By Melissa Belongea, Content Strategist, YML

January 21, 2020

It’s 2021 and whether you believe in placebos or the positioning of the sun, the turn of a calendar year is a great excuse to breathe in fresh air. Especially after the past twelve months, what some might consider a breaking point — large shifts to daily life, historical social and civic unrest, extreme weather events, a highly consequential election cycle, and shaky transitions of leadership. Yeah, things are certainly progressing quickly, and we couldn’t be more excited.

As builders of technology products in a design-driven agency, we are constantly negotiating current conditions with a future that is being created today.

We know our stakeholder set is wide — customers, clients, employees, society, and the environment. We recognize they are all interconnected on some level. Yet sometimes (often) reconciling priorities feels overwhelming. Do we have to choose? Yes and no. What if a roadmap toward more balanced decision making were right under our nose?

Systems in nature are wired for efficiency and perfect balance — a world of diversity boiled down to simple, basic, common principles; symbiosis, energy efficiency, diversity, momentum, to name a few. Perhaps by intentionally and regularly applying these same principles to business and technology problems, we could more easily locate balanced solutions, and a repeatable, reliable formula for creating regenerative growth. 

While cultural and policy influences have been brewing below the surface for some time, more and more, leading financial institutions have been outwardly prioritizing sustainability as the new bottom line. Investing firm, Morning Star, views ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) strategy through the lens of risk management and due diligence.

Beyond risk-mitigation, however, people (consumers, clients, and company leaders alike) are more often searching for lasting impact. Robert Eccles, a visiting professor of management practice at Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford, breaks it down in a recent interview with the Harvard Business Review. “Impact is about those things that matter to the world. And increasingly, people are looking at impact through the lens of sustainable development goals.” 

Making a lasting impact has been a driving force behind the work at YML since our founding, where we’ve placed people and customers at the center of our outcomes, but today those words carry greater meaning. We are defining with deeper intent what these goals mean to us. As a leading innovation partner in technology product design and development, we want to create them alongside our stakeholders.

Below are three key themes to consider along with some of our favorite reads, ideas, and resources that apply this thinking to designing a more sustainable and equitable future. If making a larger impact is of interest to you too, we’d love to start a conversation. 

1) Seek out symbiosis. Create efficiencies and increase positive outcomes through symbiotic relationships. 

To Overcome Your Company’s Limits, Look to Symbiosis

  • “Symbiosis is a powerful force in business too. A broad examination of nature reveals six key guidelines for adaptable symbiotic relationships that can be applied to today’s organizations.”

What Cross-Silo Leadership Looks Like

  • “The core challenges of operating effectively at interfaces are simple: learning about people on the other side and relating to them. But simple does not mean easy; human beings have always struggled to understand and relate to those who are different. Leaders need to help people develop the capacity to overcome these challenges on both individual and organizational levels.”

Brad Frost and Dan Mall: Rethinking designer-developer collaboration

  • “The first line of collaboration is, “What are the things that you should own and need to own, and are the good things for you to own? And what are some things that you really can rely on somebody else for, that they would do a better job or their environments are more native to the process than yours are?”

2) Balanced by design. Nature has been practicing design for a long time, what can we learn?

Atomic Design

  • “Taking cues from chemistry: In the natural world, atomic elements combine together to form molecules. These molecules can combine further to form relatively complex organisms.”

Emergent Strategy: Organizing for Social Justice

  • “This model of emergence is practical instead of theoretical. It emphasizes “critical connections over critical mass” – it is the depth of relationships that determine the strength of a system.  It is these “simple interactions” – from how we relate to the thoughts in our own heads, to how we show up in our relationships, to how we exist as local communities – that create the patterns that give rise to our ecosystems and societies.”

Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature

  • “The biomimics are discovering what works in the natural world, and more important, what lasts. After 3.8 billion years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival. The more our world looks and functions like this natural world, the more likely we are to be accepted on this home that is ours, but not ours alone.”

Design Thinking—A Permaculture Approach

  • “Previous to the emergence of design thinking in product design, the pinnacle concept in sustainable design methodology was cradle-to-cradle design. The fact that design thinking moves from a linear design process to a non-linear design process (taking into consideration all outside variables), brings us to the established process of ecological design.”

3) Ecosystems thrive on diversity. Business and technology ecosystems thrive on diverse thinking. 

How Women and Men Can Work Together to Create Equality

  • “We often hear about the importance of diversity, but that word usually refers to attributes like race and nationality. While those are critical elements of diversity, companies frequently overlook one of the most important drivers of innovation: diversity of thought. As a 2017 Deloitte report puts it, "Research shows that one of the biggest sources of bias at companies is a lack of diversity of thought." If a company wants to facilitate real diversity and inclusion, it has to welcome a broad range of ideas and perspectives.”

Black Girls Code

  • “Our Vision: To increase the number of women of color in the digital space by empowering girls of color ages 7 to 17 to become innovators in STEM fields, leaders in their communities, and builders of their own futures through exposure to computer science and technology. To provide African-American youth with the skills to occupy some of the 1.4 million computing job openings expected to be available in the U.S. by 2020, and to train 1 million girls by 2040.”

American Indian Science and Engineering Society

  • “The vision of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) is for the next seven generations of Native people to be successful, respected, influential, and contributing members of our vast and ever-changing global community.”

Project Drawdown

  • “Our mission is to help the world reach “Drawdown”— the point in the future when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline, thereby stopping catastrophic climate change — as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible.”

The Business Case For Diversity is Now Overwhelming

  • “In this era of globalization, diversity in the business environment is about more than gender, race and ethnicity. It now includes employees with diverse religious and political beliefs, education, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientation, cultures and even disabilities. Companies are discovering that, by supporting and promoting a diverse and inclusive workplace, they are gaining benefits that go beyond the optics.”

As we move through a time of upheaval and change, nature is a balm that connects people to their senses, and to the sense that we are all part of a larger ecosystem. 

December 14, 2020

C3.ai, renowned as the "world's largest enterprise AI production footprint," has officially IPO'd and is quickly surpassing expectations, highlighted by the stock's massive ascent into triple digits on its first day of trading on Wednesday, Dec. 9.

C3 partnered with YML in 2019 to redesign the company's marketing website. The final product was ultimately built to be as simple and innovative as the product itself, focusing on rich customer-centric content and clear, intuitive design (see the case study).

The enterprise AI company helps their customers deploy, scale, and achieve digital transformation through AI software. With C3, business users can build custom applications that run AI models without writing code, or they can use pre-made tools that are tailored for the needs of different industries.

The newly designed C3.ai experience, built by YML.

"C3's successful IPO marks another impactful digital transformation for a YML client," shared Ashish Toshniwal, CEO and co-founder of YML. "We have laid digital foundations for startups like Credit Karma, PayPal, Deserve, Health Equity, and Bill.com — all of which have IPO’d, gone public, or have huge valuations — and now we're thrilled to have contributed to C3's growth."

C3.ai was founded by Tom Siebel, the Silicon Valley software maker and former Oracle Corp. executive.

Related press:

This story originally appeared in Ad Age on December 4, 2020. It is part of a recurring series of Q&As called “Uncomfortable Conversations,” taking on the sometimes tough, but always necessary, discussions about inclusion in advertising. This series spotlights the many diverse voices that make up this industry—at all levels and in all disciplines—highlighting their personal experiences to illustrate the importance of inclusion and equity throughout the entire ecosystem.

Ashish Toshniwal is the co-founder and CEO of YML, a global strategy, design and tech company. YML creates strategy, design and engineering for digital products and experiences, working with clients like Apple, The Home Depot, Facebook, State Farm, Universal Music Group and L’Oréal. Toshniwal immigrated to the U.S. from Kolkata, India and founded YML in 2009, when he was just 26 years old. Today, YML touts a 60% multicultural workforce.

The following interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Can you first talk to me a bit about your background and how you got into the industry?

I was born and raised in Kolkata in a joint family of 15 people, all in the same house, with one bathroom. Looking back, I guess the shower-shuffle schedule was my first experience at time management. I was surrounded by love but there wasn’t a lot of individual independence or freedom. I was lucky to visit America, right before college in 1999, and it shaped my vision of how I could become independent. I wanted to study engineering, so the U.S. tech scene was already a big attraction. I had no idea at the time that my engineering major would morph into engineering for digital products and experiences, as that business didn’t even exist in 2000. I guess as a young Indian teen, America became my gateway to personal growth and education and, eventually, entrepreneurship. Not to mention the appeal of a long, hot shower.

Talk to me about starting YML. What was your reasoning for doing so?

After I graduated from Purdue University, my first job was working at Dell Computers in Austin. Flashback to 2005 when YouTube had just launched and 18 months later was acquired by Google for $1.6 billion—the opportunity and ability to accelerate from startup to success had a huge impact on me. At that time, many of the companies I admired had either started or were headquartered in Silicon Valley. To me, clearly, if my goal was to succeed in business and in tech, I had to be in Silicon Valley. Back in 2009, when all anyone did with their cell phone was make a call or send a text, YML Co-Founder Sumit Mehra and I saw the phone as a bigger mode of communication through smart, intuitive, powerful and beautifully designed digital products and experiences.

What hurdles did you face starting YML in Silicon Valley during the bottom of the recession?

We actually started YML in March of 2009, at the bottom of the bottom of the recession. It’s funny, my friends now say I had perfect timing. Hindsight. It was actually awful timing for a startup but ideal timing for digital products. Before 2008 there was no such thing as mobile design or mobile engineering. No one knew or had apps. Voice and text were the only forms of mobile experience. Then the iPhone launched, and with that, the Apple App Store. Sumit and I took a risk and put all our energy into building mobile apps, the new gateway for digital experiences. It was a huge risk.

How do you think your early background has helped shape you as a company leader?

I’m an Indian male, born in 1982. I’m not that old but I was raised and taught that speaking about your feelings or sharing your vulnerabilities are signs of weakness. That stuff engrains. It’s the root of unconscious bias. And here I am, an immigrant, a minority, who can factually state that I’ve been on the receiving end of unconscious bias upbringing. After going to college in the U.S. and working with unbelievably talented, powerful and supportive females, people of color and LGBTQ leaders, I am beyond grateful for the many friends, colleagues and clients who have helped shape and form my leadership style. I think everyone at YML is an entrepreneur and a builder. We all have the power to innovate. We’re a very flat organization and we embrace the new and unexpected. I’ve learned to never underestimate the power of each voice to change and influence anything from business to life.

Did you ever experience microaggressions or overt racism in your career?

Like any Silicon Valley startup, early on we tried to raise money. We were declined funding 22 times. I’m not sure, or clear, if it was due to my race, the fact I wasn’t an American, my youth, my inexperience. Who knows? Personally, I have not felt overt discrimination but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.

How are you trying to make YML more inclusive?

Every two years we focus on two major DE&I goals. Frankly, early on I didn’t realize how important DE&I is not only to our culture but to our focus, inspiration and productivity. As a startup, I was just trying to hire people very quickly. In Silicon Valley in the late 2000s, the talent pool skewed heavily male. Our leadership team ended up being 100% men and our staff was only 10% women. We knew that had to change and we worked really hard, and very consciously, to build our women leadership and women representation. Now, YML’s staff is 47% women and we have 30% women in leadership.Our staff is 40% people of color.

Our current DE&I priority commitment is to Black Lives Matter, and building out Black representation at YML. At the start of this year we had 3% Black representation, and we’ve grown that to 8%, with our goal being 10% by the end of the year, which I’m confident we will meet.

How can YML help make Silicon Valley more inclusive?

By example. Being vocal. Being responsible. As an entrepreneur, I had the gift of creating and nurturing YML’s culture. Culture is a very big deal, especially in Silicon Valley. YML wasn’t built overnight but I’m proud that we’ve built a global company with a 60% multicultural workforce, speaking 26 languages, nearly equal with men and women, located on six continents, 22 countries and in 14 states. This year we’ve had over 60% growth and hired 100 people. It’s proof: diversity works.

What do you want to see from big tech overall in terms of improving diversity, equity and inclusion for all people?

Tech companies, better yet, all companies need to be held accountable. Obviously, this is a challenging time for the world and that includes Silicon Valley. However, I feel when there is chaos, there is opportunity. There is a significant dislocation in the market in terms of consumer behavior. There’s dislocation for employees from where they’re working, to some jobs becoming less important and some jobs becoming a lot more important. I feel it’s an opportunity for everyone and a huge opportunity for DE&I recruiting. This has opened up an entirely new pool of talent. Everyone in tech should embrace the opportunity. Big tech should be held accountable for DE&I goals. Every company, tech or not, should do just like we do with our client engagements: be held accountable. That should be non-negotiable.


About Ashish Toshniwal

An expert in mobile strategy, product design and technology, Ashish has been featured on CNBC, ABC News, Forbes, and Adweek as a leader in Silicon Valley. He has his very own TED talk about finding purpose in your work. In 2009, Ashish and co-founder Sumit Mehra saw an opportunity to create a future-forward company that created mobile-first products and experiences to help brands win in a digital world. Nearly 11 years later, YML has transformed to become a digital-first, holistic customer design and technology company. Under Ashish’s leadership, YML has grown to nearly 350 strong, with five locations around the world, and over 30 Fortune 500 clients, including Apple, The Home Depot, Facebook, and State Farm. YML’s work has been responsible for some of the most inspiring digital transformations of this generation.

Seasoned talent joins from Uber, AirBnB, Google, Tesla, Amazon, Sonos and from leading agencies including AKQA, Razorfish and W+K.

December 3, 2020

2020 threw businesses into complete chaos. No one knew what to do. No one knew what the next move was.

YML exists to be our clients most valued partner. We're grateful our client partners trust us to transform their businesses in this new normal. We show, not tell, our clients how building a world class digital product ensures they’re better equipped to navigate, pivot and adapt in this rapidly evolving world.    

We’ve always believed our digital product agency model was well positioned for the future, and are humbled to have grown our business and team this year.

  • +60% YoY revenue
  • 86% new business win rate in competitive reviews
  • 82 new hires (45% growth YoY)
  • 40% BIPOC
  • 46% women (15% increase YoY), 54% male
  • Equal pay among men and women
  • 26 languages spoken across the team
  • 65% Technologists
  • 96% retention rate among our staff in 2020.

YML has been on a hiring frenzy, and still have an array of remaining open positions (See open roles here across engineering, design, product strategy and more).

YML people are not necessarily agency people: we're busily acquiring the best talent across world class product and technology companies to expand worldwide. Name companies YML is hiring talent from include: Amazon, Sonos, Disney, Google, WeWork, AirBnB, Everlane, IBM Watson, Uber, WarnerMedia, Pagerduty and Mindbody.   

“2020 has been a banner year for YML, and we are in the privileged position of being able to attract and snap up some of the red hot talent available right now from some of the best brand names in both tech and design,“ stated Stephen Clements, CCO, YML.

The staff is nearing 400 globally.

Although we had built remote work into YML’s culture prior to 2020, since Covid our talent pool has truly become global. We’ve hired from Nigeria to Portugal, and Portland to Bangalore, and Toronto to Sao Paolo. Our most recent All-Hands call had well over a hundred people, dialing in from six different continents, more than 20 countries, and 16 states in the US. 

YML has also added nine new clients to our roster this year including Fannie Mae, Thrive Market, and California Pizza Kitchen. 

Core to their success is YML’s ability to identify, engineer and build the digital products and tools which accelerate brands direct to consumer engagement, transactions and loyalty. All revenue originates from strategy, design and engineering for digital products and experiences, and encompasses everything from websites and e-commerce platforms, to mobile apps and emerging tech (AI, machine learning, AR, VR). 

When Covid goes away, when the economy picks up, and jobs and certainty rises once more; we will remain our clients most valuable partner, of that we’re sure. Not because we managed to adapt to the new normal, but because we chose to build it. 

--

October and November new hires include the following new positions spanning client engagement, design, content, product and engineering:

Linda Sasso 

  • To: Senior Director of Client Engagement 
  • From: Rightpoint (Senior Group Account Director); Razorfish (Senior Client Partner); Havas (Account Director)

Sunil Kalkunte 

  • To: Director of Engineering
  • From: Tavant (Senior Engineering Manager)

Shanti Kurupati

  • To: Director of Engineering 
  • From: Air Asia (Engineering Leader);  Galvanize (Senior R&D Manager)

Chris Marsh

  • To: Director of Engineering 
  • From: Comcast Silicon Valley Innovation Center (VP of Engineering); AKQA (Director of Technology)

Prashant Palsokar

  • To: Director of Engineering 
  • From: Citizen (Director of Engineering); Avenue Code (Senior Director)

Andrew Leshin

  • To: Director of Business Development
  • From: Mad Studios (Partner)

Laura Polkus 

  • To: Associate Creative Director
  • From: AirBnB (Central Interior Designer); Left Field Labs (Creative Lead); while freelancing with Uncorked agency, Laura led creative with Facebook to design their Diversity and Inclusion hub and their interactive diversity report, and with led the rebrand of Chrome.com download site while at Left Field Labs

Graham Ameron 

  • To: Associate Creative Director 
  • From: Publicis Sapient (Associate Design Director); SapientNitro (Senior Art Director)

Hugo Tiago Fernandes

  • To: Associate Creative Director (Lisbon, 
  • From: Uber (Lead Product Designer); Kettle (Creative Director —(apple.com /Marcom Sunnyvale)); AKQA (Design Director —Jordan.com)

Jason Glover 

  • To: Associate Creative Director 
  • From: W+K (UX Lead); AKQA (UX Director)

Marquise Flemming

  • To: Senior Designer
  • From: You42 (Senior UI/UX Designer)

Matt Certain

  • To: Senior Engineer, iOS
  • From: Sonos (Senior Mobile Software Development Engineer)

AJ Ortillo

  • To: Senior Designer
  • From: Google (UX designer), Intuit (senior visual designer)

Austin DeHaven

  • To: Senior Designer
  • From: Fair.com (Product Designer)

Dave Fryer 

  • To: Senior Product Manager
  • From: WeWork (Senior Manager)

Doran Morgan

  • To: Senior Project Manager
  • From: WarnerMedia (Sr. Project Manager)

Parth Vora

  • To: Technical Project Manager
  • From: Amazon (Technical Program Manager), Tesla (Staff Technical Program Manager, Digital Products)

Nadia Sko 

  • To: Design Lead
  • From: Everlane (lead designer) 

Rob Harrigan

  • To: Design Lead
  • From: IBM Watson (Design Principle, Creative Director and Design Lead)

Craig Kind

  • To: Lead, Copy & Content 
  • From: Constellation Road (Founder/Creative Director); Goodby, Silverstein & Partners (Associate Creative Director); AKQA (Associate Creative Director)

Sami Eljabali

  • To: Lead Android Engineer
  • From: PagerDuty (Senior Android Engineer )

Marcus Thompson

  • To: Copywriter
  • From: HourMedia (Copywriter)

Interested in working at YML? Check out our Careers page.

Have a question about the future? Message us.

By Marcela Lay, November 17, 2020

There is no question that customers' expectations have changed and will continue to change during and after the pandemic. It used to be that the customer experience was the only way to differentiate your brand; now the challenge is not just about standing out, but reacting quickly to the changing customer expectations, innovating and transforming the business.

One thing is for sure; the COVID-19 crisis has accentuated a world in which digital has become central to every interaction.  Consumer and business digital adoption has leaped five years forward in only a few months. The data tells a compelling story:

  • 78% of consumers have tried a new shopping behavior
  • More than half of consumers cite convenience and value as a driver for trying new places to shop
  • Food and household categories have seen an average of over 30 percent growth in online customer base across countries
  • The flight to digital and omnichannel will be prevalent during the holiday season, with 30 to 60 percent of consumers across countries reporting an intent to shift online for holiday shopping.
  • Most digital and contactless services have seen increased adoption since April, with more than half of new and increased users reporting an intent to continue post-COVID-19.

(Source: McKinsey)

What is the state of business eight months into the pandemic? 

  • Many organizations like in the case of Canlis (an upscale Seattle restaurant that redesigned its business model with three pop-up concepts: a drive-through burger joint, a bagel shop, and a “family meal" delivery service) had to improvise and experiment with responding to the new customers' expectations, and many organizations are learning and progressing quicker than ever before. 
  • By now, many organizations have digitized at least some parts of their business to reduce mobility limitations due to the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Organizations had to listen carefully to internal customers (employees and associates) and external customers (paying customers and vendors) observing, caring, and connecting based on how their behaviors are changing. 
  • And organizations, like in the case of Airbnb, who are demonstrating care toward employees will be rewarded as customers take notice. 

If there is a silver lining during this pandemic, it's the fast transformation many organizations have been forced into becoming customer-first. By now, companies had to focus on a fundamental element of customer-centricity: empathy. This demand for empathy has propelled a need for a deeper customer understanding that will lead to competitive differentiation. 

  1. In-depth customer understanding fuels innovative thinking.
  2. Innovative thinking that is quickly prototyped and tested, validates powerful and unique solutions that can be swiftly deployed to add value to customers.
  3. Adding value to customers through compelling and unique solutions drive competitive differentiation.

What is important now is to keep the momentum on this much-needed transformation. The way organizations have been conducting business is no longer sustainable for a multitude of industries. Reacting quickly to changing customer expectations, innovating and transforming the business will be the key to survival and competitive differentiation. 

Then, how can organizations continue to respond to customer expectations during the pandemic and map a path forward post COVID-19?


Discover how to transform your business in this new normal. Message us.


  1. Build hypotheses for what's to stay, and turn those into future-state scenarios, including future-state personas and potentially new customer journeys.  
    1. Examine the current customer journeys and your customers' satisfaction to address what they still need you to alleviate.
    2. Gather new Customer Needs, Wants, Pain Points, and TrustPoints to understand what customers will value post-crisis and develop new use cases and tailored experiences based on those insights.
    3. Identify and prioritize new sources of revenue.
    4. Audit your omnichannel experience to ensure you meet customers where they are today and where they need you to be tomorrow.

  1. Pivot to new business models that responds to the new normal. For instance, Starbucks, a brand known to be the main representation of the United States' second wave of a coffee culture centered on its coffeehouse experience, is closing 400 stores and expanding its takeout options. 
    1. Rethinking the organization, move from silos to networks, and teamwork with clear goals, focused teams, and rapid decision making.
    2. Consider non-traditional collaborations with partners up and down the supply chain.
    3. Inspire the team to consider new sources of value and capitalize on the adrenaline for innovation resulting from the crisis.
    4. Trim down offerings that are no longer viable.
  1. Prioritize, standardize, and scale digital-led experiences to support your customer who is now acclimated to self-service models.  
    1. Prioritize the redesign of Moments of Truth(Trustpoints) experiences and surprise your customer with anticipatory and empathetic experiences.
    2. Standardize and scale digital solutions across core business processes through learnings sharing.
  1. Accelerate time to market for new customer experiences by designing, prototyping, testing, and iterating rapid solutions.
    1. Deliver timely solutions that respond to the new reality will increase customer loyalty and advocacy.
    2. Release innovations in their “MVE” minimum viable experience state.
    3. Drive fast decision making by Advocating for action over research and testing over-analysis.
    4. Put in place a new operating model built around the customer and supported by the right processes and governance.
  1. Track customer-centric KPIs to determine success and to uncover any additional areas of prioritization. Companies cannot meet their business objectives unless they are connecting with their customers.
    1. Balance out business-centric KPIs with customer-centric KPIs.
      1. Customer Effort Score (CES)
      2. Customer Lifetime Value (CLV)
      3. Customer Retention Rate & Customer Churn Rate
      4. Up-Sell and Cross-Sell Rate
      5. Average Order Value (AOV) & Average Revenue per Customer (ARPC)
    2. Continue to track Customer service KPIs
      1. First Response Time (FRT)
      2. First Contact Resolution (FCR) Rate
      3. Resolution Time (RT) 

Customer experience has taken on a new dimension during the pandemic. As we begin to rebuild, organizations that innovate during this crisis by staying connected to customers and building hypotheses on what is to stay will strengthen their brand-customer relationships in a way that will endure well beyond the pandemic.


Create value for your business by creating value for your customer. Check out YML's work.


About the Author: Marcela Lay

Marcela has spent her 15+ year career pushing change and redefining the status quo. As a minority woman, a woman in tech, and a woman in senior leadership, Marcela has broken gender, ethnic, and managerial glass ceilings, not only for herself, but as a true ally and power agent for everyone she has the privilege to lead. She’s also led new business wins on Omaha Steaks International, Fresenius Medical Care, a major US healthcare provider, and guided the digital transformation on legacy Fortune 500 clients including State Farm and The Home Depot. This year, Marcela was recognized among Campaign's prestigious "40 over 40" winners.

How to make your digital design portfolio stand out, according to a chief creative officer.

By Stephen Clements, October, 28, 2020

This story originally appeared in Campaign US.

Back in March, we lost three clients in the space of one week due to COVID-19: two big restaurants and a major retailer. Ugh.

Across the industry, we watched businesses hemorrhage and countless talented people lose their jobs. Collectively, we took a deep breath and braced for the worst.

But it didn’t get worse. Demand for designing and building digital products increased dramatically during the pandemic. They are, after all, the ultimate social distancer. Now more than ever, perfecting your online offering is key.

So in light of the economic woes faced by many in our industry, we find ourselves in an interesting position: we’re hiring. I put a post on LinkedIn stating that fact, which got well north of 30,000 views and over 500 interested applicants.

I got to work reviewing portfolios. And lots of them. Here are nine tips for aspiring digital designers looking to stand out among the crowd.

1. You have 30 seconds.

And if I like what I see, you might have two minutes more.

Agency executives are busy. Getting across your value quickly in your portfolio is crucial. If it’s a maybe, I may spend a few minutes digging a little deeper before passing it along to our design leadership – who pretty much do the same thing.

2. Show, don’t tell.

Not only does writing out your creative journey step-by-step not translate well, but it distracts from the work. I personally hate text-heavy portfolios. We’re in a visual industry where pictures and videos do the talking.

3. Product, not process.

On that note, don’t agonize over showing every step you took to develop a creative product or solution. Your portfolio is just a door opener. We can talk process in an interview.

Less high-res pictures of Post-Its, more high-res, high-crafted design images. It makes you look better, and makes me look longer.

4. Slick sells.

If you’re a visual designer, this is a no-brainer. But this still applies to UX designers, as visual design is a huge part of digital experience.

When you’re pitching a client, all deliverables need to look polished and professional. Don’t skimp on showing that you value this in your work.

5. UX matters

In the vein of “show, don’t tell,” the UX of your portfolio matters, too. You can’t say you’re a bad-ass experience designer if your own site’s experience sucks.

And I can’t believe I have to say this, but make sure your portfolio is optimized for mobile. We live in a mobile-first world, and I review a ton of portfolios on my phone in bed (yep, I’m that guy, and there are more like me).

6. Brand yourself

Your brand matters. You need to stand out in a crowd of literally hundreds. Make sure your portfolio shows your style and personality – not just your work. 

Even your profile picture makes a difference. If you can’t design a picture of yourself that stands out, you will probably struggle designing anything that stands out.

7. Keep your side projects to the side

To be blunt, I’m not interested in seeing your watercolors or crochet side projects.

A few personal projects are okay, but if you’re not 100% committed to a career in this field, I begin doubting you’ll work out.

8. Don’t F up the basics.

This goes for job applicants in any field: watch out for typos, alignment mistakes, broken links and glaring errors. Double and triple check everything. Have your friends help you QA it too.

I once saw a portfolio that said, “I’m a designer with excellent atention to detail.” That’s a hard pass, thank you very much.

9. No is not the enemy.

No is how we get better. Take every rejection as a learning opportunity. Ask for feedback — I’ll give it to you straight, it’s the least I can do — figure out why you failed and adapt. Learn from your mistakes and bring that to the next interview.

There you have it, from a time-starved, 40-something CCO, with iffy eyesight, bad posture (designing for a living does that to you), and a relentless passion for people, products and design.

I hope it helps.

Illustration by Kevin Tudball

About the Author: Stephen Clements

Stephen Clements is Chief Creative Officer at YML. Formerly co-founder of Junior: the Rapid Invention Company, a product design accelerator for big brands, and before that, Executive Creative Director for AKQA, San Francisco, Stephen has over 15 years industry experience working at the top of the game. An accomplished product design and innovation leader, he created breakthrough work for brands such as Activision, Anheuser-Busch, Audi, eBay, Jordan, Levi’s, NVIDIA, Verizon, Visa, Xbox, and YouTube to name a few. Stephen’s work has featured in Wired, Forbes, BBC, WSJ, PSFK, the New York Times, USA Today, and has been joked about on Conan O’Brien. His efforts have been recognized in global awards including Cannes, One Show, ADC, D&AD, the Addys, the Webbys, and the Effies.

October 27, 2020

Have you and your partner had this conversation before?  “Where do you want to go for dinner?  I don’t know, where do you want to go?”  Cobble (launched after first venture, idk tonight) is a startup based in NYC whose mission is to help couples answer this question.  

Cobble partnered with YML to build the company’s first mobile application (iOS) focused on enabling couple decision-making through its curated content platform.

Crunchhbase recently recognized Cobble as one of its "Start-Ups" to Watch, noting that Cobble "raised $3 million in seed funding in 35 days. The round was led by a group of several strategic angel investors including Kerr Tech Investments."

Forbes also showcased Cobble, focusing on the originality of the concept and product. As Cobble's founder, Jordan Scott, shared in the story, "All of the apps that come out today are all about taking your time and attention and energy. The goal for us—not only because we want to be a successful business, but because we think it’s good for the world—is to give people their time back. Get to a decision as quickly as possible, and then you’re out into the world."

YML ultimately built a custom, mobile application platform with a CMS and data feed component, which has the ability to scale as the company grows. It was a phenomenal concept that the YML team was proud to bring to life.

In The News

"How A 25-Year-Old Created A Tinder-Style App That Will Transform Your Next Trip"
Forbes

"Startups To Watch: Cobble, Oula And More"
Crunchbase

10 years of progress in healthcare and technology equaled in just a few months. Discover what's next.

by Jason Rzutkiewicz, SVP of Client Strategy, YML

October 13, 2020

Every now and again society experiences seismic shifts. Now would be one of those times, as we see pivotal, decades-worth changes happening in the span of just a few months. Change is happening on all levels.

Jobs that weren’t possible to do remotely are now happening without missing a beat. People who have never used online grocery services now depend on it. Medical needs that couldn’t be met via a video visit now happen regularly. Shifts that have been building up for a while are moving society to think in more inclusive ways.

Many wonder when will we get back to normal. Yet, perhaps, the more productive question is—what does the new normal look like?

If we look to history as a guide, the 2003 SARS pandemic that permanently altered society offers similar parallels in digital transformations. Like today, retailers faced drastic disruptions to business (previously they were dependent on traditional retail channels). But within the climate of the SARS pandemic, Ecommerce in China grew by leaps and bounds, creating a fast-forward effect. Alibaba who had $10 million RMB in sales the prior year quickly soared to seeing that same amount daily. At the end of 2005, they reported $1.2 billon RMB in sales; a 120x increase.


In the last few months alone we’ve seen 10 years of progress equaled in just 12 weeks. 


Many wonder if people will revert to pre-COVID behavior once a vaccine becomes widely available. If we look at reversion patterns after the SARS pandemic passed, the clear answer was ‘no’ in that case. Ecommerce adoption and growth in China took off and never looked back. In 2019, China reported sales of $1.935T which was 3x the $611B reported in the United States.

Now, six months into COVID, we are seeing similar implications with an immediate and rapid acceleration of Ecommerce sales. Many retailers are reporting 100% increases in Ecommerce, impacting behaviors and society at large. In the last few months alone we’ve seen 10 years of progress equaled in just 12 weeks. 

While impressive, this current acceleration isn’t the same slingshot moment that we witnessed back in 2003. To find that we need to look towards digital healthcare. Pre-COVID telemedicine visits held at best, a high single-digit share of total visits.

That changed almost overnight.

At Kaiser Permanente, known to be one of the leaders in the use of virtual visits, telemedicine is now delivering 80%+ of care for its patients according to Prat Venama, their Chief Digital Officer. For those with a less mature trajectory, the impacts are even more dramatic.

Ascension Saint Thomas Health, located in Central Tennessee, conducted about 50 of 60,000 visits virtually in February. They now average 15,000 telehealth visits a month, a 300x increase. Whether it’s Stanford Health Care where televisits are 50 times higher, or Sutter Health who have seen the number of patients being served system-wide expand 175-fold by video visits, exponential growth stories are plentiful in today’s news cycle.

These changes have huge implications for the future of access in healthcare. And while many of these implications are positive, we also need to proceed carefully and inclusively as telemedicine has the potential to leave behind the ones that need it most.

Today, providers are struggling to reach vulnerable communities — including low-income and minority patients — during the pandemic. This can be directly linked to the safety net clinics provide for communities that don’t have the funds to support virtual care. This leaves those who are those most impacted by COVID at an inherent disadvantage.  

So what might the new normal look like? And how might we avoid the mistakes of the past and ensure it is equitable and inclusive? 


With as much innovation as there is coming online to advance telehealth, there is also a great opportunity to build additional, more inclusive, pathways within health care.


To begin with, COVID has forced many of the constraints that have previously held back innovation to be lifted out of immediate necessity. Reimbursement has been solved, cross-border care has been solved, and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will now reimburse for more than 80 additional services. These changes are now being made permanent.

Todd Askew, the AMA’s senior vice president of advocacy, said during a recent “AMA COVID-19 Update” video. “We have moved forward a decade in the use of telemedicine in this country and it’s going to become, and will remain, an increasingly important part of physician practices going forward.”  

Premera Blue Cross agrees and is launching its first-ever virtual primary care plan. Likewise does McKinsey who recently reported that virtual visits, which accounted for an estimated $3 billion before the COVID shutdown, could potentially account for $250 billion annually, a nearly 100-fold increase, within the next year. 

With as much innovation as there is coming online to advance telehealth, there is also a great opportunity to build additional, more inclusive, pathways within health care.

Patients who don’t have access to a greater resource pool (monetary, educational, social) can also miss out on health and digital literacy that is often needed to engage with these products. For many more, English may not be the primary language. These same patients are also less likely to own digital devices. How do we ensure that this doesn’t limit their access to care?

How can digital experiences help bridge these divides instead of widening them?

As technology managers, builders and contributors, the responsibility lies in our hands to create authentic spaces for as many different needs as possible. These issues must be addressed to ensure a new normal that is both equitable and inclusive.

And while these are exciting times, this slingshot moment is just the beginning. Using SARS as our reference point—eCommerce in China continued to grow by 50% annually in the decade that followed. For Digital Health the most meaningful growth and innovation still lies ahead. Will your healthcare organization play a role in this once-in-a-generation transformation? The window is now. We can help.

Illustrations by Kevin Tudball.


About the author: Jason Rzutkiewicz

Jason is YML’s Client Strategy leader, playing a critical role in helping brands navigate the complex digital landscape of web, mobile, apps, search, and data and bridging them with physical spaces to create seamless experiences. He currently leads the YML healthcare practice and has led crafting experiences across a diverse range of audiences from physician, nurses, patients, caregivers and insurers. He augments his understanding of the digital health landscape with a long history of delivering complex engagements across a wide variety of industries for companies like Walmart, T-Mobile, Sephora, Adobe, Honda, Wells Fargo, and Choice Hotels.  

Jason leads multi-disciplinary teams of strategists, media experts, creatives, interaction designers, technologists, data scientists, and more to deliver experiences that drive results and exceed business expectations. He is particularly sought after for his ability to create alignment, accelerate velocity, and quickly resolve issues.  Prior to YML, Jason was at SapientRazorfish from 2004-2018, before which he spent time with Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Diamond Management Consulting, and McKesson. Jason lives in Marin County with his wife and three children. He enjoys cycling and the great outdoors.

by Ashley Heltne, Director of Client Engagement, YML

October 6, 2020

With the retail climate making a dramatic and immediate shift online in the past seven months, we, as digital makers and builders, have had an influx of clients asking the right questions: 

  • How do I mirror the in-store experience, online?
  • How do we make it better?
  • How do we convert with the same enthusiasm as in-store?

When recently partnering with Thrive Market, an inherently digital marketplace, our team defined three key rules that are true of every successful online retailer. The remit in this instance was to make a first-class user experience even better, with an emphasis on driving conversion.

In doing that, we were forced to deeply evaluate the components of a best in class experience in this new, socially distant, digital-dependent world. Here is what we learned, and is critical to consider when building your customer experience and, consequently, your evolved business model.  

1. Friction is the Enemy

Early development principles would have us believe that number of clicks, or time speed to checkout are the most important things to measure, but we keep finding that users are becoming more and more adept at navigating the online purchase process. In fact, several users actually look forward to searching, shopping, and creating carts.

In other words, online grocery shopping could soon replace the proverbial game of Tetris.

With this behavior shift, the real killer to conversion is friction. Upselling? Fine. Added recommendations engines? Fine. Inspiration boards? Fine. Additional features blocking the user's ability to add an item to cart? Friction.

Key takeaway: 16% increase in 1st time orders for Thrive Market members.

2. Try Everything, Pivot Quickly

To more efficiently make an impact on our client’s business in this shifting landscape, YML has evolved your typical client / agency relationship into a more transparent partnership. Gone are the days of waiting two weeks for your agency to put together a dog and pony show deck for the bosses waiting in Conference Room B.

To keep up with the rapidly changing nature of product development, our client teams collaborate in the same working files (shout out to Figma and Miro - our new necessities), to take notes, suggest edits, and build out new user flows in real time. Our rule here is simple: no idea is bad. Build it and test it. But if the idea doesn't work - move on. The only true expert in product development is the user, which will come to light in user testing. Even the most brilliant design system is out the window if our core user isn't able to navigate it easily.

Key takeaway: 9.7% increase in membership sign ups for Thrive Market.

3. Customization is Key

Navigating an online marketplace with over 7,000 sku's is overwhelming. But unlike brick and mortar stores, your digital product has the opportunity to learn and grow. With robust data collection and analytics, the ability to create customized experiences results in efficiency and stickiness; for example, when Thrive users search for an organic, dairy product, they have always been served a variety of recommendations based on those specifications.

Simple enough.

But now, when we also find out that this user is a mother of two who is married to someone with a peanut allergy, we offer meal suggestions, put together thoughtful shopping lists, and introduce recipes that inspire further discovery in the kitchen.

Key takeaway: 64% increase in Thrive Market customers who added products from personalized recommendations.

Users have come to expect these principles as table stakes from online stores. And every leading retailer has already conquered them; Target, Houzz and, of course, the all powerful Amazon know that users become loyal when they find delight in knowing that their online experience causes zero frustration, knows what they like, has fun searching around, and, most importantly, saves them the hassle of roaming crowded, picked-over store aisles for an hour on Saturday mornings.


About the Author: Ashley Heltne

Ashley is YML's director of client engagement. She has over 12 years of experience building successful and lasting client partnerships. She has worked at several top advertising and consumer experience agencies including R/GA, Digitas, and Y&R. While there, she led integrated marketing programs for brands like Verizon, Taco Bell, eBay, EA Games, and Liberty Mutual. Ashley’s agency tenure has equipped her to tackle any business problem from a strategic, solutions-first approach.

Several of the consumer engagement programs Ashley’s team built for Taco Bell, Verizon, and Liberty Mutual were regarded as first of their kind, securing three Cannes Lions, four Clios, and one Effie. While this work garnered attention from the industry, they also increased acquisition, retention, and loyalty for her clients’ business.

Agency on Track for Best Year Ever: 75 New Hires, 35 Open Positions, Upping Staff to 400 By Year-End

YML is having its best year ever — in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic — and expanding their global staff with 75 new hires, 35 positions still open and an expected total staff count of 400 by year end.

Today, two key industry talents join YML as Rajeev Bhanot comes onboard in the new role of Head of Product, directly from The Walt Disney Company in New York, where he was Senior Director of Growth & Product Management for Disney+. Additionally, Erica Sayers joins as Director of Client Engagement, coming from Huge, where she was Group Engagement Director on United Nations Women, U.S. Department of State, Capital One, Under Armour, Dell, and Dun & Bradstreet, among others. 

“The pandemic massively accelerated the need and speed for every brand to digitally reset,” stated Ashish Toshniwal, CEO & co-founder, YML. “Our culture is now at an inflection point where the digital product business is booming and Rajeev, with his creator vision, will add critical product strategy expertise to YML’s leadership team, while bringing a lot of the start-up growth culture from Spotify and Disney+. Rajeev shares the same “builder” spirit core to YML’s DNA.” Bhanot reports directly to Toshniwal and will be based in YML’s Silicon Valley, (Redwood City, CA), headquarters office upon reopening.

YML has been behind the scenes injecting Silicon Valley’s velocity and innovation into Fortune 500’s and disruptive startups for over a decade. YML remains true to its founding as a pure digital agency, with Silicon Valley innovation and tech at its core. All revenue originates from strategy, design and engineering for digital products and experiences, and encompasses everything from websites and e-commerce platforms, to mobile apps and emerging tech (AI, machine learning, AR, VR).

YML has spearheaded digital transformation initiatives for some of the world’s largest brands including Apple, The Home Depot, Facebook, State Farm, Universal Music Group and L’Oréal, among others.

“Erica is a rare find,” shared Marcela Lay, VP Client Strategy and Head of YML Atlanta.Seven years ago she reached out to me for coffee searching for career mentorship. We didn't know each other, but I admired she was looking for ways to grow. I love Erica's strategic mindset, her passion for team collaboration, and her focus on delivering impact to clients under a customer-centric approach.”  Sayers reports directly to Lay and will be working remotely from Washington D.C.

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