Designer at GitHub
Adrian
Mato

Adrián is a Spanish Designer based in San Francisco, currently building tools for developers at GitHub. Don't forget to ask him about Galician octopus.

San Francisco, United States • February 22, 2021

What led you into design?

Building and organizing things. As a kid, I would disassemble every toy to look at how they were built, figuring out how to replicate and create new ones out of those pieces. I will then run and tell my parents about ‘my creations’.

I remember growing up with a computer, playing video games, running basic commands in DOS to execute those games, and I eventually got early access to the internet. That meant multiplayer games, and ultimately, clans that will need a communication channel, a website, an IRC channel, some forums, configuring gaming servers and whatnot.

That pushed me to become a ‘webmaster’, and I started to learn about HTML, CSS, PHP, FTP, and all the tools that will help me build more clan websites and the first freelance gigs for other random people I’d meet on IRC.

I spent a lot of years learning online– visiting forums, reading books, and at some point, I decided to skip university and focus 100% of my time on learning more about how to make better websites. That’s how I ended up taking my first job where I was a mix of a C# Developer and a designer building websites and desktop apps. I was 17 years old.

After a couple of years, I quit my first job to start a company called Erasmusu, and at some point, I decided to specialize in the part of the building the process I enjoyed the most: understanding the problem and designing solutions for it.

From there, I spent the last 14 years designing different digital products between Madrid, London, and now, from San Francisco. I worked for some companies such as Tuenti, Microsoft, and a bunch of startups.

What does a typical day look like?

I wake up early in the morning, pour some coffee, and go for a run or a swim. I used to play soccer, so exercise is an important part of my routine. It helps me keep things balanced.

Walking to the office it’s (was?) also a big part of my routine, so I always try to live around 10-30 minutes away from the office. Although remote work is a big part of GitHub culture, I enjoy walking to the office to meet and have lunch with different people from the team.

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During the afternoon, I enjoy walking by the pier with my wife Lucia, watching TV-shows, and also playing some video games to stay in touch with friends.

Before going to bed, I try to have some time to either read, tinker on side projects, or learn new things as I’ve been doing lately with Blender and photography.

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What’s your workstation setup?

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Where do you go to get inspired?

I think books have been the main source of inspiration in the last few years. It’s funny to see how most of the concepts remain the same and we are just generating variations of the same core principles. I try to stay away from design trends especially in the digital world, as they end up cannibalizing themselves and everything becomes monotonous.

I put together a list of my favorite design books if you’re curious about it.

Lately, I’ve found YouTube to be an amazing source to learn about Math, 3D, and video game development. It’s changed my perspective from being a passive consumer to being an active consumer that filters and curates the content. The more time you spend, the more interesting content the system finds for you.

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

That’s an easy one! I love video games, I love small teams that create beautiful things, thus I love Playdate.

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I’m fascinated by the simplicity and the conversion between hardware and technology in such a creative way. I’ve signed up for the developer’s preview and I'm crossing my fingers to get myself one to start working on some ideas.

As a big fan and promoter of design constraints, I’m really interested in what people come up with. I bet we will see some interesting concepts that could end up in big products like how it happened with Celeste and PICO8.

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

It’s hard for me to pick just one as I’ve been working on a complete variety of projects throughout these last 14 years.

Since I joined GitHub, I’ve been working in different areas, but my main focus has been GitHub Actions. At the end of last year, we released a new version with some interesting new features such as deployment environments, a visual graph of your strategy, and we also took the chance to revamp and improve the UX refresh.

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If you’re curious about this, I wrote an article about how we improved the logs debugging experience that some people may find interesting as the challenges are slightly different from the standard interface.

Before joining GitHub, I led a team of product designers at Microsoft that redesigned a 16 years old product called Azure Pipelines. That was fun and challenging as you need to solve the puzzle and generate a strong vision that leads to a significant change in an organization operating the same way for many years at Microsoft.

It was also a lot of fun, as it was my first time working on developers' tools. I think it’s the perfect combination for me: I love developers, and I love designing and building tools.

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The Design System at Yammer impacted millions of customers. We were a pretty small team, but we managed to put together some exciting processes and the engineering team to make it happen.

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And lastly, I also enjoyed my time working as the Head of Product Design while working at Fever. We built a mobile app for the consumer market from the ground that I thought it had the right balance between function and form. There was a lot of work to be figured out to help photographers and editorial content ensure photos and copy were accessible while making all the events shine and be bold from a marketing point of view.

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What design challenges do you face at your company?

I am continually balancing my work as an individual contributor and shaping the form and function of new products released in the next couple of years. I can’t share more about it, but we believe they will drastically improve the developer experience for everyone using GitHub 😅.

It’s easy to get stuck in daily problems and lose the long-term vision if we don’t actively protect our time to do deep work.

At a company level, the scale of the problems we deal with is always massive. It’s not just the pressure of not messing up the tool everyone relies on to develop their projects, but the technical complexity of a product that’s constantly evolving, adding features, and releasing new products. We need to be careful with the trade-offs, expanding functionality while making sure things are still accessible and understandable for everyone.

I’m learning a lot. I love working here.

If someone is reading this… we are hiring more designers! DMs are open.

What music do you listen to whilst designing?

I listen and enjoy a lot of different genres of music, from uplifting techno to classical music. If I needed to pick the list to go when I’m inspired, I’d go with this one:

Fun note: I trained for 6 months, and ran my first San Francisco Marathon two years ago while listening to this playlist.

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Any advice for ambitious designers?

I love lists, so here’s one:

  1. Be kind, even when you think you’re 100% right.
  2. There are no stupid questions. Keep asking until you understand things.
  3. Saying no leaves room to saying yes to more interesting things.
  4. Be ambitious, but also take care of yourself. You’ll be happier and also be more productive when everything is balanced personally and professionally.
  5. Take some time to read and reflect on what you are doing and learn new things.
  6. Sketch a lot. Spend more time solving the puzzle than executing it. Once you’ve figured out the solution in your notebook, pixel work is easy.
  7. Learning shortcuts always pays off, I promise!
  8. Keep learning and trying new things. You’ll connect those dots later on.
  9. Forget about all these tips and create your own path!

Anything you want to promote or plug?

Follow me on Twitter. I tend to post work in progress and thoughts about things I’m currently building, photos of Galician octopus, and some baking.

I also love taking photos, take a look at my Instagram and 500px page.

And lastly, check my website if you’re curious about my work and thoughts on design.