Catching Up with 2018 Creative Resident Andrea Hock
Andrea talks to us about her residency, how it can be empowering to go outside your comfort zone, and what her “real” design process looks like.
After four years working in the tech industry in Silicon Valley, Andrea Hock found herself at a crossroads in her career. So when presented with the opportunity to become Adobe’s 2018 Creative Resident in Experience Design, she took the leap. “The Creative Residency is every designer’s dream: a year to focus on whatever project you’re passionate about,” she says. “Truly your own project. What an idyllic way to spend a year!”
What first drew you to visual experience design?
I knew from a young age that I wanted to be some sort of graphic designer, because I’ve always loved being in that sweet spot at the intersection of tech and design. There’s just something cathartic about hunkering down at my big monitor or cozying up with my laptop on the couch and creating away. I love that visual design can completely sway people’s perceptions of a product. If an app or website is well-designed, you trust and believe what that company is telling you — but if it’s poorly designed, it loses all credibility. I’ve always loved being able to create aesthetically pleasing but also user-friendly work, and seeing my designs out in the world in apps, websites, and other platforms gives me a great sense of accomplishment.
How did you become an Adobe creative resident?
The residency is every designer’s dream: a year to focus on whatever project you’re passionate about, without the creative suppression or financial anxiety of working for a company or doing freelance — truly your own project. Adobe gives us the tools we need to work on that project, in order to help us build a career we’re passionate about. This year we have four residents from the U.S. and three from Europe, and each of us is focusing on a different medium. I applied in January of this year after having heard of the residency in previous years, and knew it was an amazing opportunity. My application laid out my project proposal, a breakdown of how I would accomplish it, and why I thought it was important. I went through a few rounds of interviews, and when I got the final call that I was in, it was one of the proudest moments of my life.
What are you focusing on in your residency?
My residency focuses on automation and how internet-connected objects can improve the human experience. I’m conducting research and creating a series of designs centered around the Internet of Things (IoT), while considering relevant issues like security and data privacy. When you think of automation, you generally think of the home setting, like your Amazon Alexa or Roomba. Those are great, but I also want to explore where automation can improve a variety of fields, like transportation, the medical field, agriculture, office spaces, etc. There are tons of opportunities for automation to make major improvements, and I’m excited to explore them.
I think my interest in automation grew from working around developers at my job and getting into the programming mindset. If they have to do a task more than a few times, they start to consider writing a script to do it for them. I wanted to take this idea of automating code, but instead automating our everyday tasks with devices that we can control. I think a lot of getting things done successfully is getting into the mindset of making a task a habit. If you automate something, you free-up time and energy to work on other things. As I share my process and highlight design practices, I hope to excite others about experience design and its larger role in our society and culture.
You recently gave a talk at an Adobe Creative Jam at Target. What was that experience like?
I’ll be honest, it was out of my comfort zone. It was my first-ever time giving a talk. But it’s such an empowering thing presenting your work to the public. The audience was made up of all Target employees, so it was a lot of other designers who work on products, like myself. I always love mingling with like-minded creatives and hearing what they’re working on and what new things they’re trying. For instance, someone was telling me that one of the teams is currently designing pet costumes for Halloween — how fun would that be?
What did you talk about?
My talk focused on my past design experience, my design process, and my plans for the residency. I started out as an intern at my college’s career center, then had an unpaid internship at a local dance company (never take unpaid internships!), then I moved out to California to intern at Hewlett-Packard as an app engineer where I spent all of my time with the design interns when I should have been coding. From there I got a job as an in-house visual experience designer, and now I’m here. I showed some previous projects that I worked on during those years, and lessons that I’ve learned in the process. I also talked about the importance of personal projects and how they can make a big impact on your career. I think that played a huge role for me in getting the residency in the first place. It’s important to have a creative outlet outside of your main work. Most of my projects have spanned months and years, so it’s easy to get bored of working on the same thing every day. Creativity has to be exercised daily, so spending time every day working on something fun or browsing new resources, even if it’s not design related, is crucial to coming up with ideas for work when you have to. So I encourage you to not just think about your passion projects, but actually work on one.
In your talk, you spoke about your formal design process and your “real” design process. What’s the difference?
When I’m working on a team doing product design, my “official” process goes like this: define the problem, conduct research, create the designs, test, iterate, and finally release the product. You probably already use a very similar process in your own teams. But as much as I want my process to look all nicely scheduled and laid out like this, in reality it never turns out as such. At the beginning of a new project, everyone is always energized and excited. We start out thinking it’s going to go exactly as planned, but then realize that we can’t plan for every obstacle because we don’t know what the obstacles will be yet. Then somewhere during the middle the excitement wears off, everyone’s work starts piling up, and complex problems arise. And at the end, it seems that there’s always last-minute design changes that are pushed without any usability studies.
But there are a few things I’ve learned that can help this process. The best ideas actually come from long hours, failed attempts, and learning from them. I’ve learned to let a good idea mature through the stage of awkwardness before it gets debuted to the decision-maker. That doesn’t mean going behind your boss’s back, but sometimes it’s important to really decide who needs to be in what meetings. This can prevent having “too many cooks in the kitchen” and avoiding going in a direction that everyone is OK with, but that no one loves. Design by committee makes a lot of people just OK with a mediocre design.
What advice do you have for someone just getting started in experience design?
There’s only so much that you can learn in school, so throw yourself into your first internship or job even if you think you aren’t ready. Freelance is nice, but you’ll be working solo — so you don’t really get to learn from anyone. My first real job at Hewlett-Packard was where I truly learned how to think and work like a designer. Study what your more experienced colleagues are doing. They’ve been in the industry for a while, so they have tips, techniques, and processes that they’ve found work well for them — and might work well for you too. Once you have a solid footing, you can start branching out more and figuring out what makes your own work unique. But no matter what I or anyone else says, don’t take anyone’s advice as a hard-and-fast rule, because no one’s career paths are exactly the same, and you can and should craft your own ways of designing and thinking.
The next Adobe Creative Jam is coming up in Minneapolis on July 9, 2018, followed by Montreal on September 25, 2018. Come get inspired, show off your skills, and make new connections! More information and upcoming schedules are available on the Creative Jams website.
Interested in the Creative Residency program at Adobe? Find out more about it here.