Arnþór Snær Sævarsson, Design Lead

You’ve been working with Tempo since its early days. How did you end up here and how have things changed?

I started with Tempo as a freelancer in 2012. There were eight people on the team back then and one product. By the end of the following year, the team had more than developed.  Immediately for me, I got the sense that the company was rapidly growing and that’s been a feeling that has carried forward. Since I’ve been here, the team has multiplied tenfold. It’s been exciting.

In my previous job at Síminn, an Icelandic telecommunications company, it had also grown very quickly, but was very large (approximately 1,000) when I started.  When you go from 8 – 80, the growing challenges are a little different, but the need for constant evolution is the same.

There is an excitement about being a part of a startup, when you are part of a small team and growing.  I feel younger now than when I joined.  I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it.

Can you tell us about your part in designing Tempo as a product, and the role of the Design team?

I was the first designer to join Tempo full-time. When I joined, there were two big challenges: one was figuring out what our new products would do and which problems they would solve, and aligning our products together.  Aligning our products with Atlassian’s style guide was also a priority — they had introduced their style guide around that time. 

I wore many hats, developing design patterns, mockups and prototypes, usability testing and research, and figuring out the right questions to ask.

How do you approach empathy and prioritization? How do you know when to say No?

It’s really important to set clear objectives with any project, defining who it’s for, how it’s achieved. User research is really important at the onset to help us define the project scope. Testing ideas with real customers provides us with invaluable feedback and helps us to stay focused.

In the design phase, we have some ideas that customers are facing certain problems. By testing with customers and releasing often, we can validate and determine whether we have sufficiently solved the customer problems. They’re the people who are really designing our products.

We’re really good at learning and internalizing things, and sometimes when we become overly with familiar with our products and it’s easy to become extremely focused on the mechanics of the product — the screens, the buttons, the use cases. If you don’t regularly validate this with customers to show them what you’re doing or use the products on your own, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.

Every day, it’s important to come in and ask Why? — What are we doing, and why are we doing it? This helps us to see our products in a way that our customers see them, which helps us to empathize with them and to set boundaries and say No. Unlearn a bit, stay fresh.

What’s the most important aspect of the design and development process to you? How do you connect the two?

For both design and development, I think the most important aspect is validating and testing ideas and code.  The first step is to spend time with the people you are building solutions for or intend to build. Learn a bit more about their problems; walk in their shoes. Who are these people? Where do they come from? What are the demographics?

Gather a team of people to answer: Can you solve this problem, and can you solve it in a manner that people will want to buy it?  What’s the simplest thing that we can do to determine whether this product will work?  How can we test this in the simplest way?  This determines whether we should develop the solution and spend our time on it rather than on solving some other problem.

What’s a typical day at Tempo like for you?

I don’t really have a typical day other than: I walk to work, I stand at my desk, I eat lunch, I drink a lot of coffee, I have fun.

How would you describe the company culture at Tempo?

Open, friendly, and challenging. There aren’t any walled gardens and silos at Tempo.  I can walk up to any team at any time and know what people are working on.

What do you like best about working at Tempo?

Everyone is thinking and is open with their opinions. We expect that everybody does good work and we help others to ensure that we all do. The environment keeps me on my toes, and inspires and challenges me to do good work, which I like.

What B2B or design trends do you see? What excites you?

There are many opportunities to create high-fidelity product designs, which couldn’t really be done before.  

One of the big changes in the enterprise is that it’s not being adopted in a top-down way as it has been in the past. More of the decision making is closer to the end users and this has changed the landscape — teams are adopting simpler tools that are more specific, and this is where interesting design happens.  The more up close a product is to a specific problem, the greater chance there is that the end user will be delighted.

How has your background benefited you in your role at Tempo?

I used to do a lot of freelance web development where I had to do the design, backend, code — everything. I have a degree in computer design, so I’m trying to approach software development from a design perspective.  I think it’s given me a healthy ‘hacker’ mentality.

What advice would you give others seeking to work in this field? What strengths or characteristics do you think are important?

This field is something that you get good at by proactively doing.  If you’re not employed, you should take on projects to get the experience.  It’s important to keep up to date on latest techniques and methods, but the masters have internalized these and they can focus on the Why?

What song / music do you listen to when you need to go into “work mode”?

Generally, I tend to listen to a lot of electronic music but for the last few months, I’ve been listening to a lot of David Bowie, Underworld, and Tangerine Dream.