Inside the Mind of Strategic Designer, Chase Farrell

Ever wondered who takes the big ideas at Roboboogie and makes them into real, living things? Meet Strategic Designer, Chase Farrell. This month, he was kind enough to sit down and tell us a little about what he does.

How do you describe what you do?

I like to view it as bringing our client experiences to life — whatever stage an idea is in. If a project is in the beginning strategic phase where it only exists as a concept, I help build out what that experience could look like using wireframes to represent a visual hierarchy. If a project already has a structure and we need to get it ready to live in the real world, I help create the design by applying brand aesthetics as well as using the latest trends and best practices to get it to where it needs to be.

Beyond being a talented strategic designer, Chase loves to get outside and explore the beautiful PNW in his free time.

What are the most satisfying parts of your role?

I love being able to apply my skills and experience to solve problems, but the magic for me is when a client or team member lights up with excitement over a solution I’ve provided. It feels super empowering to utilize modern tech to create best-in-class experiences (whether that’s a full landing page design or even something as simple as creating a custom emoji to add to our slack channel), so when the stars align and everyone is high-fiving over the final product, I’m a happy camper.

What made you want to work in design?

There’s a sweet spot with creativity that allows you to make something that feels just beyond what you theoretically should be able to do given the available resources — whether it’s tools, skills, or experience (i.e. fake it til you make it). I fell in love with design because for me it’s a continuous journey where I can keep improving while constantly trying to outpace myself along the way. When I intentionally challenge myself to create something that’s a step ahead of where I currently am, I end up learning something that moves me forward — just in time for me to set my sights on the next best thing.

What is a design-related skill you feel you’ve improved on the most recently?

The past few months I’ve felt a big improvement in my ability to deliver quality work in a shorter amount of time using systems-based thinking. A wise person once told me the difference between a professional and an amateur is that they both can arrive at a beautiful final product, but the professional does it in a fraction of the time. I’ve really focused on leveraging systems throughout the creative process which allows me to save an enormous amount of time in the end. A good example of this is setting up components in XD which allows me to make changes in one spot and have it automatically be applied to multiple other instances.

Utilizing systems-based thinking and standardizing similar objects saves a ton of time across the life of a project. When I do this I save time not only for myself by staying within the guardrails of my design, but I also have the added benefit of knowing when I hand off a design to development that I’ve already put in a little bit of thinking as to how the experience will be built. This tiny bit of effort helps make their job easier by eliminating guesswork and unnecessary redundancies. Work smarter not harder, y’all!

What are your favorite online resources (news, blogs, tools) and why?

For those leisurely strolls through inspiration alley, I like the Muzli chrome plugin. This converts your “New Tab” screen into a dashboard of curated content. Mine is loaded with everything from visual inspiration such as noteworthy projects on Behance or Dribble, to industry news about emerging technologies that have an impact on our industry or the tools I use on a daily basis.

For dedicated research into best-in-class experiences, I love taking a spin through Awwwards. Granted, there’s a heavy bias towards form-over-function which is a big no-no when it comes to proper user experience, but I love being able to read between the lines of what makes an experience great and using that insight to drive my creative approach for client experiences.

For those times I need to learn more about a given topic, I try googling the phrase and adding in order to dive into long-form articles that may help me form a perspective around a new topic.

What is a key element of user-centric design that you would advise others to always look out for/pay attention to?

I think a critical piece of user-centric design is maintaining a consideration of convenience for the user throughout your design. Convenience is one of those things we intuitively seek out but don’t necessarily recognize until we encounter something inconvenient. With that in mind, designers should always be on the lookout for small ways to include convenience in order to reduce friction across the experience. A great example of this is with a popup modal. Give the user multiple options of closing out the modal such as the classic ‘X’ up in the corner, a decline / no thanks button underneath your primary CTA, and last but most important — make the surrounding area around the modal be clickable so the user can “click out of” the modal.

What is some advice you would have for someone who is new to letting data drive their design process?

Check your ego at the door and accept what message the data is trying to convey! Very rarely will a designer be an exact match for the target demographic, so that means any personal opinion about what needs to happen with the design should come secondary to what the data is telling you. In fact, you should get excited about the story the data is telling you — you’re being handed a cheat code for how to approach an experience because you have statistical data backing up the decisions you need to make.

Puppy tales. When he’s not delivering phenomenal strategic design, Chase values spending time with his pup and tending to his garden.

Why should people care about good design?

People should care about good design because truly good design should theoretically never be noticed. The design should be built and executed so well that the user is completely engulfed in the experience and doesn’t even notice anything outside the intention of the design. Sometimes a design can be too good — amazing — in which it pulls the user away from the actual intention of the design due to the spectacle and appreciation for the design itself. Ironically, for that reason, those “amazing design” experiences are actually not as great as good design.

What’s been your favorite part of working at an agency that focuses on customer-centric design?

I love working with customer-centric design because as an average Joe myself, I find the work relatable and rewarding when done correctly. We’ve all encountered frustrating user experiences so the idea that I can contribute in some small way that helps people achieve their goals faster, easier, and with more enjoyment is really exciting to me — whether those goals are starting a new fitness journey, saving the Earth, or simply ordering a can of dog food.

I also just love having the support network of an amazing team of talented individuals who share common values. For several years I’ve had a cheesy professional mantra that I live by which is, “Do good work for good people”, but after joining Roboboogie I officially amended that to be, “Do good work for good people, with good people.” It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue but dang, it feels good.

Roboboogie: Looking Back on a Decade of Success

John Gentle had an idea. 

“I thought it would be cool to rent a space,” he said in a recent interview, “and bring together a talented group of freelancers who could collaborate on projects and create a business development engine, outsourcing work to the people in the space.”

“I think WeWork does have that model now,” John added, laughing. “But that was kind of the grandiose vision for an agency early on when I was still freelancing.”

Meet John Gentle, “Roboboogie’s visionary founder and fearless leader who runs on digital strategy and chocolate chip cookies”.

It was 2011 and WeWork was just getting off the ground on the other side of the country. In Portland, John was creating a person-centered collective that would soon transform into an agency with a focus on putting the customer at the forefront of the design narrative. In the 10 years since John, who grew up in Rochester, New York, decided to create the company, it has gone from a one-man operation to a consultancy with 20 employees and plans to hire more.

He named the company Roboboogie.

“I’m really fascinated with this idea of left and right brain thinking,” John said, of the sometimes inscrutable name. “Frankly it’s gotten mixed reviews at times,” he added. “It’s hard to say. There’s tension there which I like.” John continues, explaining the philosophy behind the name. “Robo is the technology and the boogie is the creative,” he explained. “So over time we’ve adapted it to our position now, which is more around bringing data and design together.”

“It also came from the opportunity that I saw for an agency to provide better customer service,” he said. “I wanted to do something memorable and a little more playful but still deliver best in class service to my clients.” With that, John got busy working out the kinks in his plan. For one thing, he was realizing that maybe they would need a team, specifically operationally-minded individuals to help organize the chaos. So in 2014, he hired Jedidiah Fugle, an entrepreneurial-minded freelance creative producer, and transplant from Northern California, to help put some processes and organization in place.

Meet Jedidiah Fugle, the “Operations mastermind and legendary team-builder with a habit of maximizing efficiency everywhere he goes (especially the airport).”

“I quickly loved the collaborative approach and this idea of bringing teams together to do big things in a people-centric way,” Jed said. He thought Roboboogie’s approach was different from the revolving door he saw at many Portland agencies. “This idea of, ‘Let’s really build around people,’” Jed said, “that was really what made me stick and go, ‘This is something I want to be a part of and help build.’”

John said that when Jed joined the team, he “really just drove it.”

“I was like, “Wow, this guy is partner-level material for sure,’” John recalls.

The two worked well together, agreeing on a people-driven approach when it came to clients and employees. They formalized a partnership in the year that followed, allowing each to lean into their strengths, while charting a path for growth.

From 2015 to 2017, the company grew from two employees to five. By 2019, the size had doubled to 10. By March of 2021, it had doubled again. “In the last two years, we’ve really found our identity,” Jed said. “We had this moment,” he continued, “where it just clicked. This combination of being really strategic and smart where the solutions we’re bringing are design-led, which we’re the best in, but we’re harnessing data and technology to bring a new way to think about solutions.” The market, Jed said, has gone more and more that way. But Roboboogie was a pioneer. 

Now, Roboboogie’s clients include household names like Adobe, NordicTrack, and Impossible Foods. But the same principle — what Jed calls “treating people like people” — guides the business.

John is now the Chief Experience Officer and Jed is the Chief Operating Officer. They both remain passionate about the idea of centering around people. “We have our cultural tenets,” John said. “You start with those values and you try to communicate them and live and breathe them as much as you can in the day to day and then you try to hire people who are comfortable aligning with those values.” For Roboboogie, those values are respect, creativity, passion and courage. Of those, said John, the respect tenant is the most important, for clients and each other.

“I do believe it’s core to that ‘treating people like people’ concept,” John said.

That means creating an environment that prioritizes work-life balance, where employees can excel.  During the pandemic, that hasn’t always been easy. The company has nearly doubled in size in the last year, and the culture has shifted from one of hanging out at their offices in Portland’s Revolution Hall, to remote working and many people who have never been into the office at all. “It’s easy to hide behind this digital wall,” John said. “People are struggling.” Still, they work to bring the playful spirit of Roboboogie to everyone’s homes. Whether it’s a virtual cooking class/magic show or building piñatas to celebrate their 10 year anniversary, John and Jed have not given up on the culture they want.

In the next 10 years, Jed and John see Roboboogie shifting to a premium, customer-centric digital transformation and optimization consultancy, where they pick the clients they want and make sure their employees still benefit from a culture of respect. And while they both plan to keep the company growing, they don’t imagine expanding beyond 50 employees. “We want to be really focused in what we do,” John said, “do a really good job and then provide a nice work-life balance for folks that are really tied into our success as much as we are.”

However the company changes, both agree that keeping people at the center of their mission will remain the same. It’s a mindset that they pioneered and, as they have seen, it works for clients and for employees. They believe it is here to stay and they’re both excited to share the Roboboogie approach with more partners and clients in the decade ahead.