Designing Better Lives

He’s got a passion for design, epic web development skills, and an undeniable heart of gold. And now he has found his ultimate calling, using his design expertise to benefit the lives of people all over the world.

As a user interface designer for Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Jonathan Ellis creates medical devices used in the treatment of over 12 million patients each year. It’s work that he finds exciting, inspiring, and incredibly rewarding.

“I’m driven to use design to improve people’s lives, so getting to work on a range of hospital and at home medical products allows me to have an immense impact on the daily lives of many people around the world,” he says.

“Working as part of a large cross-functional team on a range of short and long term projects, I get the opportunity to work with teams from many different product groups, from physical medical devices to web applications for patient management.”

It’s a role he loves – and a domain he’s devoted to.

“I would like to stay in the field for the entirety of my career and always be working on improving people’s lives through design. Eventually I’d like to become a thought leader in my company and in the field as a whole.”

Jonathan’s compassion for others is nothing new. He spent years immersed in charity work in  Cambodia and Thailand, where again his expertise in design and web development proved pivotal.

“The four years I spent voluntarily working with charities in South East Asia was undoubtedly a career highlight. It was amazing to be able to work with other expats and locals, to offer my little bit of assistance in improving the lives of others. While there, I had to find a way to provide for my family, so I worked as a freelance designer, providing digital, web and print design services to clients around the world.”

Freelancing gave Jonathan the ability to work globally across a broad range of fields. However, he missed collaborating in a team environment, and ultimately that’s what drew him back Down Under.

“The thing I enjoy most is working collaboratively through the design process to create a successful product that meets the needs of users. I wanted more formal work where I could have a bigger impact and learn from others.”

That work came in the way of a digital developer role for Optimism, an e-learning consultancy and agency Jonathan spent 18 months with directly prior to joining Fisher and Paykel Healthcare.

“My role there was as a designer and developer of web-based courses and experiences. I really enjoyed working with a wide range of iconic Kiwi companies to create solutions using many different types of media, including websites, videos, animations and interactive experiences.”

Jonathan’s expertise in web design and development has been gleaned from - quite literally - years of dedication.

“Growing up I was always interested in technology, media and art so I found the digital space to be the perfect combination of those things. Compared to physical mediums, I like the malleability of digital, the process of continually iterating, improving and delivering products.

“I taught myself design and also front-end development to a certain level, through online courses, tutorials, books, podcasts, and years of experience. When I wanted more detailed education and experience with web applications I enrolled and gained my Diploma in Distributed Software Development. Although my primary strength and motivation is in design, I believe that being proficient in development is an invaluable asset and helps you work more collaboratively in cross-functional teams.”

More and more, it’s that broad mix of skills that strengthens success in the industry.

“Design is a very diverse field comprising people from many different backgrounds and skill sets, that’s what makes it a great career to get into. People certainly come to design from more traditional backgrounds in art, design, and computer science, but there are a growing number of people – especially in Product and UX Design – with backgrounds in areas like anthropology, psychology and writing.

Jonathan’s university degree is in Environmental Economics and Management, and while he admits it doesn’t have a lot to do with design, says it has been invaluable in his problem-solving ability and leveraging systems thinking when designing solutions.

“There isn’t really one smooth pathway to join the industry, but the commonly important skills, traits, and experiences would coalesce around the concept of human-centred design. It’s important to have a curiosity about the world and empathy for people – how people interact, how they solve problems, and how can things be improved.”

Other valued skills include critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, innovation, and teamwork.

And the technical stuff?

“It’s definitely important to be versed in the principles and methodologies of user experience and user interface design (e.g. design thinking), have a proficiency in the common design and prototyping tools (Sketch, Adobe CC, InVision, etc.), and have enough experience in development to be able to work with engineers effectively. You also need a good portfolio to showcase your ability and projects.”

Nail all this and you might just be on your way to landing a job that fills you with as much satisfaction as Jonathan’s does.

“I believe design is one of humanity’s greatest tools to create positive and lasting change in our society. I am driven to discover problems that users have and to develop solutions that will meet those needs and desires. I also get to constantly learn new things and use creativity to innovate. That’s exciting!”

Jonathan’s tips for aspiring designers:

  • Design ability is like a muscle that needs exercise to be built over time
  • Start learning design through formal education, books, tutorials, bootcamps and courses
  • Start practicing design through the many creative challenges that can be found online

e.g. https://www.dailyui.co/, http://2is0.com/dailyux/, https://github.com/lukejones/designchallenge/tree/site_archive/challenges

  • Take on personal projects to discover and create solutions for problems in your daily life
  • Freelance and volunteer your time and skills to help charities and community organisations
  • Find a local or online design community for support, feedback and mentorship – check out https://slofile.com/
  • Use your initiative to take on your own learning and design projects and get as much real world experience as possible, even if you have to create those opportunities

 

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