Sparks in the Design Studio

Adyline Bowders

06 January 2022

What makes a good design team? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but for us, the key to a high-quality design team starts with a solid lead designer. Nikole Sparks, our managing lead designer, is one of many talented members of the Function team—and the first subject of our new blog post series dedicated to getting to know the person behind the computer screen. 


Nikole’s stylish, artful home office is a recognizable trademark on team calls. Her keen eye for design is on display even here, as the natural Californian light pours through her windows and illuminates the framed art behind her office chair. 


How would you describe your personal approach to fulfilling a design request? In other words, what is your process for working with a client to build a custom project? 

“Whenever I work with a client, I start by surveying their needs and desires from a mountain top, or bird’s eye, point of view. I take a wide, general survey of the land, then develop a process for defining a client’s goals and requests for the design. Together, we try to identify any potential pain points (like is the website broken? Can your audience just not find you online?) to then create a strategy or tactical approach based around how they propose to find solutions that fit with their ideas of the final design as well as its overall functionality. That brings us to finally putting pen to paper, mapping the different phases of design, and maintaining the integrity of the client’s goals. 


“For example, when Function recently took on a website design overhaul for one of our clients, I was interested in fleshing out what each new experience for these groups of pages might achieve for its audience. In other words, how it works and how it makes you feel. Does it do what it needs to do without sacrificing the necessity of communicating the personality of the brand in a beautiful way? This happens over what I would consider four movements of the designing process. Each movement informs the next and sheds light on more information that will help us better execute a client’s design goals.” 


 💡 The four movements of the designing process include:


  1. Survey: Integrated view of entire org offering. View developed & defined things like brand characteristics
  2. Strategy: Requirements; briefs; desired results; planning; vision; campaign concepts. 
  3. Structure: User flows; wireframes; navigation; brand standards and guidelines; visual language. 
  4. Surface: Typography; color; layout; interface; spacing; transitions/animations; color, materials, finish.


But what determines if a design is “good” or “bad?” How do you sell the visual framework to the client, and how do you find a balance between aesthetics and functionality? Again, there isn’t a fix-all answer to these questions. Art is subjective, and there are many different angles one can take when approaching and executing a project. However, there is a sweet spot to find: what will be most successful for the design, client, and product. That is how we measure what makes a “good” design: success. 

What does it mean when a design is “successful,” and what is the value of effective design?”  

“Each project defines success differently. When I approach a web overhaul, I ask myself, ‘Does this entire site feel like it belongs to the organization, and can someone access what they need as a customer?’ It’s less about how it looks, necessarily, but more about what and how something communicates. A website, for instance, is influenced by the needs of the intended audience and communicates a clear and beautiful experience. 


“I would say an unsuccessful design can be measured by if something is confusing after going through the design process. Effective design will visually communicate the values and attributes of the client’s brand. The visual organization and style can create an overall emotional resonance with the elements on the page.”


Nikole shares that one of the most difficult aspects of securing a successful design is getting clients to fully understand why the new design choices will benefit their digital experience. Trying to sell someone on something can be challenging, but she finds that returning to her personal philosophy, showing how new design choices complement the existing brand and build on it as a framework, is key to winning over clients.  


What is your creative process? Do you have any signature techniques or design styles? 

“I don’t hide any ‘Easter eggs’ in my designs, but I gravitate toward designs that are clearly intentional, clean, and organized. I would consider myself a systems-thinker, or someone with a brand mindset—I like to make ‘families’ of things to create systems that can be replicated and that have the ability to grow as an idea, company, or product continues to develop over time.


“I’m not very interested in making single, stand-alone artifacts that are independent outside of an ecosystem. I wouldn’t be the person to call to design your band poster. I want to create things from the vantage point of relationships and how different design elements interact with each other to form a cohesive product.”  


How would you describe some of the best “perks” of working as a member of the Function team? 

“There are a lot of perks. Personally, I have a lot of friends that live all over the States now, but because I can work from essentially anywhere, I can travel to visit friends and get more enjoyment out of the time I get to spend with them, since I know that I won’t have to trade time off for the time it takes to travel to my destination. In a remote environment, I feel that there is harmony between my work-self and being a person outside of work, too. They harmonize well, and I feel free to choose what will help me be more of a whole person.


“The work environment also feels really hospitable—I’m never afraid to bring anything to the attention of the leads, as it's very apparent that they value us and listen to everyone’s experiences and feedback with openness.


As a result of Function’s culture of openness, understanding, and curiosity, Nikole feels encouraged to bring a variety of techniques from her design training to the organization.


What brought you to Function’s design studio, and what personal talents are showcased through your work? 

“I have a BFA in design and completed my studies at a liberal arts university, where I practiced utilizing design as a fine art tool. When I approach design, I focus on process—the approach to solving complex puzzles with ideas as the solution. Even when working on different types of deliverables, I approach them with the same process to achieve specific design goals. I’m inspired by thoughtful approaches to design, and I value it as much as the final product that is a result from it.”


Having a clear vision and the tools to execute it are essential, and they’re fundamental attributes found and cultivated in every member of the Function team. 


Whether you’re a client or employee, it is easy to see that our organization puts people first. If you were to ask Nikole, “Why Function?” for your next project, she would tell you that you can’t make a positive impact in the world without valuing people.


“It’s a feeling. We work with clients who are working toward creating good in the world and reducing harm. Together, we’re maintaining humanity while establishing it for others.”

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Interested in learning more, or working with FXN Studio?

Adyline Bowders

As a copyeditor, Adyline considers herself an advocate for the reader: she’ll make sure a project is clear, accurate and engaging as it exists as both text on the page and an overall visual experience. One of her favorite parts about her job is collaborating with writers to help bring a text to its full potential and closer to the author’s intended message or vision. When she’s not working, you can find her blowing the dust from Nintendo 64 cartridges, thrifted antiques, and second-hand records that she hunts and collects in her free time.

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