Design Selections 101: Ins and Outs of our Product and Mobile Design

Author Paula Grubiša
Category Company
Date Oct 30, 2020
16 min read

We decided to sit down with Elena, our Design Team Lead, and talk about our current design selections. We’re hiring for 2 different positions — Mobile and Product designer, and she gave us an overview of projects, expectations and the selection process.

Bornfight design team & units — tell me all about it!

Our design team is currently divided into 3 units — Creative, Mobile and Product. Each unit is specialized for specific services which makes it easier for us to focus on different types of projects and processes. This way, designers can work on projects they’re passionate about and evolve professionally in the direction they choose because design itself covers a wide spectrum of areas that is impossible to cover. 

There is a really close cooperation between designers in the Product and the Mobile unit as they share similar processes — from the discovery process, user research and workshops, all the way to the creation of strategy. When you take a look at the digital product as a whole, it usually consists of multiple platforms, so the main difference comes when you’re designing for a specific platform — iOS and Android, or web. There are numerous benefits of this approach because designers can fully focus on the specifics of the devices and platforms they design solutions for. 

So, you’re a Design Team Lead… Which responsibilities come with that role?

I primarily supervise team members and mentor them while they’re working on projects, but my responsibility is to also set the goals and expectations for the whole team and to take care of their individual professional development and growth plans. In addition to that, one of my tasks is to be a part of the selection process and plan future design recruitments — when should we start them, how many people are we looking for and on which positions… 

I also work on projects… mostly in the initial phases of project setup when we conduct workshops, and I’m also in close communication with clients. During the design phase, it is my responsibility to supervise the progress of the project and coordinate designers, share feedback on their work and mentor them. 

As a design team lead, I need to take into consideration the individual skills and goals of every designer, so that I could coordinate their projects and responsibilities that would fit them and enable them to grow — that way they can bring even more value to the project. Also, I need to ensure that the projects we work on are successfully completed and that there is satisfaction on both sides — client’s and ours. 

Product and Mobile unit, product and mobile designers — tell me everything!

While Product designers work on web applications, Mobile designers work on mobile, mostly native iOS and Android apps. There is no division between iOS and Android, so our mobile designers work on both equally. 

We’re currently in the process of hiring specialists for a middle position, which means designers who can independently work on processes, communicate with clients, define the goals of the project, and work on the design with good knowledge of the material and iOS guidelines for Mobile designers, or understanding of responsive web apps for Product designers

When a project consists of mobile and web apps, mobile and product designers work together. Some phases include user research, the whole discovery process and workshops with clients and stakeholders — during these aspects of the project, it’s important that every designer working on that project is fully involved. At the moment, we don’t have a User Researcher as a separate position, but as the team grows and specializes I see the need for that position in the near future. For now, our mobile designers are doing user research and usability tests for the mobile projects they work on, while our product designers do the same for web-based apps they create.

As far as the number of designers on a project — on large-scale projects, there is a minimum of 2 designers working together and cooperating, but there were times when even more than 4 designers worked on the same project because of its complexity and deadlines.

Every individual has its own set of specific skills and knowledge which contributes to the whole project and takes it to another level. 

Can you tell me more about professional development in the design team? 

As far as structured meetings are concerned, every designer in the team has monthly Quality Time meets with me, and since we started working remotely, we made them even more frequent — now we’re holding them every 2 weeks instead of once a month. This is where we talk about all of the ongoing plans, projects, challenges, opportunities… 

One of my responsibilities is to be aware of every designer’s interests, which can change as the person develops, so we have structured biannual meetings about professional development where we define the current position and level of our team members, specify what is expected from each one of them at their current position and what they should do in order to advance to the next level.

In addition to that, when you work on a large-scale project that takes a lot of time, you have more of an impact on the final output and processes. While working on a project for 6 months or even longer, it’s easier to see the bigger picture, think outside the box and create something that hasn’t been seen before, to be innovative… There are more opportunities to experiment with ideas, methods, approaches and mindset, and finally, with design — you are aware of what could work and what ideas have the biggest potential… and even if you fail, you have the time to make it right with the help of your teammates. 

You iterate again, and again, and again… to get the best possible result. Small and short projects don’t give you opportunities like this one — you have limited time and budget, and what needs to be done, needs to be done now, usually in a safe way that has proven to be efficient. It may be a bit overwhelming when making a switch from small projects to big ones, but they grow on you with time and you learn a lot. You can dive deeply into the industry that it covers, meet clients very well and understand their needs and wishes more thoroughly… and finally, create a bond with them. 

The best way to learn something new and to grow professionally is to try, make mistakes, learn from them and implement new discoveries in the future. 

Besides working closely with clients, can you tell me a bit more about cooperation on projects?

Right from the start of the project, we form project teams that work together. It is important for them to bond with each other and get closely acquainted with every person they’ll be working with for the next couple of months. There’s a minimum of 2 designers on each project, and the role of a design team lead is to mentor and support them as they work closely with front-end and back-end developers, as well as project managers. 

At the very beginning of the project, we gather and write down all the roles that we’ll need to cover – from user researcher, user strategist, information architect to art director and visual designer. It’s important to assign the roles and responsibilities based on the individual preferences and skills of each designer working on a project, but that doesn’t mean that every designer is limited to a small number of specified roles. It is desirable to be included in every step of the project and communicate ideas and thoughts with others — when you own your role, you’ll get support and feedback from other designers, but the final decision is up to you. 

Product unit projects

One of our biggest projects in the product unit is the creation of an online competition platform for athletes, and it is a combination of mobile and web. We had a 2-day discovery workshop which included our designers, project managers, developers, and clients. They came to us with an undeveloped idea, and the goal of this workshop was to review everything — from the business models, target users and mapping user journeys, to seeing how to form it into a product and decide which platform is the best fit (mobile app, website, or maybe the combination of both). 

We started from scratch, worked hard on project planning and we’re even looking further into the potential for future expansions. We’re working on the MVP of the product that could be delivered in the next few months, and then we’ll move forward to the testing phase. At the moment, we have 2 designers working on it, and a total of 9 members within the project team.

We are also working on building a school improvement system for accelerated student learning called Eye On The Goal, and now this partnership surpassed 4 years. Our client came to us to rethink, redesign and redevelop their intensive strategic planning and school improvement system — an all-in-one set of specialized tools and processes that are used to accelerate student learning through a continuous improvement of strategic planning, teaching, leadership and organizational practices. In order to maximize user experience, we structured the entire tool in a way that all of the specific tools within it work seamlessly with one another and complement each other through various types of process simplification, optimization and automation. We conducted numerous interviews with professors from the USA and one of the biggest benefits of conducting continuous user interviews is that they helped us to structure and tailor features to different types of users. If you want to find out more about this project, explore our full case study!

Mobile unit projects

One of the projects that we’re currently working on in the mobile unit is for a startup from the UK. They’re working in the color and decoration industry for walls and interiors, and our collaboration started with user research, usability testing and strategic approach. In the end, we finally got to do the whole design for the apps, both iOS and Android. Because of that, we have half of the unit included in this project, and the most interesting part is that we use AR technology, which we’re really excited about because there are things that have not been done before — a new integration of technology which we can’t wait to explore even more. They have their HQ in the UK, and we traveled there multiple times for workshops and meetings. But because of the current situation, we now do everything remotely. 

We also worked on the app for Croatia’s #1 beer brand, Ožujsko. Our task was to create a fun, rewarding and informative loyalty application that would enable our client to connect with its community even more. It was an interesting task to merge the offline and online world through an app, and we accomplished that by using QR codes on the receipts that could be scanned with a phone. This, alongside being active in the app, solving daily quizzes and exploring articles enables them to redeem a variety of app-exclusive rewards.

Another project I’d like to mention is the creation of a mobile platform for traveling and working abroad for Pvtistes. This project was specific as quite a lot of content had to be included in the app and presented to the users in a way that inspires them, instead of overloading them. We wanted to focus our users on the content and reduce unnecessary distractions as much as possible, while still not oversimplifying the interface. As we worked both on a web platform and a mobile app for this project, the Mobile and Product unit worked together and cooperated closely. You can check out our Pvtistes case study to find out more about it!

We also built a companion mobile app for a cutting-edge media monitoring tool — Mediatookit. They tasked us with creating a new iOS and Android application that would enable their customers to use all of Mediatoolkit’s core functionalities on-the-go. The goal of the project was not just to create a copy of the web version for mobile devices, but rather an application that complements the web tool. As Mediatoolkit’s core user group of PR professionals and marketers want to be aware of the communication surrounding their brand at all times, this mobile app enables them to get real-time notifications and keep track of all the news — even when they’re away from the computer. We created a separate mobile app for each operating system — this native development approach made the applications more fluid and increased their performance. We also have a case study about it, so feel free to check it out!

What about design processes? Tell me more about which ones you use, when and how?

Everything starts with an idea — we see an opportunity, we take it and we test it. The ultimate goal is always the same — to solve the business problem, to find out how to do it and which way is the best way to accomplish our goals. 

The first phase of every project is to look into the problem or opportunity and to explore it. We use methods like competitive research, benchmark analysis, user interviews and user surveys. We also create personas and define target groups, as well as user journey maps that often include listening sessions, usability tests and A/B testing. Many of the projects we work on include workshops with clients which can bring us valuable pieces of information that help us define problems and set the right expectations. 

After we’re done with that, the next phase is the realization of the solution which includes brainstorming sessions, UI design, design systems, motion design and mockups, and a lot of sketching and prototyping. 

The main focus is to deliver the best results of the potential solution, so we adapt our approach and methods to the needs of every project. 

When we talk about the UX in our team, we are responsible for the user research process. Sometimes we use surveys, sometimes interviews and, as most of our clients come from all over the world, we communicate with people from different cultures and nationalities. For one usability testing, we had to reach out to people and agencies from a wide variety of different countries because our target groups were worldwide, and as this was testing for an AR mobile app, remote online testing was not an option. It was interesting to find out how people from different backgrounds perceive information and how behavior differs from culture to culture. 

If we dive deeper into the metrics and ROI of design, we use many qualitative and quantitative methods that we already mentioned, including Google Analytics and Hotjar which help us see what’s happening…. but we need deeper research to find out why that is happening, so we can get a bigger picture. 

OK, let’s now jump onto different types of tools and technologies our design team is using…

We used Sketch on most of our projects, but we recently decided to switch to Figma and it turned out to be a great move because of the real-time collaboration which brought us numerous benefits while working remotely. We can include our developers, project managers and even clients on the project and work together at the same time. They help us create diagrams and roadmaps, and it’s easy to handle handover to our developers. 

Since we have large projects that we’ve been working on for 5 years or more, and we started them in Sketch, we decided it is better to keep them there as it would be complicated to transfer all the files and design systems to Figma, and would take a lot of time. For management and versioning of Sketch files we use Abstract, which is like Git for designers, and as our projects are constantly upgraded, Abstract helps with the versioning process when 5-6 designers work together at the same time. 

When it comes to handovers, we use tools such as Zeplin and InVision — they help us transfer work between teams and make the whole process faster and easier, both for designers and developers. Other than that, we use Jira for project management, Confluence for project documentation, Optimal Workshop for usability testings, sometimes Miro boards for brainstorming, Slack for internal communication, Google Drive, Docs, Sheets…

Why is the design team so liget? 

Yep, you read that right — liget. We are full of cheesy, tacky and stupid inside jokes beacause we are all connected pretty closely — not only do we work together, but we go out, hang out, party together… That’s the way the cookie crumbles! We are also big fans of pouring homemade elderberry juice into wine bottles, so make sure to get a whiff before taking a sip of that one. Don’t say we didn’t warn you! 

Our team is pretty stable, during the last 4 years, only 2 people have left, and we are constantly expanding and hiring new talents. It is easier to work with people you know well and there is mutual trust and respect — you can count on their support anytime for anything. You bring lemons, we’ll make lemonade. 

Here at Bornfight, you’ll be surrounding yourself with passionate teammates that are pushing the boundaries of the way you work and think. Your problem-solving skills, ability to learn, receive and give feedback play a crucial role when applying for a design job — it’s not just about your design skills. What we value the most is that the candidate matches with the culture and mindset of the team they are applying for, and our team loves challenges. We enjoy pushing the boundaries and exploring new things, experimenting with styles and designs, and motivating each other on bold moves. It helps us to bond, grow individually and also as a team, and every day is full of new and unknown adventures and challenges. 

What advice would you give to our upcoming applicants about portfolios?

When talking about the portfolio, many designers feel sick to the stomach… usually because they think their work won’t be good enough or that they don’t have the time for that. It’s normal to feel that way because you think that you can do better, and you have the urge to learn and improve. There is a really small number of people that are 100% satisfied with work in their portfolios because as you develop and grow, you create entirely new perspectives that you want to use with your upcoming problems, but also those old ones. Working constantly on your portfolio, creating new stuff and improving old projects, will polish your skills and designs. 

Don’t forget that it’s always about quality, not quantity — it’s better to have 3 projects or case studies you worked on in-depth and that can portray your vision, way of thinking and mindset, than 10 projects that you slipped in your portfolio just to have more stuff to show. Show your approach, your problem-solving skills, methods you used… and incorporate all the failed attempts you tried in the process of creation. This way, you can show your organizational and communication skills — the whole process is much more important than the final result. 

When you have a vision, it is easier to achieve it while working in a team with other designers who can use their skills and methods to realize the idea to perfection — it’s a difficult task for one individual. We need to find out all the ways you can contribute to our design team from your portfolio with your way of thinking and handling different tasks in various situations. Show us everything in-depth, your ups and downs on the project — that is the purpose of a portfolio, to represent your mindset and vision, not the number of projects you can slip into it. 

What about the selection and the onboarding process — what do they look like?

The first step you need to take is to send us your CV and portfolio. After we review every application, we’ll send an assignment that can help us evaluate the level of knowledge and skills of every applicant. The next step is psychological testing that’s conducted by our HR team — during this process, we can find out if the person is the right fit for our company’s culture, and our candidate can learn a lot about our mindset and approach. The final step is the interview with the candidates that passed all the previous stages of our selection process — this is where we mostly talk about expectations to make sure that we’re the right fit.  

When it’s all done and you’re officially a part of our design team, that’s when the onboarding starts. The first step is to meet with your new team members — we talk, hang out and try to get to know each other. It may be overwhelming in the beginning, as also you get to meet a lot of new people from other teams and departments — it is a difficult task to remember all of the names, and it will probably take a month or two to master that… especially when we start with multiple nicknames for the same person. Other than that, we will introduce you to our past and current projects, as well as processes and methodologies we use, and we’ll talk about the upcoming projects you’ll be working on. 

The onboarding process is individualized, it depends on the skills and the experience of the person that is joining our team, but the final result is the same — our new designer will be ready to cooperate with other team members on our ongoing projects, bring new, fresh ideas that will enrich our projects and processes, and also mentor our junior designers and learn something new from them. 

You mentioned that one of the responsibilities of our new designers will be mentoring juniors. Is that the reason why we’re looking for candidates with more than 2 years of experience?

Yes, that is one of the reasons — we have junior designers who need guidance and support while working on their projects, and we’re looking for someone who can mentor them and encourage them to grow. And… as we’re constantly getting new large-scale projects, we’re in need of designers that can own them and handle those projects on their own, and that’s the main reason why we’re looking for experienced designers. Our mid-level designers work independently, there’s no operational interference from team leaders on projects — they are responsible for their projects, decision-making and cooperation with clients. The team leader is always there for help and support, but middle and senior designers don’t need approval when it comes to handling and working on projects. 

So, this is a full-time position. What about working remotely, hiring freelancers and collaborating with other designers via network?

We’re always looking for fresh talent and new designers for collaboration. That is also why we decided to create the Bornfight Network that can help us work with freelancers with different design specialization — animation, 3D modeling, illustration, UX/UI, motion graphics, branding… This type of collaboration is great as it doesn’t require a full-time engagement from freelancers that already work on their own projects, but it gives them a chance to work and cooperate with us. 

As for working remotely, we’re really flexible and a big part of the design team works from home, but we’re really connected and careful not to lose those personal relationships because they are important for both the team and projects — that’s why we try to gather at the office from time to time. 

Every designer can choose when to work remotely and when to come to the office, based on individual preferences and lifestyle. 

We even have full-time remote positions that work from all over the country, but mostly they set a couple of days of the month, or even a week, to come to Zagreb and work from our HQ. It is not a problem to work remotely for middle and senior-level positions that can work independently, but that is not an ideal option when hiring juniors as they need support and guidance most of the time while working on projects, and it can also affect their growth and development. 

OK, great! Let’s wrap this up. If someone were to join your team, what benefits would they get from it?

We like to believe that we are inspiring the mindset shift by challenging the known and by constantly improving ourselves to create the most impactful solutions. As I already said, here at Bornfight you’ll be surrounding yourself with passionate teammates that are pushing the boundaries of the way you work and think. Every day brings new challenges that we embrace both hands, as they help us learn new things and develop new skills. A lot of exploring and experimenting with the unknown is the most exciting part of working in our design team, and if you can see yourself in the position of our Mobile designer or a Product designer, polish that portfolio and send us your application — we’re waiting for you!

Become our new Mobile designer or Product designer and join the team!

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