Adventures in User Experience and Design for an Open edX Site

Open edX is an open-source MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) platform.  This means that anyone can take the Open edX software and start offering open online courses available t

o everyone.

edX , the creators of Open edX, offer the main MOOC site which provides users opportunities to learn regardless of who and how old they are,  as long as they have access to a computer. Countless institutions and nonprofit organizations have been using edX to offer access to quality educational and interactive content to their users.

One big advantage of edX is the ability to allow learners to learn at their own pace. Unlike traditional lectures in which students follow the same curriculum schedule and project deadlines as others, edX offers flexibility to those who are less positioned for traditional education.

Moreover, edX is a brilliant way to share knowledge since in a traditional lecture environment, there are maximum capacities and limited seating and yet in an edX course, content can be shared among tens of thousands of students while at the same time adhering to quality standards.

As an open-source software, almost every component can be modified to tailor the product to different types of clients and use-cases. However, it is important to keep lean design and development methodology in mind and focus on creating a minimum viable product offering the most learner/user value as soon as possible.  Only then the user’s behavior, needs and wants can be understood to tailor the platform specifically for the them over time.

In this blog post, we will take an inside look at the process of user interface design ofan Open edX platform, specifically regarding the first cycle of the process: Creating the minimal viable product. This process can be divided down to three components— Research, Ideation, and Pre-implementation.

User Experience Research

Prior to starting the research process, it’s essential to measure the scope of the project. The understanding of the qualitative and quantitative goals, the context, the restraints, and the stakeholders is an essential activity that lays the foundation of a project and serves as the reference for future design and development decisions. Starting a project without this comprehension can be compared with an attempt to hitchhike through the galaxy without a towel.

With the end of this process, the Research portion then transitions towards understanding who your target audience is. Understanding your target user is one of the most important aspects of a project and one of the most important stakeholders. (Unless you are an infamous cable company of course).

The HBO show Silicon Valley exemplifies the fact that users can easily determine the fate of a project because in spite extraordinary talent and dedication devoted to the middle-out compression process, Pied Piper failed when they failed to understand their users.

It’s common to not have enough travel budget to visit and and interview target users, but this doesn’t mean there aren’t any opportunities to understand the user. One of the handiest tricks is creating user personas covering as many details as possible, just like the introduction of the movie Amelie,  which provides irrelevant yet interesting facts of the personas, making them more believable.

Guiding the personas through the 5 E’s of User Experience would be the next step. The 5 E’s (Entice, Enter, Engage, Exit, and Extend) enables designers to gain a better systematic understanding of how they would interact with the interface and overall how the experience would be like for them. Here are some questions to ask yourself in each section:

How would they hear about this learning offering??
What entices them to use this learning offering?
What’s their motive to use this learning offering?

How would they access the Open edX platform?
What’s the process of accessing the Open edX platform for them?
What should their first impression be about the Open edX platform?
What might drive them away upon first encounter with the Open edX platform?

How would they interact with the core functions of the Open edX platform?
What kind of pain points would possibly occur to them?
How many features would they actually be using?

How would they exit the Open edX platform?

What kind of take-away would they have even when they are not using the platform?
What’s the long term influence on them from the edX platform?

Through the process of creating user personas, a lot of questions, critiques, insights, and problems will pop-up as well as fresh ideas for features that would suite the target user.
While new ideas are always welcome, the main purpose of this first cycle is over-simplifying. Creating a minimum viable product is more ideal compared to one with too many confusing features and add-ons. And refer back to the project scope to make sure the decisions align with it.

The understanding of what information is important to the user, what would entice them to sign up, and what might confuse them can also be learnt from the user journey. From this exercise, the basic flow of information of the landing page can be determined.


This next process starts off by translating all the essential information into a wireframe, which is the skeletal framework of a website page. Wireframes help designers in the way sketches help illustrators, gives them a rough idea of the appearance of the page and enables them to experiment with different styles of presentation and order.

To make this information relatable and easier for users to understand, integrating graphic content, pictures with tagline, and implementing a clear hierarchy of text style definitely helps.

At this stage, it’s important to still not get too stuck on tiny details like tweaking every kerning between letters, or writing the perfect copy, but to instead focus on the general flow and presentation style of the information. Also, it’s important to constantly check-in with developer during this process to see if the design is doable from the developer’s perspective. The design portion is just half of the website and receiving affirmation from the other half is equally important.

It’s worth noting here that with Open edX instances, we think that not having a prominent and meaningful splash page telling potential learners about the offering is a lost opportunity. It is also an opportunity to build the brand more and do something fun. So building on the default landing page with the main hero image, we like to expand more and talk more about the offering with clear messaging and call to actions, in a modern full-page layout.
Once the wireframe has been tweaked and edited to where you’re finally satisfied with the structure, this is where little details such as colors, fonts, button styles, and cards come into play. These are all used to solidify the theme and overall harmony of the page itself.

Often clients provide a style guide with primary and secondary color palettes of the brand in which case the color styling would mainly be a matter of establishing clear hierarchy with selected colors within the page to emphasize certain buttons of information. When the style guide isn’t provided or is considered to be too minimal, there are many online tools that can be utilized to assemble great color palette like Adobe Kuler, or Colllor.

Often font families are specified in the style guide, but when they’re not, there are tons of free fonts provided on Google Fonts. Be wary of using paid fonts that might not be supported by all browsers and of course, never comic sans.

There have been many successful iterations of a button design, but the real trick is knowing how to combine its high-priority stature (making people want to click on it) while at the same time harmonizing with the rest of the page’s elements.To achieve a consistent style of buttons throughout the platform, it is essential to check in with the developer to see if the style of the button can be implemented not just on this page, but sitewide.

​There’s no better way to create a responsive layout and a coherent display of information than using system of cards. In edX, cards are used to not only organize courses but can also be used to display perks of the platform or testimonials of the users. While there are lots of guides online to create the perfect card, the one from Google Material is highly recommended to use.


Note: Before creating the style guide, don’t forget to receive approval from the developer involved to understand their preference to speed up the implementation process.

This process involves creating style guides for implementing the design onto the live page. There are many tools that can help designers create specification guides with pixel to pixel perfection, the plugin Measure for Sketch being one of them. You not only have the ability to turn a rectangle into a height guide using “lite height”, but also can obtain the property of an object without any significant hassle.   

It is important to note that the research and design process is never a linear process–there’s often tedious actions involved such as checking user personas to see if the style of information is suitable for the target users or checking the project scope to ensure the information is aligned with it.

Another problem that every designer and developer duo run into more than often is when the design is rendered unimplementable and needs to be altered; causing a storm of headaches and frustration. For this we recommend the designer and developer to be in close contact through the definition and build out process, and then standardize the solution for future implementations.

While it can be frustrating at times, the sweet satisfaction that you’ve successfully designed and implemented a Open edX site that fully satisfies your customer and their learners is always the most rewarding part.

Immersive Experiences for Social Change

At every stage of our lives, we have dreams of being successful in our own respect and even indulge ourselves in the delusion of being someone else to escape our reality. From dreaming of the day you are Kendrick Lamar spitting bars in front of thousands to replacing your friend who is currently backpacking in Europe, dreaming of wanting to someone else or someone famous is nothing out of the ordinary.

On the flip side, when was the last time you imagined being less fortunate than you are now? Not a few dollars poorer mind you, but completely penniless with no home or family. Imagine yourself as that, as an eight year old Syrian refugee who was separated from her family amidst all the chaos. I bet you have never imagined experiencing the pain of being forever bound to a wheelchair or the struggles of being autistic and experiencing constant stimulation overloads.

There’s nothing wrong with this, if there was a choice between being Kendrick Lamar or a Syrian refugee for a day, most would rather be spitting rhymes. It’s nice to dream and imagine once in awhile, but the fact is that Kendrick Lamar is indeed real and sadly so are thousands of Syrian refugees.

Despite reading various articles and watching documentaries and news reports from time to time, most people turn a blind eye or quickly forget. It’s our emotional empathy that enables others to understand and share feelings of another and with the amount of violence and tragedies arising recently, it’s no wonder it’s at an all time low.

Being empathetic, especially to the ones that are less fortunate can shift your perspective and give you opportunity to learn to think, feel, and act beyond yourself. It’s the factor that makes you want to put yourself in Syrian refugee’s shoes and it’s the factor that makes you want to help. For those that understand the importance of this, they’re trying to help in their own unique ways; one of them using Virtual Reality and 360 Video.

One of the most powerful tools for creating an emotional response is visually. There are filmmakers, engineers and designers now working to create immersive experiences with virtual reality and 360 video to help create these responses. So bring out your Google glass, Samsung VR Gear, Oculus Rift, or HTC Vive, and let’s hop on the emotional roller coaster and live vicariously through a few individuals to experience what they saw, heard, and most importantly, how they felt.


Since 2012, the two co-founders of RYOT, Bryn Mooser and David Darg have been creating documentaries in the medium of immersive experiences. The topics of their works have expanded beyond their original focus of 2010 Haiti Earthquake to covering critical issues such as elephant poaching, oil industry pollution and the migration of refugees.

One of our favorite works from them would be Confinement. A powerful documentary covering prison and inmate culture, the immersive experience is set inside a solitary confinement cell. Looking closely at select inmates, we are guided through stories of how it is to live in a tiny concrete box and their inhuman treatment for years and for some, even decades. While the visual and audio elements are simple, it turns to be extremely effective when paired with the powerful narration. If the documentary was viewed from the big screen, it would certainly have been memorable, but viewing it from my headset with a full 360 experience made it that much more powerful.

In My Shoes

In 2007 Jane Gauntlett experienced a traumatic brain injury that left her in coma for three weeks. Six months after that she was diagnosed with epilepsy, giving her seizures episodes without any prior signs or warnings. In such a short amount of time her world had completely turned upside-down. Not only did she have a tough time adjusting, but the people around her were also unaccustomed to the symptoms of the disorder.

Using 360 video, she started an immersive experience project In my Shoes as a tool to articulate immersively  what it is like to be in her shoes and to help her family and friends understand this. Using a GoPro and other instruments, she recreates her dreadful experience of a seizure incident she had in an upscale restaurant while waiting for her friends. While it started off as a tool for communicating with direct family and friends, the video has gained a lot of traction and has influenced many across numerous countries and institutions.

One of the most memorable parts of the experience was how she simulates her version of a blackout. No matter how much you turn or how hard you look, everything is pitch dark. The audio of a loud pink noise and an unnerving visual of darkness truly creates the illusion of being disconnected from your body and the outside world; an exceptional look into what a seizure episode is like.

Clouds Over Sidra

We soak up all different kinds of news each and every day. Whether one company acquired another or whether there are issues in a country, the internet has enabled people around the world to have constant access to news. When it comes to issues in the Middle East specifically, it has been a constant issue in the past couple decades. With Syrian refugees being one of the most recent issues, there have been a lot of newspapers and news reports covering this. However, does this really give us the full picture of the issue? While a lot of people are informed about the situation, it’s the empathy that is lacking here. People soak up news, but what do they do after? They forget and wait for something else to pop up–a completely normal  behavior these days.

Chris Milk and Bago Arora set out a journey aiming to solve this issue of de-sensitization. Capturing the life of Syrian refugees’ lives in the camp in Jordan, the immersive experience follows a 12-year-old Syrian girl who has spent an year and a half in the refugee camp. Talking about her view of education, entertainment, and quality of life within the boundaries of the camp, the experience takes you to multiple places in the camp like her home, school, bakery, and computer shop. We can never be sure if the barbed wire fence around the camp is to keep others from getting in or to keep them from getting out, but the life in a refugee camp through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl, is somehow naive yet optimistic.

A Walk Through Dementia

While most diseases discovered by doctors have their combatting cures and treatments, Dementia does not. Dementia is not simply a byproduct of aging, but an extremely complex disease that affects millions of people around the world everyday. Symptoms can include  forgetfulness, limited social skills, and thinking abilities so impaired that it interferes with daily functioning. The struggles of handling this disorder not only involves the patient, but the people surrounding also. Dementia, the disorder wrapped in mystery and confusion, is one of the most heartbreaking and confusing to deal with since the symptoms have been sorted out, but the cause and cure is unknown. Wives, husbands, children, and parents are often quickly turned into caretakers for patients and hardly know how to deal with it.

Developed by Alzheimer’s Research UK, A Walk through Dementia is a series of immersive experiences going through daily life from the viewpoint of dementia patients. Recreating what the patients see and how they feel, this series is an attempt to try to get these emotions across to people who are looking after them to help them understand the disorder itself.

The rhythmic pounding of the heart, the panicking pitch of the voice, and the semi-interactive environment is more than enough to show the viewer what it’s like to have Dementia. However, after testing it myself, it not only showed me what it was like, but also somehow convinced my mind I had Dementia also. It was absolutely terrifying when my brain couldn’t remember certain aspects that the narrator was also trying to recall. This realistic measure to show what Dementia does to an individual is dauntingly effective, and we can confidently say that the 360 video did its job.

‘Be Another’ lab

Unlike other immersive experience projects that have been covered, ‘Be Another Lab’ doesn’t use a pre-recorded experience to draw out others’ empathy but instead uses a live performer that mimics your actions and visuals from their point of view. These are then transmitted to your VR headset, effectively creating your identity virtually onto a different person’s body with the ability of interacting with surroundings. The performer also wears a microphone to tell their personal narrative throughout the experience.  

This allows you to truly feel what it is like to be bounded on a wheelchair, to be the opposite gender, or to be a different race by enabling you to interact with the body that you’re virtually in. You can move around in a room, interact with different objects in a variety of settings such as in a different color of skin or physical condition. Most interesting of all, you’re able to virtually switch body with another person with the device Be Another Lab has developed that lets you see yourself from other’s point of view.

All these experiences gives us an unprecedented empathetic perspective on some situations, and looking at the more somber parts of life makes reality as real as it can get without actually being there.

100 Venture Capitalists You Can Trust


Venture Capital has its pros and cons–raise money and you give part of your company away and depending on the VC, this can often lead to them subjecting your company to scrutiny and outside oversight, not to mention a board seat or two. While these cons are indeed daunting, they give you money to grow your team, build your product, scale up sales and operations and more.

So while it’s tempting to accept any money that comes your way, it’s important to think heavily about these five concepts first:

1. Does the VC bring domain expertise in your type of business

  • Finding a VC that’s skilled and knowledgeable in your area of expertise and industry is always beneficial.

2. Does the VC respect your startup timeline

  • While communication with your investors is always important, respecting the need to be patient and for time to focus on building your startup over managing VC stakeholders is a good quality for VCs to have. Patience is indeed a virtue here.

3. What’s the caliber and expertise of the VC’s network

  • Getting a well-known venture capitalist with great connections is always a bonus.”It’s not just what you know, but who you know” holds very true in this case, and social capital is key along with cash Having great connections can often attract brilliant individuals as partners, customers, investors or employees.

4. Understanding that they won’t be the only ones coming through your door

  • If the VC understands and respects your equity resources, then they’re definitely a keeper. Often times startups reserve shares for later rounds of funding, so finding a VC that acknowledges your drive for further growth is beneficial.

5. Types of startups funded and success rate

  • A track record investing in successful reputed startups with favorable exits is key.

With this in mind, our team has formulated a list of 100 VC’s you can trust. While not each one will be a good fit for your startup, each of these VC’s carry a respectable reputation within their industries. With several years of experience each, the number of successful startups they have invested in are staggering, with a combined $250B in funds managed.

11 Tangible Benefits Of Pokemon Go

Pokemon has long been in the hearts of many children and teenagers through countless renditions, but the one thing that they have all been waiting for was a mobile version. Carrying a Nintendo DS was no longer app

ropriate for school or college and these once loved DS’s were pushed to the back shelf, replaced by a computer or Xbox.

Despite this Pokemon has been able to remain afloat with constant game releases, TV episodes, trading cards and me

rchandise. The Pokemon spirit resides in every millennial that played Pokemon as a child and Pokemon Go is a veritable adventure down memory lane.

While most fanatics are more familiar with the traditional layout of Pokemon with a vast map filled with different gyms, Pokemon, and a central storyline, Pokemon Go has similar features with the added experience of Augmented Reality. While the original Pokemon games inserted you into this fantasy world filled with mysterious caves and sprawling fields, Pokemon Go has the ability to take place right where you are:  in in your car, your school,  your bed, your backyard, and pretty much anywhere on the globe. This app has created endless possibilities for every Pokemon aficionado, old or new, out there.

While there have been many attempts to integrate AR into video games, Pokemon Go effectively brings together an unprecedented experience. Pokemon Go’s AR features can be divided into two aspects: Real time map data and Real world Pokemon catching. Using Google Maps to integrate real world geography within it’s own design and architecture, Pokemon Go distributes objectives around the world for players called PokeStops. These PokeStops, are typically located on famous and noteworthy landmarks around town.

Besides the fact that it is ridiculously fun, here are 11 tangible benefits of playing Pokemon Go.

1. Embrace the Outdoors

Watching the sunrise and realizing it’s been over 2 days since you’ve been outside is a situation most gamers have found themselves in. Lucky for Pokemon Go players, the game can only be played while you’re out and about.​
2. Meet and Make Friends

If there’s a nearby lure on a Poke Stop, chances are a herd of fellow trainers are occupying the area. This app enables a whole lot of social interactions,from team rivalry to discovering rare Pokemon together. Countless of Pokemon “walking” groups have popped up on Facebook and thousands of people stop by the most popular Poke Stop in NYC on the outskirts of Central Park (59th and 5th Ave).
3. Millennial Throwback

For every millennial that played the original Pokemon games, this app is something that is placed close to their hearts. While the old Pokemon games were fun when we were kids, having a little “technology upgrade” is definitely something every millennial that played the old games relishes with delight.
4. Explore your City

Since Poke Stops are based off of real landmarks and spaces, using this app makes it easy to explore different places around your city; places that you probably wouldn’t have gone to if not for this app.
5. Great Physical Benefits

​The game’s main feature is that it requires movement to gain items, catch Pokemon, hatch eggs, and conquer gyms; aka physical exercise. While it might not pack in 2 hours of cardio fitness at the gym, certainly walking 10km to hatch your egg must benefit your physical well-being.
6. Great Mental Benefits

​Besides the cardiovascular benefits of walking the distance and preventing diabetes and other sicknesses, immersing yourself in the great outdoors also has beneficial mental improvement such as being capable of reducing depression, anxiety, and agoraphobia.
7. New Outlet for Businesses

If you’re a business looking for fresh business opportunities, integrating Pokemon Go will certainly attract a new wave of audience. From cafe signs advertising as a Poke Stop location to business ads based on Pokemon, there’s endless opportunities to what Pokemon Go can bring to your marketing plan.
8. AR Opportunities for Brands

​The app’s iteration and involvement with AR has proven that society is ready for AR mainstream usage which has truly opened up the doors to AR possibilities for all brands out there.
9. Increases Gaming Awareness

Ever considered yourself a closet nerd or gamer? It’s ok, you’re not alone. Before the Pokemon Go’s release, video games have been making a phenomenal increase in downloads and daily players. However, where this app really stands out from the rest is that it isn’t based off a console like its predecessors, but on smartphones, a powerful platform in the hands of two thirds of the American population. Despite only being released a couple weeks ago, it is the number one downloaded app with a reported 21 million active user count.

10. Education Integration

Despite being a video game, Pokemon Go is being integrated in a certainly unexpected medium: Education. Here are a few articles of key examples:

11. Cute Merchandise

Every millennial that played the Pokemon games when they were little can remember the other benefit of entering the Poke-world: The merchandise. From the stuffed Pikachu to the trading cards, there was no end to the amount of goodies one could buy and we’re excited for what’s to come with the Pokemon Go release.

Essential Tools for New Startups

We work with a variety of startups across Product, User Experience, Design, Development, Architecture, QA, Operations and more. We partner with them from the early stages of

a founder with an idea to scaling and supporting millions of users. After many years of immersing ourselves in the startup environment, we’ve got a good idea of the most suitable tools and services to create a successful startup.

Here are some tools across Analytics, Marketing, Billing, Careers, System/Tech and Operations that we have found to be most useful for technology oriented startups i.e startups who have an in-house technology team developing products and services.

Metrics are a key part of any business; a way to keep a check on the health of your product and startup as a whole. The key analytic tools we found helpful to startups are as follows. Note that these do not include broader business analytics metrics since these are more suited for product analytics and performance. (Which in the case of most tech startups is the key metric to track).


Google Analytics: A great way to keep track of general performance of your web and mobile sites in the form of unique visitor numbers and provides traffic sources and paths through your product. While it might not be ideal for individual event tracking, it has gotten great for cross device tracking including native mobile apps. Besides these, it also lets you track the performance of your paid advertising channels, outside of Google Adwords own analytics .

FlurryAn irreplaceable product for mobile event analytics that lets you segment your user analytics and chase down the best user acquisition channels. Startups tend to use this alongside Google Analytics for in-depth mobile app tracking and optimization.

MixpanelThe best product for real time event tracking and easy for tracking events you really care about. While also letting you set-up paths and goals, Mixpanel is nice for big picture analytics and super easy to use for non-tech savvy stakeholders. Note that usage can become addictive in terms of observing how your product is being used in real-time; save the analysis for when you have data from more clickstreams..


KissMetricsIf you’re doing any kind of A/B testing, Kissmetrics is your go-to option. It provides several options to monitor a variety of tests with a focus on actual users, user cohorts, and user behavior across your product.

App FiguresThis lets you track key app metrics including installs and active users and has a nice alert feature to send you periodic emails with this information.

Chartbeat: Nothing quite like seeing a dashboard of your key metrics in one place and in one tab. Chartbeat makes this happen.

CrazyEgg: If you want to know where your users are clicking on your site Crazy Egg is the answer. Equipped with the finest such tracking and several visualization options from heatmaps to ‘click dots’, CrazyEgg is one of the most advanced products in its industry.


Facebook: Ideal channel to target a B2C audience and enables phenomenal reach with limited cost. Has the ability to heavily target by demographic and if integrated, we recommend making use of pages specific to your business.

Twitter: Ideal for B2B and B2B engagement, a must for any startup.

Instagram Suitable if your business has something visual to portray e.g product shots. Mostly used if your business is related to travel, events, or you conduct business at a venue your customers visit e.g a restaurant or a store.

Hootsuite: Lets you post and track performance across multiple social channels including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more. An invaluable timesaver and among other such tools we’ve evaluated, Hootsuite is the best place to start.

Vimeo: Great for promotional videos you want to embed on your website or blog. It provides a nice clean white-labeled player and lets you customize the theme. 

YouTube: Great place to put up video content and have it be discovered organically and shared directly on Youtube and other social channels.

DisqusIf you have a blog or a comments section on your website, Disqus is a great solution to use. With their user count already in astounding numbers, it can be used to pull in other relevant content.

Yelp (Business Owner): Highly recommended to set up an account if you are a local business and local discovery is important to you.

Google AdWordsThis is the Go-To tool for online paid advertising since the majority of internet users use and absorb content through Google. If you are looking to enter the world of paid online advertising, Google Adwords is the place to start.

WordPressIf you’re looking for a platform to start a great blog, look no further because WordPress is the Go-To Solution. Easy to use with several pre-existing themes and templates, as well as several plugins for things like SEO, visual elements, payments and more.

Survey MonkeyAmong the various survey tools out there, Survey Monkey is a great tool to run periodic surveys with your users and prospective users. A close second is Survey Gizmo, followed by Google Forms if you like to keep things simple.

Shutterstock: We all need stock images once in awhile, Shutterstock being one of the best places to go for this. With high quality shots and reasonable prices, this company certainly has every type of picture you need.  

MailchimpAmong email marketing tools out there, this is the most popular and recommended email marketing tool. With well rounded sets of features in all respects, Mailchimp is designed to be user-friendly and is a great tool to start your email marketing adventures with.

Hasoffers: A great way to offer your product or service to several affiliate marketers and networks. In other words, let other networks market for you, grow your audience, and create new revenue opportunities. You should only consider this if you were looking to distribute your services via affiliate marketing.

123rfA good source of royalty-free images as well as non standard stock photography.

If you are collecting any kind of money directly online from your users, then you need a variety of billing solutions besides your main bank of course.

First DataThe de-facto Payment Processor, with several settlement options and competitive rates.

Paypal: A service that enables you to pay, send money, and accept payments. If you plan to collect money via Paypal, you will need their business account. 

​BraintreeAmong modern credit card gateways out there, (eg Stripe, Braintree etc) we find Braintree to be the most user-friendly and competitive. They also provide end to end solutions from payment gateways to payment processors. They recently have become the only solution to support all types of payments including Paypal via one solution, which makes it a clear winner above the rest.

Freshbooks: Collecting and tracking invoices? Freshbooks is ideal.

If you need something shipped, these two top-of-the-line delivery services provide fast and easy
​transportation. Sorry if we sound like Captain Obvious here.


Freshdirect: A New York City specific company that delivers fresh groceries right to your doorstep. If your startup is in New York and you like to keep a stocked fridge with fresh food for your employees, look no further.

Seamless: Working late or don’t want to step outside in horrendous weather?  Seamless is an online food ordering service that brings lunch right to your doorstep.

Bluebottle: We and many startups we work with are not huge fans of some of the standard corporate office choices. Instead, we prefer drip coffee, specifically of the Single Source variety. The best choice for this in our opinion is Blue Bottle Coffee.

CDC Coffee: Refreshment distribution company. Recommended brews: Flavia/Alterra

Starbucks: An American coffee company and coffeehouse chain.

Bulk Purchasing

BestBuy:  An all encompassing electronics store that has just about everything a startup could need. Helps to get an account with the to avail of various discounts and points for your miscellaneous electronics.

Amazon Store: If you don’t want to get up from your chair to buy supplies or pretty much anything your office needs, Amazon store is the answer. They have occasional deals like Amazon Prime day which will help further prove your frugal characteristics to your investors.

Office Supplies

Staples: In regards to bulk office supplies, Staples provides a huge variety in every category that any office could possibly need.

​Quill: For competitive prices and a New York native office supply solution, try this supply store.

Looksharp: A job search site specifically for the intern level where you can find your ideal internship from their large database.

Indeed: Indeed provides millions of jobs to searches around the world, and lets you easily list job postings and find suitable talent

System/ Tech
Amazon S3
Standing for Simple Storage System, Amazon S3 provides developers and IT teams with secure, durable, and highly-scalable cloud storage; great for every startup.

Apple has long since been a provider for phones and other technical mediums for years. Whether it be a new iPhone or iMac, Apple products have been the standard for tech companies due to the low learning curves and myriad of exclusive programs available. Also critical to have an account here if you’re developing an iPhone or iPad application.

Adobe Creative Cloud
A must-have for every designer out there, the Adobe Creative Cloud contains essential design programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator and Premiere that have been used in countless creative products that constantly shifts the design world we know today.  

This service exists to enable developers to build and run applications entirely in the cloud with easy in-built tools that save you from getting your hands dirty with devops or the like. Some products that Heroku provides out of the box Heroku Platform, Redis, Postgres, and many more. 

Engine Yard
This one is for all of the engineers developing critical Rail apps out there. This is a logical next jump from Heroku for hosting your Ruby on Rails applications.

GoDaddy is a reliable and affordable no-frills web hosting company. Use it as a one-stop-shop for your domains and simple websites. While it provides affordable WordPress and PHP hosting options, its in-house website creation templates are not the most aesthetic.  

DynDNS (Secondary DNS)
Great alternative to GoDaddy for cheap domains and some flexible options to manage sub domains and certificates.

This tool is key to analyzing exceptions in your code. As soon as any crash, exception or error is detected, an alert with detailed information about the error and suggestions to address the issue is sent to you.

Often considered to be every software engineer’s best friend. As one of the most popular code hosting platforms out there, Github brings people from all over the world to collaborate on millions of projects, and gives your startup a place to host and collaborate on your code securely. 

In regards to website monitoring, this platform makes it easy to track the uptime, downtime, and performance of websites.

Pivotal Tracker
This platform enables users to manage their projects, collaborate efficiently, and develop better projects. As an agile project management tool, it’s lightweight, easy to use, and our personal favorite for agile software development teams of 6 or less. For bigger teams and projects, JIRA does the trick.

All developers share the same knowledge that fixing bugs and performance issues are never fun to do. This program offers the very solution to that: A performance management solution that enables developers to fix these problems in real time.  An equivalent but more cost effective option is DataDog.

If your website or apps are slow due to excess data, this company specializes in making them faster by replicating, purging and provisioning content instantly.

Usability Hub
If you need instant user experience testers for your product, UsabilityHub is the place to go. With multiple tests such as the Five Second Test or Questions Test, UsabilityHub captures design feedback quickly and easily with these.

This proxy is really great for web developers who need to watch and manipulate network traffic for their AJAX applications. This free proxy provides a multitude of services including capturing performance data, manipulating browser behavior and traffic, simulating network traffic latency, and many more.

This program enables developers to test their website across various browsers on different operating systems and mobile devices without requiring users to install virtual machines, devices, or emulators; often the cause of a huge headache.

If you’re sending emails to hundreds or more, it can often get pretty overwhelming. This service is the one platform that your email desperately needs. Providing services like transactional delivery and email marketing campaign assistance, Sengrid provides world-class technology and personal attention from their experts.

Assuming your startup is using Rails, this is a useful tool. Railscast is designed for intermediate rail learners (although you can still get something out of it if you’re a beginner or expert) and is a website hosting various videos on tips and tricks to learning Rails as a developer. The screencasts are short and sweet specifically focusing on one technique so you can quickly move on to applying it to your own project. The Pro option to this contains more screencasts each week.

Ruby Gems:
This service is the Ruby community’s gem hosting site where you can instantly publish gems and install them. Easy to interact with and an invaluable tool for all Ruby developers out there. No wonder that an oft-quoted maxim in the RoR world is “There’s a Gem for that”.

Calico DeskStanding Desks have taken over the startup hub with its change of pace from sitting down for nine hours to being provided a whole array of positions. Our personal favorite is the Calico Designs 51230 Sierra Height Adjustable Desk that can be bought off of Amazon. Why do we love it? It’s the most sturdy, right sized instantly adjustable standing desk at less than $200.

Solano Labs:
This company provides powerful, scalable systems that increases efficiency and quality. For a software engineer, the services provided here truly are your best friend.

Test Flight:
As Apple’s own beta testing software, Test Flight allows developers to test their apps with a group of internal servers. This is an extremely valuable asset to developers since receiving feedback is critical to the design process before uploading to the App Store.

Communication is key for every startup, this cloud communications platform specializing specifically in this. This can include embedding messaging, voice, video, authentication in your apps with simple and powerful API, and other aspects that improve your communications on your platform significantly.  


Dropbox: As one of the most popular online file storage systems out there, it enables you to share and collaborate online better than any other file sharing solution. It has high limits on storage at low cost and constantly keeps getting better.

Gmail: A classic email platform that has been on the Internet since 2004, Gmail is a web-based email that provides users 1GB of free storage. When used as part of Google Apps for Work, it performs as a full service email solution eliminating the need for an email server like Microsoft Exchange.

Google Apps For WorkIf Google made an all encompassing product that provided every Google app that’s beneficial for businesses, it would be this one. Some of these apps includes Google Hangouts, Documents, Calendar, Forms, and many more, again eliminating the need for your business to maintain infrastructure to support these tools.

Microsoft Office Business Account: A true classic when it comes to online business products especially in the enterprise B2B world if you’re working with corporate clients. Sometimes Google Apps won’t load those crazy Excel macros.

Jive: As a large scale Cloud-based phone service, Jive works best for business-grade companies who want reliable, powerful, and economical hosted communication service.

Hipchat: If you’re looking for a group and video chat that works well for teams, Hipchat is definitely your fix. Designed to liberate working individuals from their desks, this system provides a variety of goodies such as video calling, screen and file sharing, and the security that every company craves.

GoToMyPc: If your employees need to work remotely, this tool enables easy remote access to your work computer anywhere and anytime.

Mapbox:  Mapbox is an open source mapping platform that lets you create beautiful custom designed maps. It’s a provider of maps for several huge companies such as Foursquare, Pinterest, Evernote, and the Financial Times.  We love the visual options it has over Google maps but is not ideal cost-wise if you have massive volumes.

Olark: Armed with incredible features including the knowledge of who’s visiting your website and where they’re looking, Olark is one of the most advanced and yet easy-to-use live chat systems available. A good way to get instant engagement with your site visitors.

Salesforce: The leading CRM platform that employees can access entirely over the Internet and truly prioritizes the customer by putting them at the center of everything that you do. Great benefits of using Salesforce include improvement in these areas: Sales, Customer Service, Marketing, Community, Analytics, Apps, and the IoT Cloud. For lighter alternatives, we recommend Pipedrive, Highrise and Base CRM.

Better Business Burea: You’ll need an account here if your startup is related to a traditional business that is tracked by the BBB. Hopefully you start and stay with that A+ rating.

Behance: As the leading online creative platform, Behance is great for discovering hidden and raw talent.  Use it to seek inspiration or find that visual designer your startup needs. Note that it’s known to have outlandish/experimental designs compared to the more level dribbble. 

MyFax: Fax machines have since gone and left with this new tool that let’s you send and receive faxes through multiple mediums such as phone, email, or the web.

Vistaprint: If you’re looking for customized and personally designed marketing material for your business, Vistaprint is a great solution. This company provides 100% customization in an array products such as business cards, posters, signs, stationery, and many more. The best part is when you sign up with them they send you a free pack of swag including a T-Shirt with your branding on it.

Vonage: Provides quality phone service for home, small business, and business phone systems. This is a good option if you plan to do a lot of international calling. 

TrelloThis platform enables you to visually collaborate with teammates on boards and other aspects of the creative process. This is an especially powerful product for designers since communicating visually is very effective and also provides a light way to get organized about any kind of project.

SlackThis is undoubtedly the tool of choice for office collaboration, replacing email, IM and file sharing tools.

SpotifyOne of the top music streaming platforms available, Spotify enables free access to millions of songs all on the tips of your fingers. Getting a company account can help if you like to play music in common areas. We found that many development teams at startups like to have this benefit.

Design Driven at the United Nations

Design Driven hosted their 19th event at the United Nations HQ and attracted almost a thousand attendees. It was a fitting venue for some stellar  speakers who also raised some noteworthy attention:

A fireside chat with Jeffrey Zeldman and Jen Simmons rounded off the wonderful event and we’re thankful to FirstMark for hosting it.

Amber Cartwright kicked it off with a talk on ‘Co-Designing with Machines’. Amber is a Design Manager at Airbnb where she oversees several teams evolving the company’s two-sided marketplace experiences. She has been a designer for over fifteen years, working across several mediums including interactive exhibit design, design agency consulting and video editing in New York, Portland and San Francisco. She has created designs and user experience strategies for companies like Loblaws, Google, Target, American Express and GE Capital. Her passion in product design are finding what inspires and motivates people, then reflecting that back into products that have meaningful impact on their lives.

Amber  discussed the overarching relationship between machinery and design. Both entities in this day and age are constantly changing, and figuring out the dynamics towards integrating them both is something every designer struggles with. However, while Design and Machine work couldn’t contrast more, it’s their unique relationship that brings about great products. She talked about mathematical algorithms and described how everything, not just machinery, requires it.

Her presentation consisted of multiple modern ways design and machinery have learned to coexist including Machine Learning, Augmented Reality (AR), Quality Assurance (QA), The Design/Data Language System (DLS). She spoke about their application to Airbnb as she provided many physical examples and explained some of Airbnb’s machinery in the background such as SmartPrice, an intelligent solution that allows users to set prices based on demand.

​The next speaker was Verena Haller from Equinox Hotels. Verena has long been a major player in the interior design world. She previously had strong interests in architecture and product design but decided to take an interior design role at SOM (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP) as her first career move in New York. Since then, Haller has influenced the hotel design community with her innovative and fresh ideas. Her experience includes a variety of projects at companies like SOM, Ian Schrager Company, and Morgans Hotel Group, and currently is the Senior Vice President of Design at Equinox Hotels. An architectural and interior design background is not the most common among the digital UX/ UI crowd, so her talk brought some fresh perspectives.

Verena explained how design concepts and process are integrated in every type of design. She first covered the overarching history of hotel design and how heightened consideration towards this is something novel and the tracks have yet to be laid out. She discussed her inspirations, something every designer has and drives her particularly, and she tied them with a specific analogy to skiing. As an avid skier, she described her passion for design as an adrenaline rush, flowing and relentless. After coming down the ski slope, this exhilaration quickly turns into disappointment, as you want nothing more than to go down it again. 

This analogy is a key example of the type of experience Haller seeks for her clients; the urge to come back for more. It was exciting to see how her inspiration has propagated through to her work, and manifests itself in her hotel designs.

Verena also discussed how many hotels today are found to be overwhelming in terms of design, so she bases a large portion of her design on creating a space where visitors can embrace and prosper in a minimalist and comfortable environment. 

The next speaker was Braden Kowitz,  a designer, storyteller, and self-proclaimed product development geek. He is a Design Partner at Google Ventures where he founded the team’s Design Studio. He also advises startups on UX Design and Product Development. Before joining Google Ventures, Braden led design for several Google Products, including Gmail, Google Buzz, Google Apps for Business, Google Spreadsheets, OpenSocial, and Google Trends. 

Braden’s talk revolved around Design Culture and what’s it’s like to start and be in one. He divided his talk into three main cultural values:

  1. Faith in Quality
  2. Hold Design Accountable
  3. Everyone’s Responsible

Surrounding these three values, he talked about what exactly was required to create good and meaningful design. He emphasized the importance of creating a balanced environment for measurable and unmeasurable design. He provided insights on some aspects all designers could work on such as not to focus on legacy/old habits and to constantly critique their own work since it’s integral to the design process. He also provided a rundown of a the three parts of a designer’s “life span”.

  1. Surface Value- Graphics everyone loves
  2. User Value- Under/ dirty framework
  3. Business Value- Enables surviving start-ups

It was invaluable for the audience to get advice directly from a UX pioneer of his stature.

​The event itself was commendable: Design Driven has provided the NYC Design community with incredible networking opportunities and inspiring speakers. We were grateful for the opportunity to visit  the UN and now feel like true ambassadors of the design arts.

Delightful User Experiences: Great UX Research and UX Design

The smartphone revolution has led to an explosion in digital applications and web experiences. With this, considering the many new digital experiences for users, interaction and design has never been more important. User Exp

erience (UX) refers to the overall experience of a person using a product or service, especially in terms of how easy and even delightful it is to use. UX can broadly be divided into two categories: UX Research and UX Design. While they are related, there are some distinctions between these two disciplines.

UX Research
Focuses on understanding user behaviors, needs, and motivations through observation, task analysis and other feedback methodologies.

UX Design
Refers to the process of creating a good user experience. In other words, it’s the process used to determine what the experience will be like when a user interacts with your product.

UX Research focuses more on analyzing and understanding user behaviors while UX Design focuses more on using understandings and insights gained in the UX Research phase to design the user’s experience. This doesn’t mean that the two can’t overlap.  Whether you’re focused on the research or the design portion of User Experience, a part of understanding your responsibilities lies in understanding the other side too.

​In some settings, the two are viewed as part of the many hats a designer can wear rather than two independent roles, typically true for startups or environments with limited resources.

Main Activities and Deliverables

UX Research

  • Run Usability tests
  • Define User Personas
  • Create Journey Maps
  • Design A/B test and monitor results
  • Conduct and analyse outcomes of user studies
  • ​Conduct User Interviews

UX Design

  • Create ‘User Stories/ Product Requirements
  • Create low fidelity and high fidelity Wireframes
  • Create Prototypes, templates and (sometimes) front end HTML/CSS
  • Build Task flow diagrams
  • Develop Information Architecture
  • Develop Interface designs and design mock-up
  • ​Define and validate conversion goals and Key Performance Indicators for performance of the product
Tools of the Trade
User Research and User Design can be often integrated which makes it hard to distinguish their characteristics, but we hope this helps shed some light and clears any confusion about the two. 

Perpetual CEO Interview by Zee TV (India’s Largest TV Network)

Recently, Perpetual’s CEO Amish Gandhi was invited to a book signing at the Tagore Gallery in Chelsea, New York for the Founder of Zee TV, Dr. Subhash Chandra’s new autobiography: The Z Factor: My Journey as the Wrong Man at the Right Time. Mr. Gandhi was interviewed by Zee TV about his thoughts on Dr. Chandra’s storied career.

Through the duration of his interview, Mr. Gandhi discussed his opinions surrounding Dr. Chandra and his autobiography and what he looks forward to when reading the book. Here are some select quotes from the interview:​

“It’s one thing to look at a balance sheet and look at the results, it’s one thing to look at a stock price, but for me as an entrepreneur it’s about the process.”

“The best part about meeting someone like Dr. Chandra is their stories, getting the first person narrative of experiences building multiple businesses.”

“I’m sure a lot of tough decisions had to be made along the way. I was curious about the the thought process and how he dealt with the different scenarios from HR to Sales to Business to Finance. To hear from someone that’s been there and succeeded is really motivational.”

You can see the full interview here:

Virtual Reality Comes To The Olympics

Despite the fact that this year’s Olympics has been marred by a variety of controversies,there’s one thing will separate it from the rest: Virtual Reality.

Virtual Reality has been a well known and long studied technology, but one of the main problems that prevents it from reaching the mainstream market is purpose of use. Purchases of VR equipment aren’t by ordinary citizens, but more from the developers and other individuals that are already within this hub. VR related products  have revolved mainly around experimental simulations for video games appliances with mainstream media only just being integrated this summer. So what is considered mainstream media for VR? None other than an all-time American favorite: Television. Originating from a large bulky box, Television has quickly become compatible with multiple different platforms, now including VR.

For this summer Olympics NBC announced that they’re bringing wall-to-wall coverage of Olympic events exclusively for Gear VR owners. This was expected since Samsung was named the Official Smartphone Partner of the Olympics The network will cover 85 hours of action packed sports including opening and closing ceremonies and a cross-section of sports, including men’s basketball, track and field, gymnastics, boxing, beach volleyball, fencing and diving.

VR integration in sports, similar with other integrations, will shake things up in regard to how the content is consumed by the audience. One of the most defining benefits of VR is the immersive experience users get. Coverage of the Olympic games will include 360 video, exposing the user to a wide array of viewing angles, with special cameras suited to deliver a true immersive VR experience. 

The content will be presented semi-live throughout the games, from August 6th to August 22nd. Although VR has evolved significantly throughout the years, we’re very excited that VR has finally come to sports and can’t wait for August.

Effective use of Video in your Open edX Courses

Our client Teach for India was featured at the Open edX conference at Stanford University in June 2016 as an example of effective video usage in an Open edX course.

The speaker uses an instructional video from Teach for India as an example of effective video content in courseware. The video itself was shot on-site in India, in the same environment where teacher training is carried out. The passionate teacher discussing her teaching method successfully conveys the message, assisted with synchronized captions as the speaker in the video is making their point.

Subtitles help comprehend the content with ambient noise in the environment. The conference speaker also mentions how the Youtube caption feature can be accessible to people who speak different languages in different parts of the world.

Interestingly, some of these techniques are stated to be as effective as possible with just plain video, before the conference speaker begins their segment on Virtual Reality content for education. 

You can register an account and see for yourself here.