Given his 14 years in the digital marketing communications industry, Dane Bowen, experience and visual design director at Hellocomputer, has had the opportunity to view all aspects of the design process – from advertising to service – as his career has progressed from creator, to creator and manager, to its current iteration in which he is a creator, manager and an explorer.
As a result of this evolution, his focus has broadened considerable. Initially, as a creator, his responsibility was to work in the business on client projects. It then expanded to include looking out for the business or agency he was employed by and maximising the potential of the team he led. Today, in addition to creating and managing, Dane is exploring the future of the industry to ensure relevance of skills and services across the business.
We asked him to unpack his journey to gather his insights and career learnings.
My design career started even before I had one: As a teenager, I used Microsoft Paint to design pixel art CD covers for my MP3 playlists and, in doing so, discovered an interest in design.
At college, I was introduced to more advanced design tools, which had me up for hours playing around with their capabilities. With practice and exposure to great design principles, you get better at your craft and this is where I really found my passion for design.
Next, I had to endure Flash; a plus was the amazing level of interaction it brought, which is often lacking in some of the interfaces of today. As your career progresses, you get exposed various tools and your bag of tricks grow. My biggest learning from this time was, if you have passion for what you do, you will adapt and learn to produce whatever it is you strive for.
I then found myself in larger agencies and working as part of a more diverse team, all of a sudden I had to consider their deliverables and workflows. It was during this time that I decided to view my work from my colleagues’ perspective. If I were them, I wouldn’t want to work with messy, disorganised files. So, I made sure every layer was labeled, and files were named logically and stored in an understandable folder structure.
This simple design etiquette made my work even more efficient and grew into comprehensive handover documents and prepped assets to speed up team members’ workflows, which in turn allowed more time to craft and perfect the end product.
I suggest that, as a creator, you too be empathetic, not only towards your clients and your users, but for everyone you work with. This will bring out the best in the team and deliver a more superior product.
Later on, I was required to rationalise my work and prevent clients from shooting down my design ideas. So, once again I had to shift my approach and started deep-diving into data to support my design decisions. All this helped us get top-performing platforms out for our clients with few arguments around design decisions. Design then became more of a science than an art and it’s all too easy to pull up Dribble or Behance for references to prove that you are ‘staying on trend’.
The teams I manage constantly look elsewhere for references including real world spaces and examples to bring something familiar back to the user. For example, for South African Tourism project, the team applied directional airport iconography and boarding pass details to the platform design. We then added local flavour by exploring traditional Shweshwe patterns to give the interface an extra layer of uniqueness.
Lesson? By getting stuck in the details and changing up your approach constantly, you will be able to re-define your briefs and enhance your creativity within projects.
Moving into the manager space takes you away from what you were initially good at. For most of us, it’s a scary time, especially when you notice your tools changing from a creative suite to and admin suite.
To start, I reflected on what I had learnt as a designer, and asked myself, as a manager, how can I:
- Never lose the passion for what I do?
- Be empathetic towards the business and the teams I manage?
- Approach the role more creatively?
I decided to tackle this new territory the best way I knew how, like a project! I observed the current processes and how teams work together and conducted informal interviews and jotted down the problem statements. From this, I was able to establish a team vision centred on the employee and business needs, and how everything fits within the greater agency ecosystem.
I then unpacked the requirements by detailing all levels of job specifications, including the primary interfaces per role, considering the agency ecosystem.
With the team vision established and the requirements outlined, it was time to deploy what I call ‘The EE board’. The first ‘E’ structures team tasks as efficiency items, those that would assist with workflow and cost saving, for example, creating templates and assets libraries for re-use. The second ‘E’ stands for ‘excellence’, which brings fame to the agency and growth to each team member. These tasks includes anything from a proactive app to solve a business problem or the creation of material to up-skill the full team.
Now that the team is operating effectively, the work of a manager is never over, especially when it comes to optimising performance. My approach was to gather each individual team member’s requirements first and to consolidate these to get an overview of the entire team’s needs. This helped identify common areas for improvement and helped prioritise my tasks as a manager whether it’s resolving a workflow bottleneck or informing the teams training strategies.
As the industry advances, so does the standard and it’s a manager’s role to ensure the team continually improves. I am currently trialing a new approach using Pinterest: all team members contribute to themed boards with inspiration. As a team, we decide weekly what stays and what goes. The aim is to have an updated consolidated view of the level of design we need to adhere to. An added benefit is having that single source for our references.
Big lesson? To prevent you from falling behind the standard, losing your abilities and the respect of the people you manage, the most crucial thing to do is to retain your skill. Dedicate time to revisit your initial passion and have fun doing it.
As our industry – and the technology we use – rapidly evolves, we are all a little nervous about machines taking over our jobs one day. It’s almost impossible to accurately predict the roles and skills needed in ten or even five years’ time, but you can get a heads up by constantly assessing the trends coming into play. For example, user interface (UI) designers are looking at the threat of Zero UI and the rise of voice interfaces or virtual assistants. Some are suggesting this technology could create new roles such as personality designers, narrative designers, or UX writers.
Other considerations around this technology include the design of more human-like assistants. People will start engaging with AI more frequently and the lines will blur between machine and human interaction. It’s our job to ensure that we keep the conversation respectful to help guide us with our personal human conversations.
Looking at the VR, AR or mixed reality spaces, this has opened up the playing field for designers as we are no longer confined to a small space on a screen. We do however need to be mindful when using this technology to ensure we don’t design a future that is disengaged and lacks human-to-human connection. It’s already starting with our cell phones.
The best thing about the UX/design industry is that we get to shape other industries. Microsoft has always had a great view of the future that includes voice and gesture control with mixed reality displays. A good guideline for us to follow would be:
Whatever the future holds, we can always rely on our human qualities, which machines will struggle to replicate. So, no matter what your role is or what you are currently doing, remain passionate, be empathetic and constantly change your approach to fuel your creativity. And you should be all good.
Dane Bowen is Experience & Visual Design Director at full service digital solutions agency, Hellocomputer. He is responsible for two teams, Experience Design and Visual Design. The two teams work hand-in-hand to deliver a unified brand experience across a variety of digital properties and consumer journeys.