Design Leader Insights - Ridhima Gupta on Complex Design Systems

February 27, 2024


Alex Smith: Design Leader Insights is brought to you by Fuego UX. Fuego UX is a leading UX research, strategy, and design consultancy. Hi Radhima, thank you so much for joining the show today. 

Ridhima Gupta: Hi Alex, it's my pleasure. 

Alex Smith: To get started, can you tell us a little bit about your journey in UX? 

Ridhima Gupta: My journey in design actually started as an architecture student in India. And during architecture school, I started designing for digital experiences. I got exposed to that. This was like in 2011, 2012 and mobile apps. And a lot of mobile apps were coming out. iOS, Android was still pretty new. So that's the time when I got exposed to the designing for digital experiences. I worked in India for a little bit in a design agency before I came to the U.S. for a formal program in HCI. And since then I've been mostly working in the enterprise design space for almost the last 9, 10 years now. And currently I work as a lead product designer at Databricks. And I work on the ML platform at Databricks. ML platform at Databricks basically allows people to build machine learning models, manage them, manage the entire life cycle from training to  actually putting models in production, seeing how they're doing, et cetera. So it's been quite a hell of a journey so far. 

Alex Smith: I definitely have a million questions about not, not necessarily Databricks, but just like that space. Like it seems, you know, as an outsider, it seems so intimidating, but a lot of designers want to go to those companies with complex machine learning and AI and business intelligence platforms and all that stuff. How do you figure out what the customers want? And the customers are very, you know, very smart engineers and data analysts that maybe every designer is not like... How do you actually become that user in such a complex space? 

Ridhima Gupta: First, I just want to preface is that as a designer, when you're working in these complex domains, I think there are three axes on which you have to kind of ramp up your knowledge. So one is the product itself on for which you're designing. So I think it's important to kind of understand how the product functions by actually trying to use it. The other is the domain itself, right, in which the product operates. So in this particular case, it's the machine learning domain. And I think getting to a reasonable understanding of that, at least at a high level to begin with, is quite important because that's going to help you actually talk to users and internal SMEs as well. So like the three axes, right? Product, The domain and the users are very important when you're just starting out. To work in these domains, you can talk to the users and you set up, you know, calls with users to understand their use cases and how they're using your product or what challenges they're facing with the current product, etc. And that gives you a little bit of a glimpse as to you know, what are the jobs to be done that a user wants and like what are the gaps in your existing product, for example. But I think to really build that intuitive understanding of, like, the user's workflow and what are they trying to achieve, I think you have to kind of the more sessions you can do with users or internal SMEs where you're actually observing people perform the task is like extremely valuable and that gives you a lot more in depth knowledge so I think that's like the next tier right? First is speaking to users then is okay, can I observe users using the product and then I think the third most impactful one is actually even trying to use the product yourself. 

Alex Smith: Another question there, when I think about these super complex, not complex, but capable platforms I think about the variances in user journeys. Like there might just be like a data analyst trying to do something really quick in the platform. And then there's that, you know, top 3 percent of users who's trying to push the platform to the ultimate boundary. How do you think about creating an experience that allows both of those people to hop in and be able to find out and, you know, accomplish the task that they're trying to do? 

Ridhima Gupta: So I think it's important to kind of one as you're designing, trying to map out, like the journeys of these various personas, like what are they actually trying to do, what is ultimately they're trying to achieve from the product and then try to see that, okay, like does it make sense to actually you know, either have a single product experience for these various personas, or you might kind of think about, hey, like for a certain persona, we have a different type of a view or a different experience altogether. It will become clear as to what is the overlap between the various user journeys of these users. If they are vastly divergent, then you might be better off separating out product lines, right? Or if they're fairly overlapping, then yeah, in that case, you might have specific workflows in certain parts of the product that are just focused on a particular user persona. There's, there's like more lenses to consider as well about like, hey, can you actually identify the role or like the job that the user is trying to do earlier in the user journey. So then, you know, you can tailor the experience, not just in your product area, but like, in the entire various parts of the product. I think this is where AI in the future can be super powerful as well as to like creating more personalized experiences for specific jobs to be done or like specific users.

Alex Smith:  Yeah, no, it makes a ton of sense. Let's switch gears here to advice you might have for new designers entering the field today.

Ridhima Gupta: I really think that as designers, we should start diversifying our skill sets to include other parts of the product development cycle. So including, we've been like, I think there's been a lot of discourse about yes, designers should know what business. Right? That makes you better. But I think I really think that it's time, it's the period for like designers to be entrepreneurs and actually start their own ventures in the future. I think designers are very well positioned to do that. And I think to be able to do that more meaningfully, I do think designers should start to get more comfortable with building products, like actual products by like actually trying to code or being comfortable with like the more technical aspects of digital product development, because I think I think the three skill sets combined is this absolutely dangerous, right? Like you can do a lot more and actually start putting out real products in the world.

Alex Smith: Yeah, I think it's wonderful advice because like maybe you don't get to the point of releasing your own app that's functional with code, but at some point you're going to be, actually, probably in most, most situations, you're going to be interfacing with engineering and development. And if you can speak their language, they're going to respect you more, right. And same with products. So like, I totally agree. 

Ridhima Gupta: There's one aspect, of course, if you know how they are produced in the backend, I think that is of course, it's going to help you as designers talk to these various stakeholders. But I think the other piece is that if you know how these you know how products are actually built in the real world you can actually, you know, then augment that understanding with AI and like other tools too. I actually really think that the future is pretty near where like anyone should be able to put out an app or like working products into the world much more easily.

Alex Smith: Makes a ton of sense. Well, thank you so much for the discussion today. Where, where can people go, to learn more or reach out? 

Ridhima Gupta: Yeah, so if you're a designer working on any of these complex domains and wanna discuss any of these topics that feel interesting to you with me. So feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn and we can connect there.

Alex Smith: Awesome. Ritima, thank you so much for joining the show today. 

Ridhima Gupta: Thank you so much, Alex.