July 18, 2024

Out-of-the-Box with Outbrain’s Erika Schneider

“As design becomes a more integrated component on everyone’s lives and technology pushes it’s ever-stretching boundaries, there are amazing opportunities for hybrid and niche design fields.”

Outbrain Lead Designer, Erica Schneider

Outbrain Lead Designer, Erica Schneider


It’s hard to wonder where we will be in ten years. It’s curious to think if a young woman living in Montreal, Quebec, Canada thought the same thing when she began her stellar career in the world of design. While attending Dawson College, it’s curious to think of the die hard Montreal Canadiens hockey fan as a leading designer in New York City less than ten years later.


Erika Schneider is one of the few people who define design. Her experience ranges through web, UX, graphic, and even print. Her technical background gives credence to her incredible ability to stand out and innovate the world of design. Through her work with Outbrain, a leading marketing company, she has helped to design for some of the largest corporation in the world, ranging from news outlets like CNN, and the Washington Post; to Ziff Davis Media.


Erica’s eye for design has a deep and intrinsic capability to discern what people look at, and how they react to it. A true artist in a field of modern design, Erika has lent her time to delve into the questions on the field she helps personify.


Outbrain’s NYC HQ

What’s your opinion on the current trends?

Digital design trends are fickle creatures. Like a fashion trend, they come, they go, they come back again with a riff on the original. Some stick around, and flat design seems to have stuck, for now that is…I am not sure we could even call flat design a trend anymore, but either way it was one of the most drastic recent visual shifts in digital design which makes it pretty interesting. Whenever a digital trend appears there are both tradeoffs and benefits. Flat design grew from designers’ realization that skeumorphism, with its bevels and shadows, did not scale well across smaller devices. As a reaction to this, and perhaps with the realization that these interfaces were pretty darn garish, the design trend swung from overly styled to barely styled. The minimal elements of flat design scale much more effectively on all devices. As I mentioned there are also tradeoffs, and one important tradeoff of flat design is the difficulty in deciphering what elements on a page are clickable and which are static. On the other hand, removing unnecessary styling, pages and sites became faster to load. There are always tradeoffs with trends and design shifts, and flat design is not an exception.


Another digital trend which is pretty fascinating is the convergence ‘bots’ and conversational interfaces. I was recently introduced the app called Lark where you have a chat with a robot that helps you live a more healthy life, there is Howdy the trainable digital coworker bot that integrates with Slack, and the quartz news app which was recently released in chat format. Considering all major networks like Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter have closed, private messaging systems, there is a solid foundation for people to create their own chatbots. Additionally, these bots often reflect a specific voice, which has turned out to be very influential in the success of apps like Slack. With Facebook opening it’s messenger app last year to businesses to help facilitate communication of brands and consumers, I’m curious what might happen next. Will Apple connect with businesses and Siri start to answer our customer support issues?


Where do you see the industry’s direction going towards?

Although UX is still a burgeoning branch of digital design, according to User Testing’s ‘2015 UX Industry Survey Report’, over 60% of respondents stated their companies UX budgets were staying the same or increasing. Companies are seeing the value of integrating UX into their company fabric and of using data to inform design decisions. Moreover, the realization of the value of informed design decisions is giving design a stronger seat at the table than ever before. This in turn gives designers a new level of validation when making and proposing design decisions.


Recently I have noticed the trend of merging UX and UI roles. This one role covers all the tasks that a UX or UI person would normally do. I am seeing hybrid positions ‘product designer’ or UX/UI designer at influential companies such as product design consultancy leader Pivotal Labs. This is likely due to the invariable crossover of the responsibilities of the UX and UI silos. Some companies are struggling with which task goes to which role and their solution is to create one role, the magic unicorn that does it all.


What trends do you hope to see more of and continued to be developed upon?

Virtual reality has been made accessible to the masses thanks to NYT VR and Google cardboard. I’d like to see how Facebook (Instagram), Twitter and other social media outlets harness this technology to enhance social interactions.


Wearable technology is another really cool push towards our connection with the digital realm. I mean, it’s crazy! Our bio rhythms are measured and parsed into actionable and shareable data, we have this at our fingertips every day. My dad just discovered that his iPhone had been covertly working in the background to count ever step he’d taken over the past year! How can we push this concept further, is there a way to measure and monitor the health of seniors that is easy for them to understand or communicate to health care givers? Will there be an opportunity for widespread use given the aging population of America?

fork, splitting the bill, keeping the tab, and solving the headache

fork, splitting the bill, keeping the tab, and solving the headache- From Erika Schneider

What would you like to tell someone who is just starting,

or have a desire to start getting into design?

You are not just a graphic designer anymore. As design becomes a more integrated component on everyone’s lives and technology pushes it’s ever-stretching boundaries, there are amazing opportunities for hybrid and niche design fields. I read a fun Co.Design article a while back which listed all kinds of really cool super-niche designer/UX jobs of the future. One of the most intriguing jobs being ‘Human Organ Designer.


What one Sci-Fi technology would you want to have

right now, and what would you do with it?

Although I have a fantastic chair at work, and have the opportunity to use a standing desk, my muscles are always hard as rock, there are knots in my back and I have recently been on a tear to figure out what exactly I am doing that is such a stress on my body. As a culture most of us sit at a desk for up to 7-8 hours a day, this messes up our body! I envision a technology that would allow our wearable devices to connect with the state of specific muscles in our bodies in real-time and send us signals to relax that part of the body, feed us actionable steps to release the stress as it is happening, maybe tell us how to adjust our body position to allow for a rebalance in the moment. I am imagining this kind of incremental adjustment might help my eternal ‘I need a massage!!!’ feeling.  Our health-related wearable devices already send us valuable biofeedback, so I don’t think this is too far down the road.


Looking back on your earlier self, if you could give

yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?


Stefan Sagmeister said once, of his experience in Asia working on many different types of projects at an agency, that he learned about all the things he did not want to do. If you have the opportunity to take a job where you’ll be exposed to tons of clients and varied types of projects, even if it’s not your dream job, GO FOR IT! You may not love every part of it, but you’ll certainly be able to come away with some fantastic experience under your belt. Keep in mind that knowledge of what you don’t love is as valuable as knowledge about what you love.



You can follow Erika’s work at her at: http://erikaschneider.com/


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