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Q&A with Robin Richards

UX, data visualisation & infographics

I design (or move things around until they work as I tell the kids) for digital things like websites and apps, or static things like posters and images. I do a bit of UX, a bit of data visualisation and infographics, and a bit of general design. I like to bit of everything to keep learning.

How did you get started in UX and data visualization, what is your background?

I started in graphic design - posters, books, magazine layouts that sort of thing. I always had an interest in presenting data driven story, but I lived on an island with every poor internet, and it was not until returning to the UK that someone told me that interest was called infographics. Thus I started design them, which progressed onto data visualisation as there can be quite a bit of overlap. Especially at the start of a project when deciding on the best way to tell the story of the data.

While doing this found that the more data dense and complex the data visualisation was or what experience the data was driving, it required some what you would call more traditionally web UX considerations (user flow, what UI pattern to use etc) and thus this evolved into doing UX as a separate thing in an organic way.

Where did you study? Looking back, would you recommend your path for beginners?

I took the traditional route of going to a Uni to study - studying fine art in fact. I did switch after a year or so to graphic design when all my paintings started to get more and more graphical. The switch as good for me, I enjoyed the problem solving and telling a story. I also taught me some of the more of the technical elements of design when the web as still using tables for layout. The biggest take away from studying at Uni (which as stayed with me) is that you are in charge of your learning. Of course the tutors help you along, but if you don't want to put in the hours, or you don't want to explore and make those happy mistakes then you don't have to - but it will be like painting by numbers - boring. I wasn't top of my class, I pushed the brief to far for the tutors most times, but I loved the freedom you have to explore and follow the idea.

I would recommend it for anyone, even for a little bit. There is a sense of freedom that you will not have to often in a commercial environment, and the energy of doing it yourself (because you can't afford to paid someone else to do it) will be something which informs the rest of your creative life.

What are the books and weblogs helped you to improve your professional skills?

Any manuals and tutorials. Find the hardest thing is to make that idea as good or better that you see it in your imagination, and working out how to use the right tools to do that is an ongoing losing struggle.

As a counter point to this I do greatly enjoy any book which addresses the emotion of design - looking at the why instead of the how. An fantastic example of this is The Manual.

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

I like to mix. I have convinced myself the reasoning is inspiration can come from anywhere, and if you focus on something to long you miss the obvious thing. Thus walk away and come back.

I use to work in a studio for a couple of days, but over the past few years have been working more alone. However, am beginning to think need to go back to a studio for the interaction and social side of design. To feed of that collective energy. Finding the right one is a challenge as it would need to be close to home (I walk everywhere and to far is lost work time) and have a mixture of relaxed individuals.

Who are the people in your city/country or outside you admire most?

There isn’t one person I admire (couldn’t tell you why) but anyone I know or have talked to that have a dream or idea that scared them s**tless and they weren’t sure how to accomplish it, but they stopped, figured it out and did it. No manner if they changed the world, they changed their world, and I find that hugely powerful.

Am a big believer in not being afraid of failing. Just do it! Next time you can try it again or something different with more confidence and knowledge, hopefully to succeed. I try to remember this no manner how big or small the idea or design challenge. Personally, I do lazy design when I forget that failing is ok. Just save it and do it again better.