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Ask Spotify Design 02

December 2020

Article

Spotify Design Team
Sofi Salazar

Once again, Spotify Designers have assembled to share their perspective on your design- and work-related questions. Featuring final flourishes from guest illustrator, Sofi Salazar, welcome to the second edition of our advice column: Ask Spotify Design.

How do you define how much time to spend working on a feature?

It’s almost impossible to know the exact amount of time you should spend on a feature. Some features can be spun up and validated in a day, whilst others may take a year — or longer! — to reach a minimum viable product. 

Also, some features are never “finished”. The performance of such features will always be assessed against an evolving goal, and the feature’s mechanics will be optimized continuously to maintain or improve its performance. That said, if the aim is to have a rough idea of how long to spend working on something, the following questions are usually a good place to start:

  • What is the feature trying to achieve, or “the goal”?

  • How familiar am I with the domain?

  • How will the feature be evaluated?

  • How quickly can the feature be evaluated and iterated?

  • What is the deadline and overall scope?

  • What else am I working on?

Before working on any feature, I always try to have a good understanding of the overall goal, because knowing the intended value we’re trying to create often influences the amount of time required. Also, being familiar with the domain can provide some flexibility; having minimal or no knowledge of the domain may require more time to get up to speed. 

Then, I try to understand how the feature performance will be evaluated, and the methods required. For example, if my plan is to measure performance between old and new via A/B testing, then the time required to run those tests will need to be factored in. 

Next, in order to plan my time effectively, it helps to have a deadline or something to that effect to work towards. Having such a constraint enables me to form an immediate viewpoint on the proposed scope, and an initial timeframe to work with. 

Finally, I usually review the requirements of other projects I’m working on in order to determine a realistic time allocation to the new feature.

Product owners, the product roadmap, the team delivery strategy (or the delivery framework adopted by the squad) can also drive “time spent” on features. However long you decide to spend on a feature, it’s important to get features validated by users as soon as possible. Spending a lot of time working on a feature has its benefits, but requirements rarely keep their original shape. It can be more valuable and efficient to iterate quickly and maintain a regular feedback loop.

–Stephen Sarpong, Senior Product Designer

How do I get started in UI design?

I started off in UI design by failing miserably to get a design job after I graduated from an Industrial Design degree during a recession. I swore to never open SolidWorks again (still true) and ended up working as an HR admin for an online gaming company. One day I was chatting to one of the UX/UI designers there about what they do, and it sounded like she was describing my ideal job. The following year I signed up for a Masters in Interactive Media at UAL London. 

After graduating, and with a folio of my masters projects, I got a job at a small agency, where I was one of the only UX designers in the London office. I worked on TV UIs, mobile apps, in-flight entertainment systems, and apps for games consoles. It was fast-paced, incredibly creative, but on the flip side they were some of the most stressful and exhausting days of my life, with late nights and Twix bars for dinner — good times! BUT... by the time I decided to go for in-house roles three years later, I had a portfolio of varied projects I was super proud of, and that helped me join companies I always dreamed about working for — including Spotify! 

For anyone new to UI design: don’t give up on your dreams (especially in these uncertain times) and when you do get that first job, try and build as much variety as possible into the projects you end up working on. That’ll help you find out what areas of UX/UI design you’re interested in, and where your core strengths lie. This will ultimately help you build out your “T shape” — which is when you have a breadth of design capabilities and have depth in one particular design skill. For example, maybe you’re very proficient at core UX, design strategy, and prototyping, but you excel at visual design. Companies are always looking for a mix of designers with different depths to complement their teams, so whatever you excel at, there will be opportunities for you. 

My final piece of advice would be to follow the good and interesting work first, and the money will come later. This was one of the best pieces of advice I was given early in my career. But if you manage to do both at the same time, you are clearly on the path to great things already! 

–Susan Walsh, Senior Product Designer 

What do you do when you have to work on a product or client that doesn't align with your values? 

Being able to say no to work that doesn’t agree with your values is a privilege that not everyone can afford. 

I have worked with companies with questionable values in the past. While I did need the money at the time, looking back, I feel like compromising my values wasn’t worth it. 

I think it’s a tough choice to make that nobody should be judged for. 

That being said, if you find yourself working on such a project, it’s important to not beat yourself up. If you can, take space to voice your concerns or distance yourself from the project. But in the end, you are still providing a service, so if you agree to work on something, give it your best.

–Nicole Michaelis, UX Writer

How do you know when you're ready to step up to the next level in your career as a junior designer? 

I think you’ll know you’re ready to step up when you’re ready for new challenges and you feel confident to take them on. This means taking on new responsibilities and more complex problem spaces. Don’t wait to be asked; proactively seek out opportunities and start demonstrating what you can bring. If you’re comfortable with this, you’re ready. And if you’re not sure, be intentional and start planning for it.

If you’re a junior designer, I would ask yourself these questions:

Am I identifying problems to solve?

Many junior designers deliver design work from a brief or from specific requirements. But as you progress, you should identify problems to solve. You should come up with the brief and the requirements, or at least be part of formulating them. Bring your own ideas to the table.

Am I expanding my knowledge to inform decisions?

Part of moving to the next level is starting to expand your knowledge to inform your design work. You need to identify whether insights are required, or know-how technical limitations will affect your output. This doesn’t mean you need to become a user researcher or start coding, but you should be willing to gather knowledge from people with that expertise.

Am I communicating regularly with confidence?

You should be presenting your work regularly, and to audiences across different disciplines. It’s important to communicate your work confidently, give strong recommendations for why particular concepts are best, and say why you discarded certain designs. It’s one thing to show many design options, but it’s much more impactful if you can articulate which direction to pursue.

–Enrica Wong, Senior Design Manager

Credits

Spotify Design Team

We're a cross-disciplinary team of people who love to create great experiences and make meaningful connections between listeners and creators.

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Sofi Salazar

Illustrator

Sofi is an illustrator, tropical creature and nomad. Her work is inspired by the colorful and vibrant Latino culture she's a part of.

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