Thomas Williams — The Wall Street Journal
Thomas is an Australian designer, living and working in Los Angeles. His focus is on brand and digital product and is …
I grew up in a family where both parents were artists. My dad was a photographer and sculptor who created modern sculptures and conceptual art. My mother was a goldsmith who held exhibitions as well. I spent all my childhood in art galleries and observing them create, so you could at least partially blame this creative environment for the initial spark.
When I went to the first grade, we got our first computer. It was a Macintosh 128K with one-bit, black and white display. Back then, Macs came bundled with HyperCard that let you program things without having to write any code. I remember being genuinely curious about this, as it made it possible for someone like me to create functional programs with just a few clicks.
This was perhaps one of the reasons I got so obsessed about design(ing) systems and working towards programs that would do the design work for us. On top of everything else, I guess I was also a little eccentric at the time, as I used to ponder the small details until everyone else got fatigued and fled home. I suppose I still am. As long as I can remember, I’ve always been into visual things and finding beauty from the things that surround us.
Growing up, I started studying graphic design and did a few courses around printing presses and how to operate them. The coarse nature of these presses got me eventually more and more intrigued about movable type and typography as well. I guess at that point, there was no turning back any more. I knew I wanted to do something that would somehow combine all of these things and let me create interactive experiences.
I work remotely, so the first thing I routinely do is to grind coffee beans for an espresso that I enjoy in our small garden before doing anything else. It gives me a moment to reflect and think about the forthcoming day.
Back when I was still living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I used to go out for strolls around Palo Alto during the lunch hour, but I’ve nowadays replaced these with bike rides instead and eat lunch afterwards. It creates a nice break in the day and allows me to disconnect from everything. As a designer, I feel like the most important work always tends to happen during these moments when I’m not on the computer.
While designing, I often sketch my ideas in either written text or code instead of using tools such as Figma as it enables me to focus on how things work, instead of how they look like. This helps me to put content over form, embrace the fluid nature of the web, and focus on systems of components instead of pages.
My workstation is probably quite different compared to most designers out there. It’s a combination of a home recording studio and a workstation that I built inside an old walk-in closet. The space itself isn’t enormous by any means, around 30 ft², but this dedicated quiet space gives me the luxury to focus and get a lot of things done.
While I find myself constantly switching between different working modes like running a design systems workshop, working from different countries, or doing a remote meeting with a team spread across multiple countries, I like having this personal space where I can always come back to think and focus.
It all goes back to the summer of 1998. After saving for months, I’ve acquired my first turntable. It’s Technics SL-1210 MK II, and I am carrying it uphill towards home, that is nearly two and a half miles further. The package weighs 26 pounds, not an easy task for the scrawny teenager I was back then.
I remember vividly how I after arriving tear apart the package, took out all the gleaming parts, put them together, and the great enthusiasm and eagerness I felt inside. I also remember how I connected the turntable to the speakers and played the first vinyls I had picked up months earlier.
There I was, eyes closed, letting the unison of the brasses sink into my brain.
I didn’t know it back then, but the day I bought the turntable and started collecting vinyls shaped my future career as a designer. Slowly throughout the years, jazz and soul music and artworks of these 12" records became the main source of inspiration for me. They still are. I get inspired wherever I can listen to my favourite albums.
I tend to get enthusiastic about road bikes and recently got a new bike by Wilier. It’s one of the best bikes I’ve ever owned. It’s beautifully built with a lot of well thought through details.
I’m not sure about “most proud,” but I enjoyed writing this article back in 2017 and later on doing a talk about the design tools and processes we use: https://arie.ls/2017/design-tools-processes/
Currently, we’re in the process of introducing a new contribution model for our design system. The aim is to allow product teams to design new features based on their product requirements. At the same time, we want to keep an eye on the quality and consistency of the user experience.
It takes time and effort to get everyone on board with this new model and requires a lot of interaction with the designers and frontend developers working in our product teams.
Our interfaces are written, text being the interface, and typography being our main discipline. Get better at these things.
Absolutely, I’d love to mention Nord Design System that we’re working on. The docs are fully public, as we think this makes collaboration between everyone easier and increases the system’s visibility and accountability. Shoutout to the whole systems team including Eric, Dave, and Nick.