An Interview with Jonnie Hallman

I like my designers like I like my coffee: Good. Today, I’m chatting to Jonnie Hallman, who is both a good designer, and a semi-semi-part-time barista. Best of both worlds, I suppose.

You may know Jonnie as the man behind Destroy Today, or as one of the folks behind the impressive new(-ish) A Book Apart site. I talked to Jonnie about success, co-working spaces, and designing for designers. But enough of the pre-amble, here’s what Jonnie has to say.

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

Thanks for having me. My name is Jonnie Hallman. I’m a designer/developer living and working in Brooklyn, out of a co-working space called Studiomates. I spent a few years on the west coast at Adobe before returning east to start my own company, Destroy Today, which recently turned a year old. I spent most of this past year redesigning and rewriting TeuxDeux, a to-do app originally created by Swiss Miss and FictiveKin. Now, I’m focusing on a number of top secret, shorter-term projects.

How did you get into design?

After years of teaching myself to code and building dozens of 800px-wide websites, I fell out of love with programming and attended RISD’s pre-college program for graphic design. I then attended MICA for graphic design, but branched my major into what I called “Digital Design” when I fell back in love with programming. While in school, I worked at a small design studio run by two architects, both of whom heavily influenced my current design style.

Teux Deux - Jonnie Hallman Interview

Teux Deux

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

I wish I had a small team to collaborate with full-time. While I once prided myself on being solo, it’s overwhelming at times and actually pretty lonely. I’m not there yet because I’m still trying to get a hang of supporting myself.

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

I have no idea. Design is everything to me. When I’m not making, I’m thinking of what to make. Once you discover you have the ability to come up with an idea and see it through to fruition, nothing is ever the same. It creates an itch that never goes away.

A Book Apart Website - Jonnie Hallman Interview

So you recently worked on the redesign of the A Book Apart site – What was that project like? Is it a different experience designing for a market of web-savvy designers who will almost certainly criticise your every move?

The A Book Apart responsive redesign was a fun project—it was my first launch since venturing out on my own. Working under the direction of Jason Santa Maria made it feel less like working for a client and more like helping out a friend. As for the audience, I was nervous at first, considering they literally wrote the books on the modern web. After launch, seeing everyone notice all the optimizations under-the-covers (low number of requests, short load time, and use of SVGs), I couldn’t have been happier with the response.

You also work at Studiomates, one of the better-known co-working spaces out there – How does that impact on your actual work? Do you think these sorts of creative environments are important for designers?

Studiomates is my second home. Since being on my own, every single project I’ve had has come from someone either in the studio or visiting the studio. And it’s impossible not to feed off everyone’s energy and passion for what they do. I couldn’t recommend co-working spaces enough for anyone freelancing or starting out on their own.

Where do you see yourself in, say, 5 or 10 years?

I honestly can’t see past one week from now. When every day is different, the fog is denser than ever. Five years from now, I could have several successful products under my belt or I could be living deep in the woods, hiding from the machines.

Workspace - Jonnie Hallman Interview

How would you define success? Do you think you’ve found it yet?

Lately, I’ve seen success as feeling satisfied with what you do. I couldn’t be happier with where I am right now and where I’m headed, but I know I can do so much more — and I intend to. There’s so much time left to make things, but the sense of urgency grows with every day.

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

Learn about type, color, hierarchy, grid systems, usability and the history of design. Then find designers whose work you like and try to keep up.

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