Hello, my name is Andrew Cullen and I’m a 28 year old product designer from the UK currently working at InVision. Apart from a 3-year stint living and working in London, I’ve been a resident of a relatively small city called Worcester since I landed into this big ol’ world. Before making the move to Invision, I spent the previous 8 years working at digital agency, bluebox.
How did you get into design?
I got my hands on a copy of Photoshop 7 back when I was around 13 or 14 and used to spend hours working on concepts for things like film posters, music artwork, and anything else I was interested in at the time. Of course everything I designed back then was covered in grunge effect brushes and was spectacularly terrible. From there I progressed to creating websites for friends and family—nothing too exciting—a holiday rental website and another site for my cricket club.
After finishing college, my brother offered me a junior design position at his agency. The company was in its infancy, so I was fortunate that my role grew alongside the company until I was leading the design department. I’m so grateful for everything I learnt in that period. Working in an agency environment taught me many skills which are imperative to being a good designer. Being able to present ideas while being open to critique will always be a universal requirement in any design role.
What does your typical workday look like?
Working remotely for a US-based startup means I have a fairly unusual working schedule. Regardless of your time zone, we try to have at least a 5 or 6 hour crossover where everybody is online together. This means that I tend to start work around 11am GMT to give myself some ‘heads down’ time to focus on design work before my other colleagues from across the pond get online.
As a product lead, I’m heavily involved with everything I design all the way through to release. This means I work closely with product managers, engineering, and QA to make sure everything we release is up to scratch. The engineering team at InVision is currently split into teams who are each focused on a particular area of the app. For example, we have a collaboration team that works on commenting, projects shares, and so on. Each of these teams will have a short daily standup to discuss progress on current projects, as well as an opportunity to discuss potential issues with the design lead and product manager.
Because we’re remote, we place extra importance on communication between all members of the team. We switched to Slack a few months back and it's really helped to improve collaboration across the company and also increase transparency.
How is your design team set up at InVision?
Compared to the rest of the company, the design team is relatively small. We have 3 designers actively working on the product and they are supported by product managers and our user research team.
I’m usually working on several new initiatives along with the rest of the design team in addition to the projects which are in active development. Our team has a daily standup where we each present what we’re working on and get feedback—allowing us to further iterate and make sure we ultimately end up with the best result possible. LiveShare is probably our most important tool for these meetings. It allows us to present our ideas in real-time and everybody on the call can offer their feedback and ideas for improvements through the commenting and live sketching features.
Once projects are through design, the lead designer will work with a product manager to prepare the project for development and get it into the hands of the engineers. We have another feedback round at this stage, as well. Engineers usually spot something that design overlooked or they might suggest subtle changes to our design which would make a big difference to InVision’s overall performance.
How has design contributed to InVision’s success?
Like many of our customers (Uber, Netflix, etc), we're incredibly design-driven here at InVision. The first stage of any new idea we have is to throw it at the design team to pull apart and explore. This approach allows us to quickly ascertain whether it would be a good fit for the product and whether the idea is worthy of further investment.
I think this design-driven process has really allowed us to hone in on those areas where we would be adding real value for our users and improve the product. I’d like to think the days of designers being brought in at the end of a product development cycle are long gone. We need to be at the forefront of strategic decision-making and be responsible for proving the business value behind every decision.
Who or what inspires and influences your work?
We have such a great team here at InVision that I genuinely take a lot of inspiration from them. Not just in terms of what they design, but also the real passion for what we’re striving to achieve together.
Outside of that, there isn’t a particular person or company I look to for inspiration. There are so many smart designers contributing to our industry that you can’t help but be in awe of their work. Even something completely irrelevant could nudge that little cog that helps you to solve a problem or inspire an interaction to make your work more delightful.
What is one project you are most proud of?
We’re doing so many amazing things at InVision that it’s hard to pick out a single project. I’m currently in the process of reworking our build mode as part of our v5 release. This has given me the opportunity to completely re-think how the user creates and manages their prototypes inside InVision. We’ve spent a lot of time increasing the speed at which the user can link their screens together and create a complete, functional prototype, while bringing the UI in-line with the rest of the app. As a product which prides itself on ‘rapid prototyping,’ this experience is absolutely key to our success.
I’m also working on an innovative new way to author advanced animations inside InVision. I’m excited by what we’ve put together and can’t wait to get this out to our users.
How did you get introduced to Sketch and what do you like most about it?
I initially tried Sketch when v1 was released a few years back. Although I didn’t make the full-time switch from Photoshop at that point, I was really impressed with the direction Bohemian Coding was heading with a focused tool for UI designers. I became a regular user when InVision started supporting Sketch source file syncing. All my artboards are now extracted as an InVision screen automatically and will update whenever I save my file. This is a huge improvement to the traditional workflow of having to save out each screen individually.
What are some of the tools in your workflow?
This varies depending on the scope of the project. If I was handed a completely new idea, I’d usually start with the trusty pen and paper to get some ideas down quickly and share them with the team.
Photoshop, and more recently Sketch, are my go-to tools once the project moves into higher fidelity. Being able to extract my designs straight from my source file into InVision has been such a time-saver. From there I create a prototype if required or just share a selection of screens to the relevant stakeholders. As mentioned earlier, LiveShare plays a key role in our team’s process—allowing us to share and collaborate on our work in real time.
I really like Keynote’s method of animating. For somebody who hasn’t got the time to invest in some of the more sophisticated advanced interaction tools, Keynote is definitely a great option for creating these quickly and in a really innovative way.
If you could go back in time and do something different what would it be?
Being a furniture maker has always appealed to me. Having my own little workshop where I spend the days quietly crafting my own pieces would be pretty cool. Maybe one day. I need to grow a beard first though.
What advice would you offer to those starting out in the field?
I’d say that it’s never too late to break into the field. Just because you didn’t study anything relevant at school shouldn’t stop you saying "hey, I’d like to a be a product designer,” and then making it happen. As someone who is 100% self taught, hard work and passion can get you a long way in our industry. We’re very fortunate that as long as you have a computer and an internet connection then you have the opportunity to do something great. Take every opportunity you get to improve yourself and learn new skills.
As a designer, it’s also important not to get hung up on how visually appealing your work is. Of course, we all want everything to look as beautiful as possible, but we have to make sure that aesthetics don’t compromise the overall goal of what we’re designing. Problem solving is a real skill and many don’t understand how important it is when they first start out. Lots of designers have incredible visual design skills but if you give them a problem to solve, they don’t know where to start.
Finally, never be afraid to share your work as early and often as possible. Sitting on your design until you think it’s perfect will end in tears once you finally let it out for others to see, because there will always be criticism. Your time is valuable so make sure it’s invested wisely.
What is your favorite book?
This is the point where I should make myself sound really intelligent, isn’t it? Instead, I’ll say High Fidelity by Nick Hornby.
Thanks Andrew for sharing your story with the Design Community and providing insights on your work with InVision, your favorite tools, workflow and what it is like to be part of a remote team! You can find Andrew on Twitter :)