UX Design
My role
I joined the start-up's small team of six early in the design process. I created the visual identity and the product's UI, and collaborated on the UX with one other designer on the team.
Cassandra Grdovic
Research & UX
Nico Brand
Project Details
Defind is a matching & searching platform that helps architects and clients find each other based on common goals. Defind supports clients through the unfamiliar process of finding an architect and provides architects with the details they need to decide what projects to take on.
Managing the relationship with clients is not most architects' strong suit. They're focused on complex project details & processes that most clients are unaware of. Value misalignments, clients lacking understanding, and architects lacking transparency lead to rocky relationships.
Often neither party is entirely satisfied with the process or outcome of the project. It costs architecture firms millions of marketing dollars due to low client retention & referral rates. Many clients suffer from mismanagement leading to design or budget decisions they aren't entirely comfortable with.
When I joined the Defind team, they had already done a lot of work defining the problem and better understanding the users involved. While I was not involved in this process stage, I'll discuss it here to provide the appropriate context for the project.
The team conducted several participatory design workshops with both architects and clients. These workshops laid a foundation for us to better understand the key users and their motivations.

Quotes from participants


“Our binders reflect the entire process to educate clients and set better expectations.”


“Two quotes that speak to working with an architect are ‘find your match’ and ‘mark your territory’.”
“The process has so many pitfalls. You will be hit with so many things. If I could go back I’d want to know about the bumpy road ahead.”
“If values don’t align the right way, both parties usually aren’t satisfied. There’s a short window to read clients effectively and make a judgement call.
“It would be game changing to embed less building oriented values, family time for example, to get to the deeper needs of the client.”
“You’re relying on someone with experience to make the right calls, but sometimes you need to step in. I wish I had known the right questions to ask.”
It was clear that both parties needed help managing the relationship, and with the project often running between two to four years in length, not working well together would have unfortunate consequences on the project's outcome. American Institute of Architects fellow Barry Alan Yoakum explains why architects struggle with relationship management.
"Virtually 100 percent of architects' training focuses on doing projects. Their number one strength— solving project problems—creates their number one weakness—not equating clients with 'relationships' and failing to understand clients' businesses."
Secondary research also supports that clients lack understanding of project roles & processes.
of people don’t know architects run financial accounts for building projects.
don’t know architects deal with all certifications for building projects.
were not aware that architects select, negotiate with and manage all the contractors.
Thompson, M. (2020, July 19). It's true: People don't know what architects do. The Architects' Journal.
Clients don't have the experience to know what they should be concerned about. And the architects' priority is the work over educating and maintaining a beneficial relationship with the client. Many firms have developed tools to set more realistic client expectations, but they can only go so far.
From our research emerged some key themes that our product had to address. Throughout the case study, I'll use the numbers below to connect features to the insights they address.

Value Matching

Pains from both user groups reflect a mismatch of values in client-architect relationships. Architects want their work to align with their design ethos, but not all clients know if their project will align. There is only a short window to learn about each other before getting into a long and invested relationship.

Relationship building

There was a strong desire & need for a deeper understanding between the client and architect during the dating phase. The best projects are the results of genuine collaboration, but stressors like changes to plans, delays, or going over budget mean that not all manage to collaborate successfully.

Client Education

Clients are going into unknown territory and want to feel empowered to collaborate throughout the process, even if they might have unrealistic expectations. Architects struggle to set & manage these expectations; some have even created binders to prepare clients for what's to come.
Visual Identity
An exercise that I like to use to guide a branding process is the "branding matrix" below. I had the team develop three keywords that summed up the brand's values. I plotted out what the words would translate to in terms of the product's look & feel, tone of voice, information architecture, imagery, and animation style.

Logo Iterations

Having done the branding matrix, it was clear that the logo should be informed in some way by the rich design history of architecture while hinting at themes of values connecting.

To achieve this, I looked at typefaces created by Bauhaus designers or inspired by this era. I settled on Insignia as the typeface for a word mark as it has the perfect combination of geometric round arches and sharp ends reminiscent of Universal Type.

After several round of voting & feedback with the internal team and some market testing, these proposals were discarded.

The final logo was inspired by one of the discarded iterations. The blue frame hints at the outline of a building, and the red dot represents a client found. The blue frame also visually depicts the product's primary use; holding and managing an architecture project.

In motion

Building blocks

The logo was the first building block of the identity, informing our typography and colours choices. The bright red and blue were also a tip of the hat to Bauhaus design and its use of primary colors. Some lighter shades of blue and beige would serve as UI colours down the line.

Creating a design system

I encouraged the team to adopt a design system methodology to facilitate communication with our developer and establish workflows.

Establishing a design system early in the process allowed us to move quickly past the wireframe stage and document design decisions. As the component library received updates, I clearly documented them to maintain a source of truth to guide the development team.

As the visuals began to come together, so did the value proposition. Defind’s process helps architects & clients make better decisions.
Key Features
Our extensive user research guided us in building a platform that intentionally structures the matching process to generate better project outcomes.
Value matching - discovering profiles & projects

For experienced clients, all it may take is looking through many architect profiles to understand their style and design ethos. Defind's featured projects and searching capabilities make it easy for clients to create a shortlist of the firms that best align with their values. Firm profiles are filled with detailed information on what kind of projects the firm takes on and their methodology.

Client Education - Getting off to the right start

Defind encourages first-time clients to post their project. This process begins with a quiz that collects all the details that architects need to determine if the project is a good fit for them. By encouraging clients to go through this process, Defind begins to educate them on the information needs and what they should consider before settling on an architect.

Relationship building - Making the most out of that short window

Both user groups had experienced difficulties in their relationships that they believed could have been avoided if they'd had more time to ask questions. Time in meetings is often limited, and clients may not always know what to ask. That's why Defind is the perfect place for architects & clients to slow down the process and ensure they're on the same page.

Once a client posts a project, they can invite suggested firms. If the firms are interested, they'll match and begin a conversation. Both parties can now compare the detailed information and make sure they're selecting the best match.

A powerful tool to scale
While the product already addressed many user needs discovered in our research, the team had bigger plans. We wanted to create a robust library of resources called the Defind Academy, including tools for architects and clients to select and prepare for meetings. Unfortunately, Defind couldn't secure funding to continue the project.
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