Design Strategist at Toi
I am a strategist who is obsessed with design and how it can make a difference in products and experiences. I love to play basketball and hang out with my wife and cats when I am not working.
What do you do for a living?
My official title is Design Strategist at Toi, a digital agency that focuses on creating great products, user experiences, and brands. In reality, I wear a lot of different hats for the agency and for our clients. What I love to do most is facilitate design sprint workshops with our clients but I also spend time working on our sales process, doing UX work for our projects(user flows, user research etc.) and sometimes I get to have some fun and work on the UI of some of our projects if an extra hands on designer is needed.
When did you find your passion for design?
I remember the exact moment I fell in love with design, I was 25 years old and was doing a variety of creative things for a now defunct magazine called Proxart. I was writing, editing, and making art for whatever we needed. We were a small group of friends just trying to make some awesome stuff and one of my friends showed me a poster he was working on for one of the events we were going to host and it just looked like pure magic to me! I decided then and there I wanted to do something like that! That decision led me to finishing school with a graphic design degree and additional opportunities and passions led me to finding the love in what I do now with UX strategy and design.
How long have you been doing design?
Officially I have been in the design space for around 5 years now, but before that I was doing some kind of creative writing, or drawing, painting, music playing etc. for almost my whole life and I like to think all of those disciplines led me to where I am today. For example having some experience as a writer and a journalist has really helped me with my UX writing and research today. I bring this up because all of our experiences can really lead us to being great at what we do today.
Describe the beginning of your day
AAlmost every day I wake up around 6:30am so I can have a good amount of personal time before I start the work day. I use that time to mediate and do some personal daily journaling. Afterwards I take a walk to the coffee shop right down the street from where I live, come back home with coffee in hand and get ready to work which means checking email and Basecamp before I shut off all communications and begin my focus work time that is usually from 9am-12pm.
What’s your workspace?
I don’t think I have a very cool or exciting workspace, I always love looking at other peoples workspace but not my own!
What’s your source of inspiration?
I do a lot of reading for inspiration, Medium articles and books are a great start for me. Books like the Design Sprint, Hacking Growth, Lean UX, and Creative Strategies and the Business of Design are just a few that I recommend that have really inspired my career journey. For visual inspiration I do enjoy looking at sites like Dribbble or Pttrns but try to not to be over influenced by what is going on with those sites. I also love everything Invision is putting out with their content.
What works are you most proud of?
We recently redesigned the web experience for GLIDE a San Francisco non-profit that is doing a ton of great work in combating the homeless crisis going on in that city. This one stands out to me because it just felt great to make a different for an organization that is making a real impact in their community. We also just worked on partnered with Sennheiser in building an e-commerce experience for a new subscription model concept they were putting together for some of their headphones. It was a great experience working with their team in really building a start up business from scratch within the larger organization. A lot of digital strategy and execution went into it and I am proud of what our whole team was able to execute when we launched the experience. Other than that a more personal project I did was something I worked on at the last agency I worked for, it was a very comprehensive medical platform that really was the UX/UI project that helped me grow the most as there was a lot of failure and growth I experienced while working on that project. My former boss and now friend was really patient with me on that project!
What are the tools you use in your day to day life?
There are probably too many! For project management we use Basecamp and are slowly mitigating our slack usage. For design work I use Overflow, Sketch, Invision and I still use some of the Adoble tools when needed. We manage our design work using Abstract. At the end of the day the most important tools I use are sticky notes, whiteboards, and magic markers.
Do you follow any set of principles for your work?
Yes! Make time for the deep work, eliminate the meetings that aren’t necessary. Fail fast and iterate is a big one, understand that we can scaffold to the perfect solution instead of trying to get there all at once. The best design work is when the results marry user needs and business desires and solutions. Give yourself time to play and turn off your brain.. better work will come from it.
What’s your favourite movie?
The whole Lord of the Rings series! My Dad was a huge fan of the books, and my Mom the movies so LOTR was almost a religion in my family growing up.
What's your favourite book?
I have to choose one book?! I am going to cheat a little bit… fiction is definitely Lord of the Rings! Favorite non-fiction/business book is Sprint by Jake Knapp, that book has made the most difference in my career.
What advice would you give to people that start out with design?
Don’t be afraid to fail and make mistakes, that was the biggest thing that held me back as I was trying to grow and mature as a creative. Don’t give into impostor syndrome, even if you are just starting out you have a story and a point of view to share, some of the best ideas I have seen come out of design thinking workshops have come from what was technically a junior level person. Lastly, work hard and be a nice person, there are plenty of very skilled and talented creative people all over the world but not all of them work very hard are always super nice, I know I prefer working with super nice hard working people and I think most other creatives feel the same way.
Have you ever thought of empowering your creative community in any way, shape or form?
Absolutely! It’s actually an important goal of mine this year to find as many ways to contribute to the success of others as possible. I think it’s very important for designers or creative professionals to pass on what they’ve learned to others as someone did the same for them at some point.
Meet Zach on Social MediaDribbble Instagram Medium
Thank you for the interview, Zach. We-would definitely start practicing more deep work in our work 👁.