You may know him as Chopeh, that guy on Twitter with the badger obsession. You may know him as the creator of Qrafti, a fun, devious little site targeting the horror that is QR codes. You may know him simply as Pete Lacey, the English, Copenhagen-based designer, working at Podio. However you know him, you’ll know that he’s a great designer, and, as I found out recently, a great guy to talk to. He was happy to share his thoughts on all kinds of subjects, so sit back, and enjoy the interview!
Oh, and it’s Pete’s birthday today, so do join me in wishing him a very happy birthday! Have a great one, Pete!
Hey Pete, thanks so much for joining us on The Industry. Tell us a bit about yourself and the work you’re doing.
I’m a designer based in the glorious city of Copenhagen, Denmark, but originally from just outside London, England. I work for a “startup” called Podio – although I’m unsure it can be called a startup as we were recently acquired. But it still very much has that vibrant and energetic feel. We’re building a collaborative work platform so that people that do work can stop sending a bazillion emails and actually do work, basically. It’s going very well.
My role at Podio is mainly interaction and interface design, and a whole bunch of fluffy stuff that goes under the “User Experience” monicker. I’ve been in the design industry for roughly 8 years now, mainly focusing on designing for web, branding and interface design. Recently I’ve been tinkering with mobile design (namely iOS), and whilst it’s a completely new area for me I’m loving it; It’s a whole new challenge and a new way of thinking which really interests me – adapting features originally designed for desktop browsing into a mobile experience.
Okay, let’s start at the start: Your alias, Chopeh. Where did that come from, and how do you even pronounce it? (I’m guessing cho-pay…) Do you think that this widespread alias has helped you to stand out in the community?
That’s kind of a long and boring story. It basically stems back from the days of PC gaming where getting an original user-name was nearly impossible. I used it for many teenage years before I got into design, and one day registered a domain as I had nothing better to choose from. It’s been there ever since as it fitted the bill – short, unique and vaguely pronounceable. Everybody has their own unique way of pronouncing it, which I find quite fascinating. I pronounce it “Chop-peh”, because that’s how we roll in England, but across the pond they create a seemingly French-sounding “sho-pay”, which sounds far more sophisticated. I might adopt that pronunciation myself – it sounds like a classical musician. In regards to standing out in the community, I wouldn’t know if it did that particularly well. But I guess the name is unique/unusual enough to stick in the memory a bit longer than ‘Pete’.
How did you get into the design industry?
I started pretty early on. As a small child I was into ‘art’, mainly sketching bad cartoon characters. My friends were always better than me, but that didn’t discourage me. I held my pencil in a pretty weird way, like I was never meant to draw on paper. Imagine an eagle holding a pencil, like that, which come to think of it would be pretty awesome these days. Perhaps this is why I was so excited at the time to use a computer to create drawings; I could hold a mouse like a regular human.
At high school I took a liking to our ‘Graphic Arts’ classes which were mostly product and packaging design. Our teacher was pretty eccentric, so at the time I assumed all Graphic Designers wore pinstripe waistcoats, had big bushy beards and carried gold pocket watches. To some extent I was right.
In the classes I really enjoyed the packaging design part. Less so the shape of the box, more what went on it. The patterns, the type, the logos. Luckily around this time, the home PC was starting to become common, and I became more and more interested in using it. Back then my mum was the PC expert because she used one at work, and now the tables have drastically turned. Every evening I used to experiment with different software that came on random CD’s with magazines. I remember for many months thinking MS Paint was the only way to create drawings on the computer.
I managed to land a 2 week work placement at a local design agency, after the medical recruitment agency I was originally going to be placed at backed out. I previously had no experience designing on a computer using real software – however I was given time and encouragement to try and re-create some of the companies existing web templates. The 2 weeks work they set aside for me I had completed in about 3 days. They were so encouraged by what they saw that I came back during school breaks and worked for them on various projects. I remember being about 16 when the I got a design concept approved by a client. That was a big moment.
Since then I’ve worked on various projects at various companies. I even ran my own design agency for a time (which made me realise I should stick to design and not business). I’m now happily in place at Podio.
If you hadn’t become a designer, what do you think you’d be doing now?
If my original work placement hadn’t fallen through I’d be recruiting in the medical industry. But seriously, I think it would have to be something to do with computers. Whether that be programming, computer games, audio or video. I was very interested in all that tech stuff. But, if one day the Internet exploded I think I would have to become a baker. Though I’d need to look up baking tips on YouTube so I’d probably be a bad baker. None the less, the “chopeh ciabatta” is a loaf to be reckoned with.
What does a typical day in the life of Pete Lacey look like?
I live in central Copenhagen, so I’m up not-that-early just in time to cycle into the Podio office (on my hipster bike). I like the theory and atmosphere of early mornings – the issue is I just feel so damn tired. We start off with a design scrum meeting at 9.30 to get a overview of our product progress then I’m off working on various design projects. Depending on the specific project, I’m either liaising with people or trapped in my own headphone induced world.
Working at Podio is a pretty challenging role. There is a whole lot of things I’m no expert in, so every day I’m learning something new. It is very complex product that has a lot of moving parts – if small changes are made in one area it can dramatically affect others. Even the simplest design change requires quite some forward thinking. So that’s the bit I find most rewarding – taking complex functionality, making it simpler, making it work with everything else and then seeing that get shipped out to all our users. It’s terrifying and exciting at the same time.
After work I head home to my girlfriend and our cat, Spartapus, and then we either watch a movie or a TV series (some brooding Scandinavian crime drama), see some friends or spend a long time discussing “web things” – as she’s into all that also. I don’t do that much design in my spare time, I think time to switch off is important as it ensures that when I hit my desk the next day I’m ready for a full day and not burnt out. That being said, I do work on a few personal projects here and there (Like BedBudd, Qrafti). If it’s a Friday you’ll find me in our local bar, Mikkeller, with the other Podios. Mine’s a Vesterbro Pils, thanks.
You work at Podio, but also do a bit of freelance work on the side – How do the two compare? If you had to give up one, which would it be, and why?
I do very little freelance these days, basically none for the last few months. Podio would win hands down. It takes a lot of time from me and my work days are pretty intense. The design problems being solved on a daily basis have a tendency to fry my small brain, so the thought of working on my problems when I get home is not the most appealing. I do sometimes get the itch to create stuff, so when the time is right I do.
If you could change one thing about your career to date, what would it be?
I think I would have liked to have been a bit more educated in some areas. I never went to university, I never studied design in any great detail with a mentor. I sometimes feel jealous when I find people terribly knowledgeable about design and it’s entire history. That being said, I don’t regret it. I’ve self taught myself and studied a lot of areas on my own accord. I believe this has been invaluable to me on my path. Who knows, if I would be in a better or worse position if I did it another way. I’m happy.
What is your workspace like? Are there any design tools that you simply couldn’t live without?
I’m a pretty simple guy when it comes to a physical workspace. MacBook Pro, trackpad, desk, chair, headphones. The Podio office is definitely inspired by start-ups (read: A bit messy and sporadically decorated), but to be honest that suits me fine. It’s great if your agency has a gold-plated badger riding a stegosaurus coming through the wall above your 30 foot illuminated logo, but it doesn’t affect the work I do. Copenhagen is beautiful enough, so if I’m in need of inspiration a walk around a lake or two clears the mind. However, Podio, if you’re reading, the above would be great.
Software wise, I’m a Fireworks guy through and through. Yeah, Fireworks is the kid in the corner of the playground with the awkward stance and the cross-eyes. But I love it. Of course, we use Podio to collaborate on projects with the whole team. (Free for 10 users! Tell ‘em I sent ya).
And finally, for those looking to get started in the big bad world of design, what tips or advice would you give?
I found my career progressed a lot faster when I stopped using tutorials and tried figuring things out for myself. Not only did I learn the ins and outs of the software, I had many happy accidents along the way that sent me in different directions.
Initially when I was designing, I was in a bubble. It’s only over the recent years have I found the design community and engaged in discussions about our industry, both its history and its future challenges. Surround yourself with passionate, intelligent people and you’ll learn pretty fast. Just remember to be yourself.