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?
|Monday||My 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.|
|Wednesday||The 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.|
|Thursday||We show the prototype to a group of testers in qualitative interviews and catch their feedback.|
|Friday||On 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.