If there’s a person I know who’s recently become so popular in the design community, it’d be Dan Eden. He’s clever, talented, and from looking at the span of his numerous personal projects, he’s got a lot of time on his hands. I first met Dan— and his design skills —on Dribbble and on his website (like anyone else on the web), and I recently got the chance to catch up with him for a quick interview on his past, future, background, how his average day goes by, and what motivates him.
Dan, if you were to introduce yourself to someone new, what would you say?
Hi! I’m Dan, a student from Manchester as well as a designer and front end developer. I’m just about to start my fourth and final year at Nottingham Trent University, studying Digital Media Technology. I spent the last 12 months or so working for a company in my home city, as well as spending as much of my spare time as I can on personal projects. Late last year I created a CSS animation library called Animate.css, which has been pretty popular. That actually got me a gig, giving a talk at Webshaped in Helsinki, which was amazing.
Animate.css is very awesome and popular indeed! It’s even being used by the guys at Foursquare! So, aside from Animate.css, you’ve created a bunch of other projects as well, right?
Yeah, aside from Animate.css, I’ve done a number of CSS tools and experiments, and a couple of other sites that were created out of a need that I felt I could fill. Scratching my own itch.
You’re pretty prominent up now in the design industry. Now, let’s start at the beginning. How’d you get into design?
The same way anyone did, really – creating flyers for my band. That’s actually when I first opened up Photoshop. I’m not sure any of my very first work still exists on the Internet, for which I’m glad. It was pretty awful. Then not long after that, the company that my Mum worked for needed a new website. Foolishly, I said I could do that even though I’d never even viewed the source of any website.
I sat down with Frontpage for a good few weeks and made my first site for them, which has since (thankfully) been replaced. It wasn’t long before I realised that web design was something I enjoyed, and it actually paid pretty well, too. I spent a few years making sites for friends and family, and avoided clients like the plague – I’m not a fan of client work. Then when I went to University I stopped doing freelance work and concentrated purely on improving my craft. It seems to have paid off so far!
That’s true! Now, how long have you been designing so far?
That’s a tough one. Like I said, technically I started with those band posters, which must have been about six years ago. But I’ve only really been proud to call myself a designer and show off my work for the last 2 years. But I like to think that everyone capable of criticism of functionality (and form, too) is ‘designing’ – so in that sense, I’ve been designing since around the time I was born.
Well said, Mr. Eden. Okay, so you’ve spoken at Webshaped and you’ve apparently done some work for clients (whom you later avoided). Where else have your worked at or who else have you worked for?
I’ve dabbled in freelancing, but never really enjoyed it. The one case I did enjoy was a pro-bono job I did for a nonprofit youth project. Working with them was easy because there was no pressure for budget or timeframe – we could throw ideas around for weeks before actually having to get any work done. I still work with them every now and then if they have any issues. It’s always good to have clients who you’re on excellent terms with.
Other than that, the only other job I’ve had has been with this company I’ve been working for the last 12 months. I’ve been doing all sorts from email templates, to full on corporate redesigns, and more recently eBay templates – easily the hardest 2 months of my working life so far. eBay’s CSS is a nightmare to wrestle with, and there were a bunch of disagreements about the design all the way through – I can gladly say that the hard part is over now.
I did also do a little work for the folks at Neonmob – they needed a new holding page and a Tumblr theme, so I gladly obliged. It was an immense honor working with Rogie King’s designs – he’s been one of my biggest sources for inspiration from the start.
Rogie’s really cool! And what an honor it is, too. Speaking of Rogie, who do you look up to? What inspires you?
Well like I said, Rogie’s work is always a huge inspiration – I love that he’s taken to making non-digital goods now, too. That’s always been a dream of mine – to make something I can touch. Benjamin De Cock is another inspiring guy. All his work is always mind bogglingly great. Try as I may, I don’t think I’ll ever make an icon as good as his. Visual Idiot is another name that springs to mind, but that might be down to all his bad jokes.
I’m constantly inspired by the guys I get to work with, too. I’m working with Michael Wright (@michaelw90) and Jack Smith (@jack_l_smith) on a project called Striving (@striving) at the moment. Michael’s PHP knowledge is just insane, and Jack’s designs have been stunning for this project so far. I haven’t been contributing that much, but every time I come back to help out, I’m blown away by the stuff they’ve been doing. I could name a ton more names, but we could be here forever.
What affects the way you work? What motivates you?
I think my main motivation comes from just wanting to make things better, at least for myself. Almost everything I’ve ever created has been a result of my being in a situation where I’m using an existing tool, or lacking any tool at all and thinking “There must be a better way to do this.” Animate.css came about when I found myself writing keyframes over and over again for different websites and projects. I thought I’d make a library of the ones I used most often, then released it into the world once I’d finished. Brills (brills.me) was the same, too. I needed something in which I could punch in how much money I had and then add a load of bills to it, and it spits out how much money I have left. I built it on my own site, then figured there must be someone else out there who needs something like this, too. I also get a lot of motivation from the people around me.
I like to surround myself with incredible people, which isn’t hard since we’re all fascinating. My friends all do a bunch of different things, and I find that hanging out with them their enthusiasm for what they do rubs off onto me, and I can go home and get back to work with a new drive.
What’s a defining turning point in your life? Would it be the riskiest decisions you’ve ever made?
I think saying yes to Webshaped has been the biggest turning point in my life so far. I got the email from one of the organisers a few months ago, and let it stew in my inbox for a good few days before I got back to him. I hated the idea of getting up and speaking for the first time – I don’t like the idea that the words I say influence people’s decisions, because I know there’s probably someone better sitting in the audience.
I asked all my friends and family what they thought I should do, and they were all super supportive and told me to go for it. I wasn’t going to get another chance like that any time soon. I said yes, and I’m so glad I did. I have the speaking bug now! I want to do more of it, even though it was just about the scariest thing I’ve done so far.
What’s an average day like for you? Also, what does your workspace look like?
Well, I get up around 6 and drink about 4 pints of coffee before getting into work. In office hours, I’m on a Windows machine, which isn’t too bad. It means I remain conscious of how badly fonts can render in Windows, and means I spend more time and care on my work. I work till 5:30 then go home to my beloved desk. I tend to get home and get straight back to work on personal projects – but it’s hard to call it work if you enjoy it so much.
I have a 24″ 2009 iMac, which is beginning to show it’s age – but I love it nonetheless. I don’t have a laptop, but if I need to get out of the house and do some work, I just take my iPad and my keyboard with me. I love sitting somewhere with iA writer and just getting some writing done.
You’re much of a writer, too! Now, where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
I really have my sights set on America. I’ve known for a while I want to go there, but having spoken to a few folks in San Francisco over the last few months, I’m totally sure that’s where I need to be. I’m planning on going for a week or so as soon as I finish University and begging for a job somewhere. That should decide my fate for the next 5-10 years! But ultimately, I just want to continue growing as a designer and maker.
I want to make more stuff. I’d really love to do some non-digital work, too – get my hands dirty with something like screen printing or book binding. Watching Frank Chimero post pictures of the process for creating The Shape of Design hasn’t helped that desire, either!
There’s been a lot of skeumorphism-realism in UI designs lately. Do you agree with the idea of skeumporphism? Yay or nay?
Ugh. I hate this topic, mainly because I tend to change my mind a lot. Skeuomorphism tends to annoy the heck out of me. I instantly fell in love with the Windows Phone Metro interface, and for a long time I couldn’t figure out why – but then I realised it was because there wasn’t any frills on it. It’s just content, in the simplest possible form – text. And the occasional color. The fake leather trims on iOS gets old fast – and don’t even start talking about the linen. Oh, the linen. But at the same time, I kind of like some of the skeuomorphism. Page flips always get me. Like when you’re curling the page over in iBooks or on iCal – I could spend days just admiring that. I think if it’s done in moderation, it can work well.
Did you ever dream of working for Apple?
I did. Big time. But recently I realised that Apple tend to cover up the work of their designers – keep it all very hush. I can’t work like that. I love showing off my work, largely so I can get criticism for it. I wouldn’t want to work at a place that designed in a bubble. That’s not to say if they offered me a job, I wouldn’t take it. I’d be a little conflicted to say the least!
True, and fair enough! Now, on an ending note, what advice could you give to aspiring designers out there?
I think the best advice I could give (or at least the advice I’d give to the younger version of myself) is to make time to work on personal projects. I always tell myself – you are your most important, most critical, and most fun client. Personal projects give you an excuse to learn new things, make mistakes, and something to put on your portfolio.
Ending the Interview
Sure, I did say he looks as if he’s got a lot if time on his hands, but if anyone knows Dan Eden well enough, he’s probably working on the next big thing right now. The interview took place on short notice, but the enthusiasm in his agreement was spontaneous. We’re delighted to have him be our interviewee, and the interview itself was both enjoyable and insightful.
Dan Eden’s got a nice website on the web, so go visit it now if you’ve got the time. He’s also worked on numerous, popular projects, and Just My Type, Brills, Animate.css and Owlr are few of the many. You can find him on Twitter (@_dte) and Dribbble. He’s also big on Github and Flickr.
The images used above were taken by Dan Eden.
Thanks Dan, for a brilliant interview!