Remote design: The good, the bad and the ugly (part 1)

This is the first out of 3 articles about the challenges and treats of working as a designer remotely.

Introduction

I recently joined a company named Scrapinghub as a remote product designer. Up until now, I had never worked full time in a remote position so when this opportunity presented itself, my first step was to do some research on remote work, in the hopes of finding enough information to help me decide whether to accept the job or not. In the past, whenever I was offered a job, it was a matter of analyzing the job description, the company culture and values, the growing opportunities, salary and other practical matters. This time, however, I have taken a different approach;I had another variable to add to the equation, and an important one for that matter. Something I consider to be one of my strong suits as a professional, besides my technical skills, is the ability to communicate and to relate to people, to build relationships with my working mates, which to me is essential. Also, there were other aspects that I had to reflect on, both on the professional and personal levels such as how to be organized, disciplined and focused while working from home and perhaps the most important of all: How do remote design teams actually work?

Getting used to changes

The role of the Designer has changed a lot since I started working in this field (around 11 years ago). It started getting really specific and, more and more job descriptions started to emerge. From web designers to UX, UI (Visual), product designers, branding designers, user researcher and so on. It’s amazing how much the industry has evolved and how the importance of design has increased over the years.

Another aspect of the evolution of digital design is the working models. Design is, by definition, a role that demands an understanding of not only the product or service the company offers, but also of how people perceive the value of the product and how they use it. Besides that, it is really important that the designer can match those attributes with the business goals, vision and expectations from stakeholders and, possibly, investors. To accomplish that, the designer relies a lot on face to face interactions with all sorts of people. To name a few: other designers (through design critique sessions, review meetings, etc), engineers, product managers, customer service reps, sales people, users (current and potential ones), researchers, etc. Such interactions take place via conversations and team dynamics, either through brainstorming sessions (where we put different stakeholders together to solve a specific problem), focus groups (where we engage with a group of users to get an idea of how they accomplish tasks and solve specific problems in their lives), or even a session with the company founders and higher level executives to understand how the business goals and vision should be reflected on the product itself.

The designer's responsibilities

The main responsibility the designer has is not only to understand the job to be done, but to connect all the parts involved in the product or service as a whole. So we can pretty safely say that these interactions take place mostly inside a determined physical space, since it demands considerable contact and time spent with other people.

So, get a group of people together, get them to interact, brainstorm and make decisions. Sounds simple, right? What if you to the mix the fact that this exchange of ideas is to happen between people who are not only located in different rooms but actually in different countries, timezones and who speak different languages. It’s frightening at first, to be honest, but I have realised it is not only possible, but quickly becoming a common occurrence. Each year, more and more remote design jobs (as well as programming, copy writing and even executive jobs) become available. If you are hoping to work for a great company without the hassle of moving countries and dealing with complicated visa applications, this is an excellent way to do it. It is actually easy to understand why this might be the future of design.

Some links to get you started:

Books

Job boards

Places to work (coworking spaces, wherever you are around the world)