Embracing mess in the design process

UX Designer Marie Schweiz on using watercolour, uplifting women in tech and having good design principles

Femke van Schoonhoven
The Creatives Series


Based in Berlin, Marie Schweiz works as a freelance UX and Interaction Designer. Her hands-on approach to the design process sees her embracing watercolour and inviting developers to join right alongside her.

You’re a freelance interaction designer, yet it doesn’t stop there! You also paint watercolours, sketch in procreate, help other designers learn how to use design tools and the list goes on. How do you pinpoint your passion?

Building access. I don’t want to pursue a career as artist, however I do enjoy sharing my knowledge and giving people access. My colleagues, who are mostly developers, really enjoy participating in my design process. I consciously make sure I don’t exclude them from designing. Instead, my approach focuses on educating them.

Exploring with watercolour

Though you’re an interaction designer, you also experiment a lot with watercolour. I feel it’s common to have desires to experiment with new tools and crafts, however it can be really scary! How did you come to embrace watercolour as part of your toolkit?

I’ve had my watercolours since I can remember. As a junior designer I was bullied by managers for being a too“hands on” person. I was often drawing, sticking, glueing things together. I love to paint entire user flows in meetings.

Today it’s easier to embrace this because our culture has changed. My brain feels directly wired to a large toolbox of skills, which gives me confidence in my watercolour skills. This gives me confidence is what’s helped me learn how to code.

With paint I feel the need to touch my designs — see and feel it moving right away.

I could compare a Framer prototype to a watercolour study and see how they’re working together. As I study my work I start to learn more about it and improve over time.

With paint, I work just like in design, very methodical on techniques and solutions.

You’ve mentioned that a large part of your work is in educating teams on good design principles. How does having design principles influence the output and quality of the work?

Let’s clarify the word principle first. A design principle is not meant to be applied like a dogma. Every time you establish constraints, you need to exercise at the same time how to break them.

This is where a design principle lives at its best. You establish it and then decide how you’re going to embrace it as a team — it works like a compass. Everyone within that process is aware of what they’re doing.

For example when Android arrived it had some patterns to offer such as a tap bar. Developers began to use this and as a result was a wild assortment of ideas on how to do navigation. However, most of them didn’t work.

With Ice Cream Sandwich, Android gained a set of patterns and its first design instructions (very developer driven). Now we had the Action Bar (successor is the Toolbar). With the Action Bar, designers had to think within constraints to provide a navigation pattern. Every time a team crafted their own navigation pattern, it had to surpass the quality of the initial pattern.

Fewer custom patterns where discussed and suddenly their cost of development became more transparent. Now managers are more aware of how costly their ideas are.

In your experience, how has user research impacted the design process?

I believe our job as designers is at a turning point in history. We’re finally able to connect neuroscience and behaviour patterns to our work and use it in our daily input. User research allows us to work within a process which gives us scientific or raw information. I’ve rarely worked for companies embracing or even working with user researchers and would love to change that. As a UX designer I stay humble with my assumptions — my research amplifies that.

Marie’s desk in Munich vs. her studio in Berlin

A big discussion today is in design documentation. As someone with experience writing these types of documents, what advice would you give to other designers?

Get comfortable being a design manager. Jobs like layouters are soon gone and clear communication is one of the key skills of today and beyond. Design documentation is structured differently in every company. My recommendation would be to do a Google search for “scientific writing”. There you’ll find courses such as this and this one on how to communicate a point instead of decorating your sentences.

Credit: Design Jam

It’s clear you have a passion for helping other women in the design community, and often participate in hosting workshops or providing resources. Why is this initiative important to you?

When I began as a designer in 2009 I could choose to go to university or look for a job. Back then it wasn’t easy to find designers with markup skills, so I went for the job.

For a long time I was the only woman. As I got older I’ve been able to see how the industry has changed or evolved. Women in design are part of the tech community but not as targeted as female engineers. I want female designers to be included. We’re all part of the tech community and deserve to be in this equation.

Women in design can be very competitive and frightened — so frightened in fact that they won’t work together. I’ve seen women not be accepting of one another or commend each others success, which is wrong.

I’m trying to connect as many women as possible because I believe that’s the only way we can make this better for everyone. Recently I switched from a purely male managed project into working with a previous (female) client. When this happens I feel as though I have twice as much fun. I enjoy sharing thoughts, ideas and information.

I’m like a goldfish — I keep forgetting how much it matters and then I get back to a diverse team and literally everything is better.

So the best I can do is provide a smoother, better path for other women and empower them with my network. I do this in the hopes that it will make their lives just a little bit easier and that at some point in the future, there’ll be more women to work with.

If you weren’t a designer, what do you think you’d be doing?

Painting a 360 degrees seascape. Like Monet did.

Follow Marie on Twitter, Dribbble or check out her website.

What is The Creative Series?

The Creative Series is a publication run by Femke that highlights the under-deserved creatives of our industry. If you’re interested in being featured or want to submit someone, please reach out to Femke on Twitter.

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Femke van Schoonhoven
The Creatives Series

Kiwi in Canada, Product designer at Uber, Podcasting at @DesignLifeFM, Videos about design: https://t.co/Dh2EpDr6jT?amp=1