Cake Face

Thanks, 2015

Another year has come and gone, and 2015 was a doozy. As we settle into our new offices in North Beach, we took a few minutes to reflect on the work of the previous year. While we were talking publicly about the launch of our work with the National Audubon Society and the Seattle Times, we continued to work on new challenges behind the scenes. As a San Francisco-based business, we were delighted at the opportunity to take on some fantastic local projects. While at the same time, we considered how to further participate in and advocate for our professional and cultural communities.

We laid the groundwork for an expanding program of training, consulting, and events. Because, while the state of client services remains strong, the landscape is changing and how we can best contribute to individual organizations and to the field of design must change as well.


For me, the most meaningful project of 2015 was the Wikimedia Policy Portal. Together with the brilliant Wikimedia team, we created a platform to explain and reveal the policies required to sustain the free exchange of human knowledge.

— Mia

I loved working with the SF Opera! Together we created a beautiful system that allows the glamour and drama of the shows shine through—all while supporting our hometown arts. Can’t wait for the great lineup this upcoming season!

— Steph

The Owl Eyes Discovery findings surprised me. We learned that annotation is an important tool for teaching middle and high school students to slow down when reading. It helps them to really engage with a text, which in turn, improves reading comprehension, knowledge retention, vocabulary, and, yes, testing results. We were also surprised to learn that among our research participants, most preferred reading/learning from physical texts over digital. Paper lives!

With this in mind, we designed the Owl Eyes tool to offer the best possible reading experience (clean interface, lightweight toolbar, limited/intentional customizations, annotation filters) on any device, plus interactive learning and teaching tools (teacher & student annotation, quizzes, text search).

What did I learn? Always follow wherever the research leads, especially if it means challenging assumptions along the way. The end result is always a stronger product, built to help the people for whom it was designed.

— Sarah S.

SF Opera Lab was our encore after redesigning the San Francisco Opera’s website. SF Opera Lab is a brand-new venture for the Opera, presenting new types of work, on a new stage, and in a newly renovated building. Our collaboration resulted in the name, visual identity and a dedicated website.

While the design for SF Opera Lab echoes the new San Francisco Opera site, we were energized to explore ways to push its boundaries and reach new audiences. Conversations with attendees of the Opera’s previous experimental event revealed their desire to be adventurous, resulting in our bold typography and playful pattern choices. Listening to the Opera staff’s vision for new kinds of experiences guided our creation of a non-traditional animated logo.

Mule loves to challenge/change the status quo, so I’m proud our work is part of what Director of Programming Elkhanah Pulitzer calls, “…a litmus test for what opera can be and can become.”

— Stephen

Since I joined Mule just a week before the end of the year (hi everyone!) I don’t yet have much to say about what happened in 2015, but I am excited to share what I’m working on this year. Mike and Erika brought me in to share more Mule happenings to the wider world, through workshops, events, and via the brand-new Mule Gallery. We’ll host our first art show with Josh Ellingson and Michael Wertz on January 20, 2016.

The most memorable thing to me about my whirlwind introduction to Mule Life is experiencing team interaction and communication again. It’s been a long time since I’ve worked in an office (because I’ve been running my own businesses for the past 15 years) and I feel energized being around sharp people everyday.

— Rena

I’m also a newbie here, so I can’t pick a favourite project quite yet, but one of my favourite experiences with the Mule team so far was attending their fantastic Presenting Design workshop. Learning how to showcase my work and rationale and how to handle feedback will serve me well in 2016!

— Chantal

I had a fantastic time designing Wikipedia15. Our job was to build a site and an identity to celebrate Wikipedia’s fifteenth birthday. We started by developing a theme—’knowledge is joy’—that celebrates the whole spectrum of stuff people do on the site. People use Wikipedia for everything, from listing obscure 1973 baseball statistics to preserving endangered languages. We built a system that’s playful, inviting, and that the community loves—so we gave them the tools to make their own marks. They took it and made some awesome icons, showcasing their love for fennec foxes, fondue, and a hundred other weird, hilarious subjects.

— Andy

I love all our clients equally. And some more equally than others. But it was a special joy to work with the Wikimedia team this year. I read a great quote about Wikipedia at some point, I can’t remember who said it so I’ll take the credit for it. “Wikipedia is a project that shouldn’t work, except that it does.” And working with them, you really begin to understand that quote. The decision making, the consensus building, the democracy! The constant striving to be fair and balanced and inclusive. There’s no way any of that should work. Except that it does. Wikipedia should have collapsed in on itself ages ago. But it hasn’t. At fifteen years, they’re just hitting their stride. And they’re too complex. Too bottom heavy. Too democratic! They’re beautiful freaks. And I love working with them.

— Mike

I love working at Mule because I learn something during every project. What’s more, I’m always surprised by how many things my fellow Mules have to teach me. Our projects result in a web site, but that’s just the visible part of a bigger, much more valuable process. We trade in knowledge. That’s our real job.

And in 2015, we started bringing that knowledge to the masses. We launched Dear Design Student, an advice column on Medium for design students. We led more workshops that impart crucial skills to designers, writers, and anyone with something to say on the web. We gave talks at conferences far and wide—including my first official speaking engagement at a Q&A session at Creative Mornings SF.

We don’t have trade secrets. When we share what we know, we make everyone’s work better. That’s what our work is all about.

— Liam

Here’s to a happy and successful 2016! Let’s talk!