If you’re any bit involved in the online design community, chances are you won’t need me to tell you who Brian Hoff is. You’ll probably have read an article or two on his blog, The Design Cubicle. Maybe you’re following him on Twitter, where he regularly interacts with the community at large. Or maybe you’ve just seen some of his awesome design work scattered around the web.
Having spent just 10 minutes in his company (albeit virtual), I got a real sense of passion from Brian: Passion for his family, passion for the community, passion for design. He was a pleasure to talk to, and I hope you have as much fun reading his interview as I had carrying it out!
Hey Brian, thanks so much for joining us on The Industry. Tell us a bit about yourself and the work you’re doing.
Right now, I would say about 90% of the work I’m doing these days is interaction design – iOS design, web app design, basically anything the users can directly touch and play and work with. It’s been an interesting journey getting to here: Before I even got into the field, I started off as a random doodler, did a little bit of painting here and there, but nothing serious. It kinda escalated into logo design, taking my drawing and painting abilities and bringing them into logos. That kinda turned into websites and websites turned into interaction design. I’d probably say that this is where I’m happiest – There’s something thrilling about building something, designing something and thinking through all the interactions and how people are gonna use different services and products.
If you hadn’t become a designer, what do you think you’d be doing now?
Y’know, it’s funny, and probably completely off-topic, but I definitely like being outdoors, so something outdoors… Not sure exactly what, but I’d definitely rather be outdoors.
What does a typical day in the life of Brian Hoff look like?
I have a 10-month-old (whose name’s Connor as well), so we pretty much have him be our alarm – Some days, that means waking up at 6 o’clock, some days it’s earlier, some day’s it’s later – We kinda just let him drive it! The latest we ever get up is around 7, so we never worry about sleeping in, ’cause he doesn’t let us!
Once I get up, I hang out with the family and play with Connor. I’m usually on the computer by 7:30 at the latest. I start my day by responding to any e-mails I didn’t get to the day before, or e-mails that came through overnight, which takes me an hour or two into my morning. Then I’ll set up early phone calls with my clients, if need be, to discuss what we’re doing, or if I have any questions or anything like that.
I usually get to dive into some actual work around 11 o’clock, and then the rest of the day after lunch I spend, head down, designing as much as possible.
As well as designing awesome stuff, you also blog on The Design Cubicle – How important is it, in your opinion, to contribute back to the community that fostered you?
I was just talking to my wife about this the other day – I really wish I had the time to give more back. When I first started The Design Cubicle, I obviously wasn’t as busy as I am these days, and I was writing 2 or 3 articles a week. Now, I’m writing 2 or 3 articles a year!
But yeah, I really wish I was able to give back a little bit more. I do update the notebook part of my site with useful articles, or content that I find across the web that might be relevant at the moment or that might help other people. Not just saving it for my own reading, but also having it to share, is important. Staying on top of our industry and knowing what’s happening is really critical to where we’re going in this industry, and pushing things forward too.
You recently moved from Brooklyn to the outskirts of Philadelphia. Does your location affect your work in any way, and if so, how?
Y’know, not really… We’re about 15 minutes from Philly, so I can be there within a quick car ride, and we’re about an hour and 10 minutes from where we used to live in Brooklyn, so I wouldn’t say we’re in any kinda remote location, but I do miss the energy of the city, the creativity, and how the city fosters creativity. There’s a lot that I miss, but having a family, it’s a lot harder to remain in the city – That’s what led us out here.
You studied design at the Tyler School of Art – In an industry that changes and evolves at such a rapid rate, how relevant do you think a formal education in design is?
I’m a big believer in passion, more than a formal education. I mean, I went to college, and I’ll try to push my son to do the same. My wife went to college, and she swears by it too (she’s a designer as well). I think college helps you grow into other things, but if you’re passionate about something, you’re gonna learn it on your own. I wouldn’t say that from a technical standpoint, I learned anything new, because I was so into it, just like I am now, but just being around people that were inspiring was a big eye-opener, as well as being around people who all enjoy the same thing.
You mentioned that your wife is also a designer – Do you collaborate or bounce ideas off her in any way?
We don’t collaborate – That can get a little messy, especially in a field where some of it is based on aesthetic choices. We definitely try to offer each other help though, but we haven’t directly worked on a project together to date.
What is your workspace like? Are there any design tools that you simply couldn’t live without?
Well, since we just moved, our office is in a little bit of chaos, as we’re surrounded by boxes right now – It’s been a slow journey, we’re trying to get through all the rooms before we have a vision of where we want to take the office. We know what we want to do, it’s just buying it all, and getting it all together.
My wife likes crafting and doing creative things off the computer as well as on, so we wanna have a table at the center of the room that gives us a chance to step off our computers and step into something a little more hands-on, whether that’s drawing, sketching or just doing something with our hands. Then we want to have desks that run along all four walls. That’ll give us enough space to spread out and have some fun while we work. But right now, it’s very much a work in progress!
And finally, for those looking to get started in the big bad world of design, what tips or advice would you give?
I think the best advice, and this goes for anything, is that you’ll only go so far, unless you absolutely 100% love what you do, and I think that no matter what that is, people need to figure that out in their life and really pursue it.
I can sit here and say that my blog definitely contributed to getting recognized and recent success – Y’know, I’ve a large Twitter following and it’s great an’ all, but I think deep down, what I hope that what people have gathered from me is that I love what I do, and I’m here to not only contribute what I can through tangible outcomes, like websites and the web apps and the iOS stuff that I do, but also giving back by educating the community, sharing good resources and being helpful in any way I can.