Design Chat: Brendan Fagan, Framer

Meet Brendan Fagan, Product Lead at Framer — the prototyping tool that is taking the world by storm. He has been designing software for about a decade now. Brendan moved over to Ireland by way of San Francisco in 2014 to join Intercom and stayed there for about 4 years, before getting the itch to work on large mobile consumer products. He then went over to join Deliveroo in London for a couple years.

Whilst at Intercom and Deliveroo he used Framer to prototype a lot, and they happened to reach out to him at the same time he and his wife moved back to Ireland. From here he ended up joining the team as a remote designer. Then 2020 happened and now they are all remote.

“I’ve had a design crush on Jorn, Koen, and Ben for years, so being able to work and learn from them, it’s been great.”

When did you first become hyper aware of how, as a designer, you can have a huge social impact?

It’s taken it’s time to sink in. The past couple years I’d say. I think there is a tendency with designers, especially product designers, to abstract the user behind a detailed process of research, success metrics, jobs to be done, happy paths and all the rest. We like to be thorough, list out our problems, list out our solutions, track the metric, claim success. It’s hard to take a step back from the day to day of your job and ask the bigger question. Often it’s pretty harmful to your career as well.

I think of all the different mental models and frameworks I’ve heard over the years in companies. Touted by designers, product managers, CEOs. How nice and neat they seemed. Easy to understand. They never last.

It’s because human beings are just messy. Societies are even messier. I think I’ve realised that with age. And to survive in a messy world, humans have an eternal need to organise it into patterns and groups. I think an individual has this need, as well as groups of people making decisions within organisations.

Given the reach of many of the tech companies, the product designer’s “solution” can influence thousands, if not millions of peoples lives. They are trying to fit frameworks onto real people at an unprecedented scale, and I think everyone in and outside the industry has become hyper aware of the consequences when that can go wrong. How many designers do you know have a psychology degree?

How has this awareness affected your personal career journey?

It definitely was a huge role in joining Framer. I had some guilt from working at Deliveroo. There was some doublethink going on there. I took some time to figure out what I enjoy about designing software, and wanted to find a place where I could focus on getting better at that without feeling guilty. I don’t think you’ll see any design tools on the Social Dilemma.

Do you feel that Junior Designers are given enough insight into how their products can impact users and given a platform to voice their opinions on said factors?

Not at all. In my experience, it’s really up to the individual within organisations to realise their own values and then try to act them out as best they can. When you’re getting started as a junior, you’re just happy to have that paycheque and opportunity. You’re learning the hard skills, the craft aspect of the profession. You might hear Tristan Harris on a podcast once in a while, but come on, you’re just trying to keep your head above water and manage imposter syndrome. Are they given insights from the company? Depends on the industry, product, team. But you can bet heaps of money that whatever potentially negative insights they give, it’ll be token and carefully crafted to suit the company’s interests.

Do you think there is a lot of misconstrued information provided by companies in regards to their design ethics?

I have never been in a company which had a core set of design ethics whose goal was to improve or at least not negatively affect the users overall well-being outside time spent within the product. There’s been design principles, frameworks, and all that — but they are contextual to the organisation and the mission and/or the business goals of the company as a whole.

Larger tech companies seem to have flirted with design ethics, but I think we all know that if any come into conflict with their bottom line, these are ignored or revised to be meaningless shows of virtue.

Now that people, in and out of the design/tech industry, are becoming more aware of the social effects products can have on society, do you think there is going to be a shift in how products are designed/created?

I think we are all realising that tech is no different from many other industries, in that it is not immune to repercussions of Western capitalism as it stands today. Large public companies want to maximise shareholder value, and just like your team MVP, initiatives that do so tend to be weighed by impact vs. effort. Adhering to ethics adds to effort. To justify effort, you need impact and that means profit or growth.

Without the consumer fighting back en masse by ignoring unethical products (think gambling gamification products like Candy Crush) in favour of alternatives that don’t rely on time spent as a metric, then I doubt we will see a shift in industry behaviour without state intervention. And state intervention is a tricky thing.

I have no doubt tastes will change, trends will come and go. I do believe that screen time becoming more and more taboo in mainstream culture is a trend that will continue to rise, and there is promise there. Perhaps it’s not about choosing an ethical app on your phone over an unethical one, but not choosing an app at all.

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

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Molly Jennings

I am a Senior Recruitment Consultant specialising in UX and Digital Product Design across the Netherlands. 🇳🇱 molly.jennings@fewandfar.io