Meet Danielle Frucci: Executive Design Director

Executive Design Director

Smart Design creates products and services that resonate with people and make digital experiences easy, intuitive, efficient, and enjoyable.

Our talented Interaction Design (IxD) team focuses on understanding user needs and uncovering opportunities to design the best experience at all points of interaction with the product. We are continually evolving our design process as technologies like AI and machine learning open up new possibilities. Our IxD team also collaborates with strategists, engineers, industrial designers, and technologists to explore and improve people’s experience with technology.

We sat down with Danielle Frucci, Executive Design Director to learn about the challenges she’s had to tackle, what influences her work, and her most exciting adventures.Whatever that solution might be, we always prioritize the user-centric experience.

What is “experience design” anyway?

Experience design first looks at the broader competitive landscape around a product, service, or brand to get a clear picture of both the current and future needs—as well as opportunity areas based on client objectives. Then we conduct research with target audiences to better understand what experiences might resonate with consumers. With those insights, we craft a strategy to create a conceptual vision of the experience or product, and how we can bring it to life by defining and prioritizing key features and functionalities to design and develop. Whatever that solution might be, we always prioritize the user-centric experience.

Whatever that solution might be, we always prioritize the user-centric experience.

How has experience design changed during your career—and what’s going on today?

Our role is constantly changing and evolving as fast as technology does, and we always have to adapt to new tools. For example, my first job at a small ad agency coincided with businesses relying more on digital communications such as websites to connect with consumers. Long-standing clients all of a sudden wanted a website, and so the agency became a one-stop shop for designers to plan design, and build it. Moving to a company focused on large data-driven builds required me to get into wireframes and process flows in order to make these complex experiences feel simple. Over time, the discipline evolved from one role—interaction design—to many specialty roles, such as UX researcher or user interface design. The tools out there nowadays allow anyone to build their own website—a veritable “era of UX for all”—yet they don’t always have the skills across the UX spectrum. At Smart Design, our UX designers work on strategy, technology, ID and engineering, in addition to IxD, and they do their best work when collaborating across disciplines.

Tell us about a specific project that reflects the type of challenges you’re asked to tackle.

A Fortune 500 company came to Smart Design wanting to know everything about the shifts that took place during the pandemic in the financial sector, and how their business should move forward in what is now a vastly different landscape. They also wanted to know which changes might stick or eventually go away—and most importantly, what opportunities exist for their brand in the post-pandemic world, especially for their small business clients. This is a tough time for small businesses that had to integrate more technology, e-commerce, curbside pickup, and the like to stay competitive with Amazon. We looked at the competitive landscape and current trends, conducted quantitative research, and talked with small business owners across industries to figure out the best ways to drive business impact with customer-focused experiences.

How do you think experience design will change over the next five years?

First, new tools will allow teams to collaborate more and iterate faster. This will empower designers to evolve the experience rather than forcing teams to hand off design iterations from one medium to the next—in other words, a truly agile age for UX in which visual designers and developers will all work better collaboratively. Advances in AI will also make digital experiences simpler—and hopefully more magical. That could mean better interpretation of verbal or facial expressions, or using hand gestures to execute digital actions. Or it could involve algorithms that are able to anticipate next steps or eliminate unnecessary options based on a person’s previous behaviors and preferences. Lastly, I foresee a growing awareness that, while AI makes things more efficient, it can also easily remove humanity from design. Our responsibility as designers is to always create human-centered designs that are accessible to everyone and infused with our understanding of and empathy for the audience that will use them.Whatever that solution might be, we always prioritize the user-centric experience.

There’s a level of passion at Smart Design that is extraordinary, especially when it comes to UX.

What do you find different at Smart Design compared with other design firms where you’ve worked?

There’s a level of passion at Smart Design that is extraordinary, especially when it comes to UX. Also, we have the highest levels of leadership involved in our day-to-day design work. They’re not just showing up now and then, but rather are deeply engaged in all aspects of the project, continually challenging us with questions about whether what we’re doing is meaningful and impactful. That makes a big difference to the project designers—not to mention the final product.

Talk about some of the other influences on your design work.

There’s definitely a lot to learn from nature and ecology and the relationship between all living things and their habitats, particularly how even small changes can have a huge impact. I also think about the psychology of users, and how to design an experience that comes from understanding the motivations behind the choices they make. And then there’s interior design. After all, if the intention of design is to evoke a particular emotion, then we want to make sure the colors, tone, and organization all work in harmony to achieve that feeling.

As an avid adventure traveler, what have been some of your most exciting trips?

I’m a huge wildlife fan, so the Galapagos Islands, where I went snorkeling with sea turtles, were amazing. And then there was a trip to Machu Picchu in Peru, which included a 2,000-foot vertical climb up a steep mountain, kind of like climbing a ladder. Or the time I went swimming in a glacial lake. Most of all, I enjoy observing the relationships between living things and their habitat and understanding how changing one part of an ecosystem affects another. For example, how the recent decimation of wolf populations that have lost Wild Life Protection status will throw those complex and fragile ecosystems and food chains out of balance. This insight parallels what we do in experience design in that all the choices we make have an impact.

About Danielle Frucci

Danielle Frucci is an Executive Design Director who thrives on being involved in purposeful work that challenges and inspires her. She brings expertise in UX research, digital strategy, application design, and integrated digital experiences, with notable clients across sectors such as Johnson & Johnson, and Verizon. She holds a B.A. in Graphic Design and Visual Media from American University.

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