We’re tracking down InVision users inside the world’s most amazing companies to discover their favorite tools, books, methods, and the philosophy behind what makes them so awesome. This week we interviewed Joshua Taylor, a UI Designer at Evernote in Redwood City, CA.
What exactly do you do at Evernote?
I’m a product designer on the product team. Our team gets intermingled with a lot of other teams, so we get to play a lot of different roles and wear many hats. But primarily, I work on the web services as well as on Penultimate. The web services projects cover things like client and marketing pages, and some kind of boring back-end stuff. It’s a small team, so we're all pretty flexible and can adapt to whatever comes our way.
Give us a rundown on how you got into design
I was one of those kids that was always wanting to make stuff, always drawing. Then somewhere in the middle of high school I took a 3D animation class (this was, like, 1997, so 3D animation was fairly new at the time). I was super into it and knew that I really wanted to do it, but I couldn’t go to college for it. I basically just sat through college being really interested in the design world. After I graduated I immediately jumped into doing design – it just seemed like the easy and most natural thing for me to do. Just like everyone else at the time, I started with Flash sites and eventually learned that that was a bad idea and I should be doing something else.
A few years ago, I was living in Salt Lake City working at a company designing web software. I really hated the company so I quit. At the time, my wife was five months pregnant, but I heard about an internship in Berlin with a guy named Erik Spiekermann. He had a really cool agency called Edenspiekermann. He's just a super legit guy – one of the big names and somebody who really knows what’s going on. I was ready for something new so I just thought “screw it.” So I took the internship and moved to Berlin.
I did that for a little while and came back to the states to be there for birth of my daughter. After she was born, I went and got my master's degree in Design and Art Direction in Barcelona. I think a lot of the design world tends to focus on agency and marketing work, so the majority of my learning was based around creating campaigns. I'm glad I have that background, but it's inherently a very different process from product design.
The real value for me in InVision is connecting a variety of different designs and making sure that there is consistency and a common thread that goes through them.
My path has been a bit unique. Every one of these events has led me in this direction – product design is something that I didn’t really know that I wanted to do until I did it. There are so many designers doing really beautiful, gorgeous things and when I look at their work, I know I'm not doing things as aesthetically extravagant. I was always kind of trying to find my place in that. In product development, you have real tangible problems you need to solve. Product design is affecting how people are interacting with the product and I think that’s the kind of thing that I’ve really enjoyed. It is very functional design that affects behavior.
What are the top 3 essentials in your workspace?
- Variability: One of the biggest things for me is variability. I can’t sit in one place all day and expect to get anything done. Even if I'm sitting at my desk, I'm constantly changing the position of it. I like using the standing desk because it allows me to stand up while I think and helps me be creative. I like to walk around a little bit and usually end up pacing.
- Comfort: Another huge factor for me is that I need to feel comfortable and feel like I can kind of settle into the design that I am doing – whether that's having a good chair or nice headphones.
- Technology: I need to have the tools that I need to get the job done. What kills me the most are those moments when I'm on the computer in a flow, going at a really fast pace, running multiple programs... and my computer is throwing a beachball at me. There is nothing more frustrating than that. So, having good equipment is one of the best investments I can make. Evernote has been good with that: They make sure we have whatever it takes to get the job done. Otherwise, I could easily waste an hour a day watching the ball spin. Buying better equipment is definitely worth the investment.
- People: The people that I work with have to be people that I enjoy and am comfortable around. The people you work with are a huge part of the creative process.
How important is your workspace to your creativity?
I know a lot of people that are doing great work and it's not contingent on a great workspace at all. I think those things help and can put me in the right mindset, but at the end of the day, the workspace is not a major contributor. Everybody’s got a different set up. Some of them are awesome and some of them are total crap, but the designers are all doing great work so I don’t think that you can put too much value on something like that. As a designer, you're always trying to make something better. That can include your workspace and what you surround yourself with. It's something we take pride in, just the way we take pride in our work. At the end of the day, it's my own problem if I can’t do good work in a bad workspace, I can't blame anything but myself.
Do you ever work outside the office?
Yeah, I’ve got a little spot at home too. I've converted a closet barely big enough to fit the smallest desk available at IKEA. I have a cinema display and bookshelves above it. It’s just enough space for me. I try to get home at a reasonable time to see my family and then I’ll wait until everybody goes to bed and then start on round two. Because I can't actually fit inside the closet, I kind of shove my head in there and try to get some stuff done. That’s one of the places that I feel I can really get lost in what I am doing. I spend a lot of time there and get in the groove. It's not a traditionally "awesome" workspace, but I’m pretty stoked about it and it works for me. It's probably where I'm the most productive these days. I like feeling enclosed and having the walls around me. Some people would probably be claustrophobic, but I like it.
What do you do when you hit a creative roadblock?
My new motto is just to never stop moving. Working in a place like Evernote, stuff has to ship. You don’t get time to sit around and toil over something. Creative blocks do happen, but you just have to push through it. I am working on something right now that is totally stuck. You just keep going and trying new things.
Whenever I need to be creative, I like to stand up and walk around. Whiteboards help. Sometimes I’ll just stand in front of one with a marker and won't do anything. But there is something about standing in front of this wall and having the ability to write large that helps me focus.
The more complex something gets, the more useful InVision becomes because you can string everything together and start seeing how each page interacts with each other.
Researching and seeing what others are doing is important. I try not to do that too much though because I think there's a subconscious tendency to copy as soon as you start looking at everyone else's stuff. My advice is that if you are going to look at others’ work, look at a ton of them so that there’s enough influences and you can’t distinguish between them. Constantly looking at other people's work has a huge impact on who you are as a designer. Always make sure you're looking at good stuff, because if you are looking at crap work, it’s going to influence you and you are going to start doing crap work. We are all products of our environments, so surround yourself with great things.
What's your favorite part of the design process?
Shipping. I design for people, and getting my work in people's hands is the best part of the process. All the other stuff is fun, that’s what makes me enjoy it, but shipping and completing the job is the reason I'm a designer.
What’s the most frustrating part of the design process?
Shipping something you know is bad. The reality is that we do get creative blocks and we do ship stuff that isn’t ideally what we want. Stuff has to go out the door and sometimes I am not happy with the final product and that kills me. That absolutely kills me. But that’s what it takes to be successful I think. It’s better to be putting yourself out there over and over and over again than to think that you can just wait and wait and one day you’ll ship one amazing thing. It doesn't work that way.
Where does your inspiration come from?
You have to look for inspiration in as many different places as you can. It comes from books, movies, my family, other designers' work, a song, daydreaming, research, sketching, people, relationships, and from understanding what peoples’ needs are and then trying to find a solution for that. Probably the biggest thing that influences my work is really understanding what the problem is. If you're struggling to find a solution, maybe you just don’t truly understand the problem.
How do you know when you’ve achieved an understanding of what the client really wants?
I wish there was a good answer for that. I think it is just more research. We get a lot of feedback from forums, the app stores, Twitter, employees, in-person interviews, and even our families. So we take all of that and then try to synthesize it into what we’d say is the actual problem. Then we'd go back and reiterate it back to some of those people and say, “Is this the right problem?” We do that in lots of ways. Sometimes we just ship them the product and see how they respond. People are very vocal about our product which is a lot of fun. We definitely get both positive and negative feedback and address things accordingly. But I don’t know that you can always rely on what other people say...sometimes it just takes intuition. But remember to always keep asking "Why?"
I don’t think you can ever be 100% certain of success. Even if they tell you that you’ve been successful you don’t know for sure. If success is something that is important to you on that project, then you need to be really clear on what success is. I think people are starting to try to find new metrics that define success and I think some are a bit shallow – like an agency getting a certain amount of tweets. But you gotta go with something. I think one of the reasons I like product design is that the metrics are pretty clear. If I design something and we have an increase in drop-off, I've failed. It’s pretty clear whether or not it’s my fault and there are enough analytics around that we know how successful we’ve been based on a certain metric. That said, you never know about success in the long-term. You never know why people didn’t buy a certain app – There is always the unknown. I think it’s important for every designer to define how they see success. I’m really happy to see that people define success differently because every product should have different metrics for success.
Who do you look up to as a designer?
That’s a dangerous question. I did my internship with Erik Spiekermann. He is a guy that has just been consistent with what he has been doing for years and years and it’s not overly flashy. It’s good, hard, functional work. I think any amount of fame he's had can be accredited to that.
There are so many people that I look up to. There’s people like Cameron Moll and Brad Frost who are talking about some really cool web stuff. I think I look up to anybody that is trying to push their industry forward.
I throw [rough sketches] into a nice flow in InVision and make little hit targets. Then people can verify that those are the screens that we need to build. We don’t want to spend too much time designing something that might not work.
I think increasingly I am looking up to people that are doing great work but aren’t talking about it. Maybe it’s a cop-out, but I look up to our creative director who nobody knows about. Nobody knows that he exists, but he is doing some of the best work.
I am starting to realize that there are a ton of great designers specifically in product design. Look at the apps that you love. There are designers who made them, and most of the time we don’t know who they are. We don't know their names. I have a lot of respect for that because they are doing really cool stuff. A fundamental difference between product design and agency work is that when you are in an agency you have to continue to talk about your work in order to get more work. When you are working in-house on a product team, you don’t. So a lot of people don’t talk about the work they are doing. I think there is value to talking about it, but I really respect the people that are just working and producing and are not interested in getting any amount of recognition for the work that they’ve done.
What kind of music do you listen to?
- I’ve been in a total slump lately. Lately I’ve wanted to go back to like Appalachian Folk music.
- The Kingston Trio. My dad loved them when he was a kid and now I love them too--that kind of like old folk stuff.
- I just got back into Mates of State.
- Little Dragon
- Listener: Wooden Heart
- Pepper Rabbit
- Carolina Chocolate Drops
What’s your beverage of choice?
There is a brewery in Salt Lake City that’s called Epic Brewing Company and they make a Belgian-style ale called Smoked and Oaked and it's fantastic. A Belgian-style ale that's super hickory... it’s about as weird as you think it would be.
How do you present your ideas to the team?
The biggest thing that we are trying to do when we are presenting our ideas is to be clear about what you are presenting. How you present your ideas is almost as important as the design itself. You have to understand who your audience is and what you are trying to communicate. Depending on those things, I have totally different presentations. If I’m talking to another designer, maybe five lines on a piece of paper with an arrow will be enough to communicate my idea because they can see the rest of it. If I’m talking to someone who has absolutely no visual background and no product sense whatsoever, I am going to need to get a lot further along than that. I think it’s still a matter of understanding your audience; so I have a range of presentation styles.
We drop it into InVision and continually tweak the pages until we get it to a place where we know that it’s something that we want to build. Then I'll hand that to a developer and say “Okay, this is what we want to build.”
When I work with web developers, I have a good Photoshop framework that I use and I have a lot of assets in there so I can build a simple page in just a few minutes and then they’ve got the framework. They already have them spec'ed out, and have all the colors, so what I am communicating is not an entire design. Wasting my time trying to communicate that stuff is futile for web developers. I think part of communicating your ideas effectively is not communicating stuff that doesn’t need to be communicated. If they already understand it then there is no need.
At the end of the complexity spectrum is full-on interactive mock ups. There is a variety of ways of doing that. Definitely InVision is one of the tools we have been using in our team to communicate how certain designs are correlated to each other. That’s the thing that InVision offers that I really like. If it's just a static design there’s a ton of different tools to use to communicate that; I can save out and send it in email. The real value for me in InVision is connecting a variety of different designs and making sure that there is consistency and a common thread that goes through them. Maybe that’s a registration flow in making sure that your communication is consistent and your imagery is consistent. Maybe it’s making sure that they actually functionally work, and we're not asking for duplicate information. So the more complex something gets, the more useful InVision becomes because you can string everything together and start seeing how each page interacts with each other.
How does InVision help you in your design process?
It's all about understanding who you are communicating with. A lot of the times I like to start with a really rough sketch. Kind of throw them into a nice flow in InVision and make little hit targets and then people can verify that those are the screens that we need to build. That’s the first round of sign-offs. We don’t want to spend too much time designing something that might not work.
For the second round, we drop it into InVision and continually tweak the pages until we get it to a place where we know that it’s something that we want to build. Then I'll hand that to a developer and say “Okay, this is what we want to build.”
How important is collaborating with other designers?
Working with other designers is a lot of the reason why I like doing what I do. I think design is inherently about other people – involving others in the process is extremely important. I think maybe that’s the thing that separates design and art for me. Art is something that one person can do, it’s their voice. Design is much more collaborative.
How do you define great design?
Great design makes people feel like you just gave them something. I definitely think great design is about solving problems, but if you are so functional about it, people won't care. Great design is both functional and emotive. You have to do something that makes them excited about this solution that you’ve just come up with.
What makes a great designer?
Curiosity. Someone who just keeps asking questions. They have a different perspective on things and they are the ones gathering all of this information. They’re the ones that are getting the whole picture. I think a lot of designers will ask all the right questions but then they don’t produce. So they are great at the theory of design, and they have a lot of great information but they are not making anything. So I wouldn’t say that they are great designers, maybe they are great design commentators. In order to be a great designer, you have to take all of the curiosity and then apply it.