John Ellison

Day 66: Training Project Playback

7 min read

On Day 66 I had the pleasure of participating in the Training Project Playback. James Box, Andy P and I had been discussing the presentation structure over the past couple of days, but I had run with the bulk of the preparation work. We sat down on the morning of Day 66 and discussed final responsibilities. At that point we split the presentation into thirds and set off to refine our parts of the presentation.

In less than an hour we had all completed our part of the presentation and we needed to join the three parts of the presentation together.

Here was the structure of the presentation:

  • Purpose
  • Context
  • Concepts
  • Next Steps


The main purpose of the session was to create a shared understanding of the work that we had done and the concepts that had arise from our human-centered process.

While we did want to critique the ideas and examine their feasability, viability and desireabiliy, we wanted to wait until next week to do so because we had a small amount of time to present a large amount of information. So we asked participants to provide feedback that was clarifying in nature as opposed to critiquing.


James provided a very elegant introduction to the context of the project, answering questions like:

  • Why did we decide to start this project?
  • What process did we use to move this project forward?
  • What themes and insights did we discover?
  • What should we expect from the concepts we're about to see?


This slide demonstrated the spectrum of concepts that we were presenting—from incremental improvements on existing offerings through to potentially radical new business concepts.

spectrum of concepts

1. Improving Existing Offerings

improving existing offerings

I thought Andy Parker did a wonderful job of sharing insights on how we could apply our learning to improve and reframe existing offerings. It was interesting to hear that Andy Budd and another team had almost identical insights during a project retrospective earlier that day.

It seems like there is a lot of overlap and alignment between the problems we've identified in our research for the training project, and the problems that other teams in Clearleft have been experiencing in working with clients.

It was great to hear Andy Budd say "I think you've hit the nail on the head". I tip my hat to Andy P for all his work in this part of the project spectrum.

2. Clearleft Foundation

press start Clearleft Foundation apprenticeship

During the training project, Andy P spent a fair amount of time exploring the world of internships. He interviewed the past three years of Clearleft interns, including the present ones, to learn more about the problems they are facing. Here was the summary of the problems he uncovered:

  • Transition between education and work life
  • Takes up to 18 months to collect enough relevant work experience
  • Often repeating internships in order to woo employer

The Clearleft Foundation concept centered around a handful of ideas:

  • Mentor interns through all aspects of digital design
  • Begin the journey to 10,000 hours in a specific discipline
  • Provide flexible work hours to help employment exploration
  • Help interns create stand-out portfolios and CV's
  • Create life-long relationships

Looking back at these ideas, I realize that this would have been an ideal opportunity for me to explore when I was first starting off my career. I ended up fighting a much harder battle and taking longer to accomplish the items above. I think Andy P got this one right as well. Well done mate.

3. Chorus

chorus background slide image

Problem Landscape of Design Education

The concept of Chorus centers around the problem landscape of public design education. The problem can be summed up by one sentence:

"School as we know it is obsolete." — Sugata Mitra

Proposed Solution

After exploring the landscape of public education and specifically design education, I showed how new education models have emerged and have dealt with the obsolescence of school in different ways. I then presented the Chorus value proposition as a solution to the problems that all of these institutions are facing and all students of design incur along their journey.

It was interesting to me that in order to properly communicate the concept, I needed to express the beliefs and purpose from which the concept arose.


Everyone is a student and a mentor: We all have something to learn and something to share.

The quesiton is no longer 'Can we build this?' but 'What is the future we want to build together?' - Braden Kowitz


To solve one problem at a time and make the world a better place along the way.

I then broke down the value proposition into a series of slides describing 'How Could It Work?' follwed by a few lingering 'What If?' statements...

Tangent: (Known & Comfortable) vs (Unknown & Uncomfortable)

There were a few interjections along the presentation (as I expected), and rather than feeling defensive about the concept, I felt like there was value in creating tension and pushing boundaries. Where concepts are easily digested and ideas easily implemented, I think you are in the territory of the known and the comfortable.

But the place where concepts take time to digest and give you a funny feeling in your stomach, I think you are in the territory of the unknown and the uncomfortable.

I might prefer to live my life entering into the latter territory. The known and the comfortable can be a massively limiting force in any individual's life. I think it is the unknown and the uncomfortable that truly make us grow.

In short, I would rather take a risk at creating something flawed that enters into the unknown than creating something good that remains in the known.

4. Praxis

praxis background slide image

Coming onto the last concept, I followed a similar structure that I used to present Chorus.

Before presenting the problem landscape that Praxis was proposing to solve, I used a logical comparison to illustrate the concept:

If this is true about design: "The best designs are coming from teams that work together as a unit, marching towards a commonly held vision, and always building a new understanding of the problem." (Jared Spool).

Then wouldn't the same be true about design process?

Problem Landscape of Design Process

The problem landscape surrounding design process can be summarized in a handful of points:

  • The problems designers are trying to solve are increasing in complexity
  • The tools designers use to help solve those problems are constantly evolving
  • Design process is like a river—it is never the same twice
  • The 'how to' of design process is scattered across hundreds of sources. Some of them are consistent with one another, some are contradictory.
  • There is no demonstrable evolution of design processes throughout history, thus designers need to read between the lines to see where ideas came from and why design processes changed

Proposed Solution

I presented the value proposition of Praxis as a solution that would address the problems mentioned in the points above. In order to explain the solution sufficiently though, I felt I needed to address the beliefs and the sole purpose behind the solution.


Praxis as a concept hung from three core beliefs:

  • Process is the best reflection of a designer's maturity
  • Design process should be shared, critiqued and improved
  • Modern design process has great potential to mature


The purpose of Praxis would be:

To expose the evolving process of design and make it universally accessible and useful.


Overall I thought the presentation went well. It was long and seemed to drone on a bit but I think we got the core concepts across. I was certainly fatigued by the end and maybe wished we could have been a bit more swift in the presentation so that it didn't stretch on so long.

I am looking forward to seeing how the organization decides to approach these concepts and in what form they will take place. I've got about four weeks left of my 90 Day journey here at Clearleft and am hopeful to witness a few of these concepts come to life.


John Ellison

Day 65: Writing Blogs & Preparing for Playback

1 min read

Day 65 was a pretty straight forward day. I worked on a few blog posts for the Training Project and the Brand Refresh. Afterwards I worked on the slide deck for the Training Project Playback on Day 66. I didn't have much time to put together the level of content I would have liked, but I got a basic structure setup so that we could look through the deck together on the morning before the presentation and get on the same page.

I am definitely looking forward to the playback on Day 66. I am most of the way through Act II of my time here at Clearleft and this seems like a perfect climax. I feel great about the concepts we're presenting and couldn't be happier about the time spent developing them.

I learned a lot from the process and can't wait to share my learning on the Clearleft blog.

John Ellison

Day 64: Brand Refresh Ideation & Purpose Workshop Synthesis

6 min read

On Day 64 of my time at Clearleft, I was fortunate to work on two really fun threads of work as a part of the Clearleft Brand Refresh Project.

James Bates had setup a two-day exercise to generate a wide range of concepts for Clearleft's visual identity. James had scheduled Jon Aizlewood and Ben White to work with him, and they also extended an invite for me to observe and participate as I liked.

James Box setup a morning session to synthesize the outputs of the Purpose Workshop in order to feed back into the work that James, Jon and Ben had started around the exploration of Clearleft's visual identity. We wanted to have our brand's purpose form the basis of the visual concepts that we explored.

Kicking Off A Two-Day Ideation

We kicked off the two-day session by talking about Clearleft's brand attributes: both present and future. James created a mind map to capture our dialogue and we bounced around a variety of different positive and negative brand attributes that we wanted to consider in this exercise.

kicking off the two-day ideation exercise

whiteboarding Clearleft's brand attributes

Clearleft Brand Attributes

If Clearleft Were a Car, What Would It Be?

Half an hour into the session James Bates suggested we use a branding exercise to stimulate our attribute generation. He asked us "If Clearleft were a car, what would it be?"

While this seemed to be a bit odd on the surface, when we explored the different options and the reasons why Clearleft would or wouldn't be that car, it allowed us to examine the brand from a variety of perspectives.

Visual Ideation

When James and the guys thought they'd sufficiently listed out the brand attributes, they started ideating through different visual identities. Starting with the current cube logo and diverging away from the original concept, James, Ben and Jon filled pages with their ideas.

Given these guys have much stronger visual skills, I let them run with the visuals while I went over and worked with James Box to synthesize the outputs of the Purpose Workshop we held on Day 57.

Purpose Workshop Synthesis


By the time I made it over to where James was working, he had already begun laying out all the note cards that were the outputs of the purpose workshop. We worked together to find a suitable layout and structure for us to step back and inspect in detail and in general.

We went through each of the cards and read them one by one. I started extracting relevant phrases onto post-it notes. On the right side of the table we had cards that expressed attributes of our professional heros. On the left side of the table we had cards that expressed 'what we are fighting against'.

our final layout

All throughout our synthesis, we kept in mind the definition of purpose that arose in our workshop: What you are fighting against; the change you want to make in the world.

James and I discussed the different connections and themes that arose throughout our investigation.

synthesis of outputs

One strong emergent insight was that most of what we were fighting against could be seen as that which manifests from fear of the unknown.

A theme amongst the 'what are we fighting for' side of the spectrum was about inspiring, challenging, enabling and empowering others.

We discussed what we thought this meant and explored how this pertained to our purpose. We kept one eye on the past and thought about what Clearleft's purpose has been in the past, and kept one eye on the future and wondered what Clearleft's purpose will be.

We wondered whether or not Clearleft's purpose has always been the same and whether the way we approach our purpose has changed.

In talking along this thread of a timeline, I drew a little diagram that broke Clearleft's journey into three eras. The first two eras were clear to me, and I left the third era blank. (James added the third era over lunch, and I really resonate with metadesign as the theme of this upcoming era).

Clearleft three eras

James and I concluded that we had enough insights to share with the visual team and decided to head out to lunch.

Checking In With The Visual Exploration

Before heading out for lunch, I checked in on James Bates, Ben and Jon and snapped a few photos.

reflecting on visual identity ideation

a closer look at the ideas 1

a closer look at the ideas 2

Playing Back The Purpose Workshop Insights

over james shoulder

After lunch James and I sat down with the visual team and played back our process and our discoveries. We had a few conversations about the themes that emerged and how those could be applied visually. The topic of generative logos came up a few times.

As James spoke the rest of us sketched ideas. It was a nice atmospheric tone to the playback and allowed the visual guys to keep working while receiving additional input from the purpose thread of the brand refresh. After sketching down a few ideas I decided to make a physical model of Clearleft's logo with a few note cards. This allowed me to feel the logo in space and inspect it from several different perspectives. This was something that James Bates, Jon and Ben had been exploring on paper, but I felt that a more tactile approach suited my exploration.




During the conversation I saw a simple analogy come into my head: If the cube logo symbolized Clearleft as an agency that designed things, what would symbolize Clearleft as an agency that designed how others design things?

We talked about scaffolding and how scaffolding is used to take the builders of a building to new heights and allow them to reach places they wouldn't be able to reach on their own. Scaffolding is also removed from the structure once work is finished. It isn't structural in any way, but it is about creating a supra-structure from which the building is constructed.

This idea was definitely an interesting one to pursue, and the concept of deconstruction came to mind, as did the dConstruct logo.

dConstruct Logo

Designing a Logo that Designs a Logo

We talked about the algorithmic approach to creating a logo: One whereby an algorithm is designed with the purpose of dynamically generating a logo or a set of logos as opposed to designing the logos itself. These conversations definitely played along the higher planes of abstract thought and gave James Box and I a few things to mull over, but I'm not sure how much the visual guys gained from it.

Nonetheless it was a fun exercise and a really fun day bouncing between two threads of the Clearleft Brand Refresh.

The Rest of The Day

I spend the rest of my day writing content for the Training Playback on Thursday.


John Ellison

Day 63: Clearleft Brand Refresh & Training Playback Preparation

1 min read

On Day 63, I split my day between two activities: 

  • Working on the Clearleft Brand Refresh
  • Preparing for the Training Project Playback on Thursday (Day 66)

John Ellison

Day 62: Working on The Refugee Community Landing Page

1 min read

I spent most of Day 62 (Sunday) working on the landing page for the Refugee.Community site. I'd gotten pretty far the week before, but still there was a lot of work to do so I headed to my favorite Brighton cafe (Redwood Coffee House on Trafalgar Street) and got to work.

Here are some screenshots of mobile and large screen. I need to fix some styling of course (especially on large screen), but the core wireframe of the site is layed out. All I need to do is get some imagery, typography and interaction design details in place and I'll push it live.

It's been a fun project but I'm aware of the urgency of this situation and want to get it out to the public as soon as possible. It doesn't need to be perfect, just good enough.












John Ellison

Day 60: Writing Content For Training Project Playback

3 min read

On Day 60, I spent most of the day distilling the Problemscape and writing content for the upcoming training project playback on Day 63. James Box had kindly provided us with a series of questions that each concept should address during the playback, and I setup a template so we could structure our content accordingly.

Here were the questions James asked us to answer:

  • Who are we trying to help?
  • What problems are we trying to solve?
  • How could we respond to these problems (value propositions)?
  • Why are we the right people to pursue this?
  • What is the opportunity size? (Competitors, market size)
  • If we wanted to take this further, what would we do next?
  • Where might this lead us eventually? (What's the vision?)
  • Why should we do this?

This task was also a good opportunity for me to read through all the content that Andy P had written regarding the concepts he had been focusing on, and it allowed me to make another pass through our competitor research to validate assumptions we were making about competitor offerings.

Setting The Problem Stage

Last week I spent most of my time focusing on how to articulate the concepts in form of a value proposition or elevator pitch. Upon presenting the concepts in that manner, I received a lot of feedback about the value of setting an appropriate context for the problems we are proposing to solve.

This was great feedback and one that I sorely needed. In writing about the problems I was trying to solve, it seemed like everything became much more clear and made total sense.

Finding Inspiration

During my research, I had stashed a few TED talks in my Evernote notebook, and so I used this opportunity to read through the talks' transcriptions and extract relevant language. There was one talk in particular that seemed to be very helpful in framing the problem.

It is a talk by a guy named Sugata Mitra, called Build a School in the Cloud. I've embedded it here because I think it is an amazing video that deserves to be watched by anyone interested in the world of education.

Why Us?

One of the questions James rightly asked us to answer in our concept pitches was "Why Us?". Here's a snippet of what I wrote for one of our concepts:

Clearleft was founded by individuals who learn by doing; Clearleft was founded with a belief in sharing what you learn. The combination of experiential learning and knowledge sharing has positioned Clearleft as a pioneer within the industry time and time again.

In the first era, Clearleft emerged as a leader in accessibility and web standards. But then the mission of usability and user experience design took reigns.

On the precipice of a new era, Clearleft has an opportunity to pioneer unchartered territory once again.

What would happen if we applied the learning from our 10-year journey to the world of design education? What would happen if we migrated away from doing great things to teaching others how to do great things?

Over the past few weeks, we have asked ourselves these questions time and time again. Out of a human-centered design process came an answer that rang loud and clear and resonated deeply within in our bones: Chorus.


I think I should have explored these questions far earlier in the project process because I found them immensely helpful. Maybe the work I did to clarify the concepts in the form of a proposition paid off, but it was definitely difficult to find the right combination of phrasing, positioning and tone.


John Ellison

Day 59: Discovering The Problemscape

6 min read

When James, Andy P and I sat down to discuss on Day 58, I used a word that I've never used before: Problemscape.

James chuckled at the word and we both thought it sounded funny. I'm not sure what he thought at first impression, but seeing as I used the word as a natural expression of a concept I was trying to articulate, I thought it was interesting at least. I'm not the biggest fan of smashing two words together and making it a word, but this word held something that I chose to explore on Day 59.

After Andy P and I finished our conversation on the morning of Day 59, I was left feeling quite confused and unsettled. It wasn't as if loads of conflict arose throughout the conversation, it was simply that our attempt of creating shared understanding seemed to obfuscated the concepts that I felt were otherwise clear (and maybe flawed, but clear at least).

Going Back To 10,000 Feet

During the conversation, I told Andy that I thought we were running over paths we've tread before and I was concerned we'd lost direction. I asked him if he'd bare with me for a moment while I tried to illustrate an idea that I had while he was talking. I hope he'll accept my apologies as I admit that my eyes may have glazed over a bit while I conceived this.

introducing the problemscape with andy p

Assembling The Problemscape

I felt our conversation began within the domain of one specific concept but quickly traversed into the broader territory of the bigger problems that we were trying to solve in this project. I began scribbling words on sticky notes and assembling them as I spoke. I wasn't exactly sure what I was after but I knew I wanted to visually represent the problemscape and verify whether or not we were talking about the same thing.

I broke down the whole project as we knew it into different categories. Here were the categories as I saw them:


There were several different audiences we were targeting: From individuals to organizations—each with their own type and flavor.

problemscape audiences


We had a range of problems that we were looking to solve.

problemscape problems

Context of Offering

We had two different contexts for offering: Public and private.

problemscape offering contexts

How Value Is Delivered

We had different methods of delivering value:

  • Training (topical)
  • Mentoring / Coaching (application)
  • Project (doing it for you...)

problemscape value delivery method


We had different durations in which the value could be delivered:

  • ⅛ Day
  • ¼ Day
  • ½ Day
  • 1 Day
  • 12 Weeks (6 sprints)

problemscape value delivery durations


We had different methodologies which we could apply to the delivery of value:

  • Design Thinking
  • Agile
  • Lean

Frequency of Delivery

We had a range of frequences at which the value could be delivered:

  • Once
  • Monthly
  • Weekly
  • Daily (Full-Time Immersive)


We had a range of disciplines that allowed us to strategically and tactically define and solve problems (that is, how we approach delivering our value):

  • UX
  • UI
  • Front-End Development
  • Project Management

problemscape method frequency of delivery and disciplines

Modes of Engagement

We had different modes of engagement:

  • One-on-one
  • One-on-many
  • Many-on-many

Outcomes, Not Outputs

When I started exploring the outputs, I listed a range of items, but realized at the end that the output doesn't really matter for the context of this project. Whether the output is a website, a web app, a physical product, a startup, or a social enterprise, as long as the problem is being solved and the desired outcome is met, the output could be anything...

problemscape engagement outcome and output

Read this awesome article by Ben Sauer for more details on why I chose to frame it this way: Outcomes, not outputs.

What Are Proposed Solutions?

In looking at the Problemscape by myself, I realized that the proposed solutions (value propositions) are just different packages of the following elements:

  • Target Audience
  • Audience's Problems
  • Our approach to solving the problem
  • The focus of the value
  • The outcome

When I looked at the Problemscape on my desk, I realized that I could select the individual elements and piece them together into a package. That package would be the core elements of the value proposition. Additional language and framing was necessary of course, but the core elements were there.

I think this exercise allowed me to step outside of each individual problem-solution pairing and look at the broader landscape of the problems and solutions we were proposing. This enabled me to reflect on the project as a whole and make sure that we were solving the problems we set out to solve and that we were meeting the needs of the audiences we defined in our research. It allowed me to think through each of the individual personas that represented broader groups of people and walk through their problems from their perspective.

It gave me the confidence to know that nothing was being left out. I could now see all the individual packages (value propositions) and make sure that we had total coverage over the Problemscape. We had a bunch of packaged solutions and some of them overlapped, but I needed to see how they all fit into the bigger picture of the project that we first set out to explore.

The Purposes of Canvases In General

One thing I've discovered as I've attempted to use things like the Business Model Canvas, the Value Proposition Canvas and Andy T's Project Canvas, is that I like concept but I often find myself butting up against the structure of the canvas. I like to design the categories of the canvas as pertains to the project and its specific domain (DSL if you like). I think that calling this exercise a 'Problemscape' might be overly grandiose, but maybe not. Maybe the elements together are helpful in other contexts. I think that the idea of using a canvas to break a problem or project into smaller parts is the main concept. How you do it and what you call each section is dependent on the DSL of the project.

What Do You Think?

I think this exercise was very effective and am curious to hear other people's thoughts. Have you done anything like this before? Have you embarked on an exploratory project and found yourself struggling through the details of many different concepts? Have you battled against blurred boundaries within concept definition? How did you approach the problem?

I'd be curious to hear your thoughts and learn from your process.

Tagged: ,

John Ellison

Day 59: Thoughts on Creating Shared Understanding

6 min read

On Day 59, I spent almost my entire day on a single task: Creating shared understanding for the Training Project. Andy P and I started off with an hour and a half chat. What began as a productive conversation where we were narrowing in on shared language and shared understanding soon spiraled into obfuscation and I was left at the end of the conversation with a fog of confusion and ambiguity.

Rather than talk about the specifics of the conversation, I'd like to step back and reflect about everything I've observed and learned about creating shared understanding in a project.


James Box told me that one of the primary roles of design leadership is to create shared understanding. He said that it is a communication role rather than a craft role. It is more about discerning where dissonance lies in a project (misunderstanding) and performing activities to create resonance (shared understanding).

While all of this is completely valid and true as far as I've observed, I think there is something missing in this depiction of what it takes to create shared understanding. I am sure that if I sat down with James we could talk for hours on this topic and cover all the nuances and subtleties. But I thought it would be a good process for me to unearth what I've learned.

Developing A Shared Domain Specific Language

On the projects that I've worked on and observed thus far (at Clearleft and as a freelancer), I think that language plays an immensely important role. In every business, team project and conversation there is a domain specific language ("DSL") that evolves.

Now I know that DSL is a computer science concept, but I think it applies to design and business as well. My understanding of a DSL is that it is a subset of language that pertains to a specific domain. It has vocabulary, grammar, sentence structures and concepts that take on new meaning within the domain.

I think a huge part of design is creating a DSL for each project where each participant is intimately familiar with each term, concept and structure that is used within the project's conversation.

As a UX consultant, our job is often to uncover the DSL of our clients and to teach them the relevant DSL of our craft so that we can move together towards creating the outcomes we've defined. The faster we come to terms with them and understand specific divisions of language and thought, the better.

While this is a skill that is learned with time and experience, I think that maturity can also be gained through introspection and retrospection.

Elements of Shared Understanding

I've listed a few elements that I believe are important when creating shared understanding. They are presented in no specific order other than how they came to mind.

1. Coming To Terms

There is a dance in creating and understanding a DSL that Mortimer J. Adler calls "coming to terms" in his work How To Read A Book. While Adler's concept of coming to terms applies to a conversation between a reader and an author, I think it has massive implications within the context of business, technology and design as well.

Part of coming to terms is being able to discern when a person uses a term that you understand but have a hunch that they might understand it slightly differently. That moment of discernment is a massive opportunity to create shared understanding. If you do not capitalize on that moment to ask "What do you mean by [term]?" that opportunity is lost and dissonance remains.

When I had my first conversation with Andy Budd on Skype I realized that Clearleft made a unique distinction between UX and UI in the company. I think within the industry, each company and each individual draws unique boundaries around disciplines and fields of thought. While these might create subtle nuances for some (and may be negligible), they might create serious chasms for others that create potential for misunderstanding, dissonance and conflict.

2. Removing The Ego

From what I've observed, another element of creating shared understanding is about removing the ego. Egotism and its manifestation of pride are two of the most detrimental forces inhibiting shared understanding. If one person is too prideful to admit they don't understand something, or too prideful to insist that they do (when they don't), this creates huge holes in the fragile landscape of understanding.

3. Identifying Jargon

All of use terms in our work that act effectively as jargon. Whether you're in sales, IT, HR, development or design, you've got a pocketbag full of terms that no one else understands. When faced with contention, you reach into your bag and pull out a high-brow word that will assert your dominance over your contender.

Okay, maybe I'm dramatizing a bit, but I think I've illustrated my point.

It is crucial as an individual to eradicate your vocabulary of jargon. Whenever jargon comes up in a conversation it is imperative to identify and eliminate the word from the conversation. Jargon is another enemy to shared understanding.

4. Empathy

I know designers love this word and it might even broach into cliche territory now adays, I still think that empathy for others is the single most important force in creating shared understanding. In order to successfully understand another person (or a problem), you must care more about understanding than being understood. In order to do that, you have to feel for the other person and try and see things from their perspective. This is the whole user-centered design lens of putting yourself in your user's shoes (perpetually).

5. Determination

Creating shared understanding is hard. You've got to be determined to do it. You're going to run into obstacles along the way and the only thing that will get you past them is sheer desire to make it happen.

A Challenge

I haven't done this challenge myself but I figure it would be a good way to practice the above:

Identify a social or political issue that you passionately care about. Look up to see if there are any meetups in your area of people who support that issue on the opposite side (whom you disagree with). Go to the event with a goal to understand their point of view. See if you can make it happen. See if you can't come to terms, remove your ego, identify some jargon and put yourself in their shoes for the duration of the event.

Kudos if you succeed.

Tagged: ,

John Ellison

Day 58: Training Project Chat & Clearleft Interns Playback

4 min read

Training Project Chat

James Box, Andy P and I sat down for a chat about how we were going to present the training project concepts to the stakeholders. We discussed the presentation structure as well as the questions that we needed to address with each concept. We explored the different objections or obstacles that we might have to address in stakeholder's minds.

possible training project structure


By the end of the session we had a shared understanding of how we were going to approach the presentation and the content that we needed to create as inputs for that discussion. In the meantime, Andy P and I had some catching up to do. We had effectively split to work on two separate concept paths and now needed to come back together and reconvene.

Creating Shared Understanding w/ Andy P

Andy P and I took a short break after our session with James and dedicated an hour and a half to discussing the concepts that we'd created. There were some gaps in our shared understanding and so we decided to do our best to fill those gaps.

We started off with the concept that I had been focusing on, since that was the area where Andy P felt like we didn't have the same understanding.

Looking through the value propositions and the '1-2-3' statements I'd generated for the concept as our base, we discussed the concept at a high-level and in detail.





Coming Together

In asking questions and providing answers, we had a twenty-minute period of back and forth. We were bouncing around different ideas and different languages, but then something happened and we started to click. I don't know exactly what happened but it was a sort of 'Aha!' moment between us and we knew that we were coming closer to the same page.

Andy P sketched his ideas in his sketchbook so that we could think out loud and reference ideas later in our conversation. This, above all things, is probably the most useful process that designers exhibit as opposed to other professionals. Thinking out loud is crucial to creating shared understanding, but thinking on paper (or a whiteboard, sticky note, index card— however you like it), is another level.

There is something about getting ideas out of your head and into the world that makes a huge difference. A lot of people are afraid of sketching because they can't draw well, but sketching isn't about being able to draw pretty pictures, it's about being able to communicate ideas.

That is definitely a big lesson I've taken from my time at Clearleft. Not many people here can draw, but everybody can sketch and articulate their ideas visually. I feel like I've gained a lot of confidence in this area and am happy to exercise this sketching muscle more and more each day...

Moving Forward

At the end of our session, we had a quite abrupt break point and decided to continue our conversation later that day or the next. We had covered a lot of groud but there was still a fair amount of ground to cover. We were definitely making progress...

Clearleft Interns Playback

After lunch I worked on the training concepts a bit more on my own and then jumped into the Clearleft Interns Playback session where they were pitching two product concepts to the team. The purpose of the session was to decide on which concept to pursue for the remaining 6-weeks of their internship.

The conference room held a high energy as we walked in, and as Chris began presenting their concepts with beautiful videos that demonstrated their ideas, I think we were all really impressed at their work.

clearleft interns playback 1

clearleft interns playback 2

clearleft interns playback 3

You can read more about their project and the concept that they've chosen to pursue on their blog:

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John Ellison

Day 57: Working on Training Concepts & Talking Next Steps

3 min read

In between the Purpose Workshop and Brand Refresh Playback on Day 57, I had some time to work on the concepts for the training project. I know it seems like I have been working on these concepts for a while now and I should have it nailed down, but the concepts have had such an intense evolution since their inception as a synthesis of the Training Stories Workshop on Day 44.

From the initial idea to the idea in its current state, the concept has transformed and taken many different shapes. It has been an intense game of ping pong between converging and diverging. Every time it is pitched to someone new problems arise, every time we look back at our user journeys and our personas for guidance and calibration something new comes into quesiton.

I think this project has suffered from a lack of a consistent working team. If we would have dedicated a much shorter amount of time to the project and had three people working on it from beginning to end I think we could have been much more efficient.

But nonetheless I understand that in an agency setting with multiple initiatives and projects going on at one time, resources need to be allocated according to priority.

Working on Concepts

As I sat down to work on the concepts before our 2:30pm meeting to discuss next steps, I had two separate products that worked together to solve a variety of problems that we defined in our research and discovery phase. It felt like we had past the point of invention and we were working towards a clearer, distilled and articulated concept.

Knowing that I had to pitch the concept to James, Andy P and Clare in less than an hour, I sat down and did my best to incorporate the feedback that I'd gotten from Mikey and Andy T since I'd last worked on the propositions. I sat down and completed the following

  • Sticky note value proposition exercise
  • Choosing the most articulate combination of components
  • Pitching the concept out loud and iterating
  • Creating three cards that each broke down one nuance of the idea into a simple phrase and illustration

working on concepts 1

chorus card 1

chorus card 3

chorus card 3 option 2

quire card 1

Talking Next Steps

As I mentioned earlier, James, Clare, Andy P and I sat down to talk about the status of the project. We each defined what we felt the purpose of the session was. We concluded by the end we had three main questions we wanted to cover in the course of the session:

  • Where are we?
  • Do we have shared understanding?
  • What are the next steps?

chat 1

chat 2


By the end of the session we had at least touched on each of the questions and we knew that we wanted to set up a meeting between James, Andy P and I the next day to talk about how we would present the concepts in a unified format next week to the project stakeholders. Clare kindly booked a 1.5 hour slot in the calendar and invited Andy B, Rich and Jeremy. We finally had a deadline to pitch our ideas to Clearleft's cofounders and had a set amount of time to work on the pitch.

sticky takeaway 1

sticky takeaway 2

sticky takeaway 3

sticky takeaway 4


John Ellison

Day 57: Purpose Workshop

3 min read

On the morning of Day 57, we kicked off the day with a workshop for the Clearleft Brand Refresh project. James Box, Ellen and I had spent a few sessions designing the workshop and we ran a test session with Wolfcub Digital the day before.

Defining purpose is a difficult task. Purpose seems to be a force rather than a thing. We wanted to facilitate a session that fostered individuals to uncover their professional purpose. From those individual professional purpose statements, we wanted to look at the space between the lines and design an organizational purpose statement that reflected both the needs of the individual as well as the organization as a whole.

Even though we tested the workshop the day before, the task was daunting enough to create some palpable tension in the room.


We introduced the workshop and divided the room into pairs. We told them that we were going to ask them to answer a question with the first thing that came into their heads. They would then take turns asking "Why?" to their partner. We wanted the partner to try and elicit the reasons why the person wrote down the thing that they did and what it meant to them.

We prefaced the questions by saying that While they might seem vague and cringe-worthy, they would help move us in the direction we wanted to go.

What Is Your Enemy?

The first question we asked people was: "What—not who—is your enemy?"

Each person wrote down their instinctual reaction onto a note card.

We then gave each person three minutes to ask "Why?" and dig deeper into the essence of their answer.

We asked participants to then come up with a list of problems that their enemy causes.

So on the front of the card we had a thing that the person perceived to be their enemy, and on the back of the card we had a list of problems that the person felt this enemy created.




More Questions

We then repeated this sequence of tasks with several more questions:

  • Who is your professional inspiration?
  • What is your enemy?
  • What is you fighting for?

Framing The Concept

As the workshop progressed, James continued to frame our concept of a purpose statement. We felt that a purpose statement should answer two fundamental questions:

  • What is the change you are trying to make?
  • What are you fighting against?

purpose-workshop what are you fighting against?

And that the purpose statement should either answer them explicitly or implicitly. A good purpose statement needed to have chutspa, gusto.


Coming To A Close

Towards the end of our 1.5 hour session, we realized we didn't have enough time to write individual professional purpose statements. So instead we asked for feedback about the workshop and tasked individuals with taking the outputs of the workshop as inputs for their purpose statements. We asked if people would be willing to spend some time writing their purpose statements and that we would like to use those statements as inputs for creating a 'straw man' of the organizational purpose statement of Clearleft.



John Ellison

Day 56: Testing The Purpose Workshop & Working On Concepts

3 min read

Purpose Workshop With Wolfcub Digital


The awesome crew over at Wolfcub Digital was kind enough to join us in a dress rehearsal for a workshop centered around finding your organizational purpose. It was really cool to see the character and charisma of their agency.

I think Wolfcub Digital were the perfect people to experiment with this workshop. They came with an open mind and a strong sense of their purpose as an organization and as individuals. They'd spent a fair amount of time uncovering their brand in recent months and so a lot of these thoughts were close to the forefront of their mind.


Along with purpose, social change, creativity and positivity, we talked about Rocky Balboa a few times (check out the blog post behind it). Other than getting to know an awesome group of people a little bit better, I think we had ourselves a good time...

Having explored their website before the workshop, I was quite familiar with the quality and breadth of their work. It was inspiring to see how a team of three people could have such a massive impact on a wide range of projects with big clients:


The workshop went well (I hope it provided some value to John, Dominic and Fran over at Wolfcub), and we spent a fair amount of time reflecting upon what worked and didn't work. In addition to the feedback we received from Wolfcub Digital, we had a few insights of our own as well.

James took the reigns on deconstructing and reconstructing the workshop. He brought Ellen and I into the recap session to test his conclusions. It was amazing to see the velocity with which James works. Diverging and converging with such momentum and intensity takes a lot of energy but I guess like many masters of their craft, James seems to make it look easy...



Working on Training Project Concepts

In between the Purpose Workshop and our little workshop recaps, I spent my time working on training project concepts. I employed the use of my sticky-note proposition exercise along with sketches on note cards to help articulate and refine the concepts.

I've definitely gotten better at using an idea to further the project and then throwing that idea away without any attachment. It's become a more liberal and fruitful process when I am not emotionally tied to each individual idea along the process.




Tagged: ,

John Ellison

Day 55: Working on Refugee.Community

1 min read

On Day 55 (Sunday), I spent almost a solid half-day working on the Refugee.Community website.

Here's what I accomplished:

Crafted a progressively-enhanced mobile navigation menu from scratch

(pure HTML/CSS/JS—no framework)


my first progressively-enhanced mobile navigation menu from scratch open


my first progressively-enhanced mobile navigation menu from scratch closed


my first progressively-enhanced mobile navigation menu from scratch non-mobile

Refactored content and styled basic layout for mobile



Built accessible web form from scratch and styled for mobile




Tested reading the content aloud with a few users




Another few half-days of work and I should have this site live and ready for the public. I'm really looking forward to launching this and building a community around people who want to help refugees.

Let me know if you want to get involved!


John Ellison

Day 54: Rest

1 min read

As usual, I take a full day of rest and hide all my tempting digital devices whilst trying to spend as much time as possible outside and hanging with my lovely wife.

Here's a poem by John Keats (courtesty of Poetry Foundation) that I have really admired since I was a kid:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

John Ellison

Day 53: Purpose Workshop Brainstorming

2 min read

purpose workshop brainstorming

After re-writing Sam's story, I joined James Box and Ellen de Vries on a workshop brainstorming session. The purpose of the workshop was to help generate professional purpose statements for individuals within an organization and to use those individual statements as the seed for forming an organizational purpose statement.

This was a really exciting brainstorming session because we got to explore some amazing questions, some of which include:

  • How do we define purpose?
  • What makes up a good purpose statement?
  • Is there anything that we can use to form a purpose statement from the 'negative space' of an activities outputs?
  • How do individual purpose statements relate to organizational purpose?
  • How does personal purpose relate to professional purpose?
  • What role does time play in the formation / perception of purpose?

We are going to be running a mock workshop with some amazing folks from Wolfcub Digital, along with Curtis James and his partner.

Here are some of the sketches James used to help give definition to our brainstorming session:

purpose workshop brainstorming sketch 1

purpose workshop brainstorming sketch 2

purpose workshop brainstorming sketch 3

purpose workshop brainstorming sketch 4

Workshop Outline

By the end, we had a rough workshop outline:

purpose workshop outline brainstorming sketch 5

I'm really looking forward to trying this out on Day 56. It's been a really fun exploration and has gifted all of us with interesting insights into the world of purpose and the role that it plays in a brand.