Inside Design

Inside the Design Team at Trello

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The project management software, Trello, has become ubiquitous since its creation in 2011 and is a firm favorite among the InVision blog team. We sat down with to Adam Simms, User Interface Designer at Trello to talk about working remotely, reaching for perfection, and slowing down the design process.

Hey Adam, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Tell us a little bit about Trello and your role there.

Trello can be a lot of different things for many people. It really has a life of its own at this point. We sort of think of it like sticky notes on steroids: You can put many types of information into Trello, organize, and collaborate with that information in creative ways, whether that’s in a professional context or a personal one. I’m a user interface designer working primarily on the mobile applications. I’ve been working at Trello for a year.

Trello

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

I love to look at the work of people I know: my mentors, the creative people with whom I have a relationship. Looking at their work is very powerful because I have that emotional connection. I understand their background, why they’ve made certain decisions, and why things look a certain way. It provides context for their work, which I find inspirational.

That’s something that’s very hard to get from browsing other work online. You’ll see stuff out of context, and it can be hard to relate to the personal aspects of the project. Design isn’t always about the final result. It’s also about the process, who created it and why.

Trello

But shouldn’t design work without a context? Should we allow the context and the subjective to interfere with what we produce?

I think it’s impossible to design without context, but with that being said, I don’t think that context should overpower the work. Design is a process of decision making where logical and creative constraints merge to solve problems. To solve problems, you need to understand why you’re solving them & who you’re solving them for. Context plays an important role in that process. For me, when it comes to true inspiration, I want to look at a designer and understand who they are and what they’ve done, rather than looking at a design for purely aesthetic purposes.

InVision has helped a ton; it allows us to keep everything in one place. If we’re in a LiveShare, we can communicate very effectively

A lot of your team are remote. How do you make sure that the team works effectively?

Essentially, we treat everybody on the team like they’re remote – even if they’re in the office. It's convenient that we work on a product that helps people manage projects, because we use Trello extensively to collaborate. Also, every designer and every developer based in our New York office has their own individual office. If we have a meeting, everybody will be in their own office on a Hangout so that we all have equal screen presence. I think that’s an issue a lot of companies have, where they’ll do a conference call and have one or two remote workers on a television screen, and the rest of the people together in one room. It’s easy for the people on the screen to feel left out, and there’s a certain “us vs. them” mentality. But if you throw everybody in a Hangout, everybody has an equal presence in the room.

Trello

And how does InVision fit into that?

InVision has helped a ton; it allows us to keep everything in one place. If we’re in a LiveShare, we can communicate very effectively, using it as a way to illustrate ideas or pinpoint specific things in a mockup.

InVision actually plays an important part throughout our entire process. We use it to work through our own ideas, making a sort of wireframe-mockup hybrid. From that, we’ll start to rearrange screens, figuring out the workflows of how a user will get from one place to the other. Then, we polish it up, and actually make an interactive prototype. We rely heavily on InVision to communicate our ideas with developers, and the comments are extremely valuable when it comes to feedback and questions. InVision has really become an integral part of how we work.

If you could change one thing about your career to date, what would it be?

I would’ve liked to have done more print design. My work today is very digital and mostly involves interacting with a screen. I really love the tactility of craft-based design work and wish I had more experience in that field. I think that’s what pushed me into photography. I do a lot of large-format film photography, which is a very hands-on process.

Trello

Digital excels in many ways, but it’s important to know when to slow down, focus on craft and take the time to make something functional and beautiful.

And has your photography impacted your design work, do you feel?

Yes, understanding color spaces, how light reflects, and even understanding the complexity of a pixel didn’t come to until I started learning photography. The process of taking something very analog, the film, and bringing into the digital world also helped me understand the relationship between art and design. Today both mediums allow me to approach new ideas from different technical and creative constraints.

Also, good designers put themselves in new situations to experience new things. Photography has really pushed me to travel and do things that I wouldn’t have done otherwise. I’ve experienced new landscapes and new cultures, all of which interject into my work and help me to interact with and understand people in unique ways.

Trello

Do you feel that we, as an industry, are losing sight of analog processes in our work?

I don’t think that digital is inferior, it’s just different. Ultimately, it’s to do with time. People ask me why I still shoot film, and whilst there are a lot of technical reasons, it’s essentially because it’s forced me to slow down and really think about what I’m creating. With analog photography being costly, I can’t shoot 500 images of one shot. I have to take that time to consider everything and be influenced by the environment I’m in. Digital is often about trying to be the fastest, but sometimes we need to slow the process down. Digital excels in many ways, but it’s important to know when to slow down, focus on your craft & take the time to make something functional & beautiful.

In design, success can feel out of reach, and that’s a good thing - It pushes us to do better, to try and find other solutions.

What advice would you give to young designers starting out?

Be conscious of who you surround yourself with, because you are a reflection of those people. It’s extremely important to build that network of other creative people. At least, it certainly was for me. Have mentors, be a mentor; be inspired, inspire others. I think that being a mentor and being mentored are actually the same thing. You both give and you both receive in that relationship.

Trello

How would you define success? Do you think you’ve found it yet?

I think success in design is finding a simple solution to complex problems. Solving problems in an elegant & beautiful way is the most satisfying part of design for me.

It’s very hard to achieve personal success, because we as designers always see room for improvement. In design, success can feel out of reach, and that’s a good thing. It pushes us to do better, to try and find other solutions.

Trello "It’s impossible to design without context."
Trello "Design is a process of decision making where logical & creative constraints merge to solve problems."
Trello "Digital (vs analog) isn't inferior, it’s just different."
Trello "Focus on your craft; take the time to make something functional & beautiful."
Trello "Build that network of other creative people."
Trello "Success in design is finding a simple solution to complex problems."
Trello "Treat everybody on the team like they’re remote – even if they’re in the office."
Trello
Author

Conor O'Driscoll
Interviewer for InVision, designer for lack of a better word. Has more questions than answers.

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