Work inspiration with Rachel Ilan

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Rachel Ilan

UX Designer on Google Chrome
@rilanRachel Ilan, UX Designer

I'm a User Experience Designer - I think that making things easy and pleasant to use is incredibly important. Working for Google, I'm involved in a number of different projects under the umbrella of Chrome at any given time. I also speak at conferences and organize community events. While I'm originally from Canada, I currently live and work in Munich.

How did you get started in UX? What is your background?

As a kid I liked to paint and draw, but I was also a huge computer nerd who started making websites around the age of 12 (Geocities anyone?) My parents probably thought that I would wind up living in the basement plugged into a feeding tube with a broadband cable grafted into my arm.

My first job as a creative person was when I was 17. A company that my uncle worked with hired to draw commercial storyboards for their 3D video goggles. The team there was a great and crazy bunch - we worked out of a little yellow house in Inglewood and had a lot of fun. My manager at the time pushed me to learn the Adobe Suite, and probably most importantly After Effects, which had a huge influence over my direction towards UX / Interaction Design. Over the summers, I worked there in a variety of roles including a particularly lucky one where I got to do stop-motion animation with X-Men figurines. 

I attended Emily Carr University in Vancouver to study Industrial Design. They had a very progressive User Centered Design program with a great focus on User Research, which is still a big part of my practice today. I had a chance to go on exchange at the Hochschule f?r Gestaltung Schw?bisch Gm?nd (try saying that 5 times fast) where they had one of the only programs at the time offering Interaction Design at a Bachelor's level. I was able to travel and collaborate with other Design students in Istanbul as part of this program, and also had a chance to join an IDEO led workshop in Denmark. (That's where I met Cordy Swope, a really generous person who helped me get my first job in Munich.)

Since University, I've worked with a couple of great Design Agencies. mod7 in Vancouver was the first - they worked for clients whose products and missions they were passionate about, and also developed their own projects like games. Plus, I got to meet Stewart Butterfield, who is an especially big deal if you're a Canadian nerd like I am. I also worked with Lunar here in Munich and had the chance to work with very exciting clients and explore some really great work in new techologies. I also freelanced for a while with companies like BMW/DriveNow, Freeletics, and a few other cool folks.

Work from my time at Lunar Design

What software and hardware do you use for your work?

Simplicity, joy, and motion are really important to me in the work that I do. These days I use mainly Adobe Illustrator and After Effects to get the level of polish that I want to achieve, though I've also been getting into Sketch as well. I use a lot of other tools depending on the task - when building small websites I still work directly with html and css, and I'm currently really digging Sublime Text 2 for editing. I'm also a huge fan of Keynote and Keynotopia for prototyping in the context of Design Sprints. 

Sometimes I find that nothing in the world matches the good old whiteboard and sticky note - I don't do a lot of detailed wireframing these days and instead jump straight from sketches to realistic mocks to iterate on.

Push conference talk on my process

What is your ideal work environment?

My ideal work environment allows me a lot of freedom to do what I think will have the biggest impact. Whether that's as a freelancer working for clients who want to change the world we live in, or at Google trying to reimagine the digital world, I need to have a lot of flexibility to change direction in a fast-moving industry. My job with Chrome has allowed me the opportunity to focus on some really big, hairy, unexplored problems with some of the smartest people I've met and I feel incredibly blessed to have the chance. There's also the added benefit of working in an international team and traveling extensively for work, which helps me gain perspective as many countries in the world take massive technological leaps forward.

The (remote) Chrome UX team

Where are your favorite places for sharing experiences?

Munich is a great place to live for me in part because it has a strong and passionate Design community and a backbone of companies like IDEO, frog, Google, and so on. I'm personally involved in organizing a number of events here - there's the Make Munich (a DIY Festival inspired by Maker Faire), there's the IxDA which holds monthly talks for local designers, and there's my own event titled Munich Design Jam. It's a casual quarterly event where we hold a day-long design challenge for Designers, Developers and Entrepreneurs. I'm also a big fan of the IxDA yearly conference, and am really looking forward to next year in Helsinki. I'm also always excited to attend uxmunich - that was the conference where I met some Googlers who eventually convinced me to join the company a couple years ago, and this year I was thrilled to go back to the event as a speaker.

Munich Design Jam

The Make Munich team

Who are the designers you admire most?

There are so many - in fields from art to architecture and fashion. Closer to home, I've been very lucky to meet (and sometimes work with) people who have inspired my own Design practice. 

In the world of Design Research, the work of Elizabeth Sanders has really influenced me. Methods that she (and others) developed have had an enormous impact on the field of Design as a whole. David Sherwin of frog also has an incredible breadth of knowledge. He shared some core insights which I was lucky to encounter at a pivotal moment in my career. His thinking on building a Design career and practice is really worth reading for any creative person, especially when you're starting out.

Seth Godin has been a big influence on me, particularly since I joined his summer internship program a few years back. His honesty, generosity of character and sheer prolificness always drive me to be better. There's also the Google Ventures Design team, who I was lucky meet recently while giving a talk at the push conference in Munich - their Sprint methods are groundbreaking. I'm also really interested in the work of Amber Case at the moment - she talks about how we're really all already cyborgs, and that just resonates with me.

Me & Seth