Screenshot of CSC Newsletter

The Power of Design Side Projects

Daniel Korpai

Daniel Korpai is currently working as a product designer at InVision. In this interview, Daniel talks about how he solves his own problems and how he leveraged side projects to level up his design career.

Hey Daniel, nice to meet you. Let's start with a brief introduction of and how you got started in design?

Hey Jan, it’s my pleasure to meet you. I’m Daniel Korpai and currently I’m working as a product designer at InVision to help designers, product managers, and engineers collaborate better together.

Looking at my background, I have a bit different educational record than most designers, since I studied international business with marketing psychology. So we could say I had nothing to do with design during my educational years in university. However, I’ve been obsessed and passionate about gadgets since my early childhood, especially with phones and touch screen devices since the early days of PDAs (who can remember those, right?).

As I grew up with these devices and read basically every review of them, using them was my second nature. But I remember when I first discovered the fact that my parents and other friends who weren’t into tech, couldn’t figure out how to use these devices at all. Probably this was the first time when I thought about user experience, way before the term UI and UX was born.

After the introduction of the first iPhone and then later the App Store, I started writing reviews of iOS apps (more than 300 reviews a year), mostly criticizing them for their difficult and confusing user interfaces. I believe criticizing without providing some alternative solutions is useless, so I started designing my own ideas and watched tutorials day and night. I still remember the summer afternoon when I first read about UI and UX after a Google search and basically, I disappeared that summer in my room trying to catch up with everything design related in a couple of weeks.

Ever since then, I’m trying to combine design with business, marketing, and psychology to provide the best possible user experiences.

Finder for iOS Concept

For someone looking for new projects in their portfolio, how do you find or define interesting concepts to design around?

For selecting topics for my concepts, I usually try to choose a topic, which bothers me on a daily basis. This way, I’m fully invested in the design concept, since I’m solving my own problem, which makes the whole process easier, and I’m also more motivated to solve it.

I think as designers we all recognize these problems around us, because we love complaining about them, but what if we don’t stop at complaining and we actually try to come up with alternative solutions for those concepts in addition to our complaints?

"Try to use everything with an open mind and always ask yourself if these things could be done better and if so, how would that be possible and why is that important."

Could you tell us about your process for finding solutions to these problems?

Sure thing. Before doing any design related work, I always start with writing. First, I write down all the problems I’m trying to solve, the limitations, constraints, and goals of an ideal solution.

I try to write down every single idea that comes to my mind around the problems I’m trying to solve. Sometimes days go by when I’m still just writing, and I’m always trying to capture my ideas as quickly as possible, no matter if it’s the middle of the night or I’m watching a movie.

Capturing these ideas help me think more clearly about the problems I’m trying to solve and also provides a way to not get too excited about the first idea that comes to my mind when I’m sitting at my desk. I try to keep thinking about the problem when I’m going through my day and use different apps, browse dribbble, read design articles and case studies, because we never know when we stumble upon amazing ideas for potential solutions.

When I sit down to work on the concept, I go through all my ideas, and I start drawing super simple wireframes using only rectangles and circles to explore as many solutions as possible. At this stage, I try to find even more possible solutions.

When I feel like I found something interesting, I take that idea and polish it out in a higher fidelity version and then animate it to have a final prototype to see how it feels with interactions.

News App Concept

Any advice on writing design case studies?

I believe showcasing the problems, constraints, and challenges are equally as important as showcasing the solution. I often see case studies where only the solutions are covered without explaining why that solution is needed and what problems it actually solves.

It’s also good advice to showcase the final design early in the case study, so the reader will have a better understanding of what the case study is about, instead of starting with a wireframe and only showing the final design at the very end of the article.

"I like to follow a similar structure for all my case studies, so I don’t have to reinvent the format every single time, and I can focus on what truly matters, the content."

How have your conceptual projects helped you in your current position (or as a designer)?

I believe working on concepts is one of the most beneficial exercises for designers, because they can create their own constraints and the solutions are not limited by external factors like developer resources, timelines, budgets, and client expectations. So through working on design concepts designers can showcase their whole potential of what they can create by themselves from scratch.

Basically, all my clients from my freelancing years found me through my concepts, just as InVision reached out to me after seeing my design concepts I created with InVision Studio.

Of course, working only on conceptual designs is not enough, but they’re excellent conversation starters and perfect for expressing your whole potential as a designer.

Breathe App for iOS Concept

For someone looking to get their foot in the door, what’s your number one advice?

As design changes so quickly, there’s no way to stay up-to-date without continuously learning every single day, experimenting with new tools and trying out new techniques to further grow.

"I believe learning is the most important skill."

Learning by solving specific problems is probably the best way, because then you get to apply what you learn immediately through practice, so it won’t become only theoretical knowledge, but a useful skill that you can use in the future too.

Thanks for all your thoughts and advice! Where can people go to learn more about you and your work?

I try to stay active on Dribbble and Twitter. For behind the scenes and product photography, I’m probably the most active on Instagram lately. You could also check out my portfolio where I share more of my process.