Meet the newest member of the design team, UX designer Raul Alvarez, who will be working on the Ubuntu convergence story. Raul will be bringing new ideas to improve our apps to allow for a seamless experience across all devices. We caught up with him to tell us more about his background and what attracted him to the open source world of Ubuntu.
Tell me about your background
If we go all the way back to university, I started as a computer engineer student, but after a while I got to a point where I was rather burnt out by it. Then almost by chance, I ended up studying another degree in Advertising and PR. When studying my second degree I gained a fresh perspective. I was coming from studying maths and physics to then finding myself in classes for Spanish, history, law, and eventually design, which is where I got hooked.
I turned 30 and decided to move to London, as everyone in the small town of Salamanca (West Spain) was either getting married or bored; I was the latter. I wanted to challenge myself to do the most difficult things and push a bit more. I moved into designing Forex trading apps, which was a great experience with very smart people. I got to work very close with the developers too.
I then went into e-commerce as a designer, which was another diverse industry I wanted to learn from. Getting into something I know nothing about is key for me. It’s tricky, as people want experience, but once I’m there and I learn, I feel that I have the ability to take a fresh look at things. From studying advertising and knowing how apps are build I could bring those disciplines together to work on different platforms.
Canonical was a company I wanted to be part of. Just so happens they were looking for a designer, and now here I am!
Do you have any projects you’re working / or have worked on?
In the late days of my computer engineering degree, me and some fellow students started our own business. It was when the Social Network movie was out and everyone wanted to be Mark Zuckerberg; and so did we. We created a photography social network that was like a Flickr wannabe, or closer to what 500px is now. We had good intentions and we worked very hard on it. However, we lacked the business vision and strategy to push it forward. We had two choices: we close it off and do something else, or we find a better way to make money.
Salamanca is a small town and has little going on, but it just so happened that a company was doing mobile apps on demand for clients. Instead of hiring more people when they had large spikes of work, they would reached out to other companies. My three partners were playing the role of developers and I was the designer. We spent four years designing mobile apps for various clients specific needs, most came from the advertising industry. We had some startups come to us who didn’t have much money and we would help them advertise and prototype their apps. It was always a rather constrained working environment with a low budget and working with trial and error.
What attracted you to the open source world of Ubuntu?
For me, being here is amazing because I had been using a laptop that ran Ubuntu in my uni days. I’ve always known open source and the ideas around it. I remember playing with Linux when I was at high school too.
What does UX mean to you?
User Experience (laughs). But seriously, I think the term ‘UX’ is thrown back and forth a lot and people forget what it means. It’s a lot of ideas that could or could not be UX.
People might think that UX is just associated with apps and web design. But it’s not. If you think about user experience, it’s in everything. You can use user experience to build your hotel for instance. I could say how is the lobby going to be decorated, what is the uniform going to be like, do I want the guests to find a little chocolate under their pillow? THAT is defining the user experience. You don’t need to do a lot of research. Well, you can research user experience in other hotels, that would be one approach. Or you can say I have this vision I want to make my approach work. For this you need good judgement and to think about people, but also be prepared to take risks.
One of the parts I enjoy most about designing is whenever I don’t know what I’m going to do. That is the fun bit.
What have you learned in your first week at Canonical?
I came here thinking I knew how complex an operating system was. I wasn’t even close. I realised the complexity was way down below, every single little thing is taken into account, which amazes me. Then I realised the scale of the task. It’s amazing how much work is going on here. I have a lot of respect for it.
What is your proudest achievement?
Making a decision like: I’m stuck and I need a change. I made the effort to move to a different country and to change my degree. It has always been very natural for me to take risks, but I didn’t realize how scary it actually is until I stop and think about it.