Posted by Andrew Casden
Filed Under Studio
Meet Andrew, leader of Astro Intelligence

Andrew is our Director of Insights & Strategy and fuels the design fire here at Astro. From providing inspiration to uncovering needs and pain points, he helps us continue to improve the human experience in all that we do. Read on to learn about his background, process, passion and "Astro Intelligence".

What is your role at Astro? What does that entail?

My role at Astro is officially ‘Insights & Strategy Director’, so anything that falls within the realm of research, insights, exploration, and design direction falls under my purview. I like to think of myself as an advocate for the user and for culture; I want to ensure that the user’s voice gets heard in the creative process, and the experience we’re creating is authentic to the category and culture we’re designing for. I want to provide the design teams here with the fuel they need to make better design decisions. And I want to make sure that we’re taking the time to think strategically, as well as creatively.

Tell us a little more about Astro Intelligence.

Astro Intelligence’ is our unique take on design research and insights. For us, it’s not just about fact-finding, it’s about what we do with that intelligence — how it impacts our understanding of people, of product, of culture. Because we’re embedded in a creative agency, our insights work takes a more creative, storytelling approach. The insights we find need to not only inform, but inspire. They need to be informative without being prescriptive.

What steps do you take to gain a strategic understanding of the brands you work with?

This is an essential part of our process and we do it in a number of different ways, both from inside and outside the client’s organization.

First step is to engage in a strategic dialogue with key stakeholders across multiple disciplines (product, brand, marketing, strategy, etc). Our goal is to put ourselves their shoes: what is their perspective on the brand and product; the strengths, the opportunities, the challenges. More often than not there are very different opinions — sometimes at the most fundamental brand levels — and we can learn a lot from the tension that comes from these different perspectives.

Secondly we make it a point to do some kind of immersion for our own team - whether that’s spending time reviewing the client’s digital and social presence, visiting brick and mortar retail, or going through the consumer buying journey; buying the product, unboxing it, setting it up and using it ourselves. Our goal here to see if the client’s brand and product promise aligns with our own experience as a consumer/user, and look to see where there may be dissonance or gaps in that experience.

And lastly - we always strive for some amount of primary user research. There’s no better learning than talking to your audience, and whenever possible we encourage our partners to spend some time letting Astro talk to their users.

What role does insights play in design?

Great question, and it varies by project and by occasion. But at the end of the day, I see its primary purpose as both a source of information/inspiration, and as a check-and-balance to designer bias. What do I mean by designer bias? Well, often times we have a tendency to make assumptions (or even creative decisions) based on our own anecdotal experience and not the experience of the user we’re designing for. Insights can help validate - or refute - assumptions we have about our users and their wants and needs. But in its ideal form it can do much more than validation. It can and should uncover things about this category/user/product that we as designers never would have considered before and can sometimes take creative in entirely new directions.

How did you get your start in this field?

Funny you should ask! I’m a student of social sciences and media arts, and in 2007 I took a position with a small consultancy that combined these two passions of mine. We were a boutique shop that specialized in video ethnography, deep qualitative research told through the medium of documentary-style video. And 10+ years later, I’m still plugging away! I think what’s interesting about the design research field in particular is all the different backgrounds of people I’ve met over the years. Some come from more academic research backgrounds like anthropology, some come from human factors engineering or design, some from ad planning and strategy roles, some from more storytelling backgrounds, etc. It takes all kinds!

What keeps you motivated?

It's pretty simple — the opportunity to keep exploring this world, and trying to find new and unexpected ways to improve the human experience.

What do you do in your free time?

Enough about work, huh? So when I’m not ‘making the world a better place’ I like to think I’m still out there exploring and enjoying it. I’m a big traveler - have been to over 30 countries (and counting)! Some of my favorite places I’ve been to are Istanbul, Goa (India), Ecuador, Argentina, Tokyo, Barcelona, and Majorca. I love connecting with local people over shared cultural touchpoint like music, dance, and food.

And speaking of food — I’m a big foodie! I’m often sending out my recs to friends and out-of-owners for where to eat in San Francisco. I’m also an active member of a few different food enthusiast groups on Facebook and organize meet-ups for food tastings and festivals! I’ve also hosted an annual potato latke party for Chanukah for the last 10 years, and we’ve grown to almost 50 attendees per year!

And speaking of festivals… like many other of my fellow San Franciscans - I’m a Burning Man devotee, having been going consistently since 2010 (and by the time you read this I’m probably already out there for my 8th visit!). But to me Burning Man is so much more than just a festival, it’s an opportunity to unplug from the “default world” for a few days and have a completely unique experience, one detached from consumerism and commodification, where you really can be a kid and feel the whimsy and wonder of what’s possible. Every year I come back both humbled and inspired by the creativity of the event and the community.

Anything else we should know?

I think that about it covers it! If you’re reading this (and if you’ve made it all the way to the end) I’d love to meet you someday and learn about what YOU do! Maybe there’s an opportunity for Astro Intelligence to support the work you and your team are doing, and we’d welcome the opportunity to connect.

Thanks so much, Andrew! And stay tuned for more interviews with other Superhumans of Astro.