We're tracking down InVision users inside the world's most amazing companies to discover their favorite tools, books, methods, and the philosophy behind what makes them so awesome. This week we interviewed Ryan Cobourn, Experience Design Manager at Adobe, in Salt Lake City, Utah.
What would you say are your top three essentials in your workspace?
- Tons of white board space and lots of markers.
- Collaboration space and video-conferencing equipment. I’m pretty involved, especially early in the process. I work with designers in Utah, the Bay Area, Switzerland, France and India, so space and video-conferencing is definitely essential and helps keep us moving.
- Smart people. We’re working on a lot of complex problems for large enterprises so having smart people around to bounce ideas off of - and get feedback from - is essential for me.
How much of your job is management, how much is design?
My job is to motivate other people to do awesome design, but a big part of that is leading and leading by example. So I spent a lot of time working with our customers and getting their feedback and taking ideas to them. I also spend a lot of time working with my team, especially in the initial conception phase when we’re drawing a lot of our ideas and coming up with a lot of stuff. But, it’s a big company and we’re doing a lot of stuff and I think, like most companies, we don't have enough designers - so I end up producing a lot of the actual solutions that are going into the products as well.
How do you know when you achieve understanding of what the client really wants?
Usually when they start geeking out about what we’re showing them. We show stuff early and often and you can really see their excitement kind of rise as they say, “Oh yeah, that's the thing that I’m trying to solve!”
Our customers actually provide a lot of inspiration.
What do you do when you hit a creative roadblock?
Usually, I bring in other people when I hit a roadblock. We have pretty big cross-functional teams and I have several designers working on each one of these solutions. I try to bring them in and start a conversation by restating the problem and then letting them think through some ideas. I try to understand where the team is coming from because it's really helpful to get a second or third perspective when I'm stuck.
Do you do any sketching on paper?
I do, although lately my sketching has moved largely to the whiteboard. But I do a lot of sketching on paper; both on a Moleskine - which is what I can use when traveling - and I’ve got a bigger sketchbook as well.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I spend a lot of time looking at data visualization, that’s a lot of what we do here and we’re always scouring the web for interesting ways to splice huge data sets into meaningful visualizations. Our customers actually provide a lot of inspiration. They’re often flabbergasted at the size of the problem they’re trying to solve and they bring a lot to the table when we talk with them. And finally, there’s a lot of really smart people here at Adobe; we have whole teams of PhD’s who are working on solutions to problems we don’t even know exist yet and that’s a fountain of great ideas.
Who do you look up to as a designer?
My team, of course! I think Edward Tufte, Nathan Yau, Nicholas Felton – those guys are kind of data geniuses. Dan Roam is another. I’ve heard him speak a couple of times. I love his philosophy of using simplicity to communicate complex problems.
The pace that InVision is working and innovating at is awesome for us because Adobe is working at a similar speed.
What are some of your favorite books?
In terms of industry books:
- The Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam. It's all about how to simplify problems and communicate them.
- The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte is the bible for me. I can really get into that and find different ways of displaying complex data sets.
Outside of the industry: I read a lot of science fiction. I love Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut. It’s one of my favorite books. I like a guy who has really, really strong opinions and is able to communicate them in a very humorous way.
What is your beverage of choice?
At work it's coffee. After work, I really enjoy unwinding with some beers. My favorite beer right now is actually from a local brewery right here in Salt Lake. It’s Spiral Jetty IPA which is made by Epic Brewery. People think of Utah as a place that doesn’t have much of a drinking culture but we have some of the most award-winning breweries in the country.
What kind of music do you listen to?
It really depends on my mood:
- Explosions in the Sky
- Little People
- The Cinematic Orchestra
- A lot of instrumental and mellow electronic stuff
Without talking to others, you can go down a path that might never arrive at the best solution.
Tell me about some of your favorite tools for the creative process.
- Clearly, Adobe Creative Cloud is a key tool.
- Illustrator to do a lot of our digital implementation and even wireframes in Illustrator.
- Fireworks is important as well.
- Photoshop to create a lot of assets.
- I use my whiteboard with these cool chisel-tip markers that I love as well as a sketchbook – My whole wall is a whiteboard for constant sketching.
- InVision for prototyping and collecting feedback from all these different touch points.
- Evernote, a lot, for note taking. I, in particular, have to go to a lot of meetings and take a lot of notes. Spotify, since I listen to a lot of music
What is your ritual to get in the zone when you’re working on a project?
Usually, if I'm working by myself I crank up the tunes. I start by restating the problem. Keeping that in mind, I then identify the user and then I restate their goals. Once I have that in mind, I start sketching out ideas and erasing them and start sketching out new ones and then erasing those and then keep repeating that cycle until I have something that I like. When I’ m working with the team we start the exact same way but we’re usually working together in the workspace with some additional tools, drawing out our ideas or using a game to come up with something.
How does InVision help you in your design process?
Communication in a large and distributed organization with a lot of stakeholders is a big challenge. InVision allows us to share the workflow, collect commentary - both internally and externally - and very quickly and continuously update our designs to reflect that. It allows us to walk executives and customers through our proposals or solutions without having to wait for any engineering help or for engineering to get started, so it really speeds up the communication and helps us consolidate our feedback.
How long have you been using InVision?
We started using InVision individually a little over a year ago. The whole team has really adopted it and it’s been really amazing how quickly and fully they’ve adopted it. My team is in the process of designing a mobile app right now and you guys just released a bunch of mobile features – that was perfectly timed! The pace that you guys are working and innovating at is awesome for us because we’re working at a similar speed.
How important is collaborating with other designers?
It’s super important. Collaboration is everything that we do here. Everything we do is complex enough and it touches so many different people that without talking to others, you can go down a path that might never arrive at the best solution. So we always communicate amongst departments. We work closely with the guys who work on products like Creative Cloud, as well as working with people who are working in a more consulting role. These designers work on one-off solutions for customers as well and they often have a really, really good idea of what the customer is trying to do. Getting those people’s opinions is extremely valuable for us.
What is your favorite part of the design process?
It’s kind of like asking me who my favorite child is...we tailor our process to the problem we're trying to solve. So I can’t really say that there’s one part that I like more than any other. I really do enjoy the whole thing. I enjoy being able to tailor it to what we’re trying to do.
What do you find to be the most frustrating aspect of design?
I think one of the most frustrating things is seeing good ideas compromised or differed due to business realities. That’s the world that we live in and I think that, like me, many designers are idealists at heart and having parts of your design pared down or lost entirely is like losing a part of yourself. It’s really frustrating but like I said, it’s the world that we live in.
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