Freelance Product Designer
Aaron
Aalto

The big thinking in the tiny things. The story-driven thinking. The thinking that causes tension, breaks rules, and pushes comfort zones. That’s the thinking I’m after.

New York, United States • December 3, 2021

What led you into design?

I can pinpoint a specific moment. I was in 8th grade. My art teacher had a blue iMac, and when I saw that I thought it was the most incredible thing. It was the 1998 blue iMac, and I was just wondering where's the tower, where's the computer? And the teacher explained to me that it was all inside, and I thought that was magical.

And once that happened, I wondered: what's that company doing now? It was around 2003-2004. And from then on, I realized I wanted to recreate that feeling that I got, from interacting with that computer.

From then on it became a series of experimentation and drawing. It all happen to be interested in art and also always drawing and making things on paper.

That's how it came about. I kept experimenting with design and ended up going to study at SCAD.

What does a typical day look like?

My day-to-day has sort of been impacted because I left my corporate job. So normally that day-to-day would look like stand-up and then several meetings and work sessions and that sort of thing.

But now, my typical day starts around 7:00 AM. I d, the kind of household chores and help to get my dog set up. And then from nine to five, I broke up my hours into work sessions. I create content online, just videos showing folks how to draw, how to think about design, sharing short animations on Twitter and Instagram, just thoughts or concepts that I've come across.

And so my day is basically broken up into three sections:

1. Taking care of my puppy and personal needs.

2. Working and building things.

3. Sharing online.

At the same time, I'm working on a workshop for teaching people how to sketch their ideas, as well as setting up my website so that it can make it easier for potential clients to work with me.

Those are the pillars of my business and how I intend to move forward independently, so I don't rely so much on having one full-time job. Instead, I have the autonomy to choose where I invest my time.

What's your workstation setup?

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Where do you go to get inspired?

Just a range of different things. I love film, so I'm inspired by great directors and storytellers, through shows and documentaries. And right now a huge source of inspiration has been mountain climbers, alpinists, and the whole idea of openness.

I recently saw a film called “Free Solo” and it really shook my idea of what is truly possible when a challenging situation meets a prepared mind. I've been looking into that for inspiration.

At the same time, I can get inspiration from going to a museum, reading a book. I like to read non-fiction just more about strategy and biographies of people that I admire and really look at how they approach problems.

So that's, that's kind of where I gather, I just I'm like a bumblebee, just going all over the place and just trying to see where I can find something interesting.

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

There are several digital products that make me feel like that's the kind of design I like to do.

One company that I can bring up is, Procreate, which is the drawing app that I use on most days. And that the reason it's such a beautiful application is one it's accessible. It's not $100, it's $10. You are putting this tool in the hands of so many people.

And not only that, the way the UX works. It's in the background, it's not trying to show you what you don't need. It allows the creator to become submersed into what they're creating.

And another app that I think is just an amazing design is the Things/To Do list app. The common thread between these two applications is that they become invisible once the user is using them. Once you're in the flow, nothing is blocking you from doing your thing. It just works.

And that's evidence of a design team that understands the needs of the user and, and is really just like empathy on display.

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What pieces of work are you most proud of?

One of the things that come to mind immediately is my animation for a Steve Jobs message on “The secret of life”. It's basically his thoughts on what a good life is or what a great life is. And that animation video that is about a minute and a half long happened because I had seen the original video and thought that it was an incredible message.

I thought people needed to see it. And although the original video had a million views, so it had definitely been seen, my thinking was that it could be something else.

And after watching this video, I just kept getting these images of animations and things happening on the screen as he's talking. That led me through a five months process of taking a really rough idea and then bringing it into a final animation. So I'm really proud of that because once I published it, people were sharing their stories and just saying how inspiring it was to them, thanking me, etc.

When creating you don't always get this kind of response, but when you do, you think “this is not just me”. And the reason it came out the way it did was that I was making it mostly for myself, because I wanted this thing to exist.

And once I made it, I was happy to discover that other people were happy it existed. So that closes the circle, because in a way I started off my design journey because of Steve Jobs, because of the work he did at Apple.

What design challenges do you face at your company?

Focus and knowing where to focus. There are a lot of things going on right now in the communities I belong in. Social and around the world. It's always asking myself, is this the best use of my time? Is this the best thing that I can do right now with the time that I have? And always calibrating that and being relentless with that while raising a puppy, it can get really challenging.

It has been a really rewarding experience, too. Being able to have the opportunity to say that this corporate life isn't really working for me, to take a step back and figure out how to make this machine work on my own. And so I'm in the process of that, and focus has a lot to do with it.

Learning how my mind works, just because an organization structure may work for someone else, may not necessarily work for oneself. And so being able to realize that this isn't glamorous work, isn't going to give me quick dopamine. But I need to focus on this, and I need to think about this unglamorous thing before I can go for something that other people may also enjoy.

What music do you listen to whilst designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

I'm cautious about handing out advice because based on my experience, it is hard to prescribe something for an individual that I don't know the context for.

I don't know what their story is, but with that being said, I think the best I can do is give some thought to a younger version of myself. And I think what I would say to that person is to recognize the value that you have. We tend to overlook our own value so make sure that your why or your reason to be is very clear to you.

And if it's not, try to do whatever you have to do. Follow your curiosity. Follow your gut, and try to look for that why, and try to define it as good as possible. And you will go through many iterations, but the point is just to keep going. Just keep defining your why and work with great people who align with your values.

Because, if you end up working with people who don't align with your values, they will slow you down or they will get in your way. So be very careful with who you spend your time with and remember to just have fun and enjoy life and enjoy what you're doing, because design is about knowing how to be a good human being and having empathy towards others and being able to live at the top of Maslow's pyramid. You have to be able to take care of yourself and, give your best.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

I've launched a course called "Sketching Sells" which was a success. I'm currently leading a community of 100+ people who sketch. And now, I'm working on a drawing course for entrepreneurs called "Draw in Business". 

Check out my website to find info about my services.

interview