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AMA: I'm Wilson Miner, I'm a designer at The Factory in San Francisco. Previously I've worked on Facebook, Rdio, EveryBlock and apple.com.

almost 6 years ago from , Product Designer at Stripe

You can find out next to nothing about what we're doing at The Factory at http://thefactory.com/, but we just released our first product, an iOS app for parents of newborns, called Ins & Outs (http://insandoutsapp.com/).

52 comments

  • Allan GrinshteinAllan Grinshtein, almost 6 years ago

    This is the next edition of our AMA series. Our last one was really fun and Wilson was nice enough to agree to do one for us.

    I'll start off :

    1. What did you work on at Facebook? What are they doing with all of those designers?

    2. How do you feel about the direction Rdio's design is going in?

    3. Did you get to work with Steve?

    5 points
    • Wilson Miner, almost 6 years ago
      1. Most of the work I did at Facebook that actually launched publicly in some form was on Timeline, although other designers deserve much of the credit for the final product. As for the second part of the question, I think it's hard to understand the dynamics of larger organizations from the outside. There are obviously a lot of really talented designers who have done and still are doing great work inside of Facebook, but the nature of the product is such that it doesn't translate into New Shiny all the time. For a product that reaches more than a billion people, it's still amazing to me that one designer or engineer is able to have the kind of impact they're still able to have working on Facebook. But there's a high cost to change for a product like that, it's a highly interconnected system where even tiny changes have cascading impacts. A lot of the work you do as a designer in a large team supporting a mature product system doesn't see the light of day. That's just the nature of the work. It's not for everyone, and it's certainly not the easiest way to get a lot of individual glory in the broader design community, but it's possible to have a really big impact, and it can be really fulfilling.
      2. I love it. I still use Rdio every day and I don't know what I would do without it. The initial launch of the "all-white" version of Rdio on the desktop was a big surprise to me, partly because they did all that work in a very short period of time after I left, so I hadn't seen any of it. It was a bold move, and there were some rough edges, but they've made a lot of refinements since then, and the design language has really matured as they've spread it to more platforms. I think it's great how closely they managed to anticipate where Apple ended up with iOS 7.
      3. I never interacted with Steve directly, but there wasn't a single project I worked on at Apple where his feedback and direction was not immediately and directly felt. Phil Schiller did sit down next to me and take over my mouse once, though.
      19 points
  • Wilson Miner, almost 6 years ago

    OK, I'll have to leave this alone for a bit while I finish up some work and get home to my family. I'll try to answer a couple more later if I have time. Thanks for the questions everybody!

    5 points
  • Aaron ShekeyAaron Shekey, almost 6 years ago

    What's your opinion on designers working remotely?

    My best work is produced when I'm happy and comfortable with my surroundings. Unfortunately I wasn't able to enjoy the Bay Area like so many do. Yet, so many great, young companies are located there.

    3 points
    • Wilson Miner, almost 6 years ago

      I worked on EveryBlock from San Francisco for three years while the rest of the team was in Chicago. For me personally, it worked really well while we were building the first versions of the product, and I was the only designer. We were able to keep up a good rhythm of discussing things together and me being able to work things out on my own. I think it gets a lot harder when you're collaborating with other designers, or if you don't have a certain level of trust and basic patterns of communication built up with the people you're working with. I've never been able to work as effectively remotely when I need to collaborate directly with other people. In larger companies, when it's easy to get swamped with meetings and conversations from all sides, it's great to have the ability to take a day a week to work outside the office and get shit done, but I think it's pretty tough to do it all the time. It works for a lot of people, but it takes effort to do it right and avoid the pitfalls.

      3 points
  • M HernandezM Hernandez, almost 6 years ago

    Thanks for doing this AMA.

    How do you convince executives with a pure-engineering focus to buy in to the importance of design? And not just design in general, but integrating design with engineering early on, rather than letting one dictate the other.

    I'd rather NOT go the easy route pointing to Apple or some Google products saying "Well they're successful, so let's just imitate them."

    3 points
  • Ryan LeFevreRyan LeFevre, almost 6 years ago

    What was the design process like for Apple vs Facebook?

    Both have a very different aesthetic and goal for their sites. I'm mostly curious who was really "in control" of the design, whether it be the design team itself, a marketing team, or a combination of both.

    Thanks for the AMA!

    3 points
    • Wilson Miner, almost 6 years ago

      Yes, they were very different experiences. Going into all the various reasons why that's the case would probably take all week. I worked on a marketing team at Apple (the design of apple.com is part of the global marketing design team) and I worked on a product design team at Facebook, so it's a little bit apples to oranges anyway. Both companies value design as an integral part of the company's direction from the top, but obviously each product and company has their own goals and priorities. Sorry for the unsatisfying response, but there are at least 100 different ways to say "it's different because it's different." :)

      1 point
  • Allan GrinshteinAllan Grinshtein, almost 6 years ago (edited almost 6 years ago )

    Also - what's the factory?

    Edit: nevermind :(

    2 points
  • Ari SawyersAri Sawyers, almost 6 years ago

    Do you think that working at Apple and Facebook in the past influences your design decisions today? Also, if you were to hire a designer, would you be biased towards one who has worked at a large company such as those?

    (As a side note - I saw you at Brooklyn Beta from across the room, but then you disappeared somehow...)

    2 points
    • Wilson Miner, almost 6 years ago

      Sure, absolutely. Both places gave me an opportunity to work closely with a lot of incredibly smart and talented people all working at a very high level. I've learned more from the people I've worked with over the years than any class or book or conference.

      As far as hiring, I think there are people who can be really successful in large organizations that don't do as well in other environments, so I don't think I'd be biased specifically towards that. There's a certain sense of rubber-stamp validation that if somebody made it through the gatekeepers at Fancy Company X, they must be good, but that doesn't always mean they will be a good fit for something else.

      (At 6'5" I'm easy to spot, but I'm very wily.)

      4 points
  • joe andersonjoe anderson, almost 6 years ago (edited almost 6 years ago )

    Having worked on so many social products, any insights you can share that were "aha" moments for you?

    1 point
  • Martin BavioMartin Bavio, almost 6 years ago (edited almost 6 years ago )

    Hey Wilson, huge fan of your work here, I can’t believe I'm asking something to you, but here I am, thanks Designers News!

    So I have two questions:

    1. If you have to recommend 3 books that have inspired the way you design, which one would they be?

    2. How was it to work in the early times of Rdio? Is @simmy as good as it looks doing product design?

    Thanks, hope you find my questions interesting to answer!

    1 point
    • Wilson Miner, almost 6 years ago

      I think the books that have influenced the way I design most aren't really design books. So much of the value created by designers is about making connections, and I think some of the best insights come from outside the scope of our field or the problems we face directly.

      Seeing Is Forgetting The Name of the Thing One Sees, a series of conversations by Lawrence Weschler with the artist Robert Irwin, is one of the best books I've read on any kind of creative effort. Irwin is so articulate in retrospect about the way he has approached questions in his art over the years. http://www.amazon.com/Seeing-Forgetting-Name-Thing-Sees/dp/0520256093

      Christopher Alexander's books about architecture, especially The Timeless Way of Building have been really influential on the way I think about design. A lot of the principles around pattern languages in interaction design are based on his ideas, but his whole line of thinking about architecture and how humans apply order to our world is fascinating, and directly relevant to digital product design.

      Yes, Simmy always looks good. His hair is always perfect.

      6 points
  • Matthew Williams, almost 6 years ago

    How do you decide what to work on?

    1 point
    • Wilson Miner, almost 6 years ago

      That's a relevant question at the moment, because we're structuring this new company to be able to work on many things over time. As we're starting out, there are lots of possibilities, but it can be tricky to develop a pattern of: what are the characteristics of a project we want to tackle? What are problems that are worth solving that we are especially suited to solve?

      Jim Coudal has shared a list of questions he asks when they're considering a new project:

      1. Will we be able to do good work?
      2. Will we be able to make money?
      3. Will we be able to learn a little something new along the way?

      I think that's a good framing for thinking about new projects whether it's for a company or in an individual career. If you ask one or two of those questions and not the others, in my experience, it doesn't work out so well in the end.

      14 points
  • Tor Løvskogen BollingmoTor Løvskogen Bollingmo, almost 6 years ago

    Have you ever thought about moving from USA, or even San Francisco?

    1 point
  • Anthony TadinaAnthony Tadina, almost 6 years ago

    Why did you decide to leave each of the companies you worked for?

    1 point
  • Dmitri LitvinovDmitri Litvinov, almost 6 years ago

    Hi Wilson,

    I would like to thank you in advance in considering asking my question.

    I'm curios to know, as you previously worked at these companies such as Rdio and Facebook, how do you jump from company to company? I guess I'm curios about the transition, did the companies scout you, or did you apply to another position by choice? And when do you know its the right moment to leave a certain company?

    Hope those questions are clear, thanks :)

    1 point
  • Achal VarmaAchal Varma, almost 6 years ago (edited almost 6 years ago )

    Hi Wilson, I really admire the work you've done (thanks for Django!)

    A couple of things - 1) How do you suggest I go about learning more about design? I study computer science at a top-5 school, but our design program isn't very good. I was looking to learn stuff by myself, but I don't know where to start.

    2) If you could give a newbie product designer one piece of advice, what would it be?

    1 point
  • Henrique Alves, almost 6 years ago

    Oh man, my baby has now 16 months. Definitely using it for our next one :) well done!

    0 points
  • Maxim VekslerMaxim Veksler, almost 6 years ago

    We are three friends, starting a new company. What would be your recommendations for creating a design driven culture?

    0 points
    • Wilson MinerWilson Miner, almost 6 years ago

      I don't think there are any shortcuts to having someone who is a designer in a position to make or meaningfully contribute to fundamental decisions about the company. On it's own, it's not a magic recipe for success, but it's the right start.

      1 point
  • John WilsonJohn Wilson, almost 6 years ago

    Just downloaded Ins & Outs the other day for my 2 week old. So much better than any other tracking app out there. A very sincere and personal "thank you!"

    0 points
  • Tiago DuarteTiago Duarte, almost 6 years ago

    Many thanks to LayerVault for this opportunity and to yourself for being a part of it, Wilson!

    As someone who loves design and knows a bit about it, I always find it hard to actually come up with something (specially something that I like). Wether it's mixing the right colors, typography or coming up with original layouts. Do you have any tips on overcoming this? :)

    0 points
    • Wilson MinerWilson Miner, almost 6 years ago

      Take something that you think is good and try to figure out why it's good. Copying things just for the sake of copying them doesn't really get you anywhere. But you can learn a lot from taking things apart and trying to reverse engineer the component decisions and the process that got them there. Eventually you will start to build up a vocabulary of common patterns and elements that go into things you think are good, and you start to be able to understand your own taste enough to create something yourself that falls in the same category.

      8 points
  • Jim NielsenJim Nielsen, almost 6 years ago

    How much time do you spend actually doing design/production work as compared with giving design direction or managing the work of others? How do you balance the two?

    0 points
    • Wilson Miner, almost 6 years ago

      It has varied a lot over the years, at different companies and on different projects. In the beginning at Rdio, I was building a lot of the front-end templates, by the end of my time there, I was spending most of my time managing the design team and giving design feedback and direction. I tend to try to take a lot of things on on my own and work out all the details myself, so I've had to learn ways to work against that and be a better collaborator.

      1 point
      • Ben LeeBen Lee, almost 6 years ago (edited almost 6 years ago )

        I struggle with the same issue; would love to hear some tips about how to become more collaborative.

        0 points
        • Wilson Miner, almost 6 years ago

          At some point I just have to overcome my anxiety and trust other people. Either I wait around for them to "earn" that trust, or I just start with trust as the default state and convince myself that the worst case scenario is cleaning up a mess if it doesn't work out. In my experience, that doesn't happen that often, but maybe I've just worked with a lot of people who are smarter than me. Which is another good trick.

          7 points
  • Rik RoukensRik Roukens, almost 6 years ago

    Just wanted to comment I love reading all the questions and answers! we need to do this more often :-)

    0 points
  • Giulio MichelonGiulio Michelon, almost 6 years ago

    Do you code? If not, how much do you know about code?

    0 points
    • Wilson Miner, almost 6 years ago

      I'm most comfortable in HTML and CSS, and I've written a lot of the front-end and template code for different web-focused projects I've worked on. Lately, I'm trying to find ways to learn enough about native mobile to build better prototypes, and think through native UI systems and flows in a way that takes the materials and how it's built into account better.

      3 points
      • Account deleted almost 6 years ago

        On that note, what do you think of the importance, or lack-thereof, of a UI designer needing to be comfortable enough to implement their own work?

        0 points
  • Kevin LeeKevin Lee, almost 6 years ago

    Any plans on relaunching your personal website? I still remember being inspired by the minimalistic layout design of version 4.

    0 points
  • Nathan NNathan N, almost 6 years ago

    Do you have any words of wisdom for new graduates who are starting their first day at an early stage start-up?

    0 points
  • Tommy SadlerTommy Sadler, almost 6 years ago

    What does your workspace look like? What are your most used apps on iOS? Thanks! Keep up the tremendous work!

    0 points
  • Surjith S MSurjith S M, almost 6 years ago

    Hi Wilson, Nice to meet you.

    As you have worked in Apple and facebook, I would like to ask you one question.

    Flat or skeuomorphism? What do you think?

    0 points
  • Tyson SoelbergTyson Soelberg, almost 6 years ago

    Thank you—just, thank you.

    0 points