I run the process of helping my organisation decide where to go next with our products.
Tell us what you do without telling us your job title!
I both help come up with ideas and turn them into concepts and run the process that helps generate them and prioritises which to work on.
To do this I set up processes and activities that create/gather insights from users, help us better understand our business objectives and success, and generate feature ideas/new concept designs. I then use the insights/business aims/estimates of how long features would take to build (and any costs) to prioritise what features/concept we should work on. I then show this in simple visuals we refer to as roadmaps and build consensus around the plan.
The picture constantly changes though so this isn't something I just do once! I look at data, run user research, do lots of analysis and ideation with the right people and reassess concepts as they move through the design/dev processes.
Wow, ok! Tell us your title now?
Product Manager at Micro:bit.
What is your typical "day in the life of a designer" ?
I'm not really a designer but design is part of my job. My job and days vary a lot but here's an example of one when a new concept is central. Here's some background:
I'm working on a concept for a new section/feature on our website which I think might be a really exciting opportunity. It needs more work to be sure it's good and convince everyone else. The first meeting in which it will be discussed is at 3pm today.
For this day I'm assuming I'm working from home as that's been typical in the last 2 years and still typical for me at least 2-3 days a week:
Pre 9am: Get my kids up and out to school and try to fit in 30 mins of exercise - ok so the latter doesn't happen quite as often as I'd like!!
9 - 9.30am: Make sure I'm up to date with emails/messages, know what's in my diary for the day and have thought through what I can actually achieve today.
9.30 - 10am: Review what the concept I'm focusing on currently looks like with fresh eyes and what I'm missing. Check how the insights led to this concept and the business fit.
10 - 11am: Video calls with dev team & design lead to get their input, answer technical questions relating to the concept and estimate effort requirement. Running current idea by them and getting their input on the design/concept so far. We iterate my sketches a bit (working in Adobe XD and miro together) in this call. This gives me lots of actions to iterate and improve the concept afterwards too.
11 - 1pm: Work on the concept - e.g. updating early wireframes/story board/user flows, folding these into a slide deck that acts like a 'light-weight' business pitch - why the concept should be a priority from a business and user perspective, and outline the user research plan I would recommend alongside.
1 - 1.30pm: Break for lunch
1.30 - 2pm: Analytics meeting - monthly catch up on data that has come in from things like Google Analytics and other quant data (e.g. social/marketing stats) and recent surveys.
2 - 2.30pm: Update insights log based on data analysis meeting and pick up anything urgent from inbox/messaging etc.
2.30 - 3pm: Take a final look through my presentation deck pitching the concept, making sure the stories fits together, there is nothing missing and it looks 'pretty' enough to inspire the audience!
3 - 4pm: Discuss concept with the management team in which we agree to go ahead with the first phase of the concept. It is added to the roadmap for a few months away.
4 - 4.30pm: Update and finalise all the docs relating to the concept so it'll make sense when the team pick it back up in due course and the management team feedback is fed in and documented. Updating the roadmap to reflect decisions made and circulate everything to the relevant people.
4.30 - 5.30pm/whenever I actually finish: Remind myself of all the other things I intended to get done today and attempt to do them all in an hour (which typically means I'm working until more like 6.30pm). This involves things like checking up on research in progress, answering questions from the support team, reviewing or providing input on designs/suggestions from projects in progress, processing ideas gathered from our community, answering slack messages/emails etc.
Design principles you live by?
- KISS: Keep it simple stupid! - the best designs are usually the simplest.
- low floor, high ceiling, wide walls: technology should have minimal barriers so anyone can get started (low floor), room for experts to keep growing and develop their skills (high ceiling), whilst being designed for different types of user who may want/need different things (wide walls)
- Good user experience is key: I was trained with the effectiveness, efficiency, satisfaction mantra. Designs must effectively solve real user issues (effectiveness), they should make this easy to do with a path/time taken that doesn't feel laborious/convoluted (efficiency) and give the user satisfaction - ideally be actually fun/enjoyable where possible.
- Visual Balance, Emphasis & Hierarchy: make sure the design feels generally balanced with the key thing you want users to focus on being the most visually prominent and an obvious hierarchy or flow, e.g. that leads the user visually through the options/choices as they interact.
- Most people hate reading: I work with designs for kids a lot and they really hate reading but I've come to realise that most people do unless the content is something that they actively sort (e.g. a newspaper article, answer to a question etc). Words also often lead to translation and localisation issues in our global world. So, say something in images or video or a short concise sentence not a long paragraph. I often try to think of pages as a poster viewed in passing - would it deliver what is needed at a glance?
What problem can't you stop thinking about?
Accessibility: whilst I think most designers now understand the importance of user experience, accessibility is often an after thought. There are plenty of people who have special needs from technology - small changes in the design could make a huge difference to them. How do we as designers make sure we understand their needs better and bring them into the design process at every stage rather than briefly thinking about it, a couple of times.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Big question! The one that immediately springs to mind is what my first manager said to me in my first week. 'How do you eat an elephant? One bit at a time'. Life, work, design can all seem pretty overwhelming when you're getting started on a new project. Reminding yourself that you can achieve big things but only through a lot of very small steps I find really helpful.
'How do you eat an elephant? One bit at a time'.
I could have selected various other pieces of great advice though, for example, don't be afraid to get things wrong first time or to try a few different directions. I prefer working with designers who will show me how they are thinking through a number of different ideas and are willing to admit that something they did wasn't right - it's easier to go on a journey to a good solution as a team that way that working with designers who come up with one design and stand rigidly by it with only minor iterations.
Design tools you can’t live without? (Physical and/or digital)
My macbook Air and everything on it
A recent favourite is miro - so flexible and easy to share. I'm reasonably comfortable with a range of design software but it must have an easy way to wireframe, share clickable prototypes, gather input from people.I like Adobe XD for that. Messaging apps like Slack are fabulous but I also love things like ClickUp/Asana/Monday.com to allow me to track tasks and easily pick up everything about one project (including past chats, docs, comments etc) in one place.
Paper and lots of coloured pens and pencils, post-it notes & a big blank wall/whiteboard are still high on my list too though - I think they help me to move physically when I work which helps me think and helps me keep at a high 'sketching' level whereas being on a screen can sometimes lead me to spending too much time on details too early on.
Competitors: I consider what competitors or brands I admire in a similar space to my organisation to be a design tool too. Anything like that which might help inspire my thinking and help explain things to other people I find a wonderful tool.
What is the greatest design object, service, product or graphic ever made, in your opinion?
I'm not a big one for having favourites! However, if pushed, I guess I could argue the iPhone. Why? Because it encompassed a step change in both physical design (the sleek minimal button handset with a big screen and touchscreen interface) with what was at the time a massive shift in UI design and digital functionality - simple icons for your apps that can be moved around and customised, minimalist design that was easy to use PLUS this led to a huge behavioural shift in users which for me a sign of a great innovative design. Perhaps this shows my age - I suspect students today can't even imagine design before those things were all common place!!
Books you highly recommend for anyone pursuing a career in design?
I'm still a UX person at heart so the Design of Everyday things and Don't Make Me Think whilst old I would still really recommend.
Two Designer friends you admire and we should talk to!
Buzz Burman - Creative Director at Night Zookeeper and very gifted, experienced designer.
James Allsopp - Creative Technology Director at Preloaded, previous Head of Design - again a very creative designer who I have huge respect for.
Where and what did you study?
Master of Engineering (MEng), Electrical, Electronics and Communications
University of Cambridge