Made in Yugoslavia
Yugoslavia. I was born in a country that no longer exists. Born to humble working class parents living in the post-communism Slovenia. I still remember how we used to drive to the promised land called Leibnitz, Austria. There my parents would buy coffee and rice in family packs. A bit more than officially allowed, of course. And between my mother’s legs we would smuggle the “extras” back home.
Then, Summer of ’91 arrived and the tanks and the 10-day war with them. There I was, an 8-year-old boy, hiding in the bunker reading my comics. After 10 days, I ran out of comics. And the war moved south.
A journalist dream trampled by design
Before I was 12, I read most of the Agatha Christie in my mom's collection and when time came to pick my high school, I picked the weirdest one. The classical gymnasium with Latin and old Greek. Mixed with French, History of Art and a whole bunch of Philosophy. So, I was on the way to becoming a famous writer or at least a badass journalist.
It made perfect sense to study Media Communication after high school. And at the age of 18 I landed my first “real” job in the hippest of places. Future Publishing. I became an editor of a games magazine working alongside the dudes crafting FHM and Maxim. A dream come true. Which never happened.
In reality, my job was to translate the whole magazine and at the end help my designers finish the layouts. Kind of boring, right? Though the good part is, I got to taste the exciting life of pushing pixels from Adobe to print. My love affair with design happened by chance, by urgency even. And so, a perfectly fine writer became an unskilled designer.
The pixel pusher gets creative
Thanks to one of the layout designers (love ya Goran!) from my magazine team, I got involved in advertising. The year was 2006 and it was The year to be in advertising. Big budgets were paying for wicked creatives and I was fortunate to work with the best in Europe.
Suddenly my affection for quirky stories came in handy, as I rose from a graphic designer to the creative director in a year, leading a team of awesome creatives - designers, writers and developers. We won several awards at advertising and creative festivals while I was more and more dragged into the muddy interactive waters.
In 2008 I joined a crazy bunch. A small team of crazily creative developers and gutsy business developers with a bold vision. To create an interactive magazine. Again, the year is 2008, there’s no iPad, and touch interfaces are still the stuff of dreams of some weird Finish dudes. And yet we did it, we called our bad boy Mamut and broke all the records in the region. We were true pioneers and our Mamut reached engagement levels prior unknown to any medium. There was no soul in the Balkan region that did not know about us. Good times indeed.
The big boys league.
After helping to launch the groundbreaking product, I wanted more. More projects and bigger challenges. Bigger is better, or so I thought back then, and there’s no-one bigger than the DDB. I freelanced as a creative director for DDB Worldwide, leading some of the most exciting digital projects in the region.
I would mostly ideate and prototype new services and products, testing them with major stakeholders and pitching to the team and clients. But there was way too much of the latter which became extremely… well, not my thing.
F*** you advertising. Back to design.
So I quit advertising and focused solely on designing experiences. You could say I was a UX designer without knowing. It was still 2008 and a one-man operation became a team sailing under the blok_blok flag.
We started working with one of the most amazing organisations, like the Challenge:Future. I helped the managing team create a story, create the brand and build a platform that latter engaged and empowered more than 40.000 of the global, unprivileged youth.
A researcher is born
The obsession with and love for people brought me to the laboratory for embedded systems at the University of Maribor & Lapland University My research focused on participatory design and integration of users in the design process. In 2013, I defended my PhD and published some scientific papers on the topic. In the four years as a researcher and teaching assistant at the University, I conducted numerous research studies and developed my own design research methodology (EPUI) to integrate people in the interaction design process. My research lead me from Bangalore to Khartoum in Sudan, Romania, Finland and the US.
A big part of my research was done in healthcare and home appliances domain. Meaning I was working with people like my parents. Or your parents. With my work, I helped companies like Bosch, Deutsche Bahn, Gorenje, Iskratel and Mayo Clinic.
It was a great experience combining my academic research with commercial projects in our UX & Design studio. Even though I quit University after defending my PhD, the researcher in me never died. As a researcher, I’m involved in several organisations. I’m the founding president of the IxDA Chapter in Slovenia, member of ACM and IEEE and a mentor to several startups. I often speak at international conferences and events and am an active member of the startup community. For fun, I organise events such as the Service Design Jams in Austria and Slovenia.
Long live UX
My research and mostly international clients took me to places like Iceland or the Kashmir mountains. Or to meet the office of Sheikh Mohammed in Dubai, or work with Google researchers and designers. As a UX guy, I worked on products for major brands like the CNN, AP, Nokia, Microsoft, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the United Nations. And, more importantly, I worked with some of the best tech startups helping them craft products that would change the world.
Most often, I was responsible for ideation, prototyping and the holistic user experience. But sometimes, like with the joint project between a Slovenian company (Mikropis) and the Mayo Clinic, I would join the team permanently as the Head of UX & Design. There, I lead a team of designers, researchers and developers to work with some of the best experts from the industry.
Let’s get entrepreneurial
Like it or not, today I spend much more time on product management than actual UX design. With each product, with each new client, I grew older. Sorry, wiser. More experienced at least. And today, my forte is ideation, product discovery and design research.
And the worst thing that can happen to any well-respected member of the design community is that you become organised, or god forbid, entrepreneurial. But… hey, I did just that.
With my dear friends, we even launched a proper, VC-backed startup in 2013. How non-designerly is that, a? We created Edgar, the toolkit and marketplace for visual storytelling. Our goal is to empower micro and small business to engage with their customers through visually appealing stories. As the chieftain and the “responsible” guy in the team, I lead us through a pivot, raised some more funds and finally helped Edgar become profitable.
After two years building Edgar, after traveling the world meeting some of the most ingenious founders and entrepreneurs, I decided to step down. Why? Simply put: I wasn’t happy. I stopped learning. All I ever wanted was to craft products that help people be happier, fuller and their better selves. Instead I became the guy spending 90% of my time on Skype, in spreadsheets and in between calls. How better could you kill the researcher and designer in me?
The ex-yugoslavian Balkan fighter in me said yes while the poetic high schooler cried a happy tear. And as I was swallowing the comics in the bunker bellow my parents house back in 1991, so I stand hungry, foolish and ready for adventures to come.