19 Years of Design Refinement, and Counting

How do you keep honing your craft for decades but still love to learn new things and stay eager to chase innovation? That’s one of the things we wonder when we think about Rob McDorman, who has led North Star’s Design team … since before there even was a team. Rob is celebrating 19 years of service to NSM today and we are all celebrating his boundless creativity, humble leadership, an unwavering desire to see God’s kingdom grow through all the work we do.

I’m so glad to work with you Rob, and I know we’re all grateful for your leadership and so much work over the years to help make North Star such a very special place to work. When you reflect on the last year, what are some of the big moments or accomplishments you think of?

 

Rob: I’m really proud of my Design team. We’ve seen a lot of change recently as we’re in the process of growing and refining our direction for the firm. I’ve been a designer for over 20 years, but the last year has required me to be more of a team builder. We’re all working together to create unity and present the strong creative aspects of North Star’s work. I’ve definitely felt stretched to step up and pursue new growth in management and leadership. God has used that for my good in many ways. 

I know you’ve been at NSM almost from the genesis. There is a lot of change right now as we pivot to more of an education focus as a firm, but what can you tell us from your unique perspective about how NSM has changed in the last two decades?

 

Rob: [Laughs.] Well, when it started it was small. Just a couple of guys who didn’t know much, yet thought they did. God has taught us what we needed to know in real and practical ways over the years. We’ve grown slowly, safely, and wisely. There were times we turned down opportunities because we didn’t want to get too big, too soon. 

As we’ve gotten bigger it affects our company culture. You have to work harder and be more intentional about getting to know one another, but making that effort remains a priority. It’s cool to see how our influence has expanded. As the Design team grows, having a variety of opinions and expertise has made us all sharper. It’s neat to see exactly how God has shaped and prepared us for this. You don’t always end up where you might have thought — but we’re grateful for where we are. 

Ultimately, I want people to look at North Star Marketing as having achieved our purpose for them, and as having really used our God-given talents for them and for their eternal good. I want to get to know each client beyond just the business. Has my work been for the glory of God? That’s always on my mind. 

I’m curious about your personal perspective on Design. After all these years invested in your craft, what do you love about it?

 

Rob: I’ve always viewed design as visual communication. You’re doing the best that you can to get across what someone is trying to say. How can we say without words? How can we make it impactful? How can we lead someone toward the ideas we want them to grasp? I love that every project is different and that it’s a unique challenge to work out for that unique puzzle. You never get finished asking “What is motivating our audience?,” because you have to ask it with every single project. 

I primarily do web work, and it’s really something to see how that’s changed in 20 years. At this point I’m often focused on being on that leading edge. What’s coming next? What do users need now? How can I be the first one to do it? When it comes down to it, a lot of design is about improving things. Can we make this more attractive in a different color? Is it more compelling with imagery or without? And for websites, we spend a great deal of time looking at ways to make the web experience more impactful. As users become savvier, as a younger generation who are complete tech natives grow up, graduate, enter the workforce, and more and more of our target audiences, how can we reach them in ways that aren’t archaic? 

What are you seeing along those lines? What are some trends or design trajectories these days?

 

Rob: That’s a good question. Personally, I think a lot of the websites you see today are still stuck in some version of what we think people want to see. But as a user, if I were to use it, I don’t need half of what I run into on most sites. First of all, I don’t have time for a lot of things. I need it to be to the point and dialed in for my purposes. What does that boil down to from a creative approach? It means we’re advocating for a whole lot less “just in case” kind of content. 

Landing pages are probably closer to the mark or sweet spot in a lot of cases. They are designed to know what I want and need. That’s why they are so successful. Sites should do less pointing to landing pages and make their site content more like them. You see this with the best mobile sites — they strip out all kinds of stuff. Get right to the call to action, contact, what is it that we do, clearly, quickly. Navigation has a lot to learn from history. If you look at sites from 15 years ago, they are so crammed full of things. Today they are getting much simpler and easier to navigate. 

What’s next, Rob? When you look at the horizon, what’s in store for your twentieth year at North Star?

 

Rob: Well our new website is up and clearly reflects our pivot to focus more on what we’ve been so good at all these years. We’re investing ourselves in the education market so that we can become even better at it. More focused. Pouring our resources into becoming the best in the industry.

As we were talking through this decision as a leadership team, I remember wondering how I might feel about losing a wide variety in clientele. But I’m excited to dive even deeper into this market and to become even more adept from a design perspective. We can extend our already deep expertise in education by exploring more nuances in the market, its trends, and what’s specifically helpful for these client partners. When prospective parents are online, what are they looking for as they browse a school’s website? What kinds of resources can we develop to better serve that market? Everyone on the team is focusing and that collaboration will strengthen our collective work because we don’t have to readjust or switch gears. 

So, I think we’re already seeing gains across the board. We’re very focused on improvements in UI/UX and how people interact digitally. Our designs accommodate those needs and make the way straighter. Schools today have got to be nimble. When they need to change their enrollment strategies year to year we can lead them. We can help them. I want to think marketing directors at the schools we serve breathe a little easier when we engage with them.

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