Interview with Brett Astrid Võmma from Katana | How is software designed in the manufacturing sector? | What makes a good designer? | How to become a UX designer?

Brett Astrid Võmma is the Chief Creative Officer of the manufacturing ERP software company Katana. She has previously worked at Pipedrive and Veriff, both as a designer and design team leader. Artur Puiste from UX Estonia talked to Brett about her journey in the design world, the role of design in product development, and more.

What is your role in your current job in Katana?

As the Chief Creative Officer, I am responsible for Katana's product design, design systems, brand, visual communication, and messaging.

You have previously worked at Pipedrive and Veriff. How did your career as a designer start?

My journey began in the world of physical objects. I graduated from the Estonian Academy of Arts with a degree in Product Design. My studies also took me to Vienna, Barcelona, and Rhode Island in the United States, eventually leading me to the design of digital products.

After graduating from the university in 2015, I joined Pipedrive, which back then was still quite a small company. I started as a UX Designer and later led the digital product design team. At my next job, I built the first design team of Veriff. After that, I joined Katana, first as a Product Designer, then as the company grew, I began to lead teams.

How do you see the difference between the job title UX Designer vs. Product Designer? The basic competencies are the same in these positions.

I've been involved in various discussions on this subject. As the IT field is constantly evolving, the number of different "titles" tends to increase over time as tasks are distributed and specified. I see the product designer as a software designer.

How is web design different from business software design?

To use the example of Katana, the purpose of the web is to introduce the software, and the purpose of the business software is to make the promises made on the web a reality, that is, to make daily work easier for the user.

How is Katana's manufacturing software designed? What stages and processes do you go through in the design process?

We work in a sector that enables us to define a rather long roadmap. That's because we are bringing this big old-school manufacturing industry into the digital era. A lot of things need to be done for that. But they need to be prioritized. A plan of action is extremely important.  

We are also actively engaged in customer feedback. We read what customers share with us in feedback surveys and emails. We do UX testing and shadow the staff at different manufacturing companies.

When developing new solutions, we put a lot of emphasis on research to understand the problem we are solving for the client: we interview clients, conduct workshops, prototype ideas, and test them with users.

You are one of the speakers at the Refresh conference on 26 January. What will you be talking about?

My colleague and I will talk about how to solve cross-product design problems as well as how we got to the design roadmap and how it helps us in our daily work.

What are your joys and challenges as a design team leader?

It is heartwarming to see the commitment of our designers to the problems they are solving. There is a sense of support and thinking along with each other across the team.

The challenge is how to keep the product simple and convenient over time, so it doesn't become cumbersome and tedious to use. Here, cooperation between designers is very important. On the one hand, everyone is responsible for their field, and at the same time, it is also necessary to weave all this into a holistic cross-product experience. Cooperation with product managers is also important.

What software do you use for design work in your team?

Miro for idea mapping. Figma for prototyping and design system management.

What makes a designer a good designer?

In my opinion, every young designer should make it clear to themselves what the design process looks like, what its stages are, and how to move from an idea to a final solution. I stress the necessity of the Double Diamond approach, where the research phase is crucial before designing the user interface.

In addition to the visual expression, the designer should be able to express themselves in words to present their ideas and solutions.

In the case of business software design, good analytical abilities, systems thinking and detail orientation are also very beneficial.

How can one become a UX designer?

I see at least two possible entrance points to this journey. First of all, if possible, study design at a university. I believe that academic education plays a major role. It teaches you to think and understand processes. However, if you are switching from another field, there are also various courses also available on the Internet. The most important thing is to start out and start experimenting. Find a real problem to solve and start working on it.

What do you ask a UX Designer in a job interview?

I always start with questions about the design process. I ask the designers how they have moved from an idea to the final result. I encourage people to share practical examples of their work.

It is important for me to understand what interests the candidate the most. This is because design is a fairly broad field. Some designers are more interested in the user research side of it, understanding the “for whom” “why” and “how”. Others might be more interested in the visual appearance side of the user interface. It all depends on what we are currently looking for in our team.

I also take an interest in the designer’s projects, the learning outcomes, and the conclusions they have reached over their career. One of my favorite questions is to ask about their aha moments, for example, when they have realized that their solution works well or, vice versa, have had to consciously reassess something.

What trends do you currently see in the UX field?

The role of the designer has become much more important and broader. The designer must understand the problem that is being solved and know the user in order to create a good design. The designer's role in many companies is no longer just designing a beautiful user interface.

Companies are starting to better understand what to expect from design. Design has become a strategic direction in companies where a good user experience plays an essential role in business performance.

Brett Astrid Võmma along with Antonina Babicheva will give a keynote titled “The strategic role of process in designing complex products” at the Refresh Conference on 26 January. Check out the other speakers.
UX Estonia is a user experience design and consulting company.