Published on

Q&A with Erica Heinz

Freelance UX and product designer

My name is Erica Heinz. I’m a freelance UX and product designer, working with startups and volunteering on as many causes as I can. I teach at Parsons and on Skillshare. I’m also making a yoga app, sequence and studio!

How did you get started in UX/product design? What was a turning point in your professional career?

I studied illustration so I could work in any media, but switched into graphic design because I liked a varied problem-solving approach more than a singular style. I was fascinated by the web, so I kept learning more about it and teaching myself to code. It was easy to find freelance work, since everybody needs a website. And making websites gave me the artistic satisfaction of creating one distinct, public thing. I got into product design because I like working with startups; they’re tech-savvy, nimble, potentially powerful, and open to the newest ideas.

I reached a turning point in the last few years. I was interested in larger, more impactful, and lasting projects, and as the pace and complexity of technology picked up it was not as fun or possible to be a generalist. I chose to focus on UX because I care most about what goes on the page, where, and why. UX people get to be involved at earlier stages, and make those strategic decisions. Plus, you get away from your screen more. Computer posture is not great.

What is your ideal work environment? Do you prefer to work in your design studio all day long or mix a few activities?

Space-wise, my apartment is great for getting into a flow: I have a standing desk, a couch, a table, and a rug, so I can work or move however I want. My co-working space (The Townhouse) also has a variety of spaces, and is great for support and surprises. I sit with hilarious developers, designers, illustrators, writers, and event planners, so I can build off their energy, discuss any problems or ideas, work together on fun stuff, or have a drink and relax. My desk is in “the quiet room”, which is usually focused and peaceful. I also go to coffee houses when I want to be alone in an ambient crowd.

Time-wise, I can’t sit in one place all day, so I tend to work in blocks of a couple hours: home, studio, lunch, studio, home. I freelance so I can tend to my own energy levels; if I’m crashing I go walk or nap or workout, and pick back up again later. I tend to be a night owl, I love to work late when no one bothers you, but I’m constantly feeling competitive and trying to be an early bird.

Where does your work inspiration come from? (Do you believe in 'inspiration' at all)?

I define “inspiration” as “motivation leading directly to action” but I usually describe it as “insight” — a moment of clarity that comes from understanding all points of the current challenge, and seeing a solution as clear as a photo. It comes from looking, and listening, and feeling very closely. I get inspired by research (the “breathing in” sense of “inspiration”) and by writing — putting things into my own words helps me to see and rethink the assumptions.

Where are your favorite places in your city or outside?

I love New York, but you have to get all its vibrations out of your bones once in a while. Biking is the best, chasing some delicious destination across a bridge or two. Dancing is my drug, either a party class at Mark Morris or the rare summer jam outside. Kula Yoga, Bend & Bloom, and Yoga Union also work the crazy out. For a refuge, I love to visit Dia:Beacon (to see Grandma Agnes and Grandpa Richard), or the quiet center of Prospect Park: a bench by a brook near the Nethermead.

Who are the creatives you admire most?

My musician friend Kelly Pratt, of Bright Moments, is a constant inspiration for hard work (and being nice) paying off. My new inspiration is Danielle Henderson, of Feminist Ryan Gosling and more, for contributing both awesome cultural critiques and quiet support groups. I always admire the work of Jonathan Harris and Kelli Anderson for thinking big and feeling deeply, with supreme craftsmanship and some punk rock sensibilities. And I love my crazy work family at The Townhouse, whose amazing skills and special energy always remind me to do your absolute best and be your absolute self.