Meet the UX Designers: Dash Ponce de Leon and the UI8 Team
Even the most experienced designer will sometimes look at a blank screen and think: “Wow. Where to begin?” Dash Ponce de Leon gets it. For almost two decades he’s been working in a number of digital fields but found his niche at UI8, an online hub that he co-founded; the site offers resources to UX and UI pros–think wireframes, icons, templates, and more–to make the “work” part of workflows less of a pain, and let the creative aspects get the love they deserve. We chatted with Ponce de Leon about problem solving, evading discouragement, and 90s music, and his eight-person team–spread out across the world–piped in with some thoughts of their own.
What drew you to UX/UI design, and how did you get your start?
Dash: I’ve been involved with design for about 18 years now. Initially I was really interested in 3D, and I still do a lot of 3D work–illustrations and animations, mostly–but compared to how things used to be, it’s a walk in the park. Back then rendering something extremely simple would take days, and it’s just so much faster and easier now.
When Flash was everywhere [in the early 00s], I got into web development and web design, building e-commerce and other sites. Then around 2007 mobile started becoming really popular; it still is, and I think it will be in high demand for quite a while.
I’m a designer at heart, but now I wear all the hats you could possibly think of at UI8. We started out as a full-service agency doing work for clients, but about three years ago we began our own internal project that has evolved into a digital marketplace for designers. I like to be involved in as many aspects of our work as possible, but generally act as creative director and project manager.
How does Adobe Creative Cloud fit into your creative process?
UI8 team: As a creative team mainly focused on UX/UI for web and mobile applications, Adobe Creative Cloud has been a vital part of our creative workflow for many years. With the addition of Adobe XD, it now allows us to tackle all aspects of our design process. Adobe XD has taken our production workflow to the next level with its vast array of UI design and prototyping features along with its constant updates and improvements. I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds for this design tool.
How do you get into the mindset of your potential users?
Dash: At this point, clients come to us with a very defined problem that they need us to solve and provide user data that they’ve already compiled. If it’s an existing product, we usually get things like interview transcripts from sessions where they’ve put the product in front of users and asked them questions as they engage. That feedback and data helps us come up with a design plan and steer our work in the right direction. Sometimes a client will want a really polished launch or release, and sometimes there’s a bit of room for iterations; we’ll play around with different options depending on the market.
Let’s look at one of your current projects. What was your process like creating Wires, two UX wireframe kits designed exclusively for Adobe XD?
Dash: We’ve been collaborating with Adobe on different projects and conceptual explorations for about three years now, and our partnership has evolved to custom design assets like Wires for XD.
Our primary goal for Wires is get new users onboard and give them a boost. If opening up the program to an empty canvas feels overwhelming, the completely customizable kit is full of reusable components–including colors, fonts, and so on–you can drag and drop to start building immediately. With the UI templates, which work for both web and mobile, it takes is just a few clicks to get going.
Designers can get to work faster with these flexible, fully customizable building blocks. Establishing a streamlined workflow is incredibly valuable for designers; it helps them save time and stay organized so they can focus more on creating and problem-solving–basically, less pixel-pushing.
What excites you most about the future of UX/UI design—both in terms of creating it, and engaging with it?
UI8 team: We’re always excited about creating something new–coming up with a never-before-seen usability pattern. But what’s most exciting, by far, is knowing that things we build might be used by thousands–and in some cases millions–of users around the world. It’s a scary challenge, but we love it.
What bit(s) of wisdom can you share with creative folks who are interested in becoming UX/UI designers?
Dash: There are a lot of UX/UI designers out there, but not a lot of problem solvers. If you decide to get into this field, focus on learning about usability and best user experience patterns. While aesthetics are highly important, problem solving comes first.
UI8: And it’s important to remember that there is no such thing as a “perfect” design; there is always room for improvement. Keep on learning, keep iterating, and keep listening to those crazy ideas in your head. Put yourself in your users’ shoes, accept feedback and criticism–good or bad–and use it to your advantage. Don’t get discouraged when things don’t quite go as planned, because they rarely ever do. After all, good design evolves from a highly iterative process; it doesn’t happen overnight.
Whose UX/UI work do you look at and go: “WOW”?
UI8: It would be unfair to single out a designer or design team when we’re inspired by amongst hundreds of makers and doers around the world, because there is a such a constant influx of talent and amazing work published on Behance and other sites. That certainly keeps us inspired, and our toes to ensure we stay on top of our game.
Dash: If I have to pick one, I’d go with Jeff Han. The attention to detail and emotion he brings to his work is simply outstanding. Has always been a great source of inspiration.
Best tunes for getting into a creative flow?
Dash: It’s very diverse, but mostly electronic music and tunes from the 80’s and 90’s.