June 01, 2015

Interview with Jay Chan from Ustwo

Interview with Jay Chan from Ustwo

Jay Chan is a digital product designer at Ustwo, an award-winning Digital Agency based in London and New York. We had a chat with him about getting past blank canvases, presenting ideas to your team and clients, and Kurt Cobain.


When you’re starting a new project and need ideas: what techniques have you found to help you get past that blank piece of paper?

When it comes to new projects, I find the approach often depends on what stage we enter from. For instance, the more established clients will already have some form of visual identity which is a starting point.

The most exciting beginnings of a project can be when that canvas is blank. From a purely visual perspective, you may instinctively have an idea in your head of what might work and run with that. That can be sufficient when you are working solo, but as part of team, with clients, you need a way of getting that vision out of your head.

It’s not always possible to be there to present your moodboards to a client. In those cases, adding some captions or headings can reaffirm the attributes you are highlighting. Also If you are standing or sitting with them, they make for great reminders of what to play back!

I find moodboards can often be the quickest way to explore directions, communicate a vision and investigate the tastes of a client. They're a huge timesaver as you can do all this before a single screen needs to be designed.

Ultimately, it depends on your audience. Who is the user you are designing for? What environment will they be using the product in? You can get a lot of inspiration from thinking from outside of your own perspective.

Moodboards can often be the quickest way to explore directions, communicate a vision and investigate the tastes of a client.

Where do you draw the line between inspiration and imitation? How do you avoid the latter?

Well, we all have to copy to learn. I think that pretty much goes for anything from food to music to design.

I read once that Kurt Cobain wrote Smells Like Teen Spirit after trying to play More Than A Feeling by Boston. Taking something and evolving it into something else happens all the time.

The line is when you take something you have been inspired by and haven't done anything new with it — then pass it off as your own.

I’m constantly saving images, things that I like. Icebergs before it shut down, Pocket and now Niice. Much in the same way that people may collect recipes: not for the purpose of recreating them on a project, but to capture the feel, essence and tone as inspiration later.

Sometimes less is more, 5 or 6 images with some keywords/attributes on a page may be enough. Otherwise let your curated images speak for themselves and leave interpretation open.

How do you present your ideas to your team for feedback, and how does that differ from how you present them to clients? What techniques do you use to ensure you get the feedback you need?

The way we work here means everyone on the team (UI designers, UX designers, developers, project managers and clients) are all involved from the beginning to the end, from the conception to the delivery. This means there isn’t a need for a 'big share' per se. There are no big surprises as we are up to date daily. If there is visual work being done, we put these up on the walls for all to see and comment. From a visual perspective an example process might be workshops to establish direction, tone and brand principles. You could then follow up with moodboards and style tiling, so the client is already happy with the flavour.

Kurt Cobain wrote Smells Like Teen Spirit after trying to play More Than A Feeling by Boston.

I often find that it's easy to be creative at the beginning of a project, but how do you maintain your creativity throughout a project, and what happens when you hit creative block halfway through?

I think if you have a process in place like the example I just mentioned, then hopefully you won’t run into these types of scenarios too often. If you can capture that bit of excitement you have at the beginning within style tiles/moodboards, then you always have something to refer to. I personally like to add little design touches - a dash of motion or playful design element which adds an extra bit of value and delight. That sort of thing keeps me going. It’s also important to test your work with other people; fellow designers of course, but users too. Feedback can lead you into a slightly different direction than you set off with, but then inspiration can come from anywhere.

An occasional danger with styleboard/moodboards (especially where UI examples are included) is that a client may focus on specific elements you did not mean to highlight. You can negate this by overlapping images or being creative with how you crop them.

How do you foster a creative environment within your team? I'm guessing there's more to it than buying some beanbags.

Gosh, it’s not just one thing. Hopefully your team is a passionate bunch already. Then you can inspire each other, not just in the design work but from each other’s passions outside too. Also, we love having guest speakers here because it’s always fascinating to see how other people are working within their industries, but we’re just as inspired by the hunger and drive of interns that join.


Follow Jay on Twitter @Yoshimitsu09.

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