What led you into design?
I didn’t discover “design” as something you could do professionally or study until college. I learned Photoshop at one of my first summer internships when I was 16 and I worked for the IT department at Deloitte, a financial services company. They essentially completely forgot about me for two weeks and I discovered this treasure trove of online training videos. Like a lynda.com for employees. Not long after, a client from my side-business selling pre-assembled gaming computers asked for a website design, so I made my first website for a grand total of $60. I kept designing websites after that, for myself and for clients.
In college, I discovered that my intended major (“Computer Systems Engineering”) didn’t interest me. I learned that it was half computer science and half electrical engineering, but I found the electrical engineering classes boring and didn’t think I was interested enough in computer science alone. I read through the engineering handbook for another engineering major and discovered “Product Design,” which seemed to have by far the most interesting classes. I met with the advisor for the major and after he explained to me what designers were, I knew that’s what I was destined to become.
What does a typical day look like?
After parking my bike and grabbing some coffee, I review my task list and try to match it up against my schedule for the day. I generally start by answering messages with requests from other people and giving teammates an update on the past day or so, and what I’m planning on doing next. Then I get to work on my current project, writing, sketching or making mockups and prototypes to try to figure out what direction we should go in or how to explain a direction we’ve decided on to the rest of the team. These sessions are usually broken up by sharing artifacts and ideas with colleagues to get their opinions and feedback. I generally will also have some sort of team meeting with other designers or my project group or interview a design candidate.
What’s your setup?
Sketch, Alfred, and Slack mostly, in terms of software. In terms of physical space, I’m all about good light, an ergonomic setup, and enough space to spread some papers out.
Where do you go to get inspired?
I don’t really go anywhere for “inspiration”. Creativity is about discipline and putting in the work, not lightning-strike, lightbulb moments. I do seek out good performance art, mainly theatre and dance, and I feel inspired by any creative sharing their best work and effort. The last thing that really energized me was the touring cast of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton.
What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?
A friend just introduced me to these inexpensive, stainless steel scrapers/choppers with rulers on them. No more struggling to get ingredients from the cutting board to the bowl or pan, or using my fingers to unstick whatever I’m cutting from my knife. Genius! How did I not know about these‽
What pieces of work are you most proud of?
Honestly, I’m the sort of person that is instantly dissatisfied with anything I make, or forget how much I was excited about it initially in the long slog to make sure it ships. If I really stop to think about it, I’m proud of shipping really large and hairy projects like the Slack App Directory, more so than I am about the final work itself.
What design challenges do you face at your company?
Since I work on the Slack platform team, one challenge that is top of mind is walking the line between providing maximum flexibility for developers while not providing them “enough rope to hang themselves with.” We’ve got to design our platform such that great Slack app experiences are the default, even if the developer isn’t well versed in user interface design.
We also face the process design challenge of scaling the positive aspects of our company culture, fighting entropy as the company explodes in size.
What music do you listen to?
Any advice for ambitious designers?
I’ve got 2 bits. First, do more design work. If you find yourself having to talk a lot to convince someone about a particular direction or design, stop and make some new artefact to convey your idea instead. This likely means you’ll have to put more time and effort into time and task management than you are already. Secondly, pause frequently to get feedback one-on-one from your teammates and anyone whose opinion matters to your career. Don’t try to correct their opinions or defend yourself, simply try to understand what they think and what led them to think that about you and your work. Then, it’s time to get back to work with that new information.