WEB & DIGITAL
(Selected from recent work)
SPIRE.COM (JUNE 2016)
As Spire grew, it became clear that we weren't a startup anymore. At that point, we began redesigning the website to better fit our customer and investor audiences. Key design elements of the redesign include sharp corners replacing rounded edges and muted colors replacing the exciting recruiting focused images from the previous design.
COMPANY ON-BOARDING BOOK
Getting things right from the beginning is incredibly important. We often don't give people enough credit for how much information is actually retained on the first day at a job. It also helps to give people something to reference back to when it comes to company culture. That was reasoning behind Spire's Culture Book. It's a 91 page (and evolving) book which began life as an actual printed book. It has since turned into a living PDF that new employees receive on their first day.
SPIRE CUSTOMER NEWSLETTER
The Spire customer newsletter is a collaboration between Brand and Business to bring customers updates on the company, industry news, and when they can expect to run into us at conferences. Like most things at Spire, it is under constant iteration.
(Selected from recent work)
It is important to distinguish between photos taken for a reason and those that aren't. Photos taken with purpose (such as for press releases, social profiles online, a website, or newsletter) are easily assigned a value. I draw that distinction because when I take photos for work, I do it with a third eye (reason) where as my other photography is about personal passion. They are two very different sides of the coin.
In the gallery below you will distinctly see the line between work (satellites, people) and passion (cars).
(Selected from recent work)
There's something that Martha Stewart, Florian Bellanger, and Duff Goldman know that you don't. Baking a cupcake isn't about where you get the flour, what kind of frosting you put on top, or who you serve them to. It's about nailing the ratios. Flour and sugar make up the structure and sugar and fat provide the enjoyment. Those magic ratios are about as open source as Linux but if you get them wrong, you might as well start again.
Nanosatellites are no different. Our structure is based on open source software and we build from there. The role of our engineers is to make something so flexible, simple to configure, and inter-operable that diverse payloads can be added without the need to re-invent the recipe. It's not as simple to nail the ratio you may think. Environmental variables, manufacturing process, and vendor quality all come into play. It takes an adept team to recognize subtle variations - like the difference in radio frequency noise between components - to adjust the formulas when needed. At the core of any nanosatellite network is a subtle dance of the interactions between software and hardware.
The source of our strength also creates one of the greatest challenges that we face: processing and analyzing sensor data so that uplink and downlink are never compromised. This, of course, is where the cupcake analogy begins to fall short. By building intelligence into the core, we can process data without the need to download it first. We also create a satellite that is smart enough to know when something goes wrong or how to perform complex actions without the need for operator intervention. The more intelligence at the edge of space, the better and more robust the data that returns to Earth.
By nailing the platform, you create a base for any number of potential sensors. Everything from ship tracking to weather data can be integrated into a mature platform. Sensor data, like the icing on a cupcake, is what draws the customer in, but it's the ability to deliver a complete solution - not just a quick hit of sweetness - that keeps people coming back.
Small is Big - But Don’t Look To Aerospace For Innovation
published in Room (The Space Journal
Trading Game Controllers For Mission Control
You’ve probably heard stories from parents or teachers about the day the US landed on the moon, Yuri Gagarin’s trip as the first human in space, President Kennedy’s moon speech, or any number of the enduring moments of the 1960s space race. Those narratives probably drum up images in your mind of patriots in lab coats making inconceivable discoveries and decisions that would impact countless lives. Unfortunately, after two shuttle disasters and developing a reputation for bureaucracy, the traditional space industry isn’t the dream job that it used to be. For most engineers, space exploration is a flicker of the imagination - left to be dimly lit by the occasional video game, movie, or tv show.
Something changed a couple years ago - in quirky offices spread across the world - some adventurous engineers and scientists began to peer towards space as a viable business. The passion for space had been bubbling under the surface of the San Francisco Bay Area where SpaceX, Spire, Skybox, and Planet Labs were founded. It’s since been cropping up in Glasgow, Scotland where Clyde Space builds satellites and components and where many other new space companies are based.
Ready For Liftoff
All around the world, technology and opportunity are finally catching up with the vision of space that we grew up with in our imaginations. New advances in technology have enabled cost effective satellites that are engineered with little more than iPhone components and launched with relatively cost-effective rockets.
These aren’t startups driven by old-hat aerospace engineers that were too cranky for NASA. They are the fair trade coffee consuming, healthy snack eating, and fast moving passionate cultures that most game industry veterans would associate with a company like Valve or Double Fine Productions. The job titles are similarly unlikely to appear in a government job posting. “Full Stack Spacecraft Engineer” and “Spacecraft Software Developer”, each a sharp 180 degree turn from the abbreviation soup that plagues traditional space industry jobs, have begun to grace job listings. It should be no surprise that this quick-moving tie-free culture has attracted major attention from game developers.
Development: A blurry line between simulation and real life
Ben Yeoh, a former game industry veteran turned ground-to-space full stack developer, finds that the team makeup is especially similar: “No one person could do everything from A to Z, primarily because the amount of tech and research that goes into different parts of the project require varying skillsets and deep expertise. In the new space industry, we need HW engineers, RF engineers, embedded software guys, AIS expertise, GPSRO experience, and etcetera. And for AAA games, we had 3D graphics programmers, animation programmers, physics programmers, gameplay programmers, 3D artists, concept artists, animators, and so on, and even those have specialized sub-fields.” It’s not uncommon for developers, artists, or quality assurance who work on games like Halo, Destiny, or Mass Effect to have to brush up on their physics.
The thirst for knowledge is something that drives many in the game industry. Those that have moved their desks to the universe of spacecraft development have discovered a massive learning opportunity. “Space represents a monumental technical challenge, which is very attractive to engineers like us. The similarities to game development makes the transition easy - tight deadlines, people working on the product on their own initiative and fueled by their passion, difficult engineering challenges, and always having new classes of problems to solve,” offered Linus Tan, who recently swapped high profile game development for low orbit spacecraft.
Space: A Different Psyche
Despite the many similarities, the new space companies aren’t simply a mirror image of the game industry. For better or worse, the game industry lives on hits. That boom and bust approach leads to layoffs, questionable policies towards contractors, and sometimes flat out puzzling decisions. The stability of business to business models, having a consistent product offering, and valuing full time team members over temporary help provides a stark contrast to many game industry realities.
The mission itself is also much different: planet-wide self-improvement. “Space development has a proven track-record of significantly improving the human condition”, said Linus, “Weather satellites, GPS, you name it. Space also represents a monumental technical challenge, which is very attractive to engineers like us.” We’re now able to look back on our planet and to listen – to get an alien perspective of Earth, our people, our machines, and our signals. It wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate to describe it as an altruistic God Mode for real life. Yeoh agrees: “I think there's a real possibility of impacting the world in a positive way (relatively speaking) compared to working on games, and I think most game devs who have been working in the game industry would agree that this is a highly attractive point.”
Are Game Studios Training Space Marines?
Working on games is great training for working on spacecraft. We’ve entered an entirely new reality - one where you don’t need a PhD to experiment in space. For a long time now, the game industry has had the benefit of being the be-all and end-all of many people’s career ambitions. The game industry has reaped that benefit, sometimes to the detriment of those that love it so much. How would the industry cope with instead becoming a means to an end is anyone’s guess.
Should the giants of the game industry be kept up at night by the idea of a talent exodus? Not quite yet. However, it warrants some thought to be given to how the future of the gaming industry, which for decades has relied on space as an object of fantasy, will cope with space exploration as an everyday reality. The next time you work or play with a spacecraft might be as real as opening a shell and SSH’ing into a real satellite or to be the last person to physically touch a satellite before it reaches orbit.
The 6500 square foot Spire Glasgow office had special meaning for me. It was the first time in my life that I've had the resources to truly bring our brand into the tangible world for our team. The mural, which integrates both our products (weather and shipping), emblazons the main wall of our kitchen. Spire is represented as a lighthouse (in particular, one from my childhood) which provides a guiding light to the world. Opposite of the mural is a brick facade that represents our reliability.
Each conference room in Spire Glasgow has a painted accent wall in a color chosen specifically based on the type of meetings intended for that room. Color and light can have enormous ramifications when it comes to productivity and mood. When the sun shines into the conference rooms, it hits from an angle that bounces the [now] colored light to a neutral color wall - providing a physical reminder that light and its properties can have a impact on everything around it. To that end, we chose ultra-thin daylight color LEDs to be placed on a bare concrete ceiling. By removing the drop ceiling, we elevated the feeling of the office and promoted our collaborative culture.
Each conference room is glass - promoting the transparency that we believe should exist in a company. The glazing, while minimum to meet health and safety standards in the UK, provides a reminder about our product and a splash of red that reinforces our boldness.
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Designing executive presentations (funding decks, large conference decks, internal CEO presentations, etc) has been an enormous part of my work. I've designed well over 100 of these presentations in the last three years. My slides have eventually made it everywhere from Series A negotiations through large conferences presentations.
Something I've learned in that time is that when someone comes to me looking for help, they often have a story just trying to get out. They often feel like I crafted the story for them, but all I did was help bring it out and turn it into something that works. Information design for projects like these can be a real challenge. Executive hand waiving, funny white-board sessions, and revision ping-pong are par are almost a necessity.
This presentation by Theresa Condor (Spire Board Member and VP of Corporate Development) is just one of many that have recently come through my design support.
I encourage everyone in the company to use whatever design resources that we have available (including and especially me) no matter what level.
© Nick Allain, 2016.