If you read our posts regularly, you know that we build employee tools.
It’s not the only thing we do, of course, but it’s a big part of what we do and we do it well. We know, however, that being good at something doesn’t mean you can’t get better at it. We fervently believe the opposite, in fact.
Which is why, even though we know a great deal about what makes a good tool versus a bad tool, we started this series, The Tools I Use.
By leveraging our own team-member’s experiences, we have learned more about ways to facilitate easier remote work, tricks to help you stay focused, methods to get stakeholders on board, and opportunities to encourage growth for both senior and junior staff, all while uncovering countless ideas for why and how individuals determine whether a tool is worthwhile.
Today, we continue the series with Jacques Ramphal, designer extraordinaire here at Myplanet.
We’ve been eager to chat with him for some time now, because as sharp a designer as he is, what he brings to a project is more than just technical skills.
Jacques is an avid proponent of mindfulness, which means he has a unique perspective on the philosophy behind approaching certain workplace challenges. It’s not just about the physical tools for Jacques, it’s about a more holistic approach to work life.
Alongside his keen eye for design, his open-minded approach to new tools, techniques, and even new people are integral elements to how he thinks about which tools to use.
Read on to find out his top five and what they do to make him such an incredible teammate and designer.
Tool #1: Pen, Paper, Highlighter & Marker
When I’m starting out a project the tools I use most often are (in no particular order) pen, paper, highlighter and marker. I gravitate to pen and paper when I’m starting a design because I’m most comfortable with them; it’s how I like to ideate.
In the early stages of design, I prefer to use a medium that is more “ambient”, something without a bunch of extra features. That way I’m not focusing on the various functions of the application itself or how to do this or that additional thing—there are no barriers to use.
I also use pen and paper because I tend to get caught up in the details and my mind tends to jump to conclusions. I find pen and paper really allows me to confront my ideas more honestly and not worry about how well I’m portraying them or some of the minor details of the solution I’m working on.
Typically, I just use scrap paper (...or napkins, or whatever else I have around) and the nearest pen with ink. The point, for me, is that it’s more accessible. I don’t have to make a reminder about something I have to do later in Photoshop, I can just kind of record things where I am and ideas when they occur. That’s how I like to start a design session.
Tool #2: Meditation
Another tool I use when starting a new project or a new design is meditation. In my day-to-day life, I try to meditate 1-2 times a day, so incorporating it into my early design process is quite natural for me.
I find that when I’m brainstorming and going all over the place, the ability to regain my focus is a big part of being able to actually produce valuable content. Meditation helps me not only to find my focus, but to maintain it as well.
It also helps me approach new things.
As a young designer (or a young professional— it’s not just designers), most problems are new and unfamiliar. Being able to focus in on the goal, or the underlying cause of a problem, or the motivation for the interaction, helps with actually making an informed decision about how to approach it.
Meditation and mindfulness also help me see opportunities for positive interactions.
For example, if I’m working with a client, being able to walk into that interaction and really take advantage of the moment without trying to decide what will happen or to plan it out ahead of time is a valuable skill. Simply bringing an attitude that’s going to push the meeting in a good direction has led to better design work and stronger relationships over the course of several projects.
I think it’s important to be able to step back and not immediately question everything. And in my opinion, it empowers the group to be more positive when you approach things with a positive, open mindset yourself.
Your own attitude is really the only control you can have in an unknown situation— and it can apply to design issues or any other thing involved in the type of work that we do.
Plus, When it comes down to the design work itself, being able to take and give feedback without taking things personally, and being able to separate the personal from the professional, is the best path to improving your work and continuing to learn and grow.
Luna and Jacques, sharing a moment
Tool #3: Luna
My next tool is my dog, Luna.
Yes, you read that right. I consider Luna, a dog, to be one of my top tools. My reasons for identifying Luna as one of my top tools are related to the reasons I value meditation.
Being able to take a minute and just be present with her—whether that’s stepping away from my desk and greeting her, getting her to do a couple of tricks, or going for a walk with her—is another way to remind myself that whatever issue I’m facing or whatever qualm I have with my own work, it’s only an aspect of the day and there are other things to attend to.
Being able to switch focus easily is as important to my productivity as being able to maintain focus. So going for that walk with Luna, forcing me to get up and away from my desk, is an important part of keeping balance in my day and my life.
And honestly, just bringing her good vibes to the office has value for me and for others, I think. She doesn’t care about anything but making good connections with people— that’s always a good lead to follow.
Even just walking around the office with her, I’ve found my relationships with other people have improved. She can bridge any social gaps and it gives me the chance to interact with people I don’t get to work with often, which is really positive for a team like ours.
I recognize I may be a bit biased, but I really do think Luna is a great asset to have in the office.
Tool #4: Sketch/Zeplin/InVision
I use Sketch because to me, it’s a step in the right direction in terms of design thinking. It’s not without flaws, but it’s a more disruptive tool from what’s already out there.
I don’t want to get too political with Sketch vs Photoshop, but Sketch takes into consideration the pros and cons of other industry tools and, to some extent, tries to simplify and streamline the process.
I like the underlying principles of bridging gaps in both Sketch and Zeplin, not only between applications but also between designers and developers, among design teams, in cross-disciplinary teams and with clients...
Zeplin, especially, allows me to quickly export from my design file to a dev language that can be parsed; it acts as something of a translator, allowing me to adequately and easily communicate my design intention to somebody who doesn’t necessarily speak “designer”.
With something like Zeplin, too, you can present to clients really easily— similar to InVision, which is another tool I’ve been using a lot of. And in Zeplin there’s a little more detail in terms of CSS and specs.
Generally being able to present your work in a good light without too many barriers is a real advantage. It increases collaboration with the team and with external parties, communicates ideas more clearly and can move projects along faster and with fewer points of confusion.
I find that trio of tools—Sketch, Zeplin and InVision—is taking down the walls that used to exist across functions and in communication of ideas, and that’s been a real improvement to our work.
Tool #5: Sublime Text
My last tool to recommend—and it’s admittedly less of a work-oriented tool for me—is Sublime Text. Sublime is a dev-oriented application for HTML, CSS, Java... all those things.
And that’s all I really use it for, implementation of the visual side of things. I use Sublime to experiment with front-end dev work, which is something I do mainly on the side. But it’s had spillover benefits as well.
I work with developers every day who speak in HTML and CSS, as opposed to more design-oriented terms, so immersing myself in that environment and trying to understand and empathize with the decisions I make and how they impact the other end of the spectrum is hugely beneficial.
It’s nice to see my work in Zeplin and see the markup, but it’s really different to see how one would actually create these things, so I like to play with Sublime and get a sense of it. I’m even using it as I code my own website (it’s not live yet, sorry).
In general, I like to play with different tools and learn from them. And in the case of Sublime, I find it has actually impacted my designs a lot. I take a more lean approach to design because of it, one that is more considerate of timing and budget and the person who is physically going to create the thing, do the heavy code work, and bring my designs to the world.
It’s also just a fun world to be immersed in. And I think it’s very valuable to ground your own work. Obviously it’s an old song, but I think all designers should appreciate, if not learn, how to work in that world.
I’ve been lucky enough to grow in an environment that is constantly pushing, always trying new things. In my training and my one-on-one sessions with our Creative Director Erik von Stackelberg, the opportunity to learn from the work we’re doing has always been emphasized.
One thing we’re really good at here is that we don’t commit too heavily to one approach. We easily, quickly, and very enthusiastically pivot when we find that something isn’t working the way we need.
Which isn’t to say we’re bandwagoning and jumping to the next new thing automatically— quite the opposite. But if we face a recurring issue, we’re not afraid to criticize and to find solutions for the problems that have come up. We’ve always pivoted and moved towards positive areas of growth, instead of focusing on things that don’t seem to fit.
Tim Fernihough, our CIO, always considers things as temporary until proven necessary, and he doesn’t commit to a package suite and force people to use it.
We are very accepting when it comes to the diversity of our process. We have a unified end process, but how we get to those ends is, to some extent, based on a specific person’s specific skillset. I think that’s amazing.
To be able to be that mindful of each other and of the tools we use, it really allows us to look in a non-biased way at what we use. I think that’s why our tools are constantly improving.
I’m very comfortable with what I use now because I’ve been given the chance to experiment and test out different tools to find what works best for me. I’m not looking forward, exactly, to the next new tool but I’m not going to be a luddite either. When the next issue arises, hopefully something great will be created to fill the void.
If you'd like to spend your days meditating and hanging out with Luna the dog, why not apply to work with us? And as always, feel free to share the post or leave a comment—we'd love to hear from you!