Matt Born’s official title is Designer, but throughout his three years at Sprout, he’s worked across both the engineering and design teams to tackle front-end development, visual design and now product design for Bambu–our employee advocacy platform.
In this month’s Meet Team Sprout, Matt offers his thoughts on great product design, discusses mentoring new designers and explains how Sprout has helped him reach his personal and professional goals.
Name: Matt Born
Started at Sprout: August 2012
Tell me about your career path and how you got to Sprout.
I was 12 or 13 when I wrote my first line of HTML. I got into web development as a hobby, which led to people asking me to make websites for them. From there, I went to school to get a BFA in graphic design.
Before I started at Sprout, I freelanced for about 10 years. In 2012, tech was booming and I wanted to get into the product world. At Techweek I met Pete Soung, Director of Web and Mobile Engineering and Co-Founder. I was weighing a few offers but Sprout was the most attractive. I haven’t looked back since.
Your role at Sprout has covered a few different areas over the years. What are you working on now?
I was hired as a Front-End Engineer, then moved to design. Now, Product Designer would probably be the most accurate title. I’m basically both the UX and UI person for Bambu. I’ve done everything from mockups to front-end coding to helping with QA (Quality Assurance).
Sprout champions this idea of carving out your own role. I feel like I’ve done that. It’s been important to understand and contribute to other parts of the business in any way that I can. It’s helped me stay curious and has let me indulge my creative side.
How would you describe your approach to product design?
That’s a question I’m trying to answer every day. I don’t consider myself an expert and hope I never am. I’d rather be less of an expert and more of a student who’s capable of learning and applying knowledge quickly. There’s a constant influx of information around how to create great products, what users expect and how to get users to form habits around the things you’re building. I’m a student of that.
What does it mean to be a good product designer?
Being a good product designer means being a really good learner. That means being open-minded and trying the best I can to execute and create tangible products that are valuable to the company and to users.
What’s one thing you’ve learned in your time at Sprout?
It sounds basic, but figuring out how to communicate more effectively with my team has been huge. Getting better at presenting and explaining ideas gives everyone greater clarity and potentially saves second-guessing.
Staying involved with the broader tech and design community is something you value. Do you have any favorite industry related publications or organizations?
I try to stay inspired and read product designer blogs. InVision has a great email newsletter and blog. Laura, a designer at Sprout, was interviewed on it awhile back. I read books by people like Jason Fried from Basecamp/37signals. I apply a lot of his principles into my day-to-day work. He has a strong understanding of what it means to design a product.
I’m a part-time mentor for Bloc.io. Being a mentor and teacher has made me a sharper designer and allows me to give back. My wife and I just had a baby so it’s harder to be as involved in the community, but that’s even more reason to have regular tie-ins.
When you’re working with students who are pursuing a career in design, what advice do you always give?
Jim Coudal, a designer here in Chicago, gives some great advice: steal things. When you’re just getting started, definitely steal things, definitely give credit. The more you expose yourself to work that you think is good, the better you get. It humbles you to realize that a lot of what you’re doing isn’t original. While that can be depressing, it’s exciting that there’s still so much room for innovation even if you’re borrowing ideas.
My friend Mig has a website called Humble Pied, which is where I first heard that advice. I tell students to go there and watch all of the videos. Each video contains one piece of advice from a famous designer. It’s a great resource.
You’ve gone through some significant changes outside of work since joining Team Sprout–you mentioned that your daughter was born recently.
If I had to identify a theme since I started at Sprout it’s growth, both personally and professionally. As I’ve matured in my professional life, I’ve matured in my personal life–I’ve become a husband, I’ve become a father. I’ve taken on more responsibility and Sprout supports that.
Paternity leave was huge for me. It gave me an opportunity to really be there and be present for my family. I know every company has benefits, but it’s really good to have a company that truly cares.
You’re a parent and you’re teaching and mentoring. It sounds like you’re pretty busy. Any other fun hobbies outside of the office?
I was climbing for awhile but got sidelined due to injury. Last year I did the Ragnar Relay with the Sprout Run Club, and we’re going to do the Bourbon Chase again.
Outside of that, I’m a family guy. Any extra time I have is spent with my wife and my daughter. We have memberships to the Shedd Aquarium and the Art Institute; we look out for free days at the Museum of Contemporary Art and other museums in the city. We live in the West Loop, so I’m kind of a foodie by default.
What’s your go-to place to eat in the West Loop?
That’s tough. I love Randolph Row. The short answer is anything by Hogsalt, the restaurant group that owns Au Cheval, Donut Vault, etc. They just opened a new coffee place called Sawada; that’s my favorite spot.