Work inspiration with
I’m a designer at Mozilla, the nonprofit that created Firefox, working all the way from New Zealand, also known as the end of the world.
How did you get started in design/typography?
I studied advertising with a conviction that specialisation was overrated. So instead of focusing in art direction, copywriting or planning, I took on a real-life project that snowballed into a student ad agency. This allowed me to sit in the back of the classroom and do a bit of everything while fixing CSS or looking wistfully out the window at old, hand painted signs. It was quite a bit of fun, but finding work as a generalist took a while.
Sidenote: my predilection for letterform details – a gift when performing font forensics, a curse when cycling on a busy road – was sparked by a college instructor who once designed for the Emigre type foundry
My first gig was an internship at Wild Alchemy, a brand strategy agency (motto: “…play well with others, but run with scissors”) housed in a house with a great wine cellar. Next, I joined Wieden+Kennedy Portland, an ad agency housed in a restored warehouse (mise-en-sc?ne: wood pillars, two hammocks, a wall of a thousand pins, a giant beaver statue). An introduction to Wieden+Kennedy Delhi led me to do even more things on the web, this time from a city 20 times as ancient and populous (know this: nothing beats working while sitting cross-legged in a properly outfitted sitting room). Mozilla came after that. In one sense, moving to the end of the world to work in a new industry is a drastic change. In another sense, it’s treading a familiar ground of expatriation. Either way, it’s an adventure.
Let’s talk about the creative process and how you work. What are you working on now?
Three projects: a way to open one website using multiple usernames at the same time, a way to take a snapshot and excerpt of a page, and a way for all Mozilla services to accept payment. The first one is probably the most important and immediately helpful!
I was extremely lucky to have a hand in designing diversely: app marketplace, bug tracker, developers network, and support library/forum. Even helped out two projects close to home: a marketing campaign and a set of in-depth user interview sessions.
What tools and software do you use for your work?
I almost always start with pen and loose paper. To start, I’d sketch heaps of diagrams or wireframes, scrawl all over them, redraw them from scratch many times, then digitise them when I feel like they’re refined enough.
The digitising could happen in any diagramming software. My colleagues like to use Lucidchart for its sharing capability, but my previous team used OmniGraffle, and that was enjoyable, too.
After the artefacts are saved, I’d set the stack of paper aside, then move on to working solely on the computer.
Interactive prototype often comes next in the process; but lately, I’ve been writing scenarios, recording the screen and “acting” it out in a walkthrough video format. It’s not an interactive prototype, but does a pretty good job giving everybody a feel for the service, and much quicker to make. For these, I use Axure and Keynote.
Everybody is convinced, and the design is coming together, so it’s now a good time to run a few user testing sessions and get feedback. This is where the face of the design could change drastically, but also where strong vision and sense for fixing the deep underlying issue become important. Although UserTesting.com has been a good service to do this, there’s nothing quite like running face-to-face research sessions.
A lot of the efforts around completing the design ought to be about presenting everything you’ve generated into well-written, organised documentation and styleguide that everybody can read. And for this, we’d often use GitHub. Each team would have a repository for a product, and I’d contribute: write in their documentation page, file issues and discuss them, what have you.
What is your ideal work environment?
Extremely quiet, and completely separated from the living space by a good walkable distance. I try my hardest not to think about work when I leave the office. This gives my brain a break, and gives my unconscious enough time to digest problems and think of solutions. Since mentally separating life and work is supremely hard, my physical setting need to follow what I’m trying to do inside my head – hence the rigorous separation.
Where are your favorite places for art?
This is hard, because I can’t say that I’m familiar with New Zealand’s art scene. However, I’m a huge fan of wandering at night (or during the day, if I manage to find the time for it) and noticing little things around, that may either be completely ordinary or completely unexpected: a slice of tomato lying against geometric asphalt markings, a packet of drink made from a blend of coffee and tea, a doodled sketchpad left on a table on the back of a gallery, hand drawn advertisements for garage sales.
Who are the designers, artists you admire most?
- Hypathia: mathematician, philosopher, astronomer, inspirations for authors everywhere. philosophy, astronomy and neoplatonism
- Athanasius Kircher: Sinology, geology, cat piano, the last renaissance man.
- Sister Loyola Galvin: compassion, living in service of others, devotion to community, the trials and joys of maintaining a food garden at 92 years old.