Blog

Planning a Planner, Part V October 01, 2015 10:00

This week we're wrapping up the final installment of our Planning a Planner series.  To get the whole story from the beginning, check out Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV.  We almost can't believe that all of our planning, designing, checking, back checking, changing, and printing is soon to be complete.  You know the feeling of being really really excited for something, but having to wait for it?  Like a really great vacation, or having a baby, or 5:00 on a Friday?  Well our really exciting thing is knocking on our door and we are so excited to be able to share it with you all.

Last week we showed a sneak peek of the weekly layout for the planner, and some of the changes that we made from our initial design to the final.  The differences described last week to the weekly layout were definitely the biggest changes we made, but we wanted to let you in on another secret:  the planner is full of spaces for jotting down notes, lists, goals, sketches, meeting minutes, daily thoughts, etc. Our focus group found these spaces to be essential for using the planner to do more than recording daily events.  The sizes of spaces vary and are tucked away on month and week layouts, but also are reserved on entire sheets at the end of each month.  I have a personal accolade for these extra spaces.  Have you ever tried to get a passport photo taken of a 2 year old?  If you haven't, let me tell you - it is one of the worst experiences in life.  We constantly needed to take breaks and 'reset' in order to stop crying (both of us) or to work up courage to be near the scary camera again.  During these breaks, my daughter would happily color on the blank pages of my planner.  (In the end, it took 3 different locations and 4 different photo sessions, but we finally got a photo that was acceptable.  Save yourself the trouble and take domestic vacations!)  In our final product, most of the 'extra' pages are graph paper which our focus group also overwhelmingly preferred.

One of our biggest goals is versatility, so in areas where there could have been a title, nine times out of ten we would eliminate it.  We tried to keep things as fluid as possible so that this planner would work just as well for the stay at home mom juggling schedules as it would for the college student as it would for the person working multiple jobs.  

We debated the cover quite a bit.  Most planners out today are flashy or colorful or patterned, but we decided to take a simpler approach, going back to a couple of our core values of simplicity and versatility.  We wanted both men and women to be comfortable carrying this, and for it to be appropriate for client meetings or planning to throw a party.  We didn't want to go 100% plain, and so we enlisted the work of the fabulously talented Andrea and Joe of The Laughing Owl Press Company.  They letterpress printed our custom covers and they are really beautiful.  Without further ado, we present the first look at our 2016 planner covers!

 
 Image courtesy of The Laughing Owl Press Co

During this whole process, we realized just how picky we actually are.  We looked extensively at types of paper, thicknesses and weights, trying to balance having a durable paper that wouldn't make a 3" thick planner that weighed 10 pounds, but would be more than sufficient to not cause bleed through.  We reviewed binding options, colors and sizes.  We debated the paper type and style of the folder, the tabs, the printing on the tabs.  We reviewed proofs with a magnifying glass and spent too many hours with the printer discussing the perfect lineweight and the perfect grey for text.  We endured our husbands thinking we were insane for not approving something that was 99% perfect but not 100% perfect.  We worked a lot of late nights and probably thoroughly annoyed our ever patient printer by delaying our deadlines just to make sure that everything we were doing was exactly how we wanted it.  

We are excited.  We're excited to use these planners, share them with you, and see what you think of them.  We'll be updating our website just as soon as we can with all information regarding how you can order a planner of your own.  In the meantime, if you have any questions or just want to talk about planning or how you don't think we're crazy for wanting this to be the best it can be, we welcome your comments.


Planning a Planner, Part IV September 24, 2015 07:50

After some back and forth, tweaks, and revisions, we finally sent our final files to the printer last night for our planner! We are beyond excited! This means that we will be able to hold our brain child in our hands next week, and you will be able to check out our final design and purchase a planner in as soon as two weeks! Once we have a hard date for the big reveal, we will shout it from the rooftops, don't you worry.

Over the past three weeks we have being talking about the development process for our planner in our "Planning a Planner" series. Here are the links to Part I and Part II.  Last week in Part III we talked about our focus group. As mentioned last week at the end of the two month trial we asked our group to send back answers to a list of questions, either their actual planners or scans of some sample weeks, and any additional feedback. This information was invaluable. The feedback sparked many conversations between us about pros and cons of each of our layout decisions. We made many tweaks and changes, and are pretty happy with our final product. 

So, let's talk about some of our layout decisions and some of the changes we made; we'll focus on the week layout.

In our sample planner sent out to our focus group we included a page where we gave examples of how to use our layout:

With one of our main goals being versatility, we focused on making our layout as flexible and unconfining as possible. You can see that our initial layout had a large space at the top and then the bottom was broken into four separate sections. With this layout you can use all five sections for whatever works best in your life.

After receiving the feedback from our focus group and looking at the samples of how they used the week layouts we noticed a few common themes, the first being that no one seemed to know how to use the large space at the top. It was hit or miss as to whether it was utilized. Sometimes it was used for daily appointments, and sometimes it was used for lists that may or may not have to do with that particular day. We also noticed that four sections at the bottom Were too many and that only one person in the focus group actually utilized all four sections during the trial. 

In our 2016 planner we decided to include a similar page that talks about the benefits of our layout:

You can see some of the changes in response to the feedback. We added the time of day as a guide for the top section in case you wanted that section broken down with appointment times. We tried to make the times small and unassuming to maintain flexibility, so that if you decided to use the top section in a different way, the times wouldn't hinder you in doing so. We eliminated one of the sections at the bottom. We also made the top section along with the three bottom sections slightly smaller. By doing this we were able to add graph paper at the bottom as "free space" so that you can make lists or sketches, etc. that aren't tied to any specific day. The current month was added to the small months on the side, so you can now see three months at a glance. Overall the revisions were to eliminate space that was underutilized by our focus group and to create functional space that there seemed to be a need for. 

Prior to our meeting to go over the feedback from the focus group, we thought our initial layout was perfect! We were so proud of it. What were we thinking? Most of the trends we saw in the samples sent back to us were also present in our own planners. We feel way more confident about our new layout. But we are sure after we use it in 2016 we will find more room for growth! (We will definitely be soliciting feedback too, so feel free to contact us with any questions or comments after you purchase your planner!)

-- Mary Beth and Becky

Don't forget to sign up for our Newsletter to stay in the know regarding things on the horizon. 

(You can follow this link to add our blog to almost any reader that you use. Or you can click on the RSS icon at the bottom of the page, found in the "Follow Us" section. If you'd like to receive our posts via email, click here.)

 


Planning a Planner, Part III September 17, 2015 08:00

Are you guys getting excited about the release of our planner?!  It's almost officially fall, which means it's almost time for stores to go crazy over Christmas and completely skip the other upcoming holidays, which means that it's close to time to get in gear and get a planner for 2016 (what else are you going to record all your good intentions for New Year's resolutions in?) Ok, so in the first blog post in this series, we talked about how we came up with our initial idea to create a planner, and in the second post, we went more in depth about the process of coming up with a layout.  Today, we're going to fill you guys in on the secret of how we made sure the public would fall in love with our planner as much as we had.  

To test our ideas, we put together a 2-month version of our planner and invited 16 people to participate in a focus group, using the planner for the full 2 months, and then providing feedback.  We thought long and hard about who should be included in the focus group.  We wanted to reach out to people that we knew, because we felt that we would have a better chance of getting feedback from people we could trust to give honest answers, whereas if we asked people that we didn't know, they could disappear and we couldn't hold them to anything.  But, that didn't stop us from considering everyone from a complete list of people that we knew.  We listed out every single female we knew (because in truth, women are the target audience for a planner, but more on this later).  We listed Facebook friends, Instagram followers, old high school friends we had lost touch with, college buddies, distant relatives, etc.  We sat down at Joule, one of our favorite spots in Raleigh, and went through every single person.  We noted if we knew if they currently used a planner, if they used an electronic calendar, their age, their location, their profession(s), their marital status, their number of children, and narrowed down our list to get a good cross section of different people.  At this point, word had also gotten out about our project and we had people approaching us to volunteer to use the planner, including 2 males.  We were ecstatic to have a male demographic in our focus group.  One of our main goals is versatility, so we wanted this planner to be equally as appealing to men as it is to women, even though we were aware that purchasers would be majority women.

We cut a LOT of people, including close friends (sorry guys - but you know we were being unbiased and choosing who we thought would give us the best variety of results!)  We reached out to our final list, and had a few people tell us no, they preferred their current method of organization and didn't want to veer from that (fair enough).  In the end, our focus group consisted of:

  • the 2 of us - of course we were going to test our own product!
  • 2 males, 1 with kids and a full time job, the other with a job in sales at a major downtown company
  • a single (but going on lots of dates - i'm still looking at you, Zach Boychuck) full time engineer who does floral arrangements for weddings on the side
  • a single full time architect in a serious relationship with lots of extra curriculars
  • a full time employee with the City of Raleigh who runs a very successful photography business (and a husband) on the side
  • a former Miss Virginia, now married with a full time job and side job
  • a busy New York City architect balancing work and social life
  • a full time college student 
  • a married mom who works from home and blogs on the side
  • a stay at home mom with triplets(!!!)
  • a married teacher in Texas with a jewelry design business on the side, with a child in high school and another in college
  • a working mom with 2 jobs, 1 husband, 3 dogs and 2 boys with plenty of extra curriculars
  • a full time working mom of 4 grown children who have children of their own
  • a married full time lobbyist with a baby on the way
  • a busy wife with 2 jobs and in the midst of house hunting
  • a full time nurse with a 2 year old who had just moved to Ohio with her husband
  • a full time wife and web developer at a prestigious state university

All of these people agreed to use our planner for 2 months (May-June), although some expressed concern about going back to paper when they were currently using electronic calendars for all of their planning.  We wanted candid feedback from all of them, to see how/ if each person used the planner, and welcomed the fact that some used electronic calendars. We really wanted to see how our planner was accepted and used compared to each person's norm.  At the end of the 2 month trial, each person was to send back comments, answers to specific questions we had laid out about the design of the planner, and either the hard copy itself, or scans of month and week layouts, so we could see how each was used.  So, we packaged them all up, sent them out, then crossed our fingers!

      

We gave multiple suggestions and examples for how the planner could be used.  The layout is not typical, and so can be used any number of ways.  We checked in periodically and made ourselves available for questions or comments.  Roughly 3 months later, we had received back most of the question responses paired with scans or the physical planner.  We met and for hours and looked at each planner, how it was used, if certain portions of it were used, if spaces we had created appeared to be undersized or extraneous, and what consistencies we found from person to person.  We went in to this meeting after having used the planner ourselves as well, and truthfully, we both loved it.  We weren't sure how we could make it any better or what changes would really be beneficial.  I'm 100% sure that we were too invested in it to be able to step back and see the flaws, and so the focus group responses were absolutely invaluable.  We made a ton of changes, and we are pretty excited about where we landed.  Next week, we'll give you a sneak peek at what's in store for the UPstudio 2016 planner!!!


Planning a Planner, Part II September 10, 2015 07:50

In our last blog post, we went in depth on how we came up with the idea to create a planner, and why we felt validated in making our decision to do so.  Today we're going to talk more about how we came up with our initial pass at a layout.  The first thing that we did was individually make lists of what we felt were the most important things to consider for the planner.  We had meetings to discuss these and make priority lists.  Our goals were: classic design, affordable, simple, appealing to people with different lifestyles.  

From there, we knew we needed to start making some design decisions, so we did what any typical Type A person would do, and scoured information from all the existing planners that we could find.  We evaluated all of the past planners that we still owned (see last week's blog post) and did as much online research as we could to evaluate how each was used, what their functions were, and how we felt about them.  We even went to department stores and looked at everything that was available for purchase there.  We compared prices, layouts, binding, sheet size, orientation, etc.  We knew how we felt about most things and we agreed on almost everything (we really are a good team).  We had ideas for layouts and implemented a few designs.  We met again, discussed the layout, made changes, lather, rinse, repeat.

 

(Meeting minutes from one of our first planner meetings. Includes some goals, some branding ideas, and our first combined list of likes and dislikes from our planner research.)

We felt really comfortable with the direction we were headed, and were excited with decisions we were making.  But, we also knew that we needed more than just our own opinions if we really wanted to say that this was designed for people in all walks of life.  In order to design something that was going to work for all types of people, we needed to talk to all types of people.  More than that, we needed to understand how they used a planner, and what their preferences were for use. The best way to test our planner and see how it worked for multiple people would be to create a focus group who could use it for a couple of months, and give us honest feedback on how it was working.  Next week, we'll talk about how we chose our focus group members, who they were, and what they thought.

-- Mary Beth and Becky

Don't forget to sign up for our Newsletter to stay in the know regarding things on the horizon.

(You can follow this link to add our blog to almost any reader that you use. Or you can click on the RSS icon at the bottom of the page, found in the "Follow Us" section. If you'd like to receive our posts via email click here.)


Planning a Planner, Part I September 03, 2015 08:00

We're not afraid to admit it: here at UPstudio we love a good planner.  We also love to make lists, be organized and to look at everything written out at the end of the day to see what we accomplished, and what's still in store for tomorrow.  We've both used a planner of some sort for the majority of our lives (Mary Beth still owns all of hers!) so it's natural that we'd have a conversation with each other about them.  It was the end of 2014, and we were comparing our newest planners:  I had a more traditional one with a monthly calendar and spaces for daily agendas, and Mary Beth was using one where you can write in a specific date, and use as much space as you need day by day.  We were talking about what we liked and didn't like, and what we would change about them.  It was later that day when we had the realization that we could create our own planner to suit our needs, and could change all of the things that weren't quite working for us.  We thought about it a little more and had the idea to design something that could work for more people, and then attempt to sell them.  Starting a business was exciting to think about, but then quickly became overwhelming.  Our husbands brought up some good points and asked us thoughtful questions about our ideas:  Who even uses a hard copy planner anymore?  How can you create a market for something that is only needed once a year?  Is there really a need for this product?

 Mary Beth's stack of old planners

We thought about these things individually, then talked about them together.  In the end, we still thought we had a pretty solid idea.  It was risky - a planner is typically needed only once a year, so repeat buys are few and far between in a year, but we felt strongly enough about what we wanted to do to pursue it.  We know plenty of people who use daily or weekly planners, and we both use them ourselves.  

Technology plays a huge role in the world today, and can absolutely take the place of a traditional pen and paper calendar.  There are many people who use only their cell phone or computer to keep track of schedules, or may use a hybrid system of these plus some sort of paper copy.  Maybe we're old school, but there's just something that's nice about writing things out yourself.  Writing things down can help the writer to remember them better.  With a hard copy planner, it is very easy to look at everything at once instead of clicking on multiple things to get different overviews or specifics on your calendar.  Our planner also incorporates ample room for list making, note taking, drawing, etc.  Just like sending real mail is a little more meaningful than sending an email, we believe that using a paper and pen planner is more meaningful than just using technology.

 Becky's iPhone calendar

There are tons of planners that already exist today.  Is ours really any better?  This question is extremely subjective, but of course we think ours is the best!  In reality, there are some great planners that already exist.  In future posts, we'll go more in depth as to what makes ours different and stand out from the rest, but for now, we'll just say that there are definitely differences. What we consistently found about the great versions were that their cost was out of our price range.  We wanted to create something that could compete on an equal playing field with some of these other great planners, but that would be more affordable for the every day person.  Some of the comparisons that we were looking at are upwards of $50-$70!  We have worked very closely with our printers to do everything we could to cut cost without cutting quality.

So the decision was made: we were going to start a business!  We knew we had A LOT of work ahead of us, and wanted to make really smart decisions.  We needed to create goals and really define what we wanted our end result to be.  In our next blog post, we'll talk more about our initial goals and our first shot at design.  Stay tuned!