Development & Design: Lessons from a Full-Stack Product Designer
Pat Griffith’s talks about expanding from Front-End Developer to Full-Stack Product Designer
Most people see the Arts and Science as two vastly different worlds. Conversely, most would say that an artist’s way of thinking is different from that of a scientist.
That’s because an individual’s way of thinking is usually suited to navigate one of these two worlds. In other words, people tend to find one easier than the other.
Or so the story goes.
In reality, there are people who can conceptualise both fields clearly. Even more so, they can choose to change the narrative and walk the path in-between both disciplines.
It may seem counterintuitive and even controversial. But today’s culture is all about breaking away from canonical traditions and finding different, less explored roads.
This week, I spoke to Pat Griffith, a full-stack product designer, about his journey from computer science to product design. Constantly running experiments and now working with Copy.ai, Pat’s experience as a Designer is unique.
Here are the key insights from his professional journey, his creative process, and the constructive and destructive role of the Internet.
Make sure to follow Pat on Twitter at @MrPatGriffith
From a Hobby to a Business in the Making:
Pat’s journey started with the same dichotomy mentioned above. He thought he had to make a choice, and his choice was science all the way.
“I had a formal computer science education first. It paid well, but it also got monotonous very quickly. The people who sent me the design concepts seemed to have a better time. Why couldn’t I do that, too?”
He started testing the waters, letting creativity seep into his code. What began as a curiosity soon became a hobby, and the hobby grew more and more enticing.
The best learning experience in his early days was working on an up-and-coming website with good traffic so he could experiment with new ideas.
Tweaking the design, copy, and conducting split tests on his audience, he quickly got a hang of what worked and what didn’t. Unbeknownst to him, he was already training his eye for design.
“Soon, these creative projects took more and more of my time until they replaced the other programming jobs. It felt like the right thing.”
By learning product design on the fly, combined with his formal training in computer science, Pat discovered that traditional work standards were far from being the only way.
By drawing inspiration from what he saw and implementing his ideas using rough programming guidelines, he created his work standard.
Pat’s Creative Process:
As Pat’s focus shifted towards his passion, a systematised process started coming together. His process consists of 4 phases:
- The Discovery Phase;
- The Building Phase;
- The Presentation;
- The Break.
“I find consistency to be difficult, at least in the sense people like Seth Godin refer to it. Instead of ‘showing up every day’, I like to work in short but intense bursts, like a sprint. Then, I take some time off to disconnect.”
In the creative world this “show up every day” system of consistency is quite fragile. If your flow of ideas comes to a halt, but you still need to work every day, you will question yourself.
Working in short bursts and taking regular breaks, on the other hand, allows for a more natural approach. Inspiration comes and goes, and putting it on a schedule would mean misunderstanding the craft.
In other words, the modern-day corporate attitude to work hardly applies in the creative field. Inspiration does not have a clear schedule most of the time.
Diving deeper into the role of inspiration in his day-to-day life, we find the Internet in an oddly central position.
The Internet — A Double-Edged Sword:
Sometimes, it’s an oasis of information and concepts, but at other times, it’s quite different. For Pat, the Internet can be both destructive and constructive.
“During the discovery phase, the Internet is crucial. I would look through different designs until I see something that makes me smile. Then, I think about why that happened. Suddenly, I get the gist of a new concept.”
Surfing the web on sites like Twitter is essential for exploring different concepts in design. Exposure to other products is the best source of inspiration there is.
Of course, overloading with information is also a possibility. Watching YouTube videos all the time can lead to the collector’s fallacy.
You may feel that you are learning things constantly, but you’re most likely wasting your time. So web explorations should be taken for what they are: Exploration. Some of which end with no new discoveries.
In the building phase, the story changes. The Internet can be utilised as a tool for validation, addiction, and destabilisation.
Constantly checking in with people’s opinions in the middle of developing an idea hurts the creative flow. Overthinking and second-guessing get in the way.
Soon, you’ll find yourself abandoning a project you cared about because you listened to the wrong guidance and lost your sense of direction.
Pat likes to control his exposure to the Internet during this time. But once the project is ready, everything goes back online.
Many people are treading on the line between Science and Artistic endeavours but never quite make the jump. Pat referred to procrastination as the biggest obstacle to overcome.
“Before breaking into another field, the task seems daunting, like a large commitment you have to make. It will discourage you, so you keep putting it off and forget about it.”
Large commitments are always frightening to most people. Switching between disciplines, in the earlier days, certainly has this appearance.
Procrastination soon follows fear, and the change remains to be actioned properly. The cycle of procrastination is one that we know all too well. But it shouldn’t be like this.
“You don’t have to make the change yet; you are just testing the waters. Start with small, insignificant things, like learning a line of code. Once you start, you already have the ball rolling.”
Once you take that first step, fear no longer creeps into all your thoughts. Your hands are already on deck, so it’s much easier to move forward.
Pat Griffith’s journey showed me how counterintuitive careers work just fine. The Internet offers more opportunities for making money while doing what you like than ever before.
He made the most of these opportunities, and his story left me with 3 key lessons:
- Traditional paths are not the only ways to achieve your personal or professional goals.
- The Internet is a tool - its effects depend on how you choose to use it.
- Stop putting things off - just start.