Q&A with Alex Muench, Product Designer at Doist

This post is part of a series where we’ll be interviewing different creatives in order to get a sneak peak at their work and benefit from their experiences. Our guests will also share ideas, tips and advices on how to start a career in a specific area or a remote one in general.

Visit the Questions and Answers category to see more of this.

Thank you Alex for accepting the request, and without further ado, let’s start the Q&A:

Q: Who is Alex to people who do not know you and what are you up to currently?

My Name is Alex Muench, I’m a senior product designer from Germany currently working with Doist. We are a fully remote team with people from all around the world. I’ve been working remotely for about 5 years now. We build cross-platform productivity software like our app Todoist, a task management app as well as Twist, which is our own asynchronous team communication app. I work with both products, but am mainly responsible for the design of Twist.

Q: What do you think about remote vs “go to the office” work? Is it for everyone? Is it the future?

The rise of awareness about remote work is definitely a good thing in my opinion. I wouldn’t say it’s for everyone, but companies should incorporate the possibilities for remote work for their employees when work can be done just as well away from an office as in it.

There are challenges like loneliness, not being able to directly ask a teammate for an opinion and so on. But for me the positives of remote work outweigh the potential negatives. Especially in the space I’m working in. You need to be a reliable person who delivers on time and can communicate well. The communication part is especially important since most of it is in written form. Having everything written down by default is actually a big advantage for people who work in an office, too. If you have all discussions readily available to search and build a readable knowledge base, you make communication more transparent and accessible for everyone in your company.

I also enjoy the freedom of working remotely. I can travel to different places and work from there, get inspired by a different environment and experience the culture from a different country. I personally don’t do it that often but it’s freeing to know I can. When I travel, I try to stay at one place for an extended amount of time. It’s difficult to get into good work habits in a new place which is why I would encourage others to do the same.

You asked if remote work is the future. I think person-to-person interaction is still very valuable. You can get to know your teammates on a personal level and just talk. But when you really want to get work done you need to be free of distractions. Those can happen in offices a lot and you have little control over it. When you’re on your own at home or in a co-working space you can dive into deep work and get things done. So to answer your question: I think a mix of both would be ideal. Bonding with the team, and giving you the freedom to choose when and where to work, be your own boss while working in a remote setting. Exchanging spontaneous thoughts and ideas can be inspiring in a person-to-person conversation but who says you can’t still have those when the other teammate is sitting on the other side of the planet? There’s still video chat. And I personally believe deep meaningful discussions can be easier in text form.

Remote work makes you more mindful about managing your time and requesting time from others. You are more intentional when asking for help.

Q: Here in Morocco, we don’t have a lot of design schools. Is it possible for people to learn it on their own? Where should they start and what the process looks like?

Yes, I think you can learn it on your own. It requires a lot of dedication to be willing to try things out, read a lot, and practice. First you need to understand the basics of design, here I would recommend reading books like “Universal Principles of Design”. If you want to become a product or UX designer, basically what I do, I would recommend starting with a problem you personally have. Define it and try to solve it with a product. This way you know you’re actually trying to solve something that has value to you. You are motivated to figure it out, you don’t need to do research. This is the first step. Then of course you need to show interest in exploring apps from top to bottom: what do you like in this particular app? And why? Try to replicate it and build your eye and sense for visual design. Understand the platforms you are designing for. Dive into basic coding to understand how developers work. Make prototypes. Ask fellow designers in the industry for feedback. Reach out to people you admire. They reply more often than you think and offer advice. Try it! Really! Write about your process, what you learned, publish it, share it with the community. Repeat.

Q: One of your latest tweets talk about how remote working gives you the possibility to work from different places and thus get inspiration. What’s inspiration for you?

For me inspiration means freedom, working in a place that lets me think without distraction, connect different thoughts to something new.

Q: One of the advices I gived in this blog is: everyone should have a portfolio. What are your advices for people who want to build a portfolio? Is there anything they can do to differentiate themselves?

I think it’s important to know why you want or need a portfolio. To me, a portfolio doesn’t need to exist solely out of production work. It can be a page with your first thoughts and a case study or written article to your first own project, including your first prototype.

Here’s a tweet thread with some thoughts about this topic: 

Alex on Twitter

Q: Do you have a daily routine that helps you stay organised when working remotely? 

Yes. I think similar to most people. I usually get up at the same time, start work at 8:30-9am, take breaks at 12:00 and stop at 6pm. I’m always planning my week and tasks before hand on Sundays, so I don’t need much brain power to think about what task comes next. I use our own app Todoist for this.

Q: What are the challenges of working remotely, and what do you do about them?

There are a few: If you are traveling, you always need to have a good space to work. You need to find a calm space to have meetings without outside noise. Sometimes I work too long, which is also a challenge. There’s nobody who says: Bye, see you tomorrow. You are on your own and need to force yourself to stop when it’s time. I personally would say I’m quite well organized but it took some time for me to really follow this rule.

Then there’s loneliness. I try to travel and visit friends or family in other cities which already helps. Regarding the team I work with, I look forward to our annual retreats and team retreats. These are once a year and one full week of working together in a city we choose.

When we talk about the work itself, the biggest challenge is communication. You need to be a good communicator. Getting everyone on the same page; discussing and communicating clearly about our goals; and sharing ideas, current process, and what we’re working on next.

Q: What are your advices for people who want to work remotely?

Whether or not you’re ready for remote work depends on the person. You need to be able to work by yourself, show a lot of self-initiative, and manage your own days effectively. You are your own boss, similar to freelancing.

Remote work also requires a lot of self-discipline. You need patience and ability to trust and be comfortable moving on to different topics while you wait for feedback. Patience was one of the hardest things to learn for me personally.

Q: Are you hiring at Doist? What do people need to know before applying?

We’re always looking for awesome people to join us, but we hire deliberately. Head count is a vanity metric. Before hiring, we always try to find an internal solution first. All Doisters are people with a wide range of various skills. If we come across a challenge, our main goal is to find people internally who are passionate about solving this problem and have certain expertise and/or want to grow their skills even if it’s outside of their job description. For example, after a lot of disappointment working with outside companies, we produced our last three product videos entirely in-house (even the voiceover). This also promotes self-improvement and challenges us more to learn outside of our fields and jobs we’re hired for.

If you want to join us, I think it’s important that you are a good communicator, are passionate about the products we design, and share the same values as us: Independence, Mastery, Communication, Balance, Impact.

We’ve got an idea about the work of a Product Designer and Alex shared some valuable feedback on how to start a career in this area. There is no secret formula, you need to work hard to get it!

You can find all the Q&A articles here or you may learn more about remote working here.

See you next time.

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