A chat with Martin Ollivere

20 April 2020

In October 2019, through the introduction of Eric, I had the opportunity to ask a veteran in product design for advice when I was a fresh grad searching for a job after graduation.

Martin is a veteran in product design. At the time, he was the interim CEO of a mobile app analytic company. Martin began his career in industrial design and eventually shifted towards product design (digital). Similarly, I took up industrial design at school but have taken an interest in digital product design.

My three questions were…

  1. What are the valuable skills to have as a fresh graduate entering PD? (Especially when not coming directly from PD related background)
  2. What are the current trends in PD that I should be aware of?
  3. What is a PD career path like?

Through a call, Martin gave advices that I find relevant to revise from time to time.

Set Yourself Apart

Design field today is competitive. Talents come from fields beyond design, bringing in specialised skills in anthropology, psychology, computer science, etc. Here are some things we can do to be better entry-level designers.

  • Be prepared to justify, back up your design decisions and convince others in doing so. Practice the ability to rationalise your action.
  • Follow, understand, then build a Design System. There are several well documented design system guide out there, such as Google’s and Airbnb’s
  • Have an understanding in Information Architecture (or any other basic Front-End knowledge). This will come in handy for handoff to development, a stage where pure design background students may be under prepared for
  • Understand the concept of Lean startup, terminologies such as MVP (Don’t shun business knowledge too far)
  • Be able to sketch user journeys, persona, flows correctly
  • A portfolio of personal projects helps to make you more hireable
  • Have additional skillsets: Animation, Typography, Branding, Graphic Design (ex. layouts and colour)

Some general tips that are good to keep in mind of

  • Make use of existing design patterns and make sure you understand why they work
  • Don’t be pressured to reinvent the wheel. The reason to break conventions must be very convincing
  • Do not underestimate on-boarding process (a tip)
  • Feedback from 5 people can reveal 80% of key usability issues (another tip)
  • Check out Above-the-fold, Below-the-fold

What is the Career Path like?

Designers are judged more by their capability than their titles or seniority. The ability to present and convince helps us to progress quicker.

In a typical agency, one may expect to progress from a junior, through mid and to a senior 3-4 years in. Mostly driven by one’s ability to complete deliverables.

If one were to go into the product route, working directly with users would be the biggest difference compared to working at an agency. You’d have to really get to know the actual users and with them. You will also have to be aware of constraints in resources.

Learning Material

Online UX/UI related material often state what’s obvious. References from the experienced are most valuable (like me seeking advice from Martin). After all, product design does evolve quickly.

The following learning material are suggested by Martin at the time.


  1. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
    Behavioural Science, engineering and medicine
  2. Nudge Theory by Richard Thaler
    Behavioural Science, political theory and behavioural economics
  3. About Face by Alan Cooper (Check out a diagram I drew about this book)
    Interaction Design
  4. Hooked by Nir Eyal
    Behavioural Science
  5. The Elements of User Experience by Jesse Garrett
  6. Lean Startup by Eric Lies


  1. How I Built This with Guy Raz
  2. Indie Hackers
  3. Your Undivided Attention by Tristan Harris


Several themes reoccur in the suggested list of learning material, most notably behavioural science. Martin went on to tell me about several trends that are good to be aware of.

  • Ethical Design/Tech
  • Attention Economy
  • Health and Mental Wellbeing
  • “User Centric Design may not be good for user addiction”

Shortly after our call, I received an offer for an internship at Continuum, a design consultancy where I can enjoy the best of both world, industrial and digital.

The suggested rends and learning materials came in handy immediately after I started working. After that, I found myself researching behavioural science and design, mental well-being, and ethical tech for a couple of internal research at work.

My favourite takeaway from that meeting was the value of insights from the people who have been through the pain and gain of their field. They have helped me prepare myself better as I started working as a designer and set up personal development goals as a young designer. So thank you to Martin once again, these advice are worth revisiting from time to time.