Amanda Morrow



Recently I sat down with Amanda Morrow, Change's lead designer, to find out how she is staying ahead of the curve in a increasingly competitive point of sale industry. Change is a flexible, easy-to-use cash register app for the iPad that helps restaurants, cafes, and bars manage their orders and payments. This is no small design task, so we sat down in their Des Moines office to find out more.

Can you describe your path to what you're doing now?

In college, I actually started out in broadcast and journalism because I wanted to do radio and TV. A few of my roommates were design majors and noticed I liked to play around with Photoshop; one of them told me to take a Photoshop class. As a result, I ended up adding design as another major. Before that, I had never really thought about design as a career.

After graduating, I got a job at the Des Moines Register working for RAGBRAI, a huge annual cycling event in Iowa. My job was to coordinate everything involved with merchandising for the ride, from design to production and even e-commerce and marketing. That was my first taste of branding.

After I left The Register, I really wanted to learn more about development and the tech side of things. I met the BitMethod guys at a few startup events and they were looking for a designer. They gave me a shot and within the first month, tasked me with designing the SmartyPig app. It was kind of intimidating. I didn't really know much about app design, but just jumped in and learned as I went. Everything I've learned from that point has contributed to Change. From the branding to user experience, it's crazy to think about how all these totally different jobs have helped me build Change.

Amanda Morrow
The more I learn about programming and development, it helps my design. It's like trying to design a car without the understanding of how the engine works.

What's the relationship between BitMethod and Change. 

BitMethod is the company I work for and our product is Change. Right now, we're fully focusing on Change, but before, we were doing client work which was mostly mobile app design and development. We always wanted to build our own product. A few years ago, our CEO was hanging out at Mars Café in Des Moines, talking to the owner. They were looking for a new point of sale, but everything was so expensive. They floated the idea of us building one for them. That's when we thought, "Hey, there is something here we could build that uses our skill set well and can really help these small businesses." So, we started working on Change and within six months turned our focus to it full-time. We've been working on Change for about two years now.

What's your design process?

I really focus on functionality and the user. What does the user want to accomplish and what are their goals? I don't like to just make things look good, I want them to be useful. Everything starts with the user and what they need to accomplish. For example, the barista wants to add items to an order, the barista wants to email a receipt, the manager wants to count the drawer. We figure out their expectations, then design solutions for that.

This approach makes my designs stronger because everything is very deliberate and purposeful. Things are cleaner and easier to use. If it doesn't have a purpose or if it confuses someone, it gets removed. That's my basic process. Space is limited on mobile devices and I actually use that to my advantage.

With our customers, we try to include them in the design process as much as we can by getting feedback throughout. We consider them part of our design team. We figure out how they think and work, then go from there. Psychology is the most interesting aspect of design: Why would someone tap this button vs. this button?

Amanda Morrow
My job didn't exist a few years ago. I want to keep finding new things that technology can bring to the table and intersect with art.

Are you the main problem solver when it comes to interacting with clients/users during the design process?

We all consider user experience part of our jobs. We get out of the office and observe our customers, watch how they use Change. We look for ways to improve and discuss everything as a team to make sure we all understand what the customer is going through.

Web design v app design.

I've never actually considered myself a web designer. I started with app design before I ever designed a website. I've only designed a handful of websites ever. Although I have been doing more with our website and teaching myself HTML and CSS. I definitely can't build an entire site on my own, but I'm getting close.

The more I learn about programming and development, the more my design process improves. It's like trying to design a car without understanding how the engine works. I try to understand how a programmer approaches a project. Understanding how the code is going to work in the background or how things are going to move around really aids with the design process.

What has been the toughest challenge in bringing Change to life?

Our biggest problem has been reaching restaurant owners. That's not really a design challenge, but it's something I've been plagued with recently. Restaurant owners are a whole different breed of people compared to tech nerds. They're super busy, very passionate, and doing a hundred different things at once. They don't sit behind a desk, so getting a minute to talk to them is very difficult. So we're finding ways to be visible, without being in their face. This industry is very community based, so referrals are important. We focus on keeping our current customers happy so they'll tell others about us.

Design-wise, our biggest challenge is flexibility and making sure we're not designing for just one type of business. We can't just make Change for coffee shops. We have to make it useful for taco joints, food trucks, fine dining, and all these different businesses without alienating any specific type. But that's a fun challenge. I like to find solutions that are flexible, but still provide structure and guidance.

Amanda Morrow
It's the possibility to do small things in a big way. It's possible to do big things here, because if you're in San Francisco or New York, you're a small fish in a big pond.

What's the plan for Change?

We have a lot of businesses using Change in Des Moines. But we also have users all over, including in the UK, Canada, and Australia. We're coming up on 300,000 transactions processed with Change. It's growing and our first version is almost feature complete. Once we finish those last few wish-list items, we can go back through and improve the software, making it even better.

What has Des Moines done for you creatively?

I was born and raised in Iowa and have been living in Des Moines for the past 10 years. What I like about Des Moines is the lack of egotism. For the most part, everyone is willing to help one another. I've always felt comfortable asking others for help and they're eager to lend a hand. I've learned a lot from people around town.

Des Moines also provides the possibility to do small things in a big way. If you're in San Francisco or New York, you're a small fish in a big pond. Your influence can be a lot larger here. I think if Change were anywhere else, we'd run out of money pretty quick. Instead we can build a business that is very community centric without the threat of having our electricity cut off.

Amanda Morrow
I enjoy teaching people things. I learned so much from teaching because you have to justify your ways of doing it. It reinforces why you're doing things.

A typical day:

I'm not a morning person. I am in the office by 9:30 a.m. The office is close to home, so that makes things easier. I check-in with everyone because a lot of my work touches different areas of the company: communications, development, marketing, and all that fun stuff. We try to have weekly meetings where we go through projects and prioritize. I'll grab lunch with a co-worker and talk through issues anyone might be having. Afternoons are spent on heavy design/project work. Most of the time, I'm out of the office by 6, but work a bit later on that night.

What's your creative sweet spot?

I struggle a lot with this because my routine changes so frequently. But I try to find time to sit down and just make something; be it writing, drawing, or designing. I've created my same office desk setup at home so after dinner I'll sit down and crank on something for 3-4 hours straight. I think it's the whole idea of getting into a place that is made especially for creating. Don't do anything but creative work in that space. It's important to find a routine spot where your brain knows you're trying to get into the creative flow.

Amanda Morrow
I'm not a morning person. I am in the office by 9.30. I'm close to home, so that makes things easier.

Do you have many more creative outlets, other than app design?

I do a lot projects for friends and family: wedding invites, flyers, business cards, and things like that. I tend to not do enough for me personally, so I want to do more of that this year. Be more selfish with my creative time.

I enjoy teaching. I've learned so much from teaching, because you have to justify the way you do things. It reinforces your processes. It also pushes me to keep learning and try new things to keep my skills sharp.

What do you want your legacy to be?

In the tech world, everything moves so fast. My job didn't exist a few years ago. I want to keep finding new things technology can bring to the table and how it will intersect with art. I don't know what that will be, but I'm always interested in designing better experiences for people. Learning more about innovations that can enhance people's everyday life. I'll always be in that realm, but who knows what that will look like in a few years.

What are you listening to right now?

Recently, it's been Leslie Hall's re-mix album. We've been playing it a lot of at the office. For my daily music, I am into garage rock: Wavves, Mind Spiders, Jay Reatard. Just stuff that's kind of noise, but not too in your face. I am not big into polished music, the noisy stuff is my calming mechanism.

Final thoughts?

Just keep making stuff. Whatever you're making, you will learn something. Try something new and learn as you go, but just make something.

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