First, let’s talk about your journey. How did you get into design? When did you know you were meant to be a creative?
I became interested in design a lot later than most of the designers I know. I wasn’t that kid tinkering on Neopets or customizing skins for my MySpace profile – probably because my parents always encouraged me to play outside, rather than sit on a computer.
As a child I was always creative, known to quickly complete my math work so I could turn the sheet over and use my crayons to draw on the back. However it wasn’t until years later that I took an interest in Design.
When I went to university I got a business degree in Marketing, thinking it was the path to creative advertising and digital design. Upon graduation, I learnt very quickly that I was expected to have a design degree if I wanted to work in any kind of creative field.
I quickly enrolled at Massey University’s College of Creative Arts and studied a post graduate diploma in Visual Communication Design. While most of the students in my class were skilled in graphic design, I thrived in the digital courses. My interests pulled me towards software, user experience and prototyping.
Do you think young designers should try to learn many disciplines or focus on mastering a single one?
Mastering one discipline is valuable and helps you build skills while refining your strengths. However, I believe that play and creativity are equally important—and not emphasized enough today. Without this, how can you discover what you’re good at or passionate about?
If you’re young or early in your career, I’d encourage you to try and experiment as much as you can–don’t put yourself in a box too early. Skills learnt are never wasted.
While I’m focused on mastering the discipline of product design, my secondary skills in user research, content strategy, prototyping or video editing are not wasted. These are complementary skills and disciplines that can help differentiate my work from others.
Have a process in place, but be open to adapting it and staying flexible so your skills and style can evolve.
What is your creative process? Do you think young designers should have a set of processes or go with the flow?
My process is always evolving. Have a process in place, but be open to adapting it and staying flexible so your skills and style can evolve.
Every time I work on a project, I learn something new or find ways to improve, and try to use those learnings to tweak my process the next time. Right now, I’m super deep in documenting all the things I create, after receiving feedback from my peers that they struggled to understand the design without a single source of truth—I’ve been surprised how powerful it can be
I’m often working on a project alongside a lot of people; engineers, researchers, product manager, data scientist, product operations, risk analysts, content strategists and lawyers. I’ve found that rigorous documentation is incredibly valuable in getting everyone onboard and receiving buy in to your design decisions.
For my current project, I’ve created an internal website that acts as that design source of truth. It contains every design decision made, features we descoped, product flows, handoff process, research reports and everything else design related. This has helped my team immensely in understanding where design is at.
How do you get inspired?
I’m deeply inspired by the design of physical and urban spaces. If you travel with me you’ll often find me scrutinizing the layout and (often lack of) functionality at security areas at airports, subway maps, utilisation of waterfronts and station wayfinding.
Unfortunately most of these spaces have been poorly designed. The needs of institutions are often put above the people, which leads to a poor user experience.
Despite designing in the digital world, I critique my designs as though they are physical experiences. Who is this serving? What are they trying to achieve? What is in the way? How can I create an experience to help them reach their goal?
Focus more on exploring, experimenting, networking and learning.
Do you think having a portfolio is important for young designers? What would your dream young designer portfolio be?
Yes, but it’s not the most important thing.
A portfolio is useful as it holds your body of work, and helps with telling your story. However, having a portfolio isn’t as important as doing the work. As a young designer I’d encourage you to focus more on exploring, experimenting, networking and learning. It’s only worth having a portfolio if you have good work and solid case studies to show. That’s not easy to do if you’re spending time obsessing over your portfolio rather than creating good work.
Ultimately, people are going to work with you because they believe in your ability to create good work. A portfolio is just one way to convince people of that. Other ways could be sharing snippets of work on social media, connecting with people at meetups or teaching others.
How can young designers get their first internship/job? Is it important to go to design school or not?
Talk to people! No one got their first job by passively waiting for it to knock on their door. Get out there and make connections, build your reputation, learn about the industry and show some grit. Also, referrals can work wonders. If you know of someone working at a company you want to work at, play that card!
Whether you went to design school or not is not important in regards to your credibility or authenticity as a designer. Unfortunately, some internships or jobs do require you to have a degree or tertiary education in design. I don’t agree with this, but they get to make their own rules.
Get out there and make connections, build your reputation, learn about the industry and show some grit.
Do you have any favourite books/resources you would have loved to read when you were younger to help boost your creative career?
I highly recommend my friend’s YouTube, CharliMarieTV. She has a fantastic channel dedicated to design tools, projects, and concepts. It’s perfect for any young designer wanting to learn more about the industry and how to get started.
In general I enjoy reading books that aren’t necessarily specific to design, but helpful in shaping and advising me in my career. Here’s a short list:
- No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work
- Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
- Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
- Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
- The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion
- Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Anything you want to promote or plug?
I’m most active on Twitter, but you can also follow me on YouTube where I make videos about product design and user research, or Instagram where I share photos of my travels. I also occasionally send out an email newsletter.