Dustin Senos Typesets the Future
Medium’s User Experience and Design Lead, the man behind the typography
Dustin Senos, Medium’s UX and Design Lead, sounds a lot like his product: “I have a simple aesthetic. I’m very typography focused.”
That mirroring is not a coincidence. Senos, who uses the word “craft” almost as often as the word “empathy,” designed an early prototype of Medium that wasn’t much more than a bold title and words on the page. He works like a therapist of design, parsing users’ needs in order to create, iteration by iteration, a collaborative, distraction-free publishing platform.
Talking to Senos is, in fact, a bit like talking to a particularly attentive therapist—he is pleasant and unassuming and almost reluctant to talk about himself, as if divulging personal details would distract from the work at hand. Originally from Kelowna, in British Columbia, Senos raced on the Canadian motocross circuit, but good luck getting him to brag about it: “I was OK.”
Senos “chose technology over dirt bikes” as a career path. He believes in curtailing the endless options that clutter the online writing experience, and, like any good therapist, he is often the purveyor of implicit hard truths and subtle tough love: “We enforce a lot of constraints in what you can do. You’re not going to join Medium and then spend an hour mucking around with type sizes and colors. We hope that taking away distractions means people will become better writers when they use Medium.”
Eliminating distractions for writers can become its own kind of obsession. Senos spends a lot of time sweating the fonts and the kerning—or, as he puts it,
“I definitely try to make sure the type is nice.”
Senos sees Medium as an extension of the artisanal boom, a return to “craftspersonship” that runs “counter to mass production. I have a lot of respect for people who can craft things. I used to be really into mechanics and woodwork, and I like making things with my hands. I like to cook.”
In relation to artisanal pickles and raw denim and homebrewed beer, and San Francisco and Portland, Senos describes a segment of the BBC series Planet Earth:
There are these colored birds that dance around. They live in a jungle where they don’t need to hunt anymore because there are plenty of bugs for them to eat, so they’ve started making funny nests for themselves and learning how to dance. I’ve always equated that with people doing laps in sports cars. They just drive around to show people what they have. But those of us who don’t enjoy flaunting stuff are going back and thinking, well, let’s make things now.
Senos maintains a visceral awareness of the “worth of things and the amount of time it takes to create them,” an awareness that informs Medium’s ambition to change how we read and write online: “There’s a sense of value from the words and what they’re actually saying, not just when they were written. In web publishing, everything is based on newness. If it’s more than a day old, it’s boring. Medium is very much trying to say, there’s more to it than how new something is.”
A spirit of elegant restraint permeates Senos’ design philosophy, and he notes that “learning to say no” was a major design and life lesson. He observes, “I do everything better when I don’t try to do everything.” Like designer, like product.