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.
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.
Here are a handful I highly recommend:
- Radical Technologies (Adam Greenfield)
- Guns, Germs, and Steel (Jared Diamond Ph.D.)
- Red Mars (Kim Stanley Robinson)
- Cooked (Michael Pollan)
- Annihilation (Jeff VanderMeer)
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.
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.
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.
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?
|6:00am||Wake up, walk the dog, enjoy some morning quiet time 🌄|
|8:00am||Work on personal projects — write, design, code, etc. 🛠|
|9:00am||Check into Basecamp and see if I missed anything. Check any communities I’m part of on Slack, Dribbble, Twitter, etc. 💬|
|10:00am||Check off tasks in Things; usually design work in Sketch or code work in Sublime Text or Xcode ✅|
|11:30am||Lunch and walk the dog 🐕🚶♂️|
|12:30pm||More 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 👨💻|
|4:00pm||Somehow I become uber-productive for this one hour. I think it’s the sudden reality of 5:00pm approaching 👨💻|
|5:00pm||Work on personal projects, or tend to anything around the house that needs doing. Probably walk the dog again 🐕🚶♂️|
|7:00pm||Dinner and relax 📺📖|
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always down to talk shop or help people starting out in the industry!
Header photo taken by Hovsep Agop