Bureau Blank

Ideas + Execution

work image
Why I Pride

the importance of shared values

Why I Pride

Working at Bureau Blank is a fulfilling experience in a few key ways.

For starters, there’s the free bagels on Fridays, our sunlit-flooded loft space in the Lower East Side, and being able to collaborate with some of the most talented folks I’ve ever met. Importantly, though it offers me a special opportunity to draw a clear connection between my personal and professional selves.

During my two years at this company, I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of a diverse slate of projects, from website builds and user-centered experience design to branding exercises, but the common thread among most of our clients’ work is a drive toward inclusiveness and equity for all.

As an out and proud gay man who recently celebrated Pride by marching with the ACLU, Bureau Blank’s mission parallels with my own goals and objectives as an active member of the LGBTQIA community. Notably, our shared values (Bureau Blank’s and my own) carries more significance these days when it seems that some of our community’s most hard-won recent victories for equality seem to be in jeopardy in a challenging political climate.

I’ve never felt more connected to what we do and who we support as a company. Our partnerships with GAIN (Government, Academia, Infrastructure, and Non-profit) organizations during a time where it seems like these words can have a negative connotation feel more important, now more than ever.


Posted by

work image
Map Musings – BB does NYCxDESIGN Month

Visual Storytelling

Map Musings – BB does NYCxDESIGN Month

I’m not just a strategist. I’m a big map nerd. (Though not a prerequisite, I have to say that most strategists I know tend to share this fandom.) For me, the fascination began when I was very young, and maps felt like magical portals. Burrowing deep into a road atlas of the United States as a kid in Northeast Ohio, I used to look at random streets and intersections in far-off corners of Texas, or near the Rocky Mountains, or within Manhattan’s neat grid and wonder, “Who lives there? And what is it like?”

My curiosity about the form was further piqued when I had a memorable encounter with the old, iconic electric light-up map at Gettysburg National Park while visiting the Civil War site with my parents. (After the National Park Service upgraded and sold the map in 2008, a private restorer stepped in, so now you can see the 632 new lightbulbs and miles of new wire incorporated into the 30 x 30 block.) The twinkling lights conveyed troop movements and battle lines snaking across the three-by-five-mile battlefield over July 1-3, 1863. The map communicated activity taking place in a huge space over a span of time; now, we can use pixels and coding to create similar, albeit more technically sophisticated interactive maps.

The first time I saw the Panorama of the City of New York, I was reminded of that experience, as I took in the installation of wood and formica models built for the 1964 World’s Fair displaying Robert Moses’ vision for our fair metropolis. (You can still see the Panorama at the Queens Museum; follow it up with a tasty visit to nearby Flushing!) The Museum of the City of New York is another great spot for interactive maps (on- and offline!), telling the story of how “the greatest street grid” came to define New York’s geography and our experience living in the city.

While museums are great spots to take in epic and amazing maps, you can also do so at via in-depth reporting pieces at outlets like CityLab, which has a whole map-filled section where you can learn more about noise pollution or explore a mossy visualization of Berlin’s green spaces.

But why do maps matter, beyond intellectual or aesthetic interest? Here, I’d point to a map myself and thousands (millions?) of other users kept refreshing in earnest as it was updated on election night, November 9, 2016. The electoral vote map on the New York Times told us, in real time, what was going to happen before there were many words to do so. It was the most efficient and timely way to tell a very important data-driven story. Both before and since that night, I’ve admired the in-depth maps and data visualizations the Times has created to explore how climate change is affecting Greenland, incorporating a mix of video and mapping data points to help place readers in the story.

That, ultimately, is what maps do; they invite us to find ourselves in the content. “Where do I live in relation to this place?” Or, “This is what you would be able to see if you could be at this spot on Greenland’s ice sheet.” It makes sometimes abstract ideas--climate change, or social change over time--real. It gives us a more personal vantage point into data than we might have were it presented in, say, a table.

Context matters, of course; were I speaking among academics or at certain types of events, I’d prefer to use a clean and simple table. But if, like many of our clients, you’re trying to foster a personal connection between your audiences and your work, or to entice audiences to join your program or initiative, then data visualization can be mighty effective. And considering how editorial outlets approaches this type of storytelling can be instructive and inspiring for us in the social impact sector.

It turns out that one of the folks behind some of my most memorable experiences with the above-cited Times content in recent years is graphic designer Larry Buchanan, who spoke during NYCxDesign month at the Type Directors Club about maps and storytelling. During his talk, Buchanan shared his perspective as a co-creator not only of those highly detailed 2016 election materials, but of a moving chronicle sharing a Chicago family’s daily experience of commuting to school through a safe zone the city created to help students navigate streets in areas beset with high rates of deadly gun violence.

For my part, I like to think about how we can create a more compelling personal connection for people with information through our design work at Bureau Blank. As a strategist, I enjoy taking the opportunity to help translate data or abstract ideas into a visual story that’s going to engage people and inspire them to take action, whether that means signing up for a program, advocating for equity, or accessing a service. And I’ll continue looking for opportunities to partner with our designers and explore how we can do so.

You can check out Buchanan’s presentation here!


Posted by

work image
Making a career in social impact design

Insights from the BB team

Making a career in social impact design

Last week, Alex and I enjoyed the opportunity to speak to Dave Seliger’s students in The School of Visual Arts’ MFA program in Interaction Design here in New York about our experiences at a design firm working with social impact sector clients. In the wake of that class visit, we’ve consulted our colleagues here at TeamBB about the journeys that led them to join our team. Consider it a little inspiration as you’re mulling future plans. And feel free to reach out to any of us with any questions!

1. What did you think you were going to do when you graduated or planned your career?

Ellery Mann, Designer: I started working in the creative field while I was going to college and knew my degree in design would take my career even further. I met Bureau Blank while I was in my senior year and it was love at first sight.

Alessandro Contes, Art Director: I graduated in Advertising in a developing country; with that in mind my only expectation was to be able to actually work in the field I've dreamed of since my teen years. I was lucky enough to start as an intern production designer before graduating. Funny story? Missed my prom working overtime.

John Kester, President: My degree is in graphic design and I immediately started working in the field. I got incredibly lucky to work with the city government in Jacksonville, FL where I was given lots of room to grow and also get feedback from the community on the work I was doing.

Kat Panayotov, Business Development: Having graduated with an International Relations degree and specialization in social entrepreneurship and Latin American Studies, I was (and still am!) set on working in the international social impact space. My last year at university exposed me to the burgeoning focus on the intersection of design and social impact, which in turn drove my interest in exploring how that hybrid discipline took form outside of academia. Needless to say, joining Bureau Blank has been a step in tapping into that curiosity.

Alana Farkas, Front-end Developer: I graduated with a degree in Urban Studies and was 100% certain I was going to become an urban planner. Luckily I realized that wasn’t for me before I enrolled for my Master’s in Urban Planning.

2. What one piece of advice you have about what it’s like to work with GAIN (government, academic, infrastructure, and nonprofit) clients?

Kristen Demaline, Senior Content Strategist: Flexibility is critical - most folks in the civic sector need to make the most of sometimes limited resources. I’m used to thinking in terms of ROI (return on investment) from a public policy standpoint, so I advise with that in mind. The strategic process needs to help our mission-driven clients achieve buy-in for their final product. Many of our clients are leading movements; they’re not operating in a cultural vacuum.

Jeff Miranda, Project Manager: Do your best to understand where they're coming from and what their day-to-day is like. 

Alex Kaufman, Designer: Get on board with their vision, and remember that it’s not a consumer space - the GAIN world is very different from the advertising world.  Empathizing with the goals and mission of your client, coupled with the idea that the work is impact-driven (vs. conversion-driven) will help the final product appeal to the right audiences, and show a high level of self-awareness.

AF: Finding out what their pain points really are is satisfying and ultimately best. A client wanting ‘more web traffic’ is vague -- why do you want more web traffic? Is it to drive donations? Newsletter signups? Items purchased? GAIN clients are often mission-driven and it’s best to get to the heart of any problems very specifically to best allocate time and funds.

3. Is working at a design firm different from what you thought it would be like? Why/why not?

EM: I knew what to expect working at a design firm and it is exactly why I joined one. Bureau Blank has such a great atmosphere that inspires people to be creative, collaborate, and have a blast doing it!

JK: When I was in school, I imagined an office in New York with lots of white space and huge windows. So it’s exactly what I imagined! I’ve worked in several iterations of “design firms” after my time in-house for the city government.  One was very focused on user experience and another very focused on technology solutions. These were really nothing like what I imagined a design firm to be as the focus was more on iteration and design thinking than the “big idea”. The only real “big idea” is to help your customer work through real business issues.    

KP: I think John and I were envisioning the same kind of atmosphere, funnily enough. I think my imagination added a bit more sterility to the space and formality to the team dynamic. Bureau Blank is none of those things and even with my role being business development, I feel increasingly integrated into the design and feedback process of client work.

AF: This is the first design firm where I’ve been employed and previously, I had never imagined myself even working at a design firm but I am so delighted to work at Bureau Blank. This office values, as I’m sure other design firms do, collaboration, skill sharing, and an informality that makes the first two easy!

AK: Hmm....I guess no, it’s not different?  When I imagined working at a design firm, I really just imagined being able to wear jeans and sneakers to work and spending my time with creative, intelligent people who were up for stimulating conversation about what’s going on in the world - design-related or not.  In that sense, it’s exactly what I expected.

4. What’s a project you’re proud to have worked on at Bureau Blank? Why?

AC: In my short time here, working on Living Cities' 25th Anniversary event materials has been my proudest project contribution.

KD: ThriveNYC, New York’s mental health initiative, is going strong after its first year. I’m proud of how we were able to transform a policy report into an interactive digital experience and resource for all New Yorkers. It was very gratifying to help translate very policy-driven and even clinical types of content into accessible, appealing language and aesthetics.

AK: The Fair Chance Act campaign. I volunteered for a long time with incarcerated populations, and worked with returned citizens to help them find jobs. So, it meant a lot to me personally to be able to work on a project that was centered around a piece of legislation that helped the exact same population. It brought a lot of what was meaningful to me full-circle, and gave me an avenue to help the cause in the way that I was best equipped to.

JM: I feel proud to have worked on the print and digital awareness campaigns for the NYC Commission on Human Rights. We created ad campaigns for a few pieces of legislation aimed toward supporting the city's most vulnerable people. At those moments, you really get a chance to feel the collective impact of the work. 

5. What advice do you have for someone who’s about to job hunt or start their design career?

EM: Stay curious, be inspired, continue learning, and never settle.

AC: Care. Care about bettering yourself everyday, care about learning the craft, care about learning people's concerns and behaviors. Even care about unlearning, just so you can learn to do whatever in a different way, and ultimately deliver great ideas and solutions.

JK: Embrace curiosity and empathy. Design is about simplifying complex challenges and understanding what the end user needs. When presented with an especially daunting assignment, get really curious about it, look at it from every angle then a few more. Likewise, don’t assume you know what’s best for users in a system - watch them, ask them, work with them.

AF: Aside from acquiring technical skills, pay attention to the design around you -- was the form you filled out in the doctor’s waiting room intuitive? Was there enough room to write everything? How about the last online application you filled out? Was it easy to navigate? Design is all around and the sooner you start noting what makes good and bad design, the better.

6. What’s the most surprising part of your job?

AC: I still find the lack of a routine surprising. Makes me smile to step into the unknown.

KD: Taking the opportunity to flex those DJ muscles.

JK: How quickly the team goes through paper towels.

KP: The culture of sharing that has fostered one of the best atmospheres for communication– especially in terms of truly listening to one another when discussing both work-related and personal thoughts and opinions.

AK: That a company itself can evolve and grow in really noticeable and awesome ways, the same way employees do.

7. Do you have any other miscellaneous advice?

JM: Be nice to your project managers :) 

KP: Don’t feel the need to separate your working self from the qualities and characteristics that inform your genuine personality. The authenticity that comes through owning your values and point of view during meetings and engagements with others in a professional setting are a welcome dose of diversity that makes collaboration both successful and a continuous learning experience.

AK: Pick your battles.  Especially as a female, moving through the professional world can be a major balancing act.  Be super conscious about when it’s worth it to push and when it makes sense to concede or compromise - and when you decide it’s worth it to push, don’t be afraid to hold your ground!

Posted by

work image
Designing The Voter Experience

Civic Design

Designing The Voter Experience

On Tuesday, November 8, the US will conclude one of the most pivotal elections in the nation’s history. As in other parts of civic life, design can have a profound impact on people’s experience of this public event. After all, design focused on accessibility and usability can empower as many voters as possible to exercise their right to vote.

Tuesday’s election will include the most diverse electorate in US history. Consider the ballot design or the communications tools developed to educate voters leading up to the big day. Their simplicity, clarity and objectivity can best equip all voters with intentional decision-making power. When done right, voter communications can serve as a model for comprehensive user-centered practice, and that’s something we get excited about.

A key contributor to the achievements in the civic design space has been the The Center for Civic Design. The non-profit works with an ever-growing network of researchers and designers that leverage skills in usability, information design, and plain language to ensure that voters can express their intent accurately. The Center’s extensive research and engagement practices have been utilized in a number of projects across the country. Through that process, they developed The Field Guides To Ensuring Voter Intent: a series of design guideline booklets that election officials can really use, based on solid research and best practices.

So while this roller-coaster of an election continues to throw disconcerting surprises at every turn, why not take the time to look through positive examples of work being done to improve the process and experience instead! Check out the responsive web version of the booklets on the Center for Civic Design’s website or see them displayed at the Cooper Hewitt’s By the People: Designing a Better America exhibit through February 2017.

For an interesting retrospective on the history of US ballot design, take a listen to 99% Invisible’s Butterfly Effects podcast episode, found here.

And last but definitely not least, don’t forget to get out and vote on November 8th! Find your local polling station on Get to the Polls

*An important fact to take note of: the Constitution mentions "the right to vote" five times and across four separate Amendments – the 15th, 19th, 24th, and 26th – all of which use same powerful language to protect it: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged . . . .”  Check out Professor Garrett Epps’ piece on the constitutionality of voting in the Atlantic.


Posted by

work image
Improving the NYU student experience


Improving the NYU student experience

Universities and the cities they serve have been tied spiritually, economically, emotionally, as well as physically, and only continue to grow more intertwined as academic institutions become increasingly engaged in tackling universal problems that manifest in the local context. Through their work in scholarship and research, universities help create a better-prepared workforce, increase employment, stimulate local redevelopment, draw investments and new businesses to their neighborhoods, and raise academic performance in the population at large. 

When we were presented with the opportunity to improve the student experience for New York University’s 50,000+ students, we saw it as an extension of our mission to improve the quality of life for a key demographic of our city’s population. We leveraged our expertise in developing engaging public awareness campaigns for NYC and our collective empathy for what is traditionally known as the least exciting part of college life: the administrative experience. That’s right– we’re talking the University Registrar, Bursar, Financial Aid, Global Services and Global Programs offices that students commonly equate to an endless stream of meetings, paperwork and email correspondence. The root of the unnecessary complexity? It really comes down to two key missing elements: clarity around what it is that each entity does and an effective system to inform and notify students of what needs to be done (and by when!)

NYU sought to address those gaps and overhaul the clunky student admin experience with the launch of the StudentLink Center– a comprehensive resource for students and their families to obtain information, receive answers to inquiries and provide direction about policies, tasks and requirements related to student billing and payment, financial aid, registrar, housing, meal plans, and other student administrative areas. The student-centered and technologically rich service model delivers accurate and efficient student services in a comfortable and supportive environment reminiscent of the Apple “Genius Bar” experience. Expanding upon the model developed at the University’s MetroTech campus, the Manhattan center is equipped with well-trained “front-line” staff, subject-matter academic specialists to address student-specific queries and a text-based scheduling service for appointments.

Ultimately, StudentLink is an important resource that gives students confidence that their enrollment management questions can be handled with expertise so that they can remain focused on what matters most: their academic ambitions.

Our goal for this engagement was to do the following:

  1. Inform the entire university community that StudentLink is the single destination for Financial Aid, Bursar, Registrar, Office of Global Services, and the Office of Global Programs.
  2. Increase the number of current NYU students using StudentLink and shift their behavior to using text messaging as their primary method for interaction with the center.
  3. Equip other NYU departments with simple communication tools and methods for encouraging students to use StudentLink.

For 8 months, the BB team engaged with student services and stakeholders from the participating offices to develop a print and digital campaign with the language and visual direction that evoked the ethos of the StudentLink experience: welcoming, transparent and–most importantly–simple. In the process of ensuring that our campaign resonated with the breadth of the NYU community, our team prepared to tackle to following challenges:

  1. Audience diversity
    The NYU community is in many ways a microcosm of NYC, especially in the diversity of experience and origin that characterize the student body and staff. The audiences we needed to take into account for this campaign, in terms of messaging and method of engagement,  include the following:
    - Incoming students, specifically those entering NYU in January 2017;
    - Current students, particularly students graduating in January or Spring 2017;
    - International students
    - Parents, partly as ways to reach students, and partly in their own right as center users;
    - NYU faculty/staff, who need to be aware of StudentLink when referring students who have questions or need
  2. Location, Location, Location!
    Occupying the first floor of 383 Lafayette Street, the StudentLink center presented a geographical shift from the locus of NYU’s Manhattan campus– namely the West 4th and Washington Square Park area. Our campaign needed to serve a dual purpose of informing both function and facilitating wayfinding for new students and those accustomed to the original location.  
  3. Encouraging text engagement
    One of the biggest deterrents of the administrative process is what seems like an inevitable wait in line. StudentLink’s text-based appointment and reminder system presents a functional solution enabled only by getting users on board! The campaign was an essential vehicle through which to generate that engagement. 

We're proud to say that through our strategy-driven approach, we successfully rolled out a successful multi-media campaign this past spring and summer that has culminated in the unveiling of the center just this week! 

Learn more about the move and its impact on the student experience here and explore our campaign creative on the StudentLink Website here.



Posted by

work image
Bringing Preparedness to New Yorkers

Ready. NYC. Together.

Bringing Preparedness to New Yorkers

NYC Emergency Management coordinates first responders and shares emergency preparedness information with New Yorkers. They wanted Bureau Blank to create a site that inspires New Yorkers to get prepared in the event of a terrorist attack.

Needless to say, a tall order. Some of us think of terrorism in the City as a new thing dating from September 11, 2001. In the present, others think of it as an abstract threat because of other attacks which have happened in other cities over the past year. One thing has changed in the past fifteen years: thanks to mobile phones, we now have powerful ways to reach people and get emergency help.

Our first step: to research how people used their mobiles during recent crises in Paris, in San Bernadino, in Orlando, and elsewhere. Those insights, and the questions people Googled, suggested that people in similar future situations might land on NYCEM’s new website. Sketching out those use cases, we knew it was critical to offer some tips for those visitors. The tool also needed to direct users to helpful information for planning ahead.

We considered those goals with a few audiences in mind:

  • Commuters, including folks from the surrounding metro area and suburbs - from CT to NJ to Long Island
  • “New” New Yorkers, particularly young people who were not in the City on 9/11
  • New Yorkers with mobility issues

Research and expert interviews yielded further insights in our planning. As history buffs know, terrorism in New York didn’t begin on September 11, 2001. The city has seen every kind of terrorist incident possible over the years. On top of that history, New Yorkers are used to dealing with the unexpected on a daily basis. So we knew we could speak directly with them about what types of attacks could take place and how to prepare.

In simple terms, content types became:

  • Emergency tips. How can you stop an active shooter? Should you go or stay?
  • Tips on getting prepared ahead of time; so, what supplies should you have at home? At work?
  • Information about different types of terrorist attacks and how to prepare for one.

As we worked with NYCEM to shape the site content, our site design focused on accessibility and engagement. With this in mind, our designer Ellery came up with a few concepts to visually engage our target audience. The approach we moved forward with focuses on approachability, using bright colors, icons, and photography to invite visitors to explore with a goal to ease our users and not trigger too much anxiety or panic.

Terrorism is about inducing fear, chaos, and insecurity. This site inspires the opposite feelings and philosophy: capability, community, and resilience. New Yorkers are survivors, and New Yorkers survive by working together. It’s the New York way to be resilient and take care of each other, and this site is a part of that larger story.

You check out the PlanNowNYC website at nyc.gov/plannow


Photo "Night Falls Over New York" from Fraser Mummery used according to terms of Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Posted by