Making Design Details

A Backstory

Design Details, as a concept, is now over a year old. As a sort of public journal entry, I’d love to quickly tell the story of how this small kernel of an idea became larger than I could have ever imagined.

As with most backstories, Design Details began incredibly small and without planning. In February, 2014, I noticed this lovely interaction in the Twitter app whenever you switched profiles:

I really wanted a way to share this with people and talk about how it felt, from both a UI and UX perspective. Unfortunately, getting an iOS recording to a web browser wasn’t easy at the time. It took a fair amount of research and tinkering to finally get a low-res, choppy gif onto my blog.

I think part of the early attention for Design Details was the novelty of getting bite-sized iOS recordings onto the web. They were fun to watch, and the way I’d set them up to loop on-hover made viewing the designs an interactive experience.

Within those first few weeks things just sort of…took off, as they tend to do these days in the world of Twitter and social media. That next week Facebook released Paper, an app that redefined years of UI expectations and UX patterns. I wrote a long piece exploring Paper, filling it with 24 looping gifs, and articulated some of these new techniques for designing apps.

That day was the catalyst for everything to come in the Design Details series.

Despite the data (and the ad money), I still believe there is a genuine demand for niche writing and in-depth long-form content. List posts are great in their own way, but they don’t do much to expose the author’s personality or passions.

For me the Design Details have been a personal outlet to talk about an incredibly small subset of the design world that I’m excited about. Some of the posts have taken 8–10 hours to write only because I rack my brain endlessly trying to understand why certain pixels move in certain ways.

This is how I spend my free time, everyone. 😐

For reasons unknown, that level of obsessiveness resonated with people in the design community. In the past year I’ve written 17 more posts which have reached almost a quarter-million people. It’s not a mind-blowing number, but in my mind it offers a glimpse into the opportunity that’s out there to break the mold of tired listicles and link-bait design blogs.

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On November 6th, Bryn Jackson reached out asking if I’d ever considered creating a podcast based on the blog series. I hadn’t, but was curious about the idea.

After dinner and a beer, it became clear that there might be a small grain of possibility in exploring this new medium and format for Design Details.

One of the hardest things we tried to wrap our heads around was what a Design Details podcast might even look like. After all, the blog relied on clear visuals and each post took a while to really absorb and digest. Converting that level of focus to an audio format would be a whole new challenge.

Our conversations and ideas led us down a few possible paths for the show, ranging from product reviews to having informal discussions between ourselves about design.

We decided not to do app or product reviews because they would require visual supplements to really make sense.

We also didn’t want the show to be just us talking about design. I still consider myself quite junior and I think both of us realized that we’re only in the first lap of our journey as designers.

So we looked upstream to the origins of our favorite apps that had become so-loved by the web community. We looked to the designers and developers — the product people — who made these things possible. How do they think? How do they work? What’s their story?

Finally we landed on an ethos that felt right for us:

The podcast would not be a formal interview. But it also wouldn’t be an informal conversation about whatever. Instead, we visualized the podcast as a way to examine the human side of product design and development. Exposing the backstories, challenges and mindsets of designers who we respect felt like it would offer much more value than a rigid Question/Answer interview format.

In the last two months (and 10 episodes) we’ve had a ton of feedback about this format; it has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve made some tweaks here and there, but for the most part we’re still committed to one simple idea: let’s record a conversation about design with the people who are pushing the field and inspiring new ideas. Let’s share those conversations with whoever needs to hear it.

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Our guests for Episodes 1–10

We’re now two months into the podcast and over a year has passed since that first Design Details blog post. We’re now reaching tens of thousands of people every week, exploring the lives and stories of some of the world’s most talented makers.

I can’t quite believe how far this small idea has spread, but at the same time it feels like we’re just getting started. There’s still so much room on the web to connect designers and to help young people find their way in the world of startups and digital products.

So what’s next?

We’re not sure, but here are a few ideas:

  • live stream the podcasts — can we build a connection between listeners and our guests, adding a new layer of intimacy and personality?
  • involve listeners and readers into the podcast discussions — a sort of live/open Q&A with the world’s most talented designers.
  • different kinds of content — interviewing designers is fun, but there’s so much more to the world of design that could be explored in an audio format.
  • more episodes per week — our list of people we want to chat with is now almost 2-years long (at our current weekly rate). More shows would let us chat with a broader, more-diverse range of people. We also want to have repeat guests to build an evolving narrative with listeners!
  • products — we’re trying to think of what kinds of tools or resources would be helpful for the design community. Hopefully we’ll have more tangible ideas to share later this year.

Now that this beast of a backstory is out of the way, I’d love to keep sharing smaller posts with new learnings and ideas as they come. If you’d like to keep up, check us out on Twitter: @designdetailsfm, @uberbryn, @brian_lovin and subscribe to the podcast!

Thank you to everyone out there who might read this who has checked out the Design Details blog, listened to an episode of the podcast or shared any of our work — we are so excited to be creating these things with you every week!

Written by

Designing mobile apps @github · Building @designdetailsfm , @specfm · Previously @withspectrum , @facebook , @buffer · He/him

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