Gerren Lamson, Head of Design at Creative Market
Gerren Lamson is a designer, illustrator, screen printer and all-around amazing creative living in Austin, TX. He heads up design for Creative Market, a resources and assets platform thats made and run by creatives, for creatives. His work consistently features incredible use of color, texture, and typography.
Where do you work and what is your current title?
I’m the Head of Design at Creative Market. I’ve lead the design and community efforts here since we started working on the MVP back in April of 2012. On a weekly basis, I wear many hats, but I spend most of my time leading our product design initiatives.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself & your background.
I live in Austin, Texas with my wife Morgana, and we’ve been here for 5-1/2 years. We love it. Austin is one of those cities where it’s easy to meet other folks who have similar creative jobs and hobbies. We’ve really thrived here, because there’s a community of makers who are supporting each other in the pursuit of their passions. We started a small print studio called Satchel & Sage over 3 years ago, and have met lifelong friends who also have similar small businesses.
When did you first realize you wanted to become a designer?
I grew up drawing and working on creative art projects. So when I was enrolling for college, I took my required fine art courses and a few beginner design classes. The professors gave us stationery and print design projects to teach us the basic principles and elements of design. To be honest, I didn’t like it at all. I wasn’t good enough in Illustrator and Photoshop to create the level of work that I wanted to. At that age, I had poor taste and design sensibilities, too.
Eventually, I moved back to where I grew up to enroll at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to finish my degree. This time around, I began to enjoy design. The professor gave us projects to learn type design, propaganda poster design, logo design, and identity collateral. I grew fond of these types of design projects, and still am to this day. This is when I realized that I wanted to become a designer.
After graduating, I took a job building small business websites and had to teach myself HTML and CSS. That’s when I knew that I made the right choice to pursue a career in design, because I loved working on the web as much as I did in print design.
What was your first design job? Any interesting stories about how you broke in?
After I completed my degree, I moved to San Antonio to work at small boutique agency called Giles Design. I got exposed to a level of sophisticated design taste that I didn’t know existed, and the bar was very high. During my time there, I was very ambitious, worked hard, and was stressed out most of the time.
The demands on me were high, but I learned a ton. After a short while, I was leading all of the web design projects. I also had the opportunity to lead the environmental and signage projects. I think that the combination of web and environmental projects strengthened my overall design thinking. I worked there for 2-1/2 years, and then went on to work at an interactive agency.
Please describe normal day at your current job. What’s the workflow like? What are your primary responsibilities?
At Creative Market, a normal day for me consists of doing a mix of project scoping, team management, and actual design work. Our design team has ranged from 2-4 people over the last 3 years. As we scale the design team, my weekly roles and responsibilities will change with that scale.
We meet-up each quarter to discuss what projects we should build next. Then, we scope the work for each project and review it with the dev, design, support and growth teams to ensure the most balanced outcome. If we’re updating an existing feature, we’ll look at analytics of the user behavior to decide how to improve it. If it’s a bigger project, we’ll put it through user flows and wireframes before moving it into comps or prototypes. If a project is small enough, we’ll only design comps and pass it off to a developer. Or, in some cases, the developer will just push updates live without a designer opening Photoshop at all.
My primary responsibility is to ensure the best possible product design updates and additions to the platform. Our product design projects are a mix of feature updates, new feature builds, and optimization tests. We also produce design work for advertising, marketing, online/offline events and other community initiatives. My role is to make sure that the visual components are consistent and evolving across the site, since they impact the behavior and psychology of users and their experience of Creative Market.
My secondary responsibilities are to be the keeper of the brand, champion of the community, and leader of the expanding design team. Since our customers are our peers in the design industry, it’s important to tackle projects that support them. I’m also constantly growing the design team, in order to better serve the initiatives that we set for Creative Market.
What’s a common mistake you often see entry level designers make? What are some tips to avoid or overcome it?
A recurring issue that I see in young designers is the desire to be 5+ years into their career without doing the painful, hard work of getting there. You have to make a lot of mediocre work to understand the form and function of design. And, that form and function varies between design mediums. So, I’d encourage young designers to start personal side projects to get any DIY education that they think they’re missing. They’ll likely be learning in their day job, but their night and weekend projects will help them discover what types of design work they really want to improve over time.
Any industry sites or blogs you read on a regular basis, or anything else you read for inspiration?
I’m a bit of a nomad when it comes to my consumption of design blogs. If I have time, which rarely seems to be the case, I’ll read an interesting interview or article on any of the popular industry sites. However, lately I’ve really enjoyed getting off the computer to read books about brain function. It’s important to know that learning about other things in life can help spark new design ideas and cross-inform a better understanding of how to design for people.
There’s something new and amazing coming out every day. What’s something awesome you’ve seen recently that you’re dying to share, or something you’re excited about?
You know, it’s hard to keep up with it all! During 2014, I collected tons of design resources that were being shipped on a weekly basis and produced a series on the blog called Design News. We collected the Top 100 of those links and published a round-up at the end of the year, too. For me personally though, I don’t get super jazzed about new apps to help designers collaborate or do better work. Those are all great and fine, but I get excited about platforms that directly attempt to help underprivileged people. Recently, we did some work with Watsi, a platform that crowd funds healthcare for impoverished people who need it. That’s really awesome to me. I’d love to see more design projects solving problems for people outside of the elite tech and design sphere.
What advice would you give to someone trying to break into the industry?
The best advice that I can give is to try to understand how the industry operates, and then find a way to march to the beat of your own drum. At the end of the day, the industry serves businesses and their customers, so I’d recommend focusing on the type of work you want to produce. And, always start with the why and who, not what, how, when, or where.
What do you think is the future digital design?
It’s an exciting time to be in digital design. The future looks bright! We’ve watched new technologies being developed and released as consumer goods, and that will only continue to grow. There are many unforeseen challenges that digital designers will face in the future, such as creating a consistent fluid UI/UX across apps, devices and environments.
I’m still waiting for a future where we have Star Wars holograms and Star Trek replicators. I just hope we can shape them to be used for the good of everyone.