Who doesn’t love Mama? In 2015, Nick Sambrato contacted me with a better web vision for America’s favorite boutique spot printing company (according to an anecdotal poll). The old WordPress blog wasn’t cutting it, especially for the sales team that arguably spent more time giving clients free letterpress masterclasses than they did actually booking jobs. So after many, many conversations, we set out to build a better
mousetrap quote form.
Every part of Mama’s complex process was boiled down into a three-part funnel. First, force clients to browse printing to see what spot printing looks like. Second, see estimated cost  (this weeded out a large number of non-clients). Third, ask serious clients very specific questions about their project in a detailed quote form  (I love forms. They’re my favorite). This process was a great gut-check for clients to tell if they’re ready to submit. If not, they are pointed to the Design-wise™ section , an online brain dump of pretty much everything their sales team had grown tired of repeating.
Visually, I pulled from early 20th century typographers and mid-century packaging to create a stripped-down, type-centric site that took a backseat to the vibrant photography  while subtly hinting at Mama’s top-notch precision. The result is a website that “gets out of the way” while you’re swept up by beautiful printing. In less artsy news, the site is a Ruby on Rails app with Vue.js front-end, custom CMS backend, and my family’s secret image optimization recipe for low data usage.
Real Thread reached out to Envy Labs in 2015 to alleviate some growing pains. When they approached us, their current quote form was nothing more than an email submit form that piled into a sizeable stack of potential orders. Employees sometimes took days to reply with an estimate and mocked-up artwork, at which point many clients moved on to a quicker printer. Assuming the client stuck around, the approval and revision process only exacerbated and dragged out each order, resulting in a slow and frustrating process on both ends.
After many in-person meetings (local clients are great for that), we examined the entire customer shopping experience of getting shirts printed, from different personas ranging from novice “family gathering tee” client to professional designer client, making sure the psychology and priorites of their key demos were met. The result was a pretty slick automated quote generator  powered by Salesforce. Drew Smith (freelancer) handled the major design and art direction for the project, while I provided UX consultation  and filled in missing design details and animations.
Customers could now not only get an instant quote—boosting Real Thread into a new online retail level—but also better manage their order through the whole process . And the new site performed faster than their old one by a longshot. The project, completed over 4 months, doubled Real Thread’s customer throughput with no work/staff changes on their part, and dramatically improved customer satisfaction.
Course Manager has a long history too boring to tell, and it rightly holds a special place in my heart. Envy Labs built the second version of a project called CentreLearn, which became a major player in the firefighter & EMT e-training space (which is a userbase that hates taking these training courses, which in itself is a very rewarding design challenge to overcome, but I digress). Along with this very specific niche came years of domain knowledge and navigating the complex regulations that surround it all. CentreLearn was doing well until one competitor bought up the entire space, CentreLearn included. Fortunately, Envy Labs stayed on to work with the new platform, and I got to reimagine everything from scratch.
I lead the design on the project that would now serve tens of thousands of firefighters, EMTs, and other public servants across the country. Ayana Campbell Smith (Envy Labs) aided design, as did Jacob Swanner (Envy Labs) with domain knowledge and sanity checks. We ended up building a modular design language [3/4] that could be torn apart and rearranged into myriad ways to meet their rapidly-evolving business needs in modern public service curriculum. I typeset the UI in TFJ’s Mallory/Mallory Microplus , a humanist family that shines when it comes to readability. A huge part of this app was readability for the “old dogs” being forced to learn “new tricks” (aka the Internet).
I explain all that because it’s tough to describe this platform in only a few screens, but we built and handed off the project in 2017. As of now, the client pivoted on the project and assumed ownership over the design and dev work we provided. While it’s uncertain what the final version of the system will look like once out of our hands, I’m still really proud of this project and the thought and attention put into it.
I’ve been a designer and builder of the Web since 2010. I’m currently a Senior Frontend Engineer at Manifold, helping to build the world’s biggest independent cloud marketplace. Previously, I built large-scale design systems and front-end architecture for web apps through Envy Labs (before that, KMDG). I’ve also managed my own clientwork for most of my career. I share things I’ve learned on Medium, and help contribute to Open Source. In the past, I’ve preached the merits of design through Orlando Creators, and have mentored designers and developers through AIGA and Front-end Orlando.
Some things I believe:
1/ Good design and ideas should endure. Even if they’re old. Even if they’re not mine. 2/ Just because something is true doesn’t mean it’s helpful. 3/ Pave desire paths. 4/ Hype is always useful—either as a wave to ride, or an opportunity to observe. 5/ Honest people are always interesting. 6/ Just say what you want—in design and life. 7/ Be kind.
But enough about me. Tell me about you!