7mins

Design stories: Ben Longden

Get to know our design philosophy with a quick Q&A with Ben, our brand designer.

What is your background, and how did you join Cord?

My background is in Graphic Design with a capital G&D. I finished studying design just before the idea of being a digital designer or product designer really exploded. In my first real job after graduating I was thrust into the world of digital design, and it was there that I really started to understand what UX was and how to apply design thinking to digital. Although graphic design and digital design are basically the same discipline, there are some key differences; you don't really need to bring The Big Idea to digital design like you would with a brand, although this is something which I love to do and I think it ultimately makes things more interesting.

I was Digital Design Director at The Guardian, and I worked there for 6 years so a huge chunk of my career has been in the throws of editorial cycles. Editorial design, specifically digital editorial design will always be something which is close to my heart. It taught me so much, and made me a much better designer, it gives you the ability to think on your feet and turn things around very quickly, at a huge scale too so quality is always at the forefront of your mind.

What does design that "looks good and does good" mean to you? And how does that translate to your work at Cord?

Design is super subjective, what looks good to me, might look terrible to someone else. There are of course key principles which will always make a design look better; the basic underlying principles of alignment, scale, colour, type. For me it goes back to The Big Idea, if there is a great idea which is clearly communicated or clearly signposted which ultimately leads to a payoff of understanding this idea or easily being able to action something, that for me is where success is.

We can take taste out of the equation here and focus on the root of what we are trying to do. For Cord this mean two things: it means being smart in our communications, but it also means trying to find simplicity. Cord, and collaboration in general is a complex beast so we always have to strive to find simple, but not boring, ways to communicate this. This applies to our work on and outside of the product, whether it's solving one of the meaty problems that being a fully-integrated-collaboration-tool brings, or an animation which clearly brings these features to life.

Why is making software more collaborative important?

We've all seen how Figma has revolutionised the way that design teams work, and it's done this on a scale which I'm sure even Figma are surprised by. This one tool has unified the design process by understanding the process and the pitfalls. Before Figma we had large files which needed to be shared, tools like WeTransfer and Dropbox do an OK job of this, but it's a slow process with many moving parts, files get lost, emails get missed, feedback follows, more emails, and more files.

What Figma managed to do was to remove the need for final_final_really_final.pdf and combined the design process, with file sharing and communication all in one place. We believe that these same pitfalls and challenges apply to other disciplines, other sectors and other products; no one works in just one tool anymore, your working day is spread out hopping from one place to another, and this complexity will only continue to grow. What Cord is doing is working on ways to help people collaborate better both across and within these tools.

What does it take to get collaboration right, from a design perspective?

Put simply, a lot. Collaboration is inherently complex because the audience is everybody and anyone on a team. Anyone in any role at anytime should be able to jump into a tool do the thing they need to do with as little barriers as possible. The collaboration layer is there to facilitate this; it can't get in the way of their primary role, but it should enhance their ability to do their task. But this looks different in different teams and in different products. We've learnt that it's very difficult to design a one-size fits all approach because there are always nuances to the way people want to work. But what we've also learnt is that some of the basic building blocks for collaboration do fit, most, if not all ways that people work.

The design challenges are also unique; we have to think about how these building blocks will looks inside other peoples products which means that we often have to think about ubiquity and what an amorphic experience looks like. But there is a tension here as we also need a brand that both stands alone and explains what Cord is. We are always working towards striking a balance between a universally applicable product experience and a recognisable brand.

Where do you look for inspiration? And how does that appear in Cord's features?

For me, it depends what hat I am wearing. With my brand design hat on I get most inspiration from words and the way people communicate. Often my ideas come from writing something first, I love the interplay between what something says and what something looks like; not everything needs to said and not everything needs to be seen, they play off of each other and can create a magically satisfying way of communicating.

I also get very inspired by movement. In my minds eye I always see my designs as things with the potential to move, and shift and change form, and therefore change in meaning.

How does the design team work together now? How are you hoping to grow the design team?

It may not be surprising that we spend most of our time in Figma; the collaboration company that loves collaboration. Whilst Cord as a business is still very much in its infancy, our brand language and design system is quite mature in comparison. We are a small team and we work very closely together across the brand communications and the product, one informs the other– for us they are symbiotic. We love to get the most out of our design team; healthy critique and open communication are key to this. We have total freedom to think of ideas and propose new things but if we think it's not right we're not going to shy away from discarding this and moving onto the next thing. This critique and feedback comes from across the business as we're a close-nit group, and so far this has been a super easy and productive way for us to test our ideas.

We want to build a team of doers, people who are not afraid to get stuck in and help shape our product and brand language as we grow. Currently we have a team with a wide variety of skills from brand design to front-end development, product design to strategy; our work touches almost every surface of Cord's business. We are still small, so it's the moment for people to shape something from not quite the ground up but certainly close to.

We are actually looking for a product designer to join the Cord team so if this sounds good to you head over to our jobs page and have a look at the spec.

Author

Ben Longden