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Beyond the PX — Google’s Louise Macfadyen on being self taught, design Twitter, and constantly learning

Welcome to December’s Beyond the PX! This month we have Louise Macfadyen, who works for Google as a design advocate, based out of New York!

Enjoy.

Which department do you work in at Google?

I work on the Material Design team, in particular on the Advocacy team.

What has been your design journey up until now?

Becoming a designer was a bit of an accident, really. I have a degree in English Literature from the University of London and had initially wanted to be a writer.

I had learned a bit of front-end development as a kid on the internet in the early 2000s, and when I graduated I went back to that and started building websites for small businesses, and eventually figured out that actually I wanted to be designing them instead.

Over the course of about two years I taught myself design basics and put together a portfolio, after which a small agency hired me and taught me everything else.

Where are you based?

I recently moved from Portland to Brooklyn. I have a goal to live in a new city every five years, and I’ve done London, New Orleans, Portland (OR) and now New York.

What does your typical morning look like?

My partner makes me a cup of tea and we take our dog out for a quick walk. We listen to podcasts in the morning, and I eat the same thing most days (fruit and a bit of yoghurt). If it’s the start of the week I’ll spend some time listing out the tasks I want to get done that week and I’ll set up my schedule/add calendar events.

What does your tool stack look like?

This is a bit idiosyncratic for a designer, but all my work gets done in the browser.

I’m often writing proposals, writing scripts, or working on other content, so most of my day is spent in Google Docs, and meeting with people.

The other chunk of my day I spend in Figma, which has a browser version too.

Do you have any design hacks?

I’m obsessed with autolayout. Right now I lead Material’s internal and external design Figma kits, and I’m always looking for ways to smush more autolayout into them.

Do your career aspirations encroach your life?

My husband is a woodworker who specializes in architectural installations, and we design and build a lot of furniture together. When we lived in Portland we ran our own woodshop and really enjoyed it, it was nice for both of us to do something productive not directly connected to our careers.

How do you design ‘for the future’?

I think it’s important to acknowledge that work will inevitably become outdated. Staying alive to that frees you up to think about processes and context that will help you make the next best thing.

What was it that drew you to advocacy?

I saw the growth of developer advocacy and was really jealous for the design community! It’s been tremendously important to me to help define design advocacy and it’s still emerging.

What advice would you give for those interested in kick starting a career in designing for the market?

Working designers like to talk cynically about ‘design twitter’, but for designers just starting out, it’s a great way to meet people, develop interests and skills, and gain insight into the industry.

What are your thoughts on burnout?

In my experience, you can work a 40 hour week and still get burned out. Organizational dynamics, how work is delegated and received, who gets celebrated for what; these are all factors that contribute to burnout. For instance, if you’re never receiving recognition for the work you do, or you’re trying to grow your career and getting pushback, a lot of of the times we internalize those things as personal failures and we push ourselves to work even harder.

I think especially for designers, our tools and our communities are online, so there’s often a desire to be putting work out there and learning new skills. And sometimes that can become an outlet if you’re in a burnout-type situation, where maybe you feel a lack of control in your work environment and you get a chance to show how great your work really is to another audience, or learn a new skill or a new method of working to show your talents.

The truth is, as tech workers, we’re apprentices all the time. The technology and the tools are always going to shift and change and it’s a partnership between the designer and the organization to adapt to that change. The reality is that many designers exist in a toxic work dynamic which expects them to learn skills required for the job on their own time.

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Life, by designers.

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Luis Ouriach

Luis Ouriach

Design and community @FigmaDesign, newsletter writer, co-host @thenoisepod, creator of @8pxmag. Sarcastic.

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