Finding our own place, sweet-spot, and evolution as a design studio
Metrik is an established team of innovators, designers, and developers committed to the present and future intersection of design and technology. We create and innovate software product experiences.
That’s our current one sentence explanation of who we are and what we do. I can go on and on about how we’ve sustained what a former colleague called “a lifestyle business” — but I think what is more important (and interesting?) is not just the ‘how’, but the ‘why’.
Just after graduation…
I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop, Farley’s, just two streets over from where I sit now, enjoying my new found freedom of not having to be at school by 8 AM. Sitting next to me was clearly a mod, artistic gal (who ended up being a co-worker and the famous cellist, Zoe Keating) reading ‘The Snapper’ by Roddy Doyle. We struck up a conversation on the book, as I am an Irish-American familiar with his works. Next thing you know, she had referred me for an Art Director role at her workplace, Perspecta, a MIT Media Lab start-up focusing on what we now call ‘Big Data.’ My passion was in architecture but I gravitated to the more practical commercial applications of graphic design as my BFA and chosen profession. Little did I know how valuable those interests and skills would benefit the work at Perspecta. I ended up creating interactive prototypes with my favorite boss, Lisa Strausfeld, for Merrill Lynch, the MLS, the CIA World Factbook and Formula 1. Not bad for a kid out of art school!
So why Metrik?
The truth is, if it weren’t for the design and technical challenges of the start-up along with the contrast of mundane pixel pushing at CKS (not to mention the mergers/acquisitions and corporate ladders of CKS becoming USWeb and then MarchFirst in only 12 months), plus the insane rigor of working locked up in a room at Apple for six months; I wouldn’t have known that I needed to become a founder of what is now a 16+ year small design studio called Metrik. Don’t get me wrong, they were great jobs and there were other places to go that looked interesting but I had worked at four different design studios before graduating, including one that I had thought would be where my career would end up (MetaDesign). After being on the inside at all of these companies, it became very clear what worked well for me, and it was not a corporate design job.
If it weren’t for my love of music and the side projects I was doing for some well known bands on major labels (thanks to Amantha Walden at Capricorn Records and Bonnie Simmons, the manager of the band CAKE, the band itself and also the band Deathray), I would not have been able to strike out on my own on my risky venture of being a self employed designer. I had no venture capital, no investors and no bank loans. But then again, I had skills in one of the few industries that allow you to work for yourself right out of school. Also, it was the first dot com boom.
I had no venture capital, no investors and no bank loans. But then again, I had skills in one of the few industries that allow you to work for yourself right out of school. Also, it was the first dot com boom.
Lucky me, when everyone else got laid off and left town, I had little responsibility except to myself, my rent, and my car payment. My contracts thrived as long as in-house hiring freezes persisted. Sony Design Center (Andy Proehl) had hired me regularly for R&D interface design work and a few architects in town (Nick Noyes, David Hecht) were hiring me for branding and website work.
My contracts thrived as long as in-house hiring freezes persisted.
I was solo for the first two years and then started growing by getting a shared office space, interns, and then employees. I even hired some friends of friends (John Dalziel) overseas in the UK as back-end developers to assist me. This allowed me to provide a full-service offering to my clients that had a variety of design needs on a budget. Whenever one of my clients left for a new position elsewhere, they took me with them. I had the great fortune of working with several of the Sony companies (thanks to Andy Proehl and Steve Crystal), along with Yahoo (Tapan Bhat, Tac Leung, Brian Salay), Shockwave (Jay Tannenbaum, Angelique Pendley), and Adobe all before I was in my thirties. It was clear that the variety of projects was how I personally thrived and the notion of being on the inside of one of those companies would perhaps suffocate me.
It was clear that the variety of projects was how I personally thrived and the notion of being on the inside of one of those companies would perhaps suffocate me.
I was free to create my own proven processes, and I was free to not be limited to any type of design work. I could fulfill design for the premise of the moniker I had chosen– Metrik — a system for volume, space, and mass. This meant 2D, 3D, time based media, film, architecture, you name it!
Finding our sweet-spot
Throughout my thirties, we became a solid team of typically three designers and one to two developers (Myself as lead designer, a Sr. Designer and a Jr. Designer or intern). We were fortunate enough to work with Motorola (Josh Campbell) on a multitude of projects, striving to create a branded system of works through the UI design, Customer Experience and Visual Design we provided. (The leap in client stature also enabled us to afford a larger, solo office space where we are located today.)
This notion of branded systems became more clear in my design thinking as I matured, evolving me into a broad-scope designer (and this is actually not a bad thing). I don’t mean ‘branded systems’ in an identity sort of way, like how a Landor might approach a design problem. I was more interested and focused on how a small design team could provide a more cohesive design experience across a multitude of mediums, platforms, and products — beyond the brand identity — as more of a ‘je ne c’est quoi’. Having less people responsible for the linkage between the projects seemed to be the key in solving that goal.
I was more interested and focused on how a small design team could help to provide a more cohesive design experience across a multitude of mediums, platforms, and products — beyond the brand identity — as more of a ‘je ne c’est quoi’.
Metrik, always evolving
As I led the team into my early forties (literally leading while in child labor), I noticed that particular design challenges did not interest me as much anymore. While I loved Print work, I felt that it did not quench the thirst I had for problem solving. Web design work started to become templated and boring, no thanks to Bootstraps. In fact, how could I ask for large fees for a web site anymore when our clients could just buy a template off the internet and change the fonts or images?!
Conversely, getting tied into a large company meant good steady work, but maybe not always so innovative or cutting edge. As we would review our portfolio each year, I noticed how the projects from my first job, Perspecta, were still so relevant today in the second dot com, a.k.a Web 2.0. I wanted to go back to that time, and to those people– namely Lisa Strausfeld, Earl Rennison, and Nicolas Saint-Arnaud!
As a team of designers and developers, we craved more of the sugary R&D projects, the difficult information design challenges– and we didn’t care if the work was cool or not. We were fortunate to land an up-and-coming cloud networking company, Virtustream (EMC/Dell), who needed UI/UX and visual design help to evolve their existing software platform and even their internal thinking about usability. We did a deep dive into four years of Enterprise Software development, while still retaining the integrity of our design sensibilities, never once dumbing-down interaction design because the user audience was maybe more corporate. We met some AMAZING, intelligent founders of this company (Vince Lubsey, Lisa Desmond and Kevin Reid) who will forever be inspirational to me personally, as well as to the Metrik team. A great client helps you as much as you help them.
A great client helps you as much as you help them.
With the retainer projects, it’s easy to get behind on the mission of your company. It’s even harder to show a portfolio of exciting new work when your main clients are working on year-long projects. However, we are committed to our quest of innovation at the intersection of design and technology– so in the last year, we have focused on some great internal product development initiatives. We’re working on a Student Information System to help unify disparate systems into an effective, low cost tracking system for all levels of education. We’ve partnered with another company on a messaging platform that appears to potentially be a game-changer in the messaging space. Last but not least, we’ve been innovating in new technologies for AR, VR and Natural Language Understanding. All of these initiatives are getting exciting and taking me back to what I missed so much about my days as a young designer being paid to innovate with design and code… I miss being paid to research and experiment.
I miss being paid to research and experiment.
We’ve been asked how LinkedIn and its new Freelance tool, ProFinder, could be leveraged with our biz-dev. The truth is, we only get recruiters trying to hire me personally in-house full time, or we’re too big and pricey for the clients on ProFinder. LinkedIn needs a tool for Big Business and Medium Business to Small Business (BB2SB, MB2SB). We’re pretty much left up to our own devices and network referrals to create new work for ourselves. For sixteen years we have survived this way… but the times are changing since everyone seems to be a UX designer now!
Linkedin, I’m not sure how Small Businesses survive without tax breaks, lines of credit, or SBIRs. It’s a constant hamster on a habitrail if you’re not trying to sell off the business to a bigger entity. For me, that is just not my dream. I’m not planning an exit strategy for Metrik. I’ve created this business and want to continue to evolve it. However, it’s becoming increasingly a challenge to keep on top of the overhead. Yet we’ve come this far and will evolve to survive.
Metrik: We are an Product Experience Design studio that creates UI/UX for immersive experiences.
Perhaps we do a little bit of service design, but really, we create and innovate software product experiences.
– Keara Fallon, Founder, Director of UI/UX and Visual Design, Managing Partner