Figma: Designers designing

Adobe announced an intent to acquire Figma for ~$20 billion today. I’ve had mixed feelings thinking about it throughout the day, while also trying to get work done with my projects.

On the one hand I’ve grown to value the tool and all that it allows me to do as a designer. My career started back with much older software. Macromedia Flash 4 was the first application I used to build websites, illustrations, and print graphics. Yup, you heard that right. To this day it still stands as my favorite tool for manipulating bezier curves. But, thanks to my high school ROP teacher, Ms. Jane, I moved on and converted to Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign respectively. I also picked up Dreamweaver, and eventually Fireworks.

Sketch came into the picture years later, but my brain couldn’t quite process how to fit it into my workflow. InVision came and went, along with Marvel POP, Balsamiq, and everything else I could get my hands on. So many fantastic tools, so many amazing teams. Adobe XD also floated through for a period of time.

Flash forward to 2022. Figma is one of the core application in my work for building out interfaces and designs.

It is, however, just a tool. The most important thing I’ve learned over the years, as tools have come and gone, is a way of thinking. I still haven’t figured out, in fact I feel like I know less now than years in the past.

Now, when I’m working with a team to build an application or workflow, I approach the project with an absence of tools in mind. That means holding off on Figma for as long as possible, even holding off on wireframes or mockups. Instead, I ask a ton of questions to try and understand what the software accomplishes already, where things need to go with the business, and what users need. This stuff is the heart of building great software, and it’s where I can see pushing myself and continuing to learn for decades to come.

Only after the work of understanding and shaping the software, after sketching out flows and drawings, after going back and forth and writing up How Might We statements, Jobs to Be Done, Acceptance Criteria, etc., after all the other things have been thought through, only then will I crack open Figma.

By the time I have a screen up in this fantastic app I already have an idea of the UX, a high level understanding of the components for UI, along with a million questions that still need to be answered.

Where Figma helps come in is in converging toward shipping something, and getting things out into the world. Even then it’s sometimes not necessary. Some fantastic engineers I’ve worked with will just take sketches and move them directly into code.

Now, I’ve spent some time talking about what I do without Figma. Does that mean the tool isn’t valuable? On the contrary, it’s enabled a way of thinking and working that was near impossible five years ago. I can collaborate live or async with product teams around the world. Like Google Docs, but for designers, it’s helped push the speed at which we can get things shipped. I love it, and I hope this tool is around for years to come.

My point, and the one I try to share whenever possible, is that good UX, good product design, comes with the thinking and asking, not so much with the tool.

Congrats to the Figma team! And, I’m excited to see what other tools appear in the space.

Just around the corner

The last two weeks have been intense since I started looking for new work. I’m used to pushing myself and working hard to get things done. But there’s a certain level of pressure when I am looking for new work to cover the bills for my family, while also wanting to make sure my own personality and experience are a match for the companies I’m talking with.

I’ve applied to some awesome places, and started having interviews with teams of all sizes. I’m a bit tired, but I’m also invigorated. I’ve been able to talk to some fantastic teams, learn about interesting products that are getting built, and hear from passionate folks who want to make an impact in the world.

This is a scary time to be looking for a job as a designer. Layoffs have been announced around the industry, and given that we’ve just entered the technical definition of a recession, there’s now an extra layer of complexity to the whole thing.

I’m getting a little older. This year will my 35th cycle around the sun. When I started my career I was 19 years old, and the world looked bright and rosy. I had a few years of graphic design freelance under my belt by then, and jumped in with my brother to start a web design agency. We teamed up with a few other awesome folks, including my future brother-in-law, and built a little company to make websites and dream up our own SaaS product. This was 2007, bleeding into 2008.

Then a global recession hit.

Times were scary back then, and we worked hard for the next five years to find profitability, to help our clients and customers, and to push ourselves to learn. I’m thankful for those times, and incredibly grateful for the amazing folks that I got to work alongside. It was like two double majoring in design and business. I’d never trade that time and it helped shape who I am today.

So now, in 2022, facing a recession, looking for a job, and with the responsibility of caring for a family, I’m feeling excited and a little nervous. Excited because there’s so much opportunity, so much I can still learn, and some amazing teams that are looking for help. There’s also some things I’m building for myself, and while those my take a few years, they inspire me and allow me to tinker. I’m nervous though, because reality doesn’t always allow things to line up perfectly. Entropy gets in the way, things get messy.

And so I will take a day tomorrow to pause, spend time with my family, and recharge. One thing I learned this week, thanks to a forced 24-hour break with a high grade fever, is that there’s a limit to how much I can get done in a given period of time. I’m excited for the future, and despite my penchant for considering myself a realist, am optimistic about what’s next.

I don’t know the future, but I’m here for it.

Looking for work

TL;DR – I’m looking for a new product design opportunity. 😀

2022 has been a dream year for me in learning and growing in my career. For the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of amazing teams on products within enterprise and the small business space. It’s given me the chance to learn and grow, and to continue to push my curiosity as a designer. 

Since December I’ve been supporting the team at Greg as a Senior Product Designer, focused on the mobile experience of the app. I’ve been able to learn about the ins and outs of mobile design in the consumer space, and loved picking up on all the small nuances that make up an amazing iPhone app. The juggling that’s necessary between product, design, engineering, and working runway was such an eye opening experience. 

Monday was my last day at Greg, and now I’m looking for a new opportunity. As sometimes happens, teams need to shift to adjust for the changes in the marketplace, in particular finding product market fit amongst headwinds in the consumer mobile space. 

I have full confidence that the Greg team will solve this, and will be watching from the sidelines, cheering them on. What Alex Ross and team are building is phenomenal, and I’m thankful for getting to work together this year. They’re trying to solve an amazing problem, helping people grow and build plants within a community. We need more apps like this, focused on improving the quality of life of everyone who joins. 

Right now I’m looking for new opportunities. If you’re hiring for a product design role, my background is primarily in enterprise software development, with a recent, and amazing, journey in mobile design. I’d love to chat, and am working on some ideas of my own in the background. Thank you!

SwiftUI Curious

For the past year I’ve been listening to some awesome podcasts and hearing updates from developers as they describe their transition, or in Marco Arment’s case, dipping their into SwiftUI.

I started my career as a web designer and frontend developer. Learning CSS and HTML was a challenge for me at the time, but I figured it out and stuck around long enough to understand the principles of responsive design, media queries, and all the little tinkering that comes with understanding how stuff fits onto the browser. From there I turned my attention to WordPress, customizing sites at a holistic level and helping businesses build enterprise level plugins for the WordPress space. Things got more abstract and I focused on the user experience overall, less on the code.

Focusing on design is important, but there’s tremendous value in understanding the structure of how a thing gets built. I allowed things to get too abstract without realizing the nuances of what my fellow engineers were building. For the last eight months I’ve worked alongside an awesome mobile app team, building out the experience in Greg. As things are starting to shift toward SwiftUI (or at least that’s the statement Apple made, we’ll see what happens in reality) it felt like the right time to give things a try.

So I bought a Udemy course and dove in. I’m shocked. There’s something about how SwiftUI operates that just clicks in my brain. I understand it. This doesn’t mean it will be easy, or even that I’ll really figure it out. But something about the mental model between Swift and SwiftUI appeals to me; perhaps this goes back to my HTML/CSS roots. We’ll see. For the first time in a long time I’m excited about code again, and bringing my designs to reality.

Lovely MacBooks and changing contexts

Choosing my device

I’ve been saving up for a new MacBook since February. Based on the rumors I suspected we’d see a new design for the MacBook Air in the Spring or Summer. So I saved, sold some stuff on Facebook Marketplace, and planned my purchase. Then Apple announced the Air, and it was everything I could have hoped for, minus the lack of an HDR display. I went back and forth on specs, and finally sprung for the 512GB model with 16GB of ram, midnight blue.

I listened to about a dozen hours of podcasts and scoured review sites trying to make sure I was making the right decision. 24GB of ram sounds amazing, but at that point I’m starting to get into MacBook Pro pricing territory.

I woke up at 4:45am on presale day and secured my order by 5:01am. Then I waited. I checked the status of my order a few times a day. No, that’s not true. I checked it many times a day. The wonderful package arrived this Monday morning. I was so excited.

Now, let’s back up for a moment. I bought a MacBook Pro last year, and have absolutely loved it. I went for the M1 Max 14” model and maxed out its specs, other than hard drive. It’s a dream machine and handles everything I throw at it. I don’t even know if I’ve been able to turn on the fans yet. It’s a beautiful device, small enough to take anywhere, and has an amazing screen.

Why I want two computers

The main challenge I had was not any limit to the MacBook Pro — other than its limited battery — but rather an issue with contexts.

For the past three years I’ve pushed to always do something on the side, regardless of what job I have. That’s important. As a product designer I spent a lot of my day expending creative energy to help build fun products. I love it, and I don’t want that to change. However, there comes a time where it’s important to make sure I’m investing some time into things on the side. It might be a hobby project, writing a novel, learning SwiftUI; it doesn’t matter. The point is I need to always do something for myself every day. Practically speaking that means taking 15-60 minutes and putzing away on something.

The challenge I’ve had is a lot of the things I’m interested in require a computer screen. If I try to do something creative, for myself, on the same work computer I’ve used for my day job — well, that’s doable. I’ve done it, I’ve spent most of my career with a single computer. But it’s not fun. It’s not delightful. There’s something about picking up a separate machine, with a just different enough screen, different colored keyboard, slightly modified browser and desktop space. Those things help trick my brain into a new context. It tells me that it’s time to do something fun for myself.

That was the idea behind getting a second computer. This week has been a rather tumultuous one, a fact I may write about later. For the first few days after the MacBook Air’s arrival I didn’t really feel any extra energy to try and enjoy the device. However, by the middle of the week I was pulling it open at the end of the day and spending some time putzing around on it.

This has brought me an unexpected amount of joy. Last night I dove into a SwiftUI course and lost track of time. Over two hours later I came up for air with a tiny app on my iPhone. This is therapeutic. Now, I don’t know if I’ll keep doing the two computer thing forever. Due to some changing circumstances I may have to sell one of them. But if I can I’ll hold onto both and use one to push my work and the other to push my hobbies.

I read about this a year or two ago from an author I admire. He stated that he has two different computers, one for writing and the other for the work of running his business. I love that.