An Interview with Brandon Oxendine

If you could work for any company in the world, what would it be? Chances are quite a lot of you would pick Google, and for good reason – They’re market leaders in several markets, they make great products, and, c’mon, have you seen their offices?

Today’s guest, Brandon Oxendine Interview

Hey Brandon, thanks so much for joining us on The Industry. Tell us a bit about yourself and the work you’re doing.

I’m currently the lead designer working on the Google profile. That is my day job. The rest of my life is sort of composed of little life and design experiments. I like to think that any typical 9-5 job I accept is really just a means to make my life more interesting. I feel like most designers in our spheres of influence are either really stoked on their jobs, or really depressed that they don’t have a dream job. I guess I have a dream job, but any 9-5er for me is still just a job.

So I spend a lot of time at work naturally, and in my personal life I am working on a few different things. Some traditional freelance jobs that are ongoing projects, and a few life experiments. I just moved in with my good friend James after living in my car for 2 months. That was an experiment in homelessness and simplifying my lifestyle. I kept a detailed diary, hoping to one day do something with the documentation of the experience. I learned a lot about what I actually need to live. I guess it was an experience that could be compared to my thoughts on good design: unconventional, but starkly simplistic. But you know, I sort of avoided all the bad parts of homelessness, so no one should worry that I was on hard times or anything (hi, mom). It was completely of my own doing. I’m also in the process of collecting and compiling artifacts from my life and adding those moments to my Facebook Timeline. This project sounds trivial and unimportant to most people, and I get a considerable amount of eye-rolls about it, but Timeline is, I believe, one of the most incredible social products shipped in recent history, and I really want to push it to its limits. In a way, that’s also a work related experiment, pressure testing the Facebook profile infrastructure, since my day job is making the Google profile better.

How did you get into the design industry? Was it a case of being a creative kid, or was design only something that found you later on in life?

I guess it was being a creative kid. I mean, design never really called to me. I was mostly interested in painting and more traditional art forms in my earlier years. I only chose design when I went to college because it seemed easy and everyone said I could get a well-paying job with it. Turns out jobs are even easier than college, and they were right, I make more money than I need. Win win. Luckily there are things outside of design that make me no money and bring me similar amounts of joy, so I’m convinced I’m not completely soulless.

FatSlab - Brandon Oxendine Interview

So, you work at Google, having previously worked at Designkitchen and Fuzzco. What convinced you to make this move? How different is it to previous roles you’ve had? What new challenges does it bring?

Two things made me want to come to Google: money and working for a company I’d loved and used for much of my life. I didn’t come to Google for Google+. I, like most, dismissed it as a failed product, and was most interested in the prospect of working at Google, because once you’re in with Google, you’re in, and you can do a lot of different things there. Luckily I really enjoy it here, Google+ is not a failure, and have I learned more than I ever thought I would about product design. I’ve also met some really bright people here, which ain’t half bad either.

As far as how different it is, it’s as you’d expect: worlds different. Fuzzco was a magical dreamland where everything I worked on turned out good and my fellow workmates turned out to be my best friends. Designkitchen was a typical smallish agency: great people doing pretty standard advertising work. I found out there that I really don’t enjoy selling things so much, and that there are some people who are really good at it and can do it with incredible dignity and passion. Google is another kind of magical dreamland, except the inhabitants are mostly nerds. All three jobs I value for different reasons.

The biggest challenge I had to overcome working at Google was the mass of infrastructure and reputation you’ve got to uphold. The company is massive, and you’ve got to constantly be thinking about what implications your decisions will have on people all over the world.

I would most associate you with your sweet, sweet lettering and type. Now, I could be wrong, but I can’t imagine there’s much lettering going on at Google. Do you find it hard to maintain your style and improve your skills when you’re “stuck” creating awesome clean interfaces all day?

Making type has never truly been a part of any job I’ve had. It’s always been a side project I enjoy doing. I’m not good enough at it to get freelance jobs doing it, which I’ve more or less accepted, and so it’s really just a hobby. But thanks for the compliment.

Any time I get a chance, I try to do some custom type. This usually manifests itself in little projects for friends (tattoos, zines, tshirts), which might actually be better than doing it for some bigwig.

Indefatigable - Brandon Oxendine Interview

Back in 2010, you drew a word a day in your aptly-titled personal project, A Word A Day. How important do you think self-initiated projects like these are? What was your experience with this particular one?

It was really just for fun. I was in college, and had a knack for starting little side projects. If you remember, that was around the time when everyone was doing these great one-a-day type projects. I learned a lot about Illustrator during that time, especially about the drawing tools and what really was possible with Illustrator. I became a bit more open minded about what kind of styles were possible, and in general just had a lot of fun.

As far as the importance of self initiated projects, they’re important for some, but could just be wastes of time for others. I always need something to occupy my time outside of work, because jobs tends to be quite boring sometimes, so they’re good for me.

Your work straddles many fields – Web design, branding, lettering, and much more. If, in some horrific hypothetical universe, you could only do one of these, which would it be, and why?

That’s a pretty hard question because I’d hate to do any one of those things alone. If I’m stuck doing one thing for the rest of my life it better be something that involves fine art, because at least then I’d feel like I was expressing real thoughts and emotions and not just doing designery stuff all the time. It really is tough to say though. I guess branding is the most satisfying of the things I do currently, because at least with it I’m helping make someone’s dream come to life. Also I love logos.

Genius - Brandon Oxendine Interview

What has been your biggest achievement in your career so far? And for balance, what do you consider your biggest failure to date?

My ability to fit in such a variety of employers, which brings with it a variety of [design] world views that I think many designers might lack. Now, I’m not saying I’m a better designer because of having those experiences (I’m likely worse for not specializing) but what I do think is that most designers think of design as this one small thing that they do, and that all the people they follow do, and that all other design stuff is somehow inferior or not true design. I feel accomplished to have had the experience that results in a well rounded view of design. Is that an achievement? I don’t know, I guess so.

My biggest failure of my career was leaving Fuzzco. When I left, I was in a very weak spot emotionally, and everyone around me knew that too. It was a really hard time for me and I left many people in my life feeling very uneasy about my character. Now, I don’t much believe in regrets, so I certainly don’t regret what I did, but if I’m honest, I’d say leaving was a big mistake. The life experience I gained after that was immeasurable, but I don’t think I’ll ever come across such a special group again.

Thanks - Brandon Oxendine Interview

What inspires your work? In particular, is there anything outside of other design work that inspires you?

The only thing that truly inspires my traditional design work is my personal desire to make everything simpler. There is too much complexity in the world, and design has the misfortune of often times adding to that complexity, so I always try my best to simplify. In my more personal work, my inspiration comes from three main things: my personal fear of eternity, the awesomeness of nature, and the idea of existence. I guess those sound pretty dramatic, but they feel about right.

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

The only way I got better was by knowing just how bad I was. So that.

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