Designers, Interviews

Balancing the Grind With Adham Dannaway, Product Designer at Digital Transformation Agency

July 16, 2019

Adham Dannaway is a Product Designer at the Digital Transformation Agency, a company which helps government departments improve digital services to make them simple, clear and fast.

Balance the Grind spoke to Adham about his UX design work, day in the life of a designer, how he prioritises his workload, defining what success means and more.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your background and career?

Like many of us, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do when I finished high school. I was good at IT, so I followed a few other friends and decided to study computer science at university.

During my studies, I realised that I liked programming but I wasn’t passionate about it. Soon after graduating, I was lucky enough to land an IT internship where I discovered my love of websites.

Using code and design to build websites was just the right mix of technical skills and creativity.

To learn more about design, I studied a masters of digital media and created websites and logos on the side as a freelancer to pay the bills.

After studying, I worked mainly at tech startups as a designer, as I liked the variety of work, the fun work culture, and the speed at which these companies operated.

I’ve been lucky enough to work at some of Australia’s top tech companies, including Campaign Monitor and Freelancer.com. I’ve also worked at agencies and larger corporates more recently as a contractor.

As well as honing my craft over the years, I also focussed on building my brand and social media presence.

My portfolio website, featuring my half designer, half coder avatar has been featured in magazines, books and numerous websites, for which I’m really grateful.

I’ve been addicted to Twitter since its infancy and enjoy sharing my work as well as news, tips and resources with the design community. I also follow lots of great designers from whom I learn something new everyday.

2) What is your current role and what does it entail on a day to day basis?

I’m currently a contract UX designer helping an agency measure the performance of Australian Government services on a suite of website dashboard products.

Similar to most other UX design roles I’ve worked in, this role involves understanding the users and crafting a website experience that meets their needs. It’s a good mix of research, sketching, prototyping and UI design.

3) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

I usually start my day with a cup of tea, reading the latest design news.

If I find a great article, I’ll share it on social media so that others can also benefit. I think it’s important to always stay up to date and try to learn something new each day, even if it’s only something small.

Once I’ve caught up on the latest design news, I’ll check my email, attend our team’s morning standup and then get started on my work for the day.

Typically, it involves either solving a current problem with the website or adding a new feature that will improve the website.

Depending on what stage of the problem solving process I’m at, I’ll either be researching, sketching ideas, testing prototypes or designing the user interface.

To break up the work day, I like to work out at lunch time. Not only does it help with fitness and health, it also helps me be more productive and creative in the afternoon.

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you prioritise your workload?

I always keep an up to date to-do list in Google Docs which helps keep me focused. I make sure that the list is prioritised so that I get the most important stuff done first.

A simple but effective way to prioritise work tasks is with an impact vs effort chart. You basically work on the easiest tasks that will have the biggest impact first.

5) In between your job, life and all your other responsibilities, how do you ensure you find some sort of balance in your life?

I think it’s tricky to achieve balance in life, as most of the time I’m focused on doing a certain task which dominates other parts of life.

I guess it’s a matter of continually monitoring the main parts of life: health, work, friends, family, and time for myself. If I feel like one area needs some attention, I’ll try and allocate some time towards doing something to improve it.

6) What are some of the things you do to take time out and recharge?

I like to work out regularly to stay fit and get away from the computer.

I’m currently doing calisthenics (push ups, pull ups and other bodyweight exercises) which is really fun and challenging. I can’t do a muscle-up yet, but hopefully I’ll be able to one day.

I also enjoy getting outside in the sun and gardening, not only is it relaxing and therapeutic, but it’s amazing to see your garden grow over time.

Cooking is another hobby of mine, mainly because I’m a bit of a foodie and I love to eat.

I’ll often cook up a large pot of curry or soup and freeze it in plastic containers for later on. It saves a lot of time and money and allows me to eat healthy food that I enjoy.

Don’t tell anyone, but I do love a good Netflix binge every now and then too. Suits is my current addiction.

7) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

I’ve learned that nothing good comes easy. I have an expectation that I’ll need to work hard and go through a period of struggle to achieve my goals.

This expectation helps me persevere through the tough times, as I know that I’ll eventually find a way to solve the problem or achieve the goal.

I think it’s also important to try and define what “success” means to you and not simply follow society’s definition. Otherwise you’ll constantly be striving to achieve goals that aren’t actually important to you.

8) Are there any books you’ve read that have helped you with work-life balance?

I’m currently enjoying reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*** by Mark Manson. Witty and relatable, the author basically helps you figure out what’s really important to you in life so that you don’t dwell on other stuff.

9) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

In the morning I check my to-do list and make sure that it’s prioritized and up to date. This ensures that I have a clear idea of what I need to get done and that my mind doesn’t wander. It’s pretty simple but it works for me.

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