Our weekly chance to find out a bit more about the people at the heart of our Product Development teams. This week we caught up with Neil Turner, Product Designer in our Autobots team responsible for Database DevOps and keen cyclist.
Your name and role
Neil Turner — Product designer (a.k.a. digital product designer)
How long have you done this, what did you do before?
I’ve been at Redgate now for a year, making me still a relative newbie in Redgate terms (like the Hotel California, people often join Redgate and never leave). I have previously been a UX designer within a variety of different industries, including fintech, pharmaceutical, travel and education.
How did you become a product designer?
I have a technical background and started out as a web developer. However, I soon realised that not only was designing a website more interesting than coding it (at least to me), it doesn’t matter how good the code is if the wrong thing is being coded. A bad design, beautifully coded, is still a bad design.
I’d always been interested in design and technology and had the change to undertake a masters in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) to learn more about the emerging field of UX (User Experience). A masters isn’t a pre-requisite for working as a product designer, but certainly gave me a strong foundation of knowledge at the start of my career. I’ve now been working within the field for over 16 years!
What sort of things did you do to prepare you for the role?
Before undertaking my HCI masters I read a lot of UX books, attended events and meet-ups and tried to apply UX design to the websites I was building. Some great books for those new to the field include the classic Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman, Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf and Designing for the Digital Age by Kim Goodwin.
Did you always want to become a product designer?
I was initially more focused on the technical rather than design side of software development. I soon learnt that not only do you need to get both right if you want a successful product, but that I’m a much better designer than programmer. I’m hoping that none of my code is still out there in the wild!
What are the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning?
The great thing about product design is that you’re ultimately designing for people, and people are infinitely interesting. I love the challenge of really drilling into a problem, experimenting with different possible solutions and finding out what works and what doesn’t. I certainly get to drill into a lot of interesting problems at Redgate.
What’s the thing that makes you want to put the alarm on snooze?
As a keen cyclist I try to cycle into the office as much as I can. Cambridge is supposedly one of the driest cities in the UK, but I still seem to regularly get a good drenching on the way in. At least cycling in Cambridge is much less death defying than cycling in London, where I lived and worked prior to moving to Cambridge.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone seeking to do your role?
Try to get as much practical design experience as possible. The best way to learn how to be a designer is to design things. If you don’t have the opportunity to do so in your current role you can carry out your own design exercises and experiments. For example, have a go designing a mobile app, or imagining what a re-design of Facebook might look like. You could even approach a local charity or organisation and offer to redesign their website.
Best advice to give someone looking to join Redgate?
A product designer lives and dies by their portfolio. The best way to show the work that you could do, is by demonstrating the work that you’ve previously done. Make sure that you have a good variety of examples and remember to explain your process and rationale, not just show the final design. If you currently have little in your portfolio you can carry out your own design exercises and experiments to demonstrate what you can do. Have a look at Applying design principles to your UX portfolio by a fellow Redgate designer to find out more about what we look for in a portfolio.
Where do you see Redgate in 5 years’ time?
It’s an exciting time to be at Redgate. The company and therefore design team are growing in size and we’re increasingly focusing on bigger enterprise companies. As Matt, our head of design outlines in his article Designing for the Enterprise, we’re increasingly concentrating on solutions, rather than point tools. This means looking at the bigger picture and finding a design team set-up that can support bigger programmes of work. We’ll also be growing our DesignOps initiatives such as Honeycomb, our in-house design system and finding better ways to collect, analyse and share user research insights.
What’s the motto to live by?
“Fall in love with the problem, not the solution”. This is a motto I’ve shamelessly stolen from Jared Spool, one of my favourite UX experts. Too often designers jump straight into solutions without first really exploring and understanding the problem. I recently wrote an article about why every design should start with the problem. I also try to follow the Redgate company values, especially “Don’t be an arsehole”!
Describe what Ingeniously Simple means to you…
When something just works, without the interface getting in the way. As Don Norman, one of the founding fathers of UX says, “The real problem with the interface is that it is an interface. Interfaces get in the way. I don’t want to focus my energies on an interface. I want to focus on the job… I don’t want to think of myself as using a computer, I want to think of myself as doing my job.”. When I’m designing a product, I don’t start with the interface, I always start with the job the user is trying to do.