Frequently Asked Questions
Inspired by Allison Milchling.
What does design mean to you?
I want to help people. To do that, I needed to understand them, to be able to tell their stories through the only ways I knew I could: art, design, words, photography, culture, movement. Design encompasses all of those and much more, it drives me to become a better artist, thinker, and person.
What’s the difference between a good and great designer?
Sometimes I see designers and the general public criticize a piece of design for looking bad (I'm guilty of that too), but what they don't realize is that the design is functional, it solved a problem. Good design doesn't always have to look visually stunning. It's the thoughts and intention behind it that drives how a piece of work should be measured.
Great design though, is on a whole other level. It solves a problem that the user doesn't even know he/she realized they had. I'll use the classic Henry Ford example:
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
Great design is timeless, it seeks to understand both the intentions users, as well as the intentions of the stakeholder. Let's face it, you can't be a great designer if you satisfy one side and piss off the other. A great designer should be able to create good work, as well as maintain a good environment amongst his/her team.
Why do you want to leave freelancing?
I started freelancing because I wanted to experience different environments and cultures. I felt that I had been in the one place for too long and was getting complacent and was not challenging my thoughts as much. Now that I've had several different exposures, I'd like to dedicate my time to a full-time role so I can really focus on taking projects to the next level (as part of a team, as a vision, and not as a freelance bystander).
How do you plan a project?
For me, knowing is half the battle, so I place huge importance on research and really try to understand the client and their brief, and walking them through the scope of what needs to be achieved. When you have a clear and concise scope that both your team and your clients can refer to, it really reduces the amount of confusion and makes everything go much more smoothly. The team can easily refer to the scope to map out the timeline of what needs to be done, and if the client wants anything added or has any issue, the scope is there to clear things up. e.g. Client wants a new feature? There's no 'points' (or capacity) in the scope for that, something either has to be replaced or the timeline has to be extended.
Once I have a list of what needs to be done, I'll start organizing the tasks. Sketching, wireframing, and prototyping will come along naturally, and those will be key in getting the big picture across to the stakeholders. Once everyone's happy to move on, then comes the UI stage. The UX is omni-present and will play a part every step of the way, one of the most important being the user-testing stage. Nothing beats having your actual target audience using your design, it's the best way to find out what can be improved.
Once the project goes live, the work is still not done. Great experiences are crafted iteratively, so as a designer, you'll have to constantly observe the way your design is being used, and refine and adjust accordingly.
Describe your experience collaborating with developers. In your opinion, what makes for the best collaboration between designers and developers?
When I first started working in the industry, I didn't have much knowledge about how developers worked (digital was relatively 'new' at the time). I began to notice that designers and developers weren't getting their points across, what was a simple 'can we make this do xyz' proved to be much more work for the developers than the designers would've known, and I realized that it wasn't the best way to collaborate.
I started learning how to code, and I sat down with the developers to listen to why they can and can't do certain things. Eventually I became quite comfortable with coding, but what was even more valuable was that I gained insights into how developers think and how they approach problems.
Over time, I was able to become the bridge between the designers and developers. I was able to communicate and explain to either side about design/dev choices and intentions, and that really sped things up as I was able to close the feedback loop.
I think the designer role is evolving constantly, and coding is becoming an increasingly valuable arsenal in a designer's toolbox. It sure has proven very valuable to me. I may not be an amazing coder, but if I can make life much easier for the people I work with everyday, and indirectly make the end result that much better for my users, then well, sign me up again!
What tools do you use? Why have you chosen them over their alternatives?
Photoshop/Lightroom – The best combo for manipulating images. Sometimes I might have to manage a batch of images to make sure their colours fit the tone of the brand or project (warm images as opposed to cool, for example), Lightroom makes it a breeze to quickly bring all the images to unity. Photoshop is there for when I need to make more magic happen.
Sketch – The undisputed king of digital design tools. Adobe XD is still in its infantry stage, but Sketch already has a large community and has ingrained itself in many workplaces. The additional power of being able to install add-ons, UI packs, and professional plug-ins like Craft from InVision really makes it a winner.
Principle/Framer – I'm still learning Framer, but both it and Principle are amazing tools for a designer to have. Since we're muggles when it comes to coding, Principle and Framer lets us design visually, while still having the flexibility and ease-of-integration for developers to take over.
Premiere Pro/After Effects/DaVinci Resolve/Final Cut Pro X – These four are amazing for video and animation work. Premiere Pro integrates better with After Effects, but DaVinci Resolve has much better UX and workflow when it comes to colour grading and FCPX works really well on a Mac. On the plus side, After Effects lets me create cool animated Dribbble shots. :)
Balsamiq – Once I have some rough sketches and concepts on paper, I like to take them into Balsamiq. I've tried using different software for wireframing, such as Sketch and Omnigraffle, but I find Balsamiq to be more much efficient. When I use it, my mind puts on its thinking hat and doesn't dwell too much into the visual side (which is the opposite of what you want in the wireframing stage). Also, when clients see your concepts on Balsamiq, their feedback becomes much more relevant about the content and usability, and less about fancy pictures and brand colours (those come later in the UI stage).
Trello/Slack/InVision — Trello is great for breaking larger endeavours into smaller, manageable pieces of tasks. Slack provides a way medium for the team to communicate with each other and share quick notes and ideas. InVision is great for setting up a presentation for everyone to see and leave feedback on, especially for clients as they can point out specific areas for feedback.
Workflowy/MindNode – I use these two to organize my notes and ideas. When I lay all my thoughts down inside these two, I can free my mind up to connect the dots and really get into the zone.
Tidal/Spotify/Soundcloud – Can't live without music! When I need to get into the zone, I just play the one song and set it on repeat, it gets rid of the 'Let's play a different song' syndrome and drowns out unnecessary noise.
Google/Chrome – My best buddies when it comes to coding and debugging. As a designer, sometimes I might forget how to write a certain piece of code; two minutes in a Google search solves that problem. Chrome is also AMAZING for debugging websites, without the Inspector my life would be 5 times harder.
iPhone/iPad/Laptops – The best way to evaluate a design is to see it on the medium it's supposed to be delivered on. Looking at a piece of a design on a phone will often yield more insight as opposed to just looking at it on the big screen. Digital design can be a physical thing as well, how the users hold the devices and the distance between the devices and their eyes can often make or break certain designs.
Books — Can't live without them. Currently I'm obsessed and studying many books on the properties of colours. In digital design, there are just too many colours to choose from, so I want every single colour I pick to work in harmony with each other, each to be a conscious, thoughtful choice. 'A Long Way Home: A Memoir by Saroo Brierley' (book that inspired the movie 'Lion') is a great read too, books like these give us insights to things that we otherwise would've never dreamed of experiencing. Good or bad, these make us more empathetic to our audiences as designers, and are key for us to understanding and delivering great work.