Just like other creative professions — such as songwriting or filmmaking — web and app designers face what can be a daunting creative process. If the creative juices aren’t flowing, creatives can certainly get discouraged. That’s why we caught up with four of Austin’s top designers to see how they keep things fresh and innovative.
Matt Eng, interaction designer, Idean
On how he develops his design ideas:
“Most of the design exploration is done on a white board or a Post-it note, even if they’re just quick and dirty,” Eng (pictured right) said. “It leaves it very iterative, it leaves it very flexible.”
He stressed that designers shouldn’t hesitate to go back to sketching if they encounter a roadblock. Eng, who enjoys working on enterprise apps, also noted that sharing his ideas with his team at Idean — a global design firm with an Austin studio — is important to the process.
On not becoming 'irrelevant':
Eng confessed one fear of his is to not “be that designer who is at a company who is so outdated that you’re irrelevant.”
Thus, Eng has found mentors to be an incredible resource when it comes to staying sharp.
“One thing that I learned early by accident was to find a mentor — someone who is willing to kick you in the butt, but force you to find your goals and think about them.”
Sam Thibault, product designer, Handsome
On how to prevent lapses in creativity:
Thibault (pictured left), who works at Handsome, a custom digital products studio, personally enjoys working on data analysis projects. He suggests being proactive can help prevent any lapses in creative sparks.
“There’s a lot of things that we can do early on that may be a detriment to creativity,” he said. “And something that really helps — and I think that is pretty standard across a lot of creative industries — is being really direct with feedback.”
He adds that much inspiration is driven from the initial research process, particularly from seeing other examples.
JoJo Marion, design lead, Jackrabbit Mobile
Meanwhile, for JackRabbit Mobile, a native front-end mobile design and development firm that works out of Capital Factory, Marion (pictured right) said the process varies depending on if the team is working on existing products or new products.
On Jackrabbit’s process for new products:
“We’ll try and focus a lot on the core experience,” Marion said, adding that clients’ business goals are always important. “We’ll do testing, mock-up ideas around what’s the one thing that we’re really trying to do different or trying to do really well, what’s the one amazing thing about the product that people are actually going to be using and they’re going to come back time and time again to do this.”
On keeping the team involved:
Marion said the number of people working on a project depends on the assignment, and he said being lean — 15 people work at the 3-year-old firm — helps ensure that everyone’s input is heard.
Also, Marion said the company’s culture allows for that, as well.
“A lot of our developers, we have them using design tools. A lot of our designers, we have them using development tools, so everyone cares,” he said. “The developers care about the design, and the designers care about the development.”
On how he continues to stay sharp as a creative:
“Just seeing what other people are doing constantly makes me want to learn more,” he said, adding that the online community of designers in particular is helpful. He mentioned Dribbble and Designer News as two such resources.
Chris Mayfield, owner and principal, Crispy Interactive
Designers can also sharpen their work by taking a break from it, according to Mayfield (pictured left), who founded Crispy, an end-to-end interactive solutions provider.
On why he emphasizes editing:
Mayfield said he challenges designers to do a lot editing at the end, adding that stepping away from a project for a couple days can be beneficial, allowing designers to remove anything that is redundant when they return to the work.
“In software — and in most things —simplicity typically drives a better user experience,” he said.
On how he manages his time:
“I’m very big on time-boxing things, of giving myself a set amount of time to complete something and decide whether that was a mistake or not a mistake — and usually that’s between four and eight hours,” Mayfield said. “Sometimes all that does is ensure me that the idea was a bad one and I have to do another one.”
On creatives being bold and not overworking themselves:
Mayfield said he prefers designers are given the space to take ownership of projects. Also, working 80 hours a week won’t necessarily result in better work.
“What tends to be rewarding for me or effective for me is if I feel I am supported enough where I can make mistakes and be bold,” Mayfield said. “I love to tell the people in our office, ‘You’ll never get in trouble for doing something wrong; you’ll get in trouble for not doing something.’”
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