Freelance Design Director


DanTase (Freelance Design Director)

Fractional Design Director. Previously led design at Farfetch, Fresha & Just Eat

he/him • Malmo, Sweden • June 27, 2024

What led you into design?

Growing up in a small, working-class Romanian family, I wasn't surrounded by a lot of creativity and art. Doing anything artistic was never seen as a potential career, so going to art school or taking it more seriously was never an option. Still, that did not stop me from spending countless hours in front of the TV, drawing every Cartoon Network character.

Later on in high school, influenced by my love for hip-hop, I got into graffiti. Although I was never a proper graffiti writer (or in street terms, I was a 'toy'), this had a huge influence on my development as a creative person. I learned how to use my environment in creative ways, how to deal with risk and get by with limited resources. Plus, I got this sense of community I've been longing for ever since.

At one point, one of my DJ friends needed a poster for their gig, and they reached out to me for help. I downloaded the first Photoshop tutorial I could find, quickly learned the basics, and designed a very messy poster. Soon after, I got my first proper design job, and I've been doing it ever since (in radically different forms).

What does a typical day look like?

Most days, my dogs wake me up around 7 AM. I quickly get out of bed and take them to the garden, followed by my half-asleep routine of feeding them, having breakfast with my wife, and running some errands. I'm usually at my desk by 9 or 10 AM.

What follows after changes depending on the day (and it might be radically different when this interview is out). But after years of being an in-house designer with a clear schedule and a healthy routine, everything changed since going back to freelance. Mondays are for strategic sessions with my clients and planning the week ahead. Tuesdays & Wednesdays are for hands-on design work. Thursdays are for Design Reviews and Feedback rounds. And Fridays are a mix of hands-on design work and some strategic thinking. This sounds very organised in theory, but in practice, it's me frantically trying to do everything I can to go through my to-do list.

I try to leave my desk by 7 PM, but it's not always working as intended.

What's your workstation setup?

I use a Mac Studio connected to a Studio Display with an external keyboard and a really basic wireless mouse—nothing fancy, but it does the job. For on-the-go, I have a 2018 MacBook Pro that's still holding up.

Phone-wise, I own an iPhone 13 that I use to take photos and browse around.

Dan Tase Website

As much as I love clean workspaces, I like to be surrounded by objects that inspire me. So you can always find books, records, or random things nearby. One thing you can count on is Sara, one of our dogs, sitting right below my desk.

Where do you go to get inspired?

Most of my inspiration comes from non-design sources, usually from three things: people, information, and nature.

People: Despite my dislike for going to the office, I miss the physical interactions with colleagues. Engaging with everyone around me is much harder to achieve remotely, so I try to meet our team and clients as frequently as possible.

Information: In addition to that, I spend an unhealthy amount of time watching YouTube videos and documentaries on all sorts of topics: from health & mindfulness to sports & art. One recent source of inspiration for me was Will Guidara's Ted Talk on Unreasonable Hospitality, which provides some great advice on creating truly memorable moments rooted in human connection.

Nature: Although I'm an indoors person, since moving to Sweden, I've been trying to force myself to go out in nature as much as possible. Finding some quiet time with my thoughts is something I'm not very good at, and long walks help a lot.

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

There are a few of them.

Teenage engineering: I'm a huge fan of their uncompromising approach to design, their attention to detail and the level of playfulness even for the most serious or dull product.

Wonderbly: Wonderbly is the biggest personalised book publisher worldwide (and also one of my clients). Their children's books are simply incredible: from the storytelling aspect to the paper they're printed on.

Dot by New Computer: I've always been a huge fan of Jason Yuan's work, so of course I'm also a huge fan on his new venture. Dot is an intelligent guide designed to help you remember, organize, and navigate your life, and their landing page is a thing of beauty.

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

I rarely look back at old work and feel proud as I can always find aspects I could have improved or situations I would have managed differently. But there are a few things which live closer to my heart.

Upward: Upward is an NYC based start-up that's helping companies reduce their carbon footprint. I joined them early in their product development process to help them switch from Consumer to B2B. Although the strange VC market made it harder to grow, I still loved every second of working with the team there.

Farfetch: I was one of the first designers on the Farfetch Apps team. We shipped the first iteration of their iOS and Android Apps to market, grew them to over 50% of traffic, and continued to iterate until it became the biggest luxury e-commerce platform worldwide.

Burberry: I joined the Burberry team in the early stages of designing their first e-commerce iOS App. My main focus was merging the in-store and digital experience through things like monogramming and in-store reservations. Although the app is radically different now (and they've undergone 2 rebrands), it still maintains the core foundation we built early on.

Wonderbly: Another great project was helping Wonderbly redesign its core experience. I started working with them in early 2023, and I was tasked with imagining what the future could look like for their business. We've improved the way customers discover & personalize products, solved countless product challenges, and left the business in a great position to expand even further.

What design challenges do you face at your company?

Returning to Freelance/Fractional design from an in-house role led to a few challenges and realisations that I'm still struggling with. Here's a brain dump:

Big, bold bets vs. Preservation: It's a tough time for the design industry (layoffs, weird VC market, the world being on fire), so most companies are looking for preservation instead of innovation. While I understand where that's coming from, we all know how badly that works in the long term. So part of my role is to convince Exec teams to think outside of the box and take big, bold bets. That requires many rounds of conversations, dealing with big decisions, and doing a lot of validation.

Career growth: In a traditional design role, you have a clear(er) career ladder and a manager who is always willing to help you grow. As a freelancer, that's non-existent. Although I'm not looking for growth in the career ladder sense, I'd love to continue designing until I retire. So I can't stop wondering "Where will I be in 10 years from now?", "Will my work still be relevant as I get older?", "Will I still have the energy to compete in this market?", "How do I keep learning without the constraints/guidance of a full-time role?". All tough questions with no obvious answers.

Context-switching: Although I'm much happier working with 2-3 clients at once, it does become challenging when I have to split my responsibilities between radically different industries, challenges, and company stages. Some days, I'm working with an early-stage start-up to help them find product-market fit; on other days, I'm working with a 100+ org to help them level up their design team. Quickly switching between those isn't always easy, but I'm learning a ton.

What music do you listen to while designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

There's so much career-growth advice floating around at the moment: "Go into management!", "Get a seat at the table!", "Become more business-driven", and so on. I've seen many designers (including myself) lose their energy and passion in the process of climbing the career ladder.

In my opinion, a better approach is to find what you love doing and look for companies that would enable you to grow in that direction. It leads to greater happiness & radically better work.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

Just tooting my own horn, but I recently launched my new website. If you're an early-stage start-up looking for Product Market Fit or a large org looking to shake things up, shoot me an email!