Arsenije “Archie” Catic

Hello! Who are you? Tell us about yourself. What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy doing?

My name is Arsenije Catic, but I go by Archie. I’m a design generalist from Belgrade, Serbia, passionate about running and various esoteric disciplines. 

I enjoy hanging out with my roommate — Sushi the cat.

How did you get started in product design?

Guess it was 2010 when I discovered Quora. There were numerous stories on “product design”, mainly by Rebekah Cox but also from some early Facebook designers. That exact term struck me because for the first time I was able to see that “UX design” can be practically applicable by a single person. It was a paradigm shift for me.

At the time I was an “interactive media” student, and had a burning desire to get my hands dirty with building software product from scratch. This is how, together with couple of friends, I founded a startup called “Taksiko”.

Where do you work today? What is your title?

I currently work with Seven Bridges as Head of Product Design. We are helping researchers around the world to be more efficient in finding cure for numerous diseases — cancer among others. 

Where I work.

How big is your company? How big is your design team?

We are around 240 people in total, where design team currently counts 6 extraordinary individuals. 

The folks I work with.

What types of things are you responsible for day-to-day?

I always thought that behind the fancy job title lays a fancy job, but I learned it’s quite the opposite. All the responsibilities I now have towards the people/company could be tucked under the line that “I’m trying to help some designers do their best work”. 

What do you love most about your work?

For me there are 2 main things: problems and people.

In order to succeed in our mission, a bunch of tough problems needs to be tackled. Some of them can’t be solved from the first shot (some even require years to be solved), so over time you start falling in love with problems instead of solutions.

I love the people I work with. Working with them is a perk by itself. They are constantly pushing me to broaden up my creative thinking. 

What drains you at work?

Toooooo many things to be honest, but I’ll mention some highlights.

The industry we are building our business in is super sensitive, conservative and slow when it comes to the adoption of new things. This results in a lot of technical/product restrictions, unusual user pain points and slow feedback cycles. 

Engineering driven culture is not the friendliest place for designers. Often times you need to double down you efforts even for the most usual stuff.

Can you walk us through your typical work day?

5:00amI’ll get up around 5-5:15 and meditate, do some breathing exercises and series of yoga poses. Once I’m stretched and warmed up I’ll go for a run, get under the shower when I’m back, and fix a brekkie. All this is “me time” so I don’t rush it.
10:00am
I’m in the office usually between 10 and 11. I’ll check in with the team, go around the floor in the hope of cracking a quality joke here and there, in order to get the juices flowing and kickstart the day in the right mood. 

After that, I do a lightweight plan for the day while trying to be very flexible: answering all communicational leftovers from the night before, have operational syncs or 1:1s with designers. Each day at 12:45 I have a daily sync with the Belgrade office senior management team.
1:30pmLunch time
2:00pmThis is where I sometimes sync with folks from the US office, and do some “real” work.
6:30pmGetting back home, chilling out with my cat, cooking dinner and winding down.

Where do you turn for inspiration?

I really like to dig into the Internet. This is something I’m really patient with and it makes me feel like some sort of a forensic technician.

Sometimes this includes following designers I look up to, and watching them develop and grow their careers over time. I like to read whatever they have to say, where the sweetest part is actually discovering their inspiration.

Besides that, for product design I currently try to learn from design systems of outdoor sports gear manufacturers, nuclear plants and ultimately nature (as in biomimicry).   

When it comes to visual design, I’m a huge fanboy of a couple of swedish design agencies who are constantly pushing what I call “elegant brutalism”.

And finally I try to draw as much inspiration as I can from my friends and peers.

Also, what Desirée said here.

What design or project are you most proud of? (It can be recent or older).

I’m one of those people who are never satisfied with their own output. I think Dustin sums up that syndrome very well.

A project that’s close to my heart was the website for a local tech conference I had a chance to help with. It was a wonderful experience collaborating with that crew and under such an amazing art director. The best thing was the fact the website boosted ticket sales and the conference was sold out in two weeks. 

Over the output itself, I value the sense of ownership I had here, and the easily measurable results. That was very satisfying.

Walk us through the design process you used for a recent project (you can pick any project).

Processes are not my cup of tea. 

I always try to cut the time between paper sketch and tangible product (prototype). This means cherry picking standard methods and using only essentials — the most effective ones for the context and time frame. It tends to look chaotic in practice.

Once the creation is in hands of users, the real work starts. 

What career advice do you have for product designers just getting started?

Don’t believe the hype. 

Don’t focus on the tools. 

Understand that product design is all about people. 

Where’s the best place for folks to learn more about you or follow you?

I tweet under the pseudonym @R2k and try to deliver a tiny monthly newsletter. I always love to hear from people via email, so if that’s your thing feel free to shoot me one.

Shout out to Dave Martin for making all this happen! 

Jeff Golenski

Hello! Who are you? Tell us about yourself. What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy doing?

Hey there, I’m Jeff Golenski! I’m a UX designer (user experience designer) at Automattic. I live in New Bedford, Massachusetts. I’m a life enthusiast. I’m passionate about about helping others, human/product interaction, and learning. 

I have more hobbies than I care to admit. In the spare time you can find me balancing my plugged-in time rigorously. Kayaking, camping, and astrophotography are my jam. I’m also an avid aquascaper and raise poison dart frogs (yes you read that correctly). I can thank the long-winding tunnels of the internet for acquiring some obscure, yet amazing passions.

Where I live & work. New Bedford, Massachusetts. Photo Credit: Frank Grace

How did you get started in product design?

I began tinkering on the internet at an early age. Eventually, the low bar of entry to building websites (and my curiosity for understanding how things work) led me to building marketing websites for local businesses. In high school I created a small media business building WordPress sites, which paid my way through college.  

I double majored in Web Development and Design & Digital Media at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. By the time I graduated I was well versed in traditional design methodologies and web development. It wasn’t until a few years later that I began to delve into real product design. I eventually signed on as the sole designer at BruteProtect. I worked to create a cohesive experience from marketing straight through into product experience. It was here that I found my love for customer research & user interaction. 

Where do you work today? What is your title?

I work at Automattic, Inc which is known for products such as WordPress.com and Jetpack. My official title is “Product Designer,” but I can be found doing anything from brand and marketing design work to customer research, flow mapping, and visual product design. 

How big is your company? How big is your design team?

At the time of this writing, we’re just over 850 carbon-based lifeforms from around the world. I believe the design team itself is just under 70 now. When I first joined Automattic in late August of 2014, the company was around 300 total and design team was around 30.

My team! Jetpack 2018

What types of things are you responsible for day-to-day?

Over the past year I’ve really begun to hone my focus. I tend to spend a lot of my time looking at data and customer feedback—quantitative and qualitative research—to learn how people are interacting with what we’re building. 

Aside from that, I’ve turned into the go-to person for customer/user flow analysis and audits. Everything from marketing right down to the end of the customer lifecycle. 

What do you love most about your work?

I love the freedom to explore and evolve as a designer and as a creative. We have a large multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-national company/customer base for me to learn from. People from around the world have different wants and needs for products. Learning to be less USA-centric and creating a product for everyone to use is a highlight for me.  

What drains you at work?

I’m a massive proponent for process and the endless pursuit of productivity. However, in a distributed company there are a lot of folks using different tools, non-stop exploration of new tools, internal processes, and a continuous stream of communication. Things don’t shut down at 5pm because in a distributed company 24 timezones means 24 hours of work happening every day.

Sometimes I really have to force myself to close Slack so I can focus on accomplishing actual design work, rather than getting distracted by constant streams of communication and random pings (messages). Discipline and an established routine are paramount for maintaining creative sanity and staying ahead of the productivity curve. 

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve had weeks that were non-stop meetings, messages, and what I thought were incredibly productive… only to find that I didn’t create one mockup or write one line of code. 

Can you walk us through your typical work day?

7:00amI highly value sleep in order to have a productive day. I typically sleep until 7:30 or 8. (I don’t believe“morning people” actually exist. :-P)
8:00amRise and s…slowly wake up. Time to brew some coffee, make a protein shake, feed the cats, and stare out the back window planning my day ahead. Sometimes I listen to an audiobook for a little while.
8:30amBegin the work day in my home office or commute to my local coworking space.
9:00amCatch up on communication / work from my colleagues in EU timezones.  Respond to email / slack pings / or provide feedback to fellow designers & developers from their work while I was still in slumberland. 
10:00amFirst work block. Some days have team or project calls, others I remain hyper-focused on design work. 
12:30pmLunch / screen break. First real meal of the day since intermittent fasting seems to keep me sharp.
1:00pmSecond work block. Sometimes calls, but mostly another “heads-down” focus block.
3:30pmGym time. Arrive before the “after work” rush and get down to business with weight training, cardio, and stretching. Also doubles as my meditation time. Audio book listening to/from gym commute.
6:00pmDinner with the family. Try and prevent cats from stealing food off my plate.
7:00pmThird work block depending on the success of the earlier work blocks. 
8:00pmFamily or hobby time. 
11:15pmGoodnight!

Where do you turn for inspiration?

This is always an interesting question I see in a lot of interviews, and I never know how to properly respond. I could list a bunch of websites, “design thought leader” twitter accounts, or design showcases… But that’s not really “true” inspiration to me. 

I find my true inspiration out in the world. By talking and interacting with people, with things other people have built, and in nature. I design products that solve real problems for real people. Inspiration is reaching out to the potential customer in Japan and realizing a part of the product UI is broken due to language differences. Or it is by going to a photography conference in middle America and speaking to someone who wants to have certain features on their portfolio website and is having trouble even getting started. True inspiration is listening

What design or project are you most proud of? (It can be recent or older).

A recent project that I’m really proud of is actually a high level internal project I lead at the end of 2018. With one of our more popular WordPress products, there was no internal map and it was missing a lot of data pieces that were needed to give us a lot of vital information about our customer base, where they were coming from, and what they were doing. 

I lead the initiative to flow map the entire product, visualize its information architecture, map our acquisition channels (where people were coming from), and benchmark various levels of competition from start to finish. After the first phase of the project was completed we had a much clearer view of our customer demographics and places we could improve user experience and business advantage. 

Walk us through the design process you used for a recent project (you can pick any project).

This is where things get really fun. I subscribe to a new emerging concept/discipline called “Growth Design.” Basically Growth Design adheres to the same set of processes and methodology of Growth Hacking/Marketing but places much more value on a customer-centric approach, rather than strictly a business-centric approach. Good design is good business. 

I recently gave a talk about Growth Design at WordCamp Portland Maine in late 2018. Think of it as a way to drive customer and business value by way of recurring design procedures. It’s also a way to provide more cohesion between marketing design and product design—where a fault-line is often seen in many businesses.

I utilize the A3R3 Growth Funnel to target different areas of the customer lifecycle and improve upon them in a contextual way that suits the customers needs when and where they need it.

https://slides.com/jeffgolenski/growth/#/14
  • How can we drive more awareness of our product?
  • How can we drive acquisition of our product? (Emotionally invested people)
  • How can we drive activation of our product? (Sign ups)
  • How do we retain happy customers? (Reduce churn)
  • How do we drive referrals of our product (Get people sharing it)
  • How do we gain revenue with our product?
https://slides.com/jeffgolenski/growth/#/11

Growth Design employs a design process of Research > Ideate > Ship > Measure > Repeat. Start by looking at one of the growth funnel segments above, researching it, and then shipping an idea. Measure its success and then iterate on it. Always follow up on every idea that’s been shipped and work to optimize it with a new iteration. “Always be shipping.’”

https://slides.com/jeffgolenski/growth/#/21

What career advice do you have for product designers just getting started?

Get out in the world. Meet new people, learn new cultures, experience new things. You can’t be a great designer by sitting at your desk and browsing Dribbble. More on that here.

Where’s the best place for folks to learn more about you or follow you?

Glad you asked! Twitter is probably best for having a good 280-character conversation. Otherwise you can find my adventures, travels, and thoughts on design at DesignTactician.blog. I also give away some of my photography for free on Unsplash.

Petar Perovic

Hello! Who are you? Tell us about yourself. What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy doing?

My name is Petar Perovic. I’m a design generalist who’s been working on different digital products for more than a decade. My wife’s job brought us to Porto, Portugal some three and a half years ago and we’ve been living here since. I’m still mostly occupied with reinventing my life here, adjusting to a different culture, learning the language and traveling around. Food, basketball and reading take up significant part of my daily routines.

How did you get started in product design?

I started in graphic design and had my first encounter with the Web through my first job after college back in 2006. I came in as a print designer, but was soon forced to learn HTML and CSS (which was really much more straightforward at the time) and basically since then I’ve been designing exclusively for screens.

Where do you work today? What is your title?

I work at Semaphore CI. It’s a SaaS that helps developers automate code testing and effectively ship faster. We are a remote company, with team members spread around Europe. I don’t have a specific title – I’m actively involved in both product strategy and delivering design. I would say I cover a full product design cycle.

How big is your company? How big is your design team?

We’re around 25 people and I’m the sole designer. Our product doesn’t have mobile apps, so that makes it doable for one person.

What types of things are you responsible for day-to-day?

I spend most of my time on product and some lesser part working on public facing, marketing pages.

In broad sense my job in product is to synthesize the information about our customers and our business, and to deliver features that are good for all. Day-to-day that translates to a lot of discussions and analysis, and later into designing, writing, illustrating and refining until the final delivery. I design directly in code, so that cuts a lot of intermediate work and allows us to feel, test, and prototype the designs in their natural setting. But also to move the design in very fast iterations.

On marketing end, it’s somewhat different and involves more graphic design work. Complexity of the interaction is more basic, but a lot more effort goes into visual communication – branding, typography, illustration etc.

What do you love most about your work?

Making things. It’s very fulfilling to see things work. Product design allows me to be in a position to enjoy a fine blend between design and technology every day. 

What drains you at work?

Switching context. When I’m deep into one thing and then I’m suddenly forced to refocus. For example when I’m working on a product and then have to switch to marketing website. This is impossible to eliminate altogether, especially in a remote setup, but better planning, asynchronous communication and a more considerate Slack messaging help a lot in reducing the stress that comes from it.

Can you walk us through your typical work day?

7:30amGet up. Have a proper breakfast and leave for work. Couple of time a week skip the breakfast, go straight to gym and eat outside.
9:30am
Get to the office. “Warm up” on news sites and Twitter. Watch a couple of NBA game reports from last night. I don’t obsess too much about procrastination, I see it as a natural process of getting into the zone. As long you’re acting fair and keeping in sync with the rest of the team, there’s nothing to feel bad about.
10:15amStart the work. We typically sync early in the week and let everybody else know on Basecamp our rough weekly plans. So I usually already know what’s on my plate. Sometimes it’s an ongoing, multi-day task and sometimes many smaller chunks of work. 
12:00pmI don’t do too many meetings, but when I do, right before or after lunch is a good time. I don’t have issues with meetings, but it is true that they ruin the flow. So if it needs to be ruined anyway, it’s better to merge it with my lunch break.
1:00pmLunch. In Portugal they take remarkably long lunch breaks. Eating together is important in this culture, and over time I just stopped “protesting” and embraced the tradition. 
2:00pm 2nd block of the day. I tend to get better focus as the day approaches its end. It’s probably subconscious, knowing that there’s less and less chance of interruption.
6:00pmClosing the day and heading home. Sometimes I’ll continue working a bit in the evening, but we’ve become pretty good at not overworking ourselves, even during a recent major release. It’s more about flexibility to organize your day however you like, while keeping in sync with the rest of the team. 

Where do you turn for inspiration?

When I’m stuck I’ll just stubbornly stay with the problem until I figure it out. Although I do believe that moving helps – changing a scenery, meeting with different people or going to the gym. In general sense, just forcing yourself to a different mental or physical setting. 

What design or project are you most proud of? (It can be recent or older).

Most designers I know usually ‘tolerate’ only their latest work for a while, before they start discovering all sorts of imperfections. And I’m no different. So I have to say it’s the redesign of Semaphore we recently put out. And it’s mostly the invisible work of removing the UI I’m the most proud of. Developers know that wonderful feeling when you delete huge chunks of legacy code from GitHub. In design, discovering a more elegant solution feels about the same.

Walk us through the design process you used for a recent project (you can pick any project).

My design process is fairly simple: Design with the information you have – Release, test the design, gather new insights – Repeat. We collect information by talking to our customers and by looking at the data. All this combined shape the idea about what we want to build next.

When we know where are we headed we sit and talk about how to get there. These niche products can be tricky for us designers, because their mechanics sometimes aren’t easily understandable. Many of the concepts and some of the vocabulary are new to me. So it takes some patience and understanding. After I have enough information I’ll put together a design directly in code and link HTML static pages, so we can have a rough prototype and experience the flow. I owe a lot of the speed of delivery to Tachyons. This toolbox enables me to be quick enough to design in code, to get dirty in thinking while staying clean in the execution.

After a day or two, we’ll meet again so others can try the design and do a gut check. It’s important to evolve your team to the level where a design can be discussed openly and where it can be butchered without hurt feelings. I guess it’s a matter of trust like in any good relationship.

After couple of rounds of iterations, the design is good for the implementation. We communicate through Issues and Pull requests on GitHub, so I’ll usually write a little brief over there for developers. From that point they take it over and we may work together during the implementation phase, but normally the next time I see my design it’s live in production.

What career advice do you have for product designers just getting started?

Product design is a complex thing and the outcomes are always a team effort. A good management, competent engineering and solid customer support are just as important as design for the overall user experience. So if you want to feel good about your work, find yourself an organization and a team you feel good about. 

Where’s the best place for folks to learn more about you or follow you?

Probably on Twitter, I’m @ropsii.

Christopher Davis

Hello! Who are you? Tell us about yourself. What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy doing?

I’m Christopher Davis. My friends call me Chris. My mom calls be Vitamin C. I’m a self-taught designer who’s currently working at Trello.

I spend a lot of my time working. But when I’m not thinking about Trello, I’m usually cooking or working on a side project. As I’m writing this, it’s January of 2019, and I’m committed to reading more books this year. Check back in with me later, and hopefully “bookworm” will be a word that I use to describe myself. 

I live in (or ridiculously close to…) Louisville, Kentucky. It’s a town known for bourbon, but our food and coffee scenes are wonderful. Hence, my partner and I spend a lot of time eating and drinking. She and I are huge foodies! We also love to travel. We got to visit Italy, Australia, and Portugal in 2018! 

How did you get started in product design?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been doing design work. I think it started with gig posters for my friends’ high school bands, which evolved into business cards, flyers and websites for their parents. From an early age, I was inspired by people like Scott Hanson, Joshua Davis, and James White. I fell in love with the process of designing during late nights spent with long Photoshop and Illustrator tutorials. 

I first became aware of the concept of Product Design while building an app called Over with my good friend Aaron Marshall. While I worked on growing a fanbase for the app, I got to watch the product development cycle take place. Aaron taught me a lot about building great experiences; I credit a lot of my foundation to him. 

My first role in “product design” was as an Information Architecture Director at a local agency. It’s a hilarious title, because I had almost no experience, and must have been 20 or 21 years old. But having a title to live up to forced me to grow. I bounced around a lot over the years, working for several more agencies, freelance, and eventually, in-house. 

For me, the years spent freelancing were indispensable. I had to learn to sell the value of design, and then deliver on it. In order to be competitive, I had to be a good visual and UX designer. In order to understand the client’s needs, I had to be good at communication and research. It wasn’t always product design — there were a lot of logos and pamphlets — but everything I learned helps me do a better job in my role today.

Where do you work today? What is your title?

I’m a Senior Product Designer at Trello, working on onboarding and activation.

How big is your company? How big is your design team?

Trello’s actually a part of the Atlassian family, so it’s a big company within a really big company. There are only about 15 design folks at Trello, including researchers and design managers. 

What types of things are you responsible for day-to-day?

I’m on the team that’s focused mainly on Activation, which is a fancy way of saying that I spend most of my time thinking about how to make it easier for new users to get started. It’s such a fun task! We recently redesigned onboarding to make it more fun and engaging, and we’ve seen a positive impact. These days, I spend a large portion of my time writing; often in Mural, Dropbox Paper, or Confluence. There’s a lot of think-y stuff that goes into planning experiments, pulling off user research, and analyzing data. I’m trying to spend more time in these things before touching any pixels. There’s still plenty of Figma time though, don’t get me wrong! 

Most days, I do a little bit of visual design and prototyping, and a lot of planning. Oh, and did I mention meetings? 

My desk setup

What do you love most about your work?

It’s challenging me…a lot! As is often the case in experimentation, 80% of our tests fail — which means lots of iteration. It feels amplified in the activation space, where meeting the needs of Trello’s unique audience with the horizontal use cases of our product is a pretty complicated task. I think it’s a fun challenge, and the built-in constant failures (erm…learnings…) are chipping away at my ego. I needed that. 

Above all, I love the people that I work with. We’re remote, but we feel like a family. 

What drains you at work?

It can be a bit lonely, working from home. I’m naturally an introvert, which for me means being comfortable in the quiet of my house, lost in my own head. There’s a certain energy that comes from being physically near your team, especially when you enjoy each other’s company. I do miss that. 

Otherwise, the constant process of testing and failing can be exhausting. Ending a quarter with a few 0.3s or 0.5s on our team’s OKRs feels like a miss, even though I know that’s the wrong perspective. Ongoing experimentation is new for me. I struggled a lot with imposter syndrome when I first joined Trello. My experience in agencies and freelance didn’t include a lot of regular testing. Even though I mentally knew the steps, I didn’t know what it would feel like to see so much of my work fail. It created a lot of doubt within me, and that Imposter Syndrome told me that I didn’t belong. Through personal reflection and some wisdom from my amazing manager, Courtney Drake, I was able to push those feelings aside.  

Many of the other designers on the team are excited about these failures. I’ll be that way soon! In the meantime, it’s a muscle that I’m working to build. For me, the secret is finding joy in the process and refusing to let doubt in my abilities trounce my curiosity. 

A reminder to breathe through stress and frustration

Can you walk us through your typical work day?

8:30amMy Sleep Cycle alarm goes off. I snooze it, and go back to sleep. 
9:00am
Force myself out of bed and straight to the kitchen to make coffee. I’ve been trying the whole collagen peptides thing recently, so I’ll mix a spoonful into my v60. The powder has no flavor, which is nice, but I still haven’t seen any results. I’ll keep drinking it, I guess.  
9:15amMake breakfast. Monday through Friday, that’s usually some eggs, black beans, and spinach. 
9:30amEat at my desk while catching up on blogs and Dribbble. I work from home, so there’s usually at least one cat nearby. 
10:30amSketch out a post-it note schedule for the day and start by knocking out at least one low-hanging item. 
11:15amI don’t usually stop for lunch, so from now till 5:30pm-ish, it’s emails, meetings, strategy, and pixels. Sometimes I’ll take a Masterclass break. The creator of the Sims, Will Wright, just released a course on Game Design. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. And if you’re into food, you’ve got to check out Gordon Ramsay’s and Alice Waters’ classes.
5:30pmStart winding down. Even though my partner also works from home, she and I rarely get to talk during the day. I always look forward to the hour we’ll spend catching up, draped over our office chairs at the end of the day. 
6:30pmYoga.
7:30pmStart cooking something for dinner. We’re trying a plant-based diet right now, so it’s usually pretty fast to prepare something delicious. 
8:30pmDinner’s done and dishes have been cleaned. Sometimes I’ll spend a couple of hours working on a side project. I’m building my first iOS app! Most nights, we’ll just sit on our computers. We’re trying to break that habit, however. We really should get that puzzle out of the closet…
11:00pmIf we’re feeling disciplined, it’s into bed with a book. Right now I’m reading two: Poor Charlie’s Almanac and A Confederacy of Dunces. I strongly recommend both! If we’re not feeling disciplined, we’ll watch TV. Right now we’re loving Terrace House. Before our diet, there might have even been a late-night Uber Eats order from McDonalds.
12:30amWash face. Breathing exercise in Headspace. Noise machine on and lights out.

Where do you turn for inspiration?

Dribbble’s still a huge source of inspiration for me. I love seeing the amazing ways that people are using motion these days.

More and more though, I’ll just go for a walk or pause and take deeper breaths. It helps me clear my mind. It sounds really lame, but I find that this simple little action gives me more capacity for feeling inspired. It’s all about the breath, friends!

And when all else fails, I’ll read something by the Basecamp team. 😄

What design or project are you most proud of? (It can be recent or older).

I feel like it’s lame to toot my own horn here, but I’m really proud of this app that I’m building. It’s a simple little mindful moments app that helps you create time to pause and reflect. I’m proud because I’ve finally forced myself to learn Swift and code it all on my own. There have been some rocky bits, but I stuck with it! It’s been about a year. But all this time later, I’m surprising myself with how smoothly I can work through new unknowns. Maybe I’m biased, but I think it’s a pretty cool app. And there’s still so much more to build!

Walk us through the design process you used for a recent project (you can pick any project).

Sure! Here’s a recent project: 

When you invite someone with no previous exposure to a Trello board, there’s no onboarding to help orient them to the product. We know that this is a challenge that can cause our members (we call users members) confusion. So, as with most new pieces of work, we started by crafting a problem statement that succinctly and clearly illustrated the opportunity. Problem statements are great guardrails, and they help get everyone on the same page. 

Next, we start asking ourselves what we already knew. We looked for data that might help us make informed decisions, and talked to other teams who have worked on similar challenges. Pretty quickly, we start to have a clearer vision into the problem space. It turns out that the Acquisition team was working on a very similar challenge, so we joined forces. In no time, we’d constructed a few strong hypothesis and figured out the leanest way to test our assumptions. 

We started small. No design needed! We created fake Trello boards and ran tests on usertesting.com to collect some early signals. It was a quick test, but we ran several variations at the same time, which gave me a solid two week’s worth of great data to analyze. It was exhausting, but I came out the other side with a huge stack of learnings. We met as a team and brainstormed ways to run the next iteration on more users. 

In the meantime, the Acquisition team designer and I worked together to craft a customer journey map, so that we could better understand how our two user types overlapped. After several refinements, we were able to find a shared solution that would be flexible enough to work for users with all kinds of permissions and experience levels. Our teams coded the next iteration, and we ran a few versions on a cohort of real users! 

We love the Lean Startup method of reviewing our data after each test and deciding as a team to pivot or persevere. The iteration continued in a similar way till we were happy with the results.

Most of the things that we build work this way. We test everything, and iterate based on our learnings. It can be time consuming, but it’s invaluable. Trust your gut, but rely on data! 

What career advice do you have for product designers just getting started?

Start talking to the people who are using your product. Visual design and prototyping skills definitely have their place, but you’ll grow enormously by talking to your users. After that, learning how to communicate your findings is critical. Keep things simple. 

If you’re just getting started but you built a portfolio of thoughtful research told in a simple and strategic way, you’ll catch some attention. If you want to turn heads, translate your learnings into delightful user experiences. It’s okay if they’re not real, too!

Most importantly, you got this. 🙂 If you ever have questions, reach out to designers that you respect on Twitter. They’re usually a pretty friendly bunch.

Where’s the best place for folks to learn more about you or follow you?

Chat me up on Twitter or give me a follow on Dribbble! My website’s a cobbler’s shoe, so set low expectations if you choose to visit www.christopheralandavis.com. I also post infrequently on Medium

Supratim Chakraborty

Hello! Who are you? Tell us about yourself. What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy doing?

Hi, I am Supratim Chakraborty. I am an HCI researcher at School of Interactive arts and technology. I started off as an android developer for Newton Mail and moved into user experience design and now I am researching interesting interaction paradigms for visualization tools on large touch displays.  I am very passionate about design and creative culture. I get a creative high in building utilitarian software solutions to my day to day problems. I enjoy the process of taking a side project idea and moulding it into a substantially well researched digital experience. 

How did you get started in product design?

While working closely with the design team at Newton, I got the opportunity to see how a formalized design process can take specific business or user requirements and magically come up with a series of flows that matched the expectation. As a developer for the product, I felt like I was somehow missing the real action. Even though, every voice was included in the sprint,  I needed to be closer to the design process. That’s when I dove headfirst into UI UX freelance projects. I took up some pro bono work, landed my first big paid gig to design an e-commerce app for a startup and eventually got my first retainer client.  My experience has not been very logical. From developer, to a UX designer to now an HCI researcher.  It’s always a rush getting closer to asking the fundamental “why, how and what”. 

Where do you work today? What is your title?

I work at The Virtual and Augmented Reality, Visual Analytics, Interaction, Systems & Experiments Lab (VVISE) as an HCI research Masters. 

How big is your company? How big is your design team?

The lab has 9 HCI researchers – 3 PhD students, 1 Post Doc, and 5 masters students.

What types of things are you responsible for day-to-day?

As a researcher, the primary things I am responsible for are reviewing HCI/Design academic papers and researching background literature for my upcoming research studies. The day to day activity also entails discussing potential collaboration between industry professionals and academicians. The most interesting part of the day is working on the cutting edge of design and technology mediums which translates to the latest hardware and software being released. 

What do you love most about your work?

The thing that I absolutely adore about being in the Human Computer Interaction domain is the way my interest is beautifully captivated in the intersection of design, psychology and programming. We design the process, the user study, and the research objective. We develop the tool or system to bring it to life and we evaluate the end product by quantitatively and qualitatively studying user behaviour and interaction.

What drains you at work?

Reading and writing. The cognitive load of reviewing often 100s of peer reviewed academic literature is high. It taxes the creative part of my brain and leaves no room for progressing on side projects and community engagements (Which are things that I enjoy as well).

Can you walk us through your typical work day?

7:00 amWake up. Make my 4 berries+chia+flax+banana+yogurt+kale shake. Get ready
8:00 am
Leave for Lab while listening to an episode of my favorite podcasts ( Layout.fm, Design details, Freakonomics, How I built that)
9:00 amReach and finish breakfast on campus
10:00 amAn hour of administrative follow up – Work emails, Work slack chats, Whatsapp messages from friends and family ( I recently started doing this prompt communication mentality as I was beginning to lose connections with a lot of people due to my habits of easily ignoring messages from people)
11:00 amPodcast Interviews  (Recording interviews for now, aiming to launch very soon) – it will be available on achor.fm/heysupratim
12: 00 pmResearch project follow up with Undergraduate collaborator. This is a very interesting idea we are working on in the AI assisted design tooling space. (Think Style transfer and website designs  😉)
1:30 pmPrimary thesis research work – I am working on this visualization tool for extremely large touch surfaces. Its a tool with multi touch interaction affordances for playing with multi dimensional data.
4:00 pmAdministrative and Promotional work for the meetups I organize – Google developer group Surrey, The official Sketch App Vancouver group and Design discussion Vancouver chapter.
5:00 pmWorkout. Doing a lot of weight training these days. 
6:00 pmPersonal branding – Generating a lot of organic twitter conversations these days. People advice me to not be in the numbers game but I think in this internet age,  social media numbers are a validation for a lot of things. 


Still waiting for something big to happen to me professionally so that I can use the network effect to rise above other in terms of social media presence but for now its a lot of hustling to even get one more follower. 


This might be the weirdest answer in the whole document but feel free to reach out to me if you want to talk to me about this. 
7:00 pmDial out 

Where do you turn for inspiration?

I don’t think its any particular specific source for me. It’s a mix of things. Sometimes its derivative where any piece of work inspires me to make something based on it or improving upon it. For me most of my projects have been attempts to solve a personal problem. Like a recent side project that I started was implementing a personal CRM that allows NLP based contact addition and editing workflows  to quicken the process of updating and adding information to your contacts. This project was born purely out of the need to quickly note down information about new people I meet in meetups or I network with generally.  Designing the whole app user experience was inspired by various tools I had used over the years – Fantastical, Today Calendar for android and Google assistant voice typing.

What design or project are you most proud of? (It can be recent or older).

Okay, this is going to be a little long but bear with me.  

I am really proud of the work I have done for my thesis project. I was asked to take the visualization tool that I had initially designed and developed for an android 10 inch tablet and run it on an 80 inch 4k display with a touchscreen overlay (PQ Labs overlay) on top of it. Think of it as making an 80 inch 4K TV as a giant android tablet. The motivation for doing this was two folds.

  1. I didn’t want to rewrite and design my visualization tool again for Windows 10.
  2. I wanted to use the already developed android app to simply run on a version of android that supports a 4K 80 inch display. 

So the way I managed to do this was by using a flavour of android http://www.android-x86.org/ and running it on a standard desktop PC hardware. I used a live bootable USB and it successfully ran and displayed android on the large screen. The problem however was “The touch screen didn’t work”. Of course it wouldn’t, the OS didn’t support the Infra red based touch screen overlay. 

So to work around this major problem. I ported the driver for the touch screen overlay to android x86 and rebuilt the kernel and the bootable usb image in process. Voila!!! The screen now works perfectly with touch capabilities. 

We now have an 80 inch working android Tablet. 🎉

Walk us through the design process you used for a recent project (you can pick any project).

So I will very briefly break down the design process for another product I am working on called “Things in Cities”. I have always been a city geek. I am curious about urban settings and finding local flavours to it. I keep hunting new places to eat in, take photos of and even locations to work from. Thus, in a way, discover the language of the city. 

The basic idea was to deliver this platform where users can submit and discover unique places in their cities for their creative projects or niche personal needs. Like, finding 

  1. A quiet place to work in your city.
  2. A good place to take portrait shots.
  3. The best locations to take instagram shots for branding projects. 

You cannot do all that on google maps or tripadvisor or any other platform currently. Hence, I sought out to make this product come to life. 

First, I sketched out a quick UI prototype on SketchApp, a very barebones UI because I somehow work better with a visual anchor for my initial prototypes. I took that as functioning test app to some remote workers and digital nomads to get an idea of what kind of problems, solutions, and expectations my target demographic had. At the same time I enrolled myself in Y Combinator Startup school to partner up with some other solo founders to understand how a formalized product development process looks like. From ideation to user testing, I got feedback on a lot of things. Including iterating on my elevator pitch. 

After this, I designed a minimal landing page on Webflow to allow for signing up and capturing emails from the relevant target audience. The experience of using webflow was smooth and familiar. I also set up user research interviews on Respondent.io with the help of two design interns. The end result was a clear direction for our actual product wireframes and User personas for my product. I am using Whimsical for my wireframes and SketchApp for making the final android and iOS UIs . After this I started the development process. Being a solo developer I decided to use Firebase as my backend and the process was fairly straightforward from there. 

I am hoping to get a private beta release to my early adopters by Q3 this year. 

What career advice do you have for product designers just getting started?

Do not underestimate the value of investing time in yourself. Be it cross-functional up-skilling while you are in school or simply learning a new tool in your domain. Your “now” will be “a moment ago” in a blink. Indulge in mindful networking with people. It is so important to get out of your comfort zone and go talk to real people. Also, good networking begins and ends with effective follow-ups. Always be following up 🙂

Where’s the best place for folks to learn more about you or follow you?

The best place to connect with me is Twitter. You can also check out my podcast.

Tim Höfer

Hello! Who are you? Tell us about yourself. What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy doing?

My name is Tim Höfer. I am 37 years old, live in Berlin, Germany and I am a Designer. 

How did you get started in product design?

A lot of trial and error, people mentoring me and happy accidents. When I started out as a designer, the entire industry looked completely different. There was no straight-forward career path to become a product designer. 

I have a classical design education, but I was always interested in technology and business, and also enjoyed figuring out how to organize complex systems in a way that makes them useable for people. My first career station was in digital advertising, where I designed brand portals and microsites. I learned many of the fundamentals of the trade there, but in the end my work didn’t satisfy me because I felt that a lot of these projects were done as if they had only two audiences: marketing managers working for the client, and the agency people working for them. Actual users often weren’t thought of, and if they were, it was mostly based on hunches that were never tested.

Around this time, designing for mobile devices emerged as a distinct discipline, and started to slowly take off with the launch of the iPhone. I began working on mobile projects almost exclusively. There was a lack of experienced designers in this field, which allowed me to branch out and gain experience working on concept ideation, information architecture, user experience design, interface design and user testing. Combining these roles immediately made sense to me, and shaped what kind of work I wanted to do. 

After working as a freelancer for a while, I found AJ&Smart and the rest is history.

Where do you work today? What is your title?

Since 2015 I have worked as a Product Design Director at AJ&Smart, a product design agency and innovation consultancy based in Berlin. 

How big is your company? How big is your design team?

AJ&Smart is 17 people, with our actual product design team being rather small. We have 5 product designers, strategists and researchers working with our clients, with some overlap between these roles. Our team is small and nimble and our work is very fast-paced, so we value the ability to perform in multiple roles and we tend to hire based on that.

What types of things are you responsible for day-to-day?

I run Design Sprints, so it covers the entire spectrum from workshop facilitation, product strategy consulting, concept development, rapid prototyping and user testing. I think the overarching theme of my normal workday is to align our clients on a common goal, help them find the right product/market fit and create as much value as possible for their customers.

What do you love most about your work?

I really enjoy engaging with clients from incredibly diverse backgrounds. We work very closely with our clients and these deep-dives into industry-specific challenges are very intellectually rewarding. I think if you are a naturally curious person, product design can be one of the most exciting careers to pursue.

What drains you at work?

I am very lucky and privileged: I don’t feel like anything is draining me. I work at a company whose values are closely aligned to my own, so it all feels very organic to me. Looking back at some of my previous career stations, I know this can’t be taken for granted.

Can you walk us through your typical work day?

MondayMy collegues and I run a workshop with our clients to help them align on a north star goal for their project, define challenges to solve and to sketch solutions.
Tuesday
We help them commit to one or two solutions to test, then refine these solutions further until we are confident we have created a good scenario to test.
WednesdayThe team coordinates between prototyping and recruiting user testers. This is an exciting day, since we only have one workday to create an interactive prototype from scratch.
ThursdayWe show the prototype to a group of testers in qualitative interviews and catch their feedback.
FridayOn Friday, we synthesize the findings into a report with clear recommendations how to proceed. Otherwise there’s also communicating with upcoming clients, attending internal meetings and workshops to work on our own products, tracking progress towards our own goals, having chats with the team, etc.

Where do you turn for inspiration?

Especially in regards to product strategy, I always follow closely what’s happening with products and companies I admire or find fascinating: Netflix, Uber, Amazon, Apple. Ben Thompson’s writing at Stratechery is great, and so is Benedict Evans. I also often just try out new, interesting products and try to find out how they work and why the teams behind them took certain decisions and not others. One of my recent favorites is HQ Trivia. What I find fascinating is that it’s a perfect example of how disruptive digital technology is: Just a few decades ago this would have only been possible for a TV station with a costly broadcasting license, for a relatively limited audience. Now, a startup can do the same thing cheaper and better, at scale.

What design or project are you most proud of? (It can be recent or older).

In terms of impact, our work with ShareTheMeal and Share makes me most proud. 

ShareTheMeal’s mission is to end global hunger by funding projects of the World Food Programme with micro-donations that users contribute in ShareTheMeal’s app. When we started working with ShareTheMeal, we turned their proof-of-concept app into a real product. So far ShareTheMeal’s users paid for over 32 million meals for children in need. 

After ShareTheMeal, we supported one of the founders on their new social enterprise Share, which helps someone in need every time someone buys their product. For the launch of their first product, a granola bar, we assisted their team in defining the product and market strategy.

Social projects like these are great because they have a measurable, positive impact. But designers shouldn’t overlook the tangible value they can create in more “down-to-earth” projects as well. Over the last years I realized that great B2B products can have an immensely positive effect on a lot of people. 

Walk us through the design process you used for a recent project (you can pick any project).

As I mentioned earlier, we work in Design Sprints exclusively. It has cut out busy-work and time wasting to the benefit of being able to purely focus on solving problems and testing those solutions, which I love.

What career advice do you have for product designers just getting started?

First of all, design really is a team sport. Even the best designers in the world become untenable if they have huge egos and just don’t work in a team.

Secondly, the ability to concisely communicate ideas is an underrated, overlooked skill that can be a real career multiplier. People who can organize their thoughts also tend to be be neat and organized elsewhere in their life. 

Lastly, there are a lot of good designers, but what is still exceedingly rare are good designers with a keen understanding (or even interest) in business and product strategy. If you are comfortable and you can hold your own talking about these things with clients, it can truly set you apart from everybody else. 

Where’s the best place for folks to learn more about you or follow you?

I suppose people could follow me on Twitter and Instagram. And feel free to add me on LinkedIn: http://linkedin.com/in/thoefer/

Courtney Burton Doker

Hello! Who are you? Tell us about yourself. What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy doing?

Hi there, my name is Courtney Burton Doker and I’m currently based in Atlanta, Georgia. Last year my husband and I lived in our Airstream trailer for 7 months, traveling around the country while working remotely. Before that I was living in Brooklyn, New York. I’m passionate about houseplants, southern hospitably, intersectional feminism, inclusion, and the desert. I love vegetable gardening, watching documentaries, making collage art, and long road trips. 

Taos, New Mexico
Arcosanti, Arizona

How did you get started in product design?

The design school that I attended was very much focused on old-school design thinking, design history, and print. Because print has little room for error, the values taught there were geared more toward perfection, legacy, and craft. My personal values are more aligned with the love of imperfection, impermanence, and the incomplete. I bias hard towards constant evolution, so I gravitated more to the digital space as a playground for experimentation and iteration. I worked with one of the directors of the program to create a digital design track and was one of the first people to emerge from that program into the world of product design. I got my first job out of design school at Razorfish (now Publicis.Sapient) working on a team that redesigned Delta.com. The foundation of that work is something you can still see echoed through the site 8 years later.

Where do you work today? What is your title?

I work remotely for Automattic as a product designer leading the team that is building design systems.

My desk
Corner of my home office

How big is your company? How big is your design team?

Automattic has about 800 employees and the design team as a whole is around 60 people.

Automattic + Material Design Meetup in New York

What types of things are you responsible for day-to-day?

For more context, the team I lead building design systems is cross-functional. Having a design language system enables our product teams to design, develop, and ship features faster while at the same time creating a more cohesive and usable customer experience. Practically speaking we do this by providing a comprehensive set of design principles, best practices, development guidelines, and by making our design and code reusable.

I’m responsible for working with our Engineering Lead and our Design Producer to set our team’s goals and roadmap, and then making sure our team is focused on the right work at the right time in service of those goals. We also need to make sure that our work is aligned with roadmaps and work streams across the organization in order to optimize our team’s ability to impact work in progress. I’m also responsible for making sure the other designer on our team has everything he needs to do his best work. I do my best to take on any work that might be distracting or blocking his progress. I also make sure that the work our team does gets shared more broadly across the organization so people understand and see the value.

Design systems is a fairly abstract concept and our team is introducing this idea to Automattic for the first time. Because of this a lot of my time is spent advocating for design systems which most frequently takes the form of giving systems feedback in org wide design reviews, answering questions around how to use the system, hosting AMA’s with teams, attending alignment meetings, and a lot of writing. I’ve learned that leaders of projects that bring big foundational changes across an organization spend a lot of their time doing the invisible work of change management. It’s hard not seeing the physical fruits of my labor as I once did but I try and stay focused on the long term vision we’re moving closer towards everyday and celebrate small wins as they come.

What do you love most about your work?

I really love collaboration. I’m energized by combining, remixing, and extending ideas to create something bigger than the sum of its parts. Everything I’m the most proud of has come from teamwork or building upon the ideas of others.

Me with my co-worker / friend Ola at the Design Systems Meetup I help organize in Atlanta

What drains you at work?

Miscommunication is really hard to manage and is really draining. Things like differing terminology and naming conventions can cause conversations to spiral and lead to confusion that can sometimes take weeks or even months to untangle. Clarity and consistency are words I live by these days.

Can you walk us through your typical work day?

As an individual contributor my schedule was a lot more predictable and structured. My time was mostly my own to divide up as I saw fit. After transitioning into leadership the biggest unexpected shift was the unpredictability of my week. Most of my time is now spent in service of others and their work, and I have to make a concerted effort to block off time for myself. No day is the same, no week is the same, and I need to be a lot more available and flexible with my time.

Before my workday startsSetting the tone for the day
I like to have a lot of time in the morning to wake up and do things around the house. I generally make pour-over coffee, make my bed, and listen to an episode of a podcast while doing some light cleaning. I work from home so keeping things tidy is an important part of mental clarity and productivity for me. I also try and mediate and write for 15 minutes each morning.
Start of the workday
Catching up on asynchronous communication
I start my work day by catching up on messages in Slack and through our internal communication tool we call P2. Because design systems work spans across the entire organization it can take some time to stay caught up, and because our organization is fully distributed work is happening around the clock.
Late morningAlignment and collaboration
My first meetings for the day start. At the beginning of the week this takes the form of stand-ups, and during the rest of the week these meetings are usually for alignment, review, feedback, or collaboration. Depending on the day, meetings take up between 1 and 6 hours.
Early afternoonSmall breaks throughout the day
I would love to say that I take lunch breaks but honestly I frequently work through lunch either because of meetings or because I’m locked into whatever task I’m focusing on for the day. I find time to eat during smaller breaks here and there.
Late afternoonDeep work without interruptions 
When I was designing it was easy for me to focus on a singular task at hand, but as my work has shifted into leadership I have had to make more effort to give myself time to write, think, and plan. As a leader, part of my job is being available to answer questions and connect the dots from project to project. The constant alerts can sometimes lead to multi-tasking and a general feeling of being scattered. To alleviate that I fully close Slack while writing or planning so I’m not tempted to check in.
Early eveningAlignment and collaboration
Jump on Zoom or Slack to catch up on responding to questions or requests. I end my workday and set my computer to sleep 😴

Where do you turn for inspiration?

I find most of my inspiration from artists. I love experiencing art, reading about artist’s lives, and re-creating creative processes. The Creative Independent is an amazing resource of interviews where artists talk about various themes like making a name for yourself, the importance of being idle, or the value of starting over. 

What design or project are you most proud of? (It can be recent or older).

I’m really the most proud of the work I’ve done building design systems at Automattic. It’s been challenging, rewarding, and has really pushed me out of my comfort zone into learning new skills. 

Walk us through the design process you used for a recent project (you can pick any project).

At this point in my career I do more information design and storytelling than product design. I work to make abstract ideas concrete and digestible. I do quick sketches on paper that I then share with my team to narrow in on the right direction, and then I do lots of iterations in Figma. A big idea or plan is usually communicated through a diagram or a verbal video walk through, as well as in written form. People process and understand information in a lot of different ways, and if you want your message to reach as many people as possible you should be inclusive and varied in the ways you teach and share. This is something I’ve learned from working in a remote company that I would definitely use future forward in an office environment as well.

What career advice do you have for product designers just getting started?

The amount of skills that designers are “supposed” to have experience in nowadays is truly overwhelming. Start off by focusing on what you’re most passionate about and the rest will come over time. Also never underestimate the power of a network. The tech industry is smaller than you might think. In every job I’ve had as a product designer the people I’ve worked with have never been more than one or two degrees of separation from people I end up working with in the future.

Where’s the best place for folks to learn more about you or follow you?

You can get more info about me and my work on my website courtney-burton.com. If you want to look at photos I share of my life scroll on over to @scorpio.in.here on Instagram. If you’re in Atlanta swing through the ATL Design Systems meetup I help organize. I’d love to meet you!

Kristof Orts

Hello! Who are you? Tell us about yourself. What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy doing?

Hi, I’m Kristof and I lead the product design team at Showpad. I enjoy reading a great book, listening to an interesting podcast and drinking a fresh brewed coffee.

How did you get started in product design?

I was working as a freelance digital designer for several agencies and start-ups, when I realized that rather than doing these short term projects, I’d rather spend time refining a product. I wanted to get a better understanding of the users and craft experiences that have an impact on people’s lives. So I started looking for more product focused companies and was able to get a job in New York as a senior product designer. I worked there for almost 2 years and then moved back to Belgium (where i’m originally from) and started at my current company, Showpad.

Where do you work today? What is your title?

Product Design Manager at Showpad. Founded in 2011, Showpad bridges the gap between sales and marketing to drive more revenue faster with a better buyer experience, intelligent sales content and impactful analytics. It’s the industry’s first integrated sales enablement platform. We have offices in Ghent, Munich, London, San Francisco, Chicago and Portland.

How big is your company? How big is your design team?

It’s been a wild ride, our company has really grown a lot since I started. We’re getting close to 400 employees now. Same with the design team, when I started there were only 2 designers, now we have 6 product designers. We’re looking to grow the team even more this year, so really exciting times.

What types of things are you responsible for day-to-day?

Typically I spend about 70% on leadership work. That includes mentoring, planning, reviewing, hiring and working on things like on-boarding and development plans. I spend the other 30% on hands-on design work, working out concepts or new features.

What do you love most about your work?

Making an impact. Not just on our customers who use the product daily and are able to be successful at their job, but also being able to help other designers grow. 

What drains you at work?

It can be mentally exhausting sometimes, I try to remind myself to take a break and step away from my desk from time to time. Walking actually stimulates creativity.

Can you walk us through your typical work day?

7:00amWake up super refreshed! Just kidding, I’m not a morning person.
8:00am
Get into the office, start my day by going through emails, looking at my calendar and figure out what to get done today.
8:30amBlocked to do some work. Can be related to hiring, internal meetings, sometimes hands-on design work.
11:30amStand-up with the product team
12:30pmLunch! Can be home made or usually I go out to get away from the desk for a moment.
1:00pmAnother work block, can be 1-1s, brainstorm sessions, …
3:30pmThis is when the meetings with the US teams begin. We also have regular design team collaboration meetings every week where we show and tell about current projects and give each other feedback. Design reviews on ongoing projects. 

Where do you turn for inspiration?

I think inspiration can come from anywhere, even unexpected places. There are a couple of podcasts that I listen to that are more about human behaviour and psychology, like Choiceology or Repeat Customer from Zendesk. Some books that have inspired me: Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari,  The Coaching Habit, and First Break All the Rules

What design or project are you most proud of? (It can be recent or older).

I’m really proud of the team we have today and how much the individual designers have grown. One of the projects that I started is creating Individual Development Plans and a career path for the team, which is still an ongoing project, but it’s already provided a lot of value. It’s based on the GROW framework and it includes steps to find out what team members want to achieve with their career and set up an action plan.

I’m also very proud of the fact that as a team we are elevating the product every day. We recently launched lots of cool features, like AR in our iOS app, content recommendations, dynamic page builder and we’re working on incorporating a learning platform right now.

Walk us through the design process you used for a recent project (you can pick any project).

Design at Showpad is very cross-functional. So we collaborate closely with the product managers, engineers and QA. Typically we start with research, interviewing customers and figuring out what the current problems are. Product managers will write out Product Specs, while product designers will iterate on quick prototypes and user test them. We’ll keep on iterating until we find a solution that works. At Showpad we really value design and we always strive to provide the best user experience for our users.

What career advice do you have for product designers just getting started?

If you’re looking for a job in product design, spend time on creating a really solid resume and portfolio. It’s so important, I can’t tell you how many resumes I’ve seen that were really hard to read or way too complicated. Typically what I look for in a portfolio is work you’ve done before that’s relevant and really seeing the process and thinking behind it. Before doing any interviews, figure out what you’re looking for in a company. Read the job description carefully, prepare questions and you’ll do fine. I can really tell when people are well prepared and know what they want, that is already a huge advantage and get extra points.

If you’re looking to get better at designing, find someone that is better than you at the thing you want to be better at. Ask them questions and learn from them.  The most I’ve learned was by working with other people.

Where’s the best place for folks to learn more about you or follow you?

You can follow me on Twitter or read my thoughts on Medium or connect on Linkedin

Jordan Koschei

Hello! Who are you? Tell us about yourself. What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy doing?

Hello! I’m Jordan Koschei, a product designer and full-stack developer based in the Hudson Valley, about 90 miles north of NYC. In the past, I’ve worked as a freelancer, in an agency, and at an early-stage startup.

One corner of the Hudson Valley, where I live and work.

I love building things. There’s something thoroughly addictive about having an idea and making it come to life through design, writing, and code. I’m passionate about using my skills to build meaningful things — I’m not interested in building the next big social-network-slash-ad-platform, but I love working on things that make life a little better for the people using them.

Outside of work, I love reading — mostly about history and the social sciences, and plenty of sci-fi. I actually keep an up-to-date list of my reading on my website. I also love exploring the Hudson Valley with my wife and dog; we live in a really interesting part of the world with great food, great culture, and lots to do.

Book Recommendations

Here are a handful I highly recommend:​​

How did you get started in product design?

When I was a kid, I was completely enamored of The Legend of Zelda. I thought it was so cool that somebody had created a world that I could step into, and I wanted to do the same for others. Around 8 or 9, I started tinkering around with QBasic on my family’s computer, and I caught the programming bug.

I got into design because I wanted the things I built to be intuitive and user-friendly; there’s no point making something cool if nobody can use it.

In college I started doing some freelance websites, back when I thought $400 was a lot of money for a freelance project. That eventually turned into a job at a boutique agency helping Fortune 500s figure out how to make their internal tools less awful, and that turned into a job as a product designer at a startup.

I love product work because it incorporates everything I’m interested in — design, engineering, and business strategy. I’ve sort of specialized in sitting in the gap between those three disciplines, with an emphasis on design.

Where do you work today? What is your title?

I work remotely for a company called Dwell, where we’re building an audio Bible for iOS. My title is Senior Designer/Developer — I’m the sole designer on the team, and one of three engineers working on the product.

Dwell is designed to be more similar to a music app than a Bible app. In addition to being able to listen to whole chapters and books at a time, there are themed playlists, notable passages, and daily listening plans. We’ve got custom illustrated album art for everything, and five full albums of original background music in different genres that can be toggled on and off. It’s meant to be a great experience from start to finish.

My home office.

How big is your company? How big is your design team?

The company itself is 9 people full-time, plus several more working on the audio side. I’m the only designer, but I’m privileged to work with a lot of people who have really strong design instincts.

What types of things are you responsible for day-to-day?

I’m responsible for design on both the web and app side, as well as writing the front-end HTML, CSS, and JS. I’ve also had the opportunity to work in Ruby on Rails on the backend, and Swift on the iOS app. There are a lot of opportunities here to try different things.

Examples of some early sketches.

What do you love most about your work?

I love hearing from the people who use the products I create! Our customer support team always shares positive feedback we get via Twitter or email, and it’s so encouraging to hear how Dwell is impacting people.

This is the audio Bible app I’ve always wanted. The playlists and plans are awesome, the voice and background music choices are a nice touch. I love how the app is designed and how it’s used.

Feedback via Twitter

Especially working remotely, it’s easy to forget that the things we think about abstractly are actually touching real people — hearing from our users changes all that.

What drains you at work?

Being the only designer, occasionally there are tasks that are necessary but repetitive. One example I can think of is creating landing pages. We do a lot of seasonal promotions (Christmas, New Year’s, Black Friday, etc.), and each one has slightly different messaging and needs a slightly different landing page. I don’t mind the work, but I find it much less energizing than working on the product itself.

Can you walk us through your typical work day?

6:00amWake up, walk the dog, enjoy some morning quiet time 🌄
8:00am
Work on personal projects — write, design, code, etc. 🛠
9:00amCheck into Basecamp and see if I missed anything. Check any communities I’m part of on Slack, Dribbble, Twitter, etc. 💬
10:00amCheck off tasks in Things; usually design work in Sketch or code work in Sublime Text or Xcode ✅
11:30amLunch and walk the dog 🐕🚶‍♂️
12:30pmMore work in Sketch, Sublime, or Xcode. Sometimes I’ll do some thinking/strategic work using pen-and-paper or Bear, or write my thoughts directly in Basecamp 👨‍💻
4:00pmSomehow I become uber-productive for this one hour. I think it’s the sudden reality of 5:00pm approaching 👨‍💻
5:00pmWork on personal projects, or tend to anything around the house that needs doing. Probably walk the dog again 🐕🚶‍♂️
7:00pmDinner and relax 📺📖
10:00pmBedtime! 😴

What side projects are you currently working on?

I build and run Hudson Valley Talentbase, an online creative community and showcase for the local creative scene. Anyone with a local zip code can create a profile, showcase their work (a la Dribbble), and connect with others nearby. I’ve heard of people finding work through the site, and meeting potential collaborators. The site is built in Laravel, but right now it’s in a holding pattern as I decide where to take it next.

I’m also building my first solo iOS app, an unguided meditation timer that you can use to carve out some space for meditation or prayer. It’s fairly basic — just a step above “Hello, world,” which is perfect for trying to grow as a developer. If you’re interested in joining the beta, send me an email!

Where do you turn for inspiration?

I love libraries. There’s a sense of unlimited possibility that comes from being around so many books; you can pick one at random and be in an entirely different world.

I get a lot of energy from switching up my environment, so when I’m feeling low on creative energy, I like to go to a nearby coffee shop. There are lots to choose from within 10 minutes, so I can pick a vibe based on how I’m feeling. I also love wandering the different towns in the Hudson Valley — each one has a different character. My favorites are New Paltz, a bohemian college town with rock climbing, breweries, and 60s-style head shops; and Beacon, which is more urbane and filled with galleries, coffee shops, and boutique hotels.

Online, I’ll sometimes go to Dribbble, though I find that everything there trends towards the same handful of styles; there’s a lot of work there that’s more decoration than design. I’ll also peruse some sites that I admire, such as anything by Stripe. Seeing what other people have done on their real-world projects is inspiring to me.

What design or project are you most proud of? (It can be recent or older).

I just gave my personal website a refresh for the new year. It’s simple and typography-oriented, which is my favorite style but also one that I don’t get to use very often. I’m really happy with how it turned out, and I think it’s a full expression of my current taste as a designer.

My new website design.

Walk us through the design process you used for a recent project (you can pick any project).

We recently redesigned the Dwell audio player, which is a screen our users spend a lot of time on.

It didn’t start out as an intentional redesign — I was trying to add a new button to the existing player, and I realized that it was getting too cluttered. It’s the cornerstone of the app, and the experience has to be top-notch, so I decided to play around with potential other layouts to avoid making it cramped.

I already had most of the assets in Sketch, so I decided to play around there. I took the existing buttons and began shuffling them around, starting with the ones that I knew had to be in certain places. (Play button needs to be centered, album art should be near the top, etc.)

Once I determined our constraints, I started trying out other possible configurations. Whenever I came up with a potential direction I liked, I’d put it into Basecamp and solicit feedback from the team. Some of the best ideas that made it into the new design came from my coworkers — it helps to have lots of feedback, even (especially) from non-designers who might have a different perspective.

I ended up creating a design that moved some of the settings to a second screen. Instead of having full-width album art, we made the album art into a card; when the user swipes left on the card, a Settings card slides in. We were able to move a bunch of related settings to that card.

We care a lot about accessibility at Dwell — one of our goals is to create the best audio Bible app for people with vision impairments. Since several of our player behaviors rely on gestures, such as swiping down to dismiss or swiping left to access settings, we wanted to make sure those features would be available to screen readers. I designed an alternate screen that would display whenever VoiceOver is active — additional buttons appear for Dismiss and Settings, to ensure that all users get a first-class experience, whether they’re using assistive technology or not.

The version on the left is the default; the version on the right includes two additional buttons in the header bar, to make those gestures explicit when using VoiceOver.

Once I was happy with the design, and the team had agreed that it was the right direction, we began implementing it. I actually got to write some of the presentation code myself — I’d been dabbling in learning Swift, the language used to write iOS apps, and this seemed like the perfect place to put that to use.

There’s usually some backlash when changing any major feature in a consumer app — users get accustomed to a certain way of doing things, and then it changes out from under them, a la the Facebook Newsfeed or the new Gutenberg editor in WordPress. I knew the new player was a success when we heard very little complaining about the change — overall, it seems people like it.

We did get a few confused people asking why we removed their favorite features, so to make sure the new interaction was crystal-clear, we added a slight bounce to the cards the first few times the user opens the player. When the settings card bounces slightly into view, you can’t help but want to swipe left to see what’s over there. It’s an elegant solution that makes the out-of-the-way settings more discoverable, and — like many of the best design decisions — it was inspired by listening to users.

The new Dwell player. The user can swipe left on the album artwork to reveal the playback rate and volume settings.

What career advice do you have for product designers just getting started?

Learn how to work with engineers. You don’t have to learn to code to be a great designer, but it helps if you understand the fundamentals and are conversant in the terms your counterparts are using.

Always think about your users. I like to think of design as a form of hospitality — we’re creating digital environments in which our users will live for a time. Those environments should make our users feel comfortable and confident, and enable them to do things they couldn’t otherwise do. A good product gives the user superpowers without drawing too much attention to itself. It’s better to leave the user thinking, “Hey, I’m awesome” than “Hey, that product’s awesome.”

Don’t forget the fundamentals. Beneath everything we do are the same principles of typography, color, layout, etc. Having a solid grasp of those will make you a better designer than your mastery of any tool or trend.

A good designer can create something great using any tool; a poor designer can use the best tools in the world and get a bad result.

Where’s the best place for folks to learn more about you or follow you?

The best way to learn more is to visit my website — it has my latest writing and projects: https://jordankoschei.com

You can also find me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jordankoschei

If you have any questions or just want to say hi, email me at jordan@jordankoschei.com. I’m always down to talk shop or help people starting out in the industry!

Header photo taken by Hovsep Agop

Matt West

Hello! Who are you? Tell us about yourself. What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy doing?

Hello! I’m Matt West, a British designer working at Wildbit. I live in a small town called Market Harborough in central England with my wife and 1 year old daughter.

I’m passionate about design, business, and engineering and love it when those three areas converge together in a project I’m working on.

Outside of work I love the outdoors and regularly take long walks in the beautiful English countryside.

How did you get started in product design?

In my final couple years at high school I taught myself how to build websites and started taking on a few projects for local businesses. I was all set to go to University when I realised I didn’t need to run up crazy amounts of debt to get a job in the web industry, people were already paying me to do the work I wanted to do. So, driven by a mix of naivety and arrogance I spent the next five years working for myself designing websites and applications for small businesses.

After meeting Steph (who would later become my wife) I decided it was time to “grow up and get a real job”. I enjoyed working for myself but it was stressful and came with some tough times when I was between projects. I was happy to endure those challenges on my own, but I didn’t want to put Steph through it. I took a job as a developer at a small UK agency working with Dan Edwards and Ryan Taylor.

We had a lot of fun together, but I started to really miss design. After about 18 months I came to the realisation that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my career solely writing code. Just as a master cabinet maker uses her hammer and saw to realise her vision for a beautiful piece of furniture. I realised programming is just a tool to realise my vision for a design.

My epiphany lead me to join Wildbit as a marketing designer. It gave me the freedom to work on a wide range of projects and hone my design skills. Over time I got more and more involved with product. Firstly helping to improve onboarding in the Postmark web app, and then spearheading the launch of a companion iOS app. I recently made the switch to working on product full-time.

The Postmark iOS app

Where do you work today? What is your title?

I just celebrated my two year anniversary at Wildbit. I originally joined the team as a marketing designer but now work on web and mobile applications for Postmark, our transactional email service.

Wildbit Retreat 2018 – Texas, US

How big is your company? How big is your design team?

We currently have 27 people working at Wildbit. There are just three designers, Derek and myself working on Postmark, and Eugene who works on our new product Conveyor.

Me and my wife with some of the Wildbit team in Philly – 2017

What types of things are you responsible for day-to-day?

My work varies a lot from day-to-day. Here are some of the things you might find me working on:

  • Wireframing a new feature idea.
  • Coordinating with the engineering team to spec out a new feature.
  • Writing frontend or Rails code.
  • Developing a new feature in the Postmark iOS app.
  • Making updates to the Postmark marketing site.
  • Managing a release of the iOS app.
  • Working with our CEO (Natalie) and Finance Director (Thi) to create reports that track how we’re doing.
  • Designing a slide deck for an upcoming webinar or conference talk.

What do you love most about your work?

The wide variety of problems I get to tackle. It’s rare that I’m working on the same thing for very long, which helps to keep the job exciting.

What drains you at work?

Working remotely has its challenges. Long periods of uninterrupted time are essential for doing great work, but I miss the excitement that builds up when you’ve got a bunch of people around a table discussing an idea.

Can you walk us through your typical work day?

6:30amI wake up sometime between 6 and 7am depending on when my daughter decides it’s time to start the day. I’ll usually kick things off by grabbing a cup of tea and reading for 30 minutes or so.
7:00am
Time for breakfast and to get ready for the day. I’ll usually get my daughter fed and dressed first to give my wife a little more time in bed.
8:30amI start my work day by heading to a local coffee shop (usually Starbucks). Working from home has many advantages, but I’ve found it’s really important to have a routine that gets me out the house in the morning. I’ll work through my email and then take care of any small tasks.
10:00amI’ll relocate back to my home office and do some focussed work for a few hours. This is when I’m feeling most creative so I’ll tackle any new design work on my task list.
1:00pmLunchtime. I try to get away from my desk. Taking a walk, reading a book, or playing LEGO with my daughter for a while helps to reset my brain ready for the afternoon.
2:00pmBack to work. Afternoons are often open spent coding up designs or catching up with members of my team. Most of the folks at Wildbit are based in the US, so late afternoon is the best time for anything that requires realtime collaboration.
5:00pmI finish up around 5pm every day. By now my wife has had my daughter all day and needs a break, so I’ll get her bathed and ready for bed. Then we’ll make some dinner before watching Netflix and playing with the ever-increasing mound of toys my daughter is accumulating (she’ll usually join in too).
7:45pmWe’ll put my daughter to bed and then get ready for bed ourselves. I’ll meditate with Headspace and read for a while to shut down my brain. I also just started writing a journal again so I’ll take some time to record my thoughts.
9:00pmSleep time. My daughter hasn’t mastered sleeping through yet, so we’ll be up at least three times during the night. Turning in early helps to offset that so I’m not a zombie the next day.

Where do you turn for inspiration?

Books. I love to read and try to find at least an hour each day to hide away with a good book. I do my best to read about a wide range of topics rather than focussing solely on design. 

I’m also a big fan of veteran designers like Dieter Rams. I spend very little time looking at the latest trends and instead prefer to focus on themes that have stood the test of time. It’s remarkable how relevant Rams’ 10 Principles of Good Design are today given they were written in the late 1970s.

What design or project are you most proud of? (It can be recent or older).

The Postmark iOS app. It’s been my pet project for the past year and has given me the opportunity to learn a tonne of new things. Including iOS development with Swift.

Walk us through the design process you used for a recent project (you can pick any project).

I’m currently working on a re-design of Postmark’s weekly digest email. It shows users an overview of the sending activity on their account over the past 7 days and highlights any issues that they need to investigate. This project has followed a pretty typical process, which is:

  1. Research– Understanding why this thing is needed and what elements are crucial for it to be useful for customers.
  2. Sketches/Wireframes– These will usually be hand-drawn in a sketchbook. I’ve used various wireframing tools over the years but find the temptation is always there to dive into far more detail than is needed at this stage.
  3. Specs– If we’ll need to get engineering involved to realise a feature, I’ll work with them to put together a specification. This almost always changes further down the line, but it helps to make sure that everyone involved understands the purpose of a feature and what needs to be done to make it a reality.
  4. Mockups– Once we’re happy with the wireframes I’ll usually go straight to code for the high-definition design. In my experience, I get much better feedback if I can give people something real that they can interact with over a static mockup. If something will require a lot of effort to code, I’ll hit Sketch and create a high-definition design there to save time.
  5. Development– All of the designers at Wildbit also write frontend code, so I’ll generally handle the frontend and Rails development myself. More complex projects will involve someone from the engineering team.
  6. QA– After testing everything myself, I’ll send it over to Igor in QA who will give everything a thorough bashing. After years of having no formal QA process, I’m so grateful for the work Igor does to ensure the work I ship is robust.
  7. Launch– Pending on the project, releasing might be as simple as deploying an update to our Rails or iOS app, or we may have to do a more complex co-ordinated release of our backend infrastructure.
  8. Monitoring– Once a feature is live, Rian our Product Manager will check in with any customers that have requested it in the past. I’ll then listen out for any feedback and monitor how it’s being used over the next few weeks.

What career advice do you have for product designers just getting started?

Design isn’t about pretty pictures. Taking the time to empathise with the people using your product, and gaining a deep understanding of why a particular feature is needed (or not!) will get you much further than whether you’re able to make something look in-keeping with the latest trends.

Where’s the best place for folks to learn more about you or follow you?

You can find me on twitter as @MattAntWest. I occasionally write on my personal blog and keep a note of my favourite books on my reading list.