What led you into design?
It wasn't until I was in university that I discovered my passion for design; however, looking back at my childhood, I was always meticulous when it came to how things looked. As a kid, I remember submitting one of my drawings to a local art competition, but I was only doing it for fun. I should have known then that design was a passion of mine, but as an 8-year-old refugee who had just migrated to Canada with my family, discovering or exploring my passion wasn't a top priority. That had to wait until one day in university when I was in the Philosophy department and someone needed help getting a poster designed for a talk. I had just gotten a Mac for Christmas and noticed that Pages had some poster templates. Without hesitation, I volunteered. I must have stayed up all night going over every detail. The poster was a huge success, and I was asked to do the next one. Soon after, I was walking through the halls of the university and saw an ad from the Student Union looking for a "graphic artist". I applied the next day and got an interview. I didn't have much work to show at the time, so I designed some sample work before the interview to have something to present. The interview must have went well because I got the gig!
I was soon designing posters and campaigns for the student union; I even designed a concert poster for Snoop Dogg. Thirsty to learn as much as I could, I was browsing the web for any websites that talked about design. I remember stumbling across Smashing Magazine where I learned so much. It also introduced me to web design, and soon enough, when the Student Union needed a new website, I said I could do it. That led to other sleepless nights, but I loved it. Around the same time, the iPhone was introduced, so I began to focus even more on the web/mobile design.
I finally knew this was something I could do for the rest of my life when the same university hired me to work with their distance education multimedia department a few years later. Since then, I have worked with some amazing teams, and I continue to follow my passion.
What does a typical day look like?
I work for Trello who embraces remote work, so I work from home. Because I don't have to commute, this frees up a lot of my time in the mornings. One of my dogs usually wakes me up so I can get her breakfast. After that, I do a quick 30 minute workout at home and get ready for day. After I get my coffee, I head downstairs to catch up on messages from the evening before. Because Trello is a remote company, I get to work with people all over the world, which means that there is always a little bit of a catch up from the night before.
Once I'm caught up, I will either start up Sketch, Figma, or Framer depending on the project or stage the project is in. For the most part, my days are very quiet which gives me a lot of time to focus on my work. I may take my dogs out for a walk during my lunch so I can get some fresh air, but other than that, I spend my working day in my home office. It may not sound very exciting, but I prefer to work this way because there are very few distractions, and I get a lot of work done.
What’s your setup?
I use a MacBook Pro and 5k iMac for design work. I use an iPad Pro for sketching and reading. Finally, an iPhone and Google Pixel for mobile design work.
Where do you go to get inspired?
To get inspired I usually go to YouTube. While there are other traditional sites for UI design like Dribbble, I like to get inspired by other mediums. Music videos can be very useful for colour scheme and general inspiration. I also find architecture fascinating, so I visit Dezeen. Of course exploring new technology is always a great place for ideas, so I visit The Verge. For general culture inspiration, recently I've been visiting Unrated a lot.
What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?
Recently, Framer has been a product that I've come to admire a lot. They recently launched Framer with a design tab, and I have been using it a fair bit. I have been able to communicate user interactions far more effectively. They have really thought out how to combine design and code into one product.
The team at Framer is also shipping quality updates like crazy; part of that is the new site redesign. They know that documentation and product resources are a big part of designing a good product. Their new site design focuses on education and highlighting high quality resources like their interactive UI kit called Fiber.
What pieces of work are you most proud of?
I've been lucky to have been a part of many great projects, so it's hard to just pick one. I've learned a lot from the following three projects.
Go Beyond Pixels
I'm proud of the design conference, Go Beyond Pixels, that I founded and organized in my hometown of St. John's, NL. I'm proud of this project because it was something I built from the ground up with just an ambitious idea and the support of my family. I took care of everything: branding, website design, marketing, social media, ticket sales, speaker logistics, legal, and everything in between. I was lucky to have Aaron Walter, who now works at InVision, help me arrange the speaker line up. He connected me with Jeffrey Zeldman, Ethan Marcotte, Jeremy Keith, and Josh Clark. Having put a lot on the line with no idea whether anyone in my city would buy a single ticket, it felt amazing to sell out the event and watch my crazy idea come to life.
It was such an incredible experience to meet designers that I have looked up to. It also opened a lot of doors for me, and I'd like to think the conference was an opportunity for my local design community to learn from some of the best. Conference Website.
SB Nation Rebrand
A few years ago I was lucky enough to get a design contract with Vox Media to help them with the SB Nation Rebrand. It was a three month project where I learned a lot. As we were getting ready to pitch the two brand directions, it felt like we needed a third option. While I don't generally recommend or suggest working on projects this way, I worked throughout the weekend on a third option. I presented the brand direction to my design lead on Monday, and after reviewing it, he asked me to refine the direction with the team. It ended up being the direction selected for the rebrand. Read more about it here.
Trello + Unsplash Integration
I love working at Trello. The Unsplash integration has been one of the most fun projects I've had a chance to work on. The goal was to provide beautiful board backgrounds for all of our users, so we decided to integrate Unsplash. Unsplash was a great team to work with. I particularly enjoyed this project because I had a chance to work with our iOS and Android team. What made it an even more rewarding project was all of the love we received from our users. Learn more here.
What design challenges do you face at your company?
Before I look externally, I look within myself and try understand what I could be doing better. At the moment, I'm trying to get better at communicating. One element of that is writing. I think that writing a project spec at the beginning of the project to define the design problem and outline the top goals of the project really helps. Once that's written, it makes it easier to find a design solution because there's a document that can be referenced. After the project is complete, it helps to have a retrospective to learn what went well and define what we could better next time.
What music do you listen to whilst designing?
I like discovering new music, so I let Zane Lowe on Beats1 find that music for me. 1:30pm local time and I’m listening to his radio show - provided I don’t have meetings of course. But here’s a mix of the styles of music I may listen day to day.
Any advice for ambitious designers?
Never ever ever let anyone tell you that you can't do anything. If you believe in what you're doing, you're honest with yourself, and you work hard, you can accomplish anything.
Keep focused and don't get distracted. It's easy to get distracted with so much information and so many opinions in the design world; learn from others, but stay focused.
Manage your time - you can't get time back.
Don't be afraid to make mistakes or change your opinions. Learn from your mistakes, and grow with your team.
Always keep learning and practice your craft.
It's never too late to start. I was in my twenties finishing a Poli Sci/Philosophy degree, so don't get discouraged just because you read about the next 12 year old prodigy. Do what you love.