5 Questions with Adam Noffsinger, Senior Product Designer @ Dropbox
5 Questions is a series where we ask CMCI Studio alumni to share insights about the future of design and how to grow as a creative. To learn more about the Studio masters program check the details at the end of this story or visit our website. Enrollment is now open for fall 2019.
Adam is a Senior Product Designer at Dropbox, working on design systems. After graduating from the Studio program in 2014, Adam landed a job, along with another Studio alum, at a startup in the Techstars program called Final. While there, he designed the first iteration of their mobile and web apps. Later, Adam parlayed that product experience into a position as a Product Designer at Uber in San Francisco.
“I joined Uber when the company had about 15 designers, alongside two other Studio Alumni. I started off on a team called Experimentation, designing internal tools for AB testing and data visualization. After a short time, I moved to the Rider Growth team, which worked on the consumer-facing Rider app. From there, I became lead designer on a team called First Experience, which was tasked with signup, onboarding, and the first trip in the app.
While leading that team, I contributed to Uber’s rebrand and also worked on the redesign of Uber’s entire mobile product with a team of super talented designers from various teams. It was a very rewarding experience.”
After a final move to the Uber Eats team, Adam decided to take a position at Dropbox, where he now works on the Design Systems team, focused on creating a unified product ecosystem across web, mobile, and desktop applications, while simultaneously exploring the future of Dropbox’s visual language.
Of all his work, Adam says his favorite so far was designing the restaurant menu in Uber Eats.
“I built out a robust prototype in Framer using actual restaurant data from San Francisco that really pushed what Framer could handle. I had a fantastic engineering team and we really polished the animations and interactions to a high bar. If you open the app now and tap on any restaurant, you’ll see it.
The project performed well and laid a foundation for the visual language of Eats as it appears today. Later on, designers from a competitor ripped off my design, which was sincerely flattering and made me all the more proud.”
5 Questions with Adam
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned over the course of your career so far?
[Adam] Don’t overthink it.
As a detail-oriented designer, it’s easy to get sucked into a vortex of over-exploring solutions and pursuing pixel-perfection. Falling into these patterns will not only slow down your work but will also make you pretty miserable.
Instead, move quickly to explore a handful of potential directions, gather feedback, choose a direction with conviction, and move forward. Although you may ship something that’s not perfect, shipping means you can then get real-world feedback and adjust accordingly.
As a designer matures in their career, they should grow to trust their intuition, which will make moving quickly easier. At the same time, they should be aware of their blind spots and know when they’re outside their area of expertise.
When you look at the current landscape of design and technology what are you most excited about and most concerned about?
[Adam] In general, I’m most excited for the continued growth of tech sectors that produce products that require both physical and digital experience design and more often than not, cater to multi-sided marketplaces.
The best examples of this are what many refer to as companies within the “sharing economy,” including services like Airbnb, Lyft, Uber, Deliveroo, and others. These products generally involve an in-app, digital experience, along with human-to-human interaction at multiple points throughout the experience and on multiple surfaces.
I find designing and building for these types of experiences to be fascinating and I think there’s still much innovation to come from the field, especially as autonomy becomes viable and safe at scale.
In 2019, we’ll most likely see the IPOs of both Uber and Lyft, which will provide good signal on global appetite for the continued growth of these services and pave the way for many new services to enter the space.
My biggest concern going into 2019 is a byproduct of the type of work I described above.
As designers work more on experiences that bring humans face-to-face, define livelihoods, and change how the world moves, there’s an increased need for accountability and responsibility for product designers.
Generally speaking, the tech industry has come under close scrutiny over the last few years and I believe that trend will continue. I feel it’s a net positive and will yield more ethical design and engineering.
When you think about the designers of the future, what do you see as the most critical skills they will need in order to be successful?
[Adam] Designers of the future will be no different from the designers of the present, insofar as the skills that will lead them to be effective and successful will remain the same.
In my experience, the designers that are most successful are those that are able to adapt to new tools, workflows, and ways of thinking with relative independence. Designers too often find a way of working or thinking that becomes comfortable, which then leads to stagnation.
Just as engineers find themselves consistently moving between new frameworks and languages in order to better solve problems, designers should approach new ways of working with unbridled curiosity.
The tools we’ll use to solve problems 5 years from now are certainly not the tools of today, and they will most likely be more technical.
So yes, designers should code.
Don’t @ me.
How did your experience in the Studio graduate program impact your ability to be successful in your career?
[Adam] Studio taught me how to learn and remain curious.
The open-ended nature of the program and the choose-your-own-adventure style coursework allowed me to chase down the skill sets that I found most valuable, while also putting the onus on me to do so.
The program led me to better understand how to tackle the scary prospect of learning something new and more tactically, how to find the resources to do it. Once you’re in the working world, there’s no one to push you to continue to develop (especially in more senior roles), so this is a crucial skill to master.
I’d also add that Studio really helped me double down on networking. Networking is a key skill in any industry, but in tech, doubly so. The alumni network and general resource pool at Studio was unbelievable and still pays dividends for me personally.
What are some of the most important tools and processes you use in your job right now?
[Adam] Being craft-oriented, I could go on and on about tools forever.
For prototyping and motion design I use Framer and After Effects, both of which have been instrumental in my career. Framer is fantastic for building high fidelity prototypes that are stateful, whereas After Effects is better for linear flows that push the boundaries of what’s possible in production.
Although I don’t use it at work at the moment (only on side projects), I’d also recommend designers give Swift and native iOS development a shot.
It’s easier than you think and a heckuva lot of fun.
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About CMCI Studio
CMCI Studio is a design graduate program at CU Boulder. Driven by a culture of collective creativity and fueled by design thinking, our mission is to transform our students into design professionals capable of leading us into the future and solving problems in a rapidly changing world. Our graduates have gone on to design and lead teams at Google, Apple, Spotify, Uber, Pinterest, Dropbox, Airbnb, Wieden+Kennedy, R/GA and many more.
We are currently accepting applications for our 2019–2020 school year. The application deadline is February 15th. Get more details and apply at our website.