William Channer, Founder of Dorm Room Tycoon
William Channer is the co-founder of Panda, a web inspiration and resource tool. He’s also the man behind Dorm Room Tycoon, an interview podcast that gives you insights into some of the most creative and influential minds of all time.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I’m a product designer and technology journalist. I co-founded Panda, which is the easiest way to discover the best content. I founded Dorm Room Tycoon, a podcast show that interviews the world’s most influential innovators. I also co-authored Ways to Connect with Ryan Singer from Basecamp. Before that I was an advertising creative working at BBH and AKQA in London. I’ve worked with Nike, Guardian, British Airways and Audi. I graduated from Imperial College London.
When did you decide that you wanted to head into digital design professionally and why?
I only started designing because I wanted to create my own products. I remember having all these ideas and not knowing what to do with myself. Sketching them out on paper and putting them on the wall just seemed to be a logical way to calm my excitement and nerves. In the early days, I was never that guy trying to do crazy cool stuff on Photoshop by reading those lengthy tutorials. I was never interested in pixels or polish. I was just designing on a conceptual UX level, mostly thinking. I had a massive white board in my room, that was my main software. And, if I used any software, it was just Keynote, and that was still for wireframing. Again, I spent most of time just thinking about products holistically and how the user would feel using the product. Ultimately, I fell into design because design is a way to solve problems. I like solving problems.
Where do you get your design inspiration from?
I’ve actually written an article on this, it’s called How to Get Inspired. But in a nutshell, anything that catches my eye. More specifically, I like what’s happening in mobile. It seems to be a place where I’m constantly surprised with the way designers are solving problems on a small screen. The mobile has this inherent constraint that forces designers to get to the point. I also get inspiration from the people I interview. Being able to talk with Jason Fried or Jakob Nielsen for an hour and ask them anything is pretty inspiring.
What do you think it takes to become a good (digital) designer?
Nobody is a good digital designer. I don’t think such a person exists. Instead, what I think you can get good at, is having a deeper understanding of how people behave and setting a higher standard for yourself. Every year your personal benchmark should go up. Every year you should have a higher standard for yourself. Constantly push yourself. I think ”good digital designers” have a sickeningwork ethic, because even the best designers first draft is going to be crap. But they don’t give up. They allow their work to consume them to the point where they can’t think about anything else. They have this painstaking commitment to designing the best thing possible. For me, a good designer is somebody that is 1) unwilling to compromise, 2) persistent and 3) can solve the users problem the easiest way possible.
What are a few of your favorite design software tools, and why? (Web frameworks, Adobe software, etc.)
Paper and pen. It’s where true thinking can still happen. I think we jump too quickly into software. We’re desperate to make things look like nice. But most importantly, it’s about making things work. For me, great design is thoughtful design. It’s one that connects with the user and takes them on a journey of ease. But to answer your question, I like Adobe Illustrator. It’s perfect for creating a square and filling it with a colour. That’s all I need to do really. I also like Quartz Composer and Facebook’s Origami. It’s a nice way to create interactive prototypes. But I encourage you to read Frank Chimero’s wonderful article, No New Tools. Everything he says is 120% spot on.
What do you think is the most intimidating thing for first-time designers who want to become great designers?
Getting started and actually thinking you belong. Creative people are the most insecure types of people on the planet. It’s in our nature because what makes us good creatives, is that we question everything and that often leads to us questioning ourselves. They call it the impostor syndrome. Get used to it.
How do you think they can overcome this?
Just start. The sooner you start the quicker you will find your stride. Tidy your room, get some order and and lock yourself in it. Turn down the lights, turn off your phone, play some deep tech house and just design! Being on Dribbble and reading Medium posts won’t make you great.
Do you have any thoughts on what the future of digital design is?
I think design will fade into the background and become more like our surroundings. Like the floorboards we walk on everyday, or the fridge we use to get the milk. We just kind of use it, without even thinking about it. I think more digital design will be like that. Design that offers great utility with very little user input. As technology becomes more advanced, design will have to compensate that with an elegant simplicity, so that we’re not intimidated by these new advancements. Things like Nest and Siri come to mind. In summary, I think design will increasingly hide the complexities of a product the same way our skin hides the complexities of our bodies.