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Creativity, the art of ‘cross-pollination’

Sydney, February 6th, 2019

Sydney–based digital design and product studio Pollen, is just over 10 years old, and in this time it has had to learn how to evolve with the technology and with its clients.

Looking at its projects, you can see that Pollen’s designs are crisp and thorough, nothing seems to be left to chance.

Ross Gales, Pollen’s Design and Strategy Director gave us the inside track on the company’s UX design process and its views for the future.

We started off in 2007 as a digital production studio servicing mainly ad agencies doing digital creative campaign work in the Flash era but have evolved our offering to have our own base of clients including large online businesses, cultural sector institutions and several start-up companies,” comments Ross and ads

“We’re a small but potent team of 16 individuals whose mission is to make meaningful impact by creating well considered digital experiences. Our vision is that by uniting design, data and technology we can unlock unimagined opportunities for learning and growth.

Where does the name Pollen come from?

Prior to forming the company in 2007, Pollen operated as a collective of like-minded individuals, it was all about the ‘cross-pollination’ of ideas and skills and it just kinda stuck, it just so happened that the pollen domain was available as well.

What strategy do you use to manage your growth?

I wouldn’t say our growth has ever been fast, in fact quite the opposite. We have a strategy to grow in a slow and considered way ensuring that we hire well, deliver quality work and maintain a strong culture.

In your opinion, what ingredients are key to create a successful UX design?

I think a successful design must be desirable and either meet an unmet need of the user or be a delightful experience. Execution is everything and we always aim to exceed user expectations, creating something useable is one thing but we aim to exceed that, raising the bar to create those moments of delight.

However we also realise that user experience is just one part of the product story, a successful design must also be feasible for the project team and client to deliver and viable from a business perspective.

How does UX integrate with NLP?

I believe that conversational interfaces are the future of human computer interaction, so starting to think of design patterns and user flows as conversations now, even if just in a traditional screen/keyboard UI setting will ensure a smooth transition to voice in the future. Plus, it just feels more human, where experiences are becoming overly driven by algorithms.

Can you give us some examples of your experience dealing with usability studies, eye-tracking study, field study, or focus groups?

User observation is something we try and build into all our projects. We take a very one-on-one qualitative approach to this to understand why users behave the way they do. In the past, we’ve used independent research agencies to validate our work but have found this process of outsourcing research too time consuming and costly which impedes the velocity and momentum of a project.

We’ve recently built our own research labs into our office, now our designers can test, learn and iterate fast and often with minimal outside friction.

Can you tell us about a project you worked on and that was especially successful?

A recent example was a website for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney.

We created an online destination for art and ideas that had many stakeholder groups that each had their own unique requirements. We worked super collaboratively with the digital team to ensure everyone’s voice was heard and delivered a great looking site that met the needs of the Museum and its visitors.

How do you imagine the UX concept to work in the future?

We’re currently working to break down the barriers of UX from being a siloed skill set laboured over by a few, to being a way of working for all our designers.

Whilst there are still areas for specialisation, I expect all our product designers to be able to collect insights from users and validate their designs through prototyping and testing themselves.

Name a challenge your team is currently facing.

I think the shift to agile working methodologies has been our biggest challenge of late, breaking down the silos between UX, UI and Dev. But it is paying off with our teams being more collaborative and efficient than ever before.

What piece of advice would you give a recent grad looking to work in digital marketing?

I’d say don’t work in digital marketing and focus on product design instead. Seriously, I think having a sound design foundation is critical and too often graduates these days are specialising too early.

Intern with agencies that do the sort of work that interests you and just learn as much as you can about how things work, be a generalist and do a bit of everything, it will make you a much better specialist in the future when you know how all the different bits fit together.

How did you get started in the industry?

My formal training was in graphic design and my love for typography and branding still permeates all our work to this day. My first job was laying out manuals, annual reports and way too many PowerPoint presentations.

But I soon found my niche in digital and become a flash designer, designing and coding my own work throughout the noughties as a freelancer before forming my own company in 2007.

Are there online publications, professionals, industry leaders you follow?

I read a lot of medium articles, listen to industry podcasts, watch a lot of talks on YouTube and read the occasional book. My interests are many and varied but mostly focus around product design and UX.

Currently reading INSPIRED: How to create tech products customers love by Marty Cagan, which is a great read for any aspiring product managers.

What would you work on if you could choose any other job?

I like working with wood and making my own furniture, something about using your hands to make tangible things is really rewarding so it’d be something in the industrial or furniture design space.

What do you like doing in your free time?

If I’m not in my workshop making stuff I like to get outdoors, living by the ocean is what resets my batteries so anything that involves water, swimming, fishing, kayaking and instilling that love of the environment in my kids.

Thanks Ross!

By Geny Caloisi.

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