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Ask Spotify Design 05

October 2021


Article credits
Spotify Design Team

Spotify Designers are once again answering the call. Here, we’ve assembled a collection of our community’s thoughtful answers to your questions about creativity, ways of working, and navigating a career in design — topped off with a little colour in the form of portraits by designer, Simon Child. Venture on for the next installment of Ask Spotify Design.

How do you know when your design is ready?

While there might be some stages a design needs to go through (e.g., approval from other teams, user testing, etc.), there’s not really a perfect point where a design is ready and complete, because it’s always improving and changing! 

Setting yourself up with the expectation that everything needs to look and feel perfect before you can hand it off will slow your team down (or worse, block them from building something because they’re waiting on you).

Instead of handing off the picture-perfect ready design, we usually try to break it up into a few different MVPs. Using an iterative approach on design gives you time to build out your ideal vision while testing functionality on the earlier MVPs. In fact, the earlier you can test basic wireframes, the more insight you’ll get that can guide your final designs.

And even when it feels like everything is perfect, final, ready to be shipped… that urge to tweak the little things will never go away. You’ll be laying in bed at 3 am, wide awake, and still thinking about that one font decision — it’s the curse of being a designer :’)

— Rosie Maharjan, Associate Product Designer

What do you look for when hiring early-career designers? 

When hiring early-career designers I take a holistic approach, which means not only looking at their degree or studies, or a pixel perfect portfolio. I also look for their potential, behavior, skills and more general things that could make a great colleague to work with. 

Things like curiosity and eagerness to learn, collaboration, proactiveness, openness to receive feedback, etc. The good thing about hiring early-career designers is the great work ethic, value for diversity, and advanced knowledge of technology they bring to teams. 

I also try to have clear communication and clear expectations, that way we can plan things like career growth and learn together what path is the one that makes the most sense when we start to work together. 

— Pilar Serna, Senior Design Manager

What’s the best way to transition from another career to design?

I see this as 5 phases:

1. Identify Red Flags

2. Assess Gaps

3. Acquire Skills

4. Networking

5. The Hustle

1. Identify Red Flags

The first step to transitioning careers is understanding why you are transitioning. Assessing what didn't work for you and why you weren’t able to thrive or feel fulfilled in your prior career is the key to success in your design career. It’ll help identify some red flags or deal-breakers. 

For example, say you are switching from Engineering to Product Design because you didn’t like the hours in front of the screen to code, becoming a front end designer might not be the best fit for you. 

I transitioned from recording engineering, where I was working 48 hours straight and at the whim of the artist/producer schedule. I knew I wanted more flexibility and stability in my hours but still wanted to be in a creative career.

2. Assess Gaps

Next, you need to identify the kind of designer you want to be and the skills you need to acquire for that specific role. Design has become a huge domain with many sub-careers. Research by talking to other designers and finding out what they do in their day-to-day role, going to meetups for design, perform Google searches, and go to common hallmark sites like Nielson Norman Group, IDEO, Smashing Magazine, Medium. Find out what the different specialities are and where you have an affinity to one, e.g. interaction design, user research, UX design, UI design, front end design, service design, are just some of the specialities. 

Product design is a holistic field and tends to be more about developing products. Maybe you are an illustrator and thrive in the artistic part of design, but do not want to think about product development or research, then visual design and not product design is the way to go.

3. Acquire Skills

Determine what skills you may have that can transfer to that role. What I did early on was a Linkedin and/or Glassdoor search for the role I wanted, (“UX designer”) and looked at the job postings for those roles, and then I cross-referenced with profiles of people in that role. That gave me a Venn of where I needed to focus and if I had those skills or not. This is when one needs to upskill, upskill, upskill! Do whatever you can to acquire those skills you are lacking. There are so many great online design courses and boot camps, tutorials, vocation schools, masters programs and even apprenticeship work. There are so many resources out there for design learning, so it shouldn’t be a blocker.

4. Networking

Mentors and meetups are also key in this phase. Meeting people, networking and learning about the field of design and the role you are transitioning to is key to gaining the language and building the skills you need, along with traditional learning. Let people know you are new to design. The design community at large is such a giving and pay-it-forward one.

5. The Hustle

Finally, the next phase is the most important…it’s all about the hustle. Do what you can to put the learnings into an artifact to showcase your skills. Start building your portfolio. Most employers will need a portfolio but how do you get hired if you don’t have one? It’s a bit of a catch-22. Freelancing was the key for me. I said yes to any and every design/website job. Made no money sometimes but it was worth the experience. I also did my own redesigns of popular apps to show my process so that I can populate my portfolio with something while I was still gathering real-world experience.

The last bit of advice is to be humble, be willing to start as a junior and always be eager to learn. You have to be willing to put 200% into this phase but it will make the hustle phase go faster. And before you know it, you’ll land your first “real” design job.

— Roxanne Mustafa, Design Manager

Using a brand, how do you balance being simple and clear in a product and creative in all other assets?

Funnily enough, I find that my approach to brand often is not quite different from my approach to product. It's one of the reasons I'm so thrilled to be a part of the Editorial Design team here at Spotify: we sort of sit at the intersection between the two. We make playlist brands that exist within the app but we're constantly tasked with figuring out how those scale in and out of the product: to banners, to other languages, to automated templates, to billboards in Times Square.

Naturally, working in product you're going to prioritize certain things over a brand: function, clarity, and cleanliness all take precedence over novelty. And in making a playlist brand, what is most important is the most accurate representation of that subculture visually — if the tides of an aesthetic are shifting towards messiness, grit, grime, we need to follow suit.

For me though, I find that Product often benefits from some more abstract and conceptual thinking. Rather than diving right into Figma or wires, I usually like to work with word clouds and visual references — if we're introducing a new product or playlist related to, say, collaborating with a friend, what words and motions represent "Collaboration"? Often in product, it can be easy to default to existing paradigms (for good reason, usually), but I think some of the most interesting results come from taking something a bit more abstract or out there and bringing it down to Earth. I think you'll often be surprised at the results.

The same goes for brand: while there is always the urge to create the most unique, special thing that no one has ever seen before, that is often a fool's errand and sometimes you end up going overboard and make something alienated from the actual thing you’re supposed to be designing. Sometimes the most simple and on the nose choices are the most beautiful and effective.

Overall, I try as best as I can to let my product knowledge inform my branding working and vice versa: that's where I find the most exciting, successful, and fulfilling work.

— Ben Sifel, Art Director 


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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