Embracing Creative Challenges

We caught up recently with Daniel Schwarz, designer, writer and Atomic user about a couple of his recent creative projects: writing his first book and releasing his first UI Kit.


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How did you get started in design and how did that lead to a career writing about design?

It’s funny actually, I started off building a website to promote my graphic design business and I fell in love with building websites. I starting writing to create a personal brand for myself as a web designer and I fell in love with writing. Perhaps while trying to promote my book I’ll become I’ll become a marketer!

Before I begin a new adventure though, I’m taking a well-earned break to explore (for the first time ever) some non-design related adventures.

Daniel, you’re living a somewhat different lifestyle to many of us, travelling the world as a Digital Nomad. Tell us a little about how that came to be and how that fits with your work as a designer.

Here’s the short answer: it doesn’t.

When I travel I become very unsettled. My motivation becomes geared towards exploring new places, eating new things, experiencing new cultures; finding a moment where I feel like sitting down and working is often spontaneous, so I take my laptop everywhere and squeeze in short bursts of work when I can. These short bursts are usually quite energetic and hugely productive, but nonetheless this rarely suits design teams, so this is when I’m writer.

When I return home it’s usually for a month or two, because that’s where my family is and I also have to collect prescriptions, do administrative stuff for my company, and so on. I’m usually a little more docile around this time - this is when I’m a designer. I had always wanted to work and travel, but I didn’t know how. After a short stint working in-house as a designer/developer, I decided to get up and just do it, sometimes that’s the only way.

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Let’s talk about creative challenges. Why are they important to you and how do you stay motivated? So many creative challenges are projects that also die unfinished, any advice for others on how to sustain interest in them and cross the finish line?

For me the trick is to stay excited about each creative challenge, and I do that by not focusing on them too much. I drift from one idea to the next, sometimes on an hourly basis and that keeps me on my toes. When I obsess about something too much, days can go by without me realising, and after that obsession turns to boredom, the project gets buried deep in the freezer and that’s when I realise that I’ve made no money that week.

You should talk about creative ideas with other designers, solve the problems together, this way the creative energy is transferred from one to the other when somebody else takes over.

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You just announced your first book, a guide for designers: Jump Start Sketch and your first UI Kit: Solar Those are two very different projects, how did they originate?

Well the UI kit started out as creative challenge. I gradually built it up, designing a new component every time I needed a break. I had always intended to release it as a .sketch kit sometime in the future, but then I used parts of it in the book as examples and so I releases them both at the same time. The reader also recreates these components as a hands-on exercise.

I still have more components to build, which I’ll release both separately and as part of a bundle when the entire thing is finished. I’m not even sure if I’d call it a UI kit though - the problems I face with UI kits is that the components are not used in context, so Solar is more of a series of pre-made layouts. You can mix and match components from the various layouts, but they’re used in context and I think this allowed me to craft a much better UX.

The book is published by SitePoint, who I already work with extensively. They approached me, and I’m so glad because I’ve never enjoyed working with a company so much.

What advice would you give to others who are, perhaps, intimidated by the prospect of a large creative side-project like writing a book?

You should always seek advice from somebody who has done something similar, because they’ll tell you that it’s easier than it looks. I was given a deadline for each chapter that was focused around me working on the book in my spare time, which is great, because I hate working under pressure.

I had three editors in total, one of which also served as a project manager and compiled the book to ePub/PDF once it was completed, and a cover designer who is also my editor on SitePoint’s Design and UX channel. After I’d re-read the chapters numerous times, the editors would still pick up on something that could be improved.

Should the book become successful, and it’s looking that way (averaging at 4.4/5 stars), it’s because the team pushed me to do better. Even if you’re working alone, share your ideas and progress constantly; ask for feedback. It’s not intimidating when you have support.

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At Atomic we often see designers who are taking on the challenge of learning prototyping. Some are really just starting out, and others are looking for ways to make it part of their everyday workflow. You’ve written a lot on the topic of prototyping, often coaching designers new to the practices of prototyping. What advice would you give designers who are challenging themselves to upskill in prototyping?

Like I said with my book, the trick is to share, even collaborate, every step of the way. You shouldn’t be looking for home runs, just validation that you’re heading towards a goal. You shouldn’t concern yourself with visual aesthetics too much either. Branding and colour of course play a role in user experience, but there’s a strong division between what looks good and what actually helps the user. Only the user can tell you what’s helpful, so find users.

My advice? Start with pencils first. Draw lots of ideas. Even bad ones.

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What’s next for you? We’d love to hear about what you’re tackling next.

Good question! I’ve no idea.

I’ve been toying with the idea of a digital magazine for years but it’s so time-consuming, I can’t dedicate all of my energy to it. I made advancements with a design magazine once, but I didn’t feel like I was really creating any value there. I thought maybe there would be some space on the racks for a digital nomad magazine, but again, you’d be surprised at how much commitment is involved.

I think I’ve finally struck a chord with “A Year in the Life of 3 Digital Nomads”. It’s more personal, and it would be an annual project rather than a monthly one.

Other than that I’m brainstorming ideas for a 2nd book focused on prototyping workflows that integrate with Sketch. I need to find out which areas people need the most help with.


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Want to win a copy of Daniel’s book Jump Start Sketch and his UI Kit Solar? Good news - we’ve got one of each to give away.

Just drop us a tweet @we_are_atomic and mention the talented @mrdanielschwarz to be in to win.

Posted 23 May 2016

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