The DEV Team

Responses to AMA as Lead Product Designer at Forem

lisasy profile image Lisa Sy (she/her) ・4 min read

Hey everyone,

The other day, I posted this AMA post to get some questions to go over in our Twitch livestream.

You can watch the recording here on YouTube, but if you want to read through some of the AMA responses, I wrote this handy post for you:

Hi Lisa. Thank you for the AMA :)

What is a Product Designer role and how does it work?

I'd love to hear what the day to day would be like as one :)

A product designer defines and creates the user and product experience to give value to people or an organization. A product designer helps the team envision what that value could look like by gathering context on why we want to provide this value (informed by user research & data, business needs), generating ideas on how we could do this (ideating, brainstorming, generating design ideas), and then working with the team of engineers and PMs to make it real (polishing and shipping). But it doesn't end there, because a product designer is concerned with if their solution provides value, they'll care about measuring their impact of their work. They'll also rely on a healthy dose of research and data to inform their work.

Typically, a product designer isn't expected to know front-end-development, but because Forem is pretty small, our design team (just the 2 of us) both do that here. The benefit of knowing how to code is that it helps us collaborate with engineers and developers better.

Can you tell us about your journey to get here as a designer for Forem? What professional/personal experiences influenced you most along the way?

My childhood consisted of Geocities, AIM chat rooms, Neopets, Xanga, Myspace, and internet forums, as well an obsession with drawing and the visual arts (DeviantArts, anyone?). When I entered university, I had no idea what career path I would pursue, but I thought I could never pursue anything creative because it would be impractical - I didn't want to be a starving artist. Long story short, I really hated my Econ class but would spend my free time learning Photoshop off of tutorials like these and making graphic design flyers for my friends' theater shows and bands.

Those graphic design flyers led to learning web design and making Wordpress themes. Around this time, I began to learn more about what UI and UX design was and studied that. Eventually, I worked on my first opportunity as a product designer in 2012 with @peter and @ben on Texts.com! That eventually led me to work at thoughtbot and Facebook, as well as freelancing, before I ended up full-circle at Forem with Peter, Ben, @jess , and the rest of the team. 

When I joined Forem, I knew I found the right opportunity I was looking for at this time in my career. Spending time in large corporations made me miss working in a smaller environment where I could try more things with fewer risks. Working at thoughtbot taught me that I definitely appreciate doing front-end while I'm designing, because if I code my designs, I don't have to make as many specs for engineers :P Working at Facebook taught me about how rewarding and challenging it is to design communities at-scale. Freelancing with startups helped me learn that I wanted more agency and converage in my role and work.

Throwing it back to DevDiscuss Season One with my question. What are some of your absolute favorite design tools? Or just web tools in general.

Lucky to have you here at Forem, Lisa!

Here are a few things I use a lot:

  • Figma for screen designing, creating diagrams and user journeys, collaborating, and prototyping.
  • Paper + pencil for planning out wireframes & sketches.
  • Loom for video and screen recording.
  • Any word document tool for writing out a project brief, a user research script, and the endless possibilities :) We use Google Docs at Forem.

Hi Lisa, thanks for the AMA!

What is your educational background as a product designer?

Do you think it's possible to make the move from developer to product designer?

What are some key skills you think you need for your role?

Do you think it's possible to make the move from developer to product designer?

Yes, I've seen it happen, often with devs with an eye towards design, and want more agency and confidence in building something from scratch. When they could come to me and ask advice on how to make the transition, I tell them that if they're currently in a developer role at their company, they should try to work more closely with their designers, and even take on small design tasks when they can. If you can gradually improve your design skills at work or with people where you have some support, it will feel much more encouraging along the way.

What are some key skills you think you need for your role?

Here are a few ones:

  • Fundamental art principles (color, typography)
  • Communication
  • Knowledge of UX fundamentals and web design
  • Appetite for user research and data

It could differ based on what specialty of design you want to focus on (are you more of a visual designer or will you care more about building design systems?).

What steps a software developer should take to become a creative UI designer ?

  1. Start to analyze why something works well and why. Take notes.
  2. Visual design is all about acquiring taste. Ira Glass talks about "the gap". Collect as many visuals that inspire or move you, almost like an archive of inspiration for you. I'd keep these in my Tumblr, Pinterest, Dribbble, and re-visit them whenever I needed some inspiration.
  3. Take screenshots of Apple products and re-draw everything from scratch using Figma. You can do this for any apps you think are well-designed. This will help you close "the gap" and force you to pay attention to small details.

I hope this was all helpful. Reach out to me if you have any questions and follow DEV on Twitch to be notified when we start streaming in the future.


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Thank you for the answer. Appreciate :)