What led you into design?
Oh man. My road to design is probably not all that uncommon. I wanted to be an artist and was somehow convinced that graphic design was a grown-ups version of art. In hindsight, I wouldn’t change anything.
What does a typical day look like?
Well, I have a pretty “regular” job between the 9 - 5 hours. When I say “regular”, that doesn’t mean boring or not amazing. I am proud to be the Sr. Creative Director at Zendesk. I get to head into the city every day to work with an extremely talented team at a great, fast-growing company that cares about its people and values design. My normal day consists of a fair amount of emails and meetings attempting to better solve how to tell our story and make customer service software interesting. What we typically find is that it is interesting. Business software isn’t super exciting, but the things business software helps real people do is exciting. Those are the stories we try to tell.
Outside of Zendesk my wife and I have a clothing brand and store (neve & hawk). Kris runs that brand and shop on a day-to-day (https://www.instagram.com/neveandhawk/), but it is very much a collaborative effort. On any given evening or weekend you can find me screen printing t-shirts, teaching screen-printing workshops or working the register at our shop.
What’s your setup?
At Zendesk: pretty standard MBP and monitor in an open space with the rest of our creative team. The Zendesk offices are pretty fantastic. Here are some shots from our newest Dublin office:
Often times work at the shop is a juggling act that looks something like this:
Where do you go to get inspired?
My biggest source of inspiration is getting outside. It sounds cliche, but I love riding my bike and surfing. Those activities give me an opportunity to clear my head and think about other ways to approach challenges.
One thing that has changed as I’ve grown as a designer and have had to step away from really getting into the details of the design is that my thinking is much more conceptual and higher level. I tend to spend most of my creative time thinking about how things work together and the overall messaging and concept. That often means being away from a screen.
What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?
We live in a fantastic time where great design is everywhere. The bar is really high. I love finding old utilitarian things from a long time ago that are timeless. Of course, seeing an old Braun radio from Dieter Rams gets me excited.
Or the simple dashboard on my old 1976 VW bus…
As far as new products, I love seeing technology in cycling change and evolve. For me, cycling is a beautiful mesh of mechanical/human and innovation. That contrast allows for great creativity. It’s been great to see such talented designers bring design into cycling:
I also love the aesthetic and work of Bang and Olufsen. It feels modern and timeless. Just look at this: Beolit 17 Bluetooth speaker.
What pieces of work are you most proud of?
It is hard to point to any one piece of work. I am probably like a lot of other designers here. I usually think something isn’t great or am not super happy with a design as soon as it ships. I think that’s healthy but also can be frustrating. I think more than any individual piece I am proud of the long haul things. The things that all work together over a period of time to build a brand.
Building and designing the neve & hawk brand from the ground up and turning it into what it is today. Individually, each piece that has gone into that brand I like and am proud of, but the individual things aren’t what make it last or make it great. What makes any brand great is the sum of all of those little touchpoints. From the packing tape we use, to painting our logo on the front of the building, to launching a collection on the website, to working with friends on collaborations) or getting featured in Sunset Magazine.
Building a brand over time develops a sense of authenticity and gives the brand a true perspective. That’s what is fun to build.
Zendesk - Building and being part of the Creative Brand team at Zendesk. Even being a small part of that team is an honor. I think I’m most proud of the Zendesk rebrand that our team completed. Repositioning Zendesk as a multi-product company had a lot of unique challenges and creating a thoughtful system to accommodate the company’s growth was a fun project.
I also love the opportunity to work as a team on any campaigns. That is a part of the job that the whole team is involved in and loves. We launched a campaign a while ago (before the rebrand) that introduced our messaging and the idea that relationships are complicated. It was a ton of fun to work on. In hindsight, it may have a been a bit too abstract but it was a really exciting and unique way to talk about business software.
Recently we launched a campaign featuring the illustration of Marcus Oakley that launched our newest messaging. We learned from the above campaign and were much more direct. The team did great and I loved seeing this stuff in the real world.
What design challenges do you face at your company?
Well, there are a lot. A few of the biggest design challenges that our team faces at this particular moment is scaling our brand consistently and working with other departments to figure out how to move fast, keep up quality and not lose brand integrity or charm. Because it is a constantly evolving brand, we are always trying to find new ways to communicate. Sometimes it works… sometimes it doesn’t :) Sometimes we hit a sweet spot and sometimes we find weird hair in an unexpected place.
What music do you listen to whilst designing?
Any advice for ambitious designers?
I think it’s important for young designers to produce a lot of work. Lots of versions, lots of variations, lots of explorations. That’s what makes better designers. To contradict what I just said, it is also important for young designers to ship work. Get it out there and don’t be scared to pull the trigger often.
Also, the more a designer can hold off on getting on a computer and focus on the conceptual story of a project the better the work. It’s hard to not just dive into Sketch or Illustrator… fight the urge. Concept is king.
Anything you want to promote or plug?
Also, check out neve & hawk sometime. If you’re ever in the area, stop by and say hi.