What led you into design?
Seeing Steve Jobs present the iPhone. I was at an Internet cafe in Kuala Lumpur and remember turning to my girlfriend (now wife) and saying I need to go home and do something with this. A couple of months later I was working as a designer at a startup.
That was a clear moment.
But if I peel it back further, I suppose I have certain tendencies that led me to design: I’m fascinated by abstract problems, like beautiful things, and enjoy creating order out of chaos. Design taps into all of these.
What does a typical day look like?
I’m not sure how much detail you want, but here’s what I try to do every day—it’s probably living with a toddler that makes the account of time so precise : )
06:30: Wake-up, exercise, meditate, and make. I try to finish the ﬁrst two by 07:00, which is doable with some quick exercising at home (20mins), followed by 10mins of meditation with the Waking Up app. Make is related to any side-projects.
I manage my day in Things and my Bullet Journal (an A5 Leuchtturm1927 notebook).
08:00: I get dressed and ready for the day. After becoming a father I’ve adopted a uniform of sorts, so the only choice to be made here is what shirt to wear.
Afterwards, we wake up my son for breakfast then feed our dog Amigo.
I’ll eat something like a poached egg, tomatoes, salmon, avocado and a slice of toast. And drink a cortado. This sets me up well for the day ahead.
08:40: The four of us leave the house. We walk my son to pre-school, the dog through the park, and me to the ofﬁce. My wife works from home.
09:00 - 18:00: At the ofﬁce. I try to design my workday to have a few themes, even though I know I’ll need to be ready for whatever the day might throw at me.
- Make Time: time to think, plan and do.
- Check Email.
- Lunch: either with colleagues or out walking with my camera or audiobook.
- Meet Time: time to meet and help my team and peers.
- Check Email.
- Shut Down: write up tomorrow’s to-do's, and go offline.
18:00 - 22:30: Head home, probably listen to Dylan or The National. Before dinner, I’ll take the dog and the boy to the park to play. And then it’s dinner and time with the whole family before bed. During this time, we’ll watch some Netflix (currently: Queer Eye, love this show) and I’ll read a book (currently: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand).
What’s your workstation setup?
Volvo’s Stockholm ofﬁce is planted in the heart of the capital, in a building (aptly) called the Epicentre.
My workspace is pretty simple, and I prefer not to use an external monitor. For whatever reason, I ﬁnd the bigger the screen gets, the less productive I become.
I just keep a few apps in the dock and have the menubar hidden.
Mobile home screen:
During the morning and evening, I have my screen in grey-scale mode to keep me focused, which feels nice as the apps I use during this time are also in some kind of dark mode. I have this programmed to the power button.
Tablet home screen
The iPad has become my workhorse, so the only time I choose the laptop is when I need to use Figma. Like the mobile, I keep the ﬁrst-screen blank to make sure I’m deliberate about what I open and rely on the search to open most apps.
Where do you go to get inspired?
Books have been a great inspiration, especially as I’m self-taught. Lately, I’ve found them the most inspiring when reading about creatives from analogous professions like musicians, ﬁlmmakers, and copywriters. I’ve found their techniques more structured and developed than some of those in tech, which can help speed-up my approach to a problem.
Since becoming a father, I listen a lot more to books, which helps me squeeze more time out of the day to learn. This makes walking the dog in the rain feel more productive and exercising in the morning less tedious.
If you’re interested here’s a list of my favourite books.
YouTube: I ﬁnd watching videos helps normalise new or hard things. So this has been super inspiring for achieving habits I’ve struggled with in the past, like getting up earlier, exercising, and photographing people. All things that have up-leveled my life and my work.
Pinterest: For me, much of design means building-up your pattern-matching skills, so you know what dots are available to connect and what patterns to recycle or challenge. Pinterest has been an excellent tool for this.
Museums: Stockholm has some great museums, which have both inspiring content and spaces to work from. I try to take advantage of this regularly. Some of my favourites:
Street: I spend a lot of time in my head, and although meditation is a useful tool for helping me pay attention, I ﬁnd that street photography helps me practice where that attention goes. Like noticing what’s in fashion, how people react to changes in weather or the grafﬁti on that wall. It’s also a great tool for practicing visual composition.
What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?
I recently bought an old Hasselblad 500 c/m camera. And it's now one of my favourite products. It’s tactile and precise to operate, has the loveliest sound when the shutter drops, and everything looks better through its viewﬁnder.
It’s also timeless. Working in tech where I’m constantly drawn to everything new, this has been a good example of how investing in a robust system, in this case, a modular one can offer you an instrument that endures. As not only is this system great for ﬁlm, but 60-years on Hasselblad have just announced a new digital back for those who want to extend its reach into mega-pixels.
Beyond this, I’m really enjoying the 6x6 format. Composing within a square is a bigger difference than I’d expected and I’m looking forward to seeing how this might cycle back to my design work.
Another (Swedish) brand I love is Teenage Engineering. I love the spirit of their design language across their synthesisers and speakers.
“Everything must be simple, primary colors and shapes, if we cannot draw it quickly on a pad of paper, it is too complicated.” —Jesper Kouthoofd (CEO of Teenage Engineering)
Digital products that are equally thoughtful are IA Writer and Things. I’ve loved using them since they came out, despite having gone astray a couple of times. Great for managing time and thoughts.
Two new favourites are Figma and Notion. They both started with collaboration in mind, and I love how they unify many processes and apps into one, helping remove digital silos to create greater alignment. I only wish they worked properly on the iPad.
What pieces of work are you most proud of?
Last year, I wrapped-up six and a half years at Spotify. I am super proud to have been a part of shaping the product and team during its journey to becoming a public company. Spotify went through so much change that it feels like I had three different acts while I was there.
The ﬁrst was during my initial year, driving a vision work-stream called Forward. Here I got to work with Daniel Ek and his leads to shape what the next stage of Spotify might be, looking at how data could redeﬁne personalised music. I’m proud of the concepts we shaped, the strategic impact they made, and the user-centered approach we role modelled across the company.
Then there was the hyper-growth period, where I jumped tracks to lead the visual redesign and the design systems team (GLUE) that followed. I’m proud of the solutions the designers, developers and I accomplished, from systemising our User Interfaces and Editorial Artwork, to the intelligent tools our engineers developed. Fantastic team.
And ﬁnally, leading Spotify’s Consumer organisation and having the opportunity to build and shape a wonderful design and research team. This was the moment where I shifted my attention from driving direction to supporting it through my directors, managers, and designers all of whom were distributed across the world. We had a lot exciting challenges during these years, like the new free-tier, home speaker partnerships, and Podcasts.
Today I’m at Volvo Cars and I’m super proud of all the initiatives and strategic conversations I get to be part of, like sustainability, safety, and personalisation. My proudest moment here so far is leading the Design Days event. This united designers from across the company (and world) got to know each other and tackled some important design problems.
What design challenges do you face at your company?
For me, the most exciting thing about being a designer is shaping change. And the transport industry is going through a lot of that right now.
This means exploring big opportunities like what does transport look like in future cities, what does sustainable ownership mean, and what new opportunities might exist within connected and autonomous cars.
What music do you listen to whilst designing?
Any advice for ambitious designers?
- Always strive to be as good and as useful as you can be. It makes you happy and makes others want to work with you again.
- But also be careful with ambition. Being nice to work with really is important, design is a group effort, so learning to work within a team is a core skill to develop.
- There’s an art in recognising opportunities, so pay attention and don’t waste time on things that make you feel empty.
- Take good care of yourself. Learning to manage your physical and mental state is a big deal. If you haven’t already, start by reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. It will help you recognise what is and isn’t in your control, which has been immensely helpful for me.
- Practice listening. Your job is to solve problems, often that means understanding the problem better than the business or user asking for them to be ﬁxed. Audiobooks are a great way to practice this.
- Read books every day. Blogs and websites are okay, but long-form reading tends to develop ideas further, so connect more dots. One example of this is Sketching User Experiences by Bill Buxton, Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, and Principles by Ray Dalio. If you struggle with time one life-hack to learn faster is to try 2x or even 3x Audiobooks.
- And remember you are allowed to change your mind.
Anything you want to promote or plug?
I recently wrote some thoughts on Aligned Autonomy (or designing within agile), which I think might be useful for other designers, yet I’m not sure how to share it. Perhaps if you have a second you could answer 1 questions for me:
How would you prefer to read about this subject:
- Book (ebook)
- Series of articles
- All of the above
Reach out to me on Twitter (@hellostanley) and let me know what you think. Also, if you have any other questions about any of the things I’ve mentioned please reach out.