A Return to Mobile

It’s now been 19 months since I joined Mozilla, and I still have “write Joining Mozilla blog post” in my To-Do list. Though it’s probably a bit late for that particular announcement, I figured this seemed like an equally good time to share a bit about what I’ll be up to in 2015.

Early Days and Australis

Let’s look back first though. From my first week in July 2013 and through 2014, I had the opportunity to work with some extremely bright, talented and inspiring individuals as a senior member of the Firefox UX team.

My initial role was as a design engineer — someone who could help build and test prototypes of the concepts that we, the design team, felt worthy of further evaluation. I spent months sketching, designing and building all sorts of cool add-ons, tools, and ideas we had to make Firefox a better browser for the user. As part of our Australis push before it’s launch last spring, I even had the chance to contribute actual code to the Firefox codebase, when I wrote the patch that introduced the little flying bookmark-star animation.

Developer Tools

During that introductory period with the desktop team, I started to get more and more involved with the design and usability of our Developer Tools. As a designer who often spends half his time writing code, I was not only familiar with the Firefox Dev Tools (as well as those from the other major browsers), but also had a good sense of what worked and what was causing me grief as a non-expert-but-definitely-not-a-beginner web developer. As a result, I spent a number of months dedicated to our incredible Dev Tools team, helping them both polish and refine our existing toolbox, as well as helping to imagine and explore ideas for the next generation of developer tools.

It was a great experience full of lots of back and forth, give and take. In order to help improve the design of their tools, I needed to better understand them, and as a result I learned more about things like Javascript garbage collection patterns and stack frames than I knew existed. We tackled aesthetic grievances like moving to SVG icons in the toolbox for sharper details on retina displays, as well as devoting time to explore bigger questions, such as the current state of browser-based performance tooling and how we could improve upon the status quo. I was thoroughly impressed by not only the knowledge these engineers had, but more so their ability (and willingness!) to teach these advanced concepts to someone like myself.


It was bittersweet when I shifted gears again, this time to an early-stage Mozilla initiative which at the time was called Loop. Project Loop (which later became Firefox Hello, and launched in Firefox 35) was Mozilla’s take on web-based communication. Our goals were lofty: account-less (with additional features enabled by a free account), plugin-free, and of course, based on web technologies such as WebRTC. When I joined, Loop was in a good state — in that it worked quite well — but it needed some design thinking to bring it to market in a way that our users would understand and appreciate. While the design process and evolution of Hello is more than enough to write a separate post about, I was thrilled to see it launch in January 2015 to a nice reception, with many writers praising it’s low barrier of entry and cross-platform functionality.


The next milestone occurred last last year, in November 2014. My first real job (after freelancing from my bedroom for a couple years) was in the mobile industry, as a Junior Designer at a startup in Toronto called Polar. Over my 3.5 years there, I learned the challenges and opportunities of mobile design and had the chance to work with some great clients, and left as their Director of Design. There is something innately satisfying in designing for a platform with such rigid constraints, like screen size or network availability, and unique affordances such as touch and gestural input. I really loved designing for mobile, and although I was absolutely thrilled to join Mozilla working on their desktop browser, a little part of me was hesitant and sad to leave that small-screened world that had been so central to my career thus far.

So, as you could imagine, I was ecstatic about an opportunity presented to me late last year to step into a role leading the design team for Firefox Mobile. I had grown such respect and admiration for the products we had in market at the time (Firefox for Android remains the top-rated browser on the platform) and jumped at the chance to be involved. Furthermore, the plans we have for 2015 include projects that excite me more than any in recent memory. As was previously announced, 2015 will be the year Firefox appears on iOS. This year will introduce continuity features across all of our platforms, such as a synced Password Manager and Reading Lists. We have ambitious goals for usage and growth on mobile, but I feel like we have the right plans and people in place.

I’ve really enjoyed the breadth of work I’ve been able to contribute and be involved with in my first year and a half at Mozilla, but I’m happy to dig my feet in and get comfy for a while. Mobile design is so much more than just wireframes and mockups: it’s how the touch interactions work, how things animate, transition and behave in highly dynamic UIs, and how the interface in general feels. It’s giving the user the right cues at the right times. These design facets are all conducive to a dynamic, prototype-driven design process, which is where I thrive and feel most at home. I hope to make this year as transparent as possible, sharing both the outcome and processes behind as much of my work as possible. I’d love to find ways to get the community involved with the design of our products. And I really hope to make the effort to write more, especially here on my blog. This, I guess, is a start.

First published January 15 2015