Breather launched with the vision that on-demand private space has value for almost everyone. Early adopters used Breather to find a quiet place to work without distraction while out and about in the city. Now therapists, yogis, students, business travelers, and photographers reserve a Breather by the hour to relax, meet with clients, host an event, or just charge their phone.
Breather strives to deliver a seamless experience from beginning to end, with a big emphasis on design — and for that reason, I’m thrilled to say they’re an InVision customer. I recently chatted with Christian Poschmann, Senior Designer at Breather, about collaboration, his advice for new designers, and why design is more than art.
How is the product design team at Breather set up?
Our cross-functional team works together to drive product decisions, assess features, prototype functionalities, conduct user interviews, map out app flows, and more.
Who’s on our team:
- Brandon Reti, VP of Product
- Christine Zoltok, UX Designer
- Seraphin Hochart, iOS Developer
- Michael Bernier, Android Developer
And I’m the Senior Designer.
Over the last few years, we’ve been able to move quickly and stay focused thanks to our lean setup. But now as we’re ramping up and expanding the product, we’re going to need more hands on deck: prototype engineers, UI designers, and product managers.
We’re a tight-knit group that strongly believes it’s best to grow the team slowly and carefully — it’s how we’ve been able to manage, design, and produce a cross-platform experience that’s closely aligned with our vision.
Involving developers actively in our design process helps us move quickly and brings in development expertise at the beginning of projects rather than at the end.
What’s the mix of designers at Breather like?
One of my favorite things about working here is the cross-collaboration between design departments. Breather involves design at every moment in the user experience, so the team boasts interior designers, product designers, illustrators, graphic designers, and UX designers.
There are about 7 designers total across multiple teams, so it’s awesome that we’re able to share ideas and ensure that every part of the experience — from the spaces to the communications, to the app — drives the same message, styles and aesthetic.
Why do you structure your teams this way?
Employing dedicated design resources in each team ensures that our vision for a highly-designed end-to-end experience can become a reality. This collaboration is really important to us — especially as we expand to new cities and grow the design teams.
Thanks to our small team size, it’s easy to quickly brainstorm with colleagues, share ideas, and iterate quickly based on feedback.
What’s the design culture like?
Breather is a platform for beautiful, peaceful, practical spaces. Design is inherent in our culture — it’s a huge part of what we do.
Why is having a design culture important?
Good design is good business. And for us, design is a key part of our value proposition for our users.
What’s the biggest challenge of your team structure?
Bandwidth constraints — it’s one of the most difficult aspects of working at a startup. An endless list of things we could be working on means we have to ruthlessly prioritize tasks.
How do you work effectively with the other teams in your organization?
We’re based in Montreal, but we have team members in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Ottawa, and beyond. Communication is key for us, so tools like Slack, Google Hangouts, and Google Docs are crucial.
But the magic really comes with tools like InVision for prototyping and testing, Zeplin for document handoff, Frontify for our brand guidelines, and Trello for project management. Every department has a Trello board — cards are ordered by department, priority, and status.
What do you think is the most powerful part of your design process?
Collaboration across the entire company. Our work is stronger when we’re learning from each other and open to feedback.
What are the most important values you try to see reflected in your design changes?
We want our members to have hundreds of beautiful, practical spaces at their fingertips, wherever and whenever they may need it. Our service has to be easy and fast to use, respond to our members’ needs, and bring beauty, delight, and productivity to their day. Every change has to push that vision forward.
Tell me about your design process on new features and products.
For new features, especially in the early stages, we’ll typically assemble a cross-functional team that brings diverse experience and voices.
When we’ve nailed down the basics of what we’re building, we’ll sketch out and prototype a few different examples. At this point we might pause to do user testing — either internally or with some external testers — to get quick feedback and check that we’re on the right path.
With some early validation under our belt, we’ll keep refining the design until it’s ready to go to development. We might do a second round of user testing later in the design process if the design changes significantly or if there were aspects that were tricky to test at the prototype stage.
How do you hand off items between departments?
We’ve started creating Slack channels for every new feature we’re working on. It makes for a lot of channels, but it centralizes communication and serves as documentation for decisions.
To avoid surprises and to make sure design is never thrown over a wall, we try to involve all relevant parties throughout the design process.
How do you think your design process differs from other apps?
Because our company hinges on beautifully curated spaces, it’d be tough to find another organization that ties brand, interaction, digital, and experiential design in one place.
How do you identify and prioritize feature requests?
We do 3 things:
- We have bi-weekly meetings with our customer service team to discuss things they’re seeing
- We stay connected to people’s pain points by viewing a steady stream of support emails going back and forth in Slack
- We have a dedicated business intelligence and research team that helps us identify opportunities for growth and better understand the needs of our members
How do you make design decisions internally?
There’s an exploratory initial process where I gather inspiration and push as many different options as possible. Because we’re a small team and we touch base every few days, we’re able to easily whittle these explorations down to 1–3 concepts and dive deep. The final decision never seems arbitrary since it’s often gone through many rounds of validation by the time it gets to the pixel-pushing stage.
How do you use InVision during your design process?
InVision helps us prototype and test earlier in our design sprints. We use it internally to help with design flows and navigation logic, as well as to help communicate designs to stakeholders, test usability on new ideas, and to serve as documentation for development. We’ve recently started using InVision to give feedback to each other and align design details across departments.
InVision helps us move faster, identify issues earlier, and facilitate collaboration. We need to move quickly while maintaining quality, and it helps us do that.
How do you keep your vision alive through design?
Time off and switching between projects help. Sometimes, a bit of distance gives us perspective. We also try to make a habit of weekly or bi-weekly working sessions in a Breather so we get some focused work time while using our own product.
How do you stay engaged and creative?
We’re just getting started — we have an ambitious vision for Breather. We’re never working on the same type of challenges, so it’s hard to get bored here.
Any best practices you can share about designing a product that reimagines a very specific user experience?
Be ambitious enough to trust that your pain point is worth solving. Be empathetic enough to understand the pain points of others.
How do you keep up with constantly changing web standards and opinions on what “good” design is?
While we have a sense of what might be trending style-wise, in our view, good design doesn’t change. Good design is a beautiful, seamless experience that responds to a real need.
Why did you choose the visual design for your brand?
I joined the company early on — I was the fifth employee. There were still decisions to make, like colors and what the overall mood for the brand and the app was.
Over the last few years, we’ve slowly evolved those initial elements into the more established visual language you see now. We made more deliberate decisions about typefaces, palettes, and general art direction while remaining true to the original vision. We’ve been able to make significant, subtle improvements over the last few years.
Do you have any insight for new or growing designers?
Do the work. Don’t cut corners. Gain experience. Stay humble. Learn to talk to the people who use your product early and often. Never start on a project without a contract. Learn to write and communicate. Read lots of books. Practice. Develop a varied skill set. Set the bar high for yourself.
And surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.
What role do you think designers should play in developing business strategy?
If you work hard and operate on the understanding that design is more than art — it’s centered around a user or a client — you’ll go far.
Working this way will show your boss, founder, CEO, or client that good design has real value and can make your company real money. Once that’s been demonstrated, I think there’s a real place for design at the decision-making table.
With the right vision and leadership, business strategy is a design discipline.
How can you tell when you’ve created a good experience?
If people use your product happily and repeatedly, you’ve created a good experience. But why strive for good when you could strive for great?
How do you start a design project?
I make a point of gathering so much inspiration that I’m almost bursting at the seams, racing to my keyboard to get started on the task at hand.
What’s success in a design project look like for you?
Successful design solves a problem and makes something easier. Successful design brings something positive and beautiful into the world.