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A Recent Interview with The Industry

Jordan Koschei over at The Industry was kind enough to interview me recently, and he asked some questions that I get emailed about fairly frequently, so here are some of the highlights of our discussion.

The Industry Header
Fig. 1a The Industry - Covering design focused start ups and people

How did you get into the design industry?

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do career-wise, so I took Advertising in college to see if it was something I was interested in. While I enjoyed the marketing side, I constantly found myself focusing on the execution of an idea, and spent many nights in the computer lab mocking up ideas. The background in marketing has proven to be invaluable with understanding client’s business objectives, rather than merely creating something that is pleasing to the eye.

I started taking on side work producing small company logos and print collateral to help pay my tuition, but I always wanted to get into web design, as I had realized there was going to be a huge growth opportunity there. I held a few jobs doing packaging and print, and they offered fantastic fundamentals, but once I saw what my friend Jesse Bennett Chamberlain was doing over at 31three, I was instantly hooked.

What are your ideal working conditions? Music, location, type of project, etc.?

I work at home in my office/spare bedroom, and while it is quite convenient, I really do miss the social aspect of working in an office. I combat this by catching up with peers and colleagues on Skype. I don’t listen to music that much while I work, as I find it distracting, but I do enjoy talk radio and podcasts. I definitely understand why many designers are seeking co-op work space and finding offices outside the home, as sometimes the lines between work and my personal life feel blurred, which can definitely cause a drop in productivity.

I keep my workflow very simple and stress-free. I currently take on design-only contracts, focus on one project at a time, at a flat rate, booked in one month blocks. This dramatically lightens the administration load, and keeps my focus on my client’s design and marketing objectives, resulting in a higher quality finished product. It also keeps the client on-point, providing me with content and giving me feedback regularly. This method also simplifies billing, so my income is consistent which can alleviate the financial stress of running your own business. It really is the best solution I have found to managing a web design studio.

I try to stay away from the computer as much as possible in the concept stage. Good design should be measured by a great solution to a problem, not a layer style within a PSD. A computer should be treated as tool; as a vehicle to execute a great idea. The more I grow as a designer the less enamoured I am with myself about drawing the perfect drop shadow, and I focus on why that drop shadow is there in the first place. It is easy to forget that design is about visually communicating marketing objectives, so it doesn’t really matter how pretty something is if it fails to meet it’s goals.

What other designers inspire you? Whose work do you admire?

I really haven’t been looking at other people’s work much lately, as I have been trying to see where my work evolves organically, and it is very easy to get into the habit of regurgitating design trends and styles. However, if there are two designers that I look forward to see what they have been working on, it’s Tyler Thompson and Edwin Tofslie.

Edwin Tofslie's Portfolio
Fig. 2a A small glimpse of Edwin Tofslie’s portfolio.

Tyler left an esteemed creative director position in NYC to open his own design studio. Edwin works on some larger projects like Nike, Sony, and Ford, and knows his way around photoshop like most never will. Tyler is great at mixing traditional and digital media, which is something I love to do, while Edwin will take an over-the-top idea and dial it back just enough as to be sure it achieves it’s objectives. These are two designers with very different styles, but both have a distinct and polished set of skills.

What work are you especially excited about right now?

For the past few months I have been working with Mason Yarnell and Julien Renvoye over at Mixpanel, and I am really enjoying the experience of working with a team again. They are both quite talented, so it pushes me to polish my design skills, and encourages me to improve on the unique qualities that I can bring to the table. It is a lot of UI work, which is something that I am not used to, but I really enjoy it. It is based more on great user design, as opposed to merely the visual element, so it constantly keeps me thinking.

If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?

I really couldn’t have seen myself choosing a non-creative oriented career. I have started to get serious about photography lately, and it is definitely something I want to devote more time to.

Devil's Punch Bowl, Hamilton ON Canada
Fig. 3a The Devil’s Punch Bowl, Hamilton ON Canada

Also, ever since I started to listen to talk radio, it has been something I feel very drawn to, much like design. I have a podcast that I am working on right now with some really interesting and talented people, so I would love to see that take off. I can also see the room for another web design podcast, but rather than focusing on what you are working on or current design and technology trends, it would be based more on top designers sharing their opinions on other aspects of life.