An Interview with Shaun Inman

When you hear the name “Shaun Inman”, what do you think of? Many will instantly think of his sweet pixel art and fun games, such as The Last Rocket. Or perhaps you think of his super-successful site analytics service, Mint. Or his innovative feed aggregator app, Fever. Whatever you think of, what’s important is that you will think of somethingShaun is one of those guys with a range of projects so diverse that it’s difficult not to know his name.

Shaun was nice enough to share his thoughts about his wealth of projects, collaborating with others, and his hopes for the future.

Shaun Inman Interview

Photo courtesy of Leslie Jensen-Inman

Hey Shaun, tell us a bit about yourself and the work you’re doing.

Thanks Conor! I’m an independent designer and developer (and chiptune composer) working out of Chattanooga, TN. I built Mint and Fever, the self-hosted site stats and feed reader web apps. Lately I’ve been focused on game development with The Last Rocket and most recently Flip’s Escape. I’ve got a bunch of other tiny games and apps that you can find out more about on my site.

How did you find your way into the design industry?

I went to the Savannah College of Art and Design and earned a BFA in Graphic Design. I wanted to create album artwork and packaging for CDs but while there I discovered the web and dodged that music industry bullet.

The Last Rocket - Shaun Inman Interview

If you hadn’t become a designer, what do you think you’d be doing now?

If I hadn’t become a designer I’d probably be working with one. I can’t imagine not building things and if you’re building things you need a designer. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, design is how it works, not what it looks like.

What does a typical day in the life of Shaun Inman look like?

Unkempt, think bed head and pajamas. It really varies day to day but it goes something like this. My time from unconscious to squinting at a screen is shamefully Olympic (most mornings I wake with one hand clutching an iPod touch under the pillow). Twitter and Fever through breakfast. Then on a good day I’ll tackle my inbox, process the support emails then feel guilty about filing or ignoring the rest but I could get stuck replying to email all day if I don’t duck out. A shower gives me time to brainstorm or plan the day. Then I’m off. I could be wrestling with game logic in Xcode or Unity, corralling markup and stylesheets in TextMate or pushing pixels in Photoshop. Some days call for setting up the USB keyboard and composing chiptunes in GarageBand with YMCK’s Typeface - Shaun Inman Interview

Original typeface by Greg Christman

You are pretty much the polymath’s polymath, with a whole host of very different but consistently excellent projects (Mint, Fever, The Last Rocket, to name just a few). In addition to this, from following you on Twitter, it seems that every few days you have a new exciting venture in the works. What challenges do these new projects bring?

I wouldn’t describe each new project as bringing new challenges but the other way around. I seek out new challenges that eventually result in new projects. Any new skills I pick up along the way all serve to surmount those challenges.

Where do you see yourself in, say, 5 or 10 years? Do you still hope to be creating apps and services, or do you hope to have moved on to something bigger (or perhaps smaller)?

I’d love to be supporting myself focusing on just game development. So far that goal has been elusive. Fortunately Mint and Fever help pick up the slack.

Flip's Escape - Shaun Inman Interview

If you could change one thing about your career to date, what would it be?

I would have collaborated more. Being self-sufficient is a blessing and a curse. You can make (and miss) your own schedules. You can course correct (indefinitely) without resentment. Your successes (and failures, oh, the failures) are your own. I’ve really enjoyed working with others lately. With Neven Mrgan and Alex Ogle on our 72 hour Ludum Dare game Millinaut and with Matt Grimm on Flip’s Escape and another unannounced project.

What is your workspace like? Are there any design tools that you simply couldn’t live without?

My workspace hasn’t changed much since I did Shaun Inman's Workspace - Shaun Inman Interview

Photo courtesy of Leslie Jensen-Inman

And finally, for those looking to get started in the big bad world of design, what tips or advice would you give?

Just start building things. Little things. Manageable things. Little things will become big things as/if they prove themselves. Don’t let the tools dictate what you build. Choose apps or frameworks that serve your idea–not the other way around. Learn a programming language, especially if you’re working on the web. The better you speak the native language the more fluent your designs will become.

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