Work inspiration with
Craig Dennis

My name is Craig Dennis and I’m Creative Director at Simple Bit Design, a small design company specialising in user interface and information design. If it has a screen, we can design for it. Everything from responsive web design to OSX and iOS.

How did you get started as a creative director? What is a turning point in your professional career?

The easiest way to get the job you want is to give it to yourself. I started Simple Bit Design just over a year ago in an airport lounge.

I had been running the design team at Etch for a few years and loved the people but wasn’t happy with the type of clients we were having to deal with. We spent more and more time educating than actually doing, and fighting to do things ‘right’. We were forced to ‘trick’ users with one particular client; something that didn’t sit well with any of us.

I had to reset, so I quit. In fact, I did more than quit the company. I quit the industry. I needed to remove all the bad feelings I had built up, so I moved up a mountain in Canada. The best decision I have ever made. I guess that is the main turning point in my career; leaving it altogether.

I started doing some freelance work after about 6 months and found I was able to support myself. So when visiting home and my flight was delayed, I decided to start a business. I registered a company, built a website, and have never looked back.

What is your ideal work environment? Do you prefer to work in a studio all day long or prefer to mix a few activities?

I don’t have an office (something which I am looking to change) so I work in coffee shops, libraries and on the sofa in my living room. I think my ideal workspace would be really minimal. I’m always pinning workspaces on Pinterest. That’s probably the best indication of my style.

I rarely do 8 hours solid in a day. I’ll do some work in the morning, go skiing (in Winter) or play disc golf course or go to the lake (in Summer), do a few more hours in the evening and then again at night. I work best later in the day; something I believe is quite common in the design industry.

I really enjoy the work I do so it’s not very difficult to get motivated. Living up a mountain means there’s always something to do, so I keep my work schedule flexible.

What tools / software do you use for your work?

Pen and paper are always the first things I’ll grab when talking about design; technology still hasn’t reached a point to replace them just yet.

For 90% of design work I use Sketch. It’s the perfect combination of Photoshop and Illustrator that fits with my workflow. I use it to map out user-flows, create wireframes, and produce high fidelity mockups.

InVision keeps getting better and fits perfectly with Sketch. I use it to demo user-flows to clients (I try not to elicit feedback directly through the app though) and most of the early stage user-testing is done using InVision.

I use Asana for design tasks and discussions with clients, Slack for day-to-day team and client comms, and GitHub for development task and milestones. For billing / project health / accounting I use FreeAgent and a Mac app called Slips for time tracking.

Here’s a full list if you’re interested:

  • Sketch
  • InVision
  • Slack
  • Asana
  • GitHub
  • Tower
  • SublimeText
  • Dropbox
  • Google Drive
  • Docracy
  • FreeAgent
  • Droplr
  • 1Password

Where does your creative inspiration come from? (Do you believe in 'inspiration' at all)?

Inspiration is one of those things that you can’t really quantify. I’m inspired by how things fit together and how people have solved a particular problem.

In terms of inspiration for work, I sometimes search Dribbble or just ask Google to see if there are any interesting patterns that could help solve an immediate challenge, so it tends to be very specific inspiration. I started Empty States for that very reason. It’s a very specific area of inspiration; what do you do in the absence of data? Others have followed such as Little Big Details and more recently Great Email Copy.

I don’t ever think to myself ‘oh now I can use that new trend’. I’m usually inspired by how people can make something really functional and also beautiful. A great example is the https://www.gov.uk/ site.

Who are the creatives you admire most and why?

This is such a difficult question to answer. I don’t really ‘admire’ any ‘creatives’. I’m inspired by work that makes a difference and by people who make things happen. Very rarely does this happen in a vacuum. For every well-known person there is a usually a team of people around them and together they make something fantastic.

I admire people who aren’t afraid of following their passion. The hardest thing is starting.