We’ll go into what makes a great design team, what is the hardest thing about being a UX/UI Designer, what we all majored in and how we ended up here, amongst other topics. Let’s get into all ten questions and the answers from our panelists!

1. What makes for a great design team and why?

Katy:

Building a sense of safety around communication, sharing ideas and being open. As designers, we need to admit that we’re [not always 100% correct] and get used to communicating our ideas, and poking holes in ideas and being comfortable with not being protective of our work. Allow that kind of communication to happen in a safe place. We are not judging the person who is presenting their ideas. We are judging the ideas and trying to make the idea the best it can be. Building that safe space and open communication to me is one of the most important things in building a great design team.

Jamie:

I agree and to build off that, I’d say collaboration and diversity, and the teams being able to support and help each other out. You can come up with more ideas together than you can alone. That goes into diversity; we all have different backgrounds, different specialties and different views on the world. Bringing that together makes for something very special. That’s important to have on a team.

Elena:

I agree. Something else that I find wonderful with the team we have is that everyone comes from different backgrounds, has different things they are passionate about, and different parts of design that they are experts in [...] if I have a question, I feel like I know who to go to, and who can give me the best advice and knock around ideas. Like Katy was saying, know that [feedback on designs] is not personal. You [can’t] get sensitive if someone doesn’t pick your idea. We are all working towards finding the best solution together. Also, [this team is] amazing. Another big part of it is having fun, cool, wonderful people.

Baladan:

I agree with the whole collaboration aspect of it as well. For a great design team is not only giving criticism, but also learning how to receive criticism as well. Like Katy said, we’re not here to critique you as a designer or a person but as “Hey, how are we going to solve this problem together?” A lot of times, the designs that we show in collaboration, the recipients aren’t really that knowledgeable about what you are doing. So the whole form of communication is really important.

2. How do you decide what an interaction should look like?

Baladan:

I think that’s my favorite question out of everything here because it’s such a simple question: how do you pick this button vs. that button? Should you use a radio button instead of a check box? What I’ve been doing for the past several years is actually getting a lot of inspiration from existing designs out there on the market. I know that’s kind of a cop-out answer, but it is by establishing and building off of what is already out there. As a UX/Product Designer, we are trying to create an experience that’s really intuitive and easy for the user. So, to build off something that was already created, that’s definitely the first step that I usually take for Interaction Design.

Katy:

I agree with that 100%. Usually, I do research on a particular functionality to see if something already exists and see how other applications are doing it, or if I know from my own experience. For example, “Amazon does it this way or Best Buy does it this way.” Just doing a little bit of research on existing features, that way you know at least you have a solid foundation. In some instances, it might be an interaction that you have never seen before or is really difficult to Google for, which probably requires a bit more user research. Building off of existing functionalities from other well known, established applications is a good starting point at least.

Elena:

Absolutely, I would say that’s a huge part of it. Doing your research, figuring out what other people have done and seeing: is this going to work for us [or] is it not going to work for us? Because there is sometimes a reason to create something completely unique for what you are trying to do. Sometimes there’s not. There is not a lot of need to redesign the check box for example. It’s pretty good, people know what it means, we don’t really need to spend time doing that. So that’s part of it.

Another thing that I reference a lot is my previous work within the same program. [One] of the things we want to do with Dock & Storage, which is the LinOS portion that I’m working on, is we want to create patterns for the user. So we want to give them an interaction, they react to that and it moves on meaning they did it correctly. So when they see it again, they say “I know all about this.” They are experts now on how to use [the pattern now]. They know how to do it and they can continue using that pattern over and over again. That’s the 2nd portion, making sure your work is consistent and using the same patterns.

The 3rd part would be, asking what the rest of the team thinks, as well. Like we were saying, we bounce around ideas with each other all the time. So, if there are multiple potential solutions for a problem, we talk about the pros and cons for each of them, and typically decide which one we all think would be the most intuitive and the most appropriate for the given situation.

Jamie:

Yes to everything everyone just said. On my bulleted list it’s all been picked off. But I will go a little bit deeper into something that we didn’t talk about, which is, if something is completely new: a new emerging technology, a new pattern. The first thing I would do is understand how the user is currently doing things with similar products. If it’s something like a form that they’re frustrated with, I would find out what upsets them about it and try to solve the problem. It could be something as simple as eliminating some fields, or creating a multi-step form. If it’s something new, always go right to your users. If it’s not new, see what other people have done before. Why recreate the wheel?

3. What’s the hardest thing about being a UX/UI Designer?

Elena:

I think for me it’s probably just the number of times that things intervene, life intervenes, something goes wrong and you have to kind of start over. It’s kind of like playing Chutes & Ladders but without any ladders, it’s exclusively chutes. You are moving along; you are making great progress and then something happens. You fall down a chute and you are 12 steps behind where you even started and that chute can be anything. You are making backwards progress a lot of the time, and having to restart. A lot of the time that can be the client. You can show them what you have done, then they realize with the requirements they gave you, they didn’t think of a certain scenario that this also needs to cover. So you have to start over.

Or, maybe you have designed something, it’s done, it’s approved, it’s ready to go and your developer hits a roadblock. Something makes you have to start over and rethink that entire interaction. [Things] like that, having to loop over and over again 2 steps forward, 1 step back, constantly. And also dealing with Jira tickets is probably my least favorite part as well.  

Baladan:

I think for me personally, the most challenging aspect of being a UX/UI or Product Designer is not knowing enough [about the end user.] There’s a running joke on the User Experience reddit forum [that] we call ourselves User Assumption designers. If there’s a lack of research, then we are kind of assuming everything about the user. We assume that the user should do this or likes this. And I think that doesn’t pertain just to Levvel, but for a lot of organizations. If there is not a lot of emphasis on the need for research and for testing, knowing how to balance the lack of information in your designs is pretty challenging.  

Jamie:

I think for me, something that is difficult and is something that I often struggle with is just keeping my own bias out of things. If I think this is great and that it’s going to work well, you know what? It is probably not going to. It’s just a matter of constantly, just like Baladan said, validating things with the people who will be using the product. Another thing that is difficult is keeping up with all the new things that are coming out. Earlier this week, I found this new prototype software. You know I want to check that out but I don’t have time for that right now. Keeping on top of things, it’s incredibly exciting but it’s tough [to maintain] all the time.  

Katy:

Building on what Baladan was talking about with User Assumption Design: for me the most difficult part is being decisive about a direction, while still remaining flexible enough to change that direction if it’s necessary. There are a lot of scenarios where you have to pick a concrete direction and you think, “I don’t know which one would work better than the other”, and you just have to pick a direction and then come to the conclusion that you might have to change it. And sometimes that uncertainty is hard.

4. What is the difference between UX and other disciplines?

Katy:

This one is hard, because UX has become this all-encompassing thing nowadays. I would say UX at its core is understanding overall architecture and the way flows move through based on functionalities.

UX is very analytical. Usually it is best to be data driven if you have the opportunity to have that data, you can be a little more analytical. Whereas UI Design is very visual, so in a lot of large companies they will have a very clear designation between UX Architecture and the UI Designer. So the UXer will do the wireframes and it’s super bare bones, but they know these interactions need to happen. This is what the flow looks like, and then they would pass it to a UI Designer who would then make it look good.

We tend to not really have those distinctions at Levvel, everyone kind of rolls it into one. So a UXer can do research, UX Architecture and Visual Design. To me, design is broken up into Research, UX and Visual Design. And you can even go as far as prototyping.

Jamie:

I'm going to get a little philosophical and take this question to mean all other design disciplines. The way I see it, aside from the name itself there really should be no difference. If you are looking at it from a 10,000 foot view, a designer's job is to create functional things that are easy to understand and easy to use. The actual term “User Experience”, came from The Design of Everyday Things [...] by Don Norman. You should all read it. If you have read it already, read it again because it’s awesome. The book isn’t specific to one design discipline, it encompasses everything.

That being said, I think that the primary thing that sets UX apart from other design disciplines is it’s name. That’s it, the name acknowledges that the roll revolves around the user. And, of course other design disciplines use different tools, they have different methods but at the end of the day, everyone in design is still trying to create easy, functional, delightful and I’d go so far as to say invisible experiences through design.

5. Do you have to be really creative to be a designer?

Katy:

This is also a really good one. I think I would say not necessarily. Obviously it helps if you are creative, but I would say if you are also a really analytical and organizational-minded person, it could be a good fit for you. Creativity obviously really helps but I wouldn’t say it’s a requirement.

Baladan:

I would also like to add to that a little bit. I think creativeness can only get you so far as a UX Designer. One attribute that really sets a great UX Designer apart is resourcefulness. Knowing what tools you have on hand and how you are going to best utilize those tools. Whether they are actual design tools or existing design system components, or anything. Knowing what you have in front of you and trying to solve the user problem with what you have is more important than being creative.

Elena:

I actually think that being really creative might be hard doing what we do, because sometimes things can be very monotonous. Like when you are first creating those patterns I mentioned before, creating behaviors that you want your user to do over and over again. That can be cool, you are exploring a ton of different options. But when you are a little bit later down the line, and you are trying to reuse a lot of things, you’re not creating as much.

Even in the most creative portions of what we do, I would argue that would be creating branding, the color scheme, typography, logos, things like that. That can be really fun, but it’s like being in a cage, you also have a lot of restrictions because you have a client who is telling you exactly what they want. They are kind of restricting you in certain ways. You can’t just do whatever you want, you have to fit in with what they want.

So, I would say being really, really creative, this might not be the field for you. Creativity, like Katy was saying, can definitely help. For example, Melissa, who is on the call, is one of the most creative people I’ve ever worked with. Which means that she’s always thinking outside of the box, always looking for better solutions, better ways to solve a problem, and trying not to get stuck or stagnant with what she is doing, which is a huge asset. But if you’re super creative, I think other disciplines might be easier, because you won’t have as many restrictions, deadlines, things like that.

Jamie:

It definitely helps to be creative, but that can be said with any field, really. I think design is a skill set and it’s one that anyone can learn. And the great thing about it, kind of like what we spoke about earlier, is that it’s collaborative. I can say from experience that creating breeds creativity. So if you get a bunch of designers in a room, the solution you come up with is going to be so much better than anything you could come up with on your own. You can’t get that creativity just from yourself, but from a team, or group of people together you can come up with something just amazing.

Baladan:

I don’t know if the other panelists here would agree with me, but I wouldn’t consider myself an artist and I’m totally ok with that as a UX Designer. I’m still trying to rectify what that means as a UX Designer, like how creative do I need to be? As of right now, I think there is a very distinct line between a UX Designer and an artist.

Katy:

That’s actually one of our design team tenets is Design is not Art and there’s a very fine line between what Art and Design is in our minds. I know a lot of people don’t agree with that, but I think that’s an important distinction to make.

6. What did you all major in and how did you end up here?

Katy:

I majored in Graphic Design–It was a Bachelor of Fine Arts. So I did the artsy fartsy studio classes. It was all print design, I had a few digital courses but when I went to college, UX wasn’t really a thing that they offered, they didn’t know how to teach it. I took my digital classes, I taught myself HTML and CSS when I was really young for MySpace and stuff like that. So I found I really excelled in the digital classes.

Just knowing that from the beginning was the point when I was really [thinking] maybe I should get into the Digital Design space. After I graduated, it was more like I was trying to meet as many people as I could and really wedge my way into a digital design job. Luckily I did meet the right people to give me that chance. I think having a strong visual background really helped me get a UX job where I could be more analytical and flex my organizational muscles better.

Baladan:

I majored in Entrepreneurship and Corporate Innovation, which is totally random and not related to UX at all. But, there were a lot of cross-compatible disciplines like problem solving. How do we start something from scratch? How do we solve a need in the market that is not there right now?

I started my career as a QA Engineer and in QA, my specialty was to find usability issues on our applications. Soon after that, I got transferred to the UX team as a QA Specialist and then I actually fell in love with the world of UX so I asked my Vice President and Director if they could sponsor me to go to a bootcamp, and they said yes. I did the 3 months training in New York City. I came back as a UX Designer and that’s how my journey started as a UX Designer.

Jamie:

I went to school for something called Multimedia Production, which encompassed back then Web Design, video editing, and anything you could do on a computer, digitally. There was a lot of Graphic Design, and at one point I got really interested in 3D modeling.

I reached out to somebody, I saw some article, where this dude did all these amazing things. I thought, “How do you do that? I want to do this.” And he said I needed to not just do the digital stuff, but also get my hands dirty, so I tried taking classes in sculpture. I spent half my time in the computer lab and half my time in an art studio. When I was in the sculpture studio I met somebody who was a sculptor who worked at Fisher Price, and that’s where I discovered what Industrial Design was. I ended up getting an internship where I learned all about Usability and things like that.

I got super interested in it and I ended up going back to school for Industrial Design, where one of my mentors ran a Usability lab. It was all human factors stuff, which completely blew my mind. At first I was [thinking], “I’m going to make cool things!” and then it turned into, “I’m going to make cool, functional things!” And then ultimately the path I went down led me to doing digital type work, because that is the world we live in today. But I still love Industrial Design.

Elena:

This is a really great question. It kind of emphasizes what I was saying before about how we all come from completely random [...] backgrounds and have experiences in a million different things. I actually went to college for Psychology and Sociology. I was a double major. I understand people on an individual level, like human behavior and things like that, as well as high level human behavior–what people and their behavior is like as a society.

There are a lot of ways to manifest those two super random majors. I started out in sales for a while, trying to get in people’s heads and figure out what’s going to make them buy stuff, which was [not very interesting to me].

Then, I was working as a Technical Recruiter and I met a UX/UI Designer. We had an interview, she was telling me about what she did. I had never heard of this field before. I knew about Development, I knew about QA, but neither of those really sounded appealing to me. She was telling me about UX/UI Design and I was super excited about it. So just like Baladan, I quit my job and decided to take a bootcamp for UX/UI Design. I worked for several clients before I started working at Levvel. So we all have super different backgrounds, but we all ended up in the same place, it’s pretty cool.

Amy:

That was interesting. I didn’t realize some of your backgrounds in those details so that was cool to hear. I’ll chime in on this one, too. I was very similar to Katy in that I went to college for Graphic Design, BFA, so I did all the fun art stuff as well. I also tried to major in Accounting and Architecture, and those kind of failed for me. Then I realized Graphic Design was more appealing. But, same thing, it was Print Design in college. I learned very little about Web Design in college. I learned a lot more on the job after that.

7. What is the best way to design a pixel perfect PowerPoint?

Baladan:

Templates.

Katy:

Also, don’t use PowerPoint.

Elena:

This is a really good question. I wasn’t totally sure what whoever asked this meant. The literal answer for a pixel perfect PowerPoint presentation to me is: line everything up. But, I don’t think that’s really what they’re looking for, maybe a more generalized way to do a really good presentation?

[Some] general advice here: For me what I find is that most people that do presentations on PowerPoint or Google Slides have way too much text on there. I’m a very visual person, so I'm going to read the text and totally tune you out, which is not what you want.

One of the ways to get around that is if you have several bullet points, let’s say 5 bullet points, you can have them broken up. In the first slide it just shows the first bullet point, second slide shows the first bullet point and second bullet point. You can explain it point by point without people getting distracted. Even with bullet points, I see way too much text, like full sentences with punctuation. That’s not what bullet points are supposed to be for. It is supposed to be abbreviated, just the gist, and then you explain it and actually present it. I think images are great, jokes and comedy in presentations are great. I have no idea if that is what this person was looking for in an answer, but that’s what you got.

Jamie:

So full disclosure, this was me being obnoxious when Amy asked me to test out the Slido questions. So I thought “let me think of the most absurd question!” But, I guess it’s not really that absurd and now that I heard what you said, Elena, come to think of it, one of the most important things in a slide deck, is that it is something that can be used if you are not there to present it.

So you present it, and you are all done, and it’s going to be distributed. The client has it and they are going to share it with the company. It can be something that they can go through and understand what was done, what was said, and the point of the whole thing. And it must be pixel perfect.

Baladan:

I guess one thing to add to that is–this is a really granular example–but most people don’t take advantage of white space enough. Like Elena said, if there is too much text and images, it gets really crowded. So I think if you give each element within the slide some breathing room to let it shine, and be the focal point, that is definitely going to take your slides to the next level.

8. Why do you use Figma instead of other apps?

Katy:

For me, real time collaboration in Figma is a complete game changer, especially when you’re working on a large project with a lot of designers. We have had projects in the past where we utilize Sketch, and Sketch doesn’t have any real time collaboration, so you have to save and share your files manually which is a pain, because then you have to keep track of all these versions of files. Figma makes that super easy, and everyone, even if you are not a designer, can be in the file and see the designer working in real time. It is so up-to-date and easy to use.

Figma has so many nice features that they’ve made. They have done a lot of work in making it one-to-one in the way that it mirrors code. The way you think about components in Figma, is the same way developers would think about their components in code, which I think is super important. I could go on and on about Figma for days. But real time collaboration, and the features they provide, to me blow all the other applications out of the water.

Elena:

I agree, and one of the things I respect about Figma, is that it seems like they do a lot of user research. We are their users, and I feel like they actually care about what we’re doing, and what our pain points are, and solve for them pretty quickly.

Like Katy said, real time collaborations sounds like it’s not that big of a deal, because they have it in Google Docs. Most places have it, it shouldn’t be that big of a deal, right? But, at my last job, I was there for a while, and they used XD.

XD did not have real time collaboration. This was in 2019 [...] and they didn’t have real time collaboration. Which meant that me and my entire team of designers had to all save different versions, and make sure we were yelling across the office: “Hey, I’m going to be working in this file–no one touch it right now!” It was just really [inefficient] and bad. Figma is the best, and I really enjoy using it.

Amy:

And I’d say one more point too, it has been a lot faster than using Sketch, InVison and Abstract. We had a project where we had maybe 30 Sketch files. Anytime you went to update and publish to InVision so you could share it, it might take a minute or two, which doesn’t seem like long, but when you are doing that constantly all day, it took a long time. So I was very happy how much faster Figma was, and with prototyping all in one tool is great.

9. What is the best thing about being a UX/UI Designer?

Katy:

For me personally, it is just fun. I get to be creative and analytical at the same time, which I enjoy. Some days it is more analytical and less creative, which is nice. It’s kind of like when you go into a creative field, it can be soul crushing, and some days being a UX Designer is a little soul crushing, but I honestly don’t know what else I would be doing if it wasn’t UX. Most days it’s just a lot of fun.

Jamie:

I agree, it is so much fun, and one aspect of it that I truly, absolutely love is that you get to be a detective, and you get to uncover all the problems and try to solve them. When you do solve them, it feels so good. At the end of the day, you are making a difference in someone’s life. Even if it’s as simple as interacting with a website, but, they got through a flow, and didn’t know there were problems. They didn’t have to think about it, [and I’m thinking] “Yeah! I did that!”

Baladan:

I definitely agree with both of you guys. But I think the one thing I love about UX/UI is you are in the project from start to finish, and that you get to see something actually come into fruition, hopefully. Even though there are different disciplines involved, between you and a Product Owner, or a Business Analyst or a Project Manager. You have held that design from start to finish, that is really satisfying.

Elena:

I agree with everything you guys said. The only thing I would add on top of it is a little bit of vanity. Something that is pretty cool is seeing your app in the Apple store or the Google Play store. Something that is pretty cool is telling people at a bar what you do, and they think you are Superman. Our job is not that glamorous, but it sounds really glamorous. Being able to actually solve the problems, day to day for me is exactly what I want to do. I absolutely love it, but also people thinking it’s cool is awesome too.

10. What is your perspective on working with Business Analysts, and what are the pain points regarding making that relationship successful?

Elena:

That’s a great question. For me the biggest pain point that I’ve experienced with other [Business Analysts] that are not at Levvel [...] is that they give me prescriptive solutions. They don’t actually tell me what the problem is. Our job is problem solver. So it’s harder if we don’t know what the problem is. Sometimes the client passes down a solution like: Let’s have a screen that has a radio button here.

But we need to know what we are trying to solve for. What are we actually trying to do? Your solution might be right, but it might also not be right. That is my entire job, to figure out what the right solution is, so when it is handed to me, that can be kind of tough. Like I said, I haven't had that problem at Levvel, yet, which is fantastic.

You give me the requirements, you tell me what the problem is, you give me the background, and then I can do my job and actually solve for what the solution will be. That has been my biggest issue working with [Business Analysts] in the past.

Jamie:

I can’t say that I have any pain points. I might just be fortunate. The last BA I worked closely with is on the project I’m on now. She was there for discovery, and was there writing requirements with me.

The takeaway from that is working closely with your BA, when coming up with requirements can be beneficial and useful, and make the designers life a lot better. Like Elena said, oftentimes, these requirements are coming from the top, and if you don’t understand where they are coming from and what problem they are trying to solve, then your solution might not be the best solution. I totally agree with you on that, Elena.

Amy: Thank you for the questions and discussion.