Yesenia Perez-Cruz — Vox Media
Designer, speaker, and writer based out of Philadelphia, PA. Passionate about increasing inclusivity in tech, designing …
Looking at my background, I have a bit different educational record than most designers. I studied International Business and Marketing Psychology, in Budapest and also in the Netherlands, so everything I have learned about design I learned by myself.
Since the age of 4-5, I’ve been way too passionate about mobile phones (we’re talking Nokia, Ericsson, Siemens era here), and my favorite hobby as a child was to go to the local electronics store to play with Pocket PCs (PDAs), Palm and Symbian devices and figure out their menu structures and how they worked.
As I grew up with these devices and read every review of them, using them was my second nature. But I remember when I first discovered the fact that my parents and other friends who weren’t into tech, couldn’t figure out how to use these devices at all. Probably this was the first time when I thought about user experience, way before the term UI and UX was born.
Then fast forward to getting my first MacBook (2006 white plastic MacBook with Mac OS X Tiger) and then later the introduction of the iPhone, I started writing reviews of iOS apps (more than 300 reviews a year) and reaching out to engineers to help them with my ideas for improvements.
I believe criticizing without providing some alternative solutions is useless, so I started designing my ideas and watched tutorials day and night. I still remember the summer afternoon when I first read about UI and UX after a Google search and basically, I disappeared that summer in my room trying to catch up with everything design related in a couple of weeks.
Ever since then, I’m trying to combine design with business, marketing, and psychology to provide the best possible user experiences and continue learning every day.
Over the years, I’ve tried to perfect my daily routines as much as possible to feel more energetic and creative throughout the day. Tweaking and experimenting with my daily routine is like a side project for me.
I truly believe that the day starts the night before, so I take my sleeping habits seriously. I’ve tracked all my sleep for the past year with the Oura ring, measuring my bedroom air quality and temperature with Netatmo, and switching all my Philips Hue lights to red at least two hours before going to bed to reduce blue right exposure. Yes, I know it sounds like a lot, but the difference between an amazing night of sleep and an average night of sleep was drastically different in my case.
Most weekdays I like to start with some Wim Hof breathing practices followed by a cold shower, which kickstarts my body and mind like nothing else. During my morning routine, I practice some latte art using freshly roasted coffee beans before starting work at 9 am.
At Craft, we have a daily design team standup at 10 am, where we go through ideas and design concepts. If I have no other meetings, I jump straight into some deep work session before lunch. This is the time when I feel the most creative, write most of my ideas down and create as many low-fidelity explorations and thinking as possible.
I like to use the afternoons to refine my ideas from the first part of the day and turn them into high-fidelity visuals, mockups, and prototypes to share with the team. At 5 pm all teams write their daily standups directly inside the Daily Note feature of Craft, so for the next morning, everyone can catch up, sleep on the new ideas and discuss them the next morning.
After work I focus on doing some workouts, which are typically functional strength training with cardio, mostly elliptical. My daily average goal is to get around 800-1000 active calories on my Apple Watch, which is a lot more challenging to me than I thought since I sit most of the day.
Between 7-9 pm I’m watching some YouTube videos or Netflix to relax during dinner, and connect connect with friends/family and then I try to meditate before going to bed or practice some coherence biofeedback breathing exercises, which is probably one of the most effective relaxation technique I’ve tried so far.
Thanks to my work, I feel incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by the latest and greatest Apple products for which I'm always grateful. Sometimes my setup changes quicker than I have time to take some photos of it.
At the moment, I’m using:
- Apple Pro Display XDR
- MacBook Pro 14” with M1 Max
- iPhone 14 Pro
- iPad Pro 11”
- Magic Keyboard with Touch ID and Magic Trackpad
- Apple Watch 45mm
The first stop is my teammates. In fact. sometimes I feel spoiled because they always have an idea for the moment when I’m stuck and their work is inspiring daily.
One thing is still pretty consistent since my early childhood, which is that I love playing with new gadgets and new things. This means that whenever a new smart home tech appears, a new health tracker arrives or a new interesting app launches I try to be there as early as possible to try them out and play with them.
Nowadays I spend more time designing than looking for design inspiration, but still, if a really interesting new gadget appears on my radar, I’m all in giving it a go.
One completely different area I love to play with is screen interfaces in cars, which sometimes feel way behind our phones, but sometimes they can surprise you with some new solutions. Plus I'm a huge Apple fan of course, and you can find a ton of inspiration even if you’re looking back at the OS X Tiger and Leopard era of OS releases.
So generally, I try to be immersed in this environment as much as possible. And as expected, I’m also checking Twitter, Dribbble, sidebar.io, and the usual designer sources as well.
If I’d have to pick one right now, I’ll pick the Oura ring, which is an excellent example of how “low-tech” and simple it seems on the surface, no display, no notifications, no interruptions during the day and night, barely even noticeable and yet, it’s so full of tech and sensors that it's mind-blowing.
One key aspect I like to highlight of the Oura ring is the quality and reliability of their app. But what’s even more important is their scoring system. Most sleep and fitness trackers give you pretty high scores by default to motivate you into using the product more, but as a result, you quickly run out of space for improvements.
In the case of Oura, you don’t get 90+ scores, unless you truly focus a lot on your sleep and you’re willing to prioritize it. But if you do, you feel the difference between how you’ve been sleeping before and how you’re feeling after a 95-96 score of sleep.
So far I’m proudest of our work at Craft. Designing a first-class experience for iOS, iPadOS, macOS, and the web (and now for Windows as well) at the same time is such a unique challenge, which allows us to think more broadly about interactions than ever before. We have to consider touch-only, touch-keyboard, touch-keyboard-cursor-pencil, and cursor-keyboard interaction models all at once and make sure that Craft feels right at home no matter on which platform and with which interactions you’re using it.
I’ve been fortunate to be working on Craft since the very early prototypes and collaborating closely with Balint Orosz, the Founder and CEO of Craft, who is also an exceptional designer and engineer at the same time. The amount of details, real-data prototypes, and micro-interactions that went into this app is something that I’ve never experienced anywhere else before.
Besides the product, I’m equally or probably even more proud of the team behind it. The level of interaction, experimentation, and collaboration between the design and the engineering team is pretty unique.
Probably these all contributed to us winning Apple’s Mac App of the Year Award last year after being among the finalists for the Apple Design Award in the Interaction category.
Growing the team is always a constant challenge to have. You don't just want to scale your team, you want to scale the culture alongside the team as well. This is especially true for the design team.
On the more technical side of things, we’re still trying to find a nice balance between components and systems versus unique and custom-made experience within the app, which is even more challenging looking at all platforms that we work on and creating a first-class experience on all of them.
First of all, being passionate about the devices and how products are designed is key. I’d recommend trying to be as immersed in the world of gadgets, apps, and experiences as possible, so you’re constantly surrounded by high-quality design experiences, which ultimately help to shape your taste.
Another key piece of advice I’d like to follow - especially if you’re trying to learn design as quickly as possible - is to recreate designs of existing products. In my experience, a lot of designers don't practice 'copying' enough. And by copying, I mean you recreate the design of an app as a practice exercise. Never share it as your work!
Finally, I’d recommend trying to articulate what you learn and present it through case studies, to share your work. That also reinforces everything that you just learned and helps to improve your communication skills, which will be crucial as you’ll start collaborating with others.
As a bonus tip try to take care of your body and mind by doing regular exercises, breathing techniques and/or meditations. I know it can sound strange listed here, but I wish someone told me this a decade ago. (Hint: you can use a ton of inspiring gadgets and well-designed apps for this.)
Be sure check out Craft and give it a go, would love to hear your experience and thoughts about it! Also if you’d like to connect and chat about anything design-related feel free to reach out to me on Instagram or Twitter.