Freelance Product Designer


DannPetty (Freelance Product Designer)

San Francisco based stay-at-home-dad freelance designer, Epicurrence event host, and story teller at

• July 15, 2017

What led you into design?

First thing I wanted to do was become a cartoonist, but I couldn’t draw. Then architect, but I’m not good with straight lines. I eventually came across web design before college when I needed to start an online business and only had a developer but no design help.

I was super into cars. Like fixed up Honda Civics and rides like that. So much so I created a website when I was 16-17, an online magazine showcasing my favorites from car shows. I had a developer for it but not a designer, so I jumped in with Photoshop and was hooked. Graduated from high school and went to design school to learn more about it. Mainly to try and grow that company.

What does a typical day look like?

As a stay at home dad of 2, about to be 3 girls, my days are differently almost every day. Sometimes my days start by getting my kids up in the morning, usually like a zombie, feed them breakfast and make my first cup of coffee. I'll hang out with them for a bit when I can the I’m off to my tiny office in my house if I’m in heavy design mode or if I’m more relaxed, I like to take the van out to spots by the water to brainstorm ideas. I’m generally always done by 5:30 PM so I can have dinner with the family and hang out. If there’s a lot of work to be done, I’ll jump back on when everyone goes to bed. To be honest, most days are tough, mixing in freelance work with start-up stuff, filming things, and Epicurrence event planning while juggling a growing family and trying to maintain relationships outside my house, it’s a pretty stressful life at the moment. The important thing for me to keep reminding myself is to allow time for the family and put them first before my work and to take advantage of why I freelance, for the flexibility in my life. It’s so easy to get lost and forget that.

What’s your setup?

Where do you go to get inspired?

I have two go-to’s for this. If it’s the start of a big project, I usually always go to Barnes and Noble before I do anything else—straight to the magazine section. Usually around Wired Magazine, then cruise over to the surf, skate, and snowboarding sections which are where I spent most of my time. Not only does that industry inspire me, but the imagery and stories do as well. It’s a life I wish I could live or an industry I wish I could be in one day, ever since I was a little kid. Other than that, to get inspiration I simply go outside. Typically a long surf. It’s hard to get inspired sometimes behind a screen, you usually see the same thing over and over and it’s hard to spark a new idea because of that. If you want a new idea, get away from the screen. I think the best inspiration comes when I’m not trying. It’s why my best ideas happen in the shower I think, haha. My mind is free.

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

I’ll name 3.

Wedge & Levers redesign of Transworld Surf. It’s an older one now but still the best I’ve seen in a long time. I know it’s not an “interface” but I think it has plenty of crossovers with here.

Intercom. Can we all just give them a major round of applause for their brand? My goodness, it’s so good.

And something most readers here might not have seen yet, YouTube Kids app. It’s genius. The interactions are so simple my kids can work their way around this thing better than I can. It’s just such a fun app.

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

Definitely and Epicurrence events. Mainly because of how far I came from personal growth. Before Epicurrence, I was super shy and reserved. Before, I knew nothing about filming or editing. Not to mention everything I’ve learned from all the people I’ve been able to interact with. That’s the best part of it all. I’m most proud of these because they got me out of my comfort zone, I proved I could do something myself which I didn’t think was possible, and it forced me to meet some of the most incredible humans.

On the client side, I’m most stoked on the work I’ve done for, especially the homepage. I really pushed myself hard to not only design a unique site but also to take the photos of the products myself, something I’ve never done before. Will probably always be my favorite project for a client, just because of everything I learned in the process.

What design challenges do you face at your company?

For me it’s focus. As a freelancer, there’s so much distraction. Whether with the flexibility of your time (which yes can be a distraction) or the work opportunities, there’s always a pull from somewhere. As a freelancer, you’re the CEO, PM, business person, accountant, janitor, AND you’ve got to still do all the design work. It’s tough and makes it hard to settle down and focus.

What music do you listen to while designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

Oh, so many things. Don’t stop learning. Don’t stop testing your limits. Don’t put work or money before family—you’ll be tested here a lot. Meet people. Relationships are everything, no matter how good your work is, if you don’t know people it’s going to be very hard to move forward.

Also, my favorite many people think they absolutely know everything these days. I use to be one of those when I was younger but when I was at working with Ev Williams, I noticed something that changed my thinking forever. He always said, “Dann, I don’t know but let's figure it out.” Few things about this. He said he doesn’t know. You’d think he’d know everything or pretend to. Also, he said “let’s” figured it out, not him figure it out and get back to me. Ever since I’ve admired him so much and brought that thinking ever. It was the first time I’ve ever had a boss, much less anywhere near his calibre, tell me they don’t know and want to figure it out together. Loved that.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

@dannpetty show. New episode every Monday

Freelance.TV! If you’re a freelancer, please stop by and check out some of the videos. Start with this one where Dan Mall talks about what it takes to become a freelancer. Also, join our Slack group (by joining the newsletter) if you have any freelance related questions or advice/stories to share with others.

More importantly, let’s give some love to some young creators. Mind if I plug: