The Medium Doesn’t Matter: Meng He on Learning New Design Disciplines

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contact_429815The medium doesn’t matter—just solve the problem. Meng He reflects on learning new design disciplines.

With a resume that includes roles like Communication Design Valedictorian for the Parsons School of Design, Chief Product Officer at SocialSign.in, Millennial Marketing Advisor for Ben and Jerry’s, and contestant on $100,000 Pyramid with Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart, it’s no surprise that Meng He doesn’t like to be pigeonholed. This HOW Design Live speaker has used her design talent and business acumen to build a one-of-a-kind consulting practice in which she helps early-stage startups refine and prepare their products for launch.

But He says her work is less about products and more about helping her clients define a problem and then solve it in the simplest way possible. “In some sense,” she says, “it doesn’t matter how the industry changes, or that people are using a new media like mobile apps. It’s the way designers approach things that matters, not the medium.”

She’s loved deconstructing the way things are designed since “the Stone Age of the Internet,” when she was the kid who created logos, brochures, and, eventually, websites for neighbors and friends. At Parsons, her main focus was print design with Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, and after graduating she landed a dream job at a boutique agency doing identity and print work. But when the 2008 financial crisis hit, the agency had to change to survive—and He had to work quickly to learn interactive design.

Because she’d been required to take classes in all different disciplines at Parsons, she was prepared to embrace the transition. “The school always wanted us to see what was possible,” she says. “And the takeaway for me was that the specific discipline doesn’t matter. We just had to enjoy problem-solving.”

Recently, He started using Adobe Experience Design CC (Beta) to create her interactive work, and it’s clear to her that the app was designed by fellow problem-solvers. “With XD, Adobe did a valuable thing for creative professionals by finally making prototyping work hand-in-hand with the design process,” she says.

“First, XD cuts down on busywork, because you’re no longer doing screen designs in a design tool, then trying to link them in a separate prototyping app, then finding points of friction and having to go back and re-do your designs and link them again,” she says. “But what’s even better for designers going from static to interactive work is that XD helps you get over the mental hurdles of designing for flows the way users experience them, not just screens in isolation.”

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During Adobe’s 2016 Creative Jam, He was invited to use Adobe XD to create an interactive iPhone 6 app with Jett House, earning recognition as the People’s Choice Winner. They came up with “Hero Hotline,” which gives users directions to different locations using free-running and parkour skills. Check out the demo.

He says that designers are often given a creative brief with a list of features and requirements, and it’s tempting to jump right in and organize the information architecture and start sketching out how elements are organized on a page. “XD is great because it reinforces the practice of flowing out user goals and aligning them to business objectives,” she says. “The constant connections you’re making in Prototype mode powerfully reinforce a behavior change, moving you away from designing disparate screens to designing for how people journey from screen to screen to accomplish their goal.”

She appreciates nuances in XD, too. For example, when she wants to know what’s sitting above and below the fold in a mobile prototype, she can drag down the bottom of her artboard and see a dashed line. “Little things like that remind me that Adobe is paying attention to the pain points that only other designers would know,” she says. 

Despite the positives, He understands that some designers are hesitant to try a new tool like XD. She cites the onboarding tutorial within XD as an effective way to get started. “You open an already laid-out doc, then go through six or seven steps to see what a fully fleshed-out app looks like,” she says. “You learn basics like adding text and also cool things XD does that other apps don’t. So it’s not like watching a picture-in-picture video where you have to try to keep up and often lose your place—it’s kind of structured but it’s also hands-on.”

She encourages designers to dive in and give XD a try. “Designers are in best position to do it because we’re inherently curious,” she says. When it comes to learning any new design discipline, she feels that it’s really the thought process that determines success. “You just have to make sure you’re prepared to think critically about the problem in front of you.”

Attend Meng He’s HOW Design Live session, Stay Competitive by Adding UX Design to Your Portfolio, on Thursday, May 4, 2017 at 7:45 a.m.

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