1. I know you joined Topcoder recently as a Challenge Architect. Tell me a little more about your background and what attracted you to Topcoder to apply for this position.
When the opportunity to join Topcoder came up, I was already in a similar role of consulting for clients and managing projects either as a freelancer or working through agencies. Many of the issues and bottlenecks I had experienced in that position appeared to have been resolved by Topcoder’s unique delivery process. I was excited to learn from and work within the team, seeing an opportunity for further development – at the time it felt like a natural progression from where I was to where I was aspiring to head toward.
2. Please tell me a couple of things about your background and where you are located, etc.
My educational background was split between an Industrial Design Engineering degree in London, focused on ergonomics in product design, and an MBA at Hult between London and Boston. Between those two, much of my work experience had me based in London for over a decade working with startups, tech companies, design agencies and corporate organizations as a frontend developer, UI designer and UX consultant.
3. How does working in an agency compare to working in Topcoder?
Agencies offer variety in the form of industry exposure, but nothing compares to what I’ve experienced at Topcoder! Here I could find myself working on projects that span three industries in the space of a week, constantly looking at a variety of solutions that have been created to solve a single problem and having the advantage to learn from such a diverse pool of talented designers.
4. Even though your experience is short, what do you like most about working with Topcoder designers?
The turnaround pace per challenge and seeing the number of engaged designers on MarvelApps and in the forums has been impressive. One of the most important elements, though, has been the quality of work they deliver, coupled with the predictability and consistency; an important factor that often improves engagement with clients when showcasing their work.
5. How do you push yourself to become a better designer?
Most things that come to mind may sound a little cliché, but there’s no reinventing the wheel here. The more you expose yourself to new information the better equipped you become as a person when making decisions – same as with design. Always put yourself in the position of the consumer and try to be familiar with what they are used to experiencing. Read. Practice what you know. Learn more. Practice more by taking on work you find challenging. Observe good designs; when you notice them ask yourself what makes it good!? Be judgmental on bad design but be constructive. Be open to criticism. Ask for clarity when unsure of feedback. Act on the feedback.
6. What is the most challenging thing you have done as a Challenge Architect so far and how did you deal with it?
I often present your work as ‘our work’ to Topcoder to clients, so being able to explain the design thinking behind certain ideas to give it context is important, as is gauging our client’s expectation and relaying it in a language that captures and expands their ideas to the community. In showcasing the produced design work to the clients, trying to understand and express the design thinking behind certain decisions without having spoken to the designer can be challenging. The forums help because they give me a snapshot profile of each designer on a project based on our interactions.
7. What’s the most important skill a designer should develop?
This is highly subjective. But I’d say empathy. When the focus shifts from wanting to have the best looking designs to wanting to improve human experience, how the functionality can been centred around usability naturally becomes the measure of design decisions and not just visual aesthetics.
8. How do you get unstuck creatively?
I try to find inspiration, seeing this as having two sides to it. One is through action – actually sitting down to produce something challenging. The second, a drive that actually fuels the first is born out of a will for freedom and exploration in a way I’m not normally used to. I take on challenges that force me to change my habitual working patterns, usually involving learning a new skill or style of delivery.
9. Do you have any sites you usually follow to get the latest updates, trends, tutorials related to design?
DeviantArts is an old favorite of mine, along with PSDTuts (now EnvatoTuts) for targeted learning processes when looking to develop a specific skill set. My drive to learn as of late has been more fueled by something I’ve seen or a specific context so that I often start at Google or YouTube.
10. What should Topcoder designers focus on in 2019? (design patterns, trends, tools etc.)
Working towards creating and building on their own design identity; their own style of execution and presentation. That’s a trend in its own sense – one you can own and continually work on improving and enhancing through learning and practice. Being observant of what you judge to be a good design and honing in on why you consider it to be one, reverse engineering interfaces thinking of how you would do it differently and engaging in challenging work and learning from feedback are all ways of learning from one’s own school of self development.
11. What are your hobbies besides work?
Music and Blockchain oriented projects! Writing music was a huge part of my childhood and is another way I like to express creativity, experimenting through sounds and melodies. The latter is something I like to explore because it poses a great challenge in working in technically sound technology – finding ways of bridging the usability gap is something that piqued my interest a few years ago when the term came up on my radar.