Blanc Ink: Meet your next best friend, get a tattoo removed while you’re at it

How we are working with a tattoo removal startup on their UX design, visual design, and front-end development requirements

House House is currently working with Blanc Ink, a startup that aims to connect laser-certified tattoo artists and medical professionals that can help you remove or cover up tattoos the you no longer want. While we are unable to share many of the details about the project at this point, we can give you a sneak-peek at some of the exercises, activities, and initial work we have been doing.

Sean Durfee of House House finding themes during out storymapping exercise

The Condensed Design Sprint 🏃🏻

When done properly and in the right settings, design sprints can be a great method of quickly getting to the meat and soul of what a startup is all about. Because we needed to move extremely quickly, Sean and I compressed a traditional design sprint into a single day, prioritizing key deliverables and requirements.

What’s the story here?

We love Donna Lichaw and her book “The User’s Journey: Storymapping Products That People Love.” Her philosophy to uncovering user desires and connecting them to business goals resonates with us deeply; she describes the process as such:

We use story because it’s one of the oldest and most powerful ways that humans have to communicate with and understand the world. It governs how we do or don’t see meaning, value, utility, and affordances in both ideas and things. Story structure and its underlying principles will help you build better products. And it’s how you can get your target audience to relate to your product. We are going to harness this structure and apply it to our work. What’s great about story and its underlying structure is that it provides us with a formula for turning users into protagonists. Plot points, high points, and all. Every story is comprised of the same narrative structure.

By using a modified version of her storymapping exercises we were able to document a user’s journey as if they were the protagonist in a story, where the underlying plot is the Blanc Ink service offering – from initial contact (exposition + inciting incident) to the product itself (crisis + climax) all the way through to the resolution (denouement).

Obligatory post-its on a wall… would it really be design if there weren’t any? 🤔

This foundation touched on many aspects of the entire story: Who are we designing for? When are they vulnerable? When are they stressed? How can Blanc Ink solve those problems for them? It’s the first step in finding common ground with users and empathizing with their needs.

Crazy Eights

(For idea generation)

One of the things I learned from the wonderful women at Bitchpop Productions (who we also work with) was how film and television scripts are written. It turns out it’s more assembling than typing! Showrunners and screenwriters will plot out their “key moments” and then fill in the blanks, moving from A to B to C.

Some of the ideas generated during the Crazy Eights exercise

Crazy Eights is an activity to allow everyone to come up with their key moments. It’s an opportunity for everyone to quickly assemble their ideas about an interface and an experience.

“It works great early on in the ideation process because it loosens up creative muscles and generates lots of ideas quickly.” 
 — thoughtbot design sprint

After each drawing up our favourite ideas, we discussed and captured some of the more interesting ones. No idea is bad in this scenario… we want to make sure, however, that ideas are right contextually and can work in function.

We came together on which ones would be a) possible, and b) appropriate use cases to further explore. All of the content we unearthed here would go on to influence future decisions.

Design Prototyping

(For content generation)

Getting buy-in from non-designers is critically important in short-burst projects such as this; we need to ideate, understand, and align people from different backgrounds, skills, and knowledge — all in a very short amount of time.

Design prototyping is about executing on the previously generated ideas. This is an exercise that is great to help a large group of people feel like they have a say in a project, and generate ideas from many different perspectives in an organization. After coming up with our “key moments,” combined, moved, and played around with them in paper prototypes. (Like putting ingredients together to form a dish.)

Gut Reaction Test

(For visual design alignment)

As we switched gears into the visual design portion of things, we went through one of my favourite exercises: the Guy Reaction Test, where we asked, “What is your gut reaction to this particular website?” In other words, if each site was yours (swapping in your content, logo, branding, etc), how happy would you be with it? As we went through 20+ different styles, trends, and features of live websites we were able to benchmark the visual design that Blanc Ink was wanting to closely align with.

A screenshot scores compiled from the Gut Reaction Test

This activity can be dangerous if it isn’t contextualized; non-design folks can see other solutions that look great, (and, hey, they probably perform great too) but that particular solution may not be appropriate everywhere. The Gut Reaction Test is meant to act as a guideline for us to explore further, for us to extract aesthetic themes which will serve as reference and guidance as we go through our internal design process.

Various colour themes for Blanc Ink

Putting It All Together 💅🏾

We plowed through a lot of ideas during the condensed design sprint, but at some point we need to go off and do our thing.

Using Our Taste

Right on his homepage, Andrew Clarke of Stuff & Nonsense writes “It’s the taste.” He goes on, “Our taste to be precise. That’s what you’re buying when you choose to work with Stuff & Nonsense.” I love that.

There’s this prevalent notion in software design, it seems ,that you can make a beautiful product simply by forcing it through a test. That you can split-test it infinitely, and eventually — lo and behold — you will happen across something great.

While testing and gathering feedback is important, if not crucial, it isn’t everything. A good designer will follow their gut and validate (or not) afterwards… but that beginning bit needs a spark.

So we used our taste; our knowledge of design foundations. We put together a series of colour themes (some seen above) and typographic palettes (below) that complimented and harmonized with the values and principles discovered in the previous sessions.

Typographic palettes

Once a decision was made for which colour and typographic direction we wanted to go in, and our wireframes had been completed with an understanding of the audience, we went to work putting it all together.

Iterating Rapidly

For us at House House, design and development together hand-in-hand. How we facilitate that is by combining the decision-making processes — it happens all at once. That makes it easy for us to compare front-end operations such as performance and code bloat with visual design decisions, like layout and aesthetics.

We built housecss to solve a series of problems Sean and I had with writing CSS, largely around scaling, scoping, reusability, and composing; we tout it as “a functional CSS library built for rapid iteration.” Creating components and templates was a breeze — we could focus on iterating quickly and not on the code itself so much, as we had already addressed many of our own procedural concerns.

While we are still in active development on housecss (will we ever really be finished, though?), we encourage you to give it a try on your next project!

It was been an inspiring experience working with the Blanc Ink team, and we are excited to see them get traction. (We hope to release some real findings and put together a full case study soon, depending on how the minutia is handle over the coming weeks and months.) We are continuing to push forward working with them — stay tuned for updates. ✌️

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