You moved from Gran Canaria to Copenhagen for a new job. How did this change impact your life?
Gran Canaria is an island in the west coast of Africa. It’s a really small place but since it’s part of Spain we are pretty connected. It is actually a big destination for digital nomads and it has turned into a tech hub. Moving to Denmark was easy, I had already connected with Danish tech people while I was in the Canary Islands. Denmark is welcoming and full of opportunities for developers, designers and everyone in tech in general.
What are the differences between living in Copenhagen and Gran Canaria then?
I think from a general point of view…it’s the weather. It’s really warm all year around in the Canary Islands. And Denmark… well, we know about Denmark — rain. Professionally, I think it’s a completely different world. The amount of trust that Danish companies have in their employees is incredible. You’re responsible to do your best but in return you have a company with an environment that always puts people first. Design culture is rich and there’s always events, meetups and a lot of stuff going on.
How do you test your ideas?
Our culture at GAN is pretty simple. We just build a prototype as fast as possible. If we get an idea, we build it. We test it and we do it again and again until we are happy.
When I say “we prototype”, it can be anything from a paper prototype, a blackboard sketch or a high-fidelity prototype in UXPin. The latter is what I’ve been doing most to quickly validate our ideas. Build high-fidelity and put it in front of our customers. Stay curious and iterate. High fidelity prototypes become effortless when you already put effort in building a good library of resources.
I’ve read that you teach design. I’m a lecturer myself. Can you tell more about it? And what is your approach to people who are new to design?
I have been teaching for two years at University. I had Interaction Design classes with students from Product Design Engineering. There were two teachers teaching this class. The goal was to have a prototype of a product after 4 months of lectures.
The approach was to allow students to ideate a product and build an HTML/CSS prototype. Before we even start building, we guided them through mentoring sessions during which we explored sketching, wireframing, research. Though superficial, it was also a way to broaden their view of what design is about.
When I meet people who are curious about design I often tell them to look around. Everything around us has a purpose. I tell them that design is a tool to solve problems and probably everyone has a designer in them, who can come out thanks to proper training. I’m a big believer in just getting it done and learning from whatever outcome you get.
How do you balance work and private life? I see on your blog that you take a lot of photos.
I consider myself really, really lucky. But I also like to think that in order to be lucky, I’ve put a lot of hours (and still do it) into studying, working and making meaningful connections. My work is truly pleasurable. I don’t feel like going to the office or getting work done is bothering me. Sometimes it’s more challenging than others but I enjoy it.
Doing something you love makes you really efficient and skilled at it. So I always find myself with enough time to enjoy my other hobbies too: photography, traveling and video games. Denmark has also been contributing to this mindset. Here your personal wellness is the most important thing. Danes understand that to do a good job, you need to have a happy life.
If you haven’t heard about it, please read about the Danish idea — HYGGE: https://www.countryliving.com/life/a41187/what-is-hygge-things-to-know-about-the-danish-lifestyle-trend/
What is your skillset? Do you use coding in your daily work?
In my previous job (gambling, lotteries…) I use to code every day. Almost to a point where I felt like I was moving away from the position of a Designer.
In my current position I don’t code. However, coding is always there, it’s always present in what I do at work. Discussions with the developers happen mostly in code. The fact that I can understand how the designs will be implemented makes everything more realistic.
Some of the skills I’ve gotten better at are prototyping, research, synthesizing complex UI and, for me, the most important — listening and admitting that making mistakes is totally fine.
Where do you go to get inspired?
Inspiration for our enterprise tool can come from anywhere. But I find it tough to specifically find inspiration for our product so I try to abstract whatever functionality we are working on to a point where I can draw inspiration from totally unexpected places.
What has helped me for general inspiration is Japanese minimalistic design and philosophy. I’d really encourage to apply the idea of wabisabi into our digital world. Wabisabi is the idea of accepting that beauty can also happen as a consequence of imperfection. I’ve suffered from trying to be perfect. Perfectionism is almost like being sick. The Japanese culture has been a great inspiration to move forward.
Other sources of inspiration is the UI of video games. “ Destiny” has the best UI I’ve ever seen in a digital product.
What are the challenges of working on an enterprise solution?
The biggest challenge is the fact that you are not designing for a specific user. You’re designing a product for an entire organization. It means that the users can’t just leave the product anytime.This makes me feel very responsible. I need to design a product that make employees life suck a little less and so that they can move on and do what matters to them.
Another big challenge is how little access to competitors you have. There’s a lot of secrecy so benchmarking can be hell. Finally, I think that the biggest challenge of enterprise products is how difficult it is to create empathy with the product. In my case, compliance software is something I never heard about before so it was hard to get in the flow. However, that also made me unbiased.
What was the most challenging project at your work and why? How did it go? What did you learn?
So far, the most challenging project has been designing a tool that is flexible enough to cater for a variety of use cases. I think there’s a challenge in creating something than can be so flexible. Flexibility is cool if the users know what they are doing. Otherwise it’s just a hot mess.
My biggest takeaway was simple — let’s make it flexible but let’s also protect users from themselves and guide them. Imagine that users could pick any color for the text in their emails. If we let people with zero sense of taste pick the color, they would pick anything. Instead, we can give them a hint at the color palette that is safe and has enough contrast for reading.
I’m a new graduate entering into a job that involves a good bit of prototyping apps (mostly programming). How do you recommend making a shift from a job that’s mostly programming to an interaction design/prototyping job?
I think you already show a great skill in having a programming background. You will be able to build prototypes with realistic interactions. If you feel comfortable enough, I’d suggest that you use your programming skills to build browser prototypes. This will make the transition and handover to developers very easy.
Good luck and congrats!
Are you an extrovert or an introvert? How do you cope with other personalities in your work?
I think I can be shy but I’m an extrovert. There’s something about showing who you are that makes me feel very excited. In the past, I’ve been in environments where I couldn’t be 100% myself. There was a part of me that I had to leave behind when entering the workspace, but that has changed and I am happy about it.
I’m easy going when it comes to colleagues. I take my time to see what other members of the team are like and just adapt.
“Leave your ego at the door”
— is something I’ve been trying to follow for a while.
What kind of project is your “dream project”?
I’m currently working in a project where I feel that I can have a big impact on society by reducing corruption in the companies.
However, I would like to apply my skills to a project where I can have an impact on the health industry. I’ve been doing some personal projects on supporting organizations that fight HIV. I’ve also helped LGTBQ+ with communication or small interaction projects. I want to focus more on this type of projects later in my career. The fact that I can keep sharing my knowledge and keep learning is somewhat of a dream project too.
Ramsés Cabello, we have 1 minute left and I think I asked all the questions, but I’ve got one more. What would be the one thing you would like to share to the fellow designers on Product Tribes?
Stay really humble. Listen to the people you’re working with and do not be afraid to make any mistakes. I’ve suffered from not doing these things in the past and I can tell you that life is just much simpler than that.
And please, read: Ruined by Design by Mike Monteiro.
Thanks for all the questions it was amazing to have you!