Sangwoo Han, Senior Product Designer at Microsoft
Sangwoo is a Senior Product Designer at Microsoft, an interaction designer, and a creative technologist. He specializes in developing interaction models and design systems for emerging technologies that come with their unique challenges.
My Daily Work Life as a Product Designer
I commonly get involved in the end-to-end product design cycle, from user research and product planning to establishing long-term design goals and delivering short-term design solutions. It means a lot of great collaboration opportunities with user researchers, product managers, and developers.
I have had the privilege of fully working from home since the beginning of the pandemic. Fortunately, remote collaboration wasn’t an entirely new idea for our team, as we are distributed across three different time zones. It hasn’t been too challenging to adapt to the new work environment, although it does demand that every member of the team should step up and proactively emphasize the communications.
It hasn’t been too challenging to adapt to the new work environment, although it does demand that every member of the team should step up and proactively emphasize the communications.
Another helpful aspect is Microsoft’s Fluent Design System. By streamlining visual design, interaction design, and front-end engineering, the design system meaningfully removes friction and potential errors. I can’t stress enough its importance in the modern product design field, and the way it has been aiding the product design process for us is unprecedentedly powerful.
The Balance Between Being Abstract and Specific
The toughest part of remote workflow has been communicating early-stage design ideas. These abstract thoughts need to be conveyed carefully because being too abstract would prevent you from making any progress, while being too specific would close out any further discussion.
To address this, I have been trying to share my designs much more frequently so that every team member can see the process clearly from the beginning to the end.
Tools that Make Work More Efficient
I would advise that anybody should take some time and invest in getting the workplace set up right for you. It takes trial and error to find out what affects your productivity the most, and it differs from person to person. For example, standing desks have never really worked out for me, unlike other people. Instead, I got a monitor arm to get flexible with it, a wireless keyboard and a mouse to keep my desk clean, and an indoor bike for a quick 10–15 minute workout which is the best productivity boost for me.
What software do you commonly use?
Figma has been an essential tool, considering its cross-platform capability. It’s been much easier to collaborate with team members from other disciplines.
Accessibility is essential at Microsoft, so I use the Contraste app for color contrast checks. I like that it’s very light and quickly accessible.
Also, I use Framer for more advanced, complicated interaction prototypes that I can’t create with Figma’s click-through. I've been using Framer since its early days.
Jaadi Fonseca, Designer at Hive
Jaadi is an interdisciplinary designer with a strategic mindset who is highly interested in merging disciplines such as psychology & visual, digital, and fashion design and tries to find creative, sustainable, and human-centered, solutions
Equipment Helps Me Stay Productive While Working Remotely
The projects I’m involved in expand from creating basic graphic assets for social media and campaigns to designing presentations and cooperating with developers to create websites for our clients.
Luckily, at my job, I was offered to take home all the necessary equipment. Most of my equipment is from Apple - a MacBook Pro with 1TB of Flash Storage, a 2.4 GHz Intel Core i5 processor, and 16 GB of 2133 MHz LPDDR3 memory. I also use a 27” Apple Thunderbolt Display. On top of that, I also have my personal equipment such as a Wacom drawing tablet. Sometimes, I use classic pen and paper for handling design tasks.
My slightly cliché-like tips for coping with challenges at work:
- Be respectful but don't be afraid to offer constructive feedback.
- Stay up to date with tools that can facilitate your workflow.
- Be a team player and understand that people think differently (and that is a good thing).
- Try your best to connect with your team on a human level (beyond just work stuff).
- Be open to feedback.
- Find a balance where you do non-work-related things in your day so that you can keep your mind fresh.
Challenges and Joys of Being Only Designer in the Team
Generally, I believe that the work of a designer is to take complexities and frame them in ways that could make them more accessible to more people; and that in itself is not an easy task. However, going back to the day-to-day stuff, I would say that what is the most challenging is to keep track of all the feedback for different versions as they come from many people through various channels.
I would say that what is the most challenging is to keep track of all the feedback for different versions as they come from many people through various channels
Additionally, as I'm the only designer on the team, I sometimes find it challenging to clearly explain the value of early design intervention in the projects.
The most enjoyable part of my job is being able to deal with a variety of projects with talented and smart people who possess expertise that is very different from mine.
What tools and resources do you usually use?
Illustrator, Photoshop, Indesign, Premiere Pro, After Effects
To check accessibility
Pattern Lab, Atomic Design, Material.io, Maze, and Typewolf
Jonathan Heuser, Design Lead at Appinio
Jonathan leads the Design team at Appinio, being responsible for product and brand design. He is combining design with behavior change principles to positively influence and sustainably change people's behavior
Design Has a Real Business Value
Together with my colleagues, I am involved in both product and brand design – both short- and long-term projects. Short-term initiatives only take us a few days, and long-term ones take us less than a few weeks.
As for our long-term vision, we strive to build a design-driven company by integrating design excellence into every aspect of business. For us, design has a real business value. My ambition is to be on par with large design teams in a few years.
Remote Work Has a Handful of Advantages
Fortunately, we were able to make a perfect, seamless transition from office to remote work at Appinio. We will probably continue to operate in this way even after the pandemic. I never had such a smooth experience before!
I see far more advantages than disadvantages to working remotely. It eliminates many disruptions over an extended amount of time, making it easier for me to reach a flow state and be more productive. When I switch on the ‘do not disturb’ mode, the whole outer world is blocked, and there is nothing left to distract me but myself — something I could not achieve in an office. Also, this format allows us to hire the best design talents, as we are not tied to one office location and can offer them to work remote-only.
When I switch on the ‘do not disturb’ mode, the whole outer world is blocked, and there is nothing left to distract me but myself — something I could not achieve in an office
My Personal Home-Workplace
At Appinio, everyone was already using laptops, Slack, ClickUp, and the Google Suite before the pandemic, so there was no need to adapt, and we didn't end up with a mess of inter-competing tools. On the design team, we additionally run meetings like daily stand-ups and weekly updates on Around, a fantastic new piece of software that makes video meetings more enjoyable by filtering out background noises.
My workplace setup is relatively simple: I handle all my tasks on a MacBook Pro connected to a high-res monitor. I am a big fan of all Apple products, and my current favorite is the noise-canceling AirPods as I can focus on open tabs whilst blocking out all the street noise.
Remote Collaboration Can Be Tricky!
When all your colleagues are spread across different locations, communicating with each other often and much is crucial, but finding the perfect balance between under- and over-communication is often tricky. While our design team is a self-contained unit, we are also deeply integrated with all the other parts of the business simultaneously, so we need to maintain a good overview of the other teams' topics.
Finding the perfect balance between under- and over-communication is often tricky
One tip for mastering collaboration well is to call colleagues more frequently without scheduling a meeting beforehand. It can be highly creative as new ideas often emerge from discussions.
Favorite Design Apps I Can Recommend
On my team, Figma is by far our most preferred everyday design tool
The second tool I can recommend is Vectary, and this one is still an insider's tip. It is like ‘Figma for 3D’. Vectary is web-based and can render photorealistic 3D models with textured materials and depth of field. Highly recommended for designers without much 3D experience as it has a very accessible interface.
The third tool is Framer, because I find the approach of using code directly in the design fascinating and believe that there is still much untapped potential.
Several Unexpected Places to Look for Inspiration
For a designer, it is essential to be inspired by other creative disciplines to get a new perspective on your work and break out of your bubble.
- One of my inspirations is Jacob Collier, a British musical and creative genius who has crafted a unique and distinctive style by blending different musical genres. His music never sounds repetitive but always sounds new, varied, and unexpected. I admire that a lot, as that is something I would love to accomplish as well.
- For anyone interested in design, I highly recommend the documentary portrait of Dieter Rams by Gary Hustwit. Afterward, be sure to read the Jony Ive biography by Leander Kahney, the perfect companion to the Rams documentary.
David Lee, Product Designer at Intuit
Dave is a product designer from Seattle whose main goal is to deliver many smiles with the power of design.
How I Switched to a New Working Lifestyle
At Intuit, I work as a designer on the core TurboTax team. The area I own within the TurboTax experience is called the ‘Horizontals Space’. As the name suggests, it spans across a few different product touchpoints, such as Commerce, the last bit of tax prep (called Finish & File), and parts of what happens after filing (called Post-file). Typically, this means the various projects I'm on can range from quick and short-term (2-3 weeks) to long-term ones (3-5 months).
My remote work story was quite amusing. My first day at Intuit was the first day the company went full remote due to the pandemic. So, even though I moved my entire life down from Seattle to San Diego, I was stuck indoors.
My first day at Intuit was the first day the company went full remote due to the pandemic
In general, Intuit has done a great job helping us switch to a fully remote working lifestyle. Some of the ways they managed to do it include the amazing benefits and stipends, the open-mindedness to the digital tools required to thrive in a remote setting, and the great job the design team has done keeping us close-knit, no matter how far we are from each other.
Being Resourceful is a Key
I'm lucky that Intuit was able to provide everything needed to establish a productive remote work culture and environment. Some of the things I was provided with included a huge external monitor, all the necessary tech peripherals (mouse, keyboard, headphones), and even office furniture (chair, standing desk).
Remote Work = More Freedom + Less Communication
For me, the hardest part about being a fully remote designer is the inability to do something as small as 'observe'. A large part of my learning process is to listen and observe, first. As a new-grad designer on the team, not being able to watch my teammates go about their days, or give presentations, or collaborate, is a big miss.
One first-hand tip to help with this is to be proactive about connecting with the rest of the team. Odds are, they feel the same way! So, be the one to strike up a recurring coffee-chat, or search for a mentor within your company, or receive guidance from teammates and leaders. There aren't any excuses not to take a call when we're all remote, right?
One first-hand tip to help with this is to be proactive about connecting with the rest of the team
The part of my remote working process that I enjoy the most is probably the freedom that comes with this new format. I'm a night owl rather than an early bird. Having this freedom and the ability to cope with tasks whenever I want, sometimes even as late as midnight, has helped me optimize my work process according to my personal style. In a creative job, like being a designer, this optimization allows me to be most creative and sharp exactly when I want to be.
Search For Fresh Ideas In Your Company
A big source of inspiration that I don't see mentioned very often is to look within your organization. The design team at Intuit has done a great job documenting and saving design docs and artifacts from the past and uploading them to the cloud. A lot of my design inspiration at work comes from digging into these artifacts, then connecting and learning from the designers from years past who were handling them.
Outside of that, my daily Muzli scroll helps fuel my appetite for inspiration as well.
To sum it up, our respondents have done very well in switching to remote work, and you can use their advice to streamline your work-from-home process. Lacking tools or equipment? Tell your team leader, and they might supply you with those. Share your ideas and don’t be shy, you’ll be heard for sure!
Have other recommendations for a smooth transition to WFH and hybrid work approach? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your interesting stories about daily life of designers.
Written by Tina P.