In this interview, Dan Wiersema shares with us the structure of an effective interface design team, the working process of such a team, and how to bring together an effective project. We'll learn about the touchscreen design company Guifx, of which Dan is the Creative Director.
Dan is filled with creative energy, a strong design eye, a well-rounded background in various art and design fields, and a strong attention to detail - all of which he feels are important components in a successful designer. If interface design is a subject that captivates you, then jump into this interview to learn more!
1. Dan, could you tell us a bit about your background? How did you get involved in the design field? What training do you have? What drove you towards icon design, making interfaces, and ultimately narrowing in on touchscreens?
My first venture into design was in high school with graffiti art. Learning valuable lessons like the use of color, balance and typography from graffiti, I attended college at The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale where I graduated with degrees in Graphic Design and Interactive Media Design. Late to the party, I didn't actually learn to use a computer until I was in college around the age of 20. Once I started using one, I was hooked.
The transition between the mediums happened naturally for me. I started out as a traditional print designer designing logos, posters, brochures, etc. Knowing the future is on the internet I moved into web design and then began to focus on user interface design after joining Guifx. Believe it or not, I consider designing icons and touchscreens as relatively new to me.
2. Could you tell us about the recent redesign of the Guifx site? What were the criteria you set up for the redesign? How did the process unfold? Do you feel you hit your goals with the redesign? Do you find designing for your own site any more difficult than client work?
This time around our goal was more of a "refresh" than a complete redesign. With so much client work, we had been using a pretty old format and just building and building on it. We knew it was time to clean house, so we gave the website a full update. A lot of the changes involved our store's presentation and content. We also refreshed all of the graphics throughout the site while maintaining the overall feel of the previous version.
Designing for ourselves can be much more difficult than client work. That's one of the reasons we opted for an update over a full redesign. The update took about half the time a complete redesign would have, and we loved what we had. It just needed some love.
3. When did Guifx form? What's your role on the team and did your group come together? What are some of the company's significant accomplishments, clients and projects, and how do you see the company growing?
Guifx was formed in 2000, creating touchscreen interfaces long before touch hit the mainstream market. These days, as Creative Director I'm in charge of the overall presentation of everything we do, how the world perceives our work and thus how they perceive Guifx as a whole. Our group has pretty much been formed from friends and artists I have met through the years either in college or through various design circles on the internet.
Guifx has customers in over 39 countries ranging from smaller and mid-size companies to large corporations such as Yahoo!, Wells Fargo, HBO and Walt Disney. What we have accomplished up to this point, while fantastic, is only the beginning. We are expanding rapidly and have a strong feeling that we are on the cusp of what will be a real breakout time in our company's history.
4. Your business card has an interface flavor? Could you tell us about the design of it? Are you satisfied with the end result? How effectively does it communicate the concept of what you all do at Guifx?
For the Guifx card I wanted to come up with a design that really showed what Guifx was all about while still staying pretty clean and easy to read. I felt it was important to illustrate the thought and effort that goes into our interfaces. Our attention to detail is what I think sets us apart from the crowd. I think our card communicates that pretty well.
5. Could you open up the Guifx hood for us. How is it collaborating on projects with your group? Is your team distributed or are you all located in Florida? Does everyone have a clear role on each project? Could you walk us through the Automobile Interface project displayed in your folio to demonstrate your responses?
We have an awesome group chemistry, we all get along brilliantly. These guys have become some of my closest friends, working with them isn't only easy, it's almost second nature. There are 7 of us total. Currently all of us are here in Florida except Nando is in Brazil, Chris is in Norway and Lance is in England. This past year everyone came to Florida to visit. We had such an amazing time that we're trying to make it an annual event to assemble for an official Guifx trip.
The automobile interface was something Nando and I worked on. Every project has a different lead designer, I was the lead on this particular project. I created the layout, functionality, overall look and placement of all the graphics. For instance, I mocked up the wireframe of the car in the middle with a wireframe I found on google image search. After the layout was solid, Nando came back in and redrew a lot of the elements including the car, giving the interface the final look.
6. Could you tell us about your project Weloveicons.com. What sparked you to create this site? Could you tell us about the design? What motivated you to go so narrow with the layout? What prompted the style choice of wood and other elements? How quickly has this site grown and do you get numerous new icon submissions daily?
We Love Icons is a personal project by myself and my friend and co-worker Nando Albuquerque. I love changing and modifying my desktop with new icons. The reason we wanted to create this site is because there really wasn't just one place to go to find the best icons out there.
The layout was determined by the content we were going to present. I wanted the site to be all about the icons. So many websites dwarf their content with over-done GUIs. In some cases that makes sense, but here I wanted the icons to be the focus. The wood texture is something I had been wanting to try for a while. My inspiration for the design, as weird as this may sound, was primarily a japanese bentō box.
The site has become popular a lot quicker than we thought. Within the first week we had around 1500 visits a day steady and it has grown to about 3000 per day now 5 months later. We receive about 10 submissions a week. I'm actually surprised people don't submit more, right now Nando and I find most of the icons you see on the site. We're thinking of finding some volunteers to help us out in the near future.
7. Where does Photoshop fit into your workflow? What are some of the other programs you use on a regular basis. Is sketching a part of your workflow? Do you use a digital pen/tablet?
Out of all applications I use to create designs, Photoshop plays the biggest role. I also use Illustrator extensively. Sketching is a big part of the process, as are what we call "lo-fi" mock-ups. At the moment I don't use a tablet, though I want one. I'm holding out for the mythical touchscreen Mac tablet (come on Apple, please).
8. What is the inspiration behind the Quarian Media Player project? Is this a personal project? How important are personal design projects to you? How often do you find the time to experiment with new techniques?
Yes, the Quarian project was indeed a personal project of mine. I have always admired that "high-tech" style of design and I wanted to try my hand at it. Unfortunately while working on client projects I can't afford to experiment too much. Personal projects are very important to me for this reason. I really wish I had more time to work on this kind of thing.
9. What top resources would you recommend for someone to learn icon design and interface design? Where do you go for your inspiration?
First and foremost you need to master the tools of the trade. For us they are Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. The best way I see to do that, without attending a school, is following tutorials, getting books and really studying hard.
The second part is what I personally do, of course this might be different for everyone. But I find artists, art and random things I really like. I study them, I find what I like and don't like. I do this with anything really: industrial design, product packaging, interface, 3D, random objects, seriously anything. And I keep bookmarks in my browser, a folder on my computer, and notes of all this inspiration.
When it comes time to design something, I picture what it might look like. When things I have seen pop into my mind, I mash-up my thoughts with pieces from the different inspirational images and ideas I may have found. Then I start to build my own unique idea.
10. I noticed in the Guifx store that your company creates industry specific software? What has your role been with this? Could you tell us about Koloroo for example? I see the Koloroo logo in your portfolio. Could you tell us about that branding project and how successful it was?
Guifx has been creating touchscreen GUIs for the home automation industry for almost 10 years now and makes graphic solutions for almost any touchscreen platform. Home automation focuses on simplifying day-to-day tasks that control various aspects of the home for example room temperature, lighting, audio, video, security, etc. Over the years my role has changed from creating the interfaces to planning and overseeing development of new products and interfaces as well.
Koloroo is a software project led by our Director of Operations, Morgan Strauss. He has a bit of a mild obsession with math and color. Koloroo is the software that blends those two things together letting you interactively explore color schemes beautifully generated by math.
Creating the Koloroo brand was a lot of fun. Morgan and I brainstormed names and ideas for the possible art direction. In the end he came up with the name and I came up with the multi-colored kangaroo and later added the final type treatment which really brought it to life. The branding for Koloroo was extremely successful. The logo has won quite a few awards and been featured in many top logo galleries.
11. What are the core skills you would look for in hiring an interface designer? Is a traditional education essential? Or can someone enter this profession with enough passion and through practice, tutorials, and hard work?
The most important things I look for is originality and attention to detail; a good designer puts his or her own personal spin on their work. It's important for them to really make the design their own, while making sure that it's perfect down to the finest details.
Yes, you can make it without a traditional education. If you have an eye for great design, work hard enough and really love what you do, the sky's the limit. Most of our guys have no formal training whatsoever. They are self-taught and absolutely amazing artists.
12. Thanks for chatting with us Dan, any parting tips for aspiring designers hungry to grow professionally?
The pleasure is all mine Sean. My only tip for aspiring designers is to remember that all it takes is an eye for good design and some hard work. Good luck!
Where to find Dan on the Web
If you have any questions feel free to give me a shout, all of my contact info can be found on my personal site, danwiersema.com. You can also find me on Twitter: @danwiersema and on deviantART: SmarTramS
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