Hey, Alex! First, let’s talk about your journey. How did you get into design? When did you know you were meant to be a creative?
At a very young age I started drawing pictures and was always interested in art, painting, and handicraft work. I also come from a creative family. When you can hold something in your hand that you made out of nothing, it’s kind of magic. Art class at school was always my favorite. I increasingly knew I want to do creative work in my career, something that involved visuals and art. It turned out to be design, which combines both visual and practical disciplines.
I decided to study communication design. I was very much into branding, logos, typography and illustration. At that time apps got more and more popular. I was also freelancing at advertising agencies, just to earn a few bucks and get some real life work experience.
My background is mostly in graphic design which was really helpful in my general understanding of design. I learned the most during internships, like how to communicate with teammates and clients, how processes work, how to report and present ideas to others, and how frustrating it can be when your design gets rejected. Everything can be a valuable learning experience. For example, my marketing design experiences remain useful to me every day.
It’s just as important to know what you don’t want to do as it is to know what you want to do. For me, advertising wasn’t the right direction, even though I enjoyed many parts of it. The way people work in this industry was not a good fit for me. Long nights without breaks or even working on weekends isn’t healthy. All the experiences you collect can shape your knowledge make you a better designer and person.
What is your favourite design discipline and why? How did you find out it was your favourite? How can young designers find out?
My favourite design discipline is what I currently do, product design. Even though I didn’t learn it at university, I grew into this discipline because I am passionate about it. I love that you can constantly iterate on the app you're building. You can undo mistakes and polish your product relatively easily. In comparison, doing this with a physical product isn’t so simple. When I used my first iPod and iPhone, I became fascinated by all the apps and seemingly endless possibilities. I knew my career would involve product design.
Young designers should treat finding their favourite design disciple a bit like hobbies. You have to try things out. Explore areas you’re not familiar with. Ask yourself the question what you like to do and what don’t. Discover what you find fascinating. If you’re doing a job you hate and daydream about a different role, you’ve likely stumbled across something you really like. Go all in.
If you’re doing a job you hate and daydream about a different role, you’ve likely stumbled across something you really like. Go all in.
Do you think young designers should try to learn many disciplines or focus on mastering a single one?
I think it’s important that you explore everything that’s out there, especially if you are not clear on what you should focus on. Firstly, to satisfy your hunger and curiosity and secondly, to do your job well. For instance, to understand development requirements and empathize with developers, it’s helpful for designers to have basic coding knowledge.
To be a product designer it helps to understand typography and graphic design or even basics in animation. To me it’s natural to have this curiosity to try different disciplines inside design and the ones that are connected to it. Photography can sharpen your eye for layout, composition and colors. Illustration or art can do that as well. All these areas might spark new ideas in your current discipline.
If you’re a designer with many skills, an all-rounder, that’s totally fine but it can be harder to find a job. Many companies look for a specific person who can do X very well. On the other hand, some companies value people with multiple skills to cover various projects that need to be done. This is the time where you as a multidisciplinary designer can be useful. For instance, smaller startups have small teams where one designer has to wear many hats. Mastering one discipline is also a good option. In both cases, it’s important to have a basic understating on how multiple design disciplines overlap.
What is your creative process? Do you think young designers should have a set of processes or go with the flow?
My creative process starts mostly with writing. I define the problem, write a hypothesis, and set goals. I think it’s always good to start with a process, especially if you are early in your career. This helps you understand what problem you are solving. Despite having years of design experience, it’s still helpful for me to start with a process that involves a few key questions about what I want to answer with my designs.
Having a document is crucial to me. It includes topics like the problem statement and various questions. Why are you creating this design or building this feature in the first place? Who I am solving this problem for? How does it add value? Is it morally right to do this? How can my design be misused? Which edge cases are there that I need to think of? Is it accessible in its navigation, colors, and typography? Does it fulfil the users’ exact needs? These are similar to design principles, that you can apply to a design project. Questions and answers can help you make good decisions during your process.
This does not only apply to product design. In all cases you have a responsibility as a designer with the work you put out there. So, design thoughtfully.
During the creative process I think it’s ok to go with the flow sometimes or start somewhere else than you usually do. For me it’s similar to a long task list. Some tasks are dependent on each other, others not so much. If there’s one that is simpler for you to finish to get into the flow, start with that one.
Your creative process may change depending on what you’re doing. A product feature needs careful research and considerations, while a book cover can be more unusual or extravagant. If you are stuck in one area, switch to another and try different things. You can be your own inspiration by doing. A work in progress version that you set aside today can inspire you the next day. The more you explore the better you can evaluate what works and what doesn’t. It can be messy. Anything that helps you get to your final solution is worthwhile.
At the end of your process, you need to be able to explain your design decisions to others when you hand them off. Be considerate and clean up your design files when others need to work on it.
You have a responsibility as a designer with the work you put out there. So, design thoughtfully.
How do you get inspired?
I get inspired by different things. A clean and minimalistic desk helps me focus. I only need my laptop and music. I also enjoy a calm surrounding like a library. Changing the place I work and my view and wandering around in a city also help. I also enjoy looking at other designers’ work on Dribbble. Thinking about specific design problems I encounter in daily life and how I can make them better with a design solution is another practice I use.
Try a new technique for a lettering piece that you saw on Instagram. Look at illustrators’ work. See how diverse their styles, compositions are and how they evoke emotions with colors or how creative their metaphors to convey their messages are.
Talk with people about daily struggles or inspiring things. Go to the movies, museum, read books about human behaviour and psychology or anything else you like. Go to design talks and be open to new and different cultures and perspectives. Travel. I like brainstorming with a fellow designer or a person very close to you, like my girlfriend. Do something that doesn’t relate to your work. Take time off and let your mind wander. There’s a lot you can do to get inspired by.
Do you think having a portfolio is important for young designers? What would your dream young designer portfolio be?
It always depends on what you want to do with it. In general I think it’s important to document your work. Especially for yourself. You can go back and see what you accomplished and how much you improved over time.
After a project is finished, write about it when it’s still fresh in your mind and reflect on your learnings. Practicing this will make you better at presenting your work in written form or presentations.
It’s tough to envision my dream young designer portfolio! I think it should showcase the work you are proud of. Maybe 1 or 3 projects like case studies where you write about your design decisions.
For the portfolio itself: You don’t need a logo. Make it understandable for anyone. Tell the visitor who you are and what you currently do.
While looking for work, only include the design projects in your portfolio that show exactly the type of work that you would like to continue doing. Exclude any previous projects that you didn’t enjoy or any disciplines that you don’t want to continue doing. Use simple language and a simple design. You can also use made up project or university projects.
When you write about your design decisions make sure to include your role, what exactly your design input was, your process, your learnings, and your goals. Make it clear if you worked in a group or alone. Take the opportunity to have a visually appealing design. In my opinion, the simpler the better. Don’t alter any browser scroll behaviours and keep in mind that your portfolio needs to be accessible. Design refinements are the cherry on top. They can come last. Focus on your content first. Visualize your ideas with prototypes or sketches. Try to explain why you used this one specific colour combination. Always ask yourself “why?” It’s like telling a story. To me, your design work and ability to talk about it are equally important.
Pro tip: Imagine recording yourself explaining a project from end to end to someone who doesn’t know design or anything about this project.
After a project is finished, write about it when it’s still fresh in your mind and reflect on your learnings.
What is the most important thing to know about design in your opinion?
Design is about solving problems and you have a responsibility to consider how your design is going to be used. Don’t attach yourself too much to your work. Be respectful with other designers. Always be willing to learn and be open to feedback. If a user has a problem using your design, it’s not their fault but yours as a designer. I had to learn this.
How can young designers get their first internship/job? Is it important to go to design school or not?
There are many ways to find your first role. I personally tried building professional relationships through Twitter, my time at university, and with work connections through my family. You can also reach out to companies that you admire. For example, create a made up feature that you’d love to see. Show it to them. Be interested and interesting. Make yourself known. Post blog posts about your process and thoughts. Don’t be afraid that someone has already written about it. It’s your unique perspective that you’re sharing. There are always parts someone else doesn’t know. What is obvious to you, especially with time and more experience, might not be obvious to other designers.
Don’t attach yourself too much to your work.
Did you learn any tricks during your career? Do you have any tricks you would have loved your young-self to know?
Mostly that there are no tricks. Okay maybe a few tips: Learn your tools and keyboard shortcuts. The best way to do this is practice.
Do you have any favourite books/resources you would have loved to read when you were younger to help boost your creative career?
- Universal Principles of Design
- Accessibility for Everyone
- Responsible Responsive Design
- The Shape of Design
- Designed for Use
- The End of Average
- Atomic Habits
- Deep Work
- Type on Screen
- Creativity Inc.
- Mismatch: How inclusion shapes design
To wrap up, do you have a favourite quote? How is it relative to your creative career?
“Don’t be afraid to fail, be afraid not to try.”
As designers we keep learning every day and failing is a natural part of growth. If you made sure your decisions were always with your best intent, you don’t have to worry. Creativity also means to test out things that are of the box and challenging the status quo. Which means trying to make something existing better, maybe with a completely new solution. Maybe you will fail, but maybe not. Either way, you learned something valuable along the way.
Anything you want to promote or plug?