These days, it seems like technology has completely taken over the world. Innovation is everybody’s business. Smartphones and mobile apps are a part of our daily lives. According to a TechCrunch article, consumers are spending 85% of their time on their smartphones. More specifically, 84% of their smartphone usage is on non-native App Store apps.
This constant engagement and dependence on apps is what makes Interapt’s design work so important. Our designers have the task of creating and keeping up with always-evolving trends of technology design concepts; and because our designers are currently all women, they also have to make sure their opinions and work are taken seriously in a male-dominated industry.
Marilyn Kallstrom and Cassie Lydon may be a small graphic design team, but they have big projects and their designs have big impact. We asked them a few questions to pick their brain about what it’s like to design for a technology company like Interapt:
Q.What is a normal day like for you?
Marilyn: That’s the best part about my job, there isn’t just a “normal day.” Every day is different, whether it’s a different project to work on, or a new technology to learn about or design for. I’ll spend some days designing a healthcare app where there are certain restrictions and brand standards to keep in mind, also making social media posts for their marketing team, and the next day I’m working on logo concepts and whiteboarding an app design for a cool startup where I have full creative control. Every day is like a mystery grab bag!
Q .What’s the design culture like?
Marilyn: It’s basically awesome. We’re very collaborative and try to break out of what we call our “design lairs” as much as possible. I don’t want to have a one-track mind about everything I do. We like to get/give feedback and critique to help our work meet its full potential. I think collaboration is crucial to design. Our design culture is very laid back, but we are always busting our butts. Sometimes we need a half-day Friday, and other nights we pull design marathons until 2 or 3 AM. Work hard, play hard. Always.
Cassie: It’s a creative culture here. The developers really trust what we do and what we create. For a designer, we build beautiful things and then see them come to life through development. It’s pretty amazing what our entire team is capable of.
Q. What is the most powerful part of your design process?
Marilyn: Research, research, research. Technology is changing by the second. Literally. And with that change, design changes too. It’s really evident in design if something is outdated, even by a few months. Keeping up with design trends related to the evolution of technology is crucial. That’s not saying “Oh, flat design is popular right now so I’ll incorporate that into every project I’m currently doing.” It’s more about knowing your client, knowing the project, knowing your audience, and figuring out the most effective and intuitive way to solve their problems. You have to have a good understanding of what you’re building and how it works in order to design it properly, and to make sure it’s relevant not only now, but into the future too. It’s like making a timeless film–we have to be the George Lucas’s of design (Star Wars metaphor: nailed it).
Cassie: I think it’s the discovery/research part. Designing for technology is new and trends are changing, so I’m alway looking at resources for new designs or new functions I can implement. It’s my favorite task because I go at it thinking the possibilities are endless.
Q.What’s the collaboration like between UX design and UI design?
Marilyn: UX and UI are important, to say the least, when creating effective tech design. UI is more design and visually focused, while UX is more strategically and technically focused. Our jobs require us to be designers of both UX and UI, so there’s quite a bit we have to keep in mind. Starting with UX means research, planning, whiteboarding, prototyping, and testing. Then UI considers factors like graphics, layout, typography, and colors. It’s possible to have one without the other, but doing so would be like leaving the PB or J out of a PB&J–it’s lacking in something and leaves a lot to be desired. Making sure both are considered and well implemented is an aspect of our job that cannot be overlooked.
Cassie: Though UX and UI are two separate things in the design world, we actually wear both hats here. Every day I have to think about how something will function, and then switch right over and think about how it will look. I believe both UI and UX give their own guidelines to one another; they both give and take from the end user, but ultimately the satisfaction of those users is the goal that both are constantly striving for.
Q.What are some of the challenges you face as a small team in a small organization working on big projects?
Marilyn: We have a lot less people to rely on. The important thing is that the people you do have are strong and skilled at what they do. We’re lucky to have a team of rockstars (not literally, I mean it’s not like Dave Grohl is chilling in the Interapt office on the reg, even though we do have some kick-ass musicians in our arsenal). Everyone on our team has to step up and do their part, and be willing to ask for help when they need it. Details can’t be overlooked, which means major focus (lots of coffee) and willingness to contribute (candy bribes).
Cassie: Being on a small team, the challenges I face are having to wear all these different hats every day. But being on a small team also allows me to be extremely involved in projects and makes communication with my team easier. With big projects come big responsibilities, which only makes myself and my team work harder. We really challenge each other to bring our “A” game to the table. I might have a cool idea for this big project, and sometimes I’ll push a developer out of their comfort zone to make good designs happen, in the same way they push me to design with limitations and a pragmatic approach as opposed to an idealistic one.
Q.What’s the process like from designing a new feature idea to when you launch that new feature?
Marilyn: Let’s say we’re designing an app for radio stations, and it’s suggested “Hey wouldn’t it be cool if the user could request songs through the app?!” “Yeah [co-worker], that would be cool!” We then brainstorm exactly how that process would work, how we want it to happen, what it should look like, where it should be located within the app, etc. After brainstorming, we’d have a whiteboard session and map out the flow of that function. Then mockup or prototype the designs. Once those are hashed out and finalized, do full designs. Revise and revise and revise. Finalize those designs, and then send to development. Soon we’ll get a test build from development and test our little hearts out, making adjustments until it works exactly how it should. We’ll have others who are removed from the project test in order to see how they react to it, helping us determine whether it’s easy-to-use and intuitive. Once that’s finished, a final build is released and sent to app stores as an update, and VOILA! You have a tiny (yet useful!) feature added for the public to enjoy!
Q. What is the biggest problem you face and how do you try to overcome it?
Cassie: Not being able to code an entire app myself. Our developers are the bomb.com but the only frustrating thing is that they aren’t designers too! I’ve had to learn that they need some design guidance sometimes. So I’ll occasionally sit with them and they’ll make sure my design eye approves. 😉
Q. What values do you want to see reflected in the designs you create at Interapt?
Marilyn: I want to make sure our design is modern and innovative, but also extremely effective and appropriate. No one cares how cool something is if it doesn’t solve the problem it was created for. It’s easy to overlook design if the product is ineffective or mediocre, and I don’t want people to overlook our designs.
Q. How do you hand off designs to developers?
Marilyn: It’s usually dependent on what the project is and what platform they are using to build the designs you’ve created. Usually it consists of giving them all working files, as well as PNG copies for reference. Style guides are usually created so colors, graphics, and fonts are used appropriately. And then the fun part, sliced elements! I make sure everything they need is in a shared folder and accessible. Then it’s just a big thumbs up and making sure I’m available for any questions or further needs they have as they work to build the product.
Cassie: Mock-ups mock-ups mock-ups! I mock everything up, I mock every function up, I mock every screen up before handing off to developers. I like to be thorough, and they appreciate that.
Q. Do you have any advice on making handoffs smoother?
Marilyn: Make sure you have provided everything the developer could possibly need. And on their side, make sure the developer has laid out exactly what they need, including the format and size of designs. Attention to detail and thinking ahead will save SO much time for both teams
Cassie: The developer needs to be involved in the design process from the beginning. If they were in the whiteboard meeting we had for the project and they contributed an idea for a function, they usually never have questions about designs. I couldn’t imagine handing off designs if the developer didn’t know what they were getting themselves into from the jump.
Q.How do you think your design process differs from other commercial design experiences?
Marilyn: The beauty of working for a smaller agency is the creative freedom you tend to have. I have a lot less people to go through for direction, and mostly get to be my own design boss. So there’s a lot of time saved not waiting on approval after approval, not just internally but from clients as well. We keep things streamlined enough for consistency and efficiency, but there’s a lot of wiggle room when structuring how I want to go about designing a project. Also, when I take on a project I’m pretty much overseeing it from start to finish. I don’t just get one little aspect, I get the whole thing. Which can be a blessing and a curse at times, but you really feel like a proud parent when something you designed is completed and released.
Cassie: The main difference is that I created my own design process. Sometimes it’s a project-based process, where I’m thinking about UI and UX and the same time, researching function, and talking with my co-workers. It’s amazing sometimes where the coolest ideas will come from.