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Garvey Smith, UI Designer at Motorola Mobility

Posted on Mar 2, 2017 by

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Garvey Smith is a UI/Visual Designer at Motorola Mobility based out of Chicago.

Where do you work and what is your current title?

I work at Motorola Mobility in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart as a UI/Visual Designer. I’ve been there for almost three years, since late 2014.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself & your background.

I was born in the small, but artful rust-belt city of Akron, Ohio. It’s the same town that the founders of DEVO and The Black Keys are from. My family is full of musicians as my mom sang and my dad plays piano. My family runs a church in my hometown and we had to provide our own music, so being creative and performance in general was always encouraged. I spent much of my childhood writing short stories, singing, acting in plays, reciting poetry, making comics and painting for projects for church and just for my personal satisfaction.
I was always very focused on honing my skills as a creator, and I was fortunate that I had an environment that allowed me to pursue my interests. All the way through to High School, I continued to have the support of my family and teachers in whatever endeavor caught my fancy at the time. Even though I had many interests, by the time that it became more crucial for me to pick a profession outright so that I could continue to university, I wasn’t sure which creative outlet would be the right path to take.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a designer?

The summer between my junior and senior years of high school, a few things happened concurrently. First, I was selected to take college courses at night through a special program at my school, and opted to focus on studying Psychology and Sociology. Around this same time, I also started creating advertisements for a local clothing store and a local grocery store. Through these experiences, I learned a lot about how human behavior influences society and very core skills in Photoshop and Illustrator. I slowly but surely, started to become enamored whenever I saw an advertisement that I created being used, or displayed somewhere.
Eventually, I found myself trying to find ways of combining the two interests of creation and cognitive processing. I got to the point where I was very seriously considering becoming a social worker or therapist who painted on the weekends, selling art online. I was dedicated to the idea until a teacher of mine suggested that I look into design as a career. After looking at some work by classic designers like the Eames’, Herb Lubalin, Saul Bass and Paul Rand, I was hooked! It seemed the easiest way for me to create while still scratching the itch to solve problems of usability.

What was your first design job? Any interesting stories about how you broke into the field?

My first job was as a Web Designer at a startup in Pittsburgh called Working Examples. Because it was my first steady job, so to speak, there were many firsts for me, but I think overall it was best to simply be able to put my skills to good use professionally.

Please describe a normal day at your current job. What’s the workflow like? What are your primary responsibilities?

Because our projects are often very tied to a release of a product, and because our work environment is very cross-functional, every day is different. Some days, I’m very close to my computer, steadily churning out icons, animations and specs, not interacting with many other folks. Other days, I’m down on the engineering floor working closely with a developer to put the final polish on some UI screens, or in the research lab asking users questions about what they desire in a product. The variety is one of my favorite things.

Are there any memorable war stories, client interactions or close calls that have taught you something important about how things work?

Yes! The  Star Wars Wallpaper App. There was a request right before the holidays last year to create a Star Wars wallpaper series that users of the Droid Turbo 2 would be able to use on their special edition phones. Because of the tight deadline on the project, I had to give really quick feedback during the whole process to ensure that the app, though simple, looked as good as it could before we could get it out of the door. It’s not the most glamorous story, but it really helped me to shrug off any self-doubt I had for myself as a designer as I had to be very direct in requesting changes.

What’s a common mistake you often see entry level designers make? What are some tips to avoid or overcome it?

I realize that I spoke about honesty above, but I want to reiterate. I think that it’s important to be upfront with your colleagues about what you can deliver and when. Nothing is worse than realizing too late that you won’t be able to execute like you thought you would. Always overestimate and over deliver. Be conservative in your estimates and try to be a realist, not an optimist.

Any industry sites or blogs you read on a regular basis, or anything else you read for inspiration?

I read The Verge everyday to keep up on what’s going on in tech. I always look forward to anything by Adi Robertson. I also really enjoy Khoi Vinh and Paul Stamatiou’s personal blogs. I look through Muzli and Dribbble every morning before I start working. I really like looking at quirky animations and UI micro-interactions, between bursts of productivity like this .gif from Fraser Davidson of Donald Trump.

There’s something new and amazing coming out every day. What’s something awesome you’ve seen recently that you’re dying to share, or something you’re excited about?

This is very general, but I believe in the power of technology to bridge socioeconomic gaps. A few months ago, I wrote an entry on my blog criticizing much of what we currently call “innovation” in the tech landscape, but I think that at a very basic level, tech can bridge gaps.
Projects like Facebook’s Community Help functionality and the hackathons of Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM), make me really interested in the ways that tech will continue to assist in the fields of disaster relief, disability, lack of resources, etc.


What advice would you give to someone trying to break into the industry?

  1. Keep with it. It will seem hard and unbearable somedays and you won’t feel like you can find a solution, but keep going. The process will guide you.
  2. Don’t take critique personally. Design is an iterative and collaborative profession, accept both with open arms.
  3. Know a little bit of everything. You don’t have be a combination carpenter-developer-keyboardist-astrophysicist to make it as a designer, but knowing a little about various things will help you relate to your users, relate to your coworkers and give you inspiration to design while you’re not designing.

What do you think is the future of your industry?

Connected home devices, AR/VR and Virtual Assistants. I think that at this point, all three of these are making strides towards becoming more standard to see in our everyday lives. My only qualm is that many of the interactions for all of these is still a bit awkward. Hopefully, in the next few years, things will become smoother and the problems they help solve will become less elite.


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