Beyond the px–Humaan’s Kylie Timpani on agency life, supporting juniors and side projects
As part of the Beyond the PX series, I want to talk to as many wide ranging talents as possible. With that in mind, and having never worked in an agency environment, I wanted to interview one of Australia’s up and coming stars, Kylie Timpani.
Kylie is a prolific designer, churning out pixel-perfect work in a way I struggle to keep up — she’s a machine.
I caught up with Kylie and we had a great chat about agency life, managing expectations and what it’s like to find yourself as a designer.
Hey Kylie, could you explain who Humaan are?
Humaan is a digital agency based in the world’s most isolated capital city –Perth, Western Australia.
We create digital websites, apps and products that keep humans front of mind. Being founded by technology-minded designers, we are led with design as a focus but ensure that thoughtfulness, experimentation and curiosity permeate every part of the production process — from the words we say, to the experiences we design to the technology we use.
We’re also just a bunch of interesting creative folk who have more collective hobbies than any agency you’ve ever met. When we’re not making for the web, we’re drawing, making music, taking photos, painting, playing board games, skating, singing in musicals, sportsing, planting trees, writing stories, surfing, competing in triathlons, fishing and making cakes.
What has been your design journey up until now?
When I was a kid, I would do nothing but draw and make art. Then, when I was 12 I got my first computer along with a box of early edition second hand graphics programs. It didn’t take long for my creative outlet to become digital. It all came very naturally to me and I don’t exactly remember a learning curve. That’s not to say any of it was particularly good though!
I spent most of my teens messing about in Corel and Photoshop (pre-layers!) “designing” fan forum email signatures, making websites in FrontPage and hacking my MySpace profile.
I didn’t really know that what I was doing was design or that it was even a viable career path.
That’s when my initial interaction with design came to a screaming halt. I was 17 and needed to make a snap decision about what I was do for the rest of my life. Design didn’t even cross my radar and I was told I was good at English, so naturally I decided to study journalism at uni.
I spent two very bored years at uni until one assignment had a random visual design component. It was the first time I felt excited about anything uni related. I totally missed the point of the assignment but I blitzed the design component. It was only after a few nudges from my lecturer and a bit of research did I realise that design was A Thing You Could Do For A Living.
I deferred uni and enrolled in a year-long graphic course to consolidate some of my self-taught skills. I finished the course and returned to uni to see out the last year of my degree, landing a part-time print graphic design job during that same year.
That part-time job eventually became a three year full-time position in which I progressed from traditional graphic design to digital design and front end development.
After that, I contracted for a few local agencies for a year before landing my then-dream job at Humaan.
What does your typical morning look like?
I love optimising my morning routine and I let it change and adapt as it needs to.
All going well, I’m up at 5am and I usually faff around for about 15 minutes. I even have a quick check of social media. Controversial, I know.
I always make my bed as a favour to end-of-day Kylie, drink some water, and have a quick coffee before heading to the gym at 6am. I’m there for about an hour.
At the moment I love watching the High Resolution podcasts while running.
At 7am, I’ll head back home. I’ll have breakfast and write a little before getting ready and heading off at 8am.
On my short 15 minute commute, I’ll listen to a podcast and reply to any messages I have.
What does your design tool stack look like?
For designs I’ll use Google Sheets, pen and a dot-grid Rhodia pad for planning and ideation. Then I’ll switch between Photoshop and Sketch depending on the project and its needs.
On top of this, I’ll also use Illustrator, After Effects, Invision and Asana throughout my design process.
I only code in my spare time and for fun, but for that I use VS Code, Codekit, Bitbucket, Transmit. I’m never sure if I’m doing things right but it’s fun to explore!
Do you have any smart design processes?
One is tapping into what I know about the psychology behind interpersonal communication. Understanding how different people (read: clients) interact and digest and respond to information affords me some guidance around how I should present my work in order to encourage a positive reaction. This isn’t to trick clients into unconsciously liking my work but it’s more about understanding how to convince them to buy into my direction and solution to their problem. Here’s some clues: deeply understand their motivations, talk to their needs, take them on a journey, tell them everything and then let them take the credit for everything.
The second is leveraging my intuition and ability to read people (read: clients). To understand their body language, to decipher the tone of voice, to feel their energy and to recognise any subtext to their words. The information that I gather from this is often as useful as a design brief and it helps me get a lot of designs over the line quite early. I find this to be a useful skill because a lot of clients have trouble explicitly articulating what they want so it’s up to me to ask questions and join the dots with the guidance of both their verbal and non-verbal cues. This skill can be cultivated but at its core, it is really just about listening and observing very carefully.
Agencies are often demonised for their approach to production and long-term product sustainability, is this something you’ve experienced?
Having been in agencies my entire career, that’s a tough thing to acknowledge but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t experienced both.
When it comes to production, more often than not I do believe that this is either unintentional or a product of circumstance. In my experience, for smaller and less established agencies this can stem from two things: a lack of technical understanding in management, and/or, unrealistically low budgets when an agency is in its infancy and is just trying to stay afloat. When it comes to bigger agencies where the production process can cross several departments with varying levels of management and technical know-how, I find non-existent or inconsistent communication is the biggest culprit. These aren’t excuses for poor production but there is value in trying to understand the origins of this problem.
As for long-term product (project?) sustainability, I’m finding that it’s definitely getting better as clients become more savvy and see more value in an ongoing digital partnership. With that said, over the years I’ve lost count of the number of clients I’ve come across who believe that a project is complete as soon as it goes live and anything beyond that point is because we didn’t do things the right way the first time around. That’s not to say we don’t aim for it though! At Humaan we’ll always pursue the long term partnership and the opportunity to keep building and growing a project. You only have to look at the maaaaany hours we sink into our internal projects such as our website, GetTerms and Waaffle to see that
This might be overly idealistic but I believe that any agency that values creativity and innovation over blind profits is never going to set out to be intentionally poor with their production or prematurely cut ties to partnerships with clients and projects. Sure, there are those agencies out there who do intentionally justify such demonisation but really, most are just trying to do the right thing.
In a fast-paced environment, how do you ensure that your work is finished?
This has always been a weakness of mine but I have slowly gotten better at this. Even though it’s totally boring and expected to say, I do believe that it’s simply about effective time management and planning.
Before, I mentioned that I use Google Sheets early on in my design process. Not only does a nicely formatted spreadsheet excite me to no end, it’s also a way for me to visually map out everything that is expected from a project’s design process such as templates, components and modules. It also gives me an opportunity to identify things that might have been overlooked and, similarly, identify any new opportunities early on. This becomes my single source of design truth for the rest of the project. A roadmap, if you will.
Once that is done, I’ll align my roadmap with my project’s budget and assign time as needed. I’ll make compromises and sacrifices where necessary and include some of those new opportunities if I find space for them.
What this whole process ensures is that everything that needs to be completed is completed within the time that is allowed for it and maybe even with a few extras. It helps to inform the level of time I can spend delving into the detail of a project, what the most appropriate approach to the design application should be, and determines how far I can push the visual side of things.
I’ll admit, doing all of this groundwork up front can be a little tedious and takes a little bit of time but in such a fast-paced environment where so much is going on, sometimes the best thing you can do is slow down for a moment.
Do you have any tips for keeping focussed whilst switching between different clients and projects?
The roadmap I’ve just outlined definitely helps with this. Throughout a project I’ll keep the roadmap up to date by documenting my progress and any thoughts and questions I have along the way. When I come back to work on a project, instead of spending an hour or so catching myself up and trying to refocus, I simply refer to my roadmap and I’m able to hit the ground running fairly quickly. I also share this roadmap with the project manager and anyone else who is simultaneously working on the project so at any point, anyone can know where I’m at.
You could really use any project management platform so keep something like this on your side during a project. Whatever works for you.
Beyond my roadmap, there are a few things that help me stay focused on multiple projects and clients. I also know that this list is very similar for the rest of the Humaan team too.
I schedule large chunks of time on a project at once. Little bits and pieces each day don’t tend to work very well because meaningful traction is hard to build in short spaces of time.
I work closely with the project manager. It’s impossible to retain every single piece of knowledge about a project while also focusing on the hands-on work. At Humaan, a good project manager is all over the requirements and nuances of a project and can snap you back on track in a single moment.
I take breaks. I find that if I’m working on two different projects in one day, it’s good to take a break in between them to allow my mind to transition from one project to the next. It’s usually a natural break like lunchtime but other times it can simply be a quick break. I’ll dabble in some internal work, a small meeting or handover, or just a pause in my day that might consist of a walk around the block or a quick meditation session.
Staying focused is hard when there’s a lot of different things to do but there are certainly plenty of ways to handle it!
Juniors find it increasingly hard to break into the industry? Is there a place for them?
We were all graduates and/or juniors at one stage. If there wasn’t a place for us back when we started, we all wouldn’t be where we are today.
Sometimes the best pieces of feedback I’ve gotten on my work have come from juniors who look at things in an entirely different light. I’ve found that the further you progress into your career, the more limitations and restrictions you put on your work as you become more aware of them.
It only takes a junior who hasn’t been jaded by past experiences to offer a fresh perspective and pull you out of senior-level tunnel vision.
All things progressing well, the juniors of today are also going to be the designers who you employ and/or lead in the future. They’re also the ones who will be carrying design as you move on. Making sure that they have the best start in their careers and the best resources available to them, helps to ensure the longevity and credibility of our industry and the work we create as we move forward.
There’s also a huge opportunity for those of us who are more experienced to learn and give back. The amount you learn about yourself and your own skills by mentoring a new designer is never-ending.
I’d implore anyone to invest time and energy into new designers. It’s a win-win for everyone and, quite simply, we just need to.
Finally, do you have any personal projects that you’re particularly proud of?
Most of them are silly and require little to no effort at all and then one is so huge it takes up any time I do have for side projects.
The huge one is Mixin. Ironically, it’s a little design and development conference based here in Perth that we try to make as relevant as possible to anyone no matter what their role is in digital.
I organise it with three inspirational legends (Brett, Mandy Michael and Patima Tantiprasut) from the local industry. We held our first conference in 2016 and it was better than any of us has could ever have imagined. With that said, it’s been a tough but rewarding slog. It was very encouraging to see the community rally around our efforts and it has been remarkable to discover how much my design skills are transferable to event organisation and similarly, how much event organisation has taught me about design.
So many nuggets in there from Kylie. She is not only a great designer, but explains her processes and approach to designing so well.
I’m sure you’ll all agree that it’s important to try and forge your own design journeys, and whether that’s by finding your own style, or staying focussed, it’s important to understand who you are and where you want to be going.
Kylie’s (and mine)DMs are always open for mentorship, so let her know if you’re in need of some guidance — she’s got tonnes of experience and advice to help you.
Until next time!
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