From a One-Woman-Band to a Whole Team: Meet Our Designers
When you're a UX/UI Designer, no two days are alike. With all the research, communication with both clients and internal teams, prototyping, usability testing, and ongoing education you can never really get bored. But, what's it like to be a UX/UI Designer at COBE, you might wonder? We asked Monika – our UX/UI design team lead in the Osijek office. When she joined COBE (almost) five years ago, she set the ground for the design team in Osijek. Now she's leading a team of 10 people. A lot can change in just a matter of years, don't you agree?
Monika, welcome to our first interview of this kind! Let's start by introducing yourself to the world. I find your career path quite interesting – before becoming a UX/UI Designer, you worked as a Frontend Developer. When did the career switch happen? Was it when you joined COBE or before?
When I first graduated in computer science, I did both frontend and design at a small agency in Osijek. As luck would have it, it's where I met our current HR Manager. Soon after he left, I decided to join COBE as well, but as a UX/UI Designer. I didn't know what to expect, but I was ready for a change. So I packed my things, and here I am.
Looking back at the five years you've been here and all the projects you've worked on, if you had to pick a favorite, which one would it be?
My favorite and simultaneously the first "big" project I’ve worked on, was a travel planning app. Since I'm a travel enthusiast, the app was so interesting for me – I was working and planning my next destination at the same time. The project, unfortunately, stopped when the pandemic began. But in general, I’d say I enjoy working on bigger, long-term projects.
Is there anything you find challenging at your job?
Designing features from scratch! That’s the real challenge because there’s nothing to rely on. Other than that, I’d say pitch presentations can be scary – I mean, you’re competing with other agencies, and as much as you’re prepared, somehow you always wonder if it’s enough.
Switching between projects and different client requests asks for a lot of creativity and innovation. Where do you find inspiration? Do you follow current design trends?
I find the most inspiration in existing, similar products, but I also use sites like Dribbble, Pinterest, and Behance – they have the good stuff. They’re also great for keeping up with new design trends, especially with the upcoming topic of Metaverse.
Your journey in COBE started almost five years ago, and you were the first designer in the Osijek office. What about the rest of your team – what's their story?
Well, Dražen joined the team first, back in 2018 when he was still a student. He's now a senior, just like Matea, who came right after him. Later on, came our illustration master – Darija. And then Petar joined. His story is quite interesting actually - he's a digital marketing expert who decided to switch careers and commit to UX/UI design. Ivana and Elena both started their careers as students and are now full-time employees. We also have three talented students on board – Alen, Ena, and Ilija. All ten of us take on different roles in both our team and in the project teams. And in case two designers work on the same project, the senior one takes on the role of the Project Design Lead.
Other than design, I’d say a big part of your job is communication – with your project team, clients, and the design team in Munich. Why is communication important in what you do?
Well, for example, we have weekly meetings with our clients to give them insights into what’s happening on the project at any time. That way, we avoid misunderstandings and “negative” feedback. Also, we’re always in touch with our fellow designers in Munich. Once a month, we have a design jour fixe, where all our designers get together. When I first joined COBE, I spent a few weeks with them in Munich, working and learning, so I enjoy it when an opportunity presents itself that we work together on a project. Two design teams are always better than one, especially when they’re in two cool locations so we can visit each other. Besides designers, we work very closely with developers too. I know there’s a rumor out there that developers and designers have tensions working together, but honestly, I enjoy working with our developers.
Meetings in person vs. meetings online – what do you prefer? How did the pandemic influence your team and your collaboration with clients?
Well, for starters, we don't have to visit Munich for every project kickoff, which saves us a bit of time. Plus, most online meetings show up to be just as effective as the in-person ones.In the beginning, we thought there was no way to do workshops with clients virtually, but as soon as we discovered MIRO, everything changed, for the better. Figma also became a big part of our daily communication, both with clients and the team. It turned out to be the perfect tool for delivering designs to clients, creating simple prototypes, and for hands-off design development.
And what about your design team in Osijek? Do you have online meet-ups, or do you sit together once in a while?
We have an internal event called Design Weekly that’s been running for over two years now. We do it either online, or in person, depending on what suits the team best. It’s where we discuss all design topics, share tips and tricks for Figma (and other tools) but also touch on the topic of problems and how to solve them. Other than that we have design reviews once in two weeks and beer after work, whenever we can.
Obviously, you guys love to learn from each other, but taking courses and visiting conferences are also important for your growth. Is there a course or a conference you attended that you would like to highlight as your favorite? Or is there something you would like to educate yourself more about?
Digital Labin, the largest UX/UI conference in Croatia will forever have our hearts. Last year, we also participated in a two-day Design Thinking workshop which was really fun. We’re also very proud of our two NN/g certificates, of course. Honestly, the team is always learning – we just finished a few design courses, and last week we ended our leadership training too. Besides taking courses and visiting conferences, sometimes we speak at them too. The perfect example is Darija, who held her first lecture at last year's KulenDayz, an annual IT design conference in Osijek. And the next thing I want to educate myself more on is the product life cycle.
Okay, you showed us you love to learn, but can you party? What's keeping your team spirits high? Besides beer, we know you all like that.
I believe the dynamic of the group is so good because we have a similar set of values – we're open-minded, determined, responsible and we try to be modest in everything we do. And of course, we can party! We hang out once in a while, play board games, Playstation, and have rap battles. I know I just said we’re modest but I want everyone to know that I’m the rap queen of the group. *Mic drop*
We can’t wait for the next team building to see those rap battle skills! Besides being open-minded and responsible, are there any other soft skills you find helpful in your everyday work? What skills are important to have as a UX/UI Designer?
I think resourcefulness is a useful skill for every designer – meaning one can cope with any situation. If you're highly self-aware, it will be easier to accept any kind of feedback. Empathy too, even though this is important for every profession, not just designers.
There are 10 designers on your team right now – would you like to expand it? What are your plans for the future?
I don’t see an expansion in the near future as we have just hired two new students. But, when we decide it’s time, we’d like another senior designer to join our team. Maybe someone with experience in a different field, to get new perspectives. And let's not forget about a UX researcher – currently, only our Munich team designers do UX research, and I'd love to have one person here in Osijek too, to be in charge of that. But this is a topic for the future.
As we reach the end of this interview, I look back at all the achievements Monika and her team had over the years and I must admit – I’m quite impressed. We love to see a team that learns and grows together but also keeps each other grounded.
If you have any questions for our designers, make sure to contact us. And if design is not your thing, stay put, because we have a few other teams we’d love for you to meet.