Martin Rariga, Founding Product Designer at Equals


Can you tell me about your background as a designer?

My formal background in design comes from architecture school. Even though architecture and product design may seem different in many ways, I still use lot of underlying principles that I learned studying architecture to design digital products.

My design career started over 10 years ago with traditional freelancing for all sorts of clients and industries. Then I moved into a couple of roles designing a marketing platform for Hollywood studios at Operam, a SaaS analytics tool at Baremetrics and a project management tool for architecture studios at Monograph, before joining Equals as a founding designer a year ago.

How would you describe your relationship to visual design?

I try to keep that relationship as close as possible. I always considered all parts of the design, the visual side, functionality or the interaction details all equally important. That’s why I never spend too much time on the low-fi or detailed wireframing. Something that works on paper or rough sketch might look like an absolute trash in reality so I think it’s important to start designing with real elements as soon as you can. I always just work my way through iterations until I’m happy with both how the thing feels to use and if it’s a pleasant experience both functionally and visually.

How many iterations does a design need before it’s good enough, as a rough estimate?

That’s really tricky to estimate. It depends on so many things. Even for us at Equals I might do a quick design that’s finished on a first take. But then we do 10 iterations on some novel feature. It can really vary a lot depending on the size of the project, maturity of product and design and of course your personal benchmark for what a good design looks like.

I’m a fan of the Monograph and Equals websites. What can you tell me about the company culture required to produce them?

Thanks, we really appreciate it! I think what both of these companies have in common is that design is built right into the leadership and it’s something absolutely natural to the company. Ben, our co-founder and CPO at Equals holds a very high standard for a great design and always keeps that up, whether it’s just a simple feature or our whole brand.

Secondly I think it’s great to have strong opinions and not be afraid to step outside the current trends in brand and visual design. Ben formulated our vision and inspiration for the brand (summarized in this article) and we worked with SuperKeen studio to develop the visual identity based on that which turned out really well.

How does Ben’s high standard for great design show itself?

I think it shows in a few important ways. One is the overall approach to the design phase, where we have generous time to iterate and come up with the best possible solution. Design is one of our key differentiators, and the experience is often mentioned by our customers as something they love about Equals. None of that would be possible if design wouldn’t have a strong seat at the table.

The importance of the design also shows in the day-to-day work. We have daily design syncs with Ben and it’s always great to be challenged when going through the designs in detail.

And lastly it’s the care for the actual product. One thing is the Figma prototypes, but what really matters is the product. Ben always takes time to review things in production and encourages me to have a strong ownership of the things we design and ship.

What sort of design principles affect a spreadsheet application that might not apply to something simpler?

Honestly, being in this field for a decade I don’t think there is such a thing as simple apps or features. Take even straightforward things like adding a user avatar to the app. What shape will it have? Is there a required ratio for the image? Minimum size? Can you drag & drop it to upload? Crop it after uploading? Remove it? What’s the copy of the error message when the upload fails? What’s the fallback visual? Is it a head icon? Initials with a color background? What’s the list of the colors? And so on.

But thinking specifically about design principles, I think the difference might be in the existence of references. For a lot of design challenges you can think of a similar experience that already exists somewhere else. The difference with complex, innovative apps is there’s not a natural benchmark to your solution and you have to do more research, thinking and interation to really land on the ideal experience.

How do you approach the visual design for something like a spreadsheet app?

Spreadsheets have been here for over 30 years but our goal at Equals is to make it look like and work for the 21st century. That inspires the visual design of the app. We’re balancing between keeping things “traditional” in a way that feels familiar to all the people coming from Excel and Sheets, but adding lot of innovative features on top. From the beginning we wanted to keep the visual design very light and simple to let user focus on the most important part – working with their data. We wanted to stay away from overwhelming them and make them feel superpowered when creating analysis or reports in Equals.

Is there anything you’d like to say about visual design that we haven’t covered?

I think my last piece of advice would be to always try to keep things simple, from the initial approach to tiny details. Instead of adding just another typography style try working with what you already have and focus on space or color to create the hierarchy. Instead of adding a new button type try being more intentional about using existing ones. Focus on the user, be consistent, curious and just do it all over and over!