Human First: Bringing Magic and Emotion Back to Digital Experience Design

Why we have to rethink everything

I grew up in a little town in Texas. There, the world was small and simple for me—there were few surprises, and even fewer new avenues to discover and explore. 

Frankly, I was bored. I wanted more.

That's why, when I found the internet, I was immediately enchanted. I could, instantly, at the push of a few buttons, learn about anything, talk to anyone anywhere, and make something anyone in the world could see. At the time, the endless possibilities of the internet seemed like magic.

Later, I followed my desire to see the world, gain new experiences, and connect with people around a single mission by joining the military directly out of high school. It probably goes without saying but my time and experiences in the service solidified a passion for leading teams, working through challenges, and solving problems. All the while, my interest in the web never faded. I started doing freelance web design and development in my off time. 

Even when I left the U.S. Marine Corps, it was like I had never left the world of creating things and connecting with people across the globe because of the internet. I worked on various projects: consulting on product strategy, leading teams to build new software, and launching new internet businesses. But something was wrong—I didn't have that same feeling of wonder and excitement that I used to.

I found that the work I was being asked to do was generally short-sighted and narrow-minded. And it wasn't the fault of my clients or teams; it had to do with my own ability to look at problems in a deeper way. I spent too little time understanding the people I was designing and building solutions for. I worried too much about whether or not I could do something and not enough time questioning whether or not I should. A product "working fine" was more important than being a beautiful, elegant solution. 

I started my agency Handsome with a few friends who were also in the marketing, design and technology space and were also itching to do things a better way. As we set out to solve these problems, I still found myself asking the same questions.

"Are we looking at the future in the right way?" "Are we really creating things people want and love?" "Is good design good enough?" A look across the industry had us wondering why everything was starting to look so bland and homogenous and flat.

Am I the only one who misses the magic of digital experiences? I don't think I am.

It's time for our industry to take a real good look at ourselves, our work, the world our work lives in, and most important, the people we are designing for. We need to focus on humans, and I don't mean the definition of human-centered design that has been floating around for a long time. I'm talking about something that goes beyond relating to people as "users" but seeks to improve humanity, the planet, and all of our futures. Sure, beautiful aesthetics and pristine details in design work have always been the goal, but brands and experiences live a more fluid and dynamic life than the rigid silos of businesses or marketing channels. Our work, our brands and our philosophies have to be about more than data-optimized experiences. We have to push things further.

Believe me, we were as guilty of prioritizing the wrong things as anyone else. But a global pandemic has a way of resetting those priorities and giving you the chance to make a change. That's why we're starting over again. 

The driving force behind the new Handsome is a single purpose: designing a future for humans that takes into account what makes humans, well, human. We're going to focus on creating a better future for all people, using things like beauty and art and culture to craft stories through the brands and digital products we make.

Looking back on my early days on the internet, I feel, for the first time in a long time, the sense of magic that drew me to the digital space in the first place. The impact that design and technology can have on people and the world we live in today is nothing short of wondrous. As an agency working with some of the world's largest and most impactful companies, we have the tools and resources to benefit all three bottom lines in this world: profit, people and the planet. Here's to starting over. 

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