Demian Borba

Product Manager for the Adobe Experience Design CC team

Demian Borba

Product Manager for the Adobe Experience Design CC team Episode 20

Episode Notes

Episode Transcript

Gary:
Hello, and welcome to Episode 20 of DesignEDU Today, the podcast series discussing topics concerning the state of interactive design education at institutions of higher learning. I am your host, Gary Rozanc, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Today’s guest is Demian Borba. Demian is a Product Manager for Project Comet on the Creative Cloud team at Adobe. He is based in the company’s San Francisco office and has more than 16 years of experience with technology, interactive media, design, business, community engagement and training. Before Adobe, he worked as a Developer Advocate, first for BlackBerry and then Braintree/PayPal, traveling the world to engage with developers and startups. He also ran Action Creations, an interactive agency based in San Diego, designing and developing apps for clients including Oakley, 20th Century Fox, World Surf League, Nike and many more.

Demian is committed to the growth of new innovators, has taught design and programming at UCSD, as well as his own training programs focused on Design Thinking and mobile development, reaching hundreds of developers, designers and entrepreneurs. Learning, empathy, innovation and technology drive his work and his personal life. In addition to being a software engineer focused on UX and Web technologies, Demian is a surfer, Design Thinker and father.

Welcome Demian.

Demian:
Thank you, thanks for having me.
Gary:
So, before we launch into questions about formerly Project Comet, now Adobe Experience Design, I want to get a little more background on you. What does a Product Manager for software, built from the ground up, such as Adobe Experience Design CC and formerly Project Comet do? What’s your role?
Demian:
That’s a big question. First and foremost I think it’s the best job I’ve ever had. I’m working with a very, very talented team of brilliant engineers, designers, other product managers, so it’s been a blast, but daily, to answer your question, we talk to customers, we plan the future of the product, we build empathy pretty much every single day, not only with customers but also with product members because in our team we have to be negotiating everything that we think has a higher priority with everyone; we cannot enforce things. We have a lot to say but we cannot dictate and enforce things; it’s a job of making sure it’s the best for the customer and it’s also very healthy for the team internally.
Gary:
Is working on a brand new product like experience design, is that different than working on existing products like Photoshop? Do you have different goals or once you get started, are they the same?
Demian:
I think so, I think so. The way I see it is, other tools, let’s say well established tools like Photoshop and Illustrator, they have a very solid foundation that was built over the years and now they keep adding new functionality over time and that’s their…what we’re building now for Adobe XD, formerly known as Project Comet as you stated, is the foundation so we are working super-hard for over a year now on a solid foundation for it. As soon as the foundation is there, then we’ll be able to add more features and go a little bit faster but building a foundation that we plan to stay relevant for years and years is super-super challenging and rewarding at the same time.
Gary:
So, what does the Experience Design Team consist of? Designers, engineers, graphic…what are the different components of the team?
Demian:
Yeah, I think we have three main teams working on Project Comet…Adobe XD. I’ll keep calling it Project Comet for a while! It’s a transition for us as well. We have Product, which is my time, a group of Product Managers; we have engineers, like I said, very, very talented engineers who worked on different tools in the past and they are amazing, and we also have designers. We have a group called Experience Design, that’s a co-incidence, internally in Adobe and this team works with all the different tools to make sure that design language is consistent and we explore the right things and like I said, it’s shared with other teams as well so we have these three main groups working together.
Gary:
So, how do they interact on a day to day basis? Do they have their separate tasks and split out and come back, or are they constantly working with each other?
Demian:
Yeah, we’re constantly working with each others. We have two week sprints so we focus on some user stories and some tasks that have to happen in two weeks or at every two weeks we define those and then we tackle those without bigger interruptions, then the way things start before they get to execution in the sprint, we have Product Team, like my team talking to customers, validating some early ideas; sometimes we work with the designers in XD, the Experience Design group, to kind of create some mock-ups, some ideas, for us to validate, then we validate that and we go back and polish and then we talk to engineers to make that happen but sometimes it really depends; sometimes we have engineers working with us since the early, early concept because the way this is presented to the user can impact their work, so it’s a very integrated process.
Gary:
Great, because I think that’s one of the things that students, especially from the design perspective, they just don’t expect this team mentality and working alongside these other people and so it’s good to get that reinforcement from other people.
Demian:
Awesome; it’s a very collaborative work; we’re not trying to dictate things, we’re not spending too much time on one thing; we really validate, adapt and go back and iterate so it’s a very iterative process.
Gary:
OK, so as an interactive and user experience design educator, I never thought about having students design software interfaces, so I can’t imagine that there are a lot of entry level designers with that type of experience. When you’re picking interactive designers for the team, what type of skills and experiences are you looking for from those designers?
Demian:
Yeah, I think the first thing we look for is drive and excitement and focus, something that they care, and that really shows if we talk to young people or people trying to work with us, it’s really obvious: we feel that excitement on day one. I think number one rule is, care about the thing you’re trying to do, it’s your life and it’s going to be there for a long time. The other thing is really focused on understanding people; we’re doing this for people, everything is around people, it’s really centered around humans, so, try to work with people, try to understand people, learn how to build empathy. In the end the execution of a UI design, the polished part of it, is just one piece of the puzzle: we have a lot more involved. We have to make sure it works and if it doesn’t work, it’s our fault, it’s not going to be a good product for people so learn how to understand and work with people.
Gary:
Is there a certain type of visual work that you would like to see in an interactive designer’s portfolio?
Demian:
I would say that, again, of course having the capability and ability to polish UIs and execute well is one part of the whole process. I would say nowadays, material design and flat design is really being used a lot so it’s a focus on those things; simplifying the UI, avoid complex gradients and shadows, all of those things that were from kind of the past but I believe personally they will come back at one point in the future. Yeah, I would say look for references, for me, designers reference, look for references, not only with UIs but also in the world and if it does something that works and people can achieve their tasks successfully, that’s a successful UI. If it’s beautiful in terms of execution but it doesn’t solve the problem, that’s a horrible UI, right? It’s wrong.
Gary:
Yeah, well, try to convince somebody just starting out of that! Well, that’s not true: you can convince them, Their first tendency is to make it beautiful; the idea about usability comes after the fact!
Demian:
Yeah, that should be first.
Gary:
All right, so now onto Adobe’s Experience Design, formerly Project Comet. I feel that you and your team hit the nail on the head when it came to creating a prototyping tool for interactive designers. Now that I don’t have to teach students an awkward, time-consuming process or code that’s hard to learn, I can focus on the instruction of visual design. How did Adobe come to the realization interactive designers needed this tool?
Demian:
I think it goes back to the same point I made in the very beginning; it goes back to building empathy. We are really open and connected to the community, so, a couple, let’s say almost two years ago we started investigating ways of improving Photoshop and Illustrator for UX design. You see a lot of improvements there; in Photoshop now you have Artboards and Illustrator you have Amazing SVG Export so things moved forward there, but we quickly realized that those tools, they’re amazing but they were not initially designed for UX design where you have to come up with a wireframe and then polish your design, quickly build up prototype to test and see if it’s relevant. Not only test but also plan your flow, the way the screens move and everything and then share that with your users, your stakeholders and then get feedback and go back to your design to make the changes. Nowadays, this process is really broken, if you check what’s existing in the market right now, you have to do your design in one tool and then you have to export your images and import in a separate tool and then generate your prototype: it’s a very broken process, especially when you have to go back and edit your designs, so that’s where the problem, I think, got a lot bigger and we had lots of meetings, lots of discussions and we decided to do something from scratch that would be relevant for the years ahead.
Gary:
So, once you decided that…once the idea was conceived: hey, we see this broken process, or we think there’s a broken process and we want to fix it, how did you begin to make that a reality? Did you start observing and interviewing interactive designers, going to design firms and say hey, let’s watch you?
Demian:
Yeah, since day one, we interviewed people, we observed people, we watched them and we also built empathy by playing with the existing tools ourselves so we used those three methods and we keep doing that until now and that’s how we can really build the right empathy and feel the pain that they had. Once we feel the pain, we were able to again, get together and sketch ideas, write some quick prototypes using code and then some prototyping tools and just presenting that to users, to customers, to validate things and move forward slowly. We started with this big vision of the end to end workflow, all the way from idea design all the way to sharing and learning and having that as a very seamless process, frictionless process, and I think we’re very, very early; today we have this public preview out there but this is just the beginning.
Gary:
Oh yeah, that’s important to remember, because I’ve been following this for a while since it was Project Comet and this is Step One.
Demian:
Yes, definitely. We have a big plan ahead of us. We have monthly releases; we’re talking to users pretty much every single day, the whole team is exposed to users, all the feedback we get, we use a mechanism to not only file bugs from the community but also expose and let people vote on things they want as future requests and we have an internal backlog of things we prioritize, our user stories and as of now, until now, everything’s super-aligned so it means we can change at any time if we see the need based on feedback.
Gary:
So, once you started interviewing and observing designers, what were some of the bigger surprises you discovered about their working process?
Demian:
There was a lot during the process. One thing that I hear, I was not there actually but I heard, we know that people really need to repeat content a lot. For example, if you’re building a list of results on a mobile app, you have to copy and paste the items, the cells and then you have to adjust the padding and then if you need to export it from versions you have to change every single one of them. It’s very hard to get…you can use symbols and everything in other tools but you can’t have those symbols super-customized, it’s a very painful process and repetitive, so we came up after that, after seeing that pain, we came up with a repeat grid tool where it can easily select the items you want to repeat, just pull a handle down and you get all the items repeated, all the styles are global and content can be unique, so it can have unique images, unique text, to make the content more realistic. And we’re even investigating the next steps which is bringing real data to feed these grids.
Gary:
When you were, so again, when you were doing this initial user research, did you get a sense for how many people were approaching design? I kind of look at it that there’s two ways: you can do a static mock-up and there’s prototyping apps out there that you can import these into, or you can do the good old-fashioned, get this thing into a CSS framework and test it that way. Did you get a sense of which was used more in the industry, of those two approaches?
Demian:
Yeah, we saw in our analytics, we saw and also seeing the industry very closely, we saw people moving to different tools when they needed faster UI design and when we were talking to customers, we were trying to close that psychological distance: you can tell someone something but if they don’t really touch that or experience that, that psychological distance is really big, so we were trying to make that more realistic so in a lot of cases we were presenting our prototypes and they were really playing with them to get this distance smaller and smaller.
Gary:
OK, but initially, when you’re trying to solve that problem, the Experience Design CC was trying to solve this problem, I think designers, before this approached it, I’m wondering how many of them were actually just doing it painstakingly with HTML and CSS, to kind of get the prototype, or were they just doing static mock-ups in Photoshop or Illustrator, something like that?
Demian:
Yeah, and also in other tools from other companies, we see that a lot and we saw them working, we saw the pain points there and yes, some people like to use code because it’s kind of where they’re most comfortable it but it really depends. In the beginning I was telling that it’s a very broken workflow; in Adobe XD, you don’t even notice, you just keep your pace exploring things, you don’t have to worry about pre-planning everything like most designers do. Designers are different than developers, right? They don’t plan everything up front, they like to explore, they like to go to new places and try things and I think Adobe XD gives that opportunity to UX designers.
Gary:
OK. So, from looking at this and I don’t know if you’ve worked with other projects or you can see other projects within the Adobe family, but how was the working process for interactive designers different than those who were focusing on print design? Did you get a chance to see those two designers side by side?
Demian:
Yeah, I think the biggest difference in my personal opinion is that print is…you have one opportunity to make it right; it’s one chance, it’s printed, so that’s it, there’s no chance to fix or adjust things and when you’re working with websites, mobile apps, you can go back and iterate and change things on the fly. For example, we have monthly releases for Adobe XD; we have our prototype, or sharing site is based on the web so we can push things to change at any point so there’s a big difference. One is kind of limited and the other one is infinite: you can have a lot of iterative things happening there.
Gary:
Yeah, and I think that’s the hardest thing for my students to realize is, when you’re in a design program, you’re doing print and web and print’s so final but I tell them, when they design their website, you are just now launching with version 1.
Demian:
Totally, totally!
Gary:
What is this going to…how is this going to iterate out over time and that’s something that it takes some time for designers to get used to.
Demian:
Totally, and it takes a lot of pressure off as well; you don’t have to worry too much, OK, this is final, I cannot do any mistakes. I think it allows you to make mistakes, because by making mistakes, you take higher risks but at the same time the reward is a lot higher if things work. So I think just for use, we released this public previews now, but this is just the beginning. We’re going to learn, we’re exposing this early because we want to make sure that something that has the right value for people. I think the word value is really important here. We want to make sure people become better designers and they create successful experiences by using Adobe XD.
Gary:
I’m thinking about back to the users and I’m just curious if, once you were doing that initial consultation, initial figuring out, what were some of the things that were being requested, that kept coming to the top, that you decide to include first?
Demian:
I would say the seamless workflow where we could start with a design, a high fidelity design then to prototype to convey your story then share together feedback and validate and once things need to change, it’s easy to go back and make those changes. I think that was the big, big picture and in terms of like, for example, design we had lots of different things; prototyping same and then sharing the same so we have, I believe we have the foundation there for those three scenarios and now we’re going to keep building on top of it.
Gary:
OK, so that’s interesting how you split it up and you’ve got the three scenarios so you’ve got the high fidelity mock-up, you’ve got the prototyping workflow and what did you define the third?
Demian:
Sharing.
Gary:
Sharing. OK.
Demian:
Share that online or record a video and then you can get feedback.
Gary:
Yeah, you see that’s the one part that in design education, we don’t send these out to the clients; we technically are the own clients, so that’s why that one was like, wait a minute, we don’t do that stuff! It’s more internal. We want to be able to look at it for ourselves. So, now that the product is out to market, I have just a couple of questions, road map questions about where you think some of these things are going to go. And so the first one is, in regards to responsive design; it seems like with Xd CC, you’ll still have to create multiple mock-ups for multiple screen dimensions; is there anything in the works of…will those be able to re-flow, like you can make it in one size and then change the art-board and maybe the content will re-flow within it, is that something that’s. (a) even possible?
Demian:
That’s totally on our roadmap, but like I said, we’re building the solid foundation first, so until we get there, we still have a lot to do. For example, we’re working on layers, very special way, we’re researching that for a long time. Same for color-picker gradients; more control over prototypes, ??? on prototypes, so we have all these things they have a higher priority based on the research we do pretty much all the time, but adaptive design, responsive design, is something that’s definitely on the roadmap. I don’t have specific dates but…
Gary:
Oh, that’s OK!
Demian:
But we are aware of that for sure.
Gary:
It’s nice to know that it’s being thought of.
Demian:
Totally, totally!
Gary:
That’s exciting. As far as…OK, so when you’re creating software, you’re obviously doing some user testing on how the people use the software. What does that usability testing look like? Do you have people come in to you, do you get people come in and have cameras set up and you’re recording them using it so you can watch how they go through things or is it by anecdote?
Demian:
I think every team does it differently. In our case as Product Managers, we just meet our customers in one hour, two hour meetings and we just talk to them; we didn’t do anything at that level yet for Adobe XD. We have analytics in the product so we can see the big picture of some things that we consider, let’s call it user success on different tasks and then we can analyze that over time. We can also do some AB testing here and there on some things we want to test on a quantity level, but I personally really like and I’m a big advocate of quality research, so talking to users, segmenting your audience and then trying to identify different types of people that represent that audience and go after them, talk to them, because if you see things showing up, let’s say you’re interviewing three or four designers in the same audience and if the same thing comes up four times, it means there’s a big chance it’s the same for all the others, the big, big audience. So it’s really a matter of balance but we’re investing a lot on quality research for Adobe XD.
Gary:
That’s exciting because that’s again, one thing now that as a design educator going back in the classroom, we don’t get to do that; there’s not a lot of way that we can actually really go out and fully test things as we work and it’s great to hear about the process which the professionals are doing.
Demian:
Yeah, why not, you can’t do it?
Gary:
Well, it becomes…well first, it depends on what it is. So, this program’s going to actually kind of help solve a little bit of that, but prior to this program, if they’re doing a website, and they’re a visual designer, they had to fully code the thing for it to be able to be tested, otherwise how do you test a static mock-up?
Demian:
Not if you have a prototype in Adobe XD!
Gary:
Yes, that’s like I say, now we’ll be able to actually focus on that where before, there was such a steep learning curve to learn how to get a prototype out that we spent more time teaching how to prototype than we did on the actual visual…everybody’s different: I’m just explaining my anecdote, and so…but also too in general, let’s use print design. Yes, you could make a book and you could have people test it and look at it and you could see how they work with it, but it’s almost at that early stage, it’s more valuable to give them, say, OK let’s stop and let’s go onto the next experiment: it’s better to iterate through things and try different things than it is to really stop and assess what you did because I think quantity is really important at those early stages and so that’s another reason why I’m excited at this is because now this gives us a chance to try fifty different ways to animate a button instead of spending so much time in the prototyping, we don’t get to test out the visual and I think this is one thing that’s going to solve that.
Demian:
I think it’s important to highlight that the goal, in my opinion should be not focusing on the different types of animations they can have in a button but the fifty ways you can make a customer succeed on that task, so that should be the focus.
Gary:
Yes, I know that! Yes. I agree with that one. I don’t know why I threw out the word animation, but…
Demian:
No, no, no. No problem.
Gary:
Well, because again, it’s something that there are not a lot of ways out there for designers and students to really make an animation, test that animation to see if it does help improve the user experience.
Demian:
Totally, totally. And you mentioned print a lot at the beginning. I think this is a new area, this is a new time. Print is important, is relevant but we see more and more companies and different entities talking to their customers via apps and via websites and this is it, this is a new time.
Gary:
Yeah, and I’m excited for it and I’m excited for this product. So, Demian, before I let you go, is there anything you are working on that you would like to share or something you want to promote, personally or within Adobe?
Demian:
Yeah, I would really like to see your students and students all over the place play with Adobe XD to convey their stories and if you share your prototypes online, please send us…you can Tweet about it and if you use the hasthtag #AdobeXD, the whole team here can see it and if you have any feedback, any kind of feedback, positive or negative, please, please send us on adobexd.uservoice.com, that’s how we collect all the feature requests and bugs and yeah, this is super-exciting. I think you guys, educators, have the best job in the world which is helping people to get from point A to point B and you learn so much and that’s the most rewarding job in the world, in my opinion.
Gary:
I know for me personally, that’s what I’m going to be doing this summer is, because we’re already in the middle of the semester, it’s actually half over already, so I’ll show them and I’ll let them know that it’s available, but it’s over the summer I’ll sit down, teach myself, work with the program and then next semester is when you’ll see, I bet, starting back up in the fall is when you’ll see a lot of people adopting this into the classroom.
Demian:
And we’re people just like you guys so just talk to us; we’re really open and we really want to make sure this product helps you all the way from idea to prototyping, share and all that.
Gary:
All right, and so maybe do you have any final piece of advice you’d like to give design educators that we didn’t cover today?
Demian:
Yeah, I think it’s hard but go back to your…go back to being a kid. Be curious: instead of trying to force things, when you talk to people, just ask why, even if you know the answer, you have your vision of that answer, keep asking why. You’ll be surprised.
Gary:
Well, so that’s all we have time for today on Episode 20 of DesignEDU Today. I want to thank today’s guest, Demian Borba, for being so generous with his time. I want to thank the audience for listening and I want to thank the DesignEDU Today hosting sponsor, Digital Ocean, and CDN sponsor Fastly , for making the hosting and distribution of these podcasts possible. Finally, I want to thank the AIGA and the AIGA Design Educators’ Community for their generous support of my research that led to this podcast series.

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