Bill Kenney — Focus Lab
A natural, lively, and charismatic people person, Bill focuses on the value of surrounding himself with great people, …
On a daily basis I write, design, code, answer emails. I guess a more general way of describing what I do is that I launch personal projects, looking for ones that can actually pay the bills!
I found programming too hard! I started out as a coder but got bored with the prehistoric web technologies of circa 2005, so decided to focus on design more. I started with UI design because you don’t need any artistic skills to design forms and dashboards, then gradually moved on to more visual stuff.
I have a MacBook Pro. That’s it! No second monitor, no mouse, no fancy desk, nothing. I realised that being able to pick up my laptop and move to a different room (I work from home) was more valuable to me than having a workspace that would look good in the latest issue of Fancy Pants Designers Monthly.
I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a single “design process”. Design is problem-solving, so the process depends on the problem. Since I mostly work on web apps, my process usually involves firing up Sublime Text and Chrome and starting to code. I don’t really use graphic apps like Sketch or Photoshop anymore since I find they slow me down. I’ll need to code up whatever I design anyway, so I might as well start with the code directly and save some time.
My trusty code editor!
I would have to say Sidebar since I just recently redesigned it.
I’m also quite proud of Discover Meteor since it helped a lot of people learn to code and create actual, real-world apps. And of course Telescope which has been my pet project for the past couple years.
My projects’ GitHub issues pages. I can always count on them to give me tonnes of new ideas for what to do next!
Sublime Text and Chrome.
I generally ask people on Twitter or on Slack. I find that the limiting factor in improving a product is more the lack of time than the lack of feedback, so I’m generally not too worried about testing or asking for people’s opinion. Although I did use Typeform as well to get feedback from Sidebar’s readers about the new design.
I don’t usually listen to music while designing, but when I do I try to find a good hip-hop mix on Mixcloud.
Sidebar of course!
I try to give myself time to learn new things. It’s not always easy since it can feel like you’re starting over from scratch every couple months, but I think it’s important to stay current.
I wanted to make it easier to drive traffic to my own projects, as well as highlight cool articles and products in the design community. Also, I wanted to have a product I’d be proud to put my name on, something that people might know me from. I like the idea that people I meet might go “oh, you’re the guy who does Sidebar!”
So far it’s been fun if a little monotonous. I’ve found five links a day every single day since I launched the site in 2012. To break up the routine I’m thinking about blogging more and maybe launching a Sidebar podcast, too. Stay tuned!
I had a really hard time finding a good balance between preserving the previous version’s minimalism and making the new version more attractive and visually interesting. I’ve heard from people who love the new design, as well as some who miss the old one. Thankfully the fact that you can either check the site or sign up for the newsletter depending on what you want makes it a bit easier to please everybody.
For the next version, I might set up some A/B testing or better stats tracking to figure out what people actually prefer.
I got into bouldering recently and I find the design of bouldering shoes pretty interesting! It shows what you get when you design the same object with totally different goals in mind (performance vs comfort).
Get rid of your mouse! You’d be surprised how much you can accomplish with just a trackpad and some keyboard shortcuts.
Learn not just how to design things, but how to actually make them. Whether it’s coding apps, making posters, or designing shirts, there’s no substitute for the real-world experience you’ll gain by being involved in a product’s creation from start to finish.