More Doing, Less Talking

Design lessons from our biggest year to-date

Last year we digitally preserved over 100,000 home movies, 600,000 photos, and 5,808 football fields of film. This represents 26,643 miles of videotape, 95,751 barcode scans, and nearly 10,000 lines of code. We tripled our square footage, doubled our staff, (without any funding) and still managed to give back over $14k to help provide homes to Cambodian families overseas. At Southtree it really does take a village, and we have an incredible team.

Of course, we’re not stopping, there’s always more work to be done. But if I could highlight one concept — one premium that stands tall over all else and enables us to scale — it’s design.

Design in the modern era has almost become cliche. Throw a rock and you’ll hit a dozen self-described creative professionals, each one with a carefully crafted twitter profile. But its for this reason that Southtree’s example is so important, we’re not busy talking, we’re busy doing. And over the course of doing, we’ve managed to glean a few good nuggets which here I’ll attempt to explain.

A female wearing a blue button down shirt and brown cap reaches for a white box with a gray Southtree logo. in the middle. The box is on top of a stack of similar boxes. In the background is a red brick wall.

Intentionality is everything.

As you grow nooks and crannies get neglected. This is okay…until it isn’t. At some point scale catches up with you and a problem which was small is now big. It’s at this time you come to appreciate what is working, which is often something deliberately and intentionally created. This may seem obvious, but it means thinking through how something — a process or a website — will be used.

I still recall the enumerable occasions when our entire offices went dark followed by someone running down to flip the breaker. We had been expanding so quickly no one thought to question whether we’d have enough power. Rest assured, our current space was designed with enough circuits and then some.

White slides with red pictures are being placed in a black slide carousal.  The image on the slide in the foreground is a of a bright print sunset over a lake.

Empathy is king.

Customer service was the very last department which we handed off to our team. I think we held on because it kept us grounded. We could feel, with an acute awareness, the areas of our company that needed improvement. Feeling leads to understanding and understanding leads to solutions.

Last year we scrapped our order tracking system in favor of a completely new one we built from the ground up. We could feel (not just know) how important someone’s personal collection of irreplaceable memories is. This gave us focus. We designed a system that provided peace-of-mind with consistent updates. We wanted to communicate the hands-on nature of our work, so every update included the names and faces of the team members who were involved. And, every system is only as great as the people using it, so we built it to be fool proof. The system runs on iPads mounted at every workstation so updating customers is now as easy as a scan.

[caption id="attachment_4859" align="aligncenter" width="940"]A female sits in front of her computer. The screen shows Southtree's new order tracking page. On November 21st  her order shipped after its final review on November 21st. Redesigned order tracking system[/caption]

Nothing is final.

This is the grand idea. This is the one thing I can leave you with. You will never reach the precipice. Your work will never be done. Everytime we’ve thought we’ve solved it, new opportunities arise, or new insights are gained, and you go back to reevaluating. If you understand this it can be a great comfort. It means you can leave your work and decompress. It means you’ll always be getting better.

“The only sense that is common in the long run, is the sense of change…” — E.B. White

I remember an image of a Porsche 911 with the caption, “An ode to iteration.” It is remarkable since the 911's introduction in 1963 how small the gradations of change have been. Yet, in totality the 911 today is arguably a more perfected machine then its predecessors. The cumlitive work of many designers and engineers over a sustained period of time has created a recognizable classic. It is also reminder that nothing is ever final, and change is a certainty.

As we approach another record year, tracking to double again, we are once again reevaluating, feeling out new opportunities and challenges that require intentionally designed responses.

More Doing, Less Talking: Design Lessons from Our Biggest Year to-date originally appeared on Medium