Mihai Delapeta is a Senior Product Designer with a multi-disciplinary background.
Originally from Montreal, Canada, he’s spent the last six years working in Europe with start-ups, gaming, and travel companies. Mihai is Romanian-born and in love with designing useful products that have the user’s best interest at heart, using design as a powerful tool that yields good business.
Other than work, he skateboards, dances & plays video games in his spare time, claiming that skateboarding has taught him that persistence and consistency are key to success; dancing has shown him how to be confident even under pressure; video games keep his reflexes sharp.
He’s currently working as Lead Product Designer in Twentoo, an Austrian startup for “e-waste” reduction (diagnose/clean/erase of devices) to save the environment.
This interview is a part of the Austria Design Map – a project that tells stories of the Austrian Design scene. The project is done by Brainster Alumni as a part of the Brainster learning-by-doing curriculum. Through this hands-on approach, students get real-life experience from working on products that come to life.
Brainster: Hello Mihai, thanks for joining this project! Let’s start. If you could choose to work on the re-work of any app in the world, which one would it be and why?
Mihai: Oh man, where do I start? Between countless airline apps (not so relevant now), the awkward Google Photos app, or the Steam app that is mandatory to logging in to play games. I’m a PC gamer, and I use Steam a lot; that’s the one I would pick. I have a huge pet peeve with the Steam mobile app since it’s only used for a two-factor authentication process. It’s pretty horrible to try to actually buy anything through the app. As a designer, this bothered me a lot. Thus I decided to create a re-design and published a case study of it on my website.
Brainster: We must say that your website portfolio is very neat. What is your most efficient channel for connecting with the community and/or finding work?
Mihai: Thanks! I appreciate it. What you see now, is actually the 3rd complete re-design I’ve done since the COVID lockdown started. I’ve been trying for years to find the formula for my portfolio that I’m happy with. I think I’ve finally achieved that goal…for now.
I’d say the online portfolio is an invaluable resource for job hunting.
I now receive messages from recruiters on LinkedIn, regularly. This wasn’t the case about five years ago. But, as you gain experience your contact list, grows. Through that, you gain visibility. I have a Dribbble account and an Instagram that I’ve recently created. They all have different goals. My portfolio showcases big projects and case studies, Dribbble is for curated shots and the goal for my Instagram is to post sketches and process. I also take part in a few Slack workspaces where you can interact with the design community.
Brainster: Can you show us your 3 favourite projects and tell us why you like them?
Mihai: My number one would be Sensorwake 2015. This was my first job in Europe (Nantes, France) and I was their first employee, as a Lead Designer. The start-up was lead by the young Guillaume Rolland funded on Kickstarter and backed by Google. I’ve had the opportunity to work on the physical product, an ‘olfactory alarm clock’ (wakes you up with smell). The first iterations of the website, marketing, packaging, branding, UX/UI design, I did it all. It’s one of the most enriching experiences in my career and I even got to present the product in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). We received the CES Innovation Award 2016 & 2017 and the L’Observeur du Design 2017 dubbed ‘the French design award’. Today the company sold to Maison Berger for an undisclosed amount.
My second choice would the ‘Unification’ project from Egencia (B2B Expedia platform). There are many reasons why this was an important initiative. But I will list only a few here. First of all, this project had the goal to align the transportation lines of business (LOB’s). I was in charge of everything that touched on Rail (train booking) and the Expense project, based in Paris. The Parisian team consisted of Alessandro Stigliani (Manager), Paméla Oliva Gil (Checkout) & Makonnen Dos Santos (Air). One of the biggest challenges we faced was creating consistency in the design, both UI & UX across LOB’s.
This was a team initiative and the goal was to optimize the process of decision-making and delivery. This included product managers, developers, and product directors. After a few months, we realized that the underlying issue was communication-related. We set out to improve intra-team communication by running workshops and help fill in the gap. A layout system was created and introduced into our design system. We tested five variations and got a 95/100 usability score. Based on A/B testing, an increase of more than $40 million dollars in revenue was estimated.
Last but not least, my Steam App re-design. Driven by my own pure user frustration, I’ve decided to create this Case study that is also handy for job-hunting. Often, as Designers, we get asked to take part in an exercise for job interviews. Some exercises are great, like a whiteboarding session, they showcase your process and way of thinking around a problem. Unfortunately, sometimes such exercises serve as a pool of intellectual exploitation.
Some companies ask for one to two weeks of work on a project they set up for the interviewees. A big red flag is when companies ask for a design solution for their existing product. I created the Steam App redesign case study in order to showcase my process and my way of thinking. When I get asked to work on an exercise I give them a link to this case study instead.
Brainster: List of tools/software you prefer?
Mihai: I’ve worked for many years using Photoshop & Illustrator. In the last five years, I’ve been using Sketch, Figma for company work, and Adobe XD for personal & freelance projects. I am proficient in using the full Adobe creative suite. Today, I am introducing the Apple pencil and iPad Pro into my workflow. I have done video editing in the past with Premiere and I animate with After effects. There was a time, a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, when I used Adobe Flash and ActionScript.
For keeping things organized, ‘Notion’ has proven invaluable. I’ve been a loyal customer for a few years now, and it’s the tool that helped me organize and speed up my process. Also, it allows me to handle many projects at the same time.
Brainster: It is always a challenge to steer clear from redundancies when you’re trying to make a user-centred app. What are some key learnings for properly efficient user research?
Mihai: My experience with industrial design helps me see digital products in a different light. I look at a smartphone and I see it as a moldable object. When I open Spotify, it’s a rectangular music player. Opening the camera app, molds it into a digital camera. So if I’m designing an app or web experience be it mobile, PC or otherwise, I try to sit down with users and watch them use it like it’s an appliance.
Source – https://lawsofux.com/hicks-law
There is much to learn from watching people use the product, physical or digital. Most of the time this translates into video interviews and user testing. Knowing how to user test and research is a valuable skill, yet to avoid my own bias, I usually prefer to work with UX Researchers. A researcher dedicated to the user research will output higher quality data and result in better-informed decision-making.
Steering clear of redundancies is linked to strong branding. Certain web patterns and learned behaviors are standard practices. I do enjoy experimenting and I always try to push beyond and improve existing web patterns. Yet, respecting UX laws such as Fitt’s & Hick’s laws should be the gold standard because applying them will yield a pleasant experience. The main differentiator between two identical experiences can be the visual aspect (UI). Strong interfaces are infused with the brand and with its storytelling. A good example is Airbnb. Many apps try to emulate their product’s experience. But they lack the most valuable component, their strong branding.
Brainster: Did you have any mentors ‘growing-up’ as a designer that had a big influence on you? Can you give them a shoutout? 🙂
Mihai: Dieter Rams and his ’10 commandments’ have been a great influence on my process and growth as a designer. Philippe Starck is another legend that works with brands like Baccarat and Alessi stimulated my imagination during my school years.
Dieter Rams – photo: Abisag Tüllmann
Philippe Starck – Photo: James Bort
Olivier Pigasse and Sue Alouche, two of my teachers at l’Ecole de Design Nantes Atlantique (France), have helped me understand design thinking. They have also hammered down the point of how branding should be at the core of any product design. I’ve learned a lot from all the designers I’ve encountered in my career. One person who has helped me evolve my product design skills is Alessandro Stigliani, my manager in the Expedia Group. I also have to mention Jessica MacCormack, who was one of my professors at Concordia University (Canada). She was instrumental in my understanding of art and my choice to move to design.
Brainster: You’ve lived in Canada, Paris and now in Vienna. Do you admire any local designers/studios, if yes, which ones and why?
Mihai: From Canada, I enjoy the work of Craftwork because they create pixel-perfect assets. Maxim Aginsky for his great use of color in his interfaces and Yi Li for the awesome experimentation he does with his product design. Last but not least, Philip Wu is a top-notch UX Researcher from Toronto and former teammates.
From Paris, my old teammates Makonen Dos Santos, Pamela Olivia Gil, and Alessandro Stigliani now CEO & founder at Abyssale. Working with them has been not only fun but incredibly constructive. Crisscross is a studio outputting high-quality motion design work and Dragon Rouge for the amazing brand work.
Lastly, from Vienna, Kevin-Jay Pohl who was also my manager at TourRadar, for his extensive knowledge of e-Commerce design, and Paul Giart who is an exceptional UX designer. Sylvain Maretto is a talented freelance designer who I’ve worked with here and is now based in Berlin. I’d love to meet more designers in Vienna. So if you’re reading this don’t be shy to reach out!