What led you into design?
I grew up in a small town in rural Michigan, so I wasn’t actively aware of design as a career until college. However, like a lot of designers my age, I got a lot of formative experiences from creating and publishing web pages on the internet. I’m sure the content of these sites would be laughable and embarrassing now. Fortunately, it provided me with an early understanding of web programming and Photoshop.
I was also filled with a curiosity to learn how computers worked for as long as I can remember. This led me down a strange path for some time of installing obscure linux distributions and creating custom themes for a variety of window managers. I was obsessed with how altering a window manager theme could drastically alter the feel of it.
It wasn’t until opening up to my college advisor about how my photography major didn’t feel quite right that they made me aware of what was called, at the time, web design. Discovering a career that was able to combine my interests in computer functionality, user interfaces and visual craftsmanship was like finding home.
What does a typical day look like?
I like to keep my day-to-day work schedule relatively simple. The first thing I do in the morning is make coffee and eat something simple (a bagel, toast with peanut butter or oats with maple syrup). I try to take care of any email or communication tasks while I eat so I can focus on my work for the day after breakfast.
I’m terrible at multitasking. As a result, I do what I can to cut down on distractions even if I need to close Slack or my email client. I love the feeling of losing myself in my work and time flying by untracked. I do everything I can to ensure this happens.
Besides a short break for lunch and going on a walk with my dog, I like to work until I feel that I have accomplished enough for the day.
In the evening I like to focus on running or biking. If I’m lucky, I get to enjoy this with my wife or dog. I can’t fully unwind or process the day’s work without exercise.
This doesn’t change much if I’m working on client work or my own projects.
What’s your setup?
Where do you go to get inspired?
A lot of my inspiration comes from exercising outside in nature. Living in Salt Lake City has the benefit of living along the Wasatch Range. For me, it’s impossible for any website or case study to free space in my mind to think the way that the views from a mountainous trail will. Being able to cover enough distance through diverse ecosystems—from desert sagebrush to lush aspen groves to ridges above the treeline—to the extent that by the end of the run or bike ride I feel visually stimulated beyond capacity and yet somehow relaxed is when I do my best thinking.
Dry Creek via Bonneville Shoreline Trail:
Flying Dog Trail:
Hidden Peak from Mt. Baldy:
View of Mount Olympus from Grandeur Peak:
Francis Peak via Farmington Canyon:
Sometimes I listen to podcasts while I exercise. I have a few that regularly inspire me to work on my own apps or to get outside.
Accidental Tech Podcast: atp.fm
Billy Yang Podcast: billyyangpodcast.libsyn.com
Core Intuition: coreint.org
Under the Radar: relay.fm/radar
Additionally, all the bike and running paraphernalia are pretty expensive and that can certainly inspire me to take on an additional project here or there…
If I need concrete references, beyond the emotional inspiration of a mountain range, I often browse the iOS App Store to see what Apple is featuring and why. I love seeing how different apps are extending UIKit or what features they focus on.
At the risk of sounding trite, I do find myself inspired while Apple’s WWDC is ongoing. I’ve never actually been in person, but I really enjoy learning about all the new APIs and features that could potentially be used in a future app. A new API feature could transform an idea in my backlog from extremely difficult to a weekend project.
What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?
I’ve been really impressed with the execution of the home indicator on the new iPhones. I’m usually critical of any gestural based system, but I think the Apple Human Interface Design Team did a great job. In my opinion, it feels very smooth and intuitive. It’s easy for my mind to understand it conceptually and jump to discovering different ways to use it for app navigation and multitasking.
I’m sure the pressure to adequately replace the hardware home button on the iPhone—something used by millions daily—was incredibly high. I think the result is really good. When I use an older iPhone for testing, the hardware home button feels clumsy and slow in comparison to the new home indicator.
The WWDC video where the Human Interface Design team talks about the home indicator and fluid interfaces is great too:
What pieces of work are you most proud of?
I just launched an app called Simple Pacer that I’m really proud of. It’s funny to me how there are some remarkably impressive iOS apps and games that push the limits of mobile hardware with AR and machine learning, but there were no decent apps for calculating a marathon pace or time. Although the math for pace and time calculations is simple enough for anyone to do, it can get pretty tedious and repetitive. I felt strongly that a well-made app like this should exist in the app store even though it would never be profitable. So I made one: Simple Pacer.
Simple Pacer includes a custom keyboard to improve number and decimal input. That in itself was a really interesting challenge both in design and programming. I also went a little overboard on designing the themes and programming a theme system.
Simple Pacer Theme Design:
Simple Pacer (Keyboard):
Simple Pacer (Bostonian Theme):
Simple Pacer (Dark Theme):
Simple Pacer (VT220 Theme):
What design challenges do you face at your company?
The biggest design challenge I have when working on my own apps is figuring out how to prioritize, market and monetize features. None of my own projects have come close to being profitable. My biggest goal right is to figure out how to remedy that. I gain a lot of satisfaction and further development of craft from the process of designing, developing and launching my projects. But ultimately it needs to be profitable.
Additionally, my experience as a programmer is a lot less than my experience as a designer. When it comes to my own projects, this means that I have additional constraints around my design to ensure that I can actually build it. Most would assume that this would limit my design. Instead, this forces me to create more creative solutions and rely more on design fundamentals instead of more whizbang gimmicks.
What music do you listen to whilst designing?
Any advice for ambitious designers?
There were two concepts that were hard for me to learn early in my career.
The first was to not be afraid of iteration. What I didn’t realize when I was younger was that not only would iteration give me more experience designing for a problem, but that as long as I am organized and duplicate my working files in a logical manner, I will never lose past work. Every iteration of a design is a chance to learn or discover something new about the problem. Often I will find elements that are unnecessary after a few iterations of a view or flow. For me, I need to become an expert of what I’m working on before I can design a sensical solution. Iteration is a great way to work towards this.
The second was that almost all client feedback comes from a place of truth. The tricky part is that almost all designers confuse client solutions with feedback. Unfortunately, almost all client feedback comes in the form of solutions. Part of our job as designers is to uncover the feedback that is hiding behind the solution. In the classic dreaded example feedback of “make my logo bigger” (usually a terrible solution), the actual root of the feedback may be that the site or app doesn’t feel branded enough. While it may sound like semantics, I enjoy working with clients to find the root of the problem behind their proposed solutions so that we can come up with feedback together.
Anything you want to promote or plug?
I think everyone should check out my latest app Simple Pacer (it’s free!) that I mentioned above.
I’m biased, but I think that my other app that I have been working on for a while, called Air Lookout, is also worth downloading. Air quality can be a problem everywhere and it’s not the most accessible or approachable data. Air Lookout aims to change that. A lot of design is simplifying complex information to be understandable and figuring out how to do that with air quality—a rather complex and hard to approach dataset that very few have tried to simplify for the general public—has been a really interesting challenge. The possibility of this app being profitable enough for me to work on is incredibly exciting and motivates me to keep trying. I have some pretty big updates planned for later this year that can’t wait to share.
Air Lookout (Current Location View):
Air Lookout (12 Hour Graph):
Air Lookout (Map Tab):
Air Lookout (Pollutant Definition):