A dream to work at Pixar or Disney turns into a passion for UX — An interview with Kyle Ashby

Kyle Ashby in a train station

Kyle Ashby is a Utah based Enterprise UX designer who is passionate about motion design and scheduling his day right, so he can spent time on his work, side projects and most importantly have quality time with his family.

Hi Kyle, please introduce yourself.

My name is Kyle Ashby and I’m 31 years old. I am first a husband and a father of two girls. They are the reason I do what I do. I’m also passionate about UX design and animation. I recently made the shift from ad agency life to enterprise UX. It’s been challenging in a great way.

What is your background and how did you get into motion graphics and design?

In high school I was part of the nerdy group called cybercorp (I was pretty cool). Our class was responsible for maintaining the high school website. In that class we had Photoshop and After Effects. I used to do video copilot tutorials during class for fun. Or I would edit myself onto giant cats or make myself a twin.

In college I wanted to work for an animation company like Disney or Pixar. I was denied 4 times when applying for the animation program. I learned that for my drawing skills to be better, I needed to understand design. So I took my first design class and found something I liked. I was decent at it and enjoyed the process of design. I was denied another 3 times before entering into the graphic design program.

When I started doing motion graphics, I recognized that my animation knowledge could apply to my new design skills. I even wrote an article on how I started my motion graphic start here.

How do you describe what you do when you meet new people?

The simple answer I tell them is that I work on interfaces for a software company. My co-worker and I were talking about what we do and we came up with this. We solidify undefined processes and take ambiguous information and make it clear. Another great way to look at what UX designers do is creating order out of chaos.

I usually don’t mention my motion work, unless a similar topic comes up.

Motion Reel by Kyle Ashby

Would you give us a glance at your day? A day in the life of Kyle Ashby starts with…

I’m a little obsessed with schedules, so I apologize for the long response. Lately my schedule has been off, but I attempt to wake up between 5:30 and 6:00am. Which means I have between 1–1 ½ hours before my daughter wakes up. I keep a pretty consistent schedule depending on the day in the mornings. I either exercise and then come back to work on side projects, or spend the entire morning working on side projects. Side projects include: freelance, writing articles, and starting a company with some co-workers. It’s not always productive things. Sometimes I also watch Netflix ;). Those shows that my wife doesn’t enjoy watching (like superhero shows, etc).

I usually get to work around 8am. I get to work on our internal software. There are lots of great opportunities to help the internal teams because they didn’t have a designer before. All the users I can test right are right at my finger tips. Our process includes: user researching, designing, InVision prototyping, testing, iterating, and front end prototyping.

It’s been a great switch from agency life to helping a product become more useful. Making those small or large changes that improve a person’s workflow. It’s really gratifying work.

When I get home I try and keep my time to my family. Playing with my two girls and going through their bedtime routine (I actually enjoy that). Some nights I do take a couple hours to work on freelance if I have a project that needs extra attention. When my kids go to bed, I finally get to spend some time with my wife.

In 2016 you wrote an article “How I Make Time for Side Projects Even with a Full Time Job and a Family”. Has anything changed since then?

I wrote that article and followed through strictly for a few months. I wrote a lot of articles during that time because of the schedule. I had to readjust the schedule as new things came and went. But what has helped me when things get crazy, as life does, I make sure to write down what I want my schedule to be. Writing things down helps me focus on what’s important. If I’m not designing my life, then life is doing it for me.

I recently moved from New York to Utah. That changed my entire schedule. Since my commute went from 1 hour to 15 min, I have listened to a lot less podcasts and read less than I would like to. On the flip side I get to spend more time with my family in the afternoons. But I still write down my schedule and plan for time where I can work on side projects. It still happens that my side projects get pushed into my family time, probably more than I would like to admit.

If I were to add anything it would be that a schedule is in constant need of attention (If you want it to work). There is a quote about how the only thing in life that is certain is change. I have written my schedule three or four times this year. Based on family needs and new routines.

Freelance Motion Project by Kyle Ashby

Would you tell us about a past or current project you’re most proud of?

I’m working with a couple of co-workers to build a product. It’s a website app to help product owners generate, keep, and grow their ideas.

I’ve always wanted to start my own thing, working on a product with other passionate people. We’re filling a potential need and hopefully will help a few people on the way.

What is one of the most challenging or rewarding part of this project?

The most challenging part is to decide what needs to be done first because there is so much to do. From branding to getting an mvp out there. Also deciding what to show and how to get to user testing as quickly as possible.

Who or what inspires and influences your work?

  • My family is a big influence. They push me to keep learning and be better at what I do.
  • Advertising awards, like cannot lions
  • I think about this talk often when designing (The secret life of comedy)
  • My go to browser plugin, Muzli
  • Brenden Dawes and his out of the box thinking
  • Dann Petty and his passion for life and products

How do you think the design space will evolve in the next 5 years?

Even though I use Sketch, Adobe is doing some cool AI stuff with Adobe Sensei. More machine learning will help us design better in the future.

I also believe AI will help product people build the right thing and not what we think is the right thing. At least that is the hope.

I also love what Airbnb are doing with their React to Sketch software. And even from drawing paper wireframes to code (totally skipping the Sketch App need). I see the immediate value in those in the future.

Over your career, what is taking you the most to learn, understand or master?

One big thing is taking you, as a user, out of the picture and trying to understand the real user. It is so hard not to have opinions based on your own experience.

The only real way to get your opinions out of the way, is by user testing. With that, you need the ability to let go of ideas that are not working.

Time goes faster as we get older. You’re a father of two girls. What is one advice you would offer your daughters as they choose a career path?

I really love what I do and love to learn. I hope I can pass the passion of learning and growing always in whatever they choose. That no matter what limitations you may have in life, there are always creative solutions that you can make work.

I hope they can find happiness and joy in what they do. Not constantly worrying about what other people are doing or accomplishing. I feel more and more people are so focused on where other people are in comparison to them and they end up missing out (including me). In short! I want them to learn to enjoy the everyday things.

If you could, what career advice would you offer to your younger self?

I would let myself know to start thinking about design and learning about it. Even though I had some knowledge in Photoshop and After Effects. I never thought of it as career skills or anything I could use after high school. I also didn’t decide to go into the design field until I was 24. I would have told myself to be more dedicated to learning design and coding skills early on.

What are some of the design, development, and project management tools in your workflow?

For UX work: I use Sketch and InVision almost daily. I also use Photoshop to edit photos and Illustrator for more illustrative icons (mostly for side projects).

For motion work: I use Illustrator and After Effects.

For code: Recently made a switch from Atom to Visual Studio code and I love it.

For project management: I switch a lot (Which isn’t very efficient). At work I use a combination of Trello and notes (either apple notes, or always trying something else. Currently I am trying an app called “On the Agenda”. Still deciding on its usefulness).

Also I’m experimenting with bullet journaling. But it isn’t as useful yet. I am still head down doing a lot of design work and don’t have too many meetings.

On my freelance I have been using the apple notes app. But I’ve used Wunderlist in the past.

How did you get introduced to Sketch and what do you like most about it?

I was at an ad agency when I heard about sketch. I was hesitant at first and resisted before I gave it a shot. I thought for sure Adobe would release a competitor quick enough. But XD, although good, doesn’t quite live up to Sketch and the plethora of plugins.

Once I tried Sketch, the power of Symbols blew my mind. Every time I open it, I would think of more ways to optimize my Symbols. This still happens to this day.

What advice would you offer to those starting out in your field?

Don’t be afraid to apply for a job that you are not qualified for. I never would have applied for my job in New York as an Art Director, because I didn’t think I was qualified. My wife applied for me and I was able to get the job. I was looking for junior designer positions at the time.

The other advice is that you can learn from anywhere. It is inspirational and valuable to be in bigger city but not necessary for your growth. Their is so much online to be able to learn from. Make sure to spend some time learning no matter what level in the career you are in.

What makes you smile and enjoy life?

My family. Kids are hard and stressful but they bring so much joy. Seeing them smile and laugh, makes it all worth it. My wife is a great support and helpful when talking through problems. I wouldn’t be as dedicated without her help. In the end, I love my job, but I do it all so I can be with my family.

Where would you like to travel to or what is your favorite travel destination and why?

Anywhere tropical. I prefer warmer weather and love the ocean. I like that when you go to the beach, it forces you to not have technology with you. At least for me, because I don’t want to ruin my phone with water or sand. It brings the kid in me out, like riding waves and building sand castles. It’s such a great experience to have without technology distractions.

Our team enjoyed interviewing Kyle and we hope you enjoyed reading it. If you want to learn more about Kyle you can visit his website, read his Medium blog posts, and connect with him on Twitter.