Tom Bates — Duffel
São Paulo-based designer, developer, muppet, and co-founder at Duffel. He’s obsessed with building tools, designing in …
My journey into design was mostly accidental...
In the summer of 2012, I got an internship at what I thought was a fancy venture capital firm (I was an economics major). So naturally I strolled in on day one wearing a blazer and loafers only to be met by a bunch of people coding in sweatpants. Not what I had pictured 🤔
It was then I learned that my internship was actually one floor below the VC firm at the local tech accelerator. Being in that environment changed the trajectory of my career. Within one week I knew I wanted to build tech companies for the rest of my life. But I didn’t want to just be the “idea guy”. So I started learning to code! Except… I hated it (and was bad at it) 😅
So I decided to change course and crack a version of Adobe Illustrator. The rest of that summer I spent every waking minute prototyping ideas in Flinto and showing them to anyone who would give me the time of day. It was addicting.
But I wasn’t a “designer”. I was a founder who designed (and did sales, marketing, etc.). And this continued for more than five years until eventually my startup went to zero and I had to figure out what was next.
Looking back on my journey as a founder, I realized my favorite hat to wear was the designer hat. So I hopped onto /r/forhire and decided to see if I could make a career out of it. Here we are 🤷♂️
My favorite days start with a cup of coffee, reading my Bible, and enjoying the view of the woods with my wife. It's quite peaceful (at least until our Great Danes come bounding over).
Eventually, I make my way up to my office, turn on all of my colored lights, and figure out what playlist will unlock my creativity for the day. I love music. And my focus states usually involve me dancing.
Many of my best ideas come to me laying in bed right before falling asleep. It’s not uncommon for me to spend 4-5 hours typing away in my notes app capturing every possible detail that pops into my head. It’s weird, I know. I used to fight it in the name of routine, but now I let my mind run wild whenever it wants.
I also put a considerable amount of effort into curating design inspiration for myself. It helps me in my work but it’s also become a hobby of sorts. I have a Notion database full of years worth of screenshots and it brings me life to keep it organized.
It’s almost cliché to say at this point, but my answer has to be Arc.
This browser has brought me daily joy over the last year. The UI and interactions are lovely but it’s more than that. They completely reimagined something as familiar as the browser and absolutely nailed the execution. That is so hard to do. Especially when you’re trying to design a relatively opinionated product (ex: tabs automatically closing after 12 hours).
Out of anything I’ve ever designed, I think I’ve received the most positive feedback about the Maven landing page editor. Instructors rave about it and that feels pretty good :)
I’m also incredibly proud of the Figma Academy curriculum—not just the pedagogy but the actual architecture. There wasn’t much precedent for building courses in Figma when I first started. It felt new and exciting. I literally had daily butterflies once the format really started to click in my head.
Lastly, I’m proud of the Dive website. The way people responded to our launch meant so much to me. Every time someone remixed one of our course cards I ran downstairs to show my wife the tweet
Maven is unlike any other product I’ve designed before. Because a lot of what makes an instructor successful is determined by things that happen off-platform.
So it’s not enough to design intuitive software. You have to use the Maven product surface area to teach instructors higher-level mental models for marketing, facilitating, etc.
It’s challenging. But it helps that I'm also an instructor myself. Designing to solve the problems you experience firsthand is a huge advantage.
Product designers should start becoming more technical.
It’s now easier to imagine the ways that AI is going to impact the world of design. And I believe the best way to set yourself up for success is by becoming more of a generalist.
You don’t need to know how to write code… you just need to understand the principles of how it works. Because soon we’ll all be engineers. And the most valuable designers will be the ones that can also build their ideas.
I believe the best designers are the ones that never stop learning. And that’s why we’re creating Dive 🤿