahead of business scale, and we’re proud of this signal of recognition.
We’re always delighted when our UX Academy graduates land awesome jobs – and 2017 has been a year of amazing successes by our students. You can read some featured success stories here. Here are some highlights:
- Thomas, a former IP Attorney, landed a job at Bleacher Report
- Glenn switched roles within Hewlett-Packard following UX Academy
- Anna moved from Pharmacy management into UX Design for Centric Digital
Congratulations to all our awesome graduates, as well as our dedicated community of mentors who share their diverse design expertise and industry experience with students. We’ve now got quite a backlog of these success stories – check out the blog in the new year for more!
New courses and content channels
Alongside the UX Academy relaunch, we also developed a new User Interface (UI) Design 4-week course, a free email course to help people learn Sketch, and struck out in new directions with our blog content.
UI Design Short Course
Back in August, we launched our new 4-week course in User Interface design. This course is intended as a follow-up to our Design 101 course, or for anyone who has a basic understanding of visual design principles. Projects include icon design and learning about common interface patterns and components.
A couple of months ago we launched on Instagram, which we’re using not simply as a promotional or marketing tool, but as a channel to offer genuine educational value to our followers through mini-tutorials and slideshows. Check it out if you haven’t already, and as always, let us know in the comments or via firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any feedback or content requests!
We recently launched our free Sketch 101 email course, which helps new users of the app to get up to speed on Sketch’s interface and core functions. Sketch 101 hit the Top 10 on Product Hunt, and we’re stoked to see thousands of users enjoying this resource!
Finally, throughout 2017 we’ve been building a content base to provide valuable design education for everyone with an interest in learning design. We’ve aimed to regularly publish longer-form articles tackling design history, trends, and controversies.
Here are some of our favorite long-form pieces from the Designlab Blog over the past year:
- What on earth is a Brutalist website?
- Frank Chimero on the Shape of Design
- Are notifications a dark pattern?
- Am I too old to switch career?
You can also follow us on Medium for all the latest content.
We’ve got some more very exciting launches coming up in early 2018 which we can’t tell you about just yet – but watch this space! Sign up to our newsletter if you’d like us to keep you posted.
Finally, a big thank you from the Designlab team to all of our readers and subscribers for being here. We love the work we do, we relish meeting new students each month, and we can’t wait for what we’ll achieve together in the year ahead.
Wishing you and your loved ones happy holidays, and a transformative 2018!