Season 3 Episode 7 Dec 23, 2020

What Makes a Good Designer?


Developers can learn a lot from designers


In this episode, we talk about design with Lisa Sy, lead product designer at Forem, and Kuan Luo, designer and entrepreneur, who co-founded Elpha, and was formerly at Etsy and Cockroach Labs.


Ben Halpern

Forem - Co-founder

Ben Halpern is co-founder and webmaster of DEV/Forem.

Jess Lee

Forem - Co-founder

Jess Lee is co-founder of DEV.


Lisa Sy

Lisa Sy is Lead Product Designer at DEV

Kuan Luo

Kuan Luo is a designer and entrepreneur, currently on a learning sabbatical. Her last project was Elpha, an online community for women in tech.

Show Notes

Audio file size







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[00:01:12] KL: So there’s this assertion that I need to look through their eyes to get their perspective, but then knowing unwavering I am a designer, I am not a database engineer, and therefore I’m bringing my own translation, I’m bringing my own skill sets in this relationship.


[00:01:41] BH: Welcome to DevDiscuss, the show where we cover the burning topics that impact all our lives as developers. I’m Ben Halpern, a co-founder of Forem.


[00:01:49] JL: And I’m Jess Lee, also a co-founder of Forem. Today, we’re talking about design with Lisa Sy, Lead Product Designer at Forem, and Kuan Luo, a Designer and Entrepreneur who is currently on sabbatical. Some of you may know Kuan from her work at Elpha or Cockroach Labs. Thank you both so much for joining us.


[00:02:04] KL: Thank you for having us.


[00:02:05] LS: I’m glad to be back.


[00:02:07] BH: Kuan, can you tell us a bit about your background and everything that led to you here today?


[00:02:12] KL: Oh, for sure. I started off as a photography major in journalism school in college and I was really passionate about photojournalism because I believe that that’s going to take me all over the world. And in undergrad journalism school, while I was taking a lot of photography classes and building up my portfolio, I realized that there is a requirement class to take a graphic design course to graduate. And so I was like, “Okay, well, I would take it.” And that was during that class that I really got to experience design, learn about it, like graphic design, and actually see the power of moving forms on a two-dimensional page or paper and use a magazine or a poster to really tell as important of a story as a photography and a photo well. And so that kind of completely changed my career trajectory that I had in mind because designer work in the background, which I prefer because I’m pretty introverted and very okay was not going out in the fields and then ended up graduating with a design degree along with the rhetorics degree. And so after graduation, I wanted to pursue graphic design. So I started working at a small studio. That was 2011. So that was when mobile and iPad apps were just really new and fresh. So that feels an exciting territory. So I moved into that right after studio, and yeah, just been working in startups and public companies ever since, probably for about a decade. And so my last project was co-founding Elpha.


[00:03:59] BH: What was it like changing from graphic design to interface design? How long did it take you to feel comfortable?


[00:04:04] KL: I think I kind of got thrown into it a bit. So it wasn’t something that I got used to a more of a thing that I have to get used to. So after I worked in a studio or the studio taught me many things. One is graphic design is just a lot of fun, especially working with people who are just talented and in a small team and the pursue of good design is something that’s such a joy and working with designers have to critique and have the ability to push each other further. But one thing, in the studio, that I didn’t really enjoy was the idea that I’m handing over my baby to someone else and hopefully they would do a good job raising it for the clients. So I decided that client service was not for me pretty quickly. And after that, I was like, “I’m only going to work in-house. Freelance is not for me, but I think in-house will be then have a team build around it and collaborate and to work on a common goal and be able to carry through that quality and product to really have that in people’s hands that the way I envisioned it to be was really important to me. So after studio, I wasn’t quite sure where to go, but I got approached by Washington Post. At the time, they were designing their first iPad app. And so I got thrown into it really, as a lot of learning curve at the beginning and everyone at the team then was so passionate about the new platform. And there was a lot of excitement or a lot of learning. Yeah. That was kind of right after the first iPad demo or something like that. So it took maybe say a good six months to really understand what I was doing, from an interface perspective, especially on mobile. Now just interface on web, because that’s been around for a while, that really iPad and really understanding a new device and how people might consume news on this device. And that’s a new offering for the media company. And that’s something that we didn’t really have a prior knowledge. And so there was a lot of learning curve and a lot of figuring out that during those periods.


[00:06:17] JL: Can you share how you got from Washington Post to finding your own organization to what you’re up to today and your sabbatical?


[00:06:23] KL: So after Washington Post, I felt every career opportunity is a way to test out how I am in a certain environment. And so studio is an environment that is very small and is client service. And I realized, “I love the small, but I don’t like the client service.” And so therefore, the Washington Post was large, it’s a huge organization, but it’s in-house. And so I love in-house, but I was looking for this combination of small and in-house. And that led me pretty naturally to find pretty early stage startups. And I remember finding the first startup I worked with called Grand St. on via Twitter, because they were looking for a designer for some early prototypes they may have. And so I thought it was pretty cool. I met the founders. I met a team. And about maybe two, three months after that, year and a half maybe, we got acquired into Etsy. And so that was my view into a large company but still in-house. And then that whole period I was at Etsy, Etsy went public. So that was also a very interesting period to go through an exhibition to see a public company. And that period, the entire bracket there was very consumer facing. I was designing extremely consumer-facing product, and I am often the end consumer for those products I design. So that brought a lot of joy into designing, knowing that I will be using it, like knowing that I’m part of the Etsy community. But I got really interested in other end, like, “Oh, what about tools that I don’t use? What about all those softwares that are making what I see possible?” And I decided to, after leaving Etsy, looking kind of the other direction. So it’s still in-house, but I started to look at enterprise. And so that’s how I joined Cockroach Labs. And I was their first designer. I slowly built other’s design team there and I left about two years and now they’re much bigger, larger company. And then I decided to co-found Elpha. I worked on Elpha for about a year and I left in the end of last year. So this whole year, I pretty much just been on sabbatical and looking at a lot of interest that has been very persistent throughout my career but outside of tech.


[00:08:48] BH: So Lisa, this is your second appearance on DevDiscuss. You first showed up to talk about tools that we all love and use, which had a lot of design discussion involved in that topic. But this is getting a lot more fundamental. We’re going to go a lot closer to the metal. So can you take us back to the beginning and then work our way here?


[00:09:10] LS: For me, I think that ever since I was really little, I was always into drawing. I got into drawing because of Pokémon. Thank you. And it was something that I just always did all the time throughout middle school and high school. And at some point, when I was beginning to approach college, I thought that that was something that I was supposed to give up because it’s not like in a “adult thing” that you do. You do serious things when you are an adult, like math and numbers and all of that stuff. So I think that at some point I was trying to force myself to become interested in economics or business. I took this econ class and totally flunked out of it. And so that was kind of one of many signs that told me that something was off, the universe doesn’t want me to go down this path. And then I think around this time I was trying to figure out like, “Okay, I really like drawing. Okay, here, this thing it’s called graphic design.” I’ve used Photoshop before. It’s kind of cool. And I heard that there are jobs for graphic designers out in the world. So I thought, “Okay, I’m going to try to learn more about this.” I remember one day I was kind of like messing around in Photoshop and I thought, “Oh, hey, I remember back when there were like GeoCities, like I used to like make websites. What if I just wrote this little blurb above myself and designed it and like put it up on a website? Ha-ha-ha!” And so I opened up Adobe Dreamweaver, like coded something, I have to download some weird server thing to make it go up into like the cloud. And it was really cool because I ended up with this website that all of my friends can navigate to and read a little bit about myself. And that was kind of the origin of me getting into like web design. And after getting to web design, I ended up learning about this field called interaction design and UX design and product design. This is 2011, so it’s not really clear to a lot of people what that is. People didn’t really know that there were these types of jobs that would boom in the future. And around this time, Peter, who had just graduated a year before me, found out about my skill.


[00:11:29] BH: We’re talking about Peter Frank, who’s one of the other co-founders of Forem, who you’ve known since college in some capacity.


[00:11:38] LS: I had heard about him because he had launched other entrepreneurial projects on campus and he was only a year above us and it was a small school. So people know people and he reached out to me over email and said, “Hey, Lisa, I just graduated last year. I heard that you ran this design club and that you do a lot of things with the web and design. That’s really cool. I have this project I want to pitch to you. I want to see if you’re interested.” He wanted to build a service so that students on-campus can buy and sell textbooks from one another, which is just like a fantastic idea to me because I’ve spent hundreds on student textbooks that I don’t look at after that semester. That was my first opportunity. One of the first opportunities I had to work with real clients. And afterwards, I got to work at both big corporations and also freelance. I was at Facebook for three and a half years. And what I learned in a nutshell is that I don’t want to make money off of my drawings and paintings in a way that puts pressure on me because I noticed that my artwork began to make me less happy. And so that’s how I decided that I wanted to stick in this lane of product design for a job. And I think that’s important to say.


[00:13:02] JL: Can you both define what design is or at least give us an overview of what a designer’s role typically consists of?


[00:13:10] KL: Yeah, for me, design is just a very broad term and I don’t think designers are the only ones who design. So for me, design is really the sense-making and the art of making something, art of producing something. So yeah, that to me is probably perhaps the broadest definition of design.


[00:13:34] LS: Yeah. I feel like at work in tech or in working with engineers and people think, designer, they think someone who is drawing rectangles and making them pretty. But for me, a design is facilitating towards making a decision to reach a certain endpoint because I think it’s a way of approaching how to go about a child.


[00:13:57] BH: So the craft of design is really pretty infinitely abstract. You have a starting point and can go anywhere. But despite this, a lot of things wind up looking similar, when we talk about maybe interface design. Can we dive into that? Why, if design can go anywhere, there’s so many apps look similar? Maybe even so many brands, logos. Why is there a trend towards commonality given the universe of possibilities?


[00:14:30] LS: I think one of the things that I suspect is that for a lot of these things that we see looking similar to one another, perhaps they’re driven by a certain outcome, say a business outcome, that motivates people to almost replicate one another because you say, “Well, they did it this way and it did work. Look at what Airbnb did. So let’s do this way because let’s play it safe. I think this could work.” But then I also think at the same time when it comes to design, which for visual design, it’s rooted in base principles around the fundamentals of art. There are certain rules that one follows because they know that that is how someone most readily perceives something successfully. So I think that there is a balance that we strike to as designers of knowing when to stick to that certain set of principles, because it’s best practices, it’s recommended, but also being daring to break away from it. And I think that with experience, someone can kind of gauge at which point it feels safe to do that, but it’s a risk.


[00:15:41] KL: And for me, there’s perhaps like two additional things other than what Lisa has shared at play as well. One of them being which a human naturalness. And there is a way how we naturally tend to do something that really influence a lot of design decisions. Our eyes tend to look in a certain linear direction on a screen, if we are reading the alphabet from the left to the right. If we are right-hand dominated, there are many other things that actually influence the design of things. It’s one thing after the other. In college, there was actually a very interesting industrial design course and it was part of that was trying to redesign the pen. As everybody should try and figure out like, “Well, why is a pen look like the way it is?” And so why don’t we scratch that and try all those iterations? And guess what, the end product looks like a pen that we have today. After tons of tons of tons of iterations, there is some sort of naturalness that we inherently already have and develop with a product and that we tend to just replicate and reuse over and over and try not to innovate. But I think that also points to a deeper and perhaps a more fundamental aspect of this question that is, once something is perceived, it can be unseen. And so that’s why sometimes coming up with original design is so, so fresh, right? Because it taught us a way to see things in a new way that we’ve never seen before. And that has completely changed how we see things after. And therefore, we can only see from the field that we were introduced to. But when people can break that and introduce new elements into the field, then that’s exciting. And looking back, and in the past 10 years, I don’t see that many groundbreaking design trends, but there are a few, I think, and one of them I was thinking about that came to mind was Stripe when they first kind of launched their site, and that was so fresh to see a site, a marketing site for developer products look like that. Right? And that was something that was just not being done before. And that elevate everybody’s playfield.


[00:17:51] JL: Earlier you mentioned, having spent a lot of time in the consumer space and then developing a curiosity for enterprise and I’d love to know, how did that change your design perspective, especially since you also just mentioned Stripe a bit too and how they changed the game?


[00:18:06] KL: Yeah, for me, it was a very humbling experience to design something that I am not an end user or an end consumer. Perhaps another way to say that is in a consumer world, I often can see myself as a direct translator. If I want to translate a project or a product idea into something that someone use, there is a direct translation using another crude example, I’m a native Chinese speaker and I’m fluent enough in English that I have enough fluency in both worlds to make that translation. I could translate English into Chinese and translate Chinese into English for the most part, probably fine. However, the enterprise, I find I’ve encountered a new language I have to translate into. So instead of feeling empowered as a direct immediate translator, I almost have to rely on another translator to do the work with me. And so one step is actually feel quite far removed from the original text. Because I can understand the original texts, which is a database. So I need a translator for the database for me. And so I can do the design work and then the engineer is also not me. So then I need another intermediate translator there. And so having more translators in a process meant more process and also meant a much more rigorous interrogation into what success look like as a designer. And also perhaps related is the sense of identity shifting from being a creator to a facilitator because I have to facilitate this conversation between those intermediary translators and so that we are all understanding what we are trying to do altogether. So that has a very profound change in what I see as design, the power of design, the humility of being a designer.


[00:20:10] LS: It’s cool how you intentionally sought out to work on something where you know that you’re not the audience of and that could be even intimidating because I feel like sometimes designers are really attracted to like the sexy types of products, like the video tools, the social media apps, but I think what’s more humbling and really challenges us as designers is working on the things that are really iffy difficult, perhaps things that engineers give a lot of attention to, but there isn’t enough design love given towards that, but in the way, that means that design can also have more impact in those spaces. So I’m curious, I want to ask you, like, is there a dream design project that you have in mind that you would love to do one day? And it could be anything.


[00:21:02] KL: No, I don’t actually. I think that’s what to me always very interesting about design is that it’s always about problem solving and design is very much like science to me. It’s sense-making and so I don’t particularly want to invent problems per se, but I am very interested in solving problems that are current. In that way, I can never see there was a dream project because that would have meant I’ll have a dream problem.






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[00:22:48] JL: When approached with a new problem, do you have a specific methodology you go about solving this problem?


[00:22:55] KL: I don’t. I don’t have such a scripted process and that’s because I think the methodology depends on very much the openness of a question. And so if you have a very concrete question, there could be a more concrete methodology. The steps are layout more of a natural way and it’s more understandable. But when you have a very broad and open-ended a question and a question is vague and then its nature doesn’t have a yes and no answer to it, it’s not a, “This increase conversion by 10%,” or, “How can our consumer be happier?” That’s a such a big question and in exploring a vague question all methodology kind of goes. And so I don’t have a particular way of always threading through a question in that sense, but I think the cool thing about methodology is that there are so many. There’s literally infinite number of methodologies and we can see what is that spectrum between the clarity of a question and how much time we have in exploring this question. And considering those variations, we then can design even methodologies that will fit into this inquiry and this exploration.


[00:24:17] JL: Do you have a favorite or most memorable project that you’ve worked on?


[00:24:22] KL: Maybe Lisa can start. I would have to think about that.


[00:24:25] LS: For me, when I was at Facebook, I was on their trust and safety team for two years. So there are a lot of like interesting projects that taught me how to design in the gray area. And one of the projects that I just really love working on was what then content moderation. So we kind of rolled out these content filter tools that people can use to see less of the things they don’t want to see. And what I liked about it was there is a lot of opportunity for me to work with the PMs in laying out the design direction, but also what the researchers to ask fundamental questions. And a lot of the things we learned in research really challenged kind of executive needs, for example. And it was really cool to do all this research and validate and come back to like, “Hey, we did our research. This is what we’re seeing.” And to really have that point of view that’s based on evidence. And it was memorable to me too because I got to also travel to London for two weeks and work there, which is fun. And so I can’t complain about that.


[00:25:32] KL: Hearing what Lisa said actually reminded me maybe not the favorite project, but I would say memorable. One of the more memorable projects I did at Etsy was a project that was in beta or was in testing for a while. That’s actually to build a more standalone storefront for Etsy sellers. And the interesting inquiry came out because some sellers on Etsy, well, Etsy’s general aesthetic is very clean and very minimum, that there are many sellers on Etsy who are selling very goth items. And so they just find as mismatch between their own brand and what needs to be expressed as their own personality on Etsy’s platform. And because of that, they’re all moving away from Etsy to go to places like Shopify, Squarespace, et cetera. And so for us, when my team was acquired into Etsy, that was the first project we took on to figure out how can we retain the specific set of sellers and make them thrive on Etsy even more and how can the product of Etsy served those sellers who have just such different aesthetics than the Etsy brand. And so what we did was we built a very simple way for our sellers to come up with their own really completely individualized or personalized their storefront that does not have the Etsy kind of color scheme and all sorts. And so that project took us also to many sellers’ homes and then we got to see their making space and that was just beautiful. And to connect with sellers on that level and hear their frustrations, that experience really stood out to me because we were, yeah, using Lisa’s word, we’re so grounded in evidence. We really knew what the seller wanted and how this particular product or how the solution that we’ve designed and built can be of service.


[00:27:38] BH: Lisa, let’s riff on a little bit of what we’re going through with the sort of perspective of what Kuan kind of talked about. So our product Forem is the generalized open source version of a community platform that started with Dev. So for the listeners, to give a picture, it’s a little bit more like Shopify and Squarespace in that story compared to Etsy, but everything has to be supported by the Forem brand in some capacity. And we try to offer a certain consistency between Forem so that a user of multiple forums kind of knows where the buttons are like as they move between the ecosystem. But at the same time, we don’t want goth forums to look not goth. You know? And that’s a journey. To get there, it’s going to be pretty interesting. I’m wondering how we might even have the discussion in the first place, like have structure around the exploration of some of these problems. How does this evolve such that we wind up in a creator’s house, the same way that Etsy did? I’m curious about like how some of this might flow through our journey as we encounter a lot of the same conceptual problems.


[00:28:57] LS: I think that like Kuan was kind of saying earlier, right? As a response to a question that I just had, what is your favorite methodology to follow when it comes to design? I think that one of the things that we can start out is to all be on the same page on like what is that singular type of challenge or question that it is from us and from there on we can branch out. So if, perhaps for example, the challenge is how might we empower creators to express themselves while also having some consistency around the Forem UI, whatever you call this in general. Like usually when I’m working with a team of people, I had that question and then since it’s so open-ended, this is a good time for everyone to share ideas and questions and constraints and then that’s where there’s this process around organizing it. And based off of the level of assumptions that we have, some of them I turn into research questions that might mean, “Okay, now let’s go to someone’s house if that’s necessary for this use case and see,” but I think that this is probably going to be like a systems kind of constraint and connecting that with like the creators’ needs. So that’s how I might approach this.


[00:30:10] JL: Since this podcast is called DevDiscuss, I’m curious, you’ve both been at large and small companies. How have your relationships with developers evolved while working together?


[00:30:23] KL: Yeah, using the translator metaphor that I used earlier, it’s about becoming fluent and appreciating each other’s language in order to be better translators. And for me, working in a consumer product, regardless of how big and small the size of the company or the team, there seems to be, as a designer, you are able to communicate what exactly that you were looking for just a little bit easier with developers. And there are more opportunities for prototyping, there are more opportunity to share what you’re currently thinking with developers. And when I moved to enterprise, I find that to be a little bit tricky. I really needed a lot of handhold from developers in order to even do a little bit of work. And so building that relationship and really understanding what their concerns are and how can I see from their eyes and knowing I’m not them is very important. And so there’s this assertion that I need to look through their eyes to get their perspective, but then knowing unwavering I am a designer, I am not a database engineer, and therefore I’m bringing my own translation, I’m bringing my own skill sets in this relationship for service of the ultimate greater goal, that is to make the product more accessible, better used for the end consumer. And so perhaps it’s just, with time and with more projects, a deeper appreciation to each other’s disciplines and a respect of we are experts in our own domains and how can we rely on each other’s strengths and be bigger and better pillars for each other and so we can hold up a better product. That seems to be the core, for me, of that developing any relationship with other people that’s outside of your discipline.


[00:32:15] LS: Yeah, one hundred percent that what you said applies to working with anyone outside of your discipline, but also within your discipline. Right? Because at the end of the day, when you’re working with anybody, hopefully, you both want the same outcomes at the end of whatever it is that you’re working on. And I think when I reflect on my past two years of working with developers, I’ve noticed a shift within myself and how I approach this relationship. After doing a lot of soul searching, I realized that something I care about is I want to feel that I can make other people feel that they can express themselves creatively. And I think it was really illuminating for me to figure that out because it meant that I can do that at work, working with engineers, but also like working with my friends on these random creative practices that they are interested in. And so once I was able to identify that for myself, I made it a goal that when I’m at work and I’m working with engineers, I’m trying to create a space for them to feel that they can be heard. And they don’t feel like they’re always relying on me to come up with the best ideas because I don’t come up with the best ideas. As a designer, I’m only like trying to frame things and ask questions in such a way that it could bring those things up and have them bubble up that solve the problems that we all agree on. And. Kuan, I’m sure you probably have run into this where like you might be talking to a developer and they say, “I’m not a designer, but I have an idea.”


[00:33:45] KL: Totally.


[00:33:45] LS: And then like ever since people are shy about it, right? But it’s like, “Don’t be shy. You are working on this. We’re working on this. We are co-designing this together.” And so that’s something that I want to say to everybody who’s listening. Never be shy about sharing your ideas. If your designer is on the same page with you, they will happily listen to you and work with you on it.


[00:34:05] KL: Yeah, and I appreciate the word you used, co-design, so much. And that’s why I generally tend to stay on the broader sense of design. It’s in this togetherness we’re making sense of this problem together and we are producing this thing together. Because every time, especially it’s interesting at Cockroach, I experienced a lot of engineers at a more of an abstract level, many engineers call themselves designers as well. Right? Architects. And so I often think of that as yes, we are designers, architects, informationists that’s working together. And so my role as a designer might fall into those more narrow categories, but we are all in this co-creating, co-designing process together. Yeah, I think that’s incredibly important to create a space where everyone feels safe to take on that role and everyone feels safe to contribute and to think of themselves as designers. So an unofficial responsibility that I often take on in teams that I’ve been at or lead is this group making, space making. So how do we hold a space that’s safe enough and funny enough for everyone who wants to be part of the conversation can be part of the conversation?






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[00:36:28] JL: Now we’re going to move into a segment where we look at responses that you, the audience, have sent us to a question we made in relation to this episode.


[00:36:36] BH: The question we asked was, “What do you want to know about working as a designer?”


[00:36:41] JL: So our first response is from Judith.


[00:36:44] JUDITH: What does the term pixel perfect mean to you as a designer? Do you consider the limitations in software development when you design features, like, can this be done or not done by the person coding? And lastly, are your considerations about accessibility built you’re your designs? Do you look for how the finished product is going to coordinate with screen readers, also dark mode, light mode, et cetera? Thank you.


[00:37:14] LS: I think that within the designer role, there are a lot of different archetypes of designers and specialties. Pixel perfect is something that I think that people who specialize in interface design or design systems might be more passionate about. But for me personally, I feel that I’m a designer who really thrives with solving like ambiguous people problems. I tend towards user research, market research and framing problems and getting the group together. So I do the job that I need to do, but I’m less concerned about pixel perfect because hopefully I’m working with a peer that can help bring that up for me. And I hope that I am thinking of accessibility through my design process when I’m designing things. It’s not only about the accessibility of how people use something, whether it’s physically or through other senses, but I’m also thinking about the use cases of how people can, for example, use something that I’m designing for that. And when I was working at Facebook, I was working on the reporting flow for live videos before live videos was being launched. And the core live videos team, first our team, to get feedback on the things that we’re designing. And when they showed us the flow that they had, the first things we said, “Okay, have you thought about what’s going to happen if someone films themselves harming themselves? Have you thought of if someone like killed himself, drink, pornography, like have you thought of all these use cases?” So I think my brain is naturally wired towards what came up, some of those other use cases, which isn’t necessarily like accessibility, but I feel like if you want to extend the definition of have you thought of all the different scenarios in which the services that you are designing might be not usable or perhaps used in a harmful way.


[00:39:12] KL: Yeah. For me, pixel perfect also felt like an idealized state. I often think about design as really transitory, it’s really progress. Everything’s changing and it could be changed. And so one thing that was pixel-perfect could not be in a single minute. And so like Lisa, I tend to err on the side of small teams, solving ambiguous problems on many different things at once. And so I admire a lot of designers will have a lot more patience and practice in the interface side of things. And my partner, for example, is one of them working on the design system team in Microsoft. And so he has a much sharper eye than I do. What do I think of accessibility and design? Yeah, I think it’s becoming more and more prominent in people’s work across the field, not only in design, to really understanding that there are much more nuances in use cases. So the world we see, as is, is not how someone else see it, right? How can we make a universal world that’s helpful to others? But there’s a lot more work to be done and I more observed it on the outsider by looking at my partner’s work, kind of really building out the design systems team and Microsoft whose product millions of people use. And there were so many nuanced discussions being held there and I’m just so appreciative and admiring that effort, which at a level that I have never personally been involved with. In any of the projects that I lead just simply don’t have that skill and resources to support this level of depth and exploration. And so there’s so much work to be done there. And I think I forgot there was a middle question there somewhere.


[00:40:58] JUDITH: Do you consider the limitations in software development when you design features, like, can this be done or not done by the person coding?


[00:41:05] KL: Yeah, totally. I think that’s part of the exploration, what kind of question are you really answering and what are the resources and what is the risk of introducing something completely new? I’ve seen that done beautifully, but also many times. It’s the debate between do we reinvent the wheel or do we not? Do we stick with something that works? And again, it’s a spectrum. And so oftentimes it will come up, especially if it’s in a brand new field or brand new product that just no one has really seen before or it’s the first product in that category. And so oftentimes yes, we think about what is technically feasible and is it worth to pushing the technical boundary? And so that’s a larger discussion with the product as a whole team and on the risks and the reward.


[00:41:57] BH: Let’s get to a couple of written responses and then wrap up the show. Our next response comes from Lee, who asks, “Does creativity generally flow consistently or do you need to wait for it to flow and then let the process lead you?”


[00:42:14] KL: Oh, for me, no. It doesn’t flow consistently and also comes at random times can be predicted sometimes, but there is at a very important part of working at it. I don’t have the luxury of picking the hours that I felt creative to do to work. And so oftentimes it might not feel like the creative juice is flowing, but the executing, the working, the putting your thoughts out on design on paper or software on design programs, that actually is an act of creativity. And so the constant work plus inspiration I would say is how creativity flows.


[00:43:00] LS: Yeah. I totally agree with that. No, I wish creativity could be consistent, but I think that because it isn’t, this is why we create containers for ourselves to allow that space to happen. For me, sometimes when I feel very relaxed, that’s when these random ideas come into my brain and you’ve heard the term probably of like shower thoughts. That is a space where you are giving your body and your mind a chance for patterns to come through because I think that one aspect of creativity is being able to seek patterns amongst seemingly different things. And I think it’s possible to create the container for that to happen. There are a lot of really good books on this actually that are related to writing that I will recommend one. It’s called Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Kuan, you’re nodding your head. Have you read it?


[00:43:53] KL: It’s one of my favorites. Yes.


[00:43:55] LS: Yeah. I feel like whenever I read these types of books, what they emphasize is, number one, that creative process is painful. It’s not easy. You really have to dig into yourself. And number two, it is work to create the space for it. And so I think that there is an intentionality that has to be put into that process, but the rewards are endless.


[00:44:19] JL: We’ll be sure to put that book in the show notes. Our next response is from Jean-Michel. They wrote in, “What are the basics of design that developers should learn about to communicate better with designers?”


[00:44:31] KL: A few things that came to mind, one is understanding the end consumer in a way that it’s helpful for the developer. Well, I should preface by saying everything developer learns is that has to be what they’re interested in about a designer. So if you’d find yourself drawn to, “Oh, I’m really curious about the user research process,” then that’s something you should look into. And you find yourself really understanding the form and how interface came to be, then look at there. And so I wouldn’t say there are particular fundamentals, but what draws you in the design process? What are you most curious about? What questions do you have about the design, about the designer? And so maybe ask them that kind of your most burning questions about design, and then they can point you to some of the fundamentals to learn kind of in those areas. Because I think the most successful learning was inspired by curiosity. And is that aspect of reaching out and that aspect of acknowledging, “Hey, I’m really curious about your work, I want to learn your language and these are the things I’m interested in. Can you kind of show me where to go from there?” And that builds a huge bridge. So it’s not about maybe what the specifics you learn, but what questions you have. And I think designers are there to help you move forward from those questions.


[00:46:05] BH: All right, let’s do one more response and then wrap up this great show. Graham asked, “What’s your favorite modern design trend and what’s your least favorite?”


[00:46:17] LS: My favorite modern design trends are the interactive narratives that you see on New York Times and also other websites because I really like comics or like storytelling and film. And it’s really cool to see the essence of this type of storytelling, which is a fundamental human need, a base need, being translated in all these different mediums. It’s so cool to see, it’s so exciting.


[00:46:43] KL: Yeah, and for me, that’s very hard. I don’t even know what modern means these days. But for me and especially this year in quarantine, we all have been so absorbed on the video conferencing. And that’s something that I got more and more interested in. We are seeing each other’s worlds and that to me like a very rich space to continue to explore, how can we feel closer in this space, how can we like really get into each other’s worlds the way we were able to in person. And so that seems like a very rich territory for me. It’s not a trend, but I really just got interested in this because we’re on video, we’re on Zoom calls so much, and that’s very interesting.


[00:47:27] JL: Well, Kuan, Lisa, thank you both so much for joining us today.


[00:47:30] LS: Thank you for having me.


[00:47:31] KL: Thank you so much for asking all those great questions.


[00:47:42] JL: I want to thank everyone who sent in responses. For all of you listening, please be on the lookout for our next question. We’d especially love it if you would dial into our Google Voice. The number is +1 (929) 500-1513 or you can email us a voice memo so we can hear your responses in your own beautiful voices. This show is produced and mixed by Levi Sharpe. Editorial oversight by Peter Frank and Saron Yitbarek. Our theme song is by Slow Biz. If you have any questions or comments, please email [email protected] and make sure to join our DevDiscuss Twitter chats on Tuesdays at 9:00 PM Eastern, or if you want to start your own discussion, write a post on Dev using the #discuss. Please rate and subscribe to this show on Apple Podcasts.