This month’s Beyond the PX is with Michael Fouquet, who I believe is what we call a design unicorn in the trade. He’s au fait with designing, coding, writing and builds a mean design system.
Not only does he push boundaries in the office, but he has also worked on some successful side projects as well.
The man’s a machine.
Can you explain briefly who Hudl are?
Hudl is a sports technology company that focuses on providing coaches and athletes at every level of play the performance analysis tools they need to compete and improve.
This runs the gamut of providing desktop and mobile apps, all the way to smart cameras.
I work on Uniform (uniform.hudl.com), our design system that brings cohesion to all of those products. We’ve churned out a ton of web components, and now we’re setting our sights on mobile.
What has been your design journey up until now?
No real education to speak of. I just started playing with Illustrator and Photoshop in high school like most.
I’d put together graphics for LiveJournal and MySpace pages. I’d do silly little album covers for bands that I liked. I absolutely ate up things like what The Designers Republic were doing in the video game Wipeout and decided that I really wanted to do things like that.
But, I took a detour from design after high school where I did quite a bit of programming — it became my job rather quickly! It was only after starting to work on mobile apps that I decided I wanted to get back into design. There was something new there that really excited me and pulled me in. The interactions were so much fun to work with and having to design within the constraints of a smaller screen was a new and fun challenge.
Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to utilize both my strengths in coding and design. I don’t know that I could ever go back to focusing purely on design or code; I enjoy both too much.
What does your typical morning look like?
I start my morning relatively early at 6:45. Depending on the level of awake my dogs are at, I will either take them for a walk or hop on the rowing machine for half an hour.
After that, it’s just normal prep to get ready for work. I commute to work on my motorcycle every day that I can (including in the winter) and that usually gets me here around 8:00.
Once I’m at work, I catch up on my emails and then open up Slack and address any messages I need to. Next, I just mentally prepare a to-do list of what I want to accomplish for the day.
What does your design stack look like?
I currently use Sketch for my main job and Adobe XD/Affinity for anything outside of work. I actually love checking out all of the different design tools available nowadays so it can change at any time.
For dev, I’ve recently switched from Atom to VSCode and have just recently gotten it to how I want. I’m much, much slower when it comes to switching up my dev tool stack.
For my day-to-day, I live by Apple Notes and Reminders. I would forget so much without those tools and the mental load they remove from me helps me accomplish so much more.
Do you have any design hacks, or particularly smart processes?
Something I do for pretty much anything I work on now is to start at the very end.
For example, if I’m writing an article, I write the last paragraph that summarizes what I wanted people to get out of it. From there, it’s easy for me to then write an outline and put together a draft.
For code, I know the last thing I will deliver is the documentation. Talking through what goes into that documentation makes it easier to split up what I need to do next. When it’s a design project, I know at the end I’ll be delivering some sort of design spec with an outline of all the visuals and workflow. If I start with writing all that up and sketching out that flow, the empty artboards don’t seem as daunting anymore.
For me, when I start something I usually get paralyzed with not knowing where to start. There always seems to be so much to do and how do I know where to begin?
Starting at the end is a way for me to figure out what the end goal is which then gives me an easy way to split up the work (a key to any project, as any expert will tell you).
Do your career aspirations encroach your life?
Not at all.
I used to pour all of my free time into leveling up my skills because I didn’t have an education in either design or code. I knew I would need to work to improve in those areas to be taken seriously and it ultimately worked!
The division between my work and my life is much more defined now though. I’m in a comfortable spot — I’m working on projects I want to work on and given the freedom to do what, when I want.
Honestly, if I was doing what I’m doing now 5–10 years from now, I would not consider that a failure. I’m fulfilled inside and outside of work and I no longer feel the need to feed the beast of more, more, more.
You don’t constantly have to be fighting your way to the top.
How do you design ‘for the future’? How do you ensure you’re not being cliche?
I think one way you can do this is to go completely outside the box.
There seems to be this derision of the work people put on Dribbble or Behance since there’s no way it could ever be made or put into a website or app.
I like to look at those types of designs as concept cars. Automakers (and the public) know that those concept cars will never make it into production any time soon, but there are parts and pieces of that design language that might. Perhaps in the near future there will be a breakthrough in how cars are made and those crazy design details won’t seem so crazy anymore.
We can look at design and tech in the same way: parts and pieces might inspire and filter down. There might be a breakthrough in tech (AR and VR!) where those crazy design details are now possible.
What’s your affiliation to the sports market?
My passion for sports is down to basketball and motorsports. I’m not a sports nut by any means, but my father used to be a coach and I saw the impact he had on his kids which is what drew me in.
Also, it’s such an exciting space to be in. I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface of what’s possible with sports and tech. I’m always surprised by the clever things we come up with here in the office.
Can you explain the team dynamic?
Our design systems team is small; there’s only 3 of us. Each of us have our specializations (code, project management, copywriting, etc.). We serve a team of about 20 designers.
Right now, we’re focused on getting our mobile components fleshed out which means we work a lot with designers that are doing iOS and Android apps, as well as our mobile engineers.
Will your product exist in ten years time?
Looking strictly at our design system, I believe it will.
The need for what we’re providing has definitely proven itself out. One way I can see it evolving is for it to continue to get simpler and easy to use. We want to find ways to make it even easier for designers and developers to prototype.
To make it so they can trust that the colors they’re using are always up-to-date, no matter if they’re in a code editor or looking at a color palette.
Additionally, we need to ensure we’re staying on top of that new tech. AR, VR, voice, etc., are certainly going to become bigger players in the sports tech world.
What advice would you give for those interested in kick starting a career in designing for the market?
Practice, practice, practice.
You can read all the articles you want and view all of the YouTube videos you want, but nothing will get you there quite as fast as practicing.
Additionally, it’s important to develop taste. Figure out what looks and feels good. Then, start to pick apart WHY it looks and feels good.
Everything else you can learn on the job.
Do you work on side projects?
Yes, I work on Stark (getstark.co) which is a suite of accessibility tools baked right into your design software.
You can check the color contrast of your designs as well as see how they would look to people with different forms of colorblindness.
The reception has been incredible (we recently celebrated 100k uses in a single month). We have lots of features coming very soon that I’m excited about and we’re looking to expand to even more design software.
There might even be a Mac app in the works…
Do you think the fact that designers are almost forced to work outside of the 9–5 is something that should stop, or do you find that it’s a worthy method of exploring new techniques and styles?
It depends. As I talked about above, I’ve been on both sides. I needed to “hustle” outside of work in order to get where I’m at. I had to explore to find out what I wanted to do. Now though? I’m happy with my work and fortunate that I can do other things that bring me fulfillment.
If you want to treat it as a job, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. You can leave work at work. You are not a bad designer if you aren’t hitting the conference circuit or working for some big company on a big project.
If doing those things is what you want to do though, then that’s ok, too. There’s nothing wrong with hustling towards those goals if that’s what you want to achieve and where your priorities are.
We need people in design and tech that fall into both camps. It’s up to you to find the balance in either of those things in the context of your life — don’t let some tweet or article or comparison to someone else do that for you.
So many little nuggets in there to take away. My favourite part of Michael’s interview was his honesty about his aspirations. It’s incredibly important for us to not only value our work but our positions too. We don’t all have to be yearning to run our own companies or run a team of 100 designers if we simply love the work we’re doing.
See you next month.
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