UserLeague Issue 1: Buzz Usborne

This post was first published at https://userleague.com/buzz-usborne/


Hello! Who are you? Tell us about yourself. What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy doing?

Hello! I’m Buzz, I’m a designer living in Sydney Australia where I work remotely for Help Scout. I’ve held a bunch of titles over the 15 years I’ve been designing professionally, from Graphic Designer to Founder and Director — but I’ve come to find that I’m happiest when I’m getting stuck into the design details, which is what I do now. Ultimately I’m my happiest when I’m problem solving…. the harder the problem the better. Specifically, I love breaking complex problems down to their absolute essence, then figuring out how to create a simple and beautiful solution in response. I really like solving business-related problems, because helping people do their jobs quicker and more effectively is a really great measure of my own success.

Outside of work I like to spend time with my wife and young son — we travel, explore and spend a lot of time on the beautiful Australian coastline where we live.

How did you get started in product design?

Shortly after I went solo as a freelance designer in London 2009, I was commissioned by Skype… which was an incredible and intimidating opportunity I couldn’t say no to! I honestly have no idea why they chose me, as I’d only worked on commercial stuff until then, mostly fashion sites and e-commerce… but my agent hooked me up, and I’m grateful for that. They had me working on their business platform on a multi-million dollar project, and surrounded me with designers and researchers 100x more experienced than me — so I kept my head down and worked my ass off, learning as much as I could along the way. It was really the experiences and connections I made there that helped set the tone for my career.

Where do you work today? What is your title?

Today I work for Help Scout, which is a fully remote company where my title is “Designer”, plain and simple. This is my first role in a while where I’m not managing a team anymore, and I’m loving getting back to my craft!

How big is your company? How big is your design team?

The company is around 80 people in total, although the design team is only 8 people split into product and marketing disciplines. I sit on the product side where there’s just the 3 of us.

What types of things are you responsible for day-to-day?

I sit on a feature team, so the bulk of my responsibilities lie in making sure everyone has the visual design they need to complete the products and features we’re collectively working on. I oscillate between helping engineers meet the high quality bar that the company sets, and working on discovery items — which involves exploring fun and new ways to solve some ideas we have lined up. Outside of my main role I’m also responsible for our design systems, an initiative I started and nowadays have an involvement in maintaining and improving.

What do you love most about your work?

I love creating little delighter moments for customers, like little bits of unexpected functionality or really polished animation — things that make people stop and smile. That stuff really gets me out of bed in the mornings. I also judge my purpose in a team by the value I can add to others, so I really love making design systems and tooling that help other designers do their jobs just that little bit easier. I’m really grateful that I have the opportunity to do both of those things in my role here.

What drains you at work?

There can be a lot that gets lost in translation when working with a remote team — through no fault of any person, rather the nature of communicating asynchronously across timezones. I tend to get quite drained when subtle interactions and visual polish don’t get implemented how I expect, which requires quite a lot of effort and back-and-forth to get right. The kinds of issues that would take a 2 minute conversation in an office to resolve are the most frustrating to me.

Can you walk us through your typical work day?

7amIn the summer, this is when I start my day (in winter it’s 6am) — so I’ll be sitting at my desk having showered, changed, eaten etc. First job is always to check my emails and notifications… catching up on Slack is always the most important task 8am
Every day, usually around 8am I drive into town with my son to get coffee for my wife. It’s her time to prep for the day, and a chance for me to spend a bit of time with my family — it’s also a good way for me to properly wake up before I appear on camera8:30amFrom now until about 10am I’m usually involved in video calls and real-time chat with my US colleagues, as this is our only overlapping time. Conversations here usually set me up with things to prioritize during the day10amPretty much all of my meetings are done by 10am, so I usually try to squeeze in a bit of time to poke around my social feeds and find inspiration. I don’t always get the chance, but I find it a useful way to kickstart the design process and keep my head above water10:30amBy now I’m usually deep into my work for the day as all my distractions are gone — so I’ll either be continuing work on a project, writing documentation or sketching ideas for some upcoming projects12pmI always try to take at least half an hour at lunchtime to grab a bit of food with my family, otherwise I tend to forget to eat or drink anything!1pmI have a Slack reminder set to 1pm every day as a prompt to share some designs that I’m currently working on — this tends to be a pretty good time to show a messy work-in-progress2pmUsually by mid-afternoon my creative energy will be running low, so I usually use this time to move to more administrative parts of my work, like writing spec docs or coding prototypes. If I’m lucky I’ll have my head deep in a creative project and I’ll power through until 4pm3pmI always end my day by recording a video of a prototype or walkthrough of my Sketch files, so that anyone who is currently offline (i.e. most people) can see my progress. That’ll get posted to Slack and I’ll start to wrap things up for the day. I always end my day as if I’ll get amnesia overnight, so I’ll write up a to-do list for the next day, set reminders, empty my trash and get to inbox zero before starting all over again3:30pmWacom pen down. I’m done for the day

Where do you turn for inspiration?

I’m most inspired by things that happen outside of my immediate industry — so I tend to spend a lot of my time reading blogs on architecture, fashion and illustration. I save a lot of inspirational images offline, so I have my archives when I’m looking for a boost, and I share a few bits on my blog too. Some good sources of inspiration for me are Ueno, Coco Lapine, Architectural Digest, Swissmiss, BP&O and This Isn’t Happiness. Of course, if I’m in a creative rut I’ll disappear off for a walk, time away from the screen is always the best inspiration.

What design or project are you most proud of? (It can be recent or older).

I’ll always be the most proud of Prevue, which was a little side-project I created in 2008 as a way to share my design work with freelance clients. Over the course of 10 years, in parallel to my day-job, I learned how to code and built the product into a profitable business which served as the concept sharing tool for over 25,000 design agencies worldwide. It was acquired in 2018, and for a decade served as a really humbling experience in what it takes to plan, design, build, ship and manage a successful product. The highs, lows and subsequent lessons were what helped me to become better at my day job.

Walk us through the design process you used for a recent project (you can pick any project).

My most recent project was to design the on-boarding for Help Scout, which by the time it arrived on my desk had been really well documented and briefed — this really saved me a heap of time in defining the problem, which is usually the first step. From there the creative process followed a pretty tried-and-tested path:

  • Wireframes
  • Sketches (loads and loads of sketches, like this)
  • Visual concepts (at least 3 different directions)
  • Technical review
  • Various rounds of revision
  • Polish and documentation

There are a couple of really important pieces for me in the above process, the first is to get technical involvement early and often — so whilst that’s listed later on in the process, engineers are realistically involved throughout. The second thing is to share and collaborate with other designers regularly, which is a practice I’ve built into my daily design process. Usually in the form of work-in-progress documents, Slack posts and walkthrough videos, I try to share as much insight into my progress as possible to allow other designers the ability to weigh-in and help me improve. Essentially by the time something is considered “done”, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. I wrote a bit more about my process here.

What career advice do you have for product designers just getting started?

Advocate for design. Whether you’re just starting out, or you’re an old gun — very few people are going to fight for good design on your behalf. It’s up to you to make informed, ethical decisions, design the right things, educate non-designers why the details matter and to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Don’t wait for the opportunities to come to you! Be humble, inclusive, collaborative and considerate of the fact that design is just one component in any successful business.

Where’s the best place for folks to learn more about you or follow you?

My portfolio is over at https://buzzusborne.com/ and I’m most active on Twitter. Instagram also gives a little insight into what I do outside of office hours.


This post was first published at https://userleague.com/buzz-usborne/