Interview with Budi Tanrim

We are happy to share our recent interview with Budi Tanrim — the guy behind Gemicon and Budicon icon families, and now a UX designer at Shopify. This year has been quite special for Budi as he transitioned from working on a freelance basis to being a full-time designer at Shopify, and thus relocated from Indonesia to Canada.

We chatted about the start of Budi’s design career, his experience of being a multidisciplinary designer, the process of redesigning Budicon, and his new beginnings in Ottawa.

Hi Budi. Thanks for your taking time to chat with us. Please tell us a bit about yourself. What brought you into the design and how did you start your career?

Hey, I’m Budi. I currently work as a UX designer at Shopify in Ottawa, Canada.

As a child, I was in love with animation and painting. Being raised in a non-creatives family and environment stopped me from pursuing my dream to become a painter. I spent my time in high school not knowing what I wanted to do in my life and ended up studying accounting at the university.

Budi during his trip to Japan

During my second semester, in around 2011, I got sick of accounting and found some articles discussing the new opportunities for freelancing and working remotely. I couldn’t help but get excited about it. As a result, I started entering some open contests on 99designs and DesignCrowd while still studying. I was naive enough to try to win some contests to prove my skills, and then hopefully I could secure a design job before I graduated.

Long story short, a month before I graduated, I landed my first job with Zerply — one of the start-ups in San Francisco. I worked with them remotely and sometimes visited them for events or team bonding activities. Frankly, it was one of my favorite startup moments and I have been in love with design ever since.

What’s your most memorable client, and how did you land it?

I believe my first big client was Yahoo. Frankly, it came out of nowhere. One of the lead designers at Yahoo reached out to me. He told me that they need help on their icon redesign as a follow-up on their new branding, and I said yes without hesitation. I spent full 4 months working on their 300+ icons, and it was one of the best moments in my icon design career.

I don’t know how or why exactly they chose me over all the other great icon designers. But what I can say, is that having a strong portfolio and an active presence on social sites like Dribbble has brought a lot of benefits for me.

You are a “multidisciplinary designer”. Tell us what it takes to be able to juggle between different areas in design?

Like I mentioned before, I have a wide variety of interests in art; I love animation, typography, painting, icon design, and of course UX design. These interests, combined with curiosity and determination is what it takes for me to be able to juggle between different areas in design.

Also, being a multidisciplinary designer doesn’t necessarily mean mastering all of the disciplines. A great thing being multidisciplinary, is to have one core discipline and stick with it as your primary one. For me, that is UX design. What I do is take a bit of knowledge from other disciplines to enrich my core field.

Interaction designed by Budi. Full project can be found here.

Let me give you an example. Two years ago, I started studying typography; including its history, structure, and foundational skills. This helped me understand how human brain works when reading, which gave me a benefit in UX design, where I often work with font system.

On the other hand, it keeps me motivated to always learn something new down the road. This is actually a way for me to constantly improve myself as a designer.

What pushed you into crafting your own large icon collections (Gemicon and then Budicon)?

Back in 2012, I did a lot of mobile app design for various clients and struggled to find quality icons. Therefore, I naively created Gemicon — a free icon set with 300+ icons, which got a lot of attention from community and got featured on Smashing Magazine.

The next year, I started creating Budicon. The biggest motivators for me to create this set was self-satisfaction and curiosity.

Budicon in line and solid styles

Also, I’m a “learning-by-doing” type of person, and side projects are the only way I can really learn something. To be honest, I never thought my icon collections will be this big and will become my secondary income stream. Thank you, everyone, who has supported Budicon from the early days ♥️

Earlier this year, you have launched an upgraded version of Budicon collection — Budicon 2.0. What was your process for redesigning an existing icon collection? What were the main challenges?

Oh man, it’s always fun time building my icon set.

My goal was to redesign all of the existing icons while also adding new icons in new categories and styles. Also, Budicon 1.0 was not perfect. Some icons were pixelated and not in the best shape.

Redesigning Budicon

When it comes to the technical process, I usually start by making a thumbnail drawing; like a small silhouette of shapes. Then, I start cleaning that up on my iPad to have better details. At this point, my icon is normally quite accurate and I can then simply trace it to Illustrator.

If I had to name one challenge, it would be time. Managing time while working with clients is tough. Not only I have to create another 500 icons, but I have to export and manage the files in a way that my customers wouldn’t be confused when they use it.

What’s next for Budicon?

I’m working on the next generation of Budicon — I named it Chroma.

Sneak peek at Budicon Chroma

I’m also preparing my icon class for people who are interested in learning icon design in-depth. I learn a lot when I build a big icon set, and I think that it will be interesting to share with people.

Where do you get the inspiration from for your work?

Inspiration comes from a lot of things. One of the biggest inspiration sources is when I learn other disciplines. For instance, my latest illustration for Ubergrad was heavily influenced by my study of Disney’s characters. I treat the character’s face almost like a ball — it can squeeze or stretch depending on the expressions.

Nowadays, I really like browsing on Pinterest — I’m trying to do it regularly because I can discover something new, every day. If this makes you want to try Pinterest, my tip is: don’t limit your inspiration selection, be open to new styles and try to study them.

Character illustration for Ubergrad

How important has been the active presence on social platforms for your career? Which ones have you been focusing on the most?

I think it’s very important to be active on social platforms.

I’ve been focusing on Dribbble a lot, it gives me a lot of exposure and projects. I got a chance to work with Marvel App, Palantir, Yahoo, and more. Shopify actually reached me out through Dribbble as well. Dribbble played a major role in my design career by enabling all of these possibilities.

You have recently moved from Indonesia to Canada and started as a UX designer at Shopify. That’s a massive change. What motivated you to make this big step?

I’ve been freelancing for five years. During that time I had a lot of questions and was wondering what it feels like to work in a big company because I had never experienced that before. So the motivation to make this big step was to fulfill my curiosity and gain more experience.

Was it difficult to transition from freelance client work to full-time position at a large company?

I wouldn’t say it’s difficult, but shifting my mindset and behavior from freelancer to full-time position is challenging since it’s two different worlds. Working at a large company means you’re dealing with a lot of variables. Fortunately, Shopify takes a good care of their employees with benefits and flexibility.

How do you find your new life in Ottawa?

It’s been great six months in Ottawa — a wonderful, small and peaceful city. I have never been living in a four-season country, so I’m looking forward to experiencing my first snow, yet the temperature is a little bit scary (hah).

Being far away from family and friends is a total game changer. However, I always like how me and my wife discover things along the way — I see it almost as a new urban adventure for us. The unknown could be scary, but we just embrace it.

Coming from a different country, the living cost could be daunting. Luckily, we have been doing a good job in managing our personal bookkeeping. Therefore, we can keep track on our finances and are aware of our expenses. Also, the income stream from Iconfinder has been awesome for me to help me pay the bills. On the other hand, I couldn’t thank Shopify enough for being very accommodating and caring during my relocation process to Canada.

Budi with his wife

When moving as a working professional, some people find it difficult to establish new social circles. How do you build your social and professional network in Ottawa?

Yeah, it’s indeed a difficult process. You have different type of jokes, conversation topics, and cultural gap. All of my colleagues are great and really caring, but to establish new social circles is definitely hard.

However, I don’t worry about that. My main focus is to learn as much as I can with Shopify, which is the reason I moved here in the first place.

What do you like to do on your free time?

I explore the city with my wife, practice painting or drawing.

My favorite thing to do is to work on my side-project. For instance, this October, I was posting a daily drawing on my Instagram.

Going forward, I’ll keep exploring and learning new things.

What would be your advice for beginner designers who want to build a multidisciplinary design career?

Keep forward thinking, be ambitious, always be curious and constantly ask questions.

Most importantly, learn how to teach yourself and do it.

Thanks for the inspiration, and it was a pleasure to chat with you, Budi. Best of luck with your upcoming projects!

My pleasure.

Follow Budi:

On Iconfinder:

On Instagram: @buditanrim

On Dribbble:



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