Our Blog

Elexicon's blog on the nature, scope and meaning of our work. We love putting our passion for disciplines like content strategy, user experience design, and open source development into words and pictures. We'll also share our thoughts on the latest topics and trends impacting your business' and customers' digital ecosystems.

31
Jan

Meet: Emma Sluiter

Posted by: Elexicon
Emma Sluiter, our new digital marketing specialist at Elexicon

Welcome Emma Sluiter, our new digital marketing specialist at Elexicon! We are thrilled to have her as a part of our team. To help you get to know Emma better, we asked her to answer a few questions about herself.

What is your educational background?

I recently graduated from Grand Valley State University in December 2018 with a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Health Communications, Advertising, and Public Relations.

Your degree was a big part of the mutual interest between us!

This is true on so many levels. Personally, I first gained interest in Elexicon because their team helped create and supports Health Beat, Spectrum Health’s brand journalism site. I was a Health Beat reader in college, so the opportunity to work alongside them in an agency setting was ideal for me. Since one of my passions is communicating about healthcare, I believe working at Elexicon is the perfect first-step for me after college. I get to explore the impact of the communications we create for healthcare clients and their patients while learning more about web development from my team. It’s a win-win.

What were some collegiate activities/clubs you were involved in?

To start, I had my own one-hour radio show in college called Emma’s Dilemmas. I would talk about my personal dilemmas while covering local health news — I was pretty funny if I do say so myself! My radio show later led me to become GVSU’s student radio news director, where I was able to inform listeners about local health news on a regular basis.

Additionally, my time in college was spent in student government. I was a part of GVSU’s Student Senate where I worked on a committee to oversee internal relations and student funding. I helped appropriate $1.2 million to student organizations and learned more about team building and about my university’s resources. I also planned leadership programs and conferences — including the Leadership Summit, Transitions: New Student Orientation, and the First Year Leadership Program.

Not only was I involved at my university, but I was also involved in my local community. I volunteered my time at animal shelters, Well House and 20 Liters. Lastly, I was involved in a collegiate ad agency called The Bloom Group, where my colleagues and I worked on real-life marketing campaigns with Open Systems Technologies (OST) and GVSU.

What are your Top 5 skills?

Perseverance would be one of my top skills, because I never give up on a task or goal until it is completed—and completed well. Next, I would say organization because I am able to work on multiple tasks at the same time with a clear perspective on what needs to be done. Public speaking is another top skill of mine, mainly because of my outgoing personality and my desire to communicate with others about what I’ve learned. Teamwork is another skill I have obtained over the years from playing sports and working on team projects in college. Lastly, I would say I am an active listener because I find it important to learn from others and their experiences.

What do you like to do outside of work?

Watch new TV shows on Netflix, play my Nintendo DS, and hang out with my orange kitty.

You’re burning the midnight oil on a deadline. What’s your go-to snack?

Ben & Jerry’s Toffee Bar Crunch… and if that’s not in my freezer, I just make popcorn.

Music, podcasts or no headphones while working?

I tend to have headphones on while working. I can always jam out to music by 5 Seconds of Summer, and listen to podcasts. I have been finding myself listening to health and wellness podcasts lately, and I am enjoying the new perspective I am getting about nutrition. I like to listen to something at work because it keeps me motivated.

What book(s) are you reading?

I like to read books that help me escape the real world, and allow me to have a creative mind. For “escape” these days, I am reading the Witch & Wizard series by James Patterson. For my professional development, I have just read White Hat UX by Trine Falbe, Kim Andersen, and Martin Michael Frederiksen, Purple Cow by Seth Godin, and Contagious by Jonah Berger.

30
Jan

Design thinking, say what?

Posted by: Emma Sluiter

As a new member of the Elexicon team, I wanted to learn more about not only our design processes but other communication professionals in our community. So, on January 17, 2019, I attended a West Michigan PRSA event on the topic of design thinking. The educational event was led by the West Michigan Center For Arts + Technology (WMCAT). The hosts were Brandy Arnold and Kirk Eklund, and they targeted the one-hour conversation toward PR practitioners.

What is design thinking?

According to the hosts, design thinking—or human-centered design—is “intentional problem solving.” This mindset can be applied when constructing products or processes.

This intentional problem solving method has a five-step approach that was originally proposed by the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford. The five steps are:

  1. Empathize
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

Brandy and Kirk informed us that the five-step approach is not linear and that there will be no clear step to transform and/or solve a problem. Design thinking can even revert back to the first step due to research findings along the way. That said, it is important to include empathy in each step because centering the target audience will ensure a successful outcome for the entire process.

A design thinking example

To dig deeper into the impact of design thinking, Kirk provided an example: an MRI machine created by Doug Dietz, a designer at GE Healthcare.

Dietz created an MRI machine that was supposed to change healthcare. Although the MRI machine was helpful for providers, he discovered that patients, specifically kids, were afraid of the machine. He was dissatisfied with his original invention, and sought to find out why the kids feared the machine.

Dietz utilized the first step of design thinking: empathy. Through his study of how kids felt about the MRI machine, he found that younger kids feared it because there was a lack of adventure in the MRI experience. From this insight, Dietz adapted the machine to create the Adventure Series.

The results of Dietz’s human-centered design approach were outstanding. According to Kirk, the sedation rates of MRI experiences dropped from 80% to 1% from these changes. Furthermore, this example shows the tremendous impact of a collaboration between innovation and empathy.

To understand this design thinking example further, watch a TED Talk led by Doug Dietz himself.

“When you design for meaning, good things will happen.”

Doug Dietz, designer at GE Healthcare

Final Thoughts

To wrap things up, I learned that design thinking is a flexible process that can help solve problems in unique ways.

Elexicon takes a similar approach to design thinking and human-centered design, which we incorporate into our agency principles. I believe that this process can help you solve even the most complex problems, and provide valuable insights for any company or organization.

05
Dec

Review: The Wacom Cintiq Pro24

Posted by: Calvin Chopp

As a designer, I’m always looking for ways to improve my workflow by practicing my craft, honing in my skills, and looking for tools—both software and hardware—that might make me a better, more proficient designer.

Years ago, I began using a graphics tablet to aid in my design process for digital illustration, photo editing, graphics creation, etc. Almost immediately I saw the benefits of using a tablet over relying  solely on my mouse to navigate my designs. The pen provided a much more natural editing experience than clicking around with a mouse, and made the analog illustrator in me happy. Beyond that, the literally thousands of pressure sensitivity levels through the pen on the tablet give so much control with photo editing, illustration, and design work compared to the single pressure level of a mouse. I now encourage any budding designer to invest in an at least an entry-level graphics tablet to help improve their design workflow. It only makes sense.

Years after purchasing my first Wacom Bamboo tablet, I wanted to upgrade my available design real estate, which brought me to the Wacom Intuos Pro Medium. The Intuos served me well for 5 years, yet my ultimate goal was to invest into a tablet that offered the flexibility of designing directly on the device. After much research, I eventually purchased the Wacom’s Cintiq Pro24.

The CintiqPro is one of Wacom’s flagship design tablets. This particular model and its siblings the Cintiq Pro 13 and 16 were released earlier this year, with the 32″ model being released a little over a month ago.

The Pro24 has a 24″ 4K  screen with superb color accuracy—able to display 99% Adobe® RGB. I won’t get into all the specifics on the hardware, but if you’re interested, you can find details here.

Set Up

Wacom’s long been the target of complaints from people having issues with their drivers and installation on their products. For my part, I’ve never had issues with installation for any of their products.

The CintiqPro comes with essentially every cable you’d need depending on the computer configuration that you’re running.  I’m working on a late-2014 Macbook Pro, so my connectivity setup includes a DisplayPort cable with DisplayPort-to-Thunderbolt 2 adapter (both supplied by Wacom), as well as a USB cable for all functionality of the tablet to work properly.

The cables tuck in nicely to the back of the hardware, making cable management a bit easier,while allowing for different angles to adjust the display for working comfort. If you find yourself with $3,000+ burning your pocket, Wacom also makes a product called their ProEngine that fits nicely into the backside of the display where the cables plug in. This essentially turns your design tablet into a workhorse computer—no longer requiring an external computer to power it. If you want to pretend you’re going to buy that and see some specs, check those out here.

I will say that on my computer, those inputs get quite crowded. Fortunately, I would rarely use both of my external monitors alongside the tablet for my work. Still, I will be investing in a new DisplayPort-to-Thunderbolt cable soon, so it won’t be quite as crowded. For those running computers compatible with USB—C, such as the newest Macs outfitted with Thunderbolt 3, this wouldn’t be an issue.

Calibration of the pen and display was also a breeze, and took mere minutes to run through. Within 15 minutes of getting the product out of the box, I was up and running and ready to design.

First impressions

Yeah, this thing is big. If you’re going to invest into a graphics tablet this size, make sure you have sufficient desk space to accommodate it. The tablet itself weighs nearly 16lbs, so it might not be super comfortable to use in your lap, but I also would argue that’s not the intended purpose of this device. I’m honestly thrilled with how much real estate there is to work on here, and the 4K resolution is great, so the tradeoff between portability and real estate is favorable.

The surface of the tablet itself is great to design on. The top of the tablet is completely flat etched glass which gives a very natural feeling for the pen. Because the surface is devoid of bevels, it’s also  incredibly comfortable to lay your arm on, and you can travel the full surface of the display without interrupting your pen stroke.

Wacom also has a model of the Cintiq Pro24 that supports touch functionality. After much research, I opted out of that $500 upgrade, as many designers and artists I read about complained of glitchy performance, which often resulted in them just turning off the touch functionality while designing with it. With the ExpressKey Remote functionality (covered below), I’m able to cover basically all the bases I need if I really want the ‘convenience’ of touch functionality (minus the glitchiness and added $500 pricetag).

The CintiqPro also comes with Wacom’s new Pro Pen 2.

The pen itself is a bit narrower than its predecessors and is very comfortable in the hand. The pen has virtually no lag or parallax on the display, supports tilting or shifting of the nib for different design effects, and doesn’t require a battery at all.

The pen touts 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity, compared to Microsoft’s Surface Pen at 4,096 levels of sensitivity (and added requirement of a battery) or other smart pens like the Apple Pencil. The Wacom Pro Pen and other Wacom hardware are engineered and built specifically for design professions, and their product orientation reflects that. So I’d argue that the comparison isn’t direct, though Apple, Microsoft and others also provide good alternatives. I’ve read plenty of articles that compare and contrast Wacom products to those produced by Apple or Microsoft, but it’s a little ‘apples-t0-oranges.’

Because of the edge-to-edge screen, Wacom has obviously removed any physical buttons from the surface. The power button is along the top edge of the tablet, and the side edges have inputs for USB and MicroSD card slots. And there are a number of  under-glass buttons that allow you to access system and display settings along the top right edge of the display when under power. All of the actual hotkeys and controls from past tablet models now live in Wacom’s ExpressKey™ Remote. The remote itself is included with the Cintiq Pro24, but can be purchased separately from Wacom for a little over $100 and is compatible with other Wacom products.

This thing is awesome.

The keys are fully programmable and allow you to toggle between commands. Because the remote isn’t connected to your tablet, you’re able to position the keys where it’s comfortable for you. This is especially great for right or left-handed designer’s preferences. The remote itself also has a magnetized base so it stays in place on the device if you have it resting on the side. Wacom provides a charger for the remote, which plugs directly into the tablet, and allows you to use the remote while charging as well.

Final Thoughts

OK, I won’t say these will be technically my final thoughts since I’ve only been able to use this for less than a week, and I’m  planning to do a follow up after I’ve been able to use it for a greater length of time. What I will say is that the design experience on this thing is incredible. For me, integrating a graphics tablet into my design workflow was a game changer years ago, and investing in the CintiqPro 24 is just another huge step in that process. I’ve already seen it help aid in the accuracy and speed that I’m able to edit photos, illustrate, and produce designs.I can’t wait to find additional opportunities to continue using it to further develop my skill set and offerings to our clients.

Product Pros & Cons

It’s a product review. Can’t have one without a pro/con list, so here you go.

PROS

  • A beautiful 4K display.
  • A large, completely flat design surface to work on
  • The build-quality and apparent durability of the device.
  • The ExpressKey Remote is super convenient and is very easy to configure.
  • The battery-free Pro Pen 2 with 8,000+ levels of pressure sensitivity.
  • An adjustable base for design-angle flexibility.
  • Out-of-the-box connectivity options from Wacom make set up easy.

CONS

  • At just over $2,000.00 for the non-touch model, it’s pricey.
  • The large size won’t be for everyone. It’s not a tablet you’re going to take to the coffee house with you to work on.
  • The DisplayPort-to-Thunderbolt 2 converter is a bit bulky (but I am thankful it was provided).
  • The cables in general are long. Not a huge deal, and it does allow you to move the tablet around quite a bit, but cables all over my desk drive me nuts.

 

Here’s a quick sketch I did the night I set up the tablet, which was the same night of Stan Lee’s passing. I’m forever grateful to him for his creativity and the universes he crafted. He was an inspiring individual to me who was part of the driving force that encouraged me to pursue a career in art and design.

27
Jul

‘Elexicon’ defined

Posted by: Brion Eriksen

As founder of Elexicon, one of the most frequent questions I get is “where did you come up with the name?” Sometimes they follow up with … “It’s cool!” — so these folks just answered their own question: It popped into my head, and I thought it was cool! 🙂

But what made it “just come to me?” Well, it was 1998 (cue flashback visuals and sound effects), and I started a business to follow new opportunities in the web site design and development space. I also wanted to remain focused on my background and ongoing freelance services in technical communication, information architecture, user interface, and marketing communications (all these things converged nicely into web design, of course). All things Internet and dot-com those days had an “e-” attached to their name, so I started the classic scratch-pad exercise: “E-Communication”? “E-Userinterface”? “E-Infoarchitecture”? Nah … but the word “Lexicon:” now we’re getting somewhere. A Lexicon — a unique language and vocabulary — brings meaning, understanding, and purpose to a branch of knowledge, a culture, a sport, a brand. In our new business, we’d master the “E-lexicon:” the lexicon of interactive communication and digital interfaces. Perfect! It’s all one word, capital E, no hyphen: Elexicon.

Even in those early days, domain names for businesses were getting snatched up left and right, so my hands were shaking when I secured elexicon on Network Solutions. As a purist, I take not a small amount of pride in having “elexicon.com,” not “ElexiconTeam.com” or “ElexiconUSA.com.”

So next time we see each other (hopefully soon!), you’ll have that answer and we can get to whatever other questions you may have!

01
Mar

I miss my home (button)

Posted by: Brion Eriksen

I love all of Apple’s bold design decisions … except this one.

I have now been using my iPhone X for the better part of two months. Owning and using previous versions of the amazing device since 2007 has gradually and reliably increased my productivity and added new elements of delight with each release. But by removing the iconic “home” button from this latest iteration of the device, I feel like some friction has been added to this otherwise smooth path of progress.

Why?

So, why did Apple remove the home button? In some ways, I feel like I should just understand why they did it by using the new phone without it (but I haven’t). At the same time, as a UX designer I’ve done my share of reading news and reviews and consuming podcasts to get the general gist of what they were thinking.

  • First, there’s that over-arching strategy of moving to an ecosystem of devices without wires or physical buttons, just as digital music phased out vinyl and magnetic tape. This is a segment of a “frictionless” future with less touching and tethering that includes everything from voice-driven smart speakers to checkout-less grocery stores.
  • Dovetailed with that, there’s the parallel strategy to (already) replace the biometric security of your fingerprint using TouchID (so soon?) with what is stated to be an even higher level of scrutiny: Unlocking the phone with your face.
  • Running evenly alongside the no-physical-buttons strategy is the move to a top-to-bottom, bezel-to-bezel screen. (Look! The whole phone is a screen!) This feels like an innovation for the sake of an innovation, like Apple had explored every possible other corner of the that’s-cool universe (and every inch of the iPhone’s structure), and decided that they had nowhere to go but to offer a full-screen front.

But, was one of those reasons “It’s more user-friendly”? No … I’m not sure I’ve heard or read about usability being a big part of the strategy. Because the new device, inarguably, is less usable.

Living without a home button

Fans of the iPhone X may jump into the comments section and counter-argue, but here are some examples of my plight.

Swiping is harder than pressing. An upward thumb-swipe from the bottom of the device has to be about 10x more physically taxing than pressing a button … it reminds me of the saying that it takes 10 times more facial muscles to frown than to smile. I don’t know if either is actually true … but why am I even talking about a new Apple product being more “physically taxing,” even if I’m sounding silly and wimpy about the muscles in my lower hand?

This beauty needs a case. The previous issue segues into this next one: At a $1000 price point and a structure made of glass on both sides, using a case is a requirement. So a hearty enough case makes the thumb-swipe even more of a chore … my thumb needs to bump and trip over the bottom of the case, land on the white horizontal virtual-swipe-here strip, and keep skidding upward to complete the swipe.

Also, with a protective case, the bezel-to-bezelness of the screen seems less so, and the “speed bump” of the case edge happens on all sides. (Granted, of course, there are “thin” case models that do not present such a challenging edge, but I like the more robust protectiveness of my Tech21 case.)

(As a side note, I should also mention the counterintuitive absurdity of the iPhone: The more beautiful and sleek the product design, the more you feel the need to protect its shimmery fragility. More than any version before it, the X model is even more slippery and eminently droppable and crack-able. So, the X is a lovely thing, but into the hefty protective case it goes.)

FaceID is harder than TouchID. I’m a big fan of TouchID. It’s easier than typing in a passcode to unlock the lock screen, and now FaceID takes that level of ease backward. FaceID is not only harder than TouchID, it’s harder than the Passcode. FaceID requires 1.) lifting the phone in front of your face, then 2.) the upward swipe. TouchID allowed you to open your phone with a finger-touch of the home button, while bringing the phone into your line of sight, not after you’ve brought it near your face.

Relying on your face to unlock the phone eliminates the ability to quickly check or use the phone while it’s sitting off to the side on a desk, or when simply pulling it briefly out of your pocket but keeping it at your side. (Another cynical “guess” at the strategy here: Apple wants to sell you an entirely separate Apple Watch for these kinds of interactions.)

By “harder,” I mean “often ridiculous.” FaceID-plus-swiping has written a few tragic chapters into the history of Apple UI’s. Have you run into this monstrosity yet? If you have your settings set to require FaceID to authorize an app download or iTunes purchase, you first need to trigger the process by clicking the side/power button:

Doube Click *what?* to install?

Raise your hand if you tapped on “Double Click” several times before you realized “they mean the side button.”

Also, the home-buttonless technique for closing out your open apps has now become a devil-dance for your thumb’s fine-motor control. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not a big deal … But there I found myself saying out loud what had rarely been part of an Apple maven’s vocabulary: “This used to be easier.”

What about the trade-offs?

Are the above annoyances offset by the bezel-to-bezel screen, and FaceID’s increase security and other “fun” features?

The pretty much, almost edge-to-edge display. Notice I didn’t call the screen “edge to edge” or an “endless” screen like one of those luxuriously mystifying endless pools you see in fancy resort-spa commercials. There’s still a bezel, it’s just pushed outward at the top and bottom. But the now- notoriously iconic “notch” is basically a de facto bezel at the top. The wonderment of having “screen” space in the upper left and right of the phone interface is lost on me.

This feature simply doesn’t score many points in the “pros” column, and in fact only puts a couple check marks under “cons.” With the screen now filling out to the rounded edges, the interface conjures a feeling of going backward to CRT screens, before LCD’s brought us a truly rectangular 16:9 like we saw at the movie theater, complete with corners and everything. Nobody ever decided to round the corners of a cineplex screen, a plasma TV, or a MacBook Pro display.

I’ll take my top and bottom bezels back, please. An “endless” edge-to-edge experience from side-to-side would be nice — similar to what Samsung has been doing for a few years.

Fun with FaceID. As mentioned before, FaceID is a more secure means of biometric authentication than TouchID — 20x more secure according to commonly stated claims. This sounds good!

However, being a FaceID cynic, I had to ask: Was hacking of TouchID rampant? The answer seems to be “not really,” although Apple does appear to have some work to do to make TouchID even more secure. This article summarizes how TouchID can be hacked, but also acknowledges how difficult it is. (Think: Convincing your victim to make you a mold of their fingerprint in Elmer’s glue.)

Now that FaceID is developed, my preference would be to bring back the home button and keep FaceID as an option, as well. Enterprise I.T. departments may enjoy setting up high-risk devices to require both fingerprint and facial authentication. Now that FaceID is here, I’m not suggesting that it needs to go away … I just feel like this first attempt at integrating facial recognition into the phone-unlock process has been a dud.

Giving your face away

I’ve never been a militant I.T. security fundamentalist, but the latest round of no-touch/no-wires technology has given me some pause. I wasn’t crazy about giving Apple a “true-depth” scan of my face, and I haven’t jumped on the smart speaker bandwagon. I’m ignoring the latest iOS’ incessant pleas to “finish my installation” by importing my credit cards into Apple Pay. I’m beginning to feel like I can live on this plateau of technological innovation for a while. Heck, I’m still using iTunes, still paying $1.29 so I can own every song. Like driverless cars, FaceID seems like an innovation that is out-running practicality.

The way forward

Facing another 10–11 months with the iPhone X — before I’m eligible for Verizon’s trade-in/upgrade program—I’ve attempted to add the “virtual” home button. Here are instructions on how to do this … but I don’t recommend it. This feature is a hold-over for iPhones whose home button was damaged, and doesn’t play nice with FaceID and the swipe bar at all … it’s kind of a mess.

This stop-gap virtual button does conjure visions of a more useful under-screen-based home button that actually works. Perhaps positioned in the bottom “tray” between your most-used apps and including TouchID, it could be the perfect solution to my ills. Some “insider” reporting is trending toward predictions that the home button will soon be a goner, retired to the User Interface Hall of Fame, enshrined next to the iPod Click Wheel. Elsewhere in the rumor mill, Apple is reported to simply be rapid-prototyping authentication interfaces in real time.

If Apple truly is keeping an eye on user feedback and opinion, as this Forbes article suggests, then let this review be my testimony. As long as there is an iPhone model available that still features a home button and TouchID, that’s the one I’ll buy. I hope those models remain available for a long time.

 

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