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.
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.
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.
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?
|6:30am||I 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.|
|8:30am||I 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.|
|10:00am||I’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.|
|1:00pm||Lunchtime. 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.|
|2:00pm||Back 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.|
|5:00pm||I 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).|
|7:45pm||We’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.|
|9:00pm||Sleep 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:
- Research– Understanding why this thing is needed and what elements are crucial for it to be useful for customers.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.