Hi Otto. Can you tell us a little about your background and work at Digital Foodie?
I have designed digital services professionally since 2000. Before starting at Digital Foodie in the beginning of 2010, I had my own design agency for seven years. All this time I’ve mostly been involved with user interface design. At Digital Foodie, I’m responsible for all design, both the services and the user interfaces we provide our customers as well as the brand and visual identity of our company.

What made you become a designer?
For me the most important thing about designing is the ability to create something that has the power to affect and increase people’s quality of life. Although visuality is an important factor in design, my primary interest is not on what happens on the surface or how something looks. Instead, the most essential part are the actions users take, and most importantly, why they take them. I want to create things from the service point of view, so that hopefully we’re able to impact people’s lives in a positive way.

What is the best thing about your job?
The best thing for me is the trust and responsibility involved in my work. I have the opportunity of doing things the way I feel is best for the company, and I’m trusted to do so. This doesn’t mean that we don’t discuss the decisions or work as a team, we do. However, the frames I’m given are flexible, allowing me space to use my judgement on how things are implemented. In our company, freedom and responsibility go hand-in-hand as they should, and this is something I really appreciate.

The value of design can be summarised by how well it accentuates the best qualities of our software and how well is reduces the inconvenience of the end user.

What are the biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge has got to be myself, and the environment I work in. Working in the same circumstances for a long time can easily lead to setting in one’s ways, doing things the way they’ve always been done. That is something you have to acknowledge and fight. It is so important to remember to question things and take time to look for new angles. Time is of course always a challenge, but in my work there will always be more work than time so that’s not going to change. In this profession, the line between work and free time is very thin cause your thoughts will follow you anyway.

What kind of role does design play at Digital Foodie?
The role of design in any software company really is to act as a multiplier for the core business. Great design is there to elevate the value of the services we provide and highlight our core technologies. Nowadays great design is a must as the competition is fierce. At the same time, it has to reduce the pain the users perceive while using our products. The value of design can be summarised by how well it accentuates the best qualities of our software and how well is reduces the inconvenience of the end user.

You gave a speech recently at Data Driven Design Day in Helsinki about the use of data in design. What is the role of data in design?
Ideally, data is part of the foundation on which design builds on. The role of data is important especially in the beginning of the design process, in conceptual planning. You have to view the available data very critically though – this was actually the key message of my speech. You need to take into consideration how the data is obtained and analyzed to get the right picture on what environment and to whom you’re making the product.
Research data has a key role in understanding the market and the customers. Basic user research of the market and the industry is always important – it’s how you form a picture of the environment you’re operating in and how it works. It should be included in the process for granted. For us this information includes data on the development of on-demand grocery in our markets. Equally important is qualitative data on customers and their needs. This is where you get more in-depth information on what drives the users and what they appreciate. Both methods have an important role and neither should be neglected.

When building a service, you really need to be able to put yourself in someone else’s position and understand the circumstances they’re coming from.

How would you describe successful use of data in design?
Data can bring a lot of value to design when used correctly. This happens when the focus is set on the quality of the data; the insight you’re trying to acquire of the users. Not all data is valuable for design so it’s important to separate the part that is. For example, we can get a vast amount of information of the actions people take in our applications daily. However, seeing what people are doing in our application does not tell us why they’re doing the things they do. Nor is it telling us what they were trying to do or how they hoped the application would work. Analytics data alone cannot give us answers to the reasoning behind people’s behavior. This is why in successful use of data you’re making sure you ask the right questions and you’re utilizing both user and research data.

What are the biggest pitfalls?
Believing that data can offer you some kind of an absolute truth and drawing too quick conclusions from it.
Observing any single metrics alone is not going to give you the big picture. For example, it is easy to increase the amount of visitors or subscribers by using clever design, but if these people do not really wish to receive e-mails from you in the future, you’re not serving the right purpose. It will fix the metrics (“Get more subscribers”), but does not further your cause. A/B testing, for example, is one way of optimization but can lead you to concentrate in an individual interaction that is irrelevant to the entity. Also, utilizing existing data just for the sake of using it will not lead you to the right results. So again, try to make sure you’re doing the right thing and asking the right questions.

What kind of data do you use in designing for Digital Foodie?
We use data actively and always when it is available. We utilize both research data as well as data obtained from user tests. We get general data on how are products are used as well as more specific information regarding the business, the market environment and different user categories. Quantitative statistics give us a lot of information on what kind of user groups can be identified in our services. In addition, we get data from user testing on how people perceive a specific part of our service, how they use it and what kind of challenges they bump into.

Final question: for those aspiring to be a great designer, what are your best tips?
First of all, you have to be critical about both your own work as well as of others. You have to be able to receive criticism, justify your opinions and demand the same thing from others. Every person has their own opinion and none of them is absolutely right, including yours. Second, you have to truly want to do this. Nine-to-five mentality doesn’t work in this job. Finally, what I consider the most important quality of a designer: have empathy. When building a service, you really need to be able to put yourself in someone else’s position and understand the circumstances they’re coming from.

Thank you for the interview, Otto!