As design becomes an increasingly crucial part of the DNA of tech startups, we see a lot of product-focused founders thinking about whether they should learn some UI/UX skills. We were excited when the founder of one of our favorite products, a news-sharing site for professionals called Quibb, took our Design 101 course on Designlab.
We took a few minutes to chat with Sandi about her goals in learning design, her experience on Designlab, and how she sees the role of design in helping her do a great job. Hopefully, this post is helpful perspective for other current (and aspiring) entrepreneurs looking to round out their skillset to help their teams make amazing products.
Below is a lightly edited version of the interview.
DESIGNLAB: What originally drew you to design? What were your goals?
MACPHERSON: I’ve been working on various (ugly) products non-stop for the past 3 and a half years. I had little to no design experience - let alone actual structured education on the principles of design. As the founder of a one-person startup, I’m always learning about the disciplines that affect my product and company. This started by learning how to program (Ruby), and later learning front end development (HTML and CSS).
Recently, I worked with a design shop in San Francisco to re-design the Quibb iOS app. Working with the firm wasn’t an overly amazing experience. I lacked familiarity with common design jargon and concepts, which made the process challenging. I realized I needed to spend some time beefing up my design knowledge. I didn’t quite need a ‘learn front end development!’ bootcamp. It was more that I needed to understand what design is, to be able to make decisions about my product and company (i.e. lots of decisions!)
As the founder of a one-person startup, I’m always learning about the disciplines that affect my product and company. I realized I needed to spend some time beefing up my design knowledge.
DL: Had you pursued any design education before trying Designlab?
MACPHERSON: I had tried to learn about design on my own - but sometimes, you’re not quite sure where to start. I knew about affordance, some bits about typography, color theory, etc. That said, it’s very different working on projects devoted specifically to learning those concepts. And then even more different working through them together with another, more experienced person.
DL: What about Designlab’s course drew you to it? Which aspect did you find most helpful?
MACPHERSON: It seems like a lot of the existing 'Learn X online’ products and courses are skills-focused. Since I had a working product, I needed the knowledge and experience one level up from the skills themselves. There isn’t a designer on my team (yet!), so having a skilled professional to work with as my mentor was extremely helpful. This relationship with my mentor also allowed me to delve deeper into their experience working as a designer. There are a lot of decisions that I make every day that are influenced by design (e.g. Do most people compile fonts in the browser? How do designers typically interface with growth objectives?)
DL: What was your overall experience with Designlab? How did Designlab help you achieve your goals?
MACPHERSON: I really enjoyed the Designlab Design 101 course ????. The pace and level of material was perfect for a design newbie like me. The flexibility of the mentor-model allowed me to dig in when I wanted, and we even tweaked a few of the exercised based on my goals. This meant I could get the most out of the course as possible. It was also a great chance to get familiar with some design and mockup software. I had already used Balsamiq a lot, but learned Sketch through the exercises in this course.
I’m now in the middle of redesigning the Quibb homepage, and feel much more confident in my ability to make something great. If I hadn’t taken the course, I’d just randomly be adding photo chrome, not have a clear visual hierarchy - with none of it on a grid!
I’m now in the middle of redesigning the Quibb homepage, and feel much more confident in my ability to make something great.
More about Sandi: A native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Sandi moved to the Bay Area in 2012 to immerse herself in startups and consumer tech. There she learned about tech products and social platforms by creating and designing several (failed) startups and digital products. In mid-2013, she started Quibb - a social platform for industry news, analysis, and commentary. Prior to moving to the United States, Sandi worked in cleantech and in the non-profit sector in climate science and environmental policy roles. Sandi holds an Honours B.Sc. degree in Environmental Science from Acadia University, and an MBA from Toronto’s Schulich School of Business.