Sweden 🇸🇪 and Colorado, USA 🇺🇸

Matt Stenquist

Principal Designer

Hi, I’m Matt! I’m a Product Designer, UX Engineer, Co-Founder and Mobile Game Developer. I transitioned into UX/UI Design following an Olympic Qualifier snowboarding accident.
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You have such a cool story to share about your Olympic sport and history there. Can you share what happened, and what you've learned from this experience?

Sure, I grew up in a family of skiers and mountaineers. Kilimanjaro, Denali, K2, were the topic of discussion over dinners as a child instead of more normal topics. Instead, my dad would talk about how he would summit some random peaks and just sled down it on a garbage bag and ice-axe to slow his descent.

We grew up moving around a lot. From living in Saudi Arabia, to spending time in Thailand, Montana, Wyoming, to Switzerland. And at a young age, I wanted to stand sideways because that looked way cooler to me when I was six or seven years of age. Eventually, I got so good at standing sideways and seeing the world from that perspective that at 13, I was enrolled into a special boarding school in Lake Tahoe that specialized in allowing students to primarily focus on snowboarding during half the day. We did classes in the morning and riding after lunch until 10pm some evenings, as Squaw Valley had night skiing in their terrain park. It was a snowboard academy that bred world-class snowboard talent and a dream to be able to experience that kind of upbringing.

From there, I then went to a boarding school in Switzerland and honed my craft of snowboarding in Leysin, a tiny village just outside of Geneva. Eventually, I got noticed by a recruiter and went to the WSA Olympic School in Park City, Utah to focus only on snowboarding and to participate and do TTR / FIS level snowboard events by the time I was sixteen.

By the time seventeen hit, I had already traveled half the globe chasing contests, dropped out of High School to snowboard full time, to film and take photos, and so on, having the opportunity to be able to visit New Zealand, Japan, China, Austria, Canada, and more. I have to acknowledge that I had a very privileged upbringing and had the opportunity to do unimaginable things from a relatively young age to my mid-twenties, which has given me, I'd say, an unorthodox perspective when it comes to a lot of things. It fostered and cultivated independence that's hard to come by naturally, and I have to acknowledge that being able to experience that kind of life, I have to remain grounded to my roots.

By the time I was 25, I had already lived in seven countries, eight cities, and more. From Los Angeles, Tokyo, to London, to Amsterdam and anything in between. There hasn't been a corner of the globe I haven't at least been in proximity of.

However, at the end of 2019 I sustained a traumatic brain injury and an incomplete spinal cord injury that left me with paralysis from the waist down while preparing for an upcoming contest season while in Corvatsch, near Italy. I fell about 8-12m, over the distance of 30m, broke six ribs, tore my liver open, and punctured my lung, broke all my teeth on my right side of my face, and sustained a brain injury where my left eye no longer could move or track objects from the sheer force of hitting the ground.

I was ranked the 4th best snowboarder competitor in the FWQ series for the upcoming contest season for the Freeride World Tour Qualifers, and so that was a massive blow to my self-esteem after getting injured because I was finally getting my career back after taking a bit of a hiatus from snowboarding due to University obligations, spending a year rehabbing from two knee ops, having my right arm cut in half and shortened (ulnar shortening osteotomy), and breaking my left hip from a contest in Verbier, Switzerland two years prior.

I spent over a hundred days in the hospital relearning quite literally the basics of life. From dressing, to learning how to eat and swallow, to reading, to so much more. Looking back, it was a humbling experience to see the testament of how strong the human spirit is and the will power that is pulled out of you unwillingly in order to survive.

That's how I found out about Memorisely. I felt that my UI/UX skills were starting to rust and I enrolled in Zander's bootcamp to stay up to date with the latest tools. At night, I couldn't sleep due to the trauma that I sustained mentally and would drown myself in Call of Duty. I'd call my ex's house in the night crying myself to sleep just having a soothing voice to calm me. I was numb a lot of the time but at some point decided I needed to not use that as a coping mechanism and force myself to keep moving forward in a positive direction.

Since then, I've learned a great deal from this injury and process that would be too long to put into words let alone articulate in a manner that would be digestible to understand due to sheer nature of the experience I had to endure (or anyone for that matter who survives a TBI/SCI).

Where are you based as a UX/UI designer?

I used to live outside of Amsterdam in a tiny town called Breda in The Netherlands; and in the winters I would spend my winter months living in Japan. Now I live just outside of Boulder, Colorado after my accident rehabilitating my broken body. I'm also between Chicago, Illinois participating in a clinical trial using a new orthotic device to get back to walking with a normal gait pattern flying back and forth between Colorado, and Illinois.

What led you into UX/UI design?

Video games! First and foremost. Then web development chasing that curiosity as a child that drives any child by clicking around on a myriad of websites. From, Geocites, to Freewebs, and so on. I was the type of kid that spent way too much time playing Roller Coaster Tycoon, Black Hawk Down, and any game that caught my interest.

Then, I got into coding when I was nine years old. Mostly,  because I was addicted to Battlezone and had that inquisitive drive to want to learn how things like games worked. There's an old pic of me coding on a Sony VAIO that my father took a photo of that is somewhere on an old Flickr account with my cat Leo sitting on top of the bulky monitor. By fifteen, I started developing my own video games using Flash and coding ActionScript 3 and putting them online on NewGrounds, Miniclip, and Kongregate.

Later, in my teen years when I wasn't snowboarding, I spent my time playing loads of video games after finishing my class work at night. And when you've spent most of your teens in boarding school living without parental supervision, you spend a lot of late nights browsing the web, gaming, or getting up to some mischief with your roommates and growing up quickly.

In hindsight, what really led me down into UX/UI design was Country Strike Condition Zero, followed by Counter Strike Source. This eventually led me into wanting to learn the ins and outs of web development. To have my own corner on the web for the clan I created in the games that I was absolutely absorbed into. So when I wasn't gaming, I was spending time on "our" website's forum and website talking about the game. I guess you could call it an unhealthy — healthy addiction because it taught me a ton of skills at an early age.

But that wasn't UX/UI design to me. To me, this was just me making cool things. Tracing my phone on a piece of paper to get the outline of the phone and then coming up with concepts left and right.

I later then got into UX/UI design officially by the time I was 18 as a contract worker working for Zynga and Alligator Games designing mobile app concepts when someone noticed my Dribbble portfolio in 2012 while I was in Film School in Los Angeles studying animation and games.

By the time I got into University I focused on computer science, and programming with an emphasis on gameplay programming and system design for games (virtual economics, UX research, and user interface design and UI programming).

My graduation thesis focused on the umbrella of UX research for mobile games, and F2P (Free to Play) virtual economic design, and F2P mechanics:  Gacha mechanics, loot box rewarding, ad mediation, and data science for KPI's, and OKR's in mobile games. Lastly, it involved the entire side of developing mobile games going through the entire development process and pipeline as a solo independent game developer at the professional level that a studio would be involved with utilizing AAA game industry development methodologies.

I then did UI/UX in collaboration with Ubisoft Paris on a virtual reality title using Assassin's Creed, and IBM Italy through MixedBag games as a requirement to graduate University by getting work experience. I did the UX/UI for MixedBag's mobile app that utilized IBM Watson to create a game that leveraged Watson's ability to read your response and reply back to you in an intelligent manner.

My University gave me a lot of leeway as a professional athlete to kind of do my own thing which enabled me to focus on two passions that I held dear to my heart.

So, to end my long winded answer of what led me into UX/UI design, I just kind of naturally fell into this path by doing what I loved, and that was just having the intrinsic motivation for making something cool. I didn't even see UX/UI as a career because I just enjoyed what I was doing that involved software engineering and UX/UI.

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Why are you a UX/UI designer?

When, it comes to UI/UX I'm absolutely in love and enthralled with this ever evolving field because it's the sum culmination of graphic design, software development, research, and data science. Art mixed with science.

As cliche as the saying goes — "The creative adult is the child who survived".

I suppose that mantra rings true to my character, and identity. A bit cliche to admit but I'm still a child at heart. I love solving problems, and in the field of UX and UI, there's a wealth and breadth of problems to solve on a daily basis.

You can work in games, tech, finance, science, and more! How cool is that? And to be involved in it in any capacity or form to me is why it's carved a special place in my heart.

Secondly, it's an important field to be involved in because it affects a products outcome, can improve a teams cohesion, and can really evolve and take a company to new heights. It allows you to experiment and be creative which is hard to find working in other industries and you have the potential to be apart of something bigger than yourself.

UX/UI is an ever evolving field that constantly changes and will continue to do so for many many years to come until Skynet and AI get to the level of replacing of the creative work force. But by that point we will have other things to focus on and worry about. Whether, currently it be the toolset, the way social anthropology in relation to tech is influencing our behavior, or to the way humans computer interaction is changing makes for being a UI/UX person something exciting to be apart of because we are in the golden age of technology and in ten to twenty years from now the world will look like a completely different place and the way we will interact with products will change and I want to be apart of that movement; or to some degree at least be along for the ride.

How did you go about co-founding Talk?

It all starts with buying a beef jerky stick from a vending machine and being in the right place at the right time I guess.

In 2015 I bought a beef jerky stick from a vending machine which is quite literally called "Beefi" while on the train platform that leads up to Zermatt. I overheard two English speaking fellas debating whether or not they were on the right train platform. Living in Switzerland, and competing I was familiar where we were. Visp is a station three hours from Geneva that leads up to either Zermatt, or Saas-Fee and the next stop is Brig and then you're in Italyso if you don't catch the right train you can end up in a whole new country.

After striking up a short conversation with helping them tell them that the train will arrive in about an hour or so after hearing their English accents and confusion we got to small talk about what I do and why I'm there alone and I just said I was here to get some pre-season turns in before competition season. Fast forward to the train ride up to Zermatt I was invited to dinner with them eating fondue with a bunch of techies to skiing with them the next day followed by partying at night with them in a crowded overpriced club.  Henrik made the unfortunate mistake of getting stuck on the Italian side that day as they close the lifts back to the Swiss side around 2pm but kept texting us photos of his misfortune and from there we just stayed in touch on social media.

Fast forward four years or so I get a call from Henrik while I'm in Japan and he was looking for a UI/UX designer to help him design and overhaul a concept he had just started building himself called Yango. Essentially, he was looking for a founding designer to join his team, and I jumped at the opportunity to do just that as I was snowboarding professionally part time and looking to expand my horizons. Albeit, I was currently living in Japan at the time doing the Freeride World Tour for snowboard contests and filming for my sponsors. So, I would spend my days snowboarding the famed Japow then at night mocking up UI/UX concepts for Henrik working remotely from the other side of the globe.

After working with Henrik on Talk for about two years and coming back after six months of being hospitalized, he asked me if I wanted to become a Co-Founder / partner of the company as I was taking on a lot more responsibility by onboarding new-hires, drafting up the company handbook, and working with a variety of stakeholders wearing multiple hats at the time showing the initiative that I wanted to be more involved than just as a designer and deal more with the BizDev related stuff. I would work nights from my hospital bed to working from home while rehabbing after I got discharged quite literally building a product from bed as I was still injured and couldn't sit at a desk for more than 30 minutes at a time to scaling and growing talk to 12 full-time people.

Since, then we've had explosive growth being part of an accelerator at Hetch Sweden and part of the Amazon startups program, to having been invited to pitch to some of the largest venture capital firms for meetings to signing with institutional firms — so things are moving at a million miles a minute and I'm learning so much on a daily basis about BizDev, design, managing teams, agile software development, writing investment memorandums, LOI's and MOU's, and working with stakeholders in the VC and Angel investment domain; and I love it. It's stressful, but it's a good kind of stress. The pressure is own, and the fire is lit under my butt to deliver and push my design boundaries and capabilities even further.

"It's a ton of work and I love every aspect about it."

What does a typical day look like for you?

I spend every Sunday mapping out my upcoming week's agenda. I prefer to be meticulous with my time as I have a lot on my plate and not a lot of wiggle room to waste. I try my best to have things dialed in to almost the minute I wake up to knowing what, and when my next thing is. From physiotherapy, meetings, design work, sleep, and anything in between. My days mostly start around 7AM and begin with going to the gym, physiotherapy, or rehab to check the status of my Spinal Cord Injury (since I can ambulate a little) by eight in the morning. Then, by night during the weekday I'm on the Euro clock working and break my sleep into two chunks; four hours of rest by 3am, and then a two hour nap in the evening.

Snaps of my food / coffee

I absolutely love cooking when I have the time for it, but my love for cooking wasn't always the case. I actually took a few cooking classes so I could impress some gal from South Africa during Valentines day and that lead me down the rabbit hole of watching cooking shows and so on. However, usually I'm meal prepping and stick to a strict diet of clean eating to try and keep my body fat below < 10%. So I'm detailed oriented just like I am in design and coding by measuring out my portions and calculating my macros, and such. Cooking to me shares so many parallels to design despite the obvious contrasting juxtaposition that shares a dichotomy that is in two separate wholly worlds.

What is your current desk setup?

I use a 4K LG monitor and 2018 Macbook Touchbar for most my work with a Lacie external hard-drive. And then I have a full range of mobile devices for mobile development, and an iPad Pro I mostly use to write emails or Netflix in bed.

  • Since I'm part-time wheelchair I needed a desk with a little more height than a normal desk so I can wheel under it and be comfortable or sit in a chair that's comfortable.
  • Ergonomics and accessibility is absolutely paramount and a vital focus since I have some health issues that I absolutely need to be mindful of, that an able-bodied individual would easily overlook (pressure sores, weight shifts, involuntary spasms, etc). So being able to transfer between chairs often is something I do often while trying to remain comfortable as I can get violent spasms that cause me pain, or me to jerk a ton which can really be a mood killer if I'm in a flow-state. The last thing I want is to cause a pressure sore because I didn't weight shift enough which has deadly consequences. So I use a Google Home to remind me very 45 minutes to weight shift.
  • I'm a Steel series fanboy for headphones and for my mechanical keyboard
  • For speakers I bought a pair of Minipod's when I was in Copenhagen.
  • PodSpeakers (Highly recommend them with the pod subwoofer)

And your Workstation setup across devices?

This is my bread and butter 🍞🧈

What work are you most proud of?

Hmm.. That's a loaded question. I've had my hand in so many projects over the years working in SaaS products, to games, to anything in between. Working with brands such as Obey The Giant through Julian Marshall, to Xbox. But, lately, I'd have to say I have two things I'm currently working on that really brings the stoke out and energy would be Talk and Tripletap. Two passion projects that are gaining a lot of traction at the moment, and each day that passes I get to see how far I've come with these projects. 🕹👨‍💻

The soundtrack is by the Adult Swim Robot Unicorn composer. With light and dark mode.

Talk is getting a full redesign and relaunch this summer after our soft-launch showed us areas that we need to work on (Cohort tracking, KPI's / OKR's, etc). Desktop, and Mobile coming soon! while hiring a set of designers, UX researchers, and social media managers.

Which Product recently blew your socks off?

Miro! I just love how it's a whiteboard on steroids. From drawing wireframes, to mind-mapping, collages, and more with the ability to collaborate on the fly. It packs a punch and I absolutely have adopted it into my workflow daily.

Also shoutout to the Notion app and Zander for accelerating my UX career ten fold.

I setup our companies Handbook using Notion as micro-ecosystem to onboard new hires, to keep things up to date, and to integrate new RFP's, and policies for the legal department with a universal change-log and design fix-log updated each weekday.

What challenges do you face as a UX/UI Designer?

Confronting my self doubts by entering unfamiliar territory, and the never ending chase for perfection is probably my biggest struggle. The documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi exemplifies this struggle in an eloquent manner in the pursuit of perfection. With similarities drawning from Malcom Gladwell's book on Outliers, and the Tipping Point that can be viewed as connection to the struggle for perfection.

On a personal level, due to my injury it can be extremely frustrating when I'm spasming at my desk and how I try to balance a work life balance when your partially paralyzed. Your self-esteem goes out the window at times but I've written an article on the lessons learned (https://medium.com/age-of-awareness/what-becoming-paralyzed-taught-me-about-myself-3742ccbbadc7) .  It's playing life on hard mode and at time's and it can be a struggle mentally when you're not feeling 100 percent somedays but know that you have obligations and responsibilities to power through due to commitments you've committed to.

What tunes do you listen to whilst designing?

I listen to a variety of genres — but stick mostly to the indie electric movement, classical, or some punk rock.

Three suggestions for budding designers?

Soft skills are just as important to master compared to technical skills — if not more. If you can't communicate your ideas in an articulate manner, how are you going to advocate on behalf of your design work with the team you're part of?

Finding your rhythm takes time to get into that state of flow so don't be discouraged if you're not feeling good enough.

  • Impostor syndrome will ebb and flow as you progress as a designer, and that feeling will eventually fade away. But don't ever compare yourself to others or care what others think. Just create, have fun, keep refining your skills. One movie I always recommend is Jiro Dreams of Sushi and reading Malcom Gladwell's book Outliers on how to deal with such topics.

Don't be immutable.

  • Be able to proactively listen, and use criticism given to you to grow and see your work from a different perspective. Proactive advocacy and note taking will make you a strong member to any organization you join.

Thanks for reading my story!

Sweden 🇸🇪 and Colorado, USA 🇺🇸

Matt Stenquist

Principal Designer

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