What led you into design?
When I was 14 I decided to go to a professional art school instead of joining a broader high-school program. At the time I was very good at maths and loved physics, but I spent hours everyday drawing and wanted to follow my sister’s footsteps in architecture. So I dropped the sciences for arts and immersed myself in design.
The journey into tech was a different one. When I was younger I didn’t know how to use computers, but I had a strong sense of adventure which lead me to break my sister’s PC on multiple occasions. My mum thought I needed training on how to use computers so she enrolled me in an evening IT course. I loved tech even more from that point on. I developed an interest in Linux and started making web pages in Ubuntu with GIMP and Nvu in high school.
What does a typical day look like?
I’ll get up around 7, walk to work along the Regent’s canal and spend most of my hours at the office in King’s Cross. During the day I’ll be getting work done, having food, going to the gym, having coffee or chatting with coworkers. It’s a very relaxed work style. In the evening I tend to go out for dinner with friends. I also shower in the evenings (instead of in the mornings).
Every now and then I’ll also spend the day working at one of the hospitals that use or will be using Streams to carry out user research. Spending time at the hospital, experiencing the environment our users live in everyday first-hand, is one of the biggest drivers for me to make our product even better.
Streams is the clinical application that my team at DeepMind is working on. It’s a mobile app that provides intelligent insights to clinicians during their workflow.
What’s your setup?
The DeepMind Applied team recently moved into a new building just a short walk from the main Google office. We probably have the best lunch out of any of the Google cafés. And the best barista, Tiziano.
To give a bit more background, DeepMind is divided into Research and Applied. The Research team is focused on getting us closer to solving intelligence and using it to make the world a better place. The team is trying to build general-purpose learning systems—inspired by how our brains work—that can perform well across a wide range of tasks without being explicitly programmed. The Applied team uses the advances in that research for social good, creating products or services that deliver value in a responsible, ethical manner.
Where do you go to get inspired?
I draw most of my inspiration from reading these days. Mainly books but also the Offscreen magazine. The edition above with the interview with Julie Zhuo is a really interesting read.
Most of my visual inspiration comes from something shared on social media, friends’ side projects, word of mouth and random encounters like that. I love the Yamanote Yamanote poster project that Julien Wulff and his friend have been working on.
What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?
Most recently I’ve been inspired by the work and the story behind the iPhone keyboard by Ken Kocienda. Primarily because designing something like the touchscreen keyboard requires a combination of engineering and design and multiple prototyping rounds. Exactly the type of work I want to be doing.
The Sony LSPX-P1 projector is ingenious. It’s a wireless projector that’s meant to be moved around the house. You can rotate it to project on the wall, floor or ceiling and once it's placed on a surface it figures out its position and projects the video in the correct direction and orientation. It’s also probably the only projector you’d like to have on display.
The Apple AirPods are delightful. When you open the case, the battery level gets presented on your iPhone. Taking one earphone off pauses the audio, putting it back on resumes the audio, and taking both off stops the audio entirely. It’s brilliantly thought through.
And finally, the Nintendo Switch is brilliant in multiple ways. The use of detachable Joy-Cons for multiplayer is perfect. The switching between docked and portable is flawless. And the user interface itself is fun. I love all the unique sounds as you navigate through the menus, how clean the visual design is, and the little easter eggs like when you press ZR to unlock.
What pieces of work are you most proud of?
I’m incredibly proud of the work my team is doing on Streams. Creating a product that is clinically safe and delivers insights while not deskilling users or causing bias is a fascinating challenge. We are establishing patterns for patient identification; displaying, inputting and redacting patient data as well as delivering predictions. I think it’s a rare opportunity to work on a project like this.
Another project that I’m quite proud of is my currency conversion application for iOS. I always wanted to build an iOS app and Currency was my first one. There are many small details I’m proud of: how you can drag the currencies to swap them, the sounds when you tap the buttons, the animation of that input indicator, the fact that it’s localised in 12 languages, and the fact that I kept it free until today.
What design challenges do you face at your company?
Working at DeepMind, you have to be the real time-travelling designer. A lot of hospitals didn't benefit from the innovation that we've seen over the last decade so clinicians are still using paper, fax machines, pagers, and fragmented IT systems. We need to understand that reality and help the hospitals transition to new tools in a way that is understanding of their needs, workflow and actually saves them time.
Then at the same time, we have to look into the future, understand the possibilities of cutting-edge AI research, and do all the work to make sure this technology is safe to use, it delivers the outcomes we expect and benefits the lives of patients and practitioners.
What music do you listen to whilst designing?
Any advice for ambitious designers?
This will be very broad, and I think applies to aspiring and experienced ambitious designers. This is my advice to myself.
Before you do your best work you always need to put your life in order as much as possible: your finances, your relationships, your health, your spiritual energy, your environment, your time. Look for a mentor, someone whom you can open up about your life and who can give you perspective. Assume the best intent from others and truly care about those around you.
Anything you want to promote or plug?
Yep. Download my Currency app. It’s free on the App Store.
I also want to mention a few key people:
- Dem Gerolemou, a super humble and talented designer in my team who gives me positive energy every day.
- Micah Carroll, my mentee who has come such a long way over the last 18 months and is now my daily inspiration.
- Mike Buzzard, who always believed in me, supported me and gave me perspective.
- Mills, whom I’m forever grateful to and made it possible for me to be where I am today.
- Yujin Han, who mentors me and helps me work out my life.
In terms of hiring, my team is looking for UX Designers and UX Researchers to join us in Mountain View and also in London. Email me to find out more. Friends at IDEO (Tokyo) are looking for an Interaction Designer. It’s a very exciting opportunity, and it’s in Japan. My previous team at Thread is also looking for a great iOS developer and a Product Designer to join them.
Finally, if you’re a designer interested in healthcare, I'd love to meet up in London or the bay area for coffee and a chat. Get in touch.
"Update: Nuno’s team has recently moved from DeepMind to be part of Google Health—this article was conducted in October of 2018 while Streams was still part of DeepMind"