How did you find your passion for design? My design career actually started in my old life, when I was playing in a punk rock band. Spoiler alert: playing guitar in a punk band won’t make you rich, and I needed to make some money to survive when I wasn’t touring. Having gloriously flunked art school a few years prior, I apparently still had enough creative “qualifications” to wrangle a job at my band’s record label, where I designed record sleeves and built PHP websites for other bands. After failing miserably at becoming a professional rockstar and realizing that it wasn’t even all that it was cracked up to be, I went back to design school and fell in love with design and illustration.
How does your background as a punk rock musician inform the work you do today? Punk rock is all about challenging the status quo, and the same is true of design. A designer—at least a good one—needs to be the biggest pain in the ass in the room. Good designers need to question every assumption, challenge anything a client says is “unchangeable” and never be afraid to throw everything out. Most of all, if people are assholes to them or their team, they need to be unafraid to tell them to go fuck themselves.
What are the top mistakes you see brands making when it comes to customer experience (CX)? In some ways, CX has become a buzzword for the traditional creative industry trying to play catch-up to tech companies that actually put their users’ needs first. Traditional creative shops have had difficulty pulling off truly user-centered experiences because their business models are built around speed, pitching, high turnover and flashy results. The reality is that the process of building any user-centered experience is slow, tedious and often boring to those used to the fast pace of the traditional ad world. It involves months of research, persona development, customer journey mapping, testing, prototyping, iteration, more testing, more prototyping, more iteration—you get the picture. Once you actually get into production, the process of building a great product takes a long time. We’ve had digital projects run for three or four years. Traditional creative agencies simply aren’t built to work on projects of that length. They have trouble keeping creative staff for more than a couple of years, let alone five.
When’s the last time you enjoyed an exceptional CX? A recent Austrian Airlines transatlantic flight on the way back from Cannes. Even if you’re not in business class, Austrian Airlines’ on-board experience is filled with tiny touches of delightful micromoments, like the red-and-white blankets and the authentic Austrian food. Even the available beverages are all from Austrian brands. The whole experience is a master class in CX. Remember: nobody really gives a shit about your big ad campaign that brags about your brand; users care about the tiny details that make a difference to them. If a brand can deliver delight and value in the tiny micromoments, it won’t go far wrong.
Is branding moving in a multisensory direction? When it comes to branding, the notion of the logo as the main brand mark is becoming increasingly irrelevant. In today’s world, a brand mark is not necessarily even visual. It might be a gesture. It might be a sound, like Alexa and Siri. Or it might even be a smell—for example, take a look at the work of scent recognition technology company Nanoscent. Especially when it comes to digital products, “microexperiences” are the touchpoints that truly differentiate one brand from the next.
What industry interests you right now? I was an avid train nerd as a kid—I even had a whole room dedicated to a massive train set with more than 50 individual trains. So, I’ve always had a fascination with transportation. And right now, the transportation industry as a whole is in the middle of the biggest revolution since the invention of the automobile. Autonomous vehicles, the disruption of traditional services, the privatization of space travel—without a doubt, transportation is one of the most exciting industries on the planet right now.
Mark my words: air travel is next to be disrupted. Everyone hates every facet of the experience, from the two-hour security lines to the cramped seating to the shitty food. It’s awful, but the traditional players don’t seem to realize that it’s only a matter of time until a private investor with a shitload of cash comes in and revolutionizes the whole industry. Remember the taxi industry, which swore it would never be disrupted by a little tech startup? Yeah, that.
What are the necessary skills that a designer should possess if she wants to be a generalist today? I’m genuinely worried about the trend of designers starting their careers at tech companies, where they are—in many cases—exposed to a very limited set of experiences as they work on a very small feature of a product. For all their madness, agencies are probably the best training ground for young talent. At agencies, designers get to try out a wide variety of projects, clients and styles and use a wide range of skills. Sure, they need to eventually move on, but variety is key in the early stages of a career. As the role of design grows in tech companies, I’m interested to see how they build design cultures that foster learning for young designers.
How do designers balance personalization and trust in their work? Honestly, I’m not sure. As a designer primarily working in building digital products rather than creating ad campaigns, I don’t come across the “creep line” in my day-to-day work. But it’s a good question for all designers. We are given an incredible amount of power to shape perception and experiences, and we all have a responsibility to do no harm—whether we like it or not.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you were starting out? Stop worrying about finding a “style” or being unique. Finding your voice as a designer will come with two things: time, and lots and lots of practice. Don’t overthink it—experiment with lots of different styles, work on as many projects as you can and put in the hours. You heard that “10,000 hours to learn your craft” bullshit? Well, actually, it’s true. There’s no shortcut.