He’s a self-proclaimed generalist, walking the rope between research and design for 20+ years, cracking complex challenges, and thriving in interdisciplinary teams where design meets quantitative and qualitative research.
Meet your instructor.👇
Brainster: Hi Damjan! To start off this interview — tell us a bit more about your role at Pexip. What’s your current professional focus?
Damjan: At Pexip, I have this hybrid role and open invitation to challenge and influence products’ design and development.
In comparison, in my previous position at Cognizant, I was more of a mentor and steward of the design process with an interdisciplinary design team working alongside me.
While I thoroughly enjoy the strategic work, mentoring, and guiding, I need to stay hands-on and, most importantly, never too far from the users. My focus is ideally split between discovery and validation.
My focus as of late has been mostly on asking the tough, open-ended questions about how we will collaborate, work, and, well, function in the years to come.
Brainster: You’ve spent some time working in Vienna as a Head of UX at Bwin (GVC). What do you think about the local scene? Did you meet any designers you admire?
Damjan: Right, I spent two exciting years in Vienna before moving to Norway almost four years ago. My role in Vienna was to grow and manage the local design team and lead the global team of 20+ designers across multiple locations.
In that capacity, I had the chance to meet a lot of designers from within GVC and a lot of candidates and prospects we interviewed. I was also a guest lecturer at the FH Technikum Wien, where I met a lot of smart, driven students who were on their way into their UX and design careers. Big shout out to Benedikt Salzbrunn for hosting me.
Considering the size of the city, and the market, Vienna felt like a sleeping giant when it came to designing. While there was a lot of appreciation for art, architecture, and graphic design, there was less attention to user experience.
That is, of course, changing fast, partially also thanks to programs like the one at Technikum and more significant, customer-centred companies such as N26 moving to Vienna.
I have very fond memories of Vienna and the small, yet lively design community. Max Scheugl, Jörg Linder, Tom Zahler stand out and, of course, my ex-colleagues from bwin (GVC).
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Brainster: Show us the 3 favourite projects you’ve worked on and tell us why you like them!
Damjan: Honestly, I don’t have favourite projects. Apart from Edgar, the storyteller. The startup I created together with my partner Marusa and our friends. Edgar is a toolkit and marketplace empowering small businesses to tell their stories and connect with fans and customers.
But we can look at three examples that illustrate the diversity and breadth of work I’ve been involved in.
During my PhD studies, I worked with a young team of PhDs and physicians on a project called Adora. Adora used MS Kinect and the MYO device to pioneer a natural user interface (NUI) for surgeons in operating rooms. We were tasked to re-imagine, re-invent, and innovate a very niche segment with extremely specific subject matter experts. A truly unique and rewarding experience where literally saw our product saving lives.
Another example is from Bwin and my time in Vienna. One of the design-driven initiatives was to modernize the design patterns and to freshen up the outdated product. An easy task for a “normal” product, but nearly impossible for a product that is the backbone of 24 other labels, brands, and products. At GVC, we learned how to do small, iterative design and appreciate metrics and numbers when discussing design changes. And in the end, I’m proud to say that we had our success. Slowly, in small chunks but still. 😊 We even managed to pitch a “bright” Bwin, a white version of an otherwise black bwin product.
The third example is from Cisco and the Webex Devices unit. There, I could finally again work with hardware and software under one roof. Something I looked forward to since I left the position at the University. The first project I worked on was a desk device for collaboration and video communication. Working with product managers, industrial and interaction designers, we designed a premium product that launched in 2019. It got Cisco a prestigious Red Dot design award while also being a huge success with customers and partners.
Brainster: Your experience is impressive — entering the field 14+ years ago, living and working all over the world, creating for different types of companies, teaching experience, P.hD… Do you have any tips for ambitious designers that aspire to have a fulfilling career?
Damjan: There’s no silver bullets or secret hints. I was fortunate (or cursed?) to start working at a young age, well before going to University. I always had a side project (or four) or a client I worked on the side.
One piece of advice is to not look for that perfect gig or opportunity. It’s good to have high-flying goals, but you have to start somewhere, so why not by volunteering to fix a website for the local NGO.
And most importantly, to never get too comfortable. Always keep challenging yourself and keep learning. As designers, we have the skills and tools to boost our ego and design our perfect world and shut others out. My advice; don’t! A big part of being a good designer is empathy for the users, the team members, and the stakeholders. And importantly, to create empathy in your extended team. For that, we need to listen, look and learn. Always.
For example, I stopped going to UX and IxD events for a while and instead tried to learn from the most hard-core IT communities such as data science and bioengineering. Another example is my time at Cognizant, where I learned so much new about service design. From a designer ten years junior to me.
For ambitious designers to be, I think the best way is to get cracking. Find a product or service you like, reverse engineer it. Find a broken product, fix it. If possible, find a mentor, the design community is a global family, so just reach out.
Asking questions and offering help is the best formula to grow as a designer. The best thing about UX design is that it’s so diverse that you can never stop exploring and learning. And there is no point in trying to master it all. No matter what people say, there are NO unicorns in the UX profession. Yes, you can do a bit of research and a bit of design, but there is no one-to-rule-them-all approach to solving complex challenges.
There are different paths and ways to start and grow in your design career. I would not say mine was ideal. I chose personal development, happiness, and meaningfulness over career development a couple of times in my career. Without regrets looking back at it.
Brainster: What will the students learn from your experience and what’s your teaching style?
Damjan: I’m chaotic, unstructured, and bombard people with information, tasks, and requests. So, they should expect a lot of “WTF” and “OMG” moments. 😊
In all seriousness, I’m a big fan of hands-on learning, so my teaching reflects that. My goal is to bring relevant advice to the students and tailor the methods and delivery if needed. Education is an active, two-way process.
I intend to bring concrete examples while also reminding the students about the history topics that helped shape today’s design industry. The academic in me wants to respect our “design elders” and talk about seemingly dull topics such as heuristics, process, and methods.
Brainster: What type of projects excites you the most? In a sense that when they fall in your hands, you can’t rest until you start working on them with great passion.
Damjan: I love complex, wicked challenges. If they also involve some hardware (physical device or system), then we have a perfect match. Those wicked challenges are usually B2B (business to business) nature and involve a lot of research before design begins.
My favourite projects are the ones that I need to dig very deep to grog them.
The partner and admin side of video communication is a good example. I am driven by the complexity and technicality of the challenge; it gets the geek in me excited.
Brainster: Why do you love your job? 😊
Damjan: Using the football terms, I love the mandate to roam freely. This means I can go from design, research to usability testing in a day. And most important for me, the job is about the people. I love it when I’m surrounded by people who are smarter than me and help me challenge myself daily.
Damjan: Damjan designs products and experiences at Pexip (Oslo, Norway) — helping people collaborate and communicate no matter the distance or technology.
Before that, he held a Research Director role with Cognizant in the Nordics and looked into the future of work and collaboration working as a Design research lead with Cisco (Webex Devices). Before that, he was with GVC Vienna as Head of UX on 20+ gaming brands globally.
His journey led him from working with Mayo Clinic to develop a corporate well-being program to cracking security challenges with the US State Department. With his friends, they also founded a VC-backed startup that helped small business tell their brand stories.
Damjan holds a PhD in human-computer interaction and is an active member of the IxDA, UXPA, and SIGCHI communities.
Watch the recording of our webinar “Research. The other half of UX”, with Damjan, as a guest lecturer.