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Interview with Karolin Kaplan, Product Designer at Pipedrive

The importance of surrounding yourself with inspiring people

In this post, we chat to Karolin Kaplan, Product Designer at Pipedrive about her journey into design, tools in her design workflow and tips to include developers into your projects.

Introduce yourself - who are you and what are you doing now?

I’m Karolin Kaplan, a product designer at Pipedrive, I love to solve problems and see the answers coming together. When I’m not working, I’m rarely sitting still. I have a lovely dog whom I like to take with me everywhere I go... or is it she takes me everywhere she goes? Who knows which way it is!

I enjoy monotonous sports like running, swimming and cross-country skiing, where I can switch my brain off and don’t have to think. It’s my way to recharge my batteries. I also enjoy creating something with my hands: cooking, renovating something or doing some gardening. I love to see results. Quickly.

How did you get into design, was it a single moment or a journey?

After graduating from high school with an art specialisation, it was clear to me that the Estonian Academy of Arts was the natural choice for me.

I’ve always admired people who can express their feelings elegantly without the outcome serving a bigger purpose; for myself, this has always been difficult, and it still is.

When I had to choose my speciality, it was love at first sight when I saw the product design department. The balance of creativity with purpose was what really sold it to me and this was even before I was old enough to be accepted into the pre-courses!

"It was love at first sight with product design, the balance of creativity with purpose was what really sold it to me."

Besides all the fun that the Arts Academy offered, the focus of my 6 years of studies had been industrial design. During these years, I spent one exchange semester in Willem de Kooning Academie in Rotterdam and one year in the Oslo School of Architecture and Design. I’d gone to Oslo with the sole ambition to learn about service design, but the moment I heard about an interaction design course, there were no further doubts about why I was there.

What is your company culture like?

I seriously believe that Pipedrive as a company is one of the greatest places to work at. I’m happy to go to work daily, and I know that I’m cared about as an employee. I appreciate that we not only have our core values defined, but we really operate by following them. Giving and receiving feedback is also a strong part of our culture.

“Giving and receiving feedback is also a strong part of our culture."

What is your design team culture like?

I’ve been with Pipedrive for almost 3 and a half years, and I’ve seen my department change and evolve over that time. I've also helped in several configurations of teams when the need has arisen. I’ve matured as a product designer alongside the growth of the department.

My main observation has been that every time that I’ve started feeling settled and comfortable, a change follows very soon. Even if it feels uncomfortable at first, these changes have turned out to be great.

We’ve grown from a small design team to a structured design department which not only consists of designers but also researchers, data analysts and content strategist to name a few. It’s very inspiring to have such a rich group of people around, where everyone is self-driven and independent, but together form a great community to learn from and to exchange knowledge with. I’d say the common denominator for our culture is that we are constantly eager to improve.

“It’s very inspiring to have such a rich group of people around, where everyone is self-driven and independent, but together form a great community to learn from and to exchange knowledge with.”

What does your design workflow look like? Is this what you would call the dream workflow and what other tools do you use to make your life easier?

My daily design workflow starts with secondary research to help me understand the problem that I’m presented with. I dig into the project documentation, problem evidence, job stories or if available, the study conducted by a researcher.

The idea here is to really understand the problem and in the dream workflow, I’d go out and do some job shadowing in the field, this would really help me empathise with the user and their pain points. Afterwards, I would do some analogue research to get aligned on how similar problems are solved elsewhere or to simply get inspired. I find it really useful to look into the competitors but also solutions that have nothing to do with the industry that I’m solving the problem in.

I’m inspired by seemingly irrelevant patterns but I always keep the goal in mind. I start with flow ideation by sketching with pen and paper. This process is an essential part of my design workflow, as I feel that digital tools can’t cope with the speed of my brain and it could quickly become frustrating. These sketches are far from pretty pictures one wants to put in the portfolio, but rather low resolution and born in seconds. But they are enough for me to get the concept out and later know what I meant when it comes to digital wireframing and sketching.

"Looking at how other people including competitors solved similar problems and those not in the same field as me can be really helpful."

After I’m done with putting my ideas on paper, I move on with digital sketching. I occasionally do digital wireframing as well, but in most cases, I consider my analogue sketches enough to start building by using the components we have in the design library. If I have a decent amount of screens digitalised, I move on with putting together a prototype in Marvel. This is always an exciting activity, and I constantly have the feeling that I can’t wait to see it working (or not working) in the end. Sometimes, if I have more time, I add a little touch by using timer functionality to switch between screens in order to, for example, mock loading states or pulsating cursors for form fields.

After I’m more or less finished with the prototype – or several iterations of it, done based on my own critical eye, the peer review sessions, facts delivered by data analyst or the feedback from the project team – I’m handing it over to the product manager or the researcher to prepare for the usability testing sessions. Sometimes I’ll take part in the usability testing sessions as an observer, but as I don’t always have time to watch live, I’ll learn from the prepared conclusions or recordings.

My workflow is based on the available design and support resources that we have. Pen and paper are my main tools for sketching, followed by Sketch that allows me to pull components from our library to create screens, and finally Marvel for doing the magic in order to put it all together. In addition to these key tools, I use a few different communication and task management tools on a daily basis. Depending on the complexity of a project I may also pick up other design tools for storyboarding or mapping.

What is it about your design workflow or process that you would recommend to other people in the Marvel community that could inspire them to work more efficiently?

Sketching with pen and paper as a serious tool for everyone. By using this technique you could reach some points much earlier than if you were to use digital tools and avoid some work frustration.

Putting together your own project timeline for design work and keeping track of it is another great skill that helps plan the necessary workflow for a specific project and simply let you rest assured that it will work out in the end.

Sketching the design workflow

Prototyping on paper the design workflow

What advice would you give to other designers when working with developers?

When it comes to new products or features, put some effort into defining the terminology so both teams will have a common way of understanding each other. Put together your own dictionary to refer to, consisting of design screens with several rectangles with agreed definitions pointing to them. Engage developers more in design decisions and you might start hearing the word ‘‘impossible’’ less.

“When creating new products or features, take the time to define terminology that both designers and developers can understand so you have a common way of understanding each other.”

Last question, how do you stay organised not just in Marvel but also in your day-to-day?

Everywhere I can, I try to give the situation some structure. I try to bundle things up whenever there’s too much to keep track of easily and I do so with everything; my digital tools, documents, my personal life and apartment.

My calendar is my one source of truth and has multiple layers of colour-coded boxes. For both my professional and personal life, every single appointment or task which has been time-boxed flows through this one point. Accompanied by occasional to-do lists, this makes me feel pretty organized.

Content and Social Media Manager at Marvel | Photographer | Sewer

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