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Q&A with Ross Popoff-Walker

Digital product designer

I’m Ross Popoff-Walker and I am a digital product designer. I work at Google, teach at the School of Visual Arts, and live in Brooklyn, NY.

How did you get started in UX design?

Well, I had originally studied computer music composition in my undergrad, and started to really get into design in grad school, when I was in my early twenties. Back then I was at Carnegie Mellon, going for a masters in music and taking software sound synthesis classes in the CS department. I was introduced to Randy Pausch back then, who was running the Entertainment Technology Center at CMU. I ended up transferring into that program, and getting a lot of hands-on usability testing and game design experience there.

After working in the gaming industry for a year, I realized how focused it was on churning out hits, and the messed up work-life balance. That turned me off to gaming and made me do some soul-searching, discovering that UX was ultimately what I wanted to do. After some usability consulting, and then working as an interaction designer at various digital agencies, I started freelancing for startups.

Freelancing for a startup and being the only designer, you end up having to take on so many different responsibilities and wear different hats. I began really growing my experience in visual design and also product management. I ended up working on 15 different startups in just over two years.

What tools and software do you use for your work?

I’m aways much more interested in “process” rather than tools. I think there’s a huge misconception that design is just about what happens in Adobe software or Sketch, or on Dribbble. If you’re thinking that way, you really couldn’t be far enough from what UX design is. Design is about a thoughtful, structured process that uncover human behavior, customer pain-points, business needs, consumer trends, and synthesizes all that into a clear design challenge and solutions for that challenge. To me, tools just help you move through that process, and the best work happens amongst teams that create processes and an environment focused around sharing, learning, and experimenting.

What are you working on now?

I work at Google’s New York City office within their UX group as an interaction designer. Currently I’m worked on elements of different web properties, as well as new mobile-focused product design efforts. Google is a fascinating company with no shortage of design challenges, and an ever-growing emphasis on design and product quality, so it’s an exciting place to be. Recently I also started teaching UX design to undergraduate digital design majors at the School of Visual Arts.

What is your ideal work environment?

I think like many people, I’m still in search of the “ideal.” But the qualities that excite and inspire me in a workplace are often similar to many other designers: small, close and collaborative teams who share feedback, skills and insights. Some of my best working experiences have been sitting next to fellow designers who could glance over and share feedback to each other, and who introduced me to new tools or ways of working.

Where are your favorite places for sharing experiences?

In the past, I used Dribbble for sharing work-in-progress that needed feedback, but it’s now become more of a place where people show pixel-perfect final mocks, and that’s much less valuable. So lately I’ve been returning to blogging again at to voice opinions, and I’ve been using my class at SVA to really explore concepts about what makes “good” work.

Who are the designers you admire most?

Lately many of the creative minds I admire most are not designers, but rather TV showrunners like Vince Gilligan (X-Files and Breaking Bad), or Jill Soloway (Transparent). The way that these showrunners talk about their writers room sessions and the collaboration of creating a TV show sounds really familiar to what happens when you get a group of designers together to talk through problems: dissecting concepts, playing out pros and cons.