According to tradition, I am supposed to write an article on a day in the life of a graphic designer at SocialCops. However, being a designer at SocialCops is better defined as a lifestyle than by a single day’s work. So I must start at the beginning — scratch that, before the beginning.
My Life Before SocialCops2017
Before joining SocialCops, I had been doing my own thing — working at my own pace as a freelance graphic designer, picking the projects I liked and the clients I didn’t hate. Most of my work was in the food and entertainment sector, so I designed for the odd festival, restaurant, hotel, or fashion designer. Life was relaxed and comfortable.
Then something changed.
I came across an article on how SocialCops used a street cleanliness rating system to acknowledge the efforts of sanitation workers in Delhi. This process encouraged competitiveness among the safai karamcharis and brought pride to their job. In turn, this also increased the efficiency of safai karamcharis.
After digging a little deeper into SocialCops’ work, I saw how they were using information as a tool for social change. I was a little apprehensive at first, having no prior knowledge of number crunching or data science. My fears of entering this data-driven world were deepened when I was asked to sit in for a Friday Demo — a weekly in-house progress report — and my eyes glazed over all the figures and terminology being used.
However, I decided to join the team as a graphic designer, if only to get a closer look at the real lives they affected.
On my first day I was thrown into the deep end — I had to solve a cypher for the wifi password — and I haven’t looked for the surface ever since.
I created a hiring campaign in my first week, made multiple website landing pages in my first month, started user analysis and visual design for an android app, designed an ebook, built infographics, and even created posters that have travelled halfway across the world.
My Technical Learnings
After trying my best to design an Android app with the tools I was most familiar with — Photoshop and Illustrator — I realized that I had to move on. I started using more app-centric softwares like Sketch and Webflow for making apps look good, and prototyping softwares like Invision and Zeplin for making apps feel good.
Initially, this transition scared the bejesus out of me. I’d used Adobe for years and I was at the “hands tied behind my back” level of comfort in that space. Ultimately, though, shifting to these new softwares allowed me to do so much more in a shorter span of time. I was able to concentrate on the ideation a lot more than the execution part of design. Instead of trying to fit square pegs into round holes, I could really let my imagination loose.
Of course, nothing beats pen and paper, which are still my favorite tools for making apps work well in the first place. Despite all the software changes, I still rely on pen and paper for wireframing and user flow.
I’ve also had vast learnings on the technical side of things. From having to save each image separately for the web, I have learned how to create multiple assets in different sizes with just one click. From only worrying about a few screen resolutions for web design, I have had to learn about different screen densities for different types of phone and tablet devices. I am still having a hard time trying to get a hang of those annoying density pixels.
User experience, user interface, visual and graphic design, animation, and copywriting are all now a part of the design lifestyle I have grown accustomed to.
Learning Human-Centered Design
After 4 months on the job, the biggest challenge for me has been the fast-paced turnaround. I was used to doing weeks of research before I could even think about coming up with solutions, much less executing them. However, human-centered design has taught me that feedback is important even at the conceptualization stage, and research is an ongoing process that lasts throughout the scope of the project. In short, getting something out there quickly can be far more useful than trying to get it right the first time.
As a result, I now push myself to get any design out within a couple of days. That gives me the time to iterate on feedback and make the design even better. Another important thing I’ve learned is to be choosy and not take all the feedback you get seriously, even though different perspectives on the same thing can be really helpful in taking you away from self-subsumed stagnation.
The Real Numbers gathered by resourceful analysts, code bleeding out of a back-end programmer’s screen, the passionate hackers fighting over which features to keep and which to throw away, the social media frenzy for each milestone that we achieve, the collective dreams of Slackbot strangulation — everything around me inspires me to keep learning, executing my ideas, and occasionally step out of beta to present a better version of myself.
As before, I stand now once again on the front lines of being dispatched into the unknown. I leave tomorrow for the field to see how people who lack prior knowledge of smart devices and live in relatively remote parts of the country interact with our products for the first time. Hopefully, I will be able to bring back some valuable insights to enhance my understanding of our users’ experiences, thus helping us create better products in the future.