Design, at its core, is strategic problem solving that aims to uncover what is relevant and desirable for people. The role of a designer has evolved from an operative one to a strategic function because designers aim to solve complex problems by creating something new. Empathy, curiosity and creativity are applied to exploring people's needs and validating ideas in an iterative process that leads to meaningful solutions. The results are delightful, intuitive and engaging experiences.
At the heart of it, I’ve naturally gravitated towards roles that help people solve problems, whether it was client-facing in enterprise software sales or solving systemic problems on a global scale in technology public policy. In the same vein, good design solves problems and helps people, and helping people makes me happy. Design is an incredibly exciting field - I’m learning everyday and the learning is broad and infinite.
The framework I structure projects around loosely adheres to the following three-step process: Research, Design and Validation. I am adaptable to methodologies - I have used a combination including Design Thinking, Lean Startup and I have studied the fundamentals of Agile development.
(1) I immerse myself in the project to understand and identify the problem and to gather as much insight as I can. In this phase, I focus on learning as much about a client’s business, objectives, users and competitors as possible. I put users at the centre of my projects by understanding their needs, behaviours and motivations.
(2) In this phase, I gain knowledge on users’ pain points and prioritize these findings to make design decisions later in the project. I ensure the scope of the project at each stage is addressing key pain points while remaining technically viable.
Key Activities: kick-off stakeholder meeting, MAAP (Mutually Agreed Action Plan), user interviews, ethnographic studies, expert interviews, literature review on industry, competitive analysis, defining user pain points (personas, journey/experience mapping).
(1) In this phase, I brainstorm and sketch ideas. In a team setting I would work with developers, PM’s and designers to work through a range of solutions, prioritizing pain points and determining form & functionality.
(2) I rapidly sketch and make low-high fidelity prototypes to present solutions to the users and to the team in order to ask for feedback.
Key Activities: card sorting, affinity mapping, user flows, sitemaps, annotated wireframes, low to high fidelity prototypes, visual design.
(1) This step involves conducting user testing to check my assumptions and determine if the design actually works with its intended audience. By setting measurable metrics, I validate or continue to modify solutions.
(2) This phase is typically followed by further rounds of design and testing to solve the problems that inevitably arise when you test with users ヽ(ಠ_ಠ)ノ.
Key Activities: usability testing, remote testing, A/B testing, affinity mapping.
Put simply: UI design is concerned with the effective layout of visual elements on a user interface. UX design is “people first”, it’s about what motivates them - how they think and behave.
UX provides the underlying structure with tasks focused on the optimization of a product to feel effective and enjoyable to use; User Interface Design is its complement, the look, visual appeal and interactivity of a product.
From my perspective, great designers are:
Empathetic: I believe a great designer must be empathetic to user pain points. It’s the ability to understand the user’s context and what they are trying to achieve. Without empathy, a designer cannot fully understand the problems a user might be facing in relation to a product. Having this understanding is an integral part of facilitating solutions that fix the right problems.
Generalists: “Unicorns don’t exist. Generalists do.” (Emmet Connolly). Technical skills complement problem-solving skills, and design problems are solved best through the cross-pollination of ideas and varied fields of knowledge.
Data-driven (read: opinionated, but with good reason): Great designers are able to map out the reasoning behind their decisions through a thorough process of analysis and iteration. They are dedicated to the problems they are solving, not to their own solution.
Prolific Learners: Great designers are infinitely curious and constantly learning new things. Prolific learners become more human. As Robert Heinlein famously put it: “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
Sketch for wireframing, prototyping, visual design. Sketch is my main design tool, it’s extremely intuitive, has excellent plug-ins and great integration with 3rd-party apps. It allows for rapid iteration when compared to legacy Adobe Creative Suites. For me, Sketch is “the one ring to rule them all”, I am able to create wireframes, design guidelines, vector graphics, animations and more all using this one intuitive tool.
Illustrator for visual design. Whether it’s creating icons, logos, or other visual elements, I use illustrator for its powerful vector tools (especially when creating complex shapes), stage and colour management.
Principle for creating animations and interactive user interfaces. It’s interface is familiar and intuitive to use as a Sketch user, and features “Timelines” A nice visual overview of every property that is animated and a quick and easy video and animated gif creation. It is far more simple to use than Adobe After Effects which is a horribly clunky product and a better rounded product than Flinto.
Botsociety for prototyping chatbots, it’s dead simple to use and it let’s you export to video and export the conversation flow as well, making it the more thorough option for testing chatbots compared to BotMock and Conversational Interface.
Pen and paper for low-fidelity planning and wireframing. Old school pen and pad is the quickest way for me to organize ideas and work through layouts when ideating during a new project.
Google Sheets for information architecture and organization. I use Google Sheets for charting product strategy, prioritizing features, and organizing user feedback and it allows me to collaborate with users online.
UserTesting for remote unmoderated testing. It has the broadest range of features to screen users, easily creates test scripts, and review tests efficiently.
GoToMeeting for remote moderated testing, it allows for full session recording and screen control sharing. It has more functionality than Skype which requires many kinks to work through for remote user testing. the cross-pollination of ideas and varied fields of knowledge.
I love learning languages and Duolingo has been a go-to, I even managed to get my Dad hooked on it and he bids me farewell with “Ciao Bella!” (he’s currently on the Italian lesson track) gleefully during most of our morning encounters. Every component of the app is built around gamification which thoughtfully motivates and delights the user. Progress is charted intuitively and my position within the course is easy to understand. The app reinforces a sense of accomplishment and motivates me to continue by laying out lessons I’ve completed and lessons to look forward to.
The push notifications aren’t irksome or distracting either, they summarize the exact lesson I’ll be learning when I return to the app. The feature hierarchy is well balanced, allowing me to completely focus on the single task within a course, and hiding the “mountain” of lessons to go so as to not intimidate someone new to a language. The advanced features like setting goals, shopping, or checking my friends’ progress, are all accessible and intuitive to contextualize within the broader product.
Client-facing strategy & communication: in my former role as a software sales executive, I interfaced with VP and C-Suite clients. I took a consultative approach with my customers by understanding their business objectives, the challenges facing their industry and building out case studies (ROI) of solutions that would help solve their pressing pain points.
Empathy: I am insatiably curious about people, and I believe we all have an innate ability to connect and build a greater understanding of one another. My ability to empathize with people from all walks of life helps me connect to users more deeply and solve their problems more accurately.
Working in cross-functional teams: I believe in defining underlying assumptions and the “why” within a team of collaborators. I also believe in communicating thoughts and ideas clearly and helping others to do the same.