Adit Gupta Interview

Design Talks with Adit Gupta: An Autodidact Designer

One way to learn is to do all on your own and reinvent the wheel, and the other way to learn is to learn from those who have already done it.

I prefer the latter one and hence, these design talks are in the picture right now.

This week for the design talks, we have Adit Gupta who is an autodidact designer and a Google Developer Expert in Product Design.

Over the years, he has worn multiple hats ranging from having his own startup (Function Space) and working for both MNC’s and startups as a UX Designer.

Currently, he is working as a Senior UX Designer at PayPal.

He is continuously contributing his part to the UX design community through his podcasts, blogs, and products which are insightful and amazingly helpful.

His keen interest in giving back value to the community is appreciable and UXSprout is very humbled to have him today.

So, without any further delay, let’s dive deep into the conversation and learn from his experiences.

1) You have worked at both startups and MNC’s. Can you please tell us how different these two verticals are when it comes to incorporating design thinking in their products or solutions?

Adit: MNCs and startups vary in terms of scale, pace and people. I think these three factors determine the difference in design culture between them.

Startups work at a smaller scale, relatively faster pace and less number of people. So, design communication and collaboration is easier, the processes are short and faster, the focus is more on prototyping, testing and releasing with less rigor in research and problem discovery.

Good MNCs, on the other hand, have large scales, slower pace and a large number of people. Because of global presence, they are more careful in releasing products.

Hence, more focus on problem discovery and research. There’s more rigor in the design thinking process. Now, as in most cases, it cannot be generalized and you will find exceptions in both of them.

2) In your words, you are an autodidact designer having a degree in petroleum engineering and you also worked as a Python lead. Can you walk us through the story of how this transition happened?

Adit: I was interested in programming at an early age. Beginning with BASIC, I learned FoxPro and C while I was in school.

I remember viewing the source files of different websites and learning HTML and CSS through them. Sadly, I hardly had access to books or tutorials back then!

I came across Python while in college and fell in love with it. My first job was of a technology evangelist + Python lead and involved creating scripts for load balancers, image visualizations and summarizing texts using NLP.

All this while, I was also reading and learning a lot about design and did some freelance work for small companies. I eventually realized that design kept me hooked more than anything else and decided to pursue a career in it.

I published a few articles for Smashing Magazine that gave me the much-needed visibility to break through in the design world.

As I loved building products, the transition from programming to design happened very naturally. I still like to program, but design is something that motivates me to get up and build things!

3) What’s your design process? Do you follow a fixed design process for every problem or is it flexible?

Adit: Holistically speaking, I follow the  design thinking way of empathizing, defining the problem, ideating, prototyping, and testing. 

That said, the time and effort dedicated to each of these steps can vary depending on several factors like budget, time constraints, business needs, and stakeholder approval.

I like to spend a lot of time understanding the problem through primary and secondary research along with correlating findings through quantitative research.

I think a blend of quant and qual research gives you enough information to define the problem. Once I have this understanding, I go ahead with ideating in a convergent and divergent way along with my product partners. We prototype some of these ideas and test them with our potential users.

The kind of prototype we make depends on what we want to learn from our users. It can be a paper prototype, low-fidelity wireframe or a high-fidelity mock created using Framer or Invision. Through usability testing and feedback, we keep on iterating until we get the desired results.

This whole process can vary in depth (understanding) and breadth (time) depending on product lifecycle and business requirements.   

4) You have been in the UX sphere for quite some time and since then UX design has evolved a lot. My question to you is that is was it better back then or is it getting better now? There are rumors that AI and ML will take up most of the jobs, do you think UX field will get affected by these?

Adit: I think companies value design much more now than 10-15 years ago. We have come a long way from just emphasizing on aesthetics to focusing on user problems and providing goal-oriented, delightful solutions.

While design was just another step in the waterfall process, today it is an integral part of the iterative, agile product development world.

In my opinion, companies like Apple and Google have been pioneers in propagating the value of design because their products and services have mass, global adoption. Their design-driven approach has motivated a lot of companies to follow suit.

On AI and design

 Design has a deep human connection and has empathy embedded at its very core . Until we move towards a utopian scenario with the development of empathizing, sentient beings, I think designers will still be valuable to society and the world.

That said,  things like visual design can get automated with the development of sophisticated design systems and RPAs. 

As designers, we have to work along with technological developments like AI and ML to provide more personalized, contextual experience.

I think the  relationship between design and AI is more collaborative than a binary one of this or that. 

5) “Design is much more than aesthetics”, you made a very valid point in your latest podcast. So, can you share your definition of design?

Adit: For me, design is:

Giving solutions to provide a satisfying experience and cultural equity by empathizing with the problems and needs of people.

This definition not just reflects my understanding of design but also of what I want to achieve through design.

6) If ever, you got to restart your UX career all over again. How would you do that? What mistakes you would avoid? What roadmap will you choose?

Adit: I started my career with a lot of emphasis on visual design. My focus was more on aesthetics and less on usability.

If I had the opportunity to revise my career path,   I would begin by interacting with some designers in the industry. 

I’ll ask them about their experience, what they do in their day-to-day job, how do they tackle challenges, and how they keep themselves updated with ever-changing technology and trends. Perhaps, this will give me a broader view of design and the way to approach it more systematically.

7) You run a podcast, “Doors and Devices”. You also have an iOS application for UX designers named as UX Assist. You also used to run a community for science enthusiasts. Can you please tell us more about these? How they came into the picture?

Adit: I’ll start in a reverse-chronological way. The science community, called as Function Space, was a startup in the education sector.

Physics, Maths, and Computer Science are among my favorite subjects, and I felt the need for a dedicated community to discuss them deeply with interested people across the globe. That’s how Function Space came into being. The startup ran for close to 3 years with more than 100,000 monthly active users.

Post my startup, I was thinking about a tool that can help designers streamline their design process along with providing them with tips and guidance related to various UX activities.

That became the foundation of UX Assist. I designed and developed the app for eight months with lots of primary and secondary research involved in the process.

The app is doing well and has made it into top 50 paid productivity apps in over 25 countries.

UXAssist

I love talking about design and felt that a podcast could be a better medium to share my thoughts as compared to a blog.

I still like to write, but it can sometimes be limiting as all what you think does not come out comprehensively in written words. To overcome this limitation of the written language, I started Doors and Devices to better share my design musings.

Doors and Devices

8) Care to share the best design book or resource that changed the way you looked at design.

9) What would be your suggestion for a design beginner who is in a quest for learning UX Design? What roadmap should a beginner follow to get competent in the UX world?

Adit: Don’t think about design just regarding screens and flows. Focus on user problems and try to have a deep understanding of them across society, cultures, and situations.

You have to spend more time in the problem space than the solution space.

For roadmap, begin by interacting with experienced designers working across different domains and try to get a deeper understanding of design and what you can achieve through it. Read a lot, participate in the design community and give back to it.

Keep pace with current technological trends and think deeply about them regarding social impact.  Above all, keep learning and always be humble.

10) Can you name some UX Designers whom you follow and you admire?

11) Any message for the UXSprout readers

Adit: Be in love with the problem and not the solution. Always empathize with people, and provide inclusive solutions. The world needs more socially and culturally responsible designers than ever.

Key Takeaways

We all are learners and here are the few takeaways that I was able to capture from this entire conversation.

  1. Get your problem statement right. No one would like to solve the wrong problem and try to spend more time around the problem statement itself.
  2. Interact with fellow designers and seek for experiences.
  3. Read a lot.
  4. Inculcate empathy. That’s one of the core components that one must inculcate in order to be a better designer.

So, that’s all for the design talks today.

Hope you would be able to learn something new today and if yes, do let us know through the comment section down below.

And here are the social media links for you to follow Adit.

Stay tuned in for more such design talks.

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