Interview
March 30, 2018
Customer experience

Adam
Zielonko

Shift to T-Shaped has already happened

Changing design focus from appearance to experience. Shift to T-shaped. Resistance to project pain and success measurement. Perfect topics to discuss with interesting person.

Here is professional talk with our friend Adam Zielonko, Senior Product Designer, Netguru agency. Read on as Adam sheds some light on his design approach and gives us some valuable advice.

Let’ go!

Adam Zielonko, a designer from Poland with over 9 years of experience in the field.

Since he started, he has been designing apps, user interfaces, brand identities, and websites for various global clients, working together with people from all over the world.

Experience VS Appearance

UI is essential as well as the overall aesthetics, but if we have poorly designed flow, the best UI won't make a product successful. This is what I used to do in the past; I focused too much on the appearance rather than experience.

If someone is a visual designer or a graphic designer then it's fine to focus only on visuals to some extent. Simply because usually they get wireframes from a UX designer or product designer so probably the flow has already been thought out.

If you are a product designer, you have to think holistically about the product, about its users, still having constraints in mind. There’s a long journey before going down to the pixels. The visual part is fun, though. Who doesn’t like that?

Before I joined Netguru, I had the privilege to work with UXPin for 3 years, where I was responsible for the core product. It was super cool to work on the product being used by companies like HBO, PayPal, Microsoft, Sony, Adidas and many more. Therefore, I have a full perspective, since I used to focus a single product and now on multiple products.

Designer’s Style & Ego

We, as the designers, make the experiences tailored for the desired target group. I think everyone has his or her set of favorite design elements making that designer recognizable because of them. However, it's not always possible to apply that custom style to every project.

If you love designing for the fashion industry, that's great, probably the minimal design with a lot of white space and great images would do the trick. However, you can't apply the same style while designing. Take for example kids won't like it, and they won't use it. You will end up with something aesthetically pleasing, but useless.

We have to adapt our style to a project, not the other way round. Don't allow your ego to take control of the project.

The first and foremost are users and their experience, then we can talk about a style in which we'd like to fulfills their needs.

The same style rarely is applicable when we talk about digital product design, because of the different business requirements. If I had to answer this shortly — I would stay open to the other styles. It gives a designer more flexibility.

Shift to T-Shaped

Product designer has a huge responsibility from the definition, being often present at the early stages of the project when there is time for gathering business requirements, through the design process and eventually supervising the development, making sure that everything is in its right place. It requires a lot of experience.

Product Designer = Product Manager (Owner)?

That's right. This shift has already happened.

It may feel like too much for just one person, but this is the only way to look at a product holistically.

A designer should be present in the project process from start to finish. He doesn’t have to have all the skills at a very high level, but one field in which he is an expert and the rest covered at least on an average level. This is called T-shaped skills. Trying to be best in every design discipline is impossible in this industry due to its dynamic character.

This is the main difference from the other design disciplines, like web design, graphic design, logo design and so on. The other disciplines can focus more on narrower, design-related areas. Being a product designer is not for everyone. You have to ask yourself if you are OK with being present at almost all the stages of the design process & development. That’s a huge responsibility.

Projects resistance or acceptance?

What if new project doesn't inspire you?

I’ve been doing this for over 9 years, so I had to develop some resistance :) I can give some advice for young designers:

  1. First, you are not your project. Don’t overly attach to the piece you create for a client. It’s hard to avoid putting emotions into our work, but you should mind that the feedback from a client may be varied. Sometimes they will love your creative output from the very first sight. Sometimes don’t, and you have to deal with that professionally. Ask for more precise feedback if needed. Although the pain is transient, projects come and go.
  2. Designing for a diverse range of clients and industries give you a lot of experience and confidence. This is fruitful for the career later on.
  3. Despite the antipathy for some subjects, you need to have a positive attitude regardless of the project’s type. You never know what the future may bring. Perhaps a great offer only because you have done that dreadful project in the past.

Appreciation / Recognition / Fame

Getting appreciation and recognition on services like Behance and Dribbble is good because it attracts the clients. It also builds trust, so if others see that you are famous, they more likely assume you are an experienced designer. The halo effect at its finest - one of the cognitive biases.

I’m the only one besides the product owner/client who knows the problem that has been solved by design. The vast majority of the community will judge a design by what it looks like, and this is normal for us, humans. Sometimes one image isn’t self-explanatory, so detailed case studies are more valuable in general, but requires much more time to prepare.

Does this influence on work quality? Does it help to grow?

The quality of digital design work might be only measured with some analytics tool, like the one from Google, Hotjar, and so on. I’m a pragmatic person, so I don’t believe in making pretty pictures without reason. I think if someone gets popularity, he or she should maintain that particular level of work. Two steps forward, one step backward. Not the other way round.

Some designers who get recognized, get a boost to their egos which also should be kept in a healthy degree :)

Why designer’s recognition is measured by pics only?
Why does this happen?

I think this happens for a few reasons. Probably some clients don't want to share the outcomes afterward, when, for example, rebranding has been done. Some platforms for designers like Dribbble don't allow lengthy case studies, so the focus is more on attractive images, that sometimes are sufficient to decide whether someone wants to talk with one designer about a project, or not. However, given Dribbble or Behance, being popular on these services doesn't come along with being smart, emphatic and decisive.

And these traits distinguish mediocre designer from a great one.

In Netguru, I've met a lot of talented folks, and some of them don't care much about their online portfolios and presence on Behance and Dribbble, but their knowledge of design and experience is at an impressive level. We learn from each other. On the other hand, there are designers in the community, who seem to have quite a substantial portfolios at first glance, but after an interview, it often turns out that they do not know much about UX, business and instead of making beautiful Dribbble shots, they should work more on their soft skills. Fake it until you make it is a short-sighted approach in this industry.

Power of Design

I believe that design mainly determines the success of any digital product. By the first time user experience, by how it works and the retention — will users give it the next try, or not. If users know how to use it and the workflow isn't somehow disrupted then an app is promoted to the next round. And the next round is — let's call it a development trial :)

If we have a great design combined with flawless technical execution, then we can say that the app might be successful. The word ‘might’ is used deliberately. It's not the end because now that product has to prove its value amongst competitors. So the journey begins…

I think those who understand the real value of the design, just look for more just the pretty pictures. To learn more about the return on investment from the design you have to go deeper, beyond Behance or Dribbble. Read books, watch webinars, or listen to the podcasts. The design has been underestimated recently, but it’s getting better every day.

There is a lot of knowledge at your fingertips.

Product design is never finished because the environment isn’t constant. The internet is evolving, every year we get new tech-stack and devices.

These days the market is overloaded with apps and services, so to get new users on board, you have to follow users needs competitively. There is no silver bullet, but the bottom line is always design and execution.

5 Designers

Dieter Rams
For his timeless approach, for the evangelization of good design principles. And for all his remarkable achievements in the industrial design.
Es Devlin
For her astonishing concert stages designs and the way, she uses light in her concepts.
Sagmeister & Walsh
For their strong, and trend-setting attitude in the advertisement industry.
Christoph Niemann
For his illustrations for New Yorker, I dig the concepts. Chapeau Bas.
Tom Kelley
From Ideo, since I identify myself with similar beliefs and design thinking.

Learn or sink

I prefer the approach which is called «sink or swim.» So I usually don't spend many hours on the theory before I get to the execution. However, it doesn't mean that I ignore the guidelines, no.

I'm a perfectionist to a healthy degree.

I read books, observe some trends and draw my conclusions. This is a very dynamic industry, so we need to stay in the loop. Otherwise, we may end up off the game. For example, an app designer as a profession didn't exist 10 years ago. It has all started with the first iPhone, which was the big thing back then. Many of today's product designers who went an extra mile and got themselves adapted to the new, mobile age are the precursors.

What will be the next big thing? We have to keep an eye on this.

Tools

Depends on a project type, but I usually do my designs in Sketch and Illustrator. For animation I use After Effects. For prototyping and design systems I use mainly UXPin. I also have an opened Moleskine notebook on my desk with some random thoughts and early sketches. I work on MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt Display.