What a former architecure photographer learned by being a UI designer
So here’s the thing — my journey as a “professional artist” (who’s parents haven’t wanted their children to call themselves that?) has followed quite a
twisty road. I did real estate and architecture photography in Dallas when I was about 13 or 14. Travelled all over Europe at that age, then did reportage photography and worked for a presidential campaign and some magazines. Then I hit a wall. I either had to throw all my weight into being a working photographer or do something else.
It’s important at this juncture to point out that a “working photographer” is one that’s life is divided into only a few sections (only one of two of them coming without thoughts of selling your lenses and learning to code): Sales, networking, customer service, pre-production, carrying equipment 2 miles from your car in 114ºf weather, actually clicking the shutter button, and post production.
It’s kinda rare for photographers to know the year that Futura was created or the type foundry that designed the typeface GQ uses (or more-so reads GQ for that matter). I had always been a wannabe designer — making some of the shittiest posters you can imagine for some extra cash when I was working in real estate. Though I had gone through the occasional soul searching of what I wanted to be and ended up working on design for a few months, I had never really leaned into it. But it was time. I was tired of carrying 50lb batteries from my car to a location a mile and a half away. I was tired of losing magazine assignments to photographers with point-and-shoots because I wouldn’t shamelessly promote myself to the editor. I wanted to think, solve design problems, and be a member of a multi-talented team. Only caveat was that — much like I abhorred wedding photography and senior photography — I pretty much only wanted to do identities (having pretty much cut my teeth on designers like Paul Rand, Michael Beirut, Paula Scher, and Chermayeff & Geismar).
Well the third evolution took place when I dipped my toe — then got dragged in — to startups and being part of a team, and being an identity designer — while useful for like 3 days — isn’t the most useful thing to be. It was time to suck it up and do UI if I didn’t want to be kissing a magazine editor’s ass for assignments again.
Sit down one morning. Open up Photoshop. Try to find the right resolution for some sort of “iPhone.” Bite the bullet and buy Sketch because… well, you’ll need it. Design some awful shit.
These are the first steps for any shmuch about to take the plunge. These are the next ones:
1. The strategy that’s indicative of identities and most book design is a pretty similar wavelength to the thinking involved in UX/UI design. Just get used to px and keep that pica shit to yourself.
2. Just like photographers notice lighting ratios in magazine ads, you will start to become aware of all the UX/UI thinking that goes into the interactions we have with technology every day.
3. You’re gonna feel much more techy. Indesign (I love you Indesign) just starts to feel like a Guttenberg Press. Also, the first time you list designer before photographer you’ll have an aneurism.
4. You’re gonna have to learn how to talk to developers. It will be difficult and you’ll want to take the easy way out at first, but they are the key to making your beautiful sketches a thing that people can… ya know… use.
5. You’ll entirely lose your grasp on the old communities you came from, and realize that most photography thought leaders are just glorified rednecks with a Nikon. Now you can ask yourself how you got so enlightened.
I still treasure the skills I have with photography, but now I get to give myself assignments. Not everyone can make transition, but it was the right decision for me. Maybe my back is just too weak for those profoto generators. Also: shit like this.
This article originally appeared (in much shittier fashion) on Jed’s blog at jedr.xyz/journal
Find Jed on twitter: twitter.com/jed_rollins