The designer of digital products
How to recognize a good designer? Which processes to adopt? How to make designers work well with developers? We talk about our experience chatting with Matteo Montolli, partner and Design Director of Moze.
Sergio Panagia: Welcome to the Moze Podcast, a space for dialogue and technical insight into the development of new digital products. I’m Sergio, partner of the studio, and with me today is Matteo, partner and Design Director at Moze.
Matteo Montolli: Hello Sergio and hello everyone.
Sergio: Today we are talking about designers and organizational processes of companies that employ interface designers for digital products. Everyone is looking for good designers, not only the purely tech companies, but also the traditional ones that are now trying to exploit the digital channel. Finding these designers, however, is not enough: the right processes must be put in place to make them part of an effective digital product development cycle, and they must also be able to collaborate successfully with other people in the team
Matteo, how do you find and recognise a good designer? What are their characteristics?
Matteo: Well, it definitely depends a lot on the type of figure you are looking for. It’s not at all easy to find good designers, but luckily the market is evolving a lot and I think that nowadays you can find more and more well-trained profiles, who are more prepared, who know the methodologies well, who know the tools well, who have already had good experience. First of all, I would say that in my opinion some soft skills are needed, which for me are fundamental when choosing a designer,
Above all: to find people who have a well-controlled ego, I would say, because designers tend to focus a little too much attention on themselves. Instead, it would be necessary to find people who are also capable of working as much as possible in a team, of challenging themselves, of not holding the pretence of being the best designer in the world and having the most brilliant career. People who want to get involved and design products that can truly be useful to people.
Sergio: Yes, an arduous challenge in times when we are all a bit of an entrepreneur ourselves but being able to work with others certainly also means giving up a bit of our own ego.
Matteo: Of course, and consequently not to be overly touchy and zealous about one’s own work, but rather to have that constant drive to try to increasingly question what one does, what one plans…
Another fundamental skill, especially when working in the context of UX, UI design, is to be a great lover of technology: to design software you have to love software, you have to use it, you have to be passionate about interfaces. Unfortunately, this is not taken for granted.
I also think it’s important to be very persistent in your work, people who really like to solve problems, to bang your head against the various problems all the time in order to solve them, to find the right way and the easiest way, the most effective way.
And finally, one thing that has always struck me is the ability to be a bit of a Robin Hood… I would use this term… almost knowing how to steal in the right way, without claiming to be inventors of new solutions, but having the ability to adapt similar solutions to different markets, without wanting to be creative people who solve problems with total innovation but knowing how to take the good things from those who have already done it.
Sergio: Knowing where to look.
Matteo: Of course, this is certainly fundamental. Finally, I would say one last, somewhat atypical characteristic, which I am putting on the table today: I have discovered over time that being a bit anxious is also a very good characteristic. This is always considered to be almost a weakness, so one tries to fight the anxiety, but sometimes it can also be that push for a person to do better, to never be satisfied. That strength to be able to give more, here.
Sergio: In short, if a designer candidate is a little anxious, that’s a good sign.
Matteo: In my opinion yes, in my opinion yes.
Sergio: Good, good. Listen, let’s talk about tools, processes… Over the years there has been a lot of talk, a lot, perhaps too much, about Design Thinking, research, interviews with users. At Moze, we took a rather peculiar path, we initially embraced the philosophical Design Sprint, which is a process invented by Jake Knapp at Google Ventures to validate a business idea in five days, from understanding to prototype and user testing. We have also applied it in a rather orthodox way, only to discover that this tool is in some cases very effective, in some cases a little less so. Then we found our own way of doing things, our way of working. Can you tell us more about how this transition took place?
Matteo: Ok, I’ll start by making a brief introduction, by saying that I am not a great supporter of methodologies and tools, but I certainly consider them useful to define a path, to direct, to find, let’s say, the right way to simplify the great complexity that is the world, because, it seems many times that users think in a linear way and act in a linear way but… not at all. The user is chaos by definition, so it is always very difficult to have the right tool, the one that solves all problems. Of course, the tools help and I think failure is the real key, the real driver to find the right tools. The more you fail, the more you learn and find the right methodology and tool for each situation, for each client, for each project, because they are always different, and you can’t just blindly apply a methodology to everything you do, but you always have to find the right key to be able to design at your best.
Sergio: Yes, let’s say that beyond the process applied (the prototyping and validation phase with users, whether it be Design Sprint or other, is certainly useful) then, if we really want to talk about validation, the product has to be created, and at that point the developers come into play. Designers and developers often don’t talk to each other. It is not easy to organise the work to make them effective. In your opinion, what is a team that integrates all development components well, from design to programming, look like?
Matteo: Too often, from a more traditional perspective, there is a tendency to separate the world of design from that of implementation, as if they were two distinct silos. When dealing with a technological product, however, they cannot be clearly separated. Our attempt at Moze has always been to create a team where design and development are two parts of the same process, the same approach, the same work, and not to separate them. A process where the developer is not just an executor of what the designer has designed, but also becomes a designer, trying to find the best, simplest and most technologically effective solution. I believe that, when designing a product, there is a real need to combine the business, design and technological implementation aspects. The teams should be more united, more diverse, perhaps fewer designers working with each other but more designers and developers working together to find the right solutions, including through co-design methodologies.
Sergio: Yes, in such a way that the concept is already defined in advance, taking into account the technological complexities and the right tools to be used.
Sergio: Instead of doing it later, passing the designer’s work (the layouts) on to the developer in their little room who is in charge of programming the software.
Listen, design and development projects entail non-trivial challenges for the client when dealing with a studio or agency. What skills and roles do you think a company using a firm or agency should employ to manage a supplier effectively?
Matteo: Well, it’s obviously important to have people dedicated to a specific project, people who, if we are talking about technological projects, understand what technology is, people who have a fairly technical background. In my opinion, it is important. Above all, they should know about digital, they should also know the limits, the difficulties, what it means to be able to put a digital product on the market, what rules of the game have to be followed. The other important element, I think, is to build teams that are not too big, that are very focused, where not everyone is involved, but where people who can contribute to the project are included, if necessary, while ensuring that there are not too many voices and that you can be very focused on the project.
Sergio: That there aren’t too many people to agree.
Matteo: Absolutely. Leave politics aside for a while and focus as much as possible on doing.
Sergio: Good. Today, together with Matteo, we talked about the characteristics of good designers, how to recognise a good designer. We talked about how to employ tools and processes for the successful design of a digital product, and we talked about the roles within the company that are useful for managing and running a project successfully. If you have any suggestions and experiences you want to share, write us from mozestudio.com.
Matteo: Thank you, Sergio.