What led you into design?
I grew up in a fairly remote part of Upper Michigan in a tiny village called Alpha. I think the entire village had somewhere between 150-200 people in it meaning there were very few kids my age. This meant I spent the majority of my time either playing in the village swamp or building stuff with Legos / K’Nex. This desire to build things led me down the rabbit hole of computer programming and eventually into the world of web design/development.
At 18 I managed to snag my first job at a small design agency, Elegant Seagulls, as a developer. I worked with and was mentored by Ben Johnson (my old snowboarding coach funnily enough) over the next 7-8 years where I gradually shifted my efforts from full-time development to full-time design.
What does a typical day look like?
I wake up around 6:00 am but my dog, cat, and fiancé make it nearly impossible to get out of bed until at least 6:30-6: 45 am. From there I usually make a french press and hop on the Bay Area’s smelliest train (BART). If things are going smoothly I’m normally the first one in the (Ueno) office unless Grayden Poper or Joshua Munsch beat me in (which has been all too common lately 😴). From 8:00 am to around 5:00 pm I’m surrounded by the most awesome team of weirdos after which I hop back on BART and head directly to the gym.
A few years back I had taken on a bit more than I could chew working a full-time job and running several freelance side projects at a time and suffered a pretty bad case of burn out. Since then I’ve tried to make work/life balance one of my main priorities, which honestly is easier said than done.
What’s your setup?
Where do you go to get inspired?
For starters, the usual suspects (Dribbble/Behance/Pinterest), but at the risk of sounding cliche, I try and step away from the screen as much as possible. I’m a bit of a weekend warrior and spend the large majority of my free time exploring everything the outdoors has to offer. With how homogeneous design has become these days it’s easy to become bored or even pessimistic with where our industry seems to be going but taking time to explore things outside the digital world helps me see things in a different light.
What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?
What pieces of work are you most proud of?
It’s going to sound silly but back in 2014, I had the opportunity to work with my first large brand (ESPN) on pieces of the new ESPN.com. We flew out to Bristol, Connecticut and got to explore ESPN’s giant campus and honestly I was over the moon excited. There were only a few small pieces of UI I produced that actually shipped but I still feel it’s my personal claim to fame.
Outside of what I would consider “work” one of the things I’m most proud of that I conceptualized and executed upon was my hopelessly romantic engagement. I played a part in designing the ring, picking a location, shooting photography, and finally, most importantly, popping the question.
Any advice for ambitious designers?
Choose a different career. Juuuust kidding (sort of). You can follow design “thought leaders”, attend conferences/workshops, or read all the UX/UI articles you want but nothing is going be more beneficial than getting your hands dirty and putting in the work. I wouldn’t be where I am today without countless all nighters pushing myself both technically and conceptually. Don’t know how to prototype? Figure it out! Should designers learn to code? Probably! Is Figma better than Sketch? Who cares! My dad always told me growing up “talk is cheap but it takes money to buy whisky”.