Design in the Wild: A Conversation with the argodesign Team

On August 2, the argodesign team will sit down with AIGA Austin for our Small Talks: UX For New Tech series. In this month’s series, we’ll be discussing the future of digital experiences without ‘traditional’ user interfaces.

We sat down with the argo team to learn a bit more about them, their take on the future of design, and the state of design in Austin.

These are their stories.

Matthew Santone

Senior designer Matthew Santone earned the nickname “the wizard” at advertising agency Resource Interactive where he received notoriety as the innovator of “Off the Wall,” the first end-to-end eCommerce experience in the Facebook stream. He is currently focused on design for cognitive systems at argo.

What brought me to argo?

The talent and vision of the founders and partners of argo. I cold-call emailed the founders pretty much at inception. I felt aligned with their vision, so I packed up my life in Columbus, OH and joined the company just four months into its existence.

What is your favorite Austin activity?

Pursuing my passion to become certified as a sommelier. You’ll find me taking blind wine taste tests on most Wednesday afternoons.

What are you most excited for in terms of the world of design for cognitive systems and UI for new technologies? And what is the biggest challenge facing designers today?

I think the answer to both of these questions is shared. Designing for cognitive systems is largely uncharted and the necessity for invention is great. And becoming fluent in this space challenges many designer norms. You have to be willing to trade “lorem ipsum” for a deeper entanglement with data. You have to be able to invent by abstracting analogous conventions when there are no defined patterns to pull from. And even more interesting, as a designer, you have to begin to tackle AI in the aspect of its role, expression, transparency and infallibility. It’s a dramatic shift from pixel pusher to something much more organic. As a designer, I find that incredibly exciting and a very big challenge.

Jared Ficklin

Jared is the chief creative technologist at argo, as well as the creator of Wire One and one of the stars of PBS reality series Texas Ranch House. His philosophy is “Think by Making, Deliver by Demo” and employs user experience simulation as a method for quickly bringing products to life and as a method for finding new experiences when applying innovative technologies.

Introduce yourself: what brought you to Argo? What is your favorite Austin activity? Etc.

20 years of product design and weird living converged into a desire to help create a world class Product Design Firm in Austin Texas.  One that would be known worldwide for thought leadership and its ability to make a design a meaningful contribution to the value & enjoyment of the products we bring into our lives.  You know… the usual stuff.

I came to Austin for Tech & Music and since arriving 17 years ago I have always enjoyed keeping Austin weird and cutting edge be it playing experimental noise rawk all along 6th street, building skateparks or trying to get people to commute to work in gondolas.

What are you most excited for in terms of the world of design for cognitive systems and UI for new technologies? Who do you think is doing it right?

We are at that nascent stage where we are forming up the interface for a generation of computing.

Describe the Austin design scene in one word.


What is the biggest challenge facing designers today?

An over abundance of opportunity makes navigating a career more challenging, a dearth of convention that applies to the new challenges places great importance on the discipline and messiness of innovation, the weight of modern social pressures can overwhelm pure fascination and place guilty burdens on lighthearted design.

Who inspires you?

Endurance Athletes, Horses, Mark Rolston, Mark Gauger & Kevin McDonald.  The argonauts… really! Not being cheesy!  They are amazing in many ways beyond even the design talent on display each day.

Lisa Woods

Lisa is the organizer of the Austin Interactive Meetup and co-founder of dadageek, a school for expressive technology. Through these activities, she fosters creative applications of new technologies at the boundary of art, design, experience and information.

A designer, researcher, and strategist at argo, Lisa has spoken at SXSW Interactive, Maker Faire Austin, Writers’ League of Texas, and Girls Who Code and has been published in HOW Design, CityLab, FastCo Design, and Makezine.

What brought you to Argo? What is your favorite Austin activity? Etc.

I recently celebrated my 2-year anniversary at argo! I was drawn to its caliber of employees who come from all the top product agencies. I was also drawn to argo’s thought leadership. I saw Jared Ficklin’s TEDx talk and heard him speak at the INST-INT conference even before I’d heard of argo. I love that argo embodies and promotes thought leadership, innovation, and design as provocation.

What are you most excited for in terms of the world of design for cognitive systems and UI for new technologies? Who do you think is doing it right?

What excites me about AI becoming the new UI is that interactions will be more natural, more human-like as well as more personalized and proactive.

How we query

Today, instead of pulling out your iPhone and starting a timer, you can ask Alexa to start a timer. It’s convenient if your hands are covered in flour, but it’s also a shift in how technology can assist you in your home. Alexa and its up-and-coming anthropomorphic mobile siblings—Kuri and Jibo—will transform how we interact with smart tech in our homes.

Today, instead of just reading a screen of news, you can use Quartz’s chatbot to “talk” with the news. Instead of headlines, you get messages that read like texts from a friend—if your friend were a news-obsessed but reliable source with an irreverent tone of voice. And It’s not just novel, it’s engaging.

How we explore

Instead of visiting SFMoMA’s museum’s archives—which happens well… never—you can request a somewhat random/serendipitous artifact via chat. For example, texting “send me design” to 572-51, returned a John Dickinson’s 1963 rendering “Louis XVI table for Mr. and Mrs. Les Allen”.

How we decide/curate

What if your navigation system proactively said to you as your got in your car: “Your commute home is 35 minutes longer today due to an accident and new construction. Would you like to hear some suggested activities? Crate and Barrel has a 50% off sale today. The Hideout gallery show popular in your network. HEB is not crowded today. Walking Town Lake for 30 minutes will expend 1,500 calories.”

How we understand

The possibilities of context aware human-robot and human-agent interaction are very exciting and will impact all areas of our lives.

Take for instance this innovative student project. It’s a listening table that analyzes who is speaking, who is not, and their volume. Over time, the spiral real-time visualization shows the participants who spoke more/less, who was interrupted more/less, who spoke louder/softer. Imagine how the dynamics of conversation could be altered by such a table—If it were a business conference room table, If it were your home’s dining table, If it were a UN mediation table… We’ve barely begun to tap what smart tech can do.

Describe the Austin design scene in one word.


Who inspires you?

My main source of inspiration is digital and speculative art. I’m drawn to art that uses technology in innovative and provocative ways. It’s at the fringes that mainstream ideas are born. My favorite sources for digital art are:

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By Jessica Tremblay
Published July 24, 2017