Gregory Koberger: There’s nothing scarier than an empty PSD

When we started Usersnap we wanted to help people in Web Development and Design to focus on the more important stuff in life than handling endless Email support conversations. That’s why we are starting a new series in our blog, called “Picture My Work”. In this series we ask designers and web devs to give us a little sneak peak into their daily work routines, their values, their tools and what they like / dislike about their work.

I am thrilled to kick off this series with Gregory Koberger, formerly at Mozilla, who recently published his Startup Notes, a beautiful, concise summary of the YCombinator Startup School 2013. You should follow him on Twitter: @gkoberger

1. Tell us about your work in 140 characters.
I’m a programmer-turned-designer who uses design as a way to make the content more accessible.

2. What is good design for you personally?

Good design gets across what you’re trying to do. We aren’t creating art that will someday end up in a museum — we have a goal, and we need to make sure the design helps meet this goal. Sometimes that means making something pretty or fun, and other times it means making something as intuitive as possible.

3. What type of designer are you: perfectionist (obsessed with detail, careful, hard working), magician (based on intuition, that needs a lot of experience, makes it look simple), inspired (using what you see around in the world, combining and curating), other?
Probably a mix of all three. I design best when I’m inspired, though — the world (and Internet) is filled with great design, and I’ll often have a “Eureka!” moment when I least expect it. It’s hard to design when you don’t have inspiration, so it’s often times best to wait for inspiration to strike.

I’m careful to avoid taking on work I don’t have a personal connection to. Design isn’t like other skills — you can’t just power through it. It shows if your heart isn’t in it or if you don’t like or believe in what you’re working on.

4. How do you approach working with a client on the design / creation process?
I start by creating a “mood board”. Basically, a collection of links and screenshots that have the feeling that the client or I am going for. This is an important first step, to make sure you’re on the same page. Most people (myself included) have a hard time verbalizing what they’re going for, so it’s much easier to say something like “I really like the feel of these sites”. The final product likely won’t actually resemble the inspiration, however it’s a good way to decide on a feel.

5. What is your biggest annoyance?
Screen sizes. Print designers had it easy. When making a website, it has to work well and look good on an infinite number of screen sizes, browsers, resolutions and device types.

6. What is your best moment / biggest success?
I once was in a coffee shop, and someone was telling me about a site I had designed. It was a really cool experience to see in person someone I had never met be impressed enough to evangelize it.

Gregory Koberger Startup Notes
Gregory Koberger’s Startup Notes, see www.startupnotes.org

7. How old would you like to become and why?
I never want to “retire”. Something about sitting on a beach (or worse, in a house watching TV) all day would drive me insane. I want to live as long as I am still able to make things — whether it be programming, design, or whatever trade I happen to practice in a few dozen years.

8. How strong is your self critique? Do you believe it?

I tend to dislike everything I’ve ever done. I think this is important — otherwise you stop trying to learn or improve yourself. The best designers and programmers I know never think their own work is good enough, and they continuously strive to improve it.

9. Which person that already died would you like to meet for one more time?
Dale Carnegie. His book “How To Win Friends and Influence People” isn’t about design or usability, however it changed the way I approach design. Design is just a means of communication, like talking or writing. The ultimate goal is to convey a message of some sort, and to properly do that you need to take a step back and understand your audience. The name of the book may come off as scammy or off-putting, however I consider it a must-read for anyone. It’s not about manipulating people at all — rather, about understanding them.

10. Which project are you currently working on? What files are open in Photoshop?
Currently, I’m working on designs for my own startup — a tool for developers that makes the creation of a developer hub and documentation easy. It’s an interesting departure from most of my recent work — the functionality is far more important than the aesthetics.

11. What is your favorite tool for work?
I really love how JavaScript is being reborn. It went from a sad scripting language that people begrudgingly used to being one of the most powerful and enjoyable languages around — for both the frontend and backend. My current obsession is Angular — it hasn’t been since jQuery that I’ve found something that changes how I write JavaScript.

It’s probably weird that my favorite design tool is a programming language, however that’s the point of web design — to be used and interacted with. Dribbble is unfortunately filled with pretty mockups that never made it out of Photoshop and into a website.

Gregory Koberger Phileas Fogg
Phileas & Fogg Startup Travel to Costa Rica, phileasandfogg.com

12. What design trend do you think will fade soon?
Flat design, to the extent that it’s been taken. I have nothing against flat design, and think it will be around for a while. However, I feel like people overcorrected from the skeuomorphism trend and we ended up too minimalistic. We’ll slowly see people move back to the middle again.

13. If you weren’t doing what you do right now, what would you be doing?
I’d be a full-time programmer. I loved programming, and still do it daily — however, my focus has shifted toward design.

14. How do you handle the feedback process with your clients in general?
I’ve found sitting down for an hour and opening up Photoshop can speed things up. Going back and forth can be slow, so sometimes it’s nice to let the client drive for a bit. Obviously, if the client had all the answers, they wouldn’t have hired me — however it’s a good way to quickly get on the same page, and explore new ideas.

15. What would you like to know from other designers?
I love hearing about process, and how people get started. There’s nothing scarier than an empty PSD.

Buy the Startupnotes Book here: http://buy.startupnotes.org/

Thanks Gregory, What a great insight into your work and life!

If you are a designer / web developer and want to give us a little peak into your world, write to hello@usersnap.com or ping us at @usersnap.

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