Designing North Studios

The Most Intellectual Justification for Remote Work — and why we Built a Virtual Design Studio

Designing North
Apr 18 · 7 min read

Go remote! A two-word solution to all of your work-related problems right? OK… not so fast. But there is some truth to this mindset; surely you’ve heard this phrase before. Maybe you’ve said it to a friend or family member in need of a quick mental boost. Because the idea of working remotely is enough to overcome a case of the “Sundays” — you know, the dread you’ve felt from the thought of going into the office on Monday.

To be fair, plenty of people don’t mind facing the day after Sunday (shh, don’t speak its name), but that doesn’t mean they don’t value the option to work remotely. In fact, having options is the secret to creating loyal, happy, and productive team members; it’s good for everyone. It cultivates a sense of flexibility that permeates through the business.

The Iron Triangle of Employment

During his TedxRichland talk titled Remote Working Revolution, Justin Jones introduced three decisions that a person must make prior to accepting a traditional job, using the iron triangle of product development. This design principle states that you can prioritize any (and only) two of the following three results at the expense of the other: quality, time, cost.

Justin’s example, “the iron triangle of employment,” is a spin-off of a product development principle that reflects the three factors influenced by traditional jobs: where you live, where you work, and what work you do. Very rarely does a person find alignment among all three factors.

To his point, remote work empowers a person to choose their location, employer, and type of work, eliminating the need to choose between the three. When you can choose all of the factors, life is good. (Although at DN we always insert a 4th option to this equation too, that people and employers must also know their ‘why’ — but that’s another topic.)

The Iron Triangle of Employment — reimagined

Richard Branson and David Coplin — Remote Work

Since the creation of Designing North Studios in 2012, the team has delivered many solutions to happy clients all over the country, all without a central brick and mortar office. The remote working structure — or virtual concept — we find, adds to our team’s effectiveness. Most importantly, the option to work remotely attracts unique individuals to us who display characteristics that are crucial to the design studio’s success i.e., creativity, tenacity, self-dependence, and accountability.

This discovery aligns with the sentiments industry leaders share on behalf of their teams. For example, Richard Branson has never consistently worked out of an office — and he doesn’t appear to be a poor performer. We can’t all be Richard Branson but we can embrace his approach to performance-driven work:

“We like to give people the freedom to work where they want (no more 9–5 mentality), safe in the knowledge that they have the drive and expertise to perform excellently, whether they are at their desk or in their kitchen. Yours truly has never worked out of an office, and never will.”

Similarly, and maybe even more impressive, David Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer of Microsoft UK had this to say about remote work:

“We need to take a more flexible approach to both the workplace and the work we do; one that provides us with both the physical and cognitive space to harness the incredible power, insight and experience we offer, but focused not on the individual processes but instead on the overall outcomes our organizations are seeking to achieve.”

Let his words sink in. They form the most intellectual justification for remote work we’ve heard. And his mindset intersects with the correlation we’ve made between offering flexibility and finding specialized individuals for complex design challenges. That is, when used appropriately, the remote environment enables designers to fully utilize their physical and cognitive space to harness incredible power — creative power, to be precise.

Among other tactics, this creative power is further developed through collaboration, communication, and learning, because the remote environment is highly customizable to the individual. The optimized environment improves cognition which positively impacts performance, quality, production, and happiness — It’s all about finding your flow:

When you’re “in the moment” with a strong focus and good energy, the creative brain comes to life. With less thought capacity being consumed by stress and tension, you are left with more creative juices for self-expression and creative production. This is all according to science, of course.

The Correlation — Remote Work and Flow

Take Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s research on flow as an example. He has contributed pioneering work to our understanding of happiness, creativity, human fulfillment and the notion of flow — a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play, and work. What’s most important here — Mihaly’s decision to base his studies on creative people — artists, scientists, designers, etc. Because the majority of these people spend their lives dedicated to projects and ideas that aren’t driven by fame or fortune.

Instead, they value meaning and achievement, two concepts that influence happiness. What Mihaly found was a tendency for these creatives to find their flow state — an unimaginably strong connection to their craft, one that could be described as being ecstatic.

So, a question for you:

Have you previously met a design studio capable of reaching ecstasy over your business challenge? It takes a special bunch to get there, but we’ve figured out the formula.

Our experiences show that good work is the result of cognitive and creative power. In a perfect world, each project experience would entail a sense of flow. However, when we zoom out on these two factors it’s apparent that they originate from the foundation set forth by remote work.

So next time you need to justify your request to work outside the office or support a colleague’s decision to seek a remote opportunity, share this project with them and repeat the words, ‘a remote design team produced this work; I’m just asking for one day — or two.’ And remind your manager(s) that

Cognitive Power Project Recap:

Online workflow, commerce, statistical algorithms, state management, financial management and integration with enterprise single sign-on systems — it’s all here.

A team of twenty-six DN professionals (remote team members) did their part to make this two-year project breathe life. Fire. When it did, Jones Lang LaSalle’s HiRise commercial real estate leasing platform had a reimagined user experience, refined customer journey, redesigned UI, and scalable architecture. In short, this version 2.0 initiated a new strategic direction for the JLL team. And to think a virtual group was was capable of this execution… Remember, zip codes are not walls. It’s not a location, it’s a mindset.

Communication and workflow (i.e., processes) formed the foundation for this long-term project. We learned that cognitive power is at the mercy of strategic and creative “buy-in” from the entire team, but this is where a distributed workforce shined. Rather than mold practitioners to the project environment, our design leader hand-picked the right strategists, creatives, project leaders, and programmers from the Designing North Network. The cumulative sum of their ideas, focus, and experiences resulted in the creation of the following measurements:

Measures for success

With the goals set, creative strategy came into focus with UI mood boards:

Mood board — the brand

Of course, look and feel are critical. But the user experience remains supreme:


The original measurements were established, the UI elements were chosen, and the development process began:


Did we oversimplify a complex design and development process? Possibly… The point is that our virtual team (twenty-six people!) accomplished the necessary requirements — and added our touch of extra — by harnessing the cognitive power available — a result of our environment and mindset.

We’d like to share our approach and mindset with you. Go ahead, throw your design challenges our way. We’re confident our virtual network of do-gooders can craft a one-off solution.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by +444,678 people.

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Designing North

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A digital design house providing brand creative, experience strategy, and UI/UX design for web, mobile, and social projects. Freelancers always welcome.

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