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Inês João, Product Designer

July 2021

Article

Spotify Design Team

To showcase our band members, every now and then we put a Spotifier in the limelight. Today's headliner is Inês João, Product Designer for User Platform in Berlin. Put on your headphones, hit play, and read along!

Questions & Answers

Why are you a designer?

Ever since I can remember, I’ve spent most of my time drawing and exploring different creative materials. The happiest time of the year for me was the start of the school year when I got to choose new stationery. All my school assignments were carefully designed with supporting graphics, deliberately chosen typography and alignment of elements. Without noticing, I’ve always looked for different ways of designing the world around me.

At the start of my career, I wanted to become an illustrator and ended up studying graphic design. Although I enjoyed the creativity and visual aspects of being a graphic designer, I soon realised that I needed some more structure and purpose in my daily work. My mother always taught me and my sister to help everyone around us and my father always made sure we did things in a structured and precise way. Unconsciously, I took this on and made it the core of my work and personal life: creating better user experiences.

As a designer, your life is filled with problem-solving, establishing relationships, and making sure you’re providing the most enjoyable journey to people. Every day I find myself trying to solve problems for loved ones, coming up with services that fix a society issue, or sharing the life hacks I collected during all these years I’ve been living abroad. I believe in design as a service capable of solving every world problem with purpose, structure and beauty.

Describe your job at Spotify without using the words "design" or "designer."

I help Spotify employees deliver the best experience for Spotify fans and creators by optimizing the tools they use in their daily work. My team communicates the “soul” of a Spotify user to Spotify Engineers and Product Managers so they can customize, test, and deliver app features. It is a very complex domain and my day is sometimes filled with more unknowns than directions. However, the beauty of internal tooling is that you have your users one Slack message away, and you can easily benefit from co-creation, quick feedback loops and fast incremental improvements.

Show us a picture of your desk, and explain why it looks how it does.

I will soon be moving to another location, thanks to Spotify's great flexible Work From Anywhere program but this is what my desk looks like in Stockholm.

  1. Laptop stand: I'm a big fan of laptop stands as they help avoid neck pain. I usually use my laptop for music or as a support for presentations.

  2. Monitor and webcam: I like to design on a screen big enough to display multiple windows or see a full flow. I also recommend using an external webcam on top of it to help others see you from a good angle when in video calls.

  3. iPad and Apple pen: I use them to sketch ideas or flows that I can easily transfer to my computer.

  4. Pen holder: The first slab piece that I made back in Portugal with my sister. I love to keep many different pens at hand for beautiful handwritten notes.

  5. Spotify Notebook, MUJI pens & Post-its: Although I have been trying to move to more digital note-taking I still use a notebook to structure my thoughts, especially when I need to understand a complex flow or Slack conversation. MUJI are my favorite pens to write and sketch and Post-its are good for quick notes so I don’t forget an important to-do!

  6. Logitech MX Master 3: I have been using this type of mouse for a very long time, it is my favorite to avoid any wrist pain.

  7. Apple Magic Keyboard: It is the first time I got a numeric keyboard but I am very happy to have more space to move my hands. And the numeric part is super helpful for resizing elements.

  8. Noise-canceling headphones: They are super useful to focus when working from home, especially when there is construction work going on.

Tell us about a time you beat an intimidating design challenge.

I have worked in many different types of companies and encountered many challenges — from turning paper files into a digital product, to growing a sportfishing app network. However, I must say that my biggest challenge is from my time at Spotify. When I started I knew I was hopping on a journey I didn’t know much about, but that was the challenge I was missing in my career. 

Unlike what I did before, I am now designing for complex products I will most probably never use. When I started, there was no interface to work on, only a product vision that needed a lot of discovery work to become something tangible. I had to bring back my sleeping user researcher hat and design thinking tools to start making sense of the huge amount of documents and presentations. Adding to that, I joined a very technical team, which had no idea why I was there. There were moments I felt stuck, out of place and unsure about what resources to use to face this challenge.

There were three things that helped me establish a design culture and turn a product vision into an interface: 

  1. Ask for help and co-create: most of the time your peers and customers will be the ones that know best about the domain and can help you design the product. Other designers might also face similar challenges, so share resources and learnings among each other.

  2. Be user-centered and experiment: non-designers are happy to learn other tools that will help them understand problems more efficiently. Some tools work better than others but only through trial-error, you’ll find what works best.

  3. Build relationships across different teams: when working in a large organization you will most likely depend on many people so spend part of your time building relationships and understanding how you can help and be helped. Everyone is in the same boat and happy to collaborate.

Name three non-designers you feel inspired by when designing.

Le Corbusier

The way he uses simple shapes and colors to design beautiful and functional buildings and objects influences the way I think about user-friendly interfaces.

James Blake

The emotions triggered by his music can make one feel so many things that I wish design interfaces had the same impact.

Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner

For making economics and behavior science topics accessible to everyone and remind me that designing for people means solving problems for many different profiles.

What would your self-portrait look like?

Any final shout-outs or things you'd like to share?

One book that influenced me was “Design your life” by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans. This book was given to me when I decided to quit my job and move to another country with no defined plan. It changed my mindset towards design and its potential to create better experiences for myself and the people around me.

I get my creativity boost from the @ohhdeer Instagram account, which showcases curated work from different illustrators (they also have a stationery subscription box!). Parallel to that, I also believe nature gives you all the energy and ideas you sometimes desperately try to find in front of a screen, so go out and enjoy it!

My design story wouldn’t be complete without a couple of thank yous to people that shaped my journey.

  • My family — for always being there for me, supporting my constant changes, even if they still don’t know exactly what I do for a living. 

  • All of you that I met in the different countries I’ve lived in — for opening up my horizons about different cultures, ways of working and experiencing life.

  • Simon Raess (founder at Ginetta) — for seeing the potential in me when I was a young designer and being the first to teach me about human-centered design.

  • Monospace (internal tools centralized design team at Spotify) — for creating a safe space to share, fail and learn about design, part of why I enjoy working at Spotify so much.

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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