Georgios Maninis works as an interaction designer at ustwo, a digital product studio based in London. After he initially trained and worked as an industrial designer he soon became passionate about human-technology interactions. He became actively involved in the UX London community after graduating from the MSc Human-Computer Interaction at UCL in 2012.
Georgios has worked in end-to-end client projects designing for the web, mobile and public interfaces. He recently joined the latest ustwo joint venture, Wayfindr, which aims to empower vision impaired people across the world to move independently through their environment.
Describe your path to where you are now
My decision to follow design studies wasn’t a rational one. All my friends joined universities in big cities in Greece but I wanted to go somewhere different. So I picked a recently founded design school based in Syros, an island right next to Mykonos and Santorini. It was really edgy. I didn’t know what to expect.
In the first years of my studies I didn’t feel a particular interest for design. When I took things more seriously - in order to be able to graduate - I was attracted by the fields of interaction and user-centred design because their philosophy is to put people at the heart of the design process. Since I wanted to learn more about these areas I applied for the MSc in Human-Computer Interaction at University College London, a brilliant course in this field.
"I was attracted by the fields of interaction and user-centred design because their philosophy is to put people at the heart of the design process."
Until then I hadn’t realised that user experience design was so popular and that there is a great demand in the market for UX practitioners. The rest is history.
For the last 18 months I live and breathe at ustwo, an innovative digital product studio based in Shoreditch.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I try to wake up as late as possible since it only takes 15 minutes to get to the studio on my bike. I always get breakfast at home although it’s provided in the studio. When I arrive I pick up a glass of water and go straight to my desk. I read the emails that came overnight from the other ustwo studios worldwide.
"The most exciting days are those that involve ideation sessions, stakeholder workshops or user research."
At around 9.30 I get ready for the daily standup with my team and then I continue with things I need to complete to drive the product development. The most exciting days are those that involve ideation sessions, stakeholder workshops or user research. I get lunch with other 'ustwobies' and we usually go to our favourite spots. It’s quite hard to get value-for-money food in overpriced Shoreditch. I always try to sneak in some time for fusball during the day, although I am pretty rubbish at it.
Towards the end of the day I look up the calendar to see if there are any events happening at Cybercafe, our breakout area. These events are usually internal talks or with inspirational guests. They are great because they bring all 'ustwobies' together to discuss, share what we have learnt and be inspired. Before the working day comes to end I make sure I clear my inbox from emails addressed to me. After the studio I might go to a gig, a design meet-up or catch up with friends to try new pale ales. Life in London is fast-paced, so some days I just feel the need to go home and hang out with my housemates or dig some new tunes.
What does an interaction designer do?
The interaction designer plays a key role in a product team, from the product strategy to detailed decisions on the interaction design patterns.
"The interaction designer is the user’s advocate in the team."
This means that their responsibility is to think of creative ways to gather user feedback and involve the whole product team in doing or observing user research. In this way it’s made sure that everyone has a first hand experience with user feedback. The tools and methods an interaction designer might use vary depending on the project. Some common activities involve doing qualitative and quantitative research, asking for analytics and trying to make sense of them, creating personas and customer journey maps, prototyping new ideas and designing experiments to get feedback on them, designing and facilitating stakeholder workshops…
It’s mainly a problem solving role that requires a balance of analytical and creative thinking. It sits between design, psychology and cultural studies as it’s closely related to people. Very fascinating.
Whats the most challenging thing about your job?
I think the biggest challenge for an interaction designer when working on a client project is to actually persuade the client about the value of talking to customers. As surprising as it may sound, many organisations claim that they are customer-centric but they don’t have any processes in place that can prove that.
"I think it’s important to zoom out and reflect on what we have delivered so far."
Another challenge I have observed is that when we go into production mode we tend to forget about the big picture.
Does it fit with the product vision and strategy? How are people using the product? Are the features usable and useful or do we need to iterate? Asking all these reflective questions is often something we forget.
Whats life like in the ustwo studio?
ustwo is popular for maintaining an amazing work culture despite constant growth. It’s a very inspiring and vibrant place with positive vibes.
"I am surrounded by enthusiastic and passionate people from whom I learn new things every day."
As I mentioned above, we tend to get together towards the end of the day to discuss about our practice or share what we are working on. Every Friday afternoon we have a company meeting where we celebrate our successes and “succailures” (term coined by our founder Mills)! Our studio managers often organise socials where fun is key. The memes that cover every wall in the studio are the proof of that.
We have been working a lot recently on diversity, a big issue in the creative and technology sector. Being a multicultural studio is not enough for us. We also aim to achieve a gender split and maintain a culture where everyone feels comfortable to be real, to be themselves.
ustwo is one of the last independent studios standing. Mills and Sinx have always wanted to stay independent, and will never sell ustwo. This gives us the freedom to experiment with many different things, one of which is our business model. Client work might be the biggest part of what we do, but we also invest a lot in our own ideas that we move forward as joint ventures. Our amazing ustwogames, DICE and very recently Wayfindr are great examples of the latter.
"You learn so much more than merely delivering projects if you are part of an organisation of such a diverse nature."
You learn so much more than merely delivering projects if you are part of an organisation of such a diverse nature. I'd be talking for ages if I had to mention all the different initiatives that we run, such as in distributed leadership, transparency, personal development, reaching out to the world etc.
All these played a big role in my decision to join ustwo.
You mentioned you have been working in the Sydney studio - is there any big differences between studios?
I haven’t visited Malmo and New York studio yet, but from what I’ve heard there are differences. The vision and the guiding principles are the same across all studios but the atmosphere, the pace, the types of projects and the ways of working differ. You have to adopt in the different contexts and cultures. A practice that works well in the UK might not be applicable on the other side of the Atlantic.
The austwo studio opened less than a year ago. It now consists of around 12 people and it feels like a warm family. Half of the Austwobies are not Aussies, so it’s a fascinating cultural mix on the other side of the world. As I am visiting for the second time within a year, it’s great to experience the change.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
If you are graduating and you feel a bit lost, don’t worry. That’s healthy. It happens to everyone. Try a few things and you will see what suits you best. Knowing your limits is key but be confident about yourself.
"Don’t underestimate your capabilities and always try to push yourself a bit further every time."
Hard skills are always useful but soft skills have become increasingly important for designers, so make sure you mention them in job interviews. I would also advise that you do your research about the company you want to apply for before you press the submit button. In our last intern intake, the remarkable applications were those that mentioned not only Monument Valley but also other projects such as Wayfindr, Harvey Nichols Rewards app, talks or workshops we have done as ustwo.
If you could share a desk with anyone from the past, present or future, who would it be?
Although I find reunions boring, I feel I would like to be in the same room again with all my classmates on the first day at school.
"We learned the alphabet together and now everyone is shaping different bits of the world."
Curious to see what they are after.
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