This month, meet Lise Kemen, our resident graphic designer and user experience maven. From splash screens to alert messages, she’s coloring the full range of Nuxeo products and doing her part to erect virtual sign posts along the way. Every time you open a Nuxeo application, you get to sample Lise’s handiwork, so sit back and take a moment to get acquainted with the woman behind the virtual curtain!
Nuxeo: Tell me about your role at Nuxeo. I started out in the marketing team as a graphic designer focusing on all of the assets for Nuxeo.com and Nuxeo.org, but over time my position has evolved and now I’m spending the majority of my time working side by side with the product team doing graphic design and user experience for the entire Nuxeo product line. At first my time was split between all the web sites and the product team, but as we’re now more focused on usability and user experience, I’ve had the opportunity to join the product team on an almost full time basis, which is a good match for me as it’s where I want to be career-wise.
Nuxeo: How does designing for a Nuxeo product differ from other design projects you’ve worked on? Well, designing products is like being a craftsman. There’s a definitive line between function and design. First it has to be clear, then you need to balance keeping the products aesthetically pleasing while at the same time not too branded. In the same way that Nuxeo products are engineered to be customized, when it comes to design, I design an interface that will lend itself to being changed (visually) by the customer who is using the product.
Also what we try to work into the design (this is where I put my usability and user experience “hat” on), is how to make the product more intuitive and simple to use by everyone.
Nuxeo: And what are some ways that you work this into the product? One of the main things is that we have to be consistent in wording and the way we display things. This is important when you want to make something standout or call attention to it. For Nuxeo products this is critical as there are processes and steps that a user must follow in order to carry out a function, so it’s also a part of my job to help them through these operations—make them clear and make sense. Even things that might seem obvious, still need to be given attention and thought through.
Nuxeo: How do you think your role in design has helped Nuxeo products evolve? Having a person dedicated to design brings you consistency and accuracy. I know exactly which color is used where and when on each platform, which source file related to the design is working with another file or asset. This is the key to making a logical bridge between the design mock up for new features and previous tools that need to be maintained.
Nuxeo: What’s your main focus right now? My main focus right now is the 5.5 release. We’ve been making significant changes in the way platform user interface styles and layouts are managed. This results in a re-engineering of existing features and I’ve been part of this process both as a “user” (to try to better define requirements for the way the platform should handle the design), but also by porting all the existing design elements to that new system. It’s not a “visible” part of my job, but it’s as important as anything else. Basically my mission is to make sure the way the platform can be styled fits with the way a web designer designs. We have many files that are linked and dependent on each other, which makes them difficult to replace, so the goal with doing this kind of streamlining is to better enable customers to adapt the application to fit their company brand through various color presets, different themes or additional customization. Of course in 5.5 we are also working on a long list of improvements to the UI, especially in the new collaborative module.
Nuxeo: And your next area of focus? To make this entire system simple and easily integrated with Nuxeo Studio. That means incorporating many small details that help the user understand what they’re doing, where they want to go after, and also making sure we have design elements in place that ask a user if they’re really doing what they want to do.
Nuxeo: What’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on? Hmm…it’s hard to pick, as each new project is a new challenge! My first big user interface design project was Nuxeo DAM. When I started at Nuxeo, Nuxeo DM was already underway, but DAM hadn’t been created yet. So this was a great option as I was able to start from ground zero. I was able to see how the various elements of the application and the visual design aspects related to each other from a functional standpoint—what absolutely needed to be present so a user could carry out tasks and what was purely design. Also starting from the beginning, I was able to learn and understand how the pieces of the software were put together, to know what is linked with what and where the dependencies existed. Knowing this has helped a great deal with the work I’m doing now to clean up the design files, which is very satisfying because I know it will make things easier for both users and developers.
Nuxeo: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced? The problem with design is that part of it is always subjective, so everyone has an opinion! [laughs] But the key is to understand why people are protesting against some aspect of the design, sometimes even if what you want is not the best way to do it, usually the reason is sound. So you have to be a good listener, understand what others need, and above all be good at sorting through the real issues versus what is really just a matter of taste. The other challenge especially when it comes to designing for Nuxeo products is that you have a lot developers contributing new features, which sometimes makes it hard to anticipate all the new ideas.
Nuxeo: Have you ever been asked to do something you thought was impossible? The 5.5 release? Well, we will see… Actually, at Nuxeo I’ve never heard anyone say something was impossible. It’s more a matter of time and resources than attitude. That’s the best part about working at Nuxeo for me, people are really motivated and even sometimes if you have some doubts there are always other people pushing you to go further, push the boundaries, and stretch your creativity. Plus, it’s really interesting to be a designer in this environment, I get to work with people who have a really different background than me, such as working directly with the developers, I get a very different perspective than other designers working in, say, a design firm.
Nuxeo: Where do you get your inspiration from? The best way to get inspiration is to always be looking and browsing, always curious. All the time, everywhere. There’s a lot of information on Twitter, a lot of designers are sharing their questions, doubts, and answers on all kinds of subjects. The sites like Smashing Magazine or UX Matters are an unfailing source of inspiration and best practices.
Nuxeo: Okay, quick user experience color test, first thing that comes to mind when you think of: Red… Delete! Danger! This is important! Be sure that you want to do whatever it is you’re about to do! Yellow… Tip. Advice. Nice to know, but you can live without it. Blue… Similar to yellow. Neutral. Non-aggressive. Green… Success. Correct.
Nuxeo: And, what about Black? Ah…black. I like black, but usually when I design something with a lot of black my managers tend to think I’m depressed [laughs]. Black can be really powerful if you find the right balance.
Nuxeo: Are there any colors in the colorwheel that you refuse to use? No, I don’t think any colors have to be banished. They all have their virtues.
Nuxeo: I know you’re a designer and your place is in the visual world, but do you have any words to live/design by? Yes, there’s a quote from Paul Rand, one of the greatest graphic designers, he said “Design is the silent ambassador of your brand.” I wholeheartedly agree and try to incorporate that into every project I work on.
You can follow Lise on Twitter at @lkemen.