The design magicians
Meet the peeps who create our app’s look and feel.
Yes, they are the design team, but they’re concerned with more than just aesthetics; Alice Shevela, Greta Gotlieb and Hamish Macdonald envision and implement the experience that is Sylo.
Read on to get to know them better.
Which part of frontend design is your specialty?
Greta: My specialty is layout (I have a background in magazines) and User Interface design — icon design. But I also code and make designs for Sylo’s website, work on occasional jobs for the marketing team, and work on layout and design for proposals.
Hamish: ‘Specialization is for insects,’ would be an annoying way to answer this. I try to approach design as holistically as possible, in reality I spend a majority of my time in Figma.
Alice: I am engaged in designing user experience (UX): my goal is to identify the users’ and the business’s goals, determine their pain points and propose solutions. Then we test and refine those solutions.
Do your family and friends understand what you do?
Greta: My friends in tech have an idea about what I do, everyone else… not so much. My mother is impressed that I can code and I know she tells her friends that I work ‘on the Blockchain’.
Hamish: Yes but the depth of understanding and conversation varies from: ‘I make apps and websites’, to discussing specifics of privacy, identity ownership, and repercussions and side effects of decentralised technologies.
Alice: My family and friends knew about design but not so much about UX. But they quite quickly understood that it’s needed when I explained what benefits it can bring and what results it can give.
To explain to people I say: we are all kind of UX designers in life, even if we don’t think so. We design our home and our workplace, so that the surroundings are convenient.
For example, we put an alarm clock for the morning at arm’s length so we can switch it off fast; we put our keys in a prominent place to find them quickly again in the morning; we place the TV at a distance that won’t harm our eyes.
But whereas in our individual lives we can do it ourselves, in digital products it must be done by people like us — UX designers.
Tell us about what you’re working on at the moment:
Greta: At the moment I’m working through a list of tasks we have created from our user testing results. I find it so interesting to have all this data to help us make design decisions, but we also have to take into account the challenges of building something with blockchain technologies.
Hamish: I’m working through designing and discussing user flows for testing solutions to problems that arose during beta testing and user interviews.
Alice: At the moment, I’m improving the Sylo interface based on the results of our usability testing.
We look at what problems the users have encountered — we improve and discuss, then we discuss again and test, this process can be repeated several times.
At the same time, we’ve been interviewing users to understand them better, to know who we are developing for and what problems we’ve still got to solve.
What part of your area of work do you find most challenging and why?
Greta: The design team could possibly be called Fight Club; we are all passionate about making Sylo best in the world, so we have a lot of passionate debate. It’s the most challenging but also the most rewarding part of my role.
Hamish: Being photographed and writing answers to interview questions.
Alice: Hmm... I would say to find a balance between business goals, user needs and technical limitations.
What do you think ‘the next big thing’ for your area of tech will be and why?
Greta: Perhaps we will be replaced by AI one day! (Although it is pretty unlikely according to: https://willrobotstakemyjob.com/)
Wearable tech/implants and cryptocurrency will be fascinating things to keep an eye on.
Hamish: I would like to think that decentralisation of data ownership, services, governance and money will help to empower individuals to live freer, more meaningfully and more sustainably.
Tools like Figma, Miro, Google Docs, Sheets already (very successfully) give us a glimpse of what is possible with digital real-time collaboration.
I think VR and AR will eventually reach a point of seamlessness and usability where remote work is as connected and collaborative as real-life interaction.
I hope that our industry continues to move toward ‘humane design’, ‘calm technology’ and ‘time well spent’ - not just as a superficial pivot, but systematically building technology that is ‘responsive to human needs and considerate of human frailties.’
Alice: Probably something that is demanded by users, to serve as some important addition to their lives.
Trends developing at the moment are things like personalisation, the voice interface, and of course, artificial intelligence, which will be implemented in many products… oh, and the number of devices will be decreasing.
What issue relevant to our industry concerns you the most right now and why?
Greta: Tech companies that are focused on building products that benefit their profit margins rather than humanity. Device addiction and big data is giving these entities untold power… and I’m not confident that ethics are included in their business plan. Luckily companies like Sylo are giving people a choice.
Hamish: That the internet produces a single monopoly and millions of minor actors for each function and people generally follow friends and fads rather than deeply question, research and choose the options that are most aligned with their well-being long term.
It’s relevant to our industry but also humanity at large. It concerns me that people do not realize how much power they have collectively.
Alice: In a word — Ethics! Since joining Sylo, I’ve learned that user privacy isn’t respected by other companies in our industry.
As part of our usability testing we asked people what their view was on privacy and if they knew what data was being collected by the likes of Facebook, Google, etc. Most of them knew that they were being exploited but they felt like they didn’t have any alternative platform to use even if they wanted too.
This for me, isn’t freedom of choice and is a massive problem within our industry. Companies think that it’s fine to exploit their users’ data just because they have a sign-up form with an ‘agree to these Terms & Conditions’ check-box.
What’s a misunderstood thing about your job that you’d like to clear up?
Greta: That data privacy is only for odd people with something to hide, rather than a human right to have private communication.
Hamish: I’ll just ironically parrot Greta’s response via interview surveillance.
“…perhaps you have nothing to hide now, or so you think, this can all change in the future. And when you get into the habit of simply not caring about your digital fingerprint in this world, which is extremely easy to do nowadays, you forget about this little fact that every action you do, gets recorded and logged forever using these ‘free’ services.”
We slowly accept deeper injustices like a frog slowly being boiled alive.
Power overreach increases, the ownership of power changes over time. Smells like a bad recipe to me.
Alice: That UX isn’t important. UX designers carry out research, design solutions and think through scenarios to reduce the gap between those who create the product and those who use it.
Without UX, there are problems. The society is not tailored to the people.
For example, a Chinese man in New Zealand could not have his passport photo recognised in the online system because ‘the subject’s eyes were closed.’ This is an example of a machine not programmed to accept diversity. It’s poor UX.
Make a prediction for where technology will be at in five years time:
Greta: Perhaps I’ll be paying for my bills with crypto and buying a coffee with a small chip in my fourth finger.
Hamish: Software will continue to automate away repetitive tasks, destroying jobs and consolidating wealth but hopefully opening up new industries and creative opportunities.
Alice: Five years is a very long time to predict, but in a nutshell, it seems to me that we are going to have minimalistic devices but the functionality will increase; soon everything will be in our phone, beginning with banking and ID’s. The phone will become the most important device for us.
Next week, we’ll be bringing our Product Director Ben Jordan and Head of Design James Carolan into the spotlight for you.
In the meantime… Got a question? Want more info?