‘Day in the Life’ with interaction designer, working mom, and SVC instructor Cheryl Couris

Some of you may know me as a UX instructor at SVC, others from my past life as a senior UX manager at Microsoft, or possibly from my current gig as an interaction designer at Google, but you’ll all soon come to realize I’m just a creative problem solver trying to juggle work, life, and making it to the office without toddler-sized almond butter handprints on my shirt. Come along for the ride on a random Wednesday and see how I put all those user experience fundamentals skills into practice in “real life” as I work to design simple, beautiful products that users (hopefully) love.

6:00 AM: (Honestly, it’s more like 6:30)

Hit snooze at least once before starting my day bright and early. I’m usually wiping someone else’s nose and taking my coffee to-go for a daycare drop off and commute to Google’s Fremont campus. I’m currently making my way through the Design Matters podcast archives and find drive time to be the perfect opportunity to cultivate a positive and inspiring day. Let’s do this!

8:30 AM: Prepare to crush it

Arrive at the office, grab breakfast and check email. The name of the game here is time management. There are lots of moving parts in the life of a designer and we’ve got to shift gears quickly, so timeboxing tasks has served me well. I spend the next 30 minutes responding to email and setting myself up for what I want to accomplish today.

First coffee of the day, and it won’t be the last.

First coffee of the day, and it won’t be the last.

9:00 AM: Connect and Reflect

Grab coffee with my mentor. I cannot stress enough how important it is to find people who inspire and challenge you. If you’re a part of SVC’s Certificate Programs, you automatically get paired with a mentor, so make sure you take advantage! If not, find your own tribe of people you can look up to, ask questions of, vent, laugh, and cry with. This can be as formal or as casual as you like and your mentoring needs can change with the seasons, your goals and your bandwidth. It is such a gift. Remember to pay it forward by mentoring others!

10:00 AM: Make the rounds

Swing by the daily engineering scrum to share my status update and ensure no one is blocked by me. (They aren’t, yay!) I really like having face-to-face time with the team as designs are being executed; unforeseen issues always come up and can usually be solved quickly with just a chat. Tip: befriend your engineering counterparts! They’re usually awesome, full of great ideas and often want to be a part of the process. It makes you a better designer (and it makes your product better), so don’t shy away from embracing the technical details and understanding the constraints and opportunities in how things get built.

Now I’m off to meet with a UX researcher to review a recent research report. Last week while testing some designs, we spotted some usability issues (it happens!), so we talk it out and I do some quick whiteboard brainstorming on how we might iterate to improve. Collaborating with people in other disciplines — research, engineering, product management — is essential and one of the most important tools of the trade. Being open to feedback and pivoting on ideas is a big part of what great products are made of, so get used to it! I head back to my desk and do another version in my Sketch file (using the Craft plugin makes updating the Invision prototype pretty smooth). Now we’re ready to test it again. I send it off to the researcher and PM for feedback.

Tools of the trade: Paper, pencils, post-its, coffee. Also pictured: Android corp phone, almond milk latte and the sneakers I wear daily.

Tools of the trade: Paper, pencils, post-its, coffee. Also pictured: Android corp phone, almond milk latte and the sneakers I wear daily.

Noonish: Fuel

Today I’m having lunch with a friend so we grab some food and sit outside. (Hello, Seattle spring!) Often, I’ll go for a walk or a lunchtime yoga class; I’m a big believer in carving out time to decompress, socialize and self-care. I am guilty of occasionally eating lunch at my desk, though. Sometimes you’ve got deadlines or are really into your workflow and that grab-and-go desk lunch happens. Just don’t make it a habit! Stepping away from your work — even for a 10-minute walk outside — can do wonders to replenish your creative juices.  

1:00 PM: Heads down

I’ve got a nice chunk of time after lunch to myself, so I put my headphones on and work on mockups of a new feature I’m working on. I’ve been doing paper and whiteboard sketching for the past week, so now I’m ready to bring it all to life in low(ish) fidelity mockups. This is one of my favorite parts of the process: I’ve gathered requirements, have a good understanding of the user and their goals, and now it’s time to crank up the music and make it happen! I generally shut off email and notifications for some do-not-disturb time (I may ask a nearby designer for some extra eyes if I need quick feedback). Then tomorrow I’ll present these ideas to the product team and we’ll discuss what’s working, what’s not, and how to iterate.

What I look like most of the day: Headphones on and at my desk, super-secret whiteboard sketching behind me.

What I look like most of the day: Headphones on and at my desk, super-secret whiteboard sketching behind me.

3:00 PM: Sharing with Stakeholders

Party time is over and I’m heading to a meeting with stakeholders for a different feature I am working on. Remember when I mentioned I switch gears a lot? I grab my laptop and head out to get UX sign off on the other project. The design work may be ready to ship, (We tested! We iterated! We tested again!) but I can’t just share a demo of the prototype; I need to tell a well-crafted, thoughtful story about what this is, who it’s for and explain all of the hard work that went into it. (This probably sounds familiar to you UX certificate program students.) Presenting your work is another essential part of the gig. The audience may be large, small, remote, excited, pessimistic, engaged or distracted, but you’ve got to ensure you take them along for the ride and that they understand the journey it took to get there. So, yes, in addition to the actual design work, you will also likely have to document your process or create slides to help tell your story. You’ll need to answer questions about your work, speak to the design decisions and be able to explain why the solution you are proposing solves the problem you set out to fix. This gets easier with practice, so keep those skills fresh and make context-setting your projects a habit because it will come in handy every day. My project gets the green light, which is the perfect way to end the day on a high note.

4:00 PM: Set up for success tomorrow

Wrap up the workday by making myself a to-do list for tomorrow. I always aim to cross at least one thing off the list each day (it’s easier said than done). Pack up and head home!

5:00 PM: My favorite time of day

The best part of my day is walking in the door to my toddler’s open arms. I drop my bag and give her my undivided attention. We draw, sing, dance and make dinner. I work hard to maintain a solid work/life balance which is shared and respected by all of my coworkers, so when I get home I don’t really open my laptop or even check email. This was harder for me to do early on in my career, but over time I’ve learned that being a hero and working until midnight is a quick way to burn out. These days I appreciate being at work when I’m at work and being at home when I’m home.

Teaching my 2-year-old how to create paper prototypes (only half kidding).

Teaching my 2-year-old how to create paper prototypes (only half kidding).

8:00 PM: Preserve battery life

Our family has a no-device after 8 pm rule that keeps us focused on spending quality time together to recharge. I pour a glass of wine and indulge in some Netflix before crawling into bed to read a bit of Creative Confidence, just in time to get a solid night’s sleep and start all over again in the morning.

If I were to write this tomorrow, my day would look completely different and that is one of the best and most exciting parts of being a designer! You’ll put a different variety of both hard and soft skills into practice, get better over time and learn something new every day. Tomorrow I’m planning a sprint and have a team design critique (more sharing work! More feedback!) but you can bet I’ll make time to turn up my music and get back to jamming on that design work I started today.

Cheryl Couris is an interaction designer at Google, and an instructor and mentor for SVC's UX Certificate Program.