This is a collection of personal essays and short form writing on design, culture and my work.
Communication in the future

Over 60 designers and students were invited to Spotify’s office in New York to spend the day brainstorming and designing the future of communication in 2025.

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I was invited to lend a hand as a product designer for the event. As a Founding Member at Roger Talk I spend my time thinking of ways to improve voice communication. So I was excited to brainstorm with the young minds of the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club and make some predictions on upcoming tech communication trends for the next 10 years.

Here’s 10 communication ideas for 2025 that were presented by Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club students during the day:

1. Texting

Texting wasn’t even mentioned as a way of communicating in the future. It doesn’t seem to be part of their future, at least not in its current incarnation.

2. Mobile Hub

They still imagine that mobile devices will play a role in our day-to-day lives, but they will be used as remote controls to help us manage other connected devices.

3. Live @ 360°

They prototyped an amazing device that would enable 360° video communication. The person you would be talking to would see everything you see, live. Facetime on steroids…

4. Senses

In 2025 we will have mastered a way to share senses via mobile devices such as taste and smell. We will be able to share specific senses on demand while communicating. Make sure your breath smells fresh before you pick up :)

5. Wearables

In the future we will wear multiple wearables to share seamlessly with the people we care about. One of the ideas that was presented was a bracelet that would share your current mood to selected people.

6. Robots

They predict that robots will automate the most routine and manual aspects of our lives, but they won’t play a major role in communication. There weren’t any presentations about human looking robots that we could communicate with.

7. Hands-free

In 2025 humans will have little drones following them around. Imagine you are walking and someone calls you, they would be able to see you at different angles. You’ll be able to pick your best selfie angles or look like a crazy person talking to yourself on the street.

8. Pets

Humans will be able to buy robot versions of their pets and bring them along with them on vacation. These pets robots will have sensors that transmit your touch back to your pet at home. Dog lovers 2.0!

9. Holograms

For this upcoming generation, holograms are the coolest tech they could imagine in the next 10 years. The prediction is that holograms will be the next best thing to teleportation.

10. Predicting the future

You remember flying cars? Yes, so you know that predicting the future isn’t a science. Throughout the day we were able to dream up lots of possible ways we might communicate in the next 10 years however, I’m certain there are a lot more areas that can be explored.

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It was amazing to spend a day with the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club and share our ideas. We all came from different backgrounds but in the end we could see a future in which we all live together and communicate with each other.

Thanks to @spotify, Vox, and Hyper Island for organizing the event.

This article was first posted Aug, 2015 on Medium

Q&A With a Product Designer

From 2012 until recently I was a freelance product designer in New York.
I thought I could share some lessons I learned during my time as a free agent. I asked Twitter what I should talk about.

For context — I helped startups, large companies and agencies innovate by applying user-centered design to launch new products. Some great design teams I worked with along the way: Adobe, Spotify, Condé Nast, Warby Parker, and more.

Here are my answers to your questions:

How you made contacts / got into agencies. Negotiating your day rate?
Kate Proulx

New contacts — I used Twitter and events to meet up with other designers. I would reach out and just ask them to grab coffee. Most of these people ended up becoming acquaintances (sometimes friends) and they all worked for New York based startups or agencies. If a contract position opened up they would reach out because we had already established a level of trust.

Negotiating — I was very transparent with my rate from the get-go. When a recruiter or founder asked me what was my daily rate, I calculated my hourly rate times 8 hours. It took me a while to find a number I felt comfortable with but after asking other freelancers I adjusted it. Just ask other designers what they charge and then explain what value you bring for that price. Clients will usually try to get a better deal so you need to be aware that there will be a back and forth and make sure you know your buffer in advance.

How you line up work consecutively. What that pipeline looks like. how many “maybes” turn into actual projects? — Sarah Adams

Lining up work consecutively — it depends on your reputation as a freelancer. Do good work, be professional with clients and they will spread the word for you. Following up with new clients that would reach out was key to finding the next contract for me.

“Maybes” —but you still have to hustle to find new work. On average I would meet 10 new people a month for coffee while I was already in a contract. One of these coffee meetings would end up becoming my next client. I would create a sense of urgency by letting them know that I had other offers, turning “maybes” into contracts.

Long term vs short term contract comparison. — Gavin Wassung

Long term —Any contract that’s more than 3 months. It’s a great way to focus on a specific problem for a while and not worry about lining up other projects. Sometimes you end up really liking the project / team and you want to stay on if possible.

Short term — Agencies tend to want shorter term deals because they’re on a tight deadline. The benefit I found with shorter term contracts is that they’re a great way to test out a team and organization to see if you might want to do some more projects with them. You learn so much from a company the first month working there.

What was the most surprising thing that you encountered? — Adelyn Tam

People— I started contracting to gain more experience as a product designer. I thought that along the way I might meet a mentor that would push me to be better. But surprisingly, the people I learned the most from were my peers — the other young designers and engineers that I worked along side.

Staring dead-eyed, waiting for the subway…

How a side project started a conversation about our dear subway system.

I’ve been living off the F train in New York City for the last 5 years. Like most New Yorkers, not knowing when the next train is arriving drives me crazy. In the spring of 2014 I decided to do something about this issue. I reached out to my good friend Ozzy and asked if he’d be down to build an app that would just tell you when the next train is coming. I ended up designing Tic Toc Transit while I was vacationing in Berlin — I was amazed at the German system, it felt so futuristic compared to our beloved MTA. 🚇

We ended up launching the app and it got picked up on Product Hunt, and a few others like Khoi Vinh and a great article by the New York Times.

But the reality is, like a lot of these articles were pin pointing, an app is not the solution. If riders want to stop being in the dark the MTA needs to put in some serious $$$$ and time. A great article came out recently explaining the intricacy of it.

They wait for as long as it takes, for as long as their patience will allow, because in 2015 there is no app, no screen, not even a scratchy voice over a PA system that can tell them when the train is actually going to arrive. - Article

So for now, I’m removing Tic Toc Transit from the App Store in respect to all the New Yorkers who hustle, every morning, every day waiting for their train.

This was always a side project and our limited resources don’t allow us to keep the experience to the level we hold ourselves to.

We can’t tell you when the next train is coming but I’m glad this started a conversation and I’m hoping one day we can all wait on the platform equally bored knowing we have 5 minutes to wait all together. 😬

Thanks to everyone who sent us feedback and helped along the way.

This project would not have been possible without the help of some awesome people:

Collaborators: Ozzy Haque, Cristina Nieto, David Xia, Victor Coulon.

Spotify: What We Learned About Design Sprints

I recently read Jake Knapp’s latest book, Sprint. I thought I would share some lessons I learned when I ran similar group workshops back when I was a designer at Spotify.

— If you’re leading the sprint, follow your timeline and know what you’re going to say before hand. Don’t wing it!

— Make sure the decision maker believes in the purpose of the sprint.
It’s very frustrating to come up with a great solution and have it shut down.
This tends to happen in bigger companies.

— Let everyone know (involved in the sprint) that any form of sketching is ok. It’s not a design contest. Engineers are usually uncomfortable with drawing, your job is to put them at ease.

— If someone in the group is distracting your timeline don’t point them out specifically, just remind the group as whole to keep going. Group dynamic can be tricky, your job is to keep the group spirit up.

— When it‘s time to do user testing interviews with your prototype, I suggest you find a savvy friend that can help you run them — even more so if you designed or coded the prototype. It’s easy to become attached to your solution and steer the interviewee in your direction.

— Make sure your record the interviews and share them with the rest your team, especially with the people that couldn’t be part of the sprint. The process is also partially about having everyone buy in and sign off on the solution.

You won’t get it right on the first try, but keep at it. Eventually, you’ll have a Sprint process adapted to your team’s needs. Get it right and you’ll find yourself tackling hard problems with ease.

I would love to hear more feedback from designers who’ve run these in small startup teams (less than 15 people). Say hi!

Thoughts on Building a Successful Remote Team

How a group of designers were transformed into one unified Outlook team

At the beginning of 2017, the Outlook design team was based in 3 different offices (Seattle, San Francisco, and New York), using different tools to design, and working on multiple OS platforms (mobile, Mac, web, and Windows). Collaboration among the teams was at all time low. It felt like we were different teams designing different products and that was damaging our user experience.

Around the same time, Benedikt Lehnert joined Outlook as the Design Director and gave us free rein to fix our current situation, knowing that unifying our team would be an immense opportunity.

We focused our efforts during the year on increasing collaboration across teams. We made changes to our processes, pushed ourselves to ship a more consistent experience across all Outlook products, and ultimately finished the year feeling like one team.

Here’s what we learned along the way:

Building a successful remote design team is hard, but not impossible.

Improving our workflow should be as important as shipping the final product.

Designing a consistent product requires everyone to share the same values.

Learning #1 — Building a successful remote design team is hard, but not impossible.

The current Outlook design team was created by merging together a couple acquired teams working on 5 different platforms and based in 3 different offices. Problem was, we didn’t know one another. We worked in different ways and everyone had their own perception of what Outlook should be. Yet, we expected our team to communicate and function properly without putting any effort into it.

We decided to setup regular in-person meetings and calls among the teams. We set up bi-weekly design leads meetings and a monthly all-hands. We also got everyone using Teams for casual conversations in real-time.

We also wanted to bring in more visibility into what each team was working on. At the beginning of the year, a mobile designer and a web designer could both be trying to solve the same issue and not know about the other person’s efforts. To push designers to share and collaborate more, we launched a weekly internal newsletter to shine a spotlight on current projects and set up open design reviews between teams. We also created a new channel in our chat called “Design Daily” to share current work and explorations.

Finally, to share expertise and build empathy among teams, we encouraged designers to get out of their comfort zone and work on platforms they weren’t used to. For example, Andrew spent 3 months designing with the mobile team before taking over his current role as the web lead.\

Learning #2 — Improving our workflow should be as important as shipping the final product.

Increased visibility within the team helped us realize that we had some alignment to work on. Each platform team was using different file storage systems, design tools, and communication standards. How could we aspire to unify Outlook as a product if we couldn’t first unify our processes?

After some trial and error, we found a streamlined toolkit we were all comfortable using. We went from using Photoshop, Illustrator, Sketch, Adobe XD, Dropbox, and local servers to using only Sketch (Yes! we use Macs), OneDrive, and Abstract.

Using the same tools opened up a lot of opportunities and reduced headaches. Sharing and accessing files from other teams became quick and easy. Our projects were now accessible by everyone, making it simple to suggest changes or build new explorations on existing work. In order to avoid wasting too much time digging through files to stay updated on what was going on, we built Wizard, a live online feed of all the latest changes made on Sketch files.

Sharing the same tools and workflow has given us the strong foundation we need to keep improving. Next on our list of improvements, we’re hoping to tackle better integration with our research and data teams as well as more prototyping.

Learning #3 — Designing a consistent product requires everyone to share the same values.

Another challenge for us after bringing the team together and streamlining our workflow was to make the Outlook experience coherent across all our different platforms.

To start, we wanted to bring all our principles, process changes, and resources into one place. That way all designers on the team would have a clear framework to help them solve problems. We built an internal website describing our workflow and laying out the fundamentals of Outlook, from cross-platform design, to colors, typography, and illustration style. It’s packed with resources and easy to update, so we can always keep it relevant to the team. We call it the Outlook Design Playbook.

We also asked one designer per platform to build and maintain their respective UI kits. The kits help us design more efficiently and consistently. They also create a shared vocabulary between designers and engineers — the label for a color or a typestyle are consistent between the design spec and code — and help us bring pixel perfect designs to our production builds.

We still have a lot to do to have Outlook feel coherent across OS platforms—and that’s the exciting part for us. Our team is diverse yet unified with a shared point-of-view, tools, and framework to tackle these upcoming challenges.

What’s next?

This is a continuous effort and it’s everyone’s responsibility in the group to maintain, while still exploring ways to improve, team culture and process. We’re excited to see what this year will bring now that we have these workflows and fundamentals in place.

We are growing our team and looking for talented designers to join us. If this story resonates with you, check out our Product Design positions here.