Side projects shape our industry: They turn ordinary people into “celebrities” overnight, they look great in a portfolio, and, most importantly, they improve the overall standard of the community. Today on The Industry, I’m talking to the incredible David DeSandro, a man whose side projects have had a greater effect on the community that most: From the comparatively small (Close Pixelate and imagesLoaded) to the decidedly massive (Masonry and Isotope), David’s side projects truly have helped shape the web.
In this interview, I chat with David about success, the line between designer and developer, and the afore-mentioned side projects. Highlighters at the ready, folks, this might just be the most quotable interview you read all year.
Photo by Lachlan Hardy
Hey David, thanks so much for joining us on The Industry. Tell us a bit about yourself and the work you’re doing.
On nights and weekends, I do even more development. I run a side-business called Metafizzy. I make front-end libraries like Isotope and Masonry and then sell licenses. It’s like open-source development that makes money. Rad as well!
How did you get into design?
Looking back, I was always into design and creative expression. However, I never considered design as a profession until way later. Back in early 2000’s, the web wasn’t well-defined as an industry or, for that matter, a stable future. In high school and college, I did designer-y things in my spare time. I made music visualizations, vector illustrations, and little photography sites. I was big on DeviantArt for a while.
I managed to get through college, but a lot of my time would be devoted to making creative endeavors. After a couple of years at my first real job out of college, I was miserable. I would spend most of my time at work completely avoiding my responsibilities, playing with HTML and CSS demos. I resolved to change my career and become a designer. I was completely focused on escaping this valley of mediocrity I had settled into. I knew that I had some sliver of talent, but more importantly, I had the drive to make it happen.
From that point, everything else seems like a string of eventuality. I went to a certificate school for graphic design, where I built my portfolio, which lead to an internship, which lead to my first real design job working at
If you could change one thing about your career to date, what would it be?
I have gotten myself into trouble on several occasions for saying yes to too many things. This is a good problem to have, but it is dangerous. One at a time, each little project can be fulfilled and taken care of. But things tend to bunch up.
If you hadn’t become a designer, what do you reckon you’d be doing now?
I can’t imagine doing anything else. This is a funny question because several years ago, I was living this situation.
You’re probably best known for your side-projects, like Isotope, Close Pixelate, and, of course, the insanely popular Masonry. Do you feel obliged to contribute back to the community that fostered you as a designer, or is simply something that you enjoy doing?
Yes to both. I love being able to give back to the larger design community, and to pass on something that helps other designers grow. And I do enjoy developing and making stuff. It’s one of my favorite ways to spend time. But it’s more than that. I learned in my brief career as a cubicle worker that making things and being creating is a part of who I am. I have to do it. It keeps me in a happy place.
There is a practical aspect to it. Working on special projects like Masonry has been the catalyst for my career as a web designer. Creating a popular resource for fellow web designers is a superb way to make a name for yourself in this profession.
Open-source development is special in that it satisfies the warm-fuzzy feeling of helping other people, and the ambition of pushing your career.
On your site, you describe yourself 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?
Hmm, I’d say I’m more of a developer. But outside of job listings, who cares what words you use to describe what you do? What people care about is the work you make.
Alright, let me chuck a hypothetical at you here: Would you rather work on your side projects exclusively for the rest of your career, and never get to do any other client or in-house design work, or work at one company (be that Twitter or whoever you choose) for the rest of your career, never working on any side projects. Oh, and if you pick option 1, you can also never use GIFs ever again.
WAT NO GIFs?!?!
I think both are poor choices. It’s like “hey, would you rather paint in black in white, or just in rainbow colors?” In order to be a great at what you do, you need to have a broad range of experiences. At Twitter my managers are supportive of working on side-projects. They realize that any success I experience outside of my day job actually improves what I do 9 to 5, and helps the company at large.
How would you define success? Do you think you’ve found it yet?
Man, these are heavy questions. You got me doing some soul-searching here.
I should preface any response by saying, web design and development is the greatest job in the world. All you need is a computer, an internet connection, ambition, and a kernel of talent. There are an abundance of opportunities. This may be naive of me, but I can’t think of another profession where success can come so easily.
Success for me was my first day working as a graphic design intern. Every day I get paid for being creative is a joy.
And finally, for those looking to get started in the big bad world of design, what tips or advice would you give?
Make something. Speak up. Get involved. Show up. Be kind. Make friends.