Talking with Dmitry Kovalenko, Head of Product Design at Readdle

This week I've been interviewing Dmitry Kovalenko, Head of Product Design at Readdle - one of Ukraines most successful startups. Dmitry says he's that kind of person who is always looking forward, into the future. He says that besides being philosophical, he's quite an easy-going person, who loves traveling, getting new experience whatever it might be, learning something new, sports, photography, drawing, and challenging himself.

Can you give us a little background, how did you get started working in UX?

When I see something, interact with something, I always have that feeling of curiosity and thoughtfulness inside me. I constantly ask questions like how it works, how it was made, why this way, why not another, etc. Quite often I’m getting mad if something works not as expected, or designed inappropriately (of course, by my opinion :) ). For instance, a few days ago I have ordered a tiny adapter, 3.5x1cm. It was packed in a 25x28cm box made out of cardboard and some plastic. Why are we doing such things?

Long story short, about 12 years ago I started looking for a job where I would be able to put my curiosity into something useful. Since then I've studied coloristics, drawing, art history at the institute and loved to draw, the answer came up by itself.

What do you enjoy most about working in UX?

To put the puzzle together. Let me explain. When you really dig into any product or service, design it from scratch, from someone’s (or your) head, there is always plenty of things you have to learn. To understand: a context, a case, a problem. To feel it under your skin. To deal with it during the whole journey. Then, there is always a whole bunch of different information, findings and feedback in your head, on a table, notes, etc. These are all pieces of one puzzle.

And when you finally came up with a solution that actually solves a problem it has been designed for, this is the moment when the puzzle is assembled.

Dmitry Kovalenko, Head of Product Design at Readdle

What advice would you give someone starting out in UX?

Firstly - No matter how long you’re working at UX design. For a week or ages. The only thing that remains the same is the design principles which are based on one canon. Whatever we design, we design it for humans. For ourselves. Hence, we always have the same constraint - a human body.

With a really limited vision in terms of the visible spectrum, distance, angles. 2 hands with 10 fingers with a limited reachability area. And so on and so forth. Besides, that if everything is perfect, which is quite rare nowadays, unfortunately. Until human-DNA modifications don’t come up, of course. So, my advice here is the following: study the human body carefully, study ergonomics, colour science and psychology. This should be your knowledge base for great decisions at UX design.

Secondly - The more I work as a UX designer (or Product Designer as they say today) the more I understand that there is so much more I need to learn, discover, deal with. User Experience, by its original meaning, is “A System” as Don Norman (one of the “fathers” of UX) described it. It is a really broad field of activity. You have to actually know and understand so many aspects of feasibility, desirability, viability, and sustainability, what/whom you are designing for. There is always something else that you may/need to dig in, to learn, to understand. Daily.

So, stay open to new knowledge and be critical to yourself and your decisions. There is always something that you don’t know… yet.

Are there any UX books/podcast/youtubers etc you would recommend and why?

Definitely “Objects of Desire” by Adrian Forty. This book doesn’t relate to UX directly. However, it is full of magnificent examples from the History of Design that explained in terms of “Why” and “How” this or that happened. I do recommend this one to anyone who is in any branch of the Design.

“Ruined by Design” a recent book by Mike Monterio. Nowadays, this one should be like a Bible on any designer’s table and mind. Since, we, humans, make so much harm to the environment and ourselves with all these disrupters, “brand-new” gadgets, new digital platforms/services that become global and viral. We designers have to think carefully of what we are doing, what other designers are doing, and what are the consequences for the world of our actions. This book is about design ethics, sustainability, environment, all the harm we bring to the world and what we still can do to fix that.

Also read and follow the Nielsen Norman Group and Baymard Institute, they publish high-quality articles, reports, books with plenty of practical and useful research-based information.

Follow Luke Wroblewski, I found out a bunch of practical insights from his talks and articles.

What do you think the 3 most important traits are for someone working in UX and why?

When I hire a new design team member, I’m always looking for the following traits in person:

Analytical way of thinking - This is a crucial one. As a UX designer you must be able to identify the root of the problem you are aimed to solve by asking the right questions and analyzing the answers and collecting the feedback. Even if you don’t have any expertise or knowledge base in this particular case, there is always a way to understand what is actually happening and what should be solved.

Empathy and willingness to put customer’s hat in a right way - You have to actually care and “feel” those who are struggling from a problem you’re going to solve. When you care, it is a totally different level of thinking, of the way how you proceed to the goal, and nothing can stop you.

Be open - This one is more obvious. As I have mentioned before, there is always something that you don’t know yet. And, there is always a probability (which is really high in most cases) that your decision will not work out or you did something wrong. So you have to stay open to new knowledge and be critical to own position/decision. All the time. Daily.

What are you most proud of in your career so far and why?

There are two things that I am proud of.The first one is the Readdle Design Team. Along with my career path at Readdle, I had a great opportunity to build 2 design teams of super great and talented peeps. This path has started almost 9 years ago already. One of them for the consumer department – for our products like Spark, PDF Expert, Calendars, etc. And for the last 5 years, I keep building the design team for our B2B service called Fluix.

Today, we have 19 (soon will be 20!) designers working together full-time. This is unbelievable! I am so proud of what they are creating these days and what level of quality, expertise they have! I learn from them. And I hope, some of them still learn something from me. :)

Dmitry Kovalenko, Head of Product Design at Readdle- Readdle Team

My second point to be proud of is a chance to put my hands on all products Readdle has in the pipeline today. During my first 4 years at Readdle I have been working on:

  • Calendars 5
  • PDF Expert 5
  • Remarks
  • Scanner Pro 5
  • Printer Pro 5
  • Spark,1.0 for iPhone

On some of them, I’ve been working together with our great product manager Alexander Tyagulsky. On some of them – with a few more designers.

And now, for the last 5 years, I’m leading design for Fluix.

What was the last UX conference/meetup you went to and what did you learn?

UXcited in Prague last month. It was a small, local conference with just a few speakers. There were a few quite good and insightful speeches by Guillermo Torres from Airbnb. He gave a talk about how Airbnb made a shift from design experiences for B2C to B2B.

This was really interesting personally for me to hear how such a great company like Airbnb made this shifting, since I made a similar step out from the consumer department to business, as I’ve already mentioned.

Who in the UX community inspires you and why?

To be honest, I don’t have anyone from the UX community specifically. However, I do get inspired by philosophy and vision that had Jacque Fresco, that have Dieter Rams, and, of course, Don Norman. These three men made an impact on me, on my judgments and perception of the world.

Why? I believe in rationalism, in sustainability, reasonable consumption of the resources of our planet. All three Jacque, Dieter, Donald are saying about these things but from different angles, points of view. This variety of views force to think broadly and openly to what and how can and should be designed for this world.

What do you think the future holds for people in UX?

I believe, there always was and will be such a thing like UX due to its broad original meaning. We have designed and will continue to design for ourselves, as long as homo-sapiens exists. Yes, the term UX itself has appeared relatively recently and is mainly related to digital software. At least, as it’s commonly believed today.

However, regardless of how we will call it tomorrow – User Experience, Consumer Experience, Service Design, you name it – it will be around.

So don’t worry. We will always have what and for whom to design, since new problems that humanity has never been faced with before will appear constantly. This is in our DNA. And the closest one – completely changed transportation system.

Thanks very much Dmitry

Also - Dmitry writes practical articles and sharing his knowledge on Medium and he'd love to hear/read even more feedback and you can reach oout to him on Twitter. Finally, around January-February 2020, he's thinking to organising a UX meet-up in Berlin. So stay tuned!

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