UX/UI designer Val Head is a Jane of all Trades. She spends her time developing incredible creations at design powerhouse Adobe, writing about the industry, hitting the road to speak at conferences and leading informative workshops for small teams.
Honestly, we aren't quite sure when she sleeps.
Regardless, Head established herself as a key industry player in all aspects. She sat down with DesignRush to share how she believes user experience design will transform over the next year, her best advice for landing a high-profile job and more.
"It’s OK to say, 'I don’t know.'"
DesignRush: You work in UX/UI animation design, which is such a niche segment of the design industry. How did you develop an interest in this area of design?
Val Head: You’re right, it is a pretty niche role. It’s one I created for myself based on the things I was most interested in working on and the things I often felt like other designers were missing.
I teach motion principles as they apply to UI design, and the tech behind what makes UI animations work on the web to get designers and teams to incorporate it into their own design process. I also do a lot of animation prototyping.
DR: That sounds fascinating! How do you find inspiration for such complex projects?
VH: The fact that I get to travel so much for my job provides me with lots of unique opportunities for inspiration. I always carry a camera with me and I usually end up with a huge photo roll of signs, textures, buildings and cute dogs at the end of any given trip.
Chatting with friends who are printmakers, photographers or those that don't even work in the design industry at all spark some interesting ideas for me as well. And if all else fails, going for a run or a long walk always gets the ideas flowing again. It’s funny how much more useful getting away from the computer can be rather than staring at the screen for ages in frustration!
DR: Well, it must work, since you're a top designer at Adobe! Is there anything you credit with helping you land this amazing gig?
VH: It is pretty incredible, I’m really happy with my current role! Carving out a specific area of expertise, UI animation in this case, and the way I was sharing my thought process and work around it is what ended up getting me the job.
DR: Do you have any advice for young designers who aspire to work at a big-name company?
VH: I think it's helpful to do a little investigation to find out how designers at your ideal company work -- for example, what sorts of tools they use and what they’re expected to know. Getting that clarity towards your dream role ahead of time can be key to actually landing it.
DR: We're at an interesting time in design, especially as we experience its intersection with technology. Where do you see UX/UI design heading in the next year or so?
VH: I think UX and UI designers will start thinking about the impact of the “smarter” products we’re working on, which end up collecting huge amounts of data about their users or use existing data to fuel more intelligent features. Those same features can also feel creepy or invasive at times so designers will have to start designing for the less optimal cases.
DR: You're quite active in the workshop and conference circuit. What inspired you to hit the road and share your knowledge?
VH: There’s something about being able to share ideas and knowledge in-person that’s very energizing and it makes all the stress and prep work of doing talks and workshops totally worth it for me. They’re the most effective way of showing other designers how animation can be key to designing great experiences.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing though, it took me a few tries to find my speaking style and how to make it work for me.
DR: On that note, has there ever been a piece of advice you were given that just stuck with you?
VH: One of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten, especially when it comes to teaching and speaking, is that it’s OK to say, “I don’t know.” It’s OK to admit you don’t know everything about a particular topic, and it doesn’t make you any less of an expert in the things you do know. Being able to say that is totally worth it, even if it feels uncomfortable at the time.
DR: Speaking of which, are there any that have had an influence on your work?
VH: I’ve learned so much from the way Debbie Millman talks about design, and to designers, on Design Matters.
Saul Bass’ movie title work has been a long-time inspiration favorite of mine too. The way he’s able to convey a story with motion is always impressive. Art of Title has a whole section dedicated to his title work.
DR: Are there any projects of your own that you are particularly proud of?
VH: I’m really proud of my book, Designing Interface Animation. It’s so great to have it out there and to have a central place to share everything I’ve learned about UI animation for other designers to use.
DR: We know you're an Adobe person, but which tools (CC or otherwise) do you swear by when designing?
VH: My projects always start with a blank page Moleskine or giant sketchbook pad and a mechanical pencil. It’s a bit old-school but having the freedom to just scribble out ideas quickly really helps me get started on tackling a design problem.
As far as software goes, Adobe XD CC allows me to get ideas out of my head and into a shareable mock-up quickly. I use Illustrator a lot too since it gives me so much control over how vectors are drawn and how I’m exporting them. The whole workflow of getting the SVG into the code to animate it is so much easier.
DR: Before we wrap up, what advice do you have for young designers who are new to their career but hoping to grow?
VH: I think the key to building a design career is holding on to your curiosity and drive to learn new things. So much about our job and even the tools we use changes so fast that having a genuine interest in learning the new stuff can make all the difference in where your career goes. Part of what makes design so interesting is how much things can change from year to year.
DR: Great words of wisdom! Last one -- any final thoughts, comments, or words of wisdom you’d like to share with someone in the industry?
VH: Take time for yourself and practice self-care as much as you possibly can. Having hobbies or other activities that take you away from your work regularly and allow you to recharge are the key to doing good work and staying healthy at the same time.
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