Meet the Designer: Isaac Powell

by Jordan Kushins

posted on 12-06-2016

Isaac Powell has big ideas. Lots of them. The Nottingham-based freelance designer is always on the lookout for new and better ways to express himself creatively and connect with — and learn from, and share with — the larger design community. We had a long, thoughtful Skype sesh with Isaac about why software speed matters more than feature lists, why the UX/UI industry is at an exciting turning point, and why it’s important to know the rules before you break them.

What drew you to UX/UI design, and how did you get your start?

Both of my parents are artists, so I suppose I started with a more “traditional” background. I wanted to be creative too but I just couldn’t draw, so I started getting into digital art—playing around with Photoshop and photo-manipulations and all kinds of mash-ups.

I studied Multimedia at university—which is a great course if you don’t quite know what you want to do yet—and in my final year I focused on typography and web typography. That’s when I really thought: I can bring things from the “real world,” like print design, into the digital world. Now I’m almost entirely web-based in my design: interfaces; apps; websites; with lot of focus on interaction.

How does Adobe Creative Cloud fit into your creative process?

I really believe that the speed at which you can do everyday tasks is far more important than the number of different tasks you can do; the faster you can make your project into a prototype, the faster you can share your ideas, the faster you can iterate, the better. Earlier this year I had gotten to the point where everything was just taking too long. When you’re waiting on things that you have to do over and over, every day–even if it’s a few seconds here and there–it starts to eat away at your desire to open up a program in the first place and create new things. Those micro-frustrations build up and you start to hate your tools, and the projects you’re working on. Around August, I went all-in, and started exclusively using the software on my commercial projects.

The best way I can describe the process is that when I’m working in XD, I forget that I’m using it. I’m amazed at the speed; I don’t have to think when I’m creating elements, or manipulating them, or editing them, or moving them. It’s just instant.

Let’s look at one of your projects. What was your process creating Hive—a data analytics tool?

A group of former colleagues–back- and front-end developers and designers–all came from a company that used ten different analytics tools. Trying to explain that data was not easy. We wanted to see if we could demystify, or soften, analytics using everyday speech and a simple interface, for a powerful tool with a low barrier of entry. “Data even your boss can understand,” is one way we’ve joked about it.

Hive is more conceptual at this point; we wanted to create something, then gather feedback from people in small to medium businesses to see if it’s viable and worth developing further. XD allowed us to do that, from wireframes to high-fidelity prototypes.

I love that it’s not a middleman tool that comes in at the end of a project; you can do your whole workflow in the program–something that would have taken a significant amount of time using two or three pieces of software before.

What excites you most about the future of UX/UI design—both in terms of creating it, and engaging with it?

The interaction level. The blurring of the lines between physical devices. At the moment, there’s a lot of screens, but at some point we might not have any. AR [augmented reality] and VR [virtual reality]—these will require experiences that need to be designed, and one of the the cool things is that they’re not quite defined yet; no one knows exactly what they’re going to be. It’s an industry where every day you go online and someone’s done something that blows your mind.

I also think we’re finally moving away from the mentality that design represents just the visual side of projects; when you pigeonhole design into just how it looks, I think you have a big problem. Now we’ve got product teams, project managers, even CEOs who are actual designers. These shifts at the highest level are freeing up the teams to do their best work; to take more risks; to be able to work with freedom that won’t be undermined all the time. That’s progress, and that’s exciting.

What bit(s) of wisdom can you share with creative folks who are interested in becoming UX/UI designers?

The best advice I was given still holds true: Never stop asking questions and never stop learning. The minute you stop learning, you begin to lose passion for what you’re doing. I’d recommend integrating into the design community, both local and beyond: talking to, listening to, and reading other designers will pass ideas around, but also help you formulate your own thoughts on things. Writing works too; just a tweet, or a question–even if you don’t know what you’re talking about!–can be a good means to get your mind straight.

From a purely technical view, understanding design fundamentals—taking the time to study typography, reading about color theory—can be as important as understanding the technology you’re building for. It’s not a bad idea to learn to code, just to be able to “get” the tech, and what colleagues and clients are working with.

In this fluid environment, there are always new things developing; don’t stay in concept-land too long. One of the things I’m trying to do more of is build and ship; then build more; then ship more. And if you can collaborate with someone, it makes the process so much more fun.

I’d tell anyone getting into design to just make things. Show them to people. Get feedback. Improve them. Be creative. Open up and have fun with the tools you’re using.

Whose UX/UI work do you look at and go: “WOW”?

Bethany Heck is a typographer/illustrator/designer who has changed my view on typography completely. She wrote an article that essentially said: Don’t limit yourself to two or three fonts (which is kind of conventional wisdom for designers). She can combine six or seven typefaces and it will look amazing. It’s a good lesson about understanding fundamentals first so you can mold them to fit your vision, rather than following them as strict, unbreakable rules.

Dogstudio is also one of my favorites–definitely great inspiration for using and break grids, with interesting layouts, colors, gradients, and bold type.

The Swiss Army Man website is incredible for its immersion; I love Motive Apartments for its sweet geometry; and Ambassador Watches is a super use of type, image and animation.

7. Best tunes for getting into a creative flow?

Music-wise, I’m all over the map. A select few:

Nick Cave, Faith No More, and Idlewild have also been on the playlist recently.

8. Fave follows:
Twitter: Andy Budd for his UX insight, Sidebar for daily curated design articles, and Mr. Bingo for his illustration work
For design/industry news and updates: WebDesigner News, It’s Nice That, UX Booth

Follow Isaac Powell on: Behance and Twitter

Hey designers: We’d love to feature you next! Share your prototypes on Behance for the chance to be featured in Adobe XD’s Meet the Designer series. Don’t forget to tag them with #MadeWithAdobeXD and select Adobe Experience Design under “Tools Used.”

Topics: Creative Inspiration & Trends, Design

Products: Photoshop, Creative Cloud