DuckFeatures #16 – Dean Jacobson

Dean Jacobson differs from our usual interviewees in that we actually weren’t too sure what he did. We sat down over a coffee to find out what a Digital Product Designer does, and find out how routine plays into Dean’s day-to-day life.

Hi Dean, welcome to DuckFeatures! Tell us a bit about what you do.

Hi, I’m a Melbourne-based graphic designer currently working for a small design studio called Univers.

My title at Univers is ‘digital product designer’ which sounds a bit ‘ooo lah di da’ and gets me plenty of confused looks, so I’ll attempt to define it a bit; I work with digital products, brand identities, and product experiences, to ensure a brand’s message is both clear and importantly — aesthetically pleasing.

The growth of digital products has led to many lines being blurred — new disciplines being created, old ones being merged, and general confusion on what us designers actually do nowadays.

Images courtesy of Dean & Univers, or supplied by Duckfeet Australia.

Technology has shifted so many traditional career paths and roles; Walk us through an average day in your shoes.

My daily routine goes a little something like this:

I get up bright and spritely, around 7:30am. I get dressed, which happens to be the easiest part of my routine as I pretty much wear the same thing to work every day (Duckfeet included). 

I ride to work, and arrive with a partially frozen face. A strong soy latte from Switchboard café usually helps to thaw me out.

I arrive at the studio to begin my day and start answering emails at my desk, which is actually a DIY standing desk. It’s taken a while to get acclimatised to, but now I think it’s ‘out-standing.’ Haha.

At 9am we have our work in progress meeting to discuss what we are all up to. We’ll brainstorm ideas and swap some classic YouTube hilarities. 

Onwards until lunchtime I’m usually my most productive. I’ll pop my head-phones on and listen to a podcast or two. A favourite at the moment is the Tim Ferris Show, which if you haven’t heard of, is all about deconstructing world-class performers to extract their tactics, tools, and routines. I really enjoy working out how I can apply these tools to my world and more specifically to design.

I tend to spend the first part of the day concentrated on one project, sketching out the initial concepts that spring to mind. I’ve found that jotting them down even if they sound really ridiculous at first helps to weed out the bad ideas before transitioning onto the computer.

At lunchtime I’ll head to my favourite Japanese café off Lt. Collins St. It’s nice and quiet, and the food is very traditional and authentic.

I really love anything to do with Japan, especially a concept called ‘MA’ (pronounced “maah”), which can be roughly translated as “gap”, “space”, “pause” or “the space between two structural parts.” For me it’s a minimalistic approach to life.

Then I’ll succumb to the evil temptress that is email death. 

Then more design work, during which I’ll take a short break by going for an aimless walk which does wonders when you’re having a bit of a creative block. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve been stuck on something and a short break has helped immensely.

In the late afternoon, I’ll set myself some wind-down tasks that don’t require much creativity—some CSS styling, populating a site with content… nice and simple things. 

5:30pm is home time. And depending on the day that means either heading home to work on freelance projects, boxing, or having a few beers with friends. 

I like that you wind down at the end of each day; I think a lot of people don’t see how important the process can be. Routine and process are interesting concepts; as a digital product designer, what do you feel is integral to your design process?

For me there’s no real strict process as each project has its own unique set of goals. I try to avoid getting caught up on trends and the need to follow what other designers are doing.

When designing products on a digital platform, naturally there are certain limitations so I think it’s important to stay spontaneous, curious and to not be afraid of exploring avenues that may lead to possible failures. Often this leads to the best outcomes. 

Design is everywhere, whether we realise or not. What, to you, constitutes ‘good’ design?

I believe good design is invisible — meaning that it’s easy to use, understand and interact with. Bad design is obvious, ugly, complex and difficult to use. 

Everything we use, interact with, and see has been designed, usually with the intention to make our lives better. That’s the point of design. 

One downside of being a designer is that it’s hard to switch off — you’re constantly observing the world through a design-lens seeing all the “Design Crime” which can really flare up some OCD tendencies of mine so I find it really difficult to just ignore poor design.

Technology is a huge part of our daily lives; Where do you see technology taking brands and business and how can this shape a consumer’s experience online?

I think the consumer experience online will improve dramatically. But sadly, unless there is some really strong opposition against fast fashion practices, there’ll probably be a huge decline in physical stores, which would not be a cool aspect of the tech boom.

I recall over-hearing a project years ago that was in development at my first studio, where a user would create an online avatar, which would reflect their physical form right down to the smallest detail. The user would then take this avatar and shop online, trying on clothes, shoes and whatever.

I don’t think it made it into development but in a few years it will probably exist… eventually we’ll just be stepping into the Internet and surfing a wave of matrix-like numbers (well at least that’s how I envision it.)

What do you love about what you do?

Being able to do what I love and make a living from it still amazes me every day. 

When I get to create an identity, product or experience out of thin air and have it make a difference in someone else’s world it sounds lame but it’s really empowering. I also love that I’m constantly learning.

What’s next for you & Univers?

We are currently re-designing our website and repositioning ourselves a bit. The new site will showcase the work we’ve been doing over the past two years or so, the majority of which you’ll be seeing for the first time. 

We’ve been working on brand ID’s for property and architects; user-experience and user-interface for some Apps, and we’ve designed/developed so many websites I’ve lost track. 

We’ll be launching our new site to the inter-webs before the end of this year. Exciting times!

Thanks for your time!

Connect with Dean here:

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