Kerning from the best — 5 minutes with Ross Floate
What does a typical morning look like for you?
Since Covid became an obviously imperative matter, I had to shift my sleeping patterns because I was working in a few timezones globally. So, as weird as it seems, I have maintained that pattern and I sleep diurnally — just like people did before the electric light was invented. I’ve spoken to a lot have people who have adopted similar patterns.
But you know, I kiss my wife, I walk my dog, and try hard not to doom scroll. I do not always succeed at that, but I try.
Then it’s into the Zoom-room, where I am currently writing this.
What has been your design journey?
I went to university to train as a journalist, and with some friends we were elected to run the university newspaper. And that meant learning everything from layout, to typesetting, to production, editing and distribution. I found that while I was a decent enough writer (at the time), I enjoyed the interplay between ideas, and the presentation of those ideas a great deal. And then in 1994 someone showed me what was possible on the internet and I actually wrote my undergraduate thesis about what this then-new medium was going to do to journalism.
So I very swiftly learned everything I could about what was happening with the web, shifted to becoming a designer (though I did write for a while) and within a small number of years after graduating as a journalist, I began my career as a newspaper and magazine designer and started freelancing, freelancing became an agency, the agency became well-respected enough to take on work from some of Australia’s largest companies. And all the time I kept learning. I certainly haven’t succeeded at everything I’ve tried, but the key is to learn from your failures as well.
But importantly, design isn’t an end in and of itself. Design is a way to get things done. Once I realised that, things became obvious.
What do you find yourself having to repeatedly convince others of?
Nobody ever hires you to do anything apart from to advance their goals.
Lay-people (non-designers) in business might have opinions about type, colour, shape, form, and all the thing designers care about — but I’ve never had a client ask me to lose them money, or to lose them influence.
Do you have a mantra?
This is a complex question, because I don’t have just the one.
On a personal level it’s “die on the correct side of the ledger”. When I die, I want to ensure that I have, on the whole, left the world a slightly better place than a slightly worse place.
On a work level there is something I say a lot; “Don’t make humans do what computers can do better”. Whenever I fill out a form online and the fields haven’t been set up accept autofill data, it infuriates me because it wastes so much of other people’s time to not have set that field up properly in the first place.
Another is “your own opinions don’t matter”. What works and what is ethical, inclusive, functional, and successful is MUCH more important than whether your design friends ‘like’ it.
But the main one is “be interested in everything”. Design is a process of synthesis, and if you can’t make yourself interested in your subject matter, why are you working on it, apart from mercenary reasons?
Where do you want to go?
What I want to continue to achieve is to ensure that I work on things that really help other people.
The nature of this business is that a lot of the time we are the shock-troops of capitalism, making things seductive, addictive, and profitable. I’ve done that, and now what I want to do is make sure I use what I have learned to work on projects large and small that make a difference to people’s lives.
Who do you look up to?
I try to not have heroes, because they always turn out to be human beings and they will ultimately disappoint you. I have a lot of time for the fine people working at the Centre For Inclusive Design, and if we all worked with the fire that they do, we’d be in a much better position than we are today.
What’s your desk setup?
I run a 15” MacBook Pro with Touchbar, a couple of extra screens attached (one for comms like Slack and email, and the other as a proper workspace. I splurged on a Logi Streamcam when the pandemic started, and some fill lights. I also use a Blue Yeti microphone, which seems to do the job pretty well. I seem to be one of the few designers that prefers a trackpad to a mouse, so I use a magic trackpad as well.
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A selection of our other interviews:
- Designer voices, London: Losing passion and regaining your drive
- Microsoft’s Charu Choudha on focus, productivity, and digital adoption
- 5 minutes with landing page expert Rob Hope
p.s. we’ve launched a podcast🎙️