This article is part of a series of 10 interviews with world-class designers. I’ve interviewed Junior to Senior designers from companies such as IDEO, Dropbox, Visa, Airbnb, Toptal, Shopify and others.
“Questions to your younger self” was the format I used because I believe that it’s easier to give advice to my younger self than to someone else. So, in order to make the life of my interviewees easy, they would just have to give recommendations and advice to their younger selves on what it takes to become a world-class designer and what they should avoid to speed up the process.
Without further ado, meet Andrei Gurgel, Product Designer (UX & UI) at Toptal. Andrei is originally from Brazil. He has developed several interactive interfaces for clients like Nickelodeon, Lucas Arts, Paramount, Sony Pictures, and ACG Research. Inspired by his daily life as a freelancer designer, he has produced content related to design for the UXlab YouTube channel.
Guidione: How would you explain Design to your younger self with one year of work experience?
Andrei: Design is not about aesthetics. Design is discipline that draws on people’s behavior as users of service products to extract insights and results that can enhance a person’s relationship with the world. Be it interacting with some digital application, or using some physical service, the design acts at the beginning and improves the condition of the people, not only solving problems but sometimes potentiating a situation. Design is not aesthetic, the visual is an aspect of design but popularly, people understand design as what is beautiful, which is not entirely true, but we see this in television commercials. This misunderstanding is very wide so people who are starting out in the area tend to have this view on design that in my opinion is wrong. The design is much bigger than that.
Guidione: How would you explain your UX design process to your younger self?
UX for me is a culture, a broad concept that puts the user at the centre of the project’s decisions. The term UX is a term that refers to how people feel when using a service, while they are interacting with something. The term UX is related to a person. I can not project how they will feel, but I can project elements that will evoke a certain feeling in the person — of pleasure, of satisfaction — while he or she is using the products or services that I have created. I see UX as a culture and parts of this culture are things like Interface Design, when we choose the appropriate appearance for a particular product, also part of the interaction design when you are designing the navigation structures of your product and this is even wider. It is still part of UX even when you already have your product and it is already working the support team it has and how this support team behaves toward the user in meeting his expectations. All this contributes to UX.
Guidione: Which mistakes would you tell your younger self to make?
Andrei: Make all possible mistakes. It’s okay to make mistakes. We live in an age when people think wrong it’s wrong to make mistakes, that we should avoid error. Somehow we are taught this. But when you are a designer, it’s through the mistakes you make that you learn what you have to do. You have to change your mindset to be a designer, you have to be open to making mistakes so that you can learn from them, to improve yourself and the products you create. So you do not have to have the right answer right away at first, you can take a chance and see if it works out. It is very important that you take chances.
Guidione: What would you recommend your younger self to focus on?
Andrei: I’d say I was on the right track because I always focused on Design myself. Focus on design, study design, get deeper and deeper, because design will make a big difference in business and in products and people will be increasingly aware of this over the years. See literature, study reliable sources of information, see serious people who are researching interesting things and learn from these people by reading their books and also talking to other, more experienced people. You always learn by doing this. So that’s a good start. When I speak of reliable sources of information I refer to books. Whenever we find books we can always go and see what people are talking about. Classic books from our era, such as Nielsen, Norman and Cooper. And when you start doing that — reading books — you have the advantage of developing a critical census of the future because you have a good foundation.
Guidione: What do you advise your younger self to learn (to get extra skills)?
Andrei: Today we have books that did not exist at that time. Reading books like “Do Not Make Me Think” is super important to get insights. I would also recommend reading about aspects related to usability. To learn what is usability and how to make things simpler. There are already many patterns that allow you to follow and make your work more interesting. And sometimes when you start it’s all very new and sometimes we make simple mistakes like leaving the letters too small and forgetting that there are people who need glasses to read. You stimulate your sensitivity to the other, which is exactly who you are projecting to. Because we are not projecting to ourselves. But one extra thing I would say to myself is, study photography. Photography gives you a visual look of things and how to balance. You have it in a limited frame. Photography is a limited frame of reality and you need to fit the things you want to communicate. You need to balance the photo in a proper way so that the photo makes you feel. You need to tell a story. So there in the picture, you have several elements that you use in your life as a designer.
Guidione: Which books would you encourage your longer self to read?
Andrei: I think Donald Norman is the first thing I would say to anyone. Study Norman, read his books. I think they are very valuable books to learn design in a very broad and conceptual way, it is an awakening. I think that’s a good start.
Guidione: Which people would you advise your younger self to follow?
Andrei: The same people who wrote the books I recommended. Youtube is a very good place to convey knowledge, I follow DesignTeam by Rodrigo Lemes, UX Now by Daniel Furtado. There is also the Flux, the channel of the Israeli Ran Segall, and The Futur, the channel created by Chris Do, which has many good videos about design of business and business design. UX Collective is a great source of information and knowledge too. These are great channels to follow and get informed. In addition, you have my own channel, UX Lab.
Guidione: What would not you tell your younger self?
Andrei: I would tell him not to be distracted by other materials because design has a lot of adherence to other areas. I would not tell myself the things I did and failed. It is important that that person to go through the difficulties. Because it’s important that you build each piece of who you are. Even when I accepted the invitation to become a design agency partner because advertising is somewhat tied to design, then I came to see that it was not quite the way, but even so, it brought me to what I am today, the things that I now know and believe. And the passion I have for design is even greater. So I would not say, do not make such mistakes. I would leave all the mistakes I made to advance.
Guidione: In talking to your younger self, how much of your current success would you attribute to hard work and how much would you attribute to luck?
Andrei: I don’t believe in luck, everything is made up of your passion for your work. When you have passion you do not see the difficulties, they exist, maybe, but they are small jitters and you just go over them, like a machine. From the moment you do not have this passion, the minimal hurdle is almost insurmountable. When you have passion, on the next day you do not even remember the difficulty you had. You just stepped over it.
I hope you enjoyed the interview as much as I did. See you around.
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