A Career in App Design: Meet Connor & Rui
We caught up with Curve’s App Designer duo; Rui, our User Experience Designer and Connor, our Interaction Designer. They talk us through how they got into the industry, the tools they're using along the way and what to expect in an app design career.
Starting from the beginning… How did you get into app design? Where does that desire come from and how did you obtain the required skills?
I studied Interactive Media Product Design at university. In my final year I wrote a 7000-word blog post on design improvements that could be made to the Monzo app, as I was a big fan of the product. It was mainly nitpicking things of what could have been done better! But when it was published by Medium, heads of design of fintechs got in touch and wanted to meet. I had various interviews and decided to go with Curve.
I studied multimedia design as an undergrad in Portugal. My Father is an engineer and my Mother has always been a creative artist; I wanted to be a programmer or designer as I always felt like I had a bit of both of them. I did my masters in Game Design where I worked in 3D design and realised I actually had more of a passion for UX design. Years later I’d buy a one-way ticket to London to follow this passion, where I found Curve.
It sounds like you both had a pretty clear idea of what you wanted. How did you structure your learning to hone the skills needed to become app designers?
The best teacher I’ve ever had is YouTube. YouTube is amazing to learn - it teaches you everything. There are lots of education subscription models online - in which you pay for hours of video content. However, a lot of the time you learn at a different pace. You can easily get distracted and lose where you are in the structured video series.
A lot of what I've learned, such as very streamlined Sketch workflows, is from YouTube. But it’s also very important to just try to immerse yourself in whatever software you’re using and practice, challenge yourself and strive for improvement.
It's important to just try and immerse yourself in whatever software you're using and practice, challenge yourself and strive for improvement.
I think no matter what you’re trying to learn, it’s all about proactiveness and motivation - whether it’s paying someone to give you this motivation in lessons, or whether you motivate yourself to learn it on your own. It really depends on how determined you are to learn.
No matter what you’re trying to learn, it’s all about proactiveness and motivation.
How do you know which design software to learn about and use?
There is a huge array of design softwares, but it often depends on what you want to accomplish. For me personally though, on a day-to-day basis I use Sketch - you can pretty much use it for anything in design. There are some programs that are better for other things though.
For example, a lot of the time I use Adobe Illustrator to make vector graphics that I want to animate, as it's very compatible with other Adobe products such as After Effects. After I create the animation in After Effects, I then export from After Effects using a third party plugin called Bodymovin, which converts the vectorised animation into a JSON file. Then I go into Xcode, which is what our developers use for iOS development, and I use the Lottie framework (a tool created by Airbnb) in Xcode to implement these vectorised animations, so that they work on a mobile device. I tend to avoid using Photoshop. Not because it isn't useful, but for the majority of the work I do, Sketch mostly covers all ground, and it fits into a much faster workflow.
Moving on from your training and background, what does an App Designer interview look like to get the job? Do you prepare?
Yes! Build a portfolio and be ready to show the projects you have done in the past, even if they are theoretical projects. You want to show your design intuition.
For Curve I showed a combination of all the things I had done project-wise, and talked about various things even outside the app, such as material design, card designs packaging etc.
In regards to the app I spoke about new implementations, different directions you could take it, restructuring information architecture, and pointing out things that are flawed with what currently exists. I tried to show the interviewers completely different ways to what currently existed in terms of UI and function as a concept. A lot of proposed features were things that they had discussed implementing in-house already, which was actually great! It showed alignment of how we thought.
The fact that you can point out design flaws shows that your design intuition is very strong. If nobody says anything about the app then that’s not good - they should be raising the bar as there are things wrong with all apps. There are even design flaws for some of the world’s leading apps; if you have strong design intuition you’ll be able to identify them.
The fact that you can point out design flaws shows that your design intuition is very strong.
Also try and throw something in that your competition won’t think of! I did some extra animation projects, implementing new vector-based animation frameworks - which are becoming very popular at the moment. Some advanced apps are doing vectorised animations which are interactive. Vectors are really cool because they’re really scalable - everything scales from device to device. I showed lots of examples of how we can implement that with Curve, which they had never seen before.
You talk about design intuition; what is it?
I’d describe Design intuition as simply, or not so simply, having the ability to understand what makes a good design. Applying rules and components to see ahead of time of what would and wouldn't work in a design in a scenario where you’d want to perform certain tasks. Even at a visual level, the design consistency, the vocabulary etc. Being able to examine the app and have critical thinking.
Is having design intuition a gifted talent, or can it be taught and learned?
Intuition can definitely be taught - it’s very dependent on practice and experience.
For example, my design intuition for iOS is much more advanced than for Android; this is simply because I’m not an experienced Android user. Because of this I’m taking steps to use Android devices more frequently so that my design intuition will become better.
It’s very important to always develop your design intuition because you want whatever you’re building to follow the same patterns as the operating system that it has been implemented in. In that regard, design intuition is thinking: “Does this fit in the platform? Does it make sense to do this is in this way?”.
Intuition can mostly be taught - practice and experience with using loads of mobile devices and having a real love for using various softwares and platforms. I’ve always been obsessed with mobile platforms, since the age of 9, and I’ve owned every single operating system of iOS since its release.
I’ve always been an Android user. I decided that I needed to know more about iOS, so I got an iPhone to study and familiarise myself with the interface. Now, because I immersed myself in the platform, I feel a lot more comfortable with my iOS design intuition.
And then obviously you got the job with Curve. Now you’re here, how about working with other teams? What are the similarities and differences between your roles and the development teams’ roles?
In the very early phases of implementing a new feature, roles are almost not applicable. Everyone comes up with ideas for the feature, and everybody ends up being a UX/UI designer to some degree. When a set plan is in stone, such as what qualities the feature will have, how it’s going to be usable for a certain graphic, etc., then everybody starts to focus more on their exact roles. It’s up to us to design the feature, then it’s over to the development team to implement the feature, which can be tough for the development team. In all honesty, it’s easier for very good programmers to be good designers than vice versa. Programming is very difficult!
To aim to build a developer’s way of thinking is very important - it causes you to focus. To work in this environment it's important to understand how developers think. Therefore I recommend learning a programming language by reading books. A developer thinks about how it functions, a designer thinks about how it feels.
To aim to build a developer's way of thinking is very important - it causes you to focus.
I’m sure they’ll appreciate that! But design changes rapidly too, stylistically. How do you stay current?
Using competitors' products, doing critical analysis of other products that are on the market - not always necessarily fintech-based, but anything that we could implement in our work from features to information architecture. Also, looking at how creative people do things and analysing how good or bad they are. I also always looks up on art, and love going to national art museums which always keeps me creative.
For me it’s always being open to doing something new. Every month I aim to learn and challenge myself with 3-5 new things. I find it opens up your mind and gives you more perspective. Aside from this I often read articles and newsletters surrounding the industry such as Medium.
Every month I aim to learn and challenge myself with 3-5 new things. I find it opens up your mind and gives you more perspective.
Do you have any role models or famous app designers that you look up to?
It’s great to have role models, but for me personally I struggle to find a specific role model that I can look up to. People are great in certain areas but I have no one who is my main inspiration. There are lots of inspiring people in the industry though, like Steve Krug - I really enjoyed his “Don’t Make Me Think” book. There are lots of professional people out there and people share more and more on the internet. On the other hand, though, there’s way too much information so you need to pick what’s important to read and follow. I definitely think we should be careful with the amount of information available and we should question things as it’s way too easy to share stuff.
And finally, what are your design aspirations for the Curve app?
Create a world of connected finance!
Some of the main aspirations specifically for the app design, are to make the app look extremely identifiable, very cool, and with the ideas we have in place, things will definitely be changing - visually, and functionality-wise.
Hmmm - that’s ominous yet exciting. Thanks for your time guys, sure a lot of would-be designers will find this really helpful!