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Ways We Work

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Sebastien Gabriel

Designer for Google Chrome

Sebastien is originally from France where he worked in a small web agency and as a free-lancer for 3 years after obtaining his Masters degree in multimedia management. He moved to the San Francisco a little more than 3 years ago to work for Google as a designer for the Chrome team.

What do you do?

Around 3 and half years ago I joined the Chrome team as their first visual designer. My day to day task for Chrome is trying to keep the visual design consistent throughout all the platforms it's on. So that includes Android, iOS, Windows, OS X and also Chrome OS. One day I could be working on iOS and then another I could be working on Android. I touch everything in Chrome, from a core UI to secondary UI and all the style guidelines as well.

It’s enjoyable to work on a product that’s used so broadly. When I came to Google I had no idea what I was going to be working on, so when I found out it was Chrome I was pretty happy about it. It’s a product I’ve always enjoyed.

How did you end up getting into design?

I knew I always wanted to do something with computers and since school wasn’t really for me, they were kind of my refuge. When I went to management school we had projects where you needed coders, managers and designers and I was always signing up for the job of designer. I was the go-to guy for web design, or graphic design or even print design at the time because I always wanted to do it. I found such gratification in it. It was a feeling I wasn’t finding anywhere because I didn't feel I was good at anything else when I was in school. I was always doing that and I just continued. I spent a lot of time just doing it for pleasure, which I think was really lucky.

I also found good bosses that allowed me to do what I wanted and gave me a lot of freedom. That’s where I truly started to thrive.

Back then I knew I was into working with computers but didn’t yet know I was into interfaces specifically. I just kind of headed that way, by following the flow I found what I wanted to do. In my mind when I got my Bachelor’s degree I didn’t really know what I was going to do. It just kind of happened slowly over time, lucky for me because I’m not the best at finding motivation. I either dive into something 100% or I just don’t care at all.

So I was lucky to find this thing where I cared about it so much that I wanted to do it again and again and again.

What do you find most rewarding about your role? Most challenging?

The most rewarding part, especially at Google, is reaching so many people. That’s very rewarding for me. It’s hard to describe. When I see people using Chrome or anything that I’ve done I’m happy. When they think it’s cool, even a very simple detail, that’s the gratification I was talking about earlier. I find it just makes me feel good. It can be anything, it can be a very, very small thing and it’s just pleasurable to see people using it, and the impact of so many people using it. I think Google has a mostly positive impact on a lot of things and I’m glad to be a part of it, even if it’s a small part.

The downside of what I’m doing is that I do a lot of things at the same time. Sometimes it’s hard for me to focus as much as I would like to on a specific thing or a specific project. It’s the other side of the coin when it comes to working on something so big, you have a lot of things going through your mind. You have a daily job to see the project as a whole and not as a little thing where I can spend a week on a very specific detail. Sometimes I find that frustrating because I’m sort of OCD with pixels. I can't have this perfect attention to everything all the time. So I need to balance that and sometimes it’s tough for me, but I got better over the years.

How do you stay up to date with trends in your industry/field?

I'm always watching what’s happening in the industry, although I noticed over the years I watch it less and less. At the beginning I was really into the Dribbble scene and everything like that, and following everything that was happening. Over the years it started to fade a little bit, I’m not sure why. I think I'm looking further ahead now. A lot of things in design or what you see everyday is all about quick satisfaction of “oh this looks pretty cool, so I’m going to jump in and do it. It’s cool and flattering, it’s new and all that.” That doesn’t work well on a project that you’re supposed to see over two or three years. To anticipate the future you kind of have to separate yourself and focus on what the core of your project is. So maybe it’s due to that or also maybe because over the years I’ve started to do less and less pure design execution and more planning or thinking about what’s ahead.

I do have a list of sites that I check occasionally. I still go on Dribbble. I like the format, it’s very quick and focused on tiny details. For discovering fun products I go on Product Hunt, that’s always fun to go there. I use Medium a lot now, reading has broadened my perspective. So I read more and I look at images less. I theorize more instead of doing, and try to take a step back and look at the big picture. It evolves in parallel to how my role evolves.

What are your top five applications or tools?

Chrome - Of course this is something I use everyday. When you work on something that you use everyday it can be frustrating when you notice a little something that’s off. No body else will notice but you do know and sometimes I know a certain pixel in Chrome is not perfect, it could be better and it drives me nuts. At the same time though I need to be thinking bigger than that, beyond the tiny little pixels that I can’t focus on everyday.

Sketch 3 - It changed a lot of things in my daily flow, it makes everything faster. I’ve been doing design for 9 years and I spent 7 of them in Photoshop, so Sketch was a big deal for me. It changed so much about my process and I really pushed it on the team as well, but it was an easy switch. For an interface designer it’s so specifically made for them that it’s hard not to find that it’s the perfect tool.

iPad - I read a lot everyday so my iPad is where I do all my reading. I have a long commute, about an hour and a half in the morning and an hour and a half back so my iPad is really something that I use a lot during that time.

Inbox - For email.

That’s all I use for tools. Since I need to follow Chrome on every single platform I have a stack of devices that I use all the time. So I switch from Android to iOS to Android tablet to iPads.

Best way to stay on top of email?

Oh my god, I wish I knew. I use labels way too much in trying to organize things. I use Inbox for my personal account so that’s pretty efficient and almost inbox zero. My corporate account is a constant stream of email that I try to organize by priority so I have 3 labels:

  • Something I need to act on.
  • Something I need to look at and follow
  • I’ll get to it someday.

What is your best time-saving trick?

Get to the point. It kind of applies to everything. At the beginning when I’d be writing emails or doing design, presentation is important but not always. I’d think about how to do it well, how to talk or the proper way of sending email to people. At some point you need to just optimize everything you do or say to get to the point. Everything around it is just noise. That’s something I found useful both from an email perspective and design as well. It applies a lot to what we do in both UX/UI, getting to the point is something that we should always keep in mind. Don’t think outside of your goal.

What does your workspace look like?

Structure of your typical day, how do you divide your time?

As I said I have a pretty long commute so that’s a pretty important part of my day. It’s an hour and a half that I get to do stuff. I’m pretty efficient in the morning so that’s usually where I do all the heavy lifting, where I actually have to think about something. I’ll read or answer email and then I get in the office and that’s where I continue to do all the heavy lifting that I have to do throughout the day.

After lunch gets a bit harder. I get less efficient in the afternoon so that’s where I tend to just avoid email and try to focus on one task at a time. I realized that I’m not a multitasker. I don’t think a lot of people actually are. I’m trying everyday to just clear my mind and get things done in the afternoon without interruptions. It comes down also to the noise thing, so an important part of my day is reducing the noise.

So I would say design and heavy-lifting in the morning and then in the afternoon something lighter. Then I go back to do my commute and I try not to work on the way back. I just try to catch up on things and read, and use my mind but in a relaxed state.

I get more active at night, it’s weird, I guess I’m not the only one but I get very efficient when night comes, when it’s calmer and darker. It reminds me of my freelance days where I was working at an agency during the day and then at night I was freelancing. I’d just put on some music and go from 8pm till 3am some nights. It’s not always great to do work at night though, especially if you’re doing some frustrating things. For example, if you don’t agree over a thread of email and you shouldn’t look at that before you’re going to go to sleep. So that’s something I’m working on.

Why do you do what you do? What makes everything worth it?

I like it and I’m good at it, so I’m going to continue doing it, I feel like I have something to say about it.

The first thing for me is that the opportunity of being here is important. You have very frustrating days everywhere, where you don’t want to continue but you just need to take a step back and look where you are. You have to realize that you’re good where you are and you’re actually contributing to something. When I have those sort of days, and I take a day or two to think and that’s very helpful. In the grand scheme of things I have the opportunity to do something that has some sort of impact on people. Even if it’s not that big of an impact that’s alright. I wouldn’t want to throw everything away because I’m frustrated and then find out that I was actually made for it. I don’t want to lose what I have.

It’s also related to evolving. Sometimes frustration can help you find new things that you want to do and find your next challenge.

What is the greatest piece of career advice/wisdom you’ve ever received?

Do it. This was from my boss in France. When I received my first freelance inquiry in English from a place in Sweden, I was pretty scared. I wasn’t very comfortable with my English or anything. I was still really young, right out of school and I didn’t know if I could handle that. My boss at the time was just like “do it” and I guess that was good way of putting it. Do it.

If you feel like you should be doing something, even just a little bit, do it. It’s a very Nike way. My boss had it right though. He was the best because he was the kind of boss that when his employee had a tremendous opportunity to leave the company for something bigger, he was just like “yes, go for it man!” The go for it attitude, is something I need from an external source or person and that’s what he gave me. Just try it and see if it works. There’s a lot of things I thought I wouldn’t be able to ever do, that I actually manage to do, even to my own surprise.

Who would you like to see featured on Ways We Work?

I'd recommend a colleague of mine, Manuel Clement, another french designer coming from the same area in France as I did. He's an awesome guy, working on VR at Google and doing a lot of things to teach kids how to code outside of work.