Truth About Design (Case Study)

Pushing Thought Forward In The Design Industry

Overview

Created a blog, eCommerce site, eLearning platform, job board and affiliate program to help push thought forward in the design industry. Became the fastest growing new design magazine within 6 months.

My Role

  • Service design
  • Working with a distributed team of editors and marketers
  • Wireframes / UX / Interaction Design
  • Responsive design
  • Styleguide / Branding / Visual design
  • Email design 
  • Social media marketing (multi-channel)
  • Video recording 
  • UX Writing & Copywriting

The Problem:

Every year, 5-10.000 new designers are coming out of various schools and bootcamps, with no real guidance on how to perform in the real world. Most of the design education on the market is from people with very little experience and no credentials, delivered poorly. 

The Solution:

With my combination of skillset, expertise, candid and entertaining delivery, and connections in the industry, create a new platform that will engage this growing market of designers looking for honest advice and guidance. Engage other great designers to help create content for the platform.

Outcome:

We launched on Jan 3rd, 2019. Traction has been good so far. Holding steady at around 50.000 reads per month: 30k on medium and another 20k on truthaboutdesign.com

Process:

After leaving Equinix without accomplishing what I set out to do, I needed time off to reinvent myself and integrate that experience. I had been speaking about launching a platform called Truth About Design for over a year. Now was the time.

Market and Customer Research

Research came from multiple sources:

  • Teaching full-time at General Assembly for a year, speaking to hundreds of junior designers and career changers
  • Speaking multiple times at GrowthX Academy, and students coming up to me afterward to thank me for being the first person to be honest with them
  • Mentoring new designers at Springboard
  • Designers approaching me on LinkedIn, asking me why they aren’t getting jobs
  • Reading actively on the big design communities: reddit, designernews, spectrum
  • Reading the big design publications: Smashing Magazine, UXCollective, etc

Key research insights

  • Many junior designers feel lost and confused. They go through bootcamps where they are promised the world, and then they don’t get jobs. Or they get a job, and the real-life of practicing UX is completely different from what they learned.
  • Junior designers are profoundly grateful when I tell them the truth about what’s missing in their work — even if I tell them that they are lacking in a lot of areas.
  • The major design publications rarely cover more than the “easy topics”, e.g. which design tool to use, how to organize your files, or how important empathy is in the design process. It feels self-congratulatory and surface-level. They are speaking to raise their own status, not to have a discussion that actually helps others.

Hypothesis

There is an opening in the market for a platform that talks about the “elephants in the room” in the design industry with nuanced language. It’s important to strike the proper tone of voice. It’s easy to come off as a complainer if you take on a task like this. 

Brand Positioning 

I didn’t want this just to be “Jamal’s UX Blog” — the goal was to build a brand that is bigger than just me, and flexible enough to adjust to market conditions. The content on this site should be:

  • Timeless
  • Information dense
  • Candid (but not rude)

 

The goal was to build a brand that is bigger than just me, and flexible enough to adjust to market conditions.

Choosing The Right Tech Stack

This was hard because I’m not an engineer and didn’t have the money to pay good engineers. I had to first establish the criteria and features I need in a platform, then check all providers in the market to see which one is the closest to my needs.

I ultimately chose WordPress, because I wanted a platform that has extreme flexibility and where I have full ownership. Other platforms I explored were Teachable, Kajabi, Shopify, Thinkific, Squarespace, and many more.

After choosing WordPress, however, you have the challenge of choosing the right tech stack within WordPress. There are millions of ways to skin a WordPress site. For each piece of functionality I intended to add, there are hundreds of plugins that can do that job. So you have to find the best plugin within a certain category of functionality, and then see if that plugin fits together with the other plugins that you’ve chosen.

After 100+ hours of research, I ultimately settled on:

  • LearnDash for the eLearning Platform
  • WooCommerce to handle payments and memberships
  • Wpjobboard for the jobs board
  • MailChimp for Email Marketing
  • Optinmonster for Optin Forms
  • AffiliateWP to handle affiliate marketing
  • Elementor to build pages

Creating The Visual Brand Identity

Typography Deep Dive

Criteria for the right typeface were:

  • Clarity & readability at all sizes
  • Lots of different styles and weights
  • Hasn’t been overused
  • Has a little bit of character, but not so much character that it overpowers the personality of the rest of the product

I explored many many options:

Logo Design Case Study

Spent a lot of time creating a great logo:

The full logo case study is available here: 

Choosing a color palette, sizing and spacing guidelines

My first color palette was all over the place. Just every color that I like, mashed together:

When I tried to work with this palette, I discovered that my knowledge of creating color palettes for UI wasn’t up-to-date. After deep diving some more into color theory and best practices, I created the palette I ultimately settled on:

I also settled on a set of sizing & spacing guidelines to work with for the rest of my project:

Shifting Mindset To Content Creation and Marketing

Everything I did up until this point was just to get the machine running. We have a great design and a strong technical infrastructure. Now, we need to feed that machine with content, and spread that content around the world.

The Content Creation & Marketing Pipeline

Here’s my workflow for creating great content:

  • Start with writing a great blog post.
  • Take that blog post and turn it into a transcript for a video
  • Film video (that’s another case study on its own)
  • Send raw video footage to video editors
  • Post article on Medium, cross post to relevant platforms where designers hang out
  • After I get the video back from the editors, post it to YouTube and add it to the blog post
  • [Future step] Turn audio track from the video into a podcast

Looking ahead

I loved working on this project. I love every email I get from people thanking me for providing valuable information. 

This project also provided an avenue for me to show the full breadth of my skillset.

However, the design market is not large enough to make this a full-time source of income. Perhaps it’s better that way. Keeping this as a passion project allows me to keep the quality high and never add content just for the sake of getting traffic.

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