Unlike so many industries, the design industry is one where the vast majority of the people who populate it genuinely love their jobs. Accountants don’t get home from a grueling day at the office and crunch numbers until 4am. Construction workers don’t write article after article about the art of a well-layed brick. Bankers don’t spend their evenings just counting their money… Okay, bad example. Simply put, designers are incredibly lucky to be in a profession where what we do means just as much, and usually more, than how much we get paid for it.
Today, I have the pleasure of talking to
Hey Adam, thanks so much for joining us on The Industry. Tell us a bit about yourself and the work you’re doing.
Hi Conor, thanks for having me. Well, my name is Adam Whitcroft and I’m a product designer born in South Africa now living in the United Kingdom. I’ve been in the UK for a little under 2 years, and Dubai for 4 years before that. When I’m away from my laptop I spend my time with my girlfriend or playing games with my mates (my current favourite being League of Legends).
Few people know this but I’m a qualified fashion designer, having studied for 3 years in South Africa at the London International School of Fashion.
How did you get into design?
I’ve always been interested in design and art. I doodled my way through just about every one of my school classes, right up until high school where I did art as a subject. The first time I can remember opening Photoshop was for an art project. I think it was Photoshop 6.0 or something.
Since then I’ve had a ‘thing’ for design. I started making money from it by getting into web design in Dubai after meeting someone in a bar who needed a website. I figured I know how to make a poster, so a website shouldn’t be too hard – I was a little cocky back then.
If you hadn’t become a designer, what do you reckon you’d be doing now?
I really enjoyed the fashion scene, it was a crazy time in my life. If I had stayed in South Africa I almost certainly would still be doing it as I was offered a government grant to start my own label, but for personal reasons leaving South Africa was more important at the time. I haven’t turned my back on that side of my life though, it’s just been mothballed. I’ve got plans for a simple apparel collection, I just need to find the time to get it going. I’ve already chatted to some designers about collaborating with me on it which will hopefully give me a bit of a kick to get it going.
If you could change one thing about your career to date, what would it be?
I don’t really have any regrets, or anything I look back on and wish I had done differently. The decisions I’ve made in my career, for better or worse, have led me to where am I now and I’ve never been happier.
You’ve made quite a few really nice products, like Batch and Proto, which you distribute for free. Do you feel obliged to contribute back to the community that fostered you as a designer, or is simply something that you like doing?
To be honest, I don’t feel any sense of obligation. I love working on side projects, but very few make it public. I can’t tell you how many projects I’ve canned because I’m not happy with the result. The things I put live I am incredibly proud of, even if they are all fairly simple. All of them, without exception, stem from something I need personally; some icons or a quick way to prototype a responsive layout.
And as for doing it for free? Well, I’m lucky enough that I have a job that supports me, so I don’t really need to make money from my side projects. I do them quite simply because I love the act of creating something and seeing other people use and enjoy it.
Your site very definitely defines you as a “designer”, and yet quite a few of your projects have been code-centric – Is code just a part of design to you? Is there, do you think, a line between designers and developers these days, and if so, where is it?
That’s a tough one. I don’t want to make any generalisations here so I’ll just say that knowing how to effectively work with HTML and CSS makes me a better designer. Perhaps ‘better’ isn’t the best word. What I mean is that from the moment I start to design something, I am thinking about the feasibility of its implementation. In some ways this can be restrictive but at the end of the day I know that what I have designed will be 100% achievable in the browser.
Where do you see yourself in, say, 5 or 10 years?
I honestly have no idea. I have lived in three countries to date, and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. I’d like to spend some time in the US, probably San Francisco. I’d also really like to visit Canada and Australia for a while. As for what I’ll be doing, I don’t really care as long as it keeps me creatively satisfied and financially stable.
How would you define success? Do you think you’ve found it yet?
I define success as being able to do what you love, and being able to support yourself while doing it. Against that measure, I guess I am successful, even though it feels weird saying that. I try not to think about it too much if I’m honest.
And finally, for those looking to get started in the big bad world of design, what tips or advice would you give?
Be patient. Design takes time and there are no shortcuts to getting better. There are nuances that you will only pick up over time and through repetition and failure.
Be hungry. The best way to learn is by doing, so take on projects that scare you or that you aren’t sure you can actually even do.
Be nice. The internet is getting smaller and there are real people behind that product you are bashing on Twitter.