Alex Brown — Contra
Alex Brown is a product designer creating tools that enable and empower the independent workforce. 🌎
I think there are two moments in my life that I can point as hugely determining and probably my first exposure to the creative process. I didn’t grow up that close to a city, so during my teenage years there was a sizable amount of computer time. One day, I found out about Microsoft FrontPage, which by that time was probably the most approachable way for somebody to make a website with no prior html or css knowledge. It wasn’t great, but it definitely made me curious. Then, the second tipping point came while using Photoshop for the first time. I realized I could create things much faster than using html, because I was terrible at it.
By the time I was thinking about what to do with my life, Apple was releasing the craziest things I had ever seen. This made industrial design very appealing to me, but drawing wasn’t my forte. However, after some initial fears, I ended up graduating from design school as an industrial designer.
In the midst of the financial crisis, the manufacturing industry in Spain wasn’t doing great. There weren’t many opportunities for new graduates, so when one of my teachers mentioned an internship I could be interested in I decided to shift my focus and give it a try. It was at a design firm that was focused on digital services, but I applied and got the internship. Quickly I realized I loved working in digital products.
Pre-pandemic my life looked very different, you don’t really think about your rituals until they get so suddenly shifted. Because of the working from home situation we are currently in, I have managed to keep a routine that allows me to stay somewhat balanced.
I normally begin my workdays at 9 PST, most of my team is in New York so I use the first hour to catch up on what’s happened and what’s next. If my day is not very meeting heavy, I like to go for a 20-30 minute walk to clear my head and take a break. After I am done working I like having a light lunch, some rest, and then a workout. I started using reminders to not skip them, it holds me accountable and it makes me feel better in the long run.
At night I try to stay away from my desk for any design purposes, it’s been helpful to create a healthy division between my job and my life, now that it all happens under the same roof. So I either cook or spend some time planning my free time. I love taking pictures and I just moved to California last summer, so I am always trying to research the next drive.
I have tried a lot of different types of setups and I‘ve always end up coming back to my 13” Macbook. I can do everything I need from it and it gives me the flexibility to travel and work from anywhere. When I’m home and need a big screen, I plug the macbook to a 24” 4k monitor on my standing desk.
I also enjoy using an iPad with a pencil, the split screen feature allows you to multitask in a way that is very productive and to cross-reference ideas without breaking the flow of your work.
I find hearing about other designers to be very inspiring, especially those who work in fields that are unrelated to mine. Even though we are not working on the same challenges, there’s always something in the process and the execution that surprises you.
I also like to stay up to date, so I check some feeds regularly. Using a browser extension that replaces my new tabs with updates on my feeds has proven to be very helpful. And when I find something that I like, I pin it for future reference. It’s also great to use it as a tool to track how your taste and curiosity changes over time.
And lastly, I try to get out of town and go see things. I think I get the most inspired when I visit a place I have never seen before. Albeit not a thing these days, It’s especially noticeable if you have the chance to travel abroad. Looking at how communication works in different countries is something I’ve always found fascinating.
For all the bad rep that their industrial design has gotten, I enjoy the PS5. Leaving the aesthetics aside, there are some moments in the experience that feel original and fresh, like the new controller and the way it behaves in different games. Sometimes it’s those small features that make a design great, if it only was a little prettier!
I truly enjoy the collaboration between Braun and Virgil Abloh. Such a classic piece, one made to last. I think Off White’s color touch really elevates the presence it has while keeping the iconic identity.
I think the work we did for Email Campaigns in 2018 turned out very nicely. It was my first long assignment at Squarespace, and even though I joined the team 6 months before we launched, it surely taught me lots about how to work in a product company. I also made a lot of friends in that team, we had our share of fun working on it.
Additionally, our rich text editor. Seemingly a small feature with a tiny footprint, but it’s a component widely used across our products. Needless to say, it was challenging to align all the moving parts, and the engineers that worked on it dedicated a lot of time to make sure it worked in every corner of the platform.
Making a website isn’t easy. Making a product that empowers people through their online presence is even harder. When your users learn how to use your platform, you need to find ways to improve specific areas without breaking their workflow. Many rely on our products to make a living these days, so we need to make sure our work is tight. This adds an additional layer of complexity that needs to be considered.
I think Squarespace is uniquely positioned to support a new generation of people with crazy ideas, but a lot of the work required from us to achieve that is around simplifying highly complex editing and managing flows. It’s a good kind of challenge.
Continue learning from others, especially from the classics. There have been countless designers and thinkers that pushed the boundaries of what could be designed, or approached problems in a way that had never been considered before. Reading about these will add several coats of versatility to your toolkit. Not only will you be expanding the way you think, you will also learn how to communicate your ideas better. A good place to start? Design as Art by Bruno Munari.
Something that has helped me extensively throughout my career was learning how to rely on others. Asking for help when I needed it has solved many of my headaches, and I am happy that I did. You have to remember you are part of a team that wants whatever the work is to be successful, supporting each other will get the best of you.
And lastly, use your skill set and your experience to help and elevate others.
Feel free to follow me on Twitter, I like to talk about all kinds of things from design to general rants. These days taking pictures is definitely my creative outlet, and whatever I like I post on my Instagram and sometimes I sell them as prints.