Descended from Olympians, Jamie Myrold made her meteoric rise not in sport, but design. Here, she talks about her career path, her best professional advice, and all things Adobe.

Wheat Field

Design Matters Live: Jamie Myrold

DESIGNER / ADOBE EXEC

2019

DESIGN / ART / ADOBE / UX / SENSEI / COMMUNICATION / DESIGN THINKING / MEDIUM / HTML / PHOTOSHOP / ILLUSTRATOR / LETTERPRESS / SPORTS / OLYMPICS / CHICAGO / CALIFORNIA

It’s hard not to look around at the world’s most interesting and innovative companies—like, say, Adobe—and wonder how those at the top of the proverbial masthead reached such peaks and pinnacles.

Luckily, the path of some execs—like, say, Jamie Myrold, Adobe’s VP of Design—is easier to trace than others. For in Myrold’s words and work, one finds a striking trail of breadcrumbs showcasing a masterful UX mind.

To ring in the latest episode of Design Matters, here are 22 of Myrold’s wisdoms on craft, design, and living a life of design—bits and pieces of a blueprint for anyone interested in following in her footfalls.

—Zachary Petit, Design Matters Media Editor-in-Chief


“Like most designers, I was always a maker. From childhood through art college and into adulthood, I was always busy producing something with my hands. Home computers were a thing, but they weren’t my thing. Until they were. My first exposure to design software was, of course, Adobe Photoshop, and once I learned to place, mask and layer, there was no going back.”

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“As designers, we think about more than form and function. We explore the boundaries between what users have, what they need, and what they desire.”

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“The smartphone in a typical middle schooler’s shirt pocket is more powerful than the most powerful supercomputer of 1985 — which at three feet tall and five feet wide was itself much smaller than its less powerful predecessor. The leaps in technology that led from one to the other were the products of a multitude of curious brains that latched onto every little development, applied imagination and expertise, and moved us all forward, one communal lurch at a time.”

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“A job is just a job, but a career is a design problem.”

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“Be your company’s design evangelist (even if your company hates design). Not all companies support design-led thinking. Designers working for these types of employers have two sets of problems to solve: first, to do good design, and second, to help company leaders understand how good design can provide a strategic advantage.”

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“Design isn’t just the pixels on a page or the labels in a wireframe, it’s about blending technology and business in a way that serves the users and supports the product strategy. Keep peeling the layers of the onion, visualizing each step of the way, in order to understand how the parts interrelate and how the product can be made more strategic.”

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“Building relationships and respect are a bit like the story of the men and the elephant: A group of men in the dark touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part, but only one part. They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement about what they’ve found. Exceptional designers not only reveal parts, but illuminate the whole. They build relationships across product management, marketing, and engineering. They wear multiple hats—regardless of their position in-house, at an agency, or working for themselves—to filter through various perspectives coming from bosses, clients, coworkers, users and more. They work with, not against, the differing perspectives.”

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“Taking a risk to make a well-founded decision shows your organization’s leaders that you have the business sense to lead. It also shows your peers and subordinates that you are committed to doing the right thing—even at the risk of your own position. A leader who can do this is the sort of person others want to follow—someone who recognizes what is right and does what it takes to bring it to fruition.”

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“Over the past year, I’ve had to remind myself more than once of the advice I’ve given so many designers over the years: ‘It’s OK not to know.’”

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“I’ve developed a tool chest of people skills, technical knowledge, design expertise and organizational experience that I can draw on. Is my tool chest complete? No, there are still plenty of spaces left and that’s something to be grateful for, because filling in those mysterious blank spots is how growth happens. If I have a lesson to share with you, it’s that you have a tool chest, too—no matter the current level your career, you have knowledge that others need. You know what you know right now, and throughout your working life, you’ll keep finding out what you don’t know. And then you’ll learn that thing, and after that, you’ll do it again.”

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“Ask questions. Shamelessly. It’s normal to look around a conference table at a lot of people whose job titles start with the word ‘chief’ and be afraid to speak up for fear of looking stupid. But staying silent is just as bad. After all, the reason you are in a meeting like that is because those chiefs want your help. Everyone is trying to solve a problem together — your titles don’t matter.”

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“Concepts are hard to pitch. We use workflows to show our ideas to senior-level executives, but workflows are weak; they describe the user through the wrong end of the telescope, putting the logic of a software program before the humans it’s meant to serve.”

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“Designers are the visual voice for customers. They make a product beautiful and user-friendly, but an experience that is only skin-deep will not sustain a product or a user base long-term. Exceptional designers put themselves in the shoes of the person they are designing for. In doing so, they become the communication bridge between the user and the business requirements, and they listen to both to find the best solution. Exceptional designers help transform business and product development into a human-centered endeavor rather than a numbers-based one.”

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“People connect with people. Nobody looks at a rectangle and feels anything.”

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“UX efforts fall into two categories. The first is the new delights. The second is what I like to call the Just Do It — the thousand paper cuts that bug you, those little weaknesses that hide in crevices and are so hard to find time to go back and fix.”

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“Designers love a blank canvas. However, the shiny new object isn’t the biggest UX challenge. For designers who love to geek out on solving sticky problems, redesigning an existing system is the ultimate puzzle. Problems with legacy systems—those that have been around for a long time, perhaps before user interface design was even a consideration—go way beyond the user experience. Redesigning a legacy app is like an archeological dig, forcing a designer to push the limits of creativity within very specific boundaries—respecting what exists while imagining what can be.”

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“People don’t like change, so sometimes a designer will need thick skin to be able to listen and then separate the tone from the content. A comment like ‘that font is ugly’ may sound useless, but understanding that the user means ‘that font is hard to read’ makes it useful. When a complaint about a feature is valid and it can be changed easily, change it right away.”

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“We need to figure out how machine learning can create an overall better experience, one that provides magical moments of learning, or inspiration, or productivity. We haven’t even reached the frontier yet; we’re still rolling toward it in our covered wagons, figuring out the route as we go.”

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“When a computer is making so many choices for the user, it may seem like no designers would be necessary, but that has turned out to be a false fear. In fact, we’re discovering that designing in this way expands our roles as designers, freeing us from the limitations of the interface and coupling our work more closely with that of the engineering team.”

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“While today we work with images and specs, in the next few years, we may no longer work with look and feel at all, and instead work with movement or sound. We won’t develop a set of visuals; we’ll write a description or record a video. We won’t build a prototype; we’ll give rules that define starting points for what we want the machine to learn. That’s a lot of maybe and perhaps, but we do know one thing for sure: We’re going to have the opportunity to embrace a different thought process and push the boundaries of our creativity and our technology — and without even knowing where those boundaries lay.”

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“It’s designers who are illuminating the path forward.”

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“Businesses everywhere—from Silicon Valley to Sarasota—are hungry for design leadership. … This is the era of the designer, so know your value and let yourself shine.”

 

And remember, we can talk about making a difference, we can make a difference, or we can do both.  — Debbie Millman