Meet Design Manager Daniel Fridgren

We sit down with our designer-in-chief to hear about his work experience, his path to Refined, and his mission to get us all thinking more like designers.

Questions about interactive design and UX? Ask Daniel Fridgren, Refined’s design manager and former member of the team that imagined the first-ever Android phone, the Google G1. Beyond Google, he’s helped to shape the mobile user experience for a number of high-profile tech brands, and today lays claim to a two-decade career at the crossroads of functionality and design. 

“I was a computer nerd in early age and also had some kind of creative vein in me, so interaction design has been a very natural fit,” Daniel explains. “There’s this back and forth between what works from a design perspective and what’s technically feasible, and I’ve often found myself in a role that tries to marry the two.”

After graduating from Malmö University in 2006, Daniel honed his skills through different roles including the year and a half he spent in California working for The Astonishing Tribe (TAT), where he led interaction design for the UX team designing the Google G1.

“It was a funky device with so many interaction patterns, so it was very tricky to get it right,” he recalls. “But it was such an interesting learning experience to be there.” Daniel’s also had a hand in creating design concepts for Sony Ericsson handsets and tablets, helping shape the UI platform for BlackBerry 10 and serving as a lead UX designer for BlackBerry. In choosing jobs that are compelling, the—his words—computer nerd who is also drawn to psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy, focuses on finding companies with great culture that embrace the importance of great design. 

No wonder he’s been a perfect fit for Refined. We sat down with Daniel to chat about his history, design thinking, and how he hopes to move the Refined brand forward.

Refined: How did you end up working at Refined?

I first met Emil [Refined’s CEO and Co-Founder] at MINC [a co-working space] in Malmö. Refined was based there in its very early days, and so was the company I was working for, ColorMonkey. Emil reached out 10 years later and asked me, “How would you build up a design team?” When we met up to discuss, I really didn't think about getting a job at Refined; I was just helping him. I came into that meeting with that mindset and apparently, I said all the right things and Emil felt I would be a good fit as the Design Manager.

I liked that the company had grown organically and that the product had a market fit, and people were already using it; we didn’t have to market it to sell it. I felt Emil and Jimmy [Co-Founder] had created a culture that was very open and was somewhere that I could fit in. It suited me very well and it still does.

Refined: What would you say was your mandate coming here? What is that you wanted to accomplish?

Daniel: Early on, I felt like I wanted the design team to be more integrated than we were. I also felt like we should come in earlier in the process. I was attempting to integrate at least the product design part a lot more.

"I think designers can be good disruptors because we’re not just looking to make havoc—we actually take responsibility for the end result."
Refined: And how did that go?

Daniel: Together with [UX Designer] Matilda, it played out really well. We started to run design experiments. We started to get her in earlier on in the process. 

Refined: What approach do you take as Design Manager at Refined?

Daniel: I've been fairly hands-off during my time at Refined. I don’t do any design work myself. I've been trying to get processes running, and get people to feel happy about their contributions, to feel that they get to do what they want, and that what they do is in line with what the company needs. If you look at it from a relational point of view, I guess, you want to marry the two because then you get a good outcome and people are happy.

Refined: How would you describe the culture here? 

Daniel: Refined is an engineering-focused company at its core. It has been gradually moving from there, but we're still quite heavily driven by this engineering focus. The challenge that we have is that we need to balance that with a design mindset. Design thinking is something I would like to have proliferate more throughout the company.

One thing I really like about Refined is that there are a lot of smart people here, but there is still this air of humbleness and no real room for elitism.

The culture we have creates a safe environment that encourages learning by trying (and sometimes failing) to approach new ways of working, or taking leaps within product design.

Refined: You said you want design thinking to proliferate more across the company. How can we accomplish that?

Daniel: My goal, what I would love, is that we could do things like design sprints without actually having the design team leading these. Then, non-designers also would have the tools to zoom out from the everyday and do exercises that are a bit disruptive in order to challenge the status quo.

I think designers can be good disruptors because we’re not just looking to make havoc—we actually take responsibility for the end result. I think that mix of old and new is awesome because you naturally get this balance, or tension between, “Okay, we need to do something completely new, but we have this existing thing that still has a lot of value.”

Refined: Do you see any new opportunities concerning Refined’s brand and visual identity?

Daniel: We have our brand, it's quite settled, and it's distinguished quite well from other similar products. But we have this tension, as many companies do, between maintaining the brand and developing the brand.

I see brands almost as organisms, with a strong foundational identity but with the ability to adapt to changing surroundings over time. It’s not ideal when a brand becomes stale and non-moving; it can become that way after a few years. We are right now at the early stages of this brand refresh, which will take into account, how do we balance the old, and what do we keep and what do we develop?

Refined: What do you like about living and working in Malmö?

I really like the closeness. I can bike to work—and the ride is by the sea—and that's number one. I love that. It's both convenient and pleasant to be so close to the sea.

In Malmö, I like the mixture of a lot of different people. That can come with issues, of course, like clashes between different cultures and so on, but I really think it's enriching in the long end. Even just one small thing that is the outcome of all those different cultures is that you have so many different food options during lunchtime!

And when you’re not working or designing, what do you do?

I love to play instruments. The piano has been my go-to place for getting into this free, creative zone since way back. I also recently bought a cajon (sort of a drum kit in a box), which is super approachable even for my kids.

Curious by nature, I tend to dwell on different topics now and then too. Most recently macro economics because that has been a gap in my understanding of the world.

I learned to swim the crawl about 10 years ago after a knee injury. I really like swimming as an exercise form and I always have the wetsuit ready to go out on the open sea.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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