Author:Matteo Felici

February 8, 2021

Dive into Design and User Experience with Matteo Felici

004 - GAT Podcast: Force Multiplier

29 min read

004 - GAT Podcast: Force Multiplier - Michael Jelen & Matteo Felici Dive into Design and User Experience

Michael 00:00 Hi, everyone. This is Michael Jelen, and welcome to the BRG Global Applied Technology Podcast. The GAT team, as we call ourselves, [is] a globally distributed team of software engineers, data scientists, graphic designers, and industry experts who serve clients through our BRG DRIVETM analytics platform. We're helping some of the world's largest and most innovative companies and governments transform data into actionable insights.

Today, I'll be speaking with Matteo Felici from our BRG GAT team. Matteo, or Matt for short, is our creative and artistic director and the designer of the BRG DRIVE platform. As an analytical, left-brain, numbers person, I found this conversation fascinating. We talked about how, whether we realize it or not, design touches every aspect of our lives. We also hear about Matt's approach to technology user interfaces and user experiences and wrap up with a preview of our latest release, DRIVE version five. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please email us at

And with that, please join me and Matteo Felici. Hey, Matteo. How's it going?

Matteo 01:01 I'm doing very well, thanks. What about you?

Michael 01:04 Great. Where are you today?

Matteo 01:07 Today, I'm in Italy. Exactly, Rome. Where are you calling from?

Michael 01:12 I'm calling from Colorado. It's always nice to know that the GAT team is connected no matter where we are in the world.

Matteo 01:20 Yup. That's true.

Michael 01:21 Perfect. Well, I'm excited to talk about design with you today. I was wondering if first you could start off with a little introduction of who you are.

Matteo 01:28 Yeah. Sure. My name is Matteo Felici. Actually, since I moved to London, people have started to call me Matt, which I really like. So ciao, my name is Matt, and as you can hear from my strong accent, I come from Italy. Exactly from Rome.

Since 2018, I've been working for BRG as a consultant to UX/UI front-end web developer. And to be honest with you, not just because we are having this conversation, but I'm glad to work for such a good company, because I'm able to enjoy and learn every single day.

To have a better overview of who Matt is today, let's do a quick jump in the past. And actually, let me tell you a fun fact. I do remember when my life changed. I was around eight years old, and my father came back home with a light gray box. I asked, "What's that?" He said, "That's a computer." Michael, trust me, I didn't know what a bloody computer was. But as soon as I put my hands on it, I fell in love. I started to spend every single day with it, and I was trying to make things work. I remember the day when I was able to use MS-DOS to run my first floppy disk. It was an amazing feeling, trust me. And to be honest with you, while I grew up, I understood that the computers, technologies were something that I wanted in my daily life.

Moving forward, after completing high school, I took an accounting diploma. But even if it was a good achievement, that's not what I wanted to do in my life. And just because one of my great skills is creativity, what I really wanted to do was try to match creativity and technologies, computers together. Basically, I mean, don't get me wrong: Accounting is really cool and actually quite handy, but it was not my passion. That's why I decided to carry on my study. And I started at an academy, which is called Accademia delle Arti e Nuove Tecnologie, sorry, which is in Rome, which gave me the possibility to start my career, because then I became a graphic web designer and then I took a master as assistant director and web developer. And in 2011, I started my career as a freelancer.

For sure, work as a freelancer has been a cool experience. I've learned many new things, and actually, I've learned how to interact with clients. But to be honest with you, it was not something that I wanted to do. What I wanted to do was collaborate with cool people, work for a cool company, and try to work on something that made me feel happy. And that's why, in 2013, I decided to move to London. And that has been one of the great decisions which I have ever taken. Anyway, to be honest with you, I took this decision even thanks to my parents, because they pushed me to go out of Rome. And they said, "Try to see what the world could offer you.” And I really need to also thank you, London, because thanks to London, I was able to become who I am today. Of course, when I went there, my English was zero. And I started to do, I mean, works that were completely different from what I'd studied. I've been a kitchen porter. I've been a glass collector—basically, I was the guy collecting glass inside clubs while people were dancing. I've been a prep chef, and actually, I really enjoyed that.

And living in London really proved to me the sentence which, say if you really want something, stay focused and you will achieve that. And that's actually true, because even if I start, let's say, from the bottom there, as I said, thanks to my parents that always support me. However, it was noisy, very honest. There were days where I said, "What am I doing here?" But I was focused. When I moved there, my target was to be a real man. I wanted to be independent. I wanted to achieve my dreams. And every single day, I pushed myself in order to achieve that.

Michael 05:23 Wonderful. And the reason I'm so excited to talk to you about design is because today, when we use an application or even use a product, we never really think about all of the hours and the thought that went into making sure it was easy to use, that it's a minimal amount of clicks to get to what I want to get to. And I just find it fascinating, because it's so, so important, and it's something that we don't talk about so much. Could you tell me a little bit about your view of design and what design means to you?

Matteo 05:54 Sure. And I'm actually glad that you asked that. If I need to give you the actual meaning of design, I would say that design is a plan or drawing in order to show the look and function of something before it is made. And that makes lot of sense. However, I think that using this definition is a bit reductive, because when we talk about design, we should think about our actual lives. We are surrounded by objects. Literally, if you look around you, especially during this era, we have so many things around us. But how many times [do] we stop for a moment and really think about what we are using and how it works and why it works like that? Even if we speak about the microphone that we are using to record this conversation, we give for granted that as soon as we turn it on—I mean, we plug it and we turn it on—it should work. But let's think about the component of it, how it is made, the shape of it, how many people work on it in order to get the final result. And that's just an example of an object. Things start to get even more interesting and complicated and actually deep, let's say, when we speak about softwares, web applications, and all the tools that we are using every single day that are just a click away.

Michael 07:23 Wow. That's incredible. And it is so true. Every single thing around us is design. I'm absolutely going to look at every different object in my life in a different way now after hearing you say that. That's so true.

As we move into the role that you have in the team as the UX and UI designer, how do you extend your vision of design into the interface that people interact with? And maybe even start with just defining what UX and UI is. What is the difference? Because I think I even get confused sometimes.

Matteo 07:57 Yeah. Actually, that's a really interesting topic. So, talking about UX, user experience, and UI, user interface, we need to have clear first that they are two distinct disciplines. For sure, they work together, but they are different. And another mistake that people do quite often is to think that UX is equal to usability, and that's not fully true.

If we want to explain that better, let's imagine that UX is a main group, and the UI is a group inside it. When we speak about UX, we can identify seven main categories. When we work on a product, we need to create something useful, so that needs to solve a problem. We need to find something usable. Something that people can use and can use easily, something findable. When we have a product, a user needs to interact with it, he needs to find things, and he needs to find with just a click. We need to make things credible. because if you have a product that people don't trust, you will never sell that product. And also, we need to make things desirable. There are so many industries, so many firms around the world that sometimes they are doing the same thing, but it's how they are doing. So, people need to decide to use your product instead of the product of your competitor.

We need to make things accessible. As we know, there are so many different type of humans, and some of us have less capability. We need to make things accessible for everyone. And of course, we need to make things valuable. And here is where the UI come in place. Basically, the UI is the discipline that cares about the look and feel. But this doesn't mean that if you make something pretty, it's going to work. The UI is actually the moment where you should ask to yourself what the user is doing here and which information we want to give to him. And even more important is how to make things clear and easy.

If we want to do a practical example, let's imagine a page with a form. That form, if it's not clear and if you don't show exactly which information you want to collect, you will never collect anything. So the UI is the moment where, of course, you will care about to make things pretty, cool, professional or whatever, but you need to use the right element in the right place.

If we think about the process of designing something, and if we think about the UX and UI, you have got a lot of power, because basically, it's like if you are making a decision and thinking in advance. Basically, it's like if you decide where a user should click. It's like when you have a landing page or you have that call to action that you want, that the user will click, or basically, you don't want to place any call to action, and you don't want any button, any form, anything. You want the user scroll. So it's kind of, if you decide, if you guide your user in a certain direction. And that's really cool in my opinion.

Michael 11:16 Wow. That is a lot of power. And I never even think about that when I'm going through a site, but you're right. Somebody thought through exactly how I will interact and how I will click, and that really drives our experience. So it makes absolute sense for sure. When it comes to web development, since we're presenting everything through the web, both in the DRIVE platform as well as in every aspect of our life; I feel like the web is just the way we communicate and exchange information. How do you segregate the coding, and how do you mark things up? And then when do you hand it off to other teammates to continue building it? What's the relationship there?

Matteo 11:58 As a UX, UI front-end web developer and graphic web designer, I've got the possibility to work on the look and feel of the product, but also on the implementation side. Of course, only the front-end one. And the way I work is based on some fundamental principles. The first one is to understand what I'm going to work on. The brainstorming with the team is a step that is extremely important in order to understand the target of the project and what we want to do and achieve. After that, I start to make a sketch on my block note and just an initial idea of how things could be. I think taking a paper and pen is an important step. Yes, we have the possibility to replace them with a digital tool, but let's say that I'm kind of an old-school guy, and paper and pen is something that I will never leave. Only after that is the moment where I start to use a digital tool, recreating what I have on paper on my screen and creating the wireframe of the product. Let's imagine the wireframe as the skeleton of the product.

And I love to do that using Adobe XD, which is an amazing and powerful tool. And once that's done, the next step is to discuss with the team the wireframe, because basically, the wireframe is that step where you understand how things will go. Not how they will look, but as I said, it's like the skeleton of the app or the product. It depends what we are working on. And once we have done all needed fixes, is the moment to address the problem. And so I work on the layout, the look and feel of it.

What is amazing in there is that using Adobe XD, there are also similar tools like Sketch for Apple. Anyway, what is amazing is that working with these kind of tools, of course, helps you to create something that looks like a final product. But also, you have the possibility to create prototypes. And prototypes are something awesome, because they give us the possibility to have something which looks like a final product in terms of look and feel, but also in terms of functionalities without writing even a line of code. So, if we think about that, that's incredible, because we have the possibility to shape something which looks like a final product. And this really help us. Trust me, when you go to a client with a prototype of a potential final product, they will be able to understand like 99 percent of how it will be, because you don't show them just how it looks using a presentation on PowerPoint. You are showing the actual product. They can click. They can interact. Of course, you have got some limitation, but trust me, this will really help your clients to understand what you are going to deliver to them. And that's from the design perspective.

Then once everything has been approved, the implementation side starts, and I really love it. I am collaborating with my team, which is teaching me so many new things. And trust me, it's amazing. If you like to write code. The moment when I write code, it's like if I'm able to go out of this world. It's amazing. Anyway, it's also amazing because at that moment, you are able to see things that were on paper, and then on Adobe XD start to be shaped through the code. And that's a really good moment.

However, even if this is a very satisfying moment, I think that the real magic happens once the front-end is done and we pass the code to the back-end team, which trust me, they really make the magic happen. They make your product really alive. And that's something that not many people are able to understand. Not because they are stupid, but because they give for granted that that thing should work like this. But it's just because there is a great back-end team, which makes this possible. And one of the expressions that we use is to say, when everything's done, we love to say, "That's butter." I mean, it's butter. So, this means that everything works how it should.

Michael 16:29 That's right. We do say it's butter. I absolutely love it. I've had a great time designing with you, and I think the way that we approach clients is pretty different than a lot of other people, because we do do a cocreation process with the client. And it's really made possible by using Adobe XD and some of these other tools that allow you to prototype very, very rapidly.

I know with one of the clients, we've been working on lately from a concept in an idea where we sat down with a client to understand their requirements, you were able to get back a wireframe in Adobe XD within a week, which then we can sit down with the client, go through how it might look like, which really allows them to have a conversation about it. It's so difficult to talk about a product or talk about data or fields or design without seeing something in front of you, because I feel like words aren't going to be able to bridge the communication gap. It's when we look at an image or something that moves, and we're able to click and interact with, that we start to get new ideas and come up with new ways of doing things. And so of course, we'll go back and forth maybe two or three times to refine the idea. And then I love how you take that and then you give it to the team to go ahead and implement that. It's really excellent. I love how quickly we're able to do things.

And it's really opened up a lot of opportunities because clients, I think—every different situation that we come into with a client requires a different solution. And that means that we should design a solution specifically for them that's tailored and bespoke to their needs. And that is only possible with this fast, iterative approach that you're able to make happen.

Matteo 18:10 I totally agree with you.

Michael 18:13 And the team that we have, it's really excellent to see everybody kind of play their different roles and put in their different skills. And I'm always impressed that that happens across many, many different time zones and across the world. Can you talk a little bit about how it is working with a team that is really, really spread out? I think I've only met you face to face one time, I think, when we were in London together.

Matteo 18:37 That's true, actually.

Michael 18:39 And yet it doesn't feel like that, since we're on video chat all the time, and I see you all the time. But how is it integrating and communicating with a team that's spread out all over the place? And has COVID-19 changed the way that we work at all, or do you have any insight into how that's changing the industry?

Matteo 18:56 Actually, working remotely has been something that I always wished I could do. And since I started to work for BRG, that's become possible. And I'm really grateful for that, because working from home for me was kind of a target which BRG helped me to achieve.

To be honest with you, I don't think that COVID-19 affected the GAT team. We are still working as we were doing before. It's kind of as if we were prepared, and we actually are prepared for a situation like that, because we are doing this every single day, and we are able to, as you said, we are talking every day. We have video calls. We chat. We work. We have also our way to have fun all together, and this makes distance much shorter. I also think that for people like us, most of the people of our team like technical people, working from home is something that we love. And personally talking, when I'm in my home office, I love my desk, how I arrange it—my set up—I love it. And it's like my Zen. When I'm here designing something or writing code, it's like if I'm in another world. And I love that because if I want a music, I can put music. If I don't want music, I will not have music. If I need to stand up, stretch a bit, this is my world, and I love that. And if I will compare my previous work experience, where I have to stay in the office, and my experience at BRG, I can honestly say that my productivity has increased like one hundred times. I say that this is my personal experience. I know that for each person it's different, but working remotely is something that I really think is very helpful for me.

Of course, I do believe that not everyone can or wants to work from home, because even when I speak with my friend, sometimes they say, "Matt, how you can do that? You are always home." I'm not always at home. Now that COVID-19 is going on, of course, we have to stay home. But working remotely doesn't mean that you need to stay always at home. Actually, you need to learn how to work from home. I do understand people that say, "I need to go to the office to see my colleague." I do respect and I do understand that. However, for all these people that want to start to work from home, or they are just at the beginning of this experience, my recommendation, my advice is don't close yourself at home. Just because you work from home doesn't mean that you need to stay always at home. Stay active. Go to the gym. Go for a walk. Go and have an ice cream with your friend, an aperitivo. Try to find the good balance of working from home, of course, but also still living your life.

And actually, talking about COVID-19, I think COVID-19 is teaching us something really important. We live in an era where working from home, working remotely doesn't need to be always from home. But working remotely is fully possible. We have the technologies to do that. And right now some people are struggling with that, but in terms of business, many companies understood the benefit of having their employees working remotely, and of course, when that's possible. But if we want to just check what's going on around the world, we can notice that the amount of pollution is much, much less. The amount of car accident is much, much less. And also the stress of people. Because I remember when I was in London, just to reach my office, I needed to stay on the train one hour enough just to go there and also one hour enough to go back home. And I think that's a big waste of time. So, when possible, work from home is a really good benefit. I know it's strange to say that, because COVID-19 is—what's going on right now is very, very sad. But we should always try to see the positive side of what's going on in our life. We need to understand that COVID-19 will change the way how we live. And I think that's something that we will remember forever.

Michael 23:34 Those are all extremely important things to remember. And we've seen exactly that during coronavirus. We've seen a huge reduction in overall pollution. We've seen a reduction in car accidents. And I think a lot of people are starting to really like working from home. It is becoming a popular thing that took a little bit of getting used to at the beginning because it is different, but there are a lot of benefits as you've mentioned.

I was wondering if we could actually spend a couple minutes talking about the DRIVE version five, the latest version that's going to be released, because it is very, very different, look and feel, from previously.

Matteo 24:12 Yeah. That's true. DRIVE V5 is going to be completely different from what we had before, and I'm glad to be part of this project. And actually, I've got the pleasure and the responsibility to lead the design of the platform, collaborating with the whole team daily. And just to do a step back, that's the proof of how COVID-19 didn't affect the way how we work. And people say, "Do what you love, because you will do it right." And actually, we are doing what we love, and we are doing things right. So yes. DRIVE V5 is going to be completely different. It's a project that involves everyone in the GAT team, and it's a pleasure to work on it. Shall I speak about the process how are we building it?

Michael 25:01 Yeah. For that platform, how did you approach it from scratch? Did you start with a very blank sheet of paper and design a brand-new way of interacting with the platform? Because I know that we had a previous version before you joined the team, and it's very, very different in the new version five. So, can you just walk me through kind of the process that you go through when you have to approach a new project, specifically, DRIVE V5, and maybe talk about some of the decisions that you made along the way?

Matteo 25:33 Absolutely. So, talking about my personal approach to a new project can be divided in two different ways. If I start to work on a product that doesn't exist at all, the first thing first, the step that you cannot miss, is to have a brainstorming with your teammates. That's a key point, because during that conversation, you will be able to define the guidelines that will actually guide you from the beginning of the project up to the final product. And it's very important, because during that conversation, you will be able to understand the market where you are going to launch your product. You will be able to find out who are your competitors, how they deal with it. And also, you will be able to define the target of people that you want to reach. Also, it's very important because during that conversation, you will be able to define the main functionalities that you want to implement inside your product. And also, of course, this help us to understand which kind of style and design we want to use for that product. That's my approach for a completely new product.

Instead, if we are going to speak about an existing product, the way how I proceed is slightly different. Of course, we still have the main step, so the brainstorming. But in this case instead, to define guidelines, we are actually going to consider what we had. This is more like checking what we had, trying to understand what was working well and what was not working so well.

And one of the main things here is to consider the client's feedback, because at the end of the day, it is our clients using our product. We need to think with the client's mind, not with our mind.

Working on DRIVE V5 has been a mix of both approaches, because basically, we took what we had, DRIVE V4, and we started studying it, trying to understand our weakness. When we are talking about DRIVE V5, we need to think about it as a completely new product. We start from scratch. We spend time to understand which technologies we want to use. We are spending plenty of time about how we want to make it looks like.

UX and UI are two concepts that we are very caring about for this platform, because when clients will use it, they need to solve their problems. As we know, they want to solve problems yesterday. And what we need to keep in mind is that we are working with data, plenty of data. If we don't present it in a certain way, clients might get confused, and we don't want that, because we might lose a client. When we are talking about DRIVE V5, we are talking about a platform that is easy to use and that will solve your problems.

Michael 28:26 That's really neat, and I know you're also in the process of designing a static website for us that'll just have information about the DRIVE platform, perhaps little bios about the team members that are behind it. Can you discuss that, especially some of the decisions about whether we should be wearing a suit and a tie or whether we should be wearing a t-shirt? How do you think about the style or the message that you want to send with the site that you're designing right now?

Matteo 28:58 Sure. But sorry about that. I won't reveal too much, because as you said, we are still in the process of designing and building it. However, just to give you a little bit more information about our official GAT website, I can say that we are going to use a minimal style which will give us a professional and fresh look. However, the main target is to make people that will come to our website or a potential client able to find a solution to the problem. And how are we going to do that? Basically, we just need to make our work speak for us and to show them the way how we work and ensure that they will be able to find the solution that they were looking for.

Michael 29:42 Perfect. And maybe by the time that this is out, the website might be up so people can go check it out, of course, at

Matteo, this has been amazing. It's been great speaking to you and learning about design. I was wondering. Where can people find out more about you, or are you on Twitter? How can they look you up?

Matteo 30:05 Well, that's a nice question. To be honest with you, I'm not a big fan of social media, unfortunately. Actually, I should say fortunately, I don't use them. I did have Facebook, and I deleted it in 2013, the same year when I moved to London, because I think that using social media for personal life is a big waste of time, and I think they are against our privacy. Also, what I think about social media is that they have affected peoples’ lives in a very bad way. I know that some people might say, "Hey, Matt. It depends how you use them." In some cases, that might be true, but I really don't like social media. I'm sorry about that, guys.

What I also think on the other side is that social media starts to be helpful when you have got a business. So, in that case, I might see the point to use them. Otherwise, sorry, but not a big fan of social media. I could speak for hours about this topic, but these topics also make me less nice, let's say. I think we could leave it for another conversation.

However, the only platform which I'm using is LinkedIn, which I think is quite helpful. And feel free to check it out, searching for Matteo Felici which is spelled M-A-T-T-E-O F-E-L-I-C-I. [laughter]

Michael 31:31 It's good. Keep some things private. Absolutely. Is there any overarching comment or any message that you want to leave everybody with that they can take away from this conversation?

Matteo 31:46 Actually, thank you for asking that. What I like to think is that each person, each human in the world is a designer. Because if we think about what we said at the beginning, design is based on taking decision and thinking in advance. If we think about each human in the world and about their life, they shape their life, taking decision and thinking in advance. What I like to think is that everyone in the world somehow is a designer.

Michael 32:20 Wow. What a perfect place to finish. That's so true, and yet something I'd never considered. I need to spend much more time being deliberate about the things I create, because that design impacts the reader, listener, or end user. Well, thank you so much, Matt. This has been incredible. I've always viewed elegant design as magic, but this conversation has helped me understand your approach and process to create beautiful, easy-to-use technology. Thank you again. Have a great rest of your day, and arrivederci.

Matteo 32:51 Thank you very much, Michael. It has been a pleasure. Arrivederci.

Michael 32:54 The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the participants and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, position, or policy of Berkeley Research Group or its other employees and affiliates.

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