Good design is good business
Who is Rob Sawkins?

Rob is a Digital Product Designer. He was born in the UK to an English Dad and a Swedish Mum. Rob’s a Dad to a couple of lively young lads, and lives and works in the Czech Republic with his Czech family in beautiful Prague. He is, perhaps not surprisingly, a Remain voter.

How did Rob get into design?

Rob enjoyed Lego, scribbling, drawing, and painting from an early age. And he still does. He’s been very lucky to have a couple of influential teachers in his life. At school, the first steered him away from studying fine art or architecture, and towards the Applied Arts. He still remembers getting his hands on his first catalogue of Letraset and was bitten by the typography bug. There’s still no sign of recovery.

The second tutor, Paul Stiff, got him interested in Information Architecture and Information Design whilst studying at Reading University. Rob’s first proper gig after graduation was at Cambridge University Press (CUP), where as a Book Designer he cut his typo+graphic teeth. He was responsible for over 170 titles a year, including highly-illustrated complex text designs and cover designs. He managed a team of freelance designers, working both locally and abroad. He was also part of of the team developing internal design standards, and the CUP brand in the UK and USA.

Freelance and start-up life

After CUP, he became a partner at Opta Design – a multidisciplinary niche design company based in Cambridge. In the course of seventeen years, Rob and his design partner designed and built websites, and designed company identity systems. Their clients were in software, brewing, and travel. They also worked with academic publishers, research organisations, and university spin-outs.

When Rob moved full time to Prague in the early 2000s, he worked in-house at a start-up making a communications tool for the healthcare industry. He did it all: Branding, UX, UI, etc. etc. That didn’t work out of course. More than 90% of new businesses fail, but he did learn a lot – not just about design – but about people, finance, and new technologies.

Current gig

Since 2016, Rob has been working at Broadcom Product Designer in the Mainframe division. He’s currently working on Dynamic Capacity Intelligence (DCI). Prior to that Mainframe Operational Intelligence (MOI), and Application Performance Management (APM).

Rob brings the following skills to the UX team at Broadcom: User Interface Design (UI), User Experience Design (UX), Logo Design, Graphic Design, Book Design, Corporate Identity, Branding, Design Systems, Information Architecture (IA), Interaction Design, Photography, Digital Product Design, Marketing Communications Design, Usability Testing, Research, Art Direction, Agile Methodologies.

Rob’s design principles

Design starts with identifying user needs. If you don’t know what the user needs are, you won’t build the right thing. Do research, analyse data, talk to users. Don’t make assumptions. Have empathy for users, but remember that what they ask for, isn’t always what they need.

The best way to build good products is to start small and iterate. Show prototypes early, and test them with actual users. Remove things that don’t work and making refinements based on feedback. Iteration reduces risk. It makes big failures unlikely and turns small failures into lessons. If a design isn’t working, don’t be afraid to scrap it and start again

We’re not designing for screens, we’re designing for people. We need to think hard about the context in which they’re using our products. Are they, for example, working in a National Operations Centre? Do they sit in front of wall-to-ceiling monitors? Do they prefer ‘dark mode’?

Problems are multi-dimensional, so our perspectives should be as well. Design isn’t a solo act. Everyone is a designer. Great products come from great teams with different perspectives and skill sets.

Rob’s design philosophy

Rob’s design philosophy is based on the relationship between the concepts of ‘presentation’ and ‘gift’:

  • present the present tense

  • present gift

  • present a) being in the place considered; b) having presence of mind

  • presentable suitable for presentation; fit to be seen

  • presentation a) the action of presenting or introducing a person b) a bestowal, gift, offering.

A person or company who wishes to be present ensures that their presentation is given the best possible form. The form can be any (or all) of the following: intelligent; effective; attractive; educative; challenging, and engaging.

Favourite quotes

Software is rebuilt constantly. Technology shifts constantly. Our work isn’t additive (like a perfect Mona Lisa, painted iteratively). Every day…humans and machines show up to work, and do their job. We can (and should) tear things down and start over. How we operate and what we subtract and refactor, is as important as what we add. John Cutler

A user’s experience is the emergent outcome of numerous contributions, including design, but also engineering (technical performance has a huge impact on user experience), marketing (how expectations are managed...), and customer care (a bad experience can become a good one if handled well). If a single team is labeled as the primary keeper of user experience, that absolves other departments from concerning themselves with it. Merholz & Skinner

The fundamental problem Design Thinking attempts to solve is that 90% of design is…thinking. And thinking is invisible. Invisible work makes managers really itchy. The downside of Design Thinking is that now we think faffing about with Post-Its is design. Erika Hall

Better done than perfct. Erik Spiekermann

Away from work

In his spare time he likes cooking, riding steel road bikes, reading, drinking good beer, and travelling with his family.

More light?

More Light! is the title of a short essay by Robin Kinross published by Monotype in 1993. It struck a chord with Rob and he’s tried to make his work embody its central theme.