In his two and a half years at Fitbit, Jonah Becker has helped the company outrun (pun!) industry giant Apple. As VP of Design, he oversees UX and industrial design teams for Fitbit's line of health-tracking wearables. Before that, Becker spent 15 years running design studio One & Co., which HTC bought in 2013. We asked him how he works.
Location: San Francisco
Current Gig: VP of Design, Fitbit
One word that best describes how you work: Relate
Current mobile device: I'm trying to decide what phone to get next right now! I'm currently switching between a couple HTC phones and a Nextbit Robin (my friend/former business partner, Scott Croyle, was head of design there).
Current computer: MacBook Pro 13"
First of all, tell me a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
My mum is a graphic designer and has been on faculty at CCA in San Francisco since I was very young, so I was exposed to all the design disciplines. Her home studio gave me lots of opportunity to play with all sorts of design tools, and I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a designer.
Prior to getting a degree in Industrial Design from CCA, I went to UC Berkeley to get a broader liberal arts degree (in Philosophy) and play on the tennis team. I spent a good part of my career building One & Co., a San Francisco design agency that worked with brands ranging from Nike and Adidas to Microsoft and Amazon. My partners and I eventually sold our business to HTC to build a design team that would help drive the company's pivot to a consumer-facing brand (and launch the world's first Android phone).
In 2015 I left HTC to join Fitbit, where I've had the great opportunity to combine my professional experience in technology and sports industries with my personal passion for health and fitness. I lead the Industrial Design, UX and UX Research teams in creating product experiences that help everyone in the world be healthier. I can't imagine a better way to spend my time!
What apps, software or tools can't you live without?
Though it may date me, I can't live without a pen, whether on paper or a whiteboard. For a designer, thinking and visualising happen simultaneously, and over the years I've expanded that skill from sketching specific designs to visually thinking through design strategies, team structures and many other challenges.
What's your workspace setup like?
I'm rarely at my desk these days, so it's a pretty basic arrangement. I have a height-adjustable desk with a monitor that I rarely bother to use and a storage cabinet where I keep some personal items (that is, a gym bag for lunchtime workouts… it is Fitbit of course!).
The rest of the design studio is where "real" work happens. We have dedicated spaces where each program lives from early research/sketch phases all the way through production, a CMF (Colour/Material/Finish) lab, and a workshop with all the fun prototyping tools. Much of my time is spent reviewing work with my team in the project rooms. Or in meetings of course.
What's your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
Biking to work! It means I get at least 40 minutes of exercise every day, and it's much faster and less stressful than driving or public transportation.
What's your favourite to-do list manager?
I use Google Keep on my phone for all things professional and personal. I use it for everything ranging from topics to cover in my 1:1 meetings with James (Fitbit's CEO) to gift ideas for my wife and kids. That said, all the ideas that strike at bedtime go in a notebook first because my bed is a phone-free space, and my Fitbit takes care of all my sleep tracking and alarms.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What's your secret?
I'm good at finding simplicity in the noise, whether it's reducing to the core visual elements in a design to make it feel effortless or defining an effective process for a complex organisation.
What do you listen to while you work?
I definitely prefer silence when my work requires strategic thinking. I like background music in the design studio, and I definitely like having some music when I'm in a sketch-storm with designers on my team.
What are you currently reading? Or what's something you'd recommend?
I bounce back and forth between reading for fun and reading for personal growth. Within the former category I just finished The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen and Trevor Noah's Born a Crime. Though very different books, they provide a perspective on the Vietnam War and apartheid, respectively, that are fresh for someone raised in the US.
On the personal growth side, I recommend Work With Me by Barbara Annis and John Grey. The authors explore gender differences in the office environment, the physiological and social causes, and strategies to incorporate these differences. It's given me a new perspective at work, not to mention on the home front where I'm the lone male with my wife and two daughters.
How do you recharge? What do you do when you want to forget about work?
Time with family comes first. In terms of hobbies, playing guitar provides me an immediate relaxing and immersive experience. Running, cycling and callisthenics are also critical for me in both a physical and meditative way. I also race cyclocross and do some trail running races. I've got a competitive streak that started early on.
What's your favourite side project?
I'm working on slap guitar techniques at the moment to get a funk bass feel with a guitar.
What's your sleep routine like? Are you a night owl or early riser?
I'm naturally more of a night owl, but with a daughter who starts school at 7:50AM and needing to make her breakfast, pack school lunch, and get in an occasional workout, I've become an early riser.
Whom would you like to see answer these questions?
What's the best advice you've ever received?
On a personal level, I asked my uncle for parenting advice when my first daughter was born, and his insight was to appreciate your children for who they are, not who you want them to be. Spot on.
From a professional standpoint, early in my days as a partner of One & Co., a more experienced principal at another agency advised to start behaving like the business you want to become. It forces you to identify your focus and stretch beyond your comfort zone.
We've asked heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? Let us know.