John Buchta: Head of Product Design at oVice (Part 1)

A SaaS company is often as successful as its products. That’s why creating solutions that are not only functional but sticky and easy to use is crucial for user acquisition and retention. At oVice, we put a lot of emphasis on creating a user experience that would make collaboration easy and enjoyable. Making sure teams enjoy spending hours in virtual offices is one of the responsibilities of our Product Design team. We have recently had a chat with John Buchta, Head of Design at oVice, about his vision for the platform and the field of UX design at large. Below is Part 1 of the conversation where we follow John’s journey in design and chat about the present and the future of the field. 


Tell us a few words about yourself

I’m John, I’m Head of Design at oVice. I’ve been at the company for about 9 months now and I’ve been in the design industry for about a decade at this point. I’ve worked at various agencies, in-house, and, before I joined oVice, I was at an agency called Dentsu. 

I’m not a big fan of agency work, so I wanted to go back in-house and work on a product that I thought would be interesting and fun, and that’s kind of how I ended up here. Before that, I’ve been at various companies, mainly American tech companies. 

There’s been some apparel stuff I’ve done – I was a designer for New Balance. At the agencies, I worked with Nike and others – don’t know if I can mention them because of the NDA but there were some big Fortune 100 companies based in the United States. 

I originally went to school to be an architect but I couldn’t pass calculus – I’m not very good at math. I spent two years at architecture school, and then it didn’t feel like my calling. I have a degree in fine arts with a concentration in interactive media – that’s what they called UX design when I was at my University. 

I was in school for five years and working full-time half through my tenure at school as well. I’ve always been in UX in various industries. At New Balance, I was a Communications and UX designer – they combined when I was there – so I was doing various graphics for them and working on their redemption-and-reward applications. 

How did you know you wanted to have a career in design? What were the key milestones in your professional journey?

I initially wanted to go to school to be a musician – playing music was always one of my hobbies. I was weighing the pros and cons of it and decided I would rather keep music as a hobby and move into a different field. I have always been a creative person and wanted to stay in some sort of creative field. That’s how I landed on architecture. Then, like, I said, calculus was never my strong suit, just as math in general. Calculus, statics, and tectonics were the areas I struggled with at school. I also felt like being locked into three dimensions was not as creative as I had hoped it would be. 

That’s why I decided to explore interactive design or UX design in general. The way my schoolwork is, all designers had to do some foundations in arts anyway so I had a little bit of exposure to it. I was really interested and thought it would be an interesting path to follow. 

The key milestones? Initially, I just started applying for jobs while I was still in school and just realized that I was actually not bad at design in general. Having professional companies wanting to hire me while still being a student was a pretty validating feeling. 

Another milestone is career growth in general – going through the ranks of a junior designer to mid-level, senior, and lead has always been validating. Going from junior to manager took me about seven or eight years. 

After a certain point, the design career path splits into individual contributor and manager. On the IC side, you can go from lead to principal, to staff. On the management side, you have a junior manager, manager, director, etc. 

I initially thought I would be better suited for the IC route but, as I talked to some of my mentors and colleagues, I decided to give management a try and that’s how I ended up here. 

How did you learn about oVice? What motivated you to join the project? 

I think the HR team reached out to me on LinkedIn. While I was at the agency, I started to get the itch of wanting to explore a different challenge. As I said, agency work is fun but it’s a set budget – once the client has used up that budget, the project is done. 

There is no way to truly iterate and grow a product to be something unique and really get used to it. 

I really missed it and that’s how I decided to explore in-house options. What interested me about oVice after Tony reached out is watching some of the talks that Jung, our CEO, gave. I found his insight interesting and his faith in the project really captivated me. I remember watching one about how he felt that oVice could potentially bring economic growth to rural Japan, just because of promoting hybrid work and I thought this was a very interesting solution to a problem that I hadn’t even thought about. 

Before joining oVice, what was your experience with remote work like? What differences do you see in working remotely vs at the office? Which benefits and challenges does remote work bring to design? 

I was lucky in this sense since I’ve been working remotely since 2017, so, pre-pandemic, being a designer working remotely with a team spread across the US and multiple countries was something I was used to. I felt like once the pandemic hit, I had a leg-up and was able to help promote remote design workflows at whatever organization I joined. 

I actually love working remotely so it’s been one of my requirements for whatever role that I take since I started. 

Even so, the longer I’ve been working remotely the more I miss having a couple of in-person interactions, so I think that, ideally, a hybrid working structure would be something I’d like to move towards. I know it’s a little difficult at this point in time, especially with such a dispersed team. 

Design is a pretty social medium and format of visual expression so being able to talk to people and run ideas off of them or print designs off and hang them up on walls to see what’s actually working or not working from a holistic perspective is something that I miss. 

Working in design: highs, lows, and inspiration sources

What’s your favorite part of working in design? Do you have any frustrations with the field and what are they?

From a strictly design perspective, I enjoy creating and putting things together that haven’t been done before, thinking through solutions and considering customers throughout the whole creative process, and learning, and building from there. My biggest frustration with design is that it never works out in an ideal workflow: there are always some outside factors that change the way we approach a problem. 

There are always time constraints so I can never really have the amount of time that I would ideally like for discovery or things along those lines. It’s still a rewarding field and, in general, we are the face of the company. Everything that people interact with was designed and was, hopefully, intentional. 

In some ways, our team hasn’t gotten a chance to leave a mark yet but I think, as we grow, we will be starting to take over product design.

Do you have a process for coming up with creative ideas? Who or what are your inspiration sources? 

I always like to try and understand a problem from a business perspective, as well as from a user’s perspective. I am a big proponent of user-centered design as a methodology for approaching design in general – communicating with users and finding solutions. 

The initial solution that we brainstormed at the offset of the project may have changed completely based on the user’s actual needs. That’s part of the process of user-centered design, as well as agile software development – being able to learn and iterate from conversations you have with users. 

From a creative perspective, I normally sketch out a lot of ideas, whether it’s on pen and paper or on an iPad. When I was younger, I used to always carry a notebook around and be drawing constantly. 

Now, as I’ve gotten older, it’s a little tedious so I don’t do that but it’s just about finding inspiration from everyday life and looking at things from a different perspective. 

Who or what are my inspirations? Right now, I haven’t been keeping up with design trends as much as I normally do. One of our engineers, Albert, has been sending me a lot of podcasts from the engineering perspective so that I can broaden my way of approaching problems from a tech perspective. 

Besides that, it’s a lot of music. Visual art is something that I like to gain inspiration from especially contemporary art. 

Right now one of my favorite artists is Piet Mondrian, I think they call it De stijl – a limited color palette and very limited shapes to create different compositions. 

I am also a big fan of Paul Renner and Josef Albers, the likes of these Bauhaus artists as well. That shift from traditional representative art to more conceptual art right around the 1910s is kind of what I find the most interesting. I like art that inspired change. 

What UX and product design trends, in your opinion, will dominate the decade?

I think virtual reality in general is kind of bullshit, that’s not necessarily something that I think has a lot of use cases. Conversely, I think augmented reality is a good use case for the marriage of tech and real life just because most devices people have in their pockets are capable of generating some sort of augmented reality scenarios. 

I think the interaction between real life and technology will become bigger within the next decade, as people figure out more ways to do it, better ways to do it. As more business cases come up for the field, I think it will become more commonplace. 

Can you, off the top of your head, name a well-designed product? What about its design impressed you? 

I actually just got the new iPhone and something that I’ve been really into is this idea of the Dynamic Island that they put together. It’s a really dumb name, in my opinion, but the way it functions is very interesting to me. 

It is like taking a hardware limitation and making it feel more intentional, incorporating software into it, and making it feel more interactive and thoughtful from a dead space perspective. I’ve been super into it. My wife – she and I both got new iPhones – doesn’t care about it but that’s all I’ve been talking to her about in the past week like “It’s so cool”. She doesn’t care. 

Do you have an unpopular opinion about UX/product design? Please share it. 

Rather than an unpopular opinion, it’s a way of approaching design. The buzzword in the design community is the idea of pixel perfection, but, as we move to more responsive and scalable mediums, I think that’s gone way out of the window and that pixel perfection is not actually a thing. It’s all relative, based on placement and grids. 

That’s something I’ve been trying to stress with my designers: it’s less about pixel values and more about relative location – how objects interact on the page. 

This is Part 1 of the interview with John Buchta, Head of Product Design at oVice. The rest of the talk we had with John will be published next week – there, he will dive deeper into his vision of product design and talk about the pleasant discoveries and challenges he came across since joining oVice. 

In the meantime, you can check out the interview with SooYoung, our communications designer, or other members of the global team. 

To learn more about oVice, check out our customer stories or take a quick tour of the platform

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