A week ago I started my 3-month UX Design internship at Ergosign, German interaction design agency in Saarbrücken. An internship is a mandatory part of my Digital Concept Development BA studies at KEA in Copenhagen. Every week I must post internship reflections to my teachers. So I thought, why not to repurpose that content and share some of my notes with my friends, other designers and the world! I will be writing about the company, my experiences, the way we work and tools/methods we use.
Ergosign headquarters in Saarbrücken
Ergosign designs, optimises and implements unique user interfaces for enterprise, industry and medical applications as well as mobile devices and consumer products. Ergosign has 5 offices in Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Zürich and surprisingly headquarters in a quite small city called Saarbrücken, where I was assigned to have my internship. The company was founded in 2000 by two psychology graduates from Saarbrücken. There are over 110 employees at the moment and more than half of them work in the Saarbrücken office. The office building is situated in a new business area right behind the main railway station. A new, modern and spacious building reminded me of Scandinavian architecture, minimalism and simplicity.
My role is UX Design Intern. Most of the Ergosign employees are UX Designers as well. The tasks for UX Designer includes: meeting clients and understanding their needs, planning a strategy, performing research, creating concepts, communicating a progress to a client and other stakeholders, structuring information, wire-framing screens, creating visual designs and icons, testing and validating, making design specifications, presenting work, helping to implement the interfaces and more that I don’t know yet about. I also don’t know yet how many of the tasks I will be able to work on during the time of my internship, but hopefully I can get my hands dirty on many of them.
My first day at Ergosign started off with a Monday weekly meeting, that was held for probably the first time in English, even though I was the only international in the room. That was a nice gesture from my colleagues. They also agreed it would be a good practice for them, so they don’t forget their English. The meeting was held between two UX Design teams around the table, with a wall projector in front and morning pastry for everyone (yummy!). One by one the designers reported their status on projects. All the projects in the meeting were reviewed using a resource planning software. It seemed like a great tool with a visual overview of the projects and workload meter of employees.
On Tuesday I met Christian Grieger, as he came back from a business trip. He is my internship supervisor and coincidentally my UX Team Manager as well. Chris invited me to his office and took time to give me a proper introduction to the company, people and processes. He also guided me trough the company rooms, introduced to many people, designers and developers, projects they are working on. That was super interesting experience and gave me a closer overview of what actually the company produces.
Field Leads at Ergosign are designers or developers, but with an expertise and knowledge on a specific field like: Enterprise Solutions, Industry Solution, Medical & Pharma Design, Visual Design, Interaction Design, Web Technology, Mobile Technology, Research & UX Analytics, etc. Field Leads supports UX Designers and Developers with a specific knowledge depending on the project. They also organise workshops and create a learning material for employees to gain a general knowledge of a field. I was already reading trough Visual Design material and now looking forward to Interaction Design workshop that is being planned at the moment.
I was provided with a huge table, own MacBook Pro laptop and 27” screen. A welcome package included the Ergosign branded pen, pencil, USB stick, several dotted grid notebooks and a cup! As expected, more that half a day was taken to set everything up on my machine: passwords, settings, install the required software, communication tools, server, etc. Funny fact: my first and last name were too long for creating a new user account in the system, so I am called edgaras.benediktavic in my machine software. Why did I think German names are long?
My work station at Ergosign
Antetype is the main Interaction Design software tool used at Ergosign. From the first look it might seem similar to any other Interface Design tool (e.g. Sketch App), but it requires a completely different way of thinking, which for me seems more similar to a front-end web development in a visual way. This week I spend most of my time learning to work with this application. First, I revised the basic tutorials once again and then started building wireframes of an imaginary software screen. That helped me to learn the way of structuring a layout, tools, parameters, limitations, workarounds and keyboard shortcuts. My colleagues were super helpful and gave me a hand whenever I could not understand something or got stuck.
Antetype does have a steep learning curve, requires to change the way of thinking when designing and has some annoying bugs that need to be fixed. On the other hand, it is equipped with very powerful tools that help to design complex interfaces which can be easily manipulated and changed when needed. Feel free to try the tool if you are designer, it has a 30-days trial version and offers good student discounts. I will be writing more about the Antetype in my future posts.
Before I started working on a “real” client project, my supervisor Chris asked me to read trough Visual Design Introduction document prepared by one of Visual Design Leads. The document had an in-depth introduction to Visual Design for interfaces. Most of the things I already knew or heard of before. Nevertheless, such topics are always good to revise again and again. The topics of the presentation included:
- Gestalt Laws
- Basic / complex shapes
- Colours RGB, CMYK, colour meaning
- Color Wheel
- Color combinations
- Ways of creating contrast with quality or quantity of a colour
- Simultaneous Contrast
- Colour blindness
- Colour palette exercise from an image (pick warm, cold, pale, dark colours, make a palette, colour amount ratio)
- Typography, including font styles, legibility, reading patterns, x-heights, line-heights, optimal line length, font-family check before using font, hyphenation
- Choosing font for a specific project
- Visual design compass, style finding
- UI Mood-boards
- UI Specifications
I will be also sharing more about Visual Design for Interfaces in my future posts.
On Thursday I had an individual meeting with one of UX Designers. She briefed me on the project she had been working on: requirements, it’s current state and showed the mockups in the Antetype. The project is for an eLearning platform and the goal is to optimise and redesign the current interface so it’s more functional and engaging for the user. My task was to focus on few screens and try to improve a visual design. First, I sat down and identified the areas of the interface that in my opinion should be improved. Then, I have tried several different versions and made final changes for the iteration. It was quite challenging for me as I am not yet fully comfortable with the Antetype tool. I got some feedback from my UX Team Manager afterwards. The feedback was rather brief, but it addressed important things towards the next iteration including button contrast (another colleague shared a tool - Colour Contrast Analyser to check the contrast of the UI text elements), trying a different font, that would give more stylised, branded look, finding more clean hierarchy in the usage of headlines and text fonts (size, colour, boldness), tweaking layout. Unfortunately, I can’t share the actual screens of the client work, but I will keep you updated on the progress.
Lunch & Learn is an internal company event every Friday, where one employee presents a highlights of their recent project and shares his learnings. The presentation was held in German, so I definitely did not understand everything, but I got the context from the slides and overall presentation. The event seemed to be fun, inspiring and useful for other employees to learn from their piers’ processes.
Looking back, it seemed like a really long week, I got so much new knowledge, learned new things and met many great people. Naturally, I felt quite exhausted on Friday. The weekend gave me time to rest and reflect. Now I am ready for next challenges!
A short video (from 2015) about Ergosign and a weekend hackathon with a challenge to connect and unite Ergosign offices digitally.
P.S.S. Another great video about one of Ergosign UX projects for Industry.