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Employee in the Spotlight: Meet Afonso Cruz, Head of UX/UI Design

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Afonso and I studied communication design. My cousin inspired me to study this, as I was first going for architecture. He told me, “Design is the future,” and that stuck with me. Fresh out of college and inspired, I was eager to change the world through design and started my career when I was 20 years old. After joining a startup studio in Lisbon, my User Experience/User Interface (UX/UI) design journey began and digital solutions, websites and applications became part of my everyday.



How did joining a start-up shape your development?

It was a launching pad. In a start-up context, you're not only designing – you’re ideating. You're looking at data, sales and more. When I moved to the agency of the same group I began working on projects, especially the ones that no one else wanted: for instance insurance, with a brother perspective than just visual design work. The agency world is generally drawn to “sexier” campaigns but I always enjoyed figuring out banking and insurance projects. They presented way more interesting challenges from a Customer Experience perspective. This opened my mind and gave me an appetite for the more complex strategic design challenges.


How do you bring innovation into a more traditional business?

The art is in combining business with technology and people interacting with it. After my agency time “mastering” the business and the people part I gained experience in the technology part by working at OutSystems. Getting to know all these different clients and working intensely on projects, especially abroad, was great because I got the chance to venture outside of what I knew. The emergence of UX/UI at the time meant I had to become self-taught and also educate my clients.


What drew you to IG&H?

After the pandemic and with more personal and professional experience from all the projects abroad I figured moving to another country would be the next step! I met some IG&H developers when I was in the Netherlands, and long story short I was asked to support building a UX/UI team here. IG&H gave me the final boost of energy and the support to take that leap to move to the Netherlands.

 


What drives you?

Building a design practice with capable people, sharing new ways of approaching challenges and innovative insights with clients but also still being hands-on and solving complex projects.

For instance, showing what service blueprints can do to break silos between business and technology within our client’s structures. These have been a passion of mine since 2015 and companies were surprised by this different way of working.


Service blueprints combine the business, the technology and the people side in a strategic framework. They help people understand the value of using design thinking methodology to solve a problem. You may know a customer journey, which focuses on the customer’s point of view. In a service blueprint, you can have the customer’s view, business perspective and technology perspective. Your service blueprint should be what your solution brings and what it needs to have on all these different levels.  



What is your role, what does it involve and what exactly is UX design?

I’m the Head of UX/UI. My role involves leading the practice, growing it and ensuring that we have the proper people and processes in place. It’s important to make clear that UX is much more than screens. Design is not a nice add-on to our delivery process. UX is about bridging the gap between our clients and their customers. In the old days, you would do it by changing the price of your product for example.


Nowadays, it’s about all the moments that someone is interacting with a brand, either on digital or non-digital touchpoints. It's more than designing an app for your phone. It's also about connecting the desirability of people with the feasibility of the technology to fulfill that. This vision is still somewhat lacking in the industry. My Dutch colleagues say it’s like being the spider in the web – you have all these ropes in your hands and need to bring a unified vision that caters to a company’s customers’ goals. When you bridge the gap between companies and customers successfully, people have a good experience when interacting with the service or product, without even noticing it.


Any design misconceptions you want to clear up?

Design, in its essence, refers to the functionality or purpose that something has - not necessarily only how it looks. People often mistake design practices, especially in digital, as the output, an interface. Of course, the interaction and the look are also part of the experience. If something looks good, people are more likely to use it and perceive it as being a good solution. However, you also have examples such as Wikipedia, which is not the most visually stunning site but extremely useful and people visit it all the time. The takeaway here is function over form, so the form follows the function. A lot of research and strategy goes into the design process; it should not be overlooked as part of the benefits of working with design methodologies.


What are your thoughts on Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is not only a responsibility in the hands of a designer. It’s a set of methodologies or frameworks to solve a problem. If you’re a mechanic and want to fix a car, you have your toolbox. But if you don't know the exact problem of the car, you won’t pick the right tool. You need to understand exactly what you’re fixing. Design thinking is for everyone to use because the purpose is to solve a problem! From CEOs to project managers or business analysts.


What does a typical day at IG&H look like?

There’s never a typical day. I’m always involved in different projects and proposals, at the same time, and I enjoy that “chaos” to be honest – it keeps me engaged and sharp! Most days involve a lot of calls. I often start my day from home to have focus time until around 11:00 and like to be at the office in the afternoons. A bit of routine is nice though, which is why I like going to the IG&H gym at the end of the day. You just head down the stairs and take the edge off.


What has been your proudest moment at IG&H?

Being able to create a standard set of assets and set up a proper design thinking approach within one of our pension clients, which eventually opened doors to other big projects in the same sector was a milestone that made me really proud.

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