Looking back & moving forward

2015 was the year we worked on innovations in genetics-lab processing, quantified farming, the smart home, the smart car, web publishing, wearables, personal health, the Hyperloop, an ultrasound medical instrument, reinventing the cancer-patient experience, artificial intelligence and decision support, campaign management, a car sharing service, a system for social giving, and a handful of innovative social networks

... not to mention building our own Shelby Cobra replica here in the studio ... phew!

 

 A snapshot of our first 2 years...

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argonauts aboard

argonauts come from backgrounds as diverse as you can imagine. Our folks have worked in product companies, design agencies, and lots of startups (Lots of startups).

Our skills range from human-centered research to UX design, from mechanical engineering to content strategy, from software development to visual design -- and everything in between.

Hobbies abound. Our crew of foodies and health nuts swap recipes around the kitchen table. The argo supper club reports back with new restaurant recommendations. Collectively, we own more traditional Bavarian garb than you might expect. Hackers, writers, improv actors, tennis players, makers, collectors, and intrepid trekkers fill our ranks.

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Studios Inhabited

In the very first days of 2014, the founders worked out of a rent house. Then we moved into an unoccupied car dealership on South Lamar, with a wood paneled executive suite and formica cubicles. Next came our stint on Dirty Sixth, in a historic building with original limestone walls and blues guitar drifting up from the sidewalk below.

Finally, in June 2014, our permanent home was ready, and we moved into the argo Future Barn where we happily reside today, designing new products, bringing new brands to market, and building a car (after hours, of course).

Moving around isn't exactly a point of pride, but we're proud of what it represents. It says the work comes first; when you choose to undertake work that is meaningful and consequential, the work compels your focus, and the detritus falls away. We're also reminded of the commitments of the argonauts who joined us in those early days, the courageous leap of faith it took for someone to leave a good post and come to work at argo even before we had proper desks or chairs. And we're reminded of the support our friends showed -- the folks who loaned us those spaces to work in, and many more folks who've given us the boost we needed to get going. These experiences will feel familiar to a lot of the entrepreneurs we work with every day. We think it's important to keep those experiences, and our original vision, close in mind as we move forward.

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Clients Served

We're gratified and grateful to have worked with 23 clients in our first two years, including many fixed consulting engagements among a few key partnerships that have lasted throughout all of our two years in business. It's exciting to see the great interest people have shown in the argo story; and at the same time, we're humbled in the face of the innovative ideas and design challenges our clients bring to us.

Among the diversity of problems we've tackled in our first two years, a few themes have stood out. Quantified Life, the shorthand for what happens when every aspect of life is affected by technology, hit full stride this year. From smart home to smart ag, and wearable devices that quantify meaningful aspects of physical health, we've done a lot of work in this area, and we look forward to sharing more about it with announcements in the coming year. Also this year we've worked to develop interfaces that are receding further from view, even as computing becomes more critical to -- invisibly entwined with -- everyday decision making. We're founded on the premise that as software eats the world, it's going to become critically important to build strong relationships between the technology and the people it affects, as Mark Rolston wrote about in FastCo.Design recently. In fact, this underscores another strong theme of the year: the evolution of data as the newest medium for designers, which has taken its place beside the pixel as an effective medium of design expression. In late 2014, Rolston wrote in Wired about the rise of the data artist, outlining how the next era of designers will use data as their medium, and we've seen that development come to full fruition this year in our work with cognitive computing and decision support brought to new areas like farming.

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Brand Identities Created

We are thoroughly enjoying our work with startups. Scrappy, nimble, innovative and passionate, these entrepreneurial teams bring big ideas and lots of energy to their work, and we love helping them create new companies from scratch and bring their concepts to reality. Creating a brand identity is an exciting part of this work. It's a subtle art, beginning with personal explorations of what the new company should become, to the articulation and definition of a new character coming to being, and finally the expression of that character through the creation of a visual language. The creation of a new mark carries substance, as it embodies the promise of the new company.

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Products Launched

By any measure, one of the most rewarding aspects of our work is watching our products be released into the wild. Every designer knows the frustration of creating a product design that never makes it off the desk; and it's all the more heartbreaking when it's a good design that you know has real potential -- if only it could reach the market.

So we established this studio determined to create a model of client partnership that gave our products a better chance of successfully reaching market. It's a model that gives startup companies access to world-class design talent and product strategy expertise that is often out of reach, and brings passionate energy to established companies seeking renewed innovation. And now, two years in, we're profoundly pleased to have demonstrated success. We've helped clients bring 10 new products to the market, during our first 24 months. Our unique model of client relationships is working, even better than we could have imagined.

At the end of the day, it's the work that drives us, so we choose:

  • Work we want to do.
  • Work we find valuable.
  • Projects where our value is clear and concise.
  • Relationships in which the reward may not be immediate,
    but will reflect our contribution and investment over time.
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T-shirts Silkscreened

One of our first equipment purchases -- before we had proper desks or a copy machine -- was a screen printing setup. If you wanted an argo t-shirt, you brought in something your size, mixed the paint until the orange looked about right, and silkscreened it yourself with the squeegee. For new argonauts, we had Friday afternoon screen printing parties. We did a big batch for the Japanese client team who worked onsite with us over the summer. And for December holiday gifts, we had a full assembly line and argo t-shirts draped to dry on every surface.

For our October 2015 open house, we honored the tradition by inviting the Fine Southern Gentlemen to bring their Swag Wagon bicycle rigged up for printing much faster, and our 300 guests loved their new logo tees.

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Furnishings Custom Designed

Our desks here are simple; a tabletop and four legs is really all you need to hold a monitor and a laptop. But Jared Ficklin had in mind a special project to express a little more personality, and teach some metalworking skills in the process. Four argonauts so far have made the trek out to Jared's workshop, a tidy space stocked with power tools and a functional frame he devised to guide construction. Over the course of a full day's work, using 2" square hot-rolled steel tubing, we cut and weld and sand it into shape -- and coming in Monday morning to sit at a desk you built yourself feels might fine. It's further embodiment of our philosophy "think by making and deliver by demo," which we employ in product development every day.

We take pride in where we work, and continue to design and build a lot of our own furniture. The collaborative nature of our open space is important to the rapid iteration in our work. At the same time, we need various other kinds of work spaces to fit various tasks, various projects -- even various levels of energy during any given day. We've designed furnishings to give definition and functionality to all the spaces throughout the studio where we can be creative, and focused, and sociable. And we make space for side projects, like the Paint with RGB Wall that Ficklin showed at Maker Faire (and garnered four blue ribbons). It all feels right.

argodesign by the numbers....

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Our mission is to create products that hide their technological prowess,
evoke delight and demonstrate simplicity and value.