Beyond the px — Webflow’s Darin Dimitroff on being self taught, working remotely, and cats
Designers are constantly pushing the limits of efficiency and tool use. Whether it’s for personal portfolios or freelance client work, we’re constantly searching for a new way to provide our services.
Design tools are one thing, but it’s the transition to a coded website that offers the most friction for a lot of us, and deciding on which platform causes more stress than it needs to.
I’ve been keeping an eye on Webflow for the past year. A relatively new player in the digital space, but one that offers a very real solution to designers that are looking to publish websites without having to touch the underlying code.
I caught up with Webflow’s Darin Dimitroff, to talk about all things Weblow and how his approach to product design allows a fully remote setup.
Darin, in your own words, what does Webflow offer us designers?
With Webflow, digital designers with none or limited understanding of code can build fully custom websites with a content management system and complex interactions and animations in a tool that feels familiar to Photoshop or Sketch.
What’s your design journey up until now?
I’ve been tinkering with different kinds of tech for what feels like forever.
As a kid, I was more into hardware. My passion for tech started with digital watches and personal organizers (the original smartphones), moved into PDAs and early Symbian smartphones and eventually software design.
I wanted to design the things I’m seeing on the screens of those magical devices.
My journey into design originated from tech, gaming and computer science, not from art and design, although I used to love oil painting and sketching as a kid.
I’m a self-thought designer and (sort of) coder. I actually studied advertising in college, but I was still doing design as a freelancer (and even before that).
I like to think I’ve found my Ikigai, it’s something that makes me happy and fulfilled, puts food on the table and is important to the world.
Where are you based?
I’m currently living in Sofia, with my wife Kalina and our two cats Billie Jean and Wall-E.
It’s an old-style European city (1.5 million people) situated between three mountains, the biggest one being Vitosha.
I might be moving to California later this year.
Is there a strong design scene in Sofia?
There isn’t a big design community where I live and it’s mostly graphic design-oriented.
I’d say I hang out with developers more but, as a designer, I think it’s hyper important not to get stuck in your own field of work.
Communicating with more diverse sets of people and getting out of the tech bubble is vital for being a good designer.
With that in mind, do you struggle to describe your practice?
It’s been getting easier over the last few years, product design is getting more mainstream. But it’s still as hard to explain it to my granny, for instance.
I like to use the real estate industry as an example, saying something like “imagine we’re working on a building that’s getting new tenants every day, whilst we’re building it. It’s never done and I’m sort of an architect, but also sort of an engineer and an interior designer. But at the end of the day, we’re all a bunch of people working on a building and trying to make it a really awesome”
Sounds dumb, but illustrates the point in a way that works.
How do you start your day?
I get up around 8AM, although I’m thinking about making it 7AM. I work between noon and 9–10PM in order to spend more time with the people in our San Francisco office.
I spend some time stretching and meditating in the morning, then eat breakfast and have coffee, while trying not to look at my smartphone before finishing breakfast.
If everything is going according to plan, I should be spending my morning either mountain biking or strength training. During winter, when I don’t get that many chances to hit the trails, I try to substitute biking with running.
How important is meditation to your lifestyle?
Stretching and meditation are the reset buttons, the gas stations, the charging stations for the body and the mind. I tend to think the same way about both of them, but one is for the body and the other is for the mind.
Skipping them results in either a more easily distracted mind or sciatic pain throughout the day (I used to have a herniated disc, but it’s still sensitive, even though I had surgery).
What is your approach to product design?
Product design is much more of a marathon than a sprint for me, I’ve never been the type of person who over-optimizes their Sketch workflows, for example.
I spend more time thinking what I’m about to do next, so being too fast is not always desired.
I wouldn’t call it a hack, but: outline the data model of the new UI you’re working on with nested bullets. You can use markdown but you don’t have to. Communicate this with your peers early on, it saves a tremendous amount of time and stress.
What does your design / dev tool stack look like?
In the last few years, I’ve been trying to be more flexible with my tools.
I think using the right fidelity for the right task/stage of the process is super important.
I use Sketch (and sometimes Figma), Framer, InVision, Visual Studio Code, Dropbox Paper, iA Writer and a bunch of smaller single-purpose tools.
How do you define the typical Webflow user?
A designer who feels comfortable designing websites and interfaces in Sketch/Figma/XD.
That’s our main goal, actually: bridging the gap between designing and building a website. With Webflow, it’s one process.
But also people who are familiar with coding and the web. I write React and have been hand coding websites for 10y+, but still use Webflow for my personal projects because it’s easier, more fun and allows me to experiment more.
I just get more stuff done in less time and I’m happier with the results.
With a relatively new tool, how do you ensure trust for users?
It’s a good mix between having the right people for every task and having good chances to contribute with skills outside your core area of expertise.
For example, we have an amazing copywriter, but product designers write UX copy all the time.
There’s a healthy sense of trust as everyone is amazing at what they do. Same thing with designers who code: I pushed my first commit less than a month after joining Webflow.
Being part of a team where every single person is extremely passionate about what they do and is a amazing human being at the same time is rare. I’ve never seen it at the level it is at Webflow.
How do you see Webflow evolving?
I like to think we’re at a unique place in the industry, leading a new generation of tools that will start to bridge the gap between designers and developers.
The types of patterns and concepts we’re working on in our day-to-day are some of the most exciting things in digital design I’ve seen in the last few years, and I’m not saying this because I work at Webflow.
We’re trying to build a product that introduces just enough abstraction over code, it not too much and this is part of why our users love the tool so much; it doesn’t limit your creativity.
I know you work remotely, what advice would you have for those looking into it as an option?
I’ve been working remotely my whole career, so I’m really used to it.
My main tips for successfully working from home:
• Set up a routine and follow it
• Designate a work space and only work there. I have a separate iMac for work and a stand-up desk with a large whiteboard at home. It’s only meant for work, everything else I do on my MacBook or iPad
• If you feel like you’re over-communicating, you’re probably doing it right
Can you explain your team dynamic?
I have two design review sessions per week with the rest of Webflow’s product design team where we talk about and improve each other’s work.
Our whole process is happening on Slack, so I try to keep up with everyone involved with the projects I’m working on, especially engineers.
I generally love working with engineers.
Overall, our process is based on GitHub and Slack, so everything can happen pretty asynchronously, especially important for a company that’s remote-first.
Do you have any advice for people just starting their design journey?
I don’t think there’s been a better time to join the industry. There are so many great resources for kickstarting your design carrier nowadays. I felt like we had so much even in my teenage years, and now it’s just crazy.
My advice to junior designers would be to treat their work more like any other skill one can master.
Instead of over-focusing on a personal brand or the latest flame war on design Twitter, read more books, get into maths, develop your base principles thinking.
I like to see design as more of a science and less of an art.
It’s a wrap.
Darin’s approach to work shows us that not only can you shift your career to a different discipline through hard work and dedication, but you can also do it remotely and reap huge rewards. For those of you struggling to grasp a remote approach to working, Darin’s methods should hopefully inspire you to kickstart your journey.
Webflow’s progress has been significant, and it shows that despite there being a well established set of players in the game, proving your value to a distinct audience — designers — will allow you to excel and prove your worth through innovation.
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