Typeform’s David Okuniev: Obsess over every pixel

4 min read
Kristin Hillery
  •  Oct 6, 2016
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Typeform allows you to create interactive, engaging forms that are anything but boring. With design a priority, they’re on a mission to make the web a little more human.

We talked to Typeform co-founder and co-CEO David Okuniev about cross-team collaboration, the importance of working in a beautiful environment, and designing for humans.

How is the Typeform design team set up?

Currently, we’re 135 people, of which 12 are designers. We divide design into 2 teams:

  • The product design team, made up of 7 designers (a lead UI designer, lead UX designer, and a mix of UI/UX designers), is responsible for delivering everything related to UI/UX
  • The creative design team, made up of 5 designers (a creative director, art director, 2 graphic designers, and a video editor), functions as a kind of in-house ad agency, providing static assets and video content across all our product areas.

“Details matter. Obsess over every pixel.”

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Both teams work autonomously, and the product design team is split into workgroups. A workgroup is a self-contained product design unit covering UX and UI. Each workgroup is embedded inside a cross-functional product team and delivers on the same goals alongside engineers and product owners.

What’s the culture like there? How do you think you create a great work culture?

Designers founded Typeform, so design has always had a top seat at the table. It’s important to us that we’re continually building beautiful things—and that we’re building them in a beautiful environment.

When designing our office, we avoided going for the usual startup flatpack—instead we designed it so it’d be genuinely delightful to work in. We filled the space with air-generating plants (736 of them, to be precise). We built spaces like our barception, which as the name suggests is a cross between a reception and a bar, where people can meet and get to know one another. And we also made sure we built in a good variety of working areas—stand up, sit down, quiet, social, indoor, outdoor, etc.—to accommodate all working styles. 

“Always be thinking about the actual person who’s using your product.”

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Drilling down into the design culture, we’re continually thinking about designing for humans—our mission is “to make things a little more human.” This way of thinking about the actual person using our product, visiting our website, or reading our blog articles, helps us put empathy at the forefront of everything we do.

How does your team communicate with each other? And how do you communicate with people on different teams at your organization?

Aside from the old-fashioned “get up and have a conversation” method, Trello and JIRA are our tools of choice for communicating within and outside of the team. InVision is one of the products we use for creating prototypes within the product design team.

Since the product design team is split into workgroups that are embedded inside different product teams, each workgroup works autonomously on different parts of the product. So to keep us from designing in opposite directions, we’ve implemented a design system called TDSL (Typeform Design System Language).

We also make sure we keep cross-workgroup communication flowing by having regular design reviews and an entire morning a week dedicated to brainstorming and workshops.

How do you hand off designs to the engineering team?

We hand off a Trello card to product owners of a given agile team with the following assets:

  • a UX flow
  • a prototype
  • a Sketch file with final source art

We also hold weekly design reviews where we invite engineers to review our work so that we’re well aligned with engineering by the time we get to a handoff.

“Designers should use surveys to get qualitative data at scale.”

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How do you hire new people?

We generally look through Dribbble and pull out portfolios. Whether we’re hiring a product designer, UI designer, UX designer, or a graphic designer, we look for design flair and ingenuity, leaning more towards one than the other. Or sometimes both, depending on the type of design role we’re hiring for.

It’s worth mentioning that hiring designers is hard. Harder than any other individual contributor position across the company. There are a lot of people out there who are doing design at varying levels, but hiring the cream of the crop is a challenge. Firstly, many of them prefer to remain free agents, since they’re super sought after and it gives them more freedom. Secondly, geography can be a problem. We’re located in Barcelona, which isn’t a hotbed for product design—though it is more so for graphic design. 

To overcome those challenges, we’ve looked further afield than Barcelona. Additionally, we’ve focused on looking for highly talented, young designers who possibly demonstrate more promise than experience.

How did you personally get to where you are now?

I came to design through music. Up until 2006, I was a recording artist—but I was always doing artwork and web design for my music.  It was in 2006, when I moved to Bogota, Colombia, that I started doing design full time. I founded a small web design agency called Fat-Man Collective, which I eventually moved to Barcelona, Spain, in 2009. In 2011 I met Robert Muñoz, and we eventually founded Typeform together. Today we run the company as co-CEOs, which means I still have time to lead design at Typeform and even push pixels, which I think keeps me at an even keel.

What are some of the best ways designers can use Typeform in their design process?

Designers use Typeform for all sorts of reasons. For example, surveys can help you validate quantitatively a product or feature you’re designingTwitter Logo, or gather feedback/pain points on an existing product.

IDEO uses Typeform for brand research—to get a deep understanding of consumer behaviors.

Designers need feedbackTwitter Logo, and Typeform can play a big part there. Imagine you were designing a logo for a client and wanted their feedback on which option was their favorite. With a typeform, you could show the decision makers all the logo variations and ask them to vote. It’s a quick and simple way to keep yourself in the feedback loop.

Zooming out a bit, we also see designers sending out branding questionnaires to really get a grasp of who they’re designing for in the first place. We think it’s a pretty versatile tool that should be in every designer’s toolbox.

The Form Invaders game on the Typeform website is amazing. Tell us about it.

It was actually born out of an idea for an April Fool’s campaign. We wanted to jokingly tell people that you could now make small games with Typeform. Our “proof” was the game Form Invaders where you could rid the world of boring forms, Space Invaders style. Once the campaign died down, we realized that people genuinely enjoyed playing the game and were sharing it on Twitter. So we kept it.

What are some unexpected ways people are using Typeform?

It’s the “unexpected” uses of Typeform that we enjoy the most. We’ve started writing about some of them on our blog. For example, a town in Canada pretty much replaced all their paper forms with typeforms. HubSpot made something that feels like a web app by creating an entire website from a typeform and using integrations to make it do some neat stuff on the backend.

People have also told us about how they’ve used a typeform to send out wedding invites, deliver content in an interactive way, and create exams for students. We think it’s a pretty versatile tool, so it’s nice to have it backed up by hearing about all these use cases.

How do you use InVision as part of your design process? 

We use InVision for testing out different user flows at the early stages of UX design. InVision is a quick way to get a sense of whether a flow is working well.Twitter Logo We also test these flows on external users in order to get data as early as possible so we can make the right decisions.

“InVision is a quick way to get a sense of whether a flow is working well.”

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Do you have any advice for young designers?

Don’t just design in order get a user from A to B—design for a human to get from A to B delightfully.Twitter Logo

Iterate—you can always produce a better version of a design.

With time and experience you’ll learn what doesn’t work well, and that will make you work much faster and save you time.

Practice mastering balance. Great design is considerate about the relationship and the hierarchy of elements.

Details matter. Obsess over every pixel.Twitter Logo

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard