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Eric Eriksson, Product Designer at Facebook

Posted on Sep 22, 2014 by

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Eric Eriksson recently took a dual role at both Facebook and Internet.org. Before that, he was working as a designer for Spotify in Sweden, and credits his transition to an influential blog post on product design he wrote for Medium.org.

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

I’m a product designer bent on making the world a better place. Born and raised in Sweden, although my dear mother is American so I have dual nationalities, and have grown up bilingual.

Did a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Travelled around Europe, as one does. Worked in sales. Went to university. Twice.

Co-founded a web design studio with my friend and brilliant designer Christos Eteoglou, made some cool websites for some cool people. Then joined Spotify in Sweden back in ’11.

In the present and for the foreseeable future, I’m a Product Designer at Facebook and Internet.org, with the goal of using Facebook’s size, impact, and vast amount of intelligent people to do good in the world. This journey is 1% finished.

How did you become a digital designer?

I have always been interested in technology and computers in particular. Having a passionate nerd for a father meant I was building PCs and coding websites before I was a teenager. I also developed an intense interest in psychology and human interaction. Specifically how the brain and people work.

One day I was in a bar with someone I hadn’t seen for many years. She asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I said, “I want to bridge the gap between cognitive science and computers”. From that day on, I knew my calling.

Fast forward to today. The computers are smaller, the audience larger, and the technology unfathomably more advanced. I still strive to enhance how we interact with computers and them with us, but now I also want to use them to enhance humanity’s interactions with each other.

Where do you get your design inspiration from?

I’ve seen this question so many times, and I’m usually a bit perplexed by the fact that the answer is often just a list of blogs. Is that really where people get their inspiration from?

I frequent the usual sites as much as the next designer, but true inspiration comes not from a blog or twitter feed. It comes from the products we love, and the ones we hate, and especially the ones we love to hate. From discussions and arguments and debates with friends and coworkers. Inspiration comes from disagreement. Far more often from a good book, or a long shower, than from looking at the millionth set of UI elements you’ve come across on Dribbble. True inspiration comes from life, from emotion! The problems we encounter that annoy us so much we can’t help but solve them. That’s real inspiration.

I read books about outer space and inner universes. I watch shows about heroes and heroines using their wits to save the day. I surround myself with people way more interesting than myself and ask them to share with me how they see the world.

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Do you see the design and development worlds colliding?

Although the two are converging, I doubt they will ever be completely one and the same. I think they are two sides of the same coin, and have a lot to gain from working more closely together. A lot to learn. The lines are blurring as our design tools get more precise and closer to code.

When our designs aren’t so much static instructions as they are dynamic representations of interactions and functions, perhaps Designer and Front-End Developer could become interchangeable. But being a Designer or being a Developer, as both will surely tell you, is not just about an ability, or lack thereof, to build something functional. Many of the skills each learns through their work are not just about writing code or using Photoshop. However, the love for problem solving will always be a shared virtue between the two.

I think it will be a long, long time before either replaces the other, but I do see the worlds colliding for the benefit of quality and mutually assured evolution.

Could you describe what a normal day of work looks like for you?

Normal days are for grocery store clerks. No offense meant towards any that might be reading this. Although no day is particularly normal, there are repeating patterns. I start the day off with a cup of coffee lovingly brewed by hand. Anything else is unthinkable. Then, once I can think, I make my way to work, where the magic happens. I spend all day surrounded by geniuses, working on solving some of the most interesting and enticing problems of my career so far.

I could go into specifics, tell you about the different tools I use, or how I sketch up ideas on paper before delving into digital. How I make prototypes and do user testing. How my favorite part of the process is to lock myself in a room with another designer and draw stuff on the walls. However, you don’t ask a painter which brushes she uses, nor her preferred thickness of paper; you ask her why she paints. I paint for a brighter future.

Really interesting things have already been written at great length about this subject though, which I encourage you to pursue. I also wrote an article talking about what I do on a professional level. It might be of interest to you.

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What do you think is the most intimidating thing for first-time developers (or new designers) who want to get started? How do you think they can overcome this?

Honestly, I think one of the hardest things to overcome is getting your first foot in the door. Ours is a tough industry to break into, in which many dry spells occur. It can take a long time to find your place, and it is often very demotivating. It’s important not to let rejection or stagnation drag you down.

When I first applied to Spotify nearly 5 years ago, I was rejected. So I founded a web design studio and got another university degree. All to hone my craft and turn myself into a designer of a higher caliber.

The privilege of creative work is that it’s never ‘work’. The benefit being that even if you aren’t getting paid, you can still create. And today, that’s easier than ever before in the entire history of the human race.

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

Do the job you want, not the job you have. Be enthusiastic. Nobody is going to hire someone that doesn’t want to be there. Make sure you do and make sure it shows.

If you ever find yourself in an interview with me, smile. My girlfriend always says; “You’re here to make friends.” I challenge you to find better advice, in work, in love, and in life.

Do you have any thoughts on what the future of digital design is?

The next big thing, you say? Wearables in all their glory, but the future is broader than that. Before long, we’ll be connecting everything to the internet. From our keys to our clothes, our toasters and our kettles. People talk about the Internet of Things. I’m excited about the Internet of Everything. It will change what it means to be a digital designer. Instead of thinking across a handful of screens and a couple of platforms, we’re going to have to design systems. Vast, all-encompassing frameworks of interconnected devices and services. What do you mean it doesn’t integrate with my shoelaces? My personal drone needs to communicate with my smart watch, and you know it.

I can’t help but fantasize about a world where everyone has an AI like in the movie ‘Her’, and after that, the ever more exciting so-called Singularity; when we shed our physical bodies and exist solely as energy, or information. Read Ray Kurzweil, Roger Williams, or early Neal Stephenson. But I digress. As AI progresses and the way we interact with our computers becomes more and more akin to the way we interact with people, the necessity for graphical user interfaces will fade. They won’t just be replaced by voice interfaces, though, as in ‘Her’. I think the future is a smart one. Meaning its design is anticipatory.

Design in the future is going to require us to think in terms of how we can use sensory, environmental, and behavioral data to anticipate the needs of our users. We’re already seeing indications of this happening today. Foursquare is trying to learn what you like so that it can seamlessly direct you to new and rewarding experiences that fit your individual taste. Google Now tries to use everything it knows about you to keep you informed and on time throughout the day. Amazon knows what you want to buy before you do.

I believe the future of digital design is invisible. To quote God (a fictional character in the TV-series Futurama):

“When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.”

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