GERRY SCULLION: Hello and welcome to another episode of ‘This is HCD’. My name is Gerry Scullion. I’m a human centred design practitioner based in Sydney, Australia. As this episode was recorded in Sydney’s CBD I’d like to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation as the traditional custodians of the land where we meet today and pay respect to their elders both past and present.
In this episode, we caught up with a gentleman designer himself, Jon Hicks. Jon is a graphic designer and illustrator but has worked across a broad spectrum of mediums in his career. Most of us will be familiar with Jon’s work, whether it being with the first Firefox logo or Spotify’s icons or ANZ customers in Australia will recognise his icons in their applications.
Having worked with Jon many times over the years I can honestly say he’s one of the best in the world at what he does so was incredibly happy to have him on the show. Also joining in on the conversation is Principle designer at Intuit, Aman Braich who is a brand expert and who is helping re-shape the brand entity for Intuit both in Australia and in the US. So I am sandwiched between icon and brand gurus in this episode. We discussed the differences and similarities between icon and brand, the governance of both, the importance of context and design and much, much more.
So let’s jump straight into the goal. Jon Hicks a very welcome warm welcome to the ‘This is HCD’ podcast.
JON HICKS: Hi there.
GERRY SCULLION: Great and delighted to have you here. Whereabouts are you calling from today?
JON HICKS: So I’m speaking from Witney in Oxfordshire. So if you come out of London and go West a little bit, for an hour and a half in the car, then you’ll get to Witney which is this little town where I’m living at the moment.
GERRY SCULLION: It’s north of Bristol isn’t it?
JON HICKS: Yes so north of Bristol, west of London, east of Ireland…. (laughs).
GERRY SCULLION: We get it, just east of Wales as well. So Jon thanks for joining us today. I’m also here with Aman Braich who is the Principal visual designer at Intuit Australia. Aman Braich delighted to have you here as well.
AMAN BRAICH: yeah it’s great to be here. Thanks for having me on.
GERRY SCULLION: Jon let’s kick off a little bit and tell us a little bit about who you are and how you got into design.
JON HICKS: Well I’ve just been working it out actually, how long I’ve been doing this. So I’ve been doing freelance now for 16 years and I’ve actually been working as a designer now for 24 years, which is slightly frightening. But basically art was the only thing I was ever any good at at school so I decided that was the thing to do, to pursue that. But I actually trained as an illustrator. So my big plan was that I was going to be a wildlife illustrator. So I did five years training at college to do this, came out of college and found out that there is no market for wildlife illustrators in the UK at all. They’ve got three and that was all they needed. So there was literally no work so one of the options that people had was if you were good at doing horses, you could do bookmakers, you know, what do you call them in Australia?
AMAN BRAICH: Turf accountants.
GERRY SCULLION: Turf accountants is what they say, yeah.
JON HICKS: Yeah those sorts of gambling places so big, big coarse pictures. So instead of doing that I basically got a job as a junior designer and kind of almost learnt on the job. There was a certain amount of design that was taught as part of illustration but I’d started off basically learning print design and then as I went up and up you know just working through and learning digital myself.
GERRY SCULLION: And it evolved from there. And we’ve obviously, we’ve worked together a number of times over the last, I don’t know, five/six years probably. And I guess you know you’re known for iconography, that’s why I reached out to you originally and tell us a little bit about your iconography past.
JON HICKS: Well, I don’t know if this is kind of coming back from the illustration background but it kind of took off a little bit when I did some little application icons for Camino, a mac browser that was based on Firefox, which then led to doing the Firefox logo and then led to doing general application icons. But the thing that I’ve become known for now is more the kind of pictograms, you maybe call them, or ideograms. And that’s just kind of, it’s something I’ve learnt myself and really enjoy doing because I enjoy taking something and reducing it and reducing it as simple as possible. And it’s a weird thing to get a kick out of but I think I’ve also kind of found a little niche in that sense.
GERRY SCULLION: Yeah the reductive process of designing icons.
JON HICKS: Yeah.
AMAN BRAICH: I was just going to add I’d noticed that absolutely everyone’s done a lot of work with iconography and digital but have you ever applied your iconography skills to something like, let’s say wayfinding or anything like that?
JON HICKS: No I haven’t and there’s a job I’m sort of hoping to sort of get at the moment where that could happen but it’s sort of waiting to sort of hear. You speak to a lot of clients generally and everyone sounds really enthusiastic and then you kind of wait you know do I chase? To which point do I sort of say ‘is this still happening?’ you know. So yeah…
GERRY SCULLION: I’m probably guilty of that as well…
JON HICKS: No, no, no projects with Gerry have actually been really great.
GERRY SCULLION: Steady on, Jon. You’ll give me a big head.
JON HICKS: (laughs) but no it’s, but I’d love to do that as well and certainly beyond sort of application screens and things; you see a lot of iconography in games, for example. But you know have you ever played Portal?
AMAN BRAICH: Absolutely love Portal yeah.
JON HICKS: Yeah because they’re really humorous, the pictograms you get throughout the game in Portal.
AMAN BRAICH: And somewhat xxx05.33xxx but I absolutely love them. But games are a really interesting thing, I always take this opportunity to say this but like they always explain such like complex systems in an environment that no-one’s ever seen before to someone who’s approaching it for the first time and they kind of get you through there in a really tangible way. I’ve always loved the way games have sort of approached learning and then understanding a new environment. I think iconography is a big part of that.
JON HICKS: Oh for me I always kind of thought of it as being quite a small part of it. You know that if you, you know a group of people working on a game, the guy doing the icons is kind of like one of the least important, you know? But no I enjoy it and I enjoy when I play games looking out for these kinds of things and try to collect them yeah.
GERRY SCULLION: Absolutely. So today’s topic, Jon, we were speaking you know over the last couple of months, it was the differences between brand and iconography. So tell us a little bit about where this idea or problem originated.
JON HICKS: Well I mean basically that’s kind of my main focus of work is that I’m either doing iconography for clients or I’m either doing identities, particularly logos. So, there’s a lot of cross over in the middle of these like a big Venn diagram of the similarities and also very big differences too and I just thought these were two good subject because A. it’s what I generally do and particularly on the iconography side that’s something that I’ve been speaking about at conferences now for quite a few years so you know it’s something I’ve actually, I think generally when you speak at conferences I always want to have a subject that I feel qualified to talk about and icons I’ve found is that one thing that I can talk about.
GERRY SCULLION: I think after 15/16 years of doing a lot of that high level work you’ll able to talk about iconography now, Jon.
JON HICKS: Yeah but yeah so I enjoy both those processes as well.
GERRY SCULLION: Alright so what was the problem like with I guess it was the understanding from the client’s perspective of what brand was and what iconography was? What were they asking you to do that kind of made you think like actually there’s something in this, there’s a problem there.
JON HICKS: Well I mean I tend to find that clients, when it came to doing logos and identities, the clients generally sort of know what they want and they certainly, they didn’t have any misconceptions as such. But particularly with icon design, what I really found was companies that find out there’s an icon designer working on a project and they start building up this list of all the things they want as icons and it becomes like a clip art exercise. No-one’s actually sort of sat down and thought about context and about where these are going, whether they actually need to be an icon, whether actually, you know if these were all used in the right context whether basically the page just becomes a big sort of Christmas tree of all these different pictures.
So that’s the one thing I’ve found with some clients. Not necessarily with the clients that I’m directly dealing with but others in that company, to try and get them through the process of do you need an icon for this? And sometimes it can be quite, really quite esoteric things that they want to be as an icon; I want to order shoes with this particular height of heel. And you think well you know there’s a lot of things that are just better done as text and that was one of those sorts of cases.
So that’s what I’ve found generally. You know there’s not, in terms of working with clients, it’s going through that process.
AMAN BRAICH: Do you have any hard and fast rules around what you would and wouldn’t call an icon?
JON HICKS: Well I’ve actually done for this a company recently. They hired me not to actually design icons but to come up with a principles document for them to use internally and I did it as this big long flow chart so that basically it takes you right from the very top, so you’ve got your brief, your icon brief, say in this case you know like maybe it’s a View icon or something, and how you work through that. So you’re going through sort of stages like first of all looking at the context; is it clearer with text? Is it clearer without the icon and just text? And all these sort of questions. So the top of this flow chart takes you through these questions. So considering things like the context, I think this is the most important, is the thing you’re trying to convey too complex to use an icon? Generally you know icons work best when it’s something familiar. So even if it’s a new concept that you’re creating rather than sort of an existing convention like a home icon, for example, you can still create a new icon for something but the thing that helps you is having that familiar object, something that’s recognisable really and is possible to render small and simple. A lot of concepts aren’t, you know or objects, you know either they don’t fill the square boundary space that you’ve got for an icon very well and you end up with a lot of white space or you get something that can actually look like something else. Or you know you’ve got problems with localisation. So I did some work for A&Z bank a few years ago.
GERRY SCULLION: A&Z (Zed) as we say in Australia.
JON HICKS: Oh right, you do say Zed?
GERRY SCULLION: Yeah.
JON HICKS: Oh good on you (laughs). I just assume that everyone outside of the UK just says Zee, you know, like you know my favourite band’s ZZ Top anyway.
But for example I was doing an icon for them and it was Savings. So while a piggy bank is actually the still recognised metaphor for savings, for some of the audiences that that was going to, there’s a whole problem of a pig being a dirty animal and not having that same meaning. So there’s lots of different reasons why you shouldn’t use an icon. So we always go through that process first.
GERRY SCULLION: How do you find out those differences? Like how did you find out about the pig being a dirty animal and not being appropriate?
JON HICKS: Well there’s some that you know already, to like general knowledge stuff like the owl is always the best example actually because in the west it’s very much a symbol of wisdom or knowledge and in the east it’s the symbol of stupidity. It’s the absolute polar opposite of what your intention is. So what it really comes down to is that’s where the client usually has that kind of local knowledge. Another good example was Skype. There’s a Skype emoticon called ‘Bow’ which is very important for the Asian market and it was a simple thing of basically someone bowing with hands by their sides or bowing with their arms crossed. Now normally in the west when you think of someone bowing its arms by the sides but apparently that actually means in the East, especially Japan, that I want to die, you know it’s like being hung, you know the image of someone being… so for the warmth and sincerity it’s got to have the hands crossed in front.
Now that’s not general knowledge, that’s not something I knew before that project. But the client has people in those cultures who can advise and warn you of these sorts of things.
GERRY SCULLION: Yeah ethnography thinking and approaches to design.
JON HICKS: Mm and I find it really fascinating the way that like the owl things can be polar opposites and the design that you’re working on may only need to work in a certain audience and therefore it’s not a problem but it might mean that you have to have two icons depending on which audience you’re aiming for.
GERRY SCULLION: Okay great. Jon tell us what your thoughts are around the differences between brand and iconography?
JON HICKS: Well when you’re designing a logo or an identity what you’re doing is trying to create something that’s own-able, something that’s unique to that client, something that can only be recognised as being that company and no-one else. So it’s really uniqueness that’s the important factor. Whereas with an icon your best not doing something unique. So, for example, going back to the sort of bland example of the Home button, you know if you wanted to put some icons of navigation to go home then this works best with the Home everyone recognises, the very simple house shape with a pitched roof, you know and not trying to be esoteric about it and doing you know like a mansion or …
GERRY SCULLION: A tent.
JON HICKS: Yeah or like a welcome mat or something; you know not trying to think creatively around the thing and say well everyone does a house, let’s do something different.
GERRY SCULLION: Yeah.
JON HICKS: That’s not what the icon is for. The icon’s there, you know it’s for way finding and it’s something that’s got to be recognised in such a split second and then help that person navigate or get feedback or find the right function or category. So that’s where the sort of polar opposites with logos and icons; you know you’ve got one on the one side, something that’s got to be unique and different, on the other side something that works best when it’s not.
AMAN BRAICH: Do you find if you’re creating stuff that needs to be instantly recognisable, do you find going from client to client that some of the stuff can feel the same, like Home icon to Home icon or View icon to View icon?
JON HICKS: Sure yeah I think the last project I joked with Gerry about, the Menu icon is the most expensive one to do. It just takes a lot of work, you know there’s a lot of precision in that. Yeah I mean there’s like the standard ones that in every set. So the Menu icon is a good example but also people need like a simplified sort of Twitter and Facebook, you know sort of social sharing icons as well as basic things like arrows and navigation. So that’s always going to be the case and you know obviously those are all very, very simple ones that you just create as part of a set. But that’s the thing, you’ve not got to look at it as trying to do something different each time, you know these are functional and they’ve got to be treated in that way that you know you’re not trying to be creative. Not in that sense anyway. I think there’s a definite sort of breadth of ownless style with icons. So I think for example Airbnb I think have a very good brand style that you recognise as being Airbnb. There’s a little bit of flexibility there to make them your own but at the same time yes with every project you’re always going to be doing these same basic icons again and again.
GERRY SCULLION: So if you imagine that the branding kind of evolves over the course of time, how important is it to update your iconography to reflect the brand values that you might have designed?
JON HICKS: Yeah well one thing is that, it’s happened with some previous clients where what they’ve done is not created any kind of icon style guide. So I’ve come in and done an initial set of icons, which is quite reasonable, as they’ve just needed like one or two extras, we’ve said oh you know we’ll just do it in-house and we’ll add to the set as we go. But you can see that the more and more it gets added to by various designers over time you know you have that lack of a holistic style.
GERRY SCULLION: Yeah, it degrades.
JON HICKS: Yeah and I think actually it’s something that obviously branding’s had for a long time and we’re starting to sort of see the buzz word of design systems for things like UX product design. But it’s now starting to be something that clients are asking me for rather than me suggesting to them. So you know they’re wanting an icon style guide. Like you do with branding like a dos and don’ts; what are the best practices? What’s the style, you know what makes it an icon for this brand and what doesn’t? And again, like the brand documents it’s got to be evolving, it’s got to always be dated because companies change focus or shift products or add more products and you know it becomes more of a family to think about and you know do you differentiate? Do you try and make it all feel the same or…? So yeah there’s definitely a need for updating. In some ways there’s obviously very simple icons like the Menu ones where you know that’s not going to matter but there are icons being used for other things like for calling out features or for highlighting things or functions that are very useful like Spotify, there’s very basic ones for things like Play and Pause. There’s not a lot of design thinking involved in that. But then when it gets to things like these larger icons you get for each category; so for, if you’re looking for a reggae playlist, you know having this sort of larger icon for each of those.
GERRY SCULLION: Yeah a Rastafarian.
JON HICKS: (Laughs) I ended up going with a lion for that one.
GERRY SCULLION: Really?
JON HICKS: Yeah.
GERRY SCULLION: Why, tell us about that.
JON HICKS: It was very hard. I mean there was one, for a while I was able to differentiate a lot of music by the instrument but then there was things like soul music where you know there’s no kind of like obvious instrument other than the actual singer maybe. So in that sense I did portray the singer for that one.
GERRY SCULLION: So how did you land on the lion for Reggae music?
JON HICKS: Ah that’s the whole Rastafarian religion, you know it’s the lion of Judah, it’s the sort of religious symbol which kind of got around a lot of problems because you couldn’t show…
GERRY SCULLION: Bob Marley.
JON HICKS: …trying to depict someone was going to be a little bit dodgy and a bit, it could…
GERRY SCULLION: licencing, branding.
JON HICKS: Yeah and of course it could be quite racist or you know unintentionally but it could be a little bit stereotyped. I mean a lot of reggae album covers actually use that kind of imagery so but again that’s probably another good point to make about icons is the fact that those sorts of icons aren’t there to work by themselves. They’re not there without a text label so they’re not things like Play and Pause which are symbols that you’ve learnt over the years and don’t need a text and that’s another good thing about icons is the fact that you don’t have to spell these things out and have problems with localisations. The fact that you know you have to like especially if you translate the German, you know it’s always going to be at least four times longer than whatever language you’re working in. So icons are great for getting around that kind of problem but at the same time most icons need a text label or something with it to give it context.
GERRY SCULLION: Absolutely, the contextual placement of these things is huge. I remember years ago when we first worked together we were working on a project for Cochlear and I remember one of the senior stakeholders wanted to test the icons on the wall and see if people understood you know if they made sense on their own.
JON HICKS: Oh right just the icon by itself?
GERRY SCULLION: Just the icon and I was like ‘whoa that’s not really fair’ like it’s the context and it’s the situation and it’s also what comes before on the journey of understanding. It’s not just an isolated like ‘yes’ or ‘no’ binary did this pass or fail?
JON HICKS: Yeah, yeah.
GERRY SCULLION: So what advice would you give to designers who specialise in visual design or iconography design who have to tackle that problem? – because I’m sure I wasn’t the first person and I won’t be the last person to have that conversation.
JON HICKS: Yeah I mean it’s one of the things I mean you know this, every time I work with you, that one of the questions I always ask is ‘where the context?’. So clients will give you a long list of names of the functions or sometimes it’s just names of the object; you know like a picture of a house or a picture of a pencil or something. So the next question I always ask is ‘what’s the context?’ So I get them to send me screen shots of the UI where this is going to live. And there’s something to be said for sort of testing things out of context you know in the sense that if someone can understand it without the context then great. It’s going to be recognisable. And I think that kind of works for things like pictograms where you’ve actually got a picture of something. But I think a good example of context and how it changes is if you think of something as simple as an ‘x’; so an ‘x’ could mean close, it could mean delete. It could mean clear the form field or if it’s at the end of a text it could mean a kiss. So it’s, depending on where that symbol is placed it could mean any number of things. So yeah that kind of situation of testing against a wall, it doesn’t really work. It’s always, the context changes what you’re looking at and enforces the meaning and aids it. I’d say the only really exceptions to that are the ones that are learnt; the ‘Play’ and ‘Pause’ icons that don’t need labels that you know you muscle memory just learned over the years to accept it and I think to an extent the ‘Menu’ icon is becoming that. Although actually a couple of years ago I saw a friend was trying to sort of coach their mum through this online process and was saying ‘well, can you see the icons? Can you see the Video icon and the Microphone icon?’ And they said ‘No, but I can see an icon of a hot water bottle and the dentist’s chair’. When you looked at the icons they are, yeah yeah they totally could be (laughs). So context is important but there’s also again that element of you know you can’t always expect everyone to understand that even if you, you know you think oh I’ve seen this Menu icon everywhere, you know surely everyone by now understands what this means.
AMAN BRAICH: Yeah that’s right and like every since morning it’s such an interesting topic about context because every single morning I start my day and I hop on ‘Brand New’ ‘Under Consideration’ if you’re familiar with that site.
JON HICKS: Oh yeah yeah absolutely.
AMAN BRAICH: Yeah like brands that go out and they’ve done a massive refresh about something and you go down to the comments and it’s hundreds and hundreds of people like either really passionate or absolutely disgusted by a brand update or a re-brand or anything or a couple of serves taken off a logo. When it comes down to it this is the only place you’ll ever going to see a logo like that in isolation. It’s really interesting because a brand is such a living breathing thing and it exists in so many different places, so many different times. It can be posters on walls, it can be logos on websites, it can be the way that it sounds and the way that it talks. It can be what other people say about that brand like that brand isn’t even present. And you have like hundreds of people fired up over the shade of green on the Spotify logo.
JON HICKS: This is a great read because when you read the article it’s always a really well considered analysis of especially a re-designs, you know what they had before and why this is either better or worse and it’s a great bit of design analysis. But as you say, you then get down to the comments and you know.
GERRY SCULLION: Which is a sewer, we all know that.
JON HICKS: Yeah I mean Twitter’s like that with every kind of logo refresh.
GERRY SCULLION: Maybe on your feed but not my feed. My feed is daisy clean.
JON HICKS: No it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently because usually like for example Instagram when they change their logo, you know Twitter explodes for a few days with people saying how crap this is or the Spotify green, it’s the wrong green, and then after a while people just don’t care you know? But I’m working on a big project at the moment which is a big re-brand of a big logo, a well-known logo, and all the time in my head I’m just thinking of all the kind of Twitter comments and Under Consideration comments about you know what happened to this.
GERRY SCULLION: The tsunami of hate.
JON HICKS: Yeah, yeah I mean that’s if the ideas get picked you know? It’s kind of a long way down the line but you know it’s always in the back of your head.
GERRY SCULLION: True. Jon one of the questions there that came into my mind when you were talking earlier, especially around the sort of consideration of icons being judged against a wall. And I’ve definitely faced it over the years is the ownership of iconography and branding, like branding tends to be owned by maybe a specific department and the iconography tends to be owned by the product design; sometimes the UX and sometimes the UI it’s sort of like a shared world.
What are your thoughts on who should own iconography and is it maybe a branding piece or should the whole lot just be owned by product? What are your thoughts?
JON HICKS: Well in some ways yeah you’re absolutely right because marketing often control the brand site and your product team controls the icons. I think because icons are functional they sit well within the product teams, within the UX teams. There’s always that sort of like crossover with brand and I mean the project that we just did recently was like that in that we tried to include as much of that brand style as possible with the icons. So there needs to be that kind of conversation between the two teams but I definitely think it’s something that should be owned by the product team or by someone completely separate from the two.
Another company I was working with just recently, I was doing the big principles document for, is definitely a case of that. You know they’ve got so many people, because it’s not just interfaces. They’ve got interfaces on products, on applications, websites but also on retail packaging and other sources like this and actually printed onto hardware as well. It was really interesting going through and talking to them about how they actually print onto different materials and the way that that affects things so like if you’re laser etching onto metal. It’s only so dark you can go before the edges start to burn and you lose the crispness and that sort of thing.
So you know it can cross a lot of disciplines with a lot of companies. So in that sense I think if you can get someone separate that’s ideal but generally when we’re talking about things like apps, websites, certainly sitting in the product team is definitely a good idea.
AMAN BRAICH: Yeah and the branding side of that’s really interesting like especially at Intuit. It’s actually moved around a couple of times. So I mean this idea of a branding department who owns brand has kind of moved from department to department which, from my perspective, is a really weird way to approach stuff. We do this thing called ‘brand training’ that we’ve kind of kicked off in Australia where every three months we get every single new starter in the company and we kind of drive into them that the brand is owned by absolutely everybody like regardless of the fact that there might be a brand department and the brand department does this. It matters let’s say if you work for Intuit and you go out on the weekend and you go out and you start a fight or something like that and people know that you work for Intuit like that is negatively going to impact the brand right.
JON HICKS: Yeah exactly.
AMAN BRAICH: And it did. Every single person is 100% responsible for it. It’s like the care team and then like the sales team in the way they approach their customers and the way they talk and the way they sound just as much as you know using the correct logo or the correct colour.
JON HICKS: And presumably the larger the company, the more difficult that becomes. You know if you’ve got a small start-up then you know with a small start-up it’s much easier to control and have that conversation between everyone. But is that how you do it at Intuit? You know that very much enforced that everyone understands how the brand affects them even if they’re you know they’re not a designer?
AMAN BRAICH: Yeah exactly and that everyone is actually a custodian of it. So the brand isn’t so much about what we say about it but it’s how other people engage with us and people don’t engage with us with just our logo. They don’t engage with us with just our product. They engage with us on the phone. They engage with us in person. They engage with us at events. So the brand is this, it’s kind of embodied in every single person and we want to make sure that when people come on board that they know this.
GERRY SCULLION: Yeah people don’t engage with a brand, they engage with a service. So Jon we’re coming towards the end of this episode and I’m just wondering if you had any key learnings or takeaways that you have for people who are interesting in iconography to maybe continue their learning. Where should they go?
JON HICKS: Well I mean the first thing I would say is just like you’re using something like Pinterest or you’re in photo album and just collecting a lot of iconography, I think we were talking at the start earlier about games, that’s one example. A friend of mine’s quite obsessed with car dashboards and how you know the iconography that gets used there and thinking about writing a blog about this. But I think the first stage is just sort of collecting all these different examples to real life, user interfaces, gaming, as many different sorts of sources as possible. And also some great icon designers, like, for example, if you got to Iconwork.com, Stefan who I think is one of the world’s best icon designers who does an incredible process. I think recently they did this Tweet about a Bluetooth headset icon and how many different versions you go through to get it exactly right and it was great, it was just exactly how I work, just sort of doing multiple, multiple versions of something and then finding exactly the right one.
So that’s the one thing is the research. The second thing is obviously keeping icons simple and considering the context and the fourth thing is using conventions, which is the great thing. So again, we’re going back to earlier about logos and icons; logos working better if they’re unique and icons working better when they’re not, you know? So use things like, for example there’s a site called thenounproject.com or just a Google image search. Look and see what other people are doing for that icon. You may find there’s one metaphor that everyone uses. In some instances you may find that there’s a variance of different things. And then you might also find that there’s actually nothing existing out there that’s done for this so in that sense you’ve got to work out whether, does it need to be icon? Can I do this in a way that’s familiar? And I usually use things like mind mapping there to come up with as many different options as possible and sort of test them out.
But there’s my sort of four bits really.
GERRY SCULLION: Great. They’re all brilliant, Jon. I really like the mind mapping suggestion because I know from looking back at our time at Cochlear when we worked on those icons together, we had some seriously complex metaphors to work with and they were definitely, they required icons, like what to expect and I can’t remember a host of them but there was a load of them that we had to do. So yeah they were great.
So Jon we’ve got three questions towards the end of this episode that we always ask our guests. And I’ll start this one off by saying ‘what is the one professional skill that you wish you were better at and why?’
JON HICKS: I have to say animation because I love SVG. I do a lot of work with SVG icons and illustrations and recently I did some work for duckduckgo that was, there were SVG illustrations and I just did some very simple kind of little assist animations for it; you know things like blinking, soap bubbles that were floating away. It’s a very sort of basic level of animation. But that’s something that I would really like to do but it’s having the time to sit down and do it properly and learn it which at the moment that kind of spare time doesn’t really happen. But it’s definitely a skill that I wish I was able to offer to clients rather than just something that I was you know dabbling with occasionally.
GERRY SCULLION: Okay great. And did you want to add something to that?
AMAN BRAICH: Yeah I mean that’s just really interesting because motion is on my table as well and as this gap between like Adobe After Effects and you know let’s say SVG animation closes, you can start to do more and more stuff in motion in web and then you know the possibilities are absolutely endless.
JON HICKS: Yeah and I think also if you look at something like Dribble most illustrators coming up now, young illustrators, have got those skills as well, you know they’re learning animation at the same time as illustration and I think it definitely just makes their skill set a lot stronger.
GERRY SCULLION: Yeah absolutely. So second question, Jon; what is the one thing that you wish you could banish from the industry?
JON HICKS: I think there’s, I’ve tried to come up for a name for this, I’ve called it ‘a one size fits all mentality’ and I think there’s this way that people like sort of pin you down and say this is the one way to do something. So if you’re building a website, for example, you’ll have someone say that ‘you’ve got to use React now’ or ‘you’ve got to use View’ or there’s something you’ve got to do like you’ve got to do flat design or you’ve got to avoid skeuomorphic design. There’s a lot of people telling you what you should do but I kind of, there’s a brilliant post by Jeremy Keith where he says “the answer is always ‘it depends'”. You know every project is different, every context is different and you can’t be so dogmatic about a lot of these things and I wish that, you know that’s one aspect that I would like to see that go, you know that you have to do things in a certain way or you know you can have even just like a static website you know. It’s fine for people.
GERRY SCULLION: Yeah absolutely. Do you have something you want to add to that, Aman?
AMAN BRAICH: Yeah sure. So when it comes down to banishing from the industry, it’s a hard one but brands that think too small. Like I can’t imagine the amount of times that someone has come up to me and said ‘hey I’ve got this app idea that just transcribes audio or this app idea that sends a message based on if this, then that’ or something along those lines. If you go back and look at some of the biggest companies in the world and their missions, it’s like you know Airbnb’s mission is to have a flag at the UN because of the relationships that they’ve formed and the empathy that they’ve built into their customers about living at someone else’s home has changed the world in a better way. I’d love to see more companies, more brands, even the small guys, think about how a brand is going to grow into the future as opposed to what’s right for me right now.
JON HICKS: And actually that’s a whole new podcast there, isn’t it? You’re talking about the different between brand and logo and identity work and you know how the brand can almost be something and basically it’s invisible, you know it’s not something as tangible as a logo.
GERRY SCULLION: Yeah it’s also kind of like the business of doing no harm versus doing some good.
JON HICKS: Yes (laughs).
GERRY SCULLION: Which is what I always say to people when they kind of go ‘well you know we’re not doing any harm’. I’m like ‘well how about you do some good?’
JON HICKS: Yes. Fantastic.
GERRY SCULLION: So the final question; what advice would you give to emerging design talent for the future?
JON HICKS: I would say with an illustrator or designer, just to keep practicing. Do more of it. I think there’s this, with a lot of jobs you wouldn’t want to do them in your spare time. But I find with design and illustration that it is something I like to think about in my spare time. It’s something I kind of find that I always want to think about you know so whether it’s like practising sketching or reading or collecting ideas, like having a visual scrapbook or all these sorts of things. And a lot of emerging talent often worry about their portfolio and what they can show before they’ve got any sort of client work and well there’s two answers to that and I always say first of all make it up, you know do the work that you want to be doing, you know invent it. And also, why I disagree with spec work, I also suggest hooking up with local charities. So this is something I did when I was getting started, you know trying to make the leap from an in-house designer to be a freelancer is I did some free work for charities. So you know I got a real world brief and project and something to show in my portfolio at the end of it and the charity who couldn’t afford anything got some design work and it was a good symbiotic relationship. I mean like actually the Firefox logo. That was a volunteer project. That was just a bit of, almost a bit of fun really that we were just doing on our own to just help this what was basically a charity. So yeah so don’t do spec work but at the same time look out for these opportunities where if you’re needing to build a portfolio there are ways to do it.
GERRY SCULLION: Yeah well as Jeremy Keith says ‘it depends’.
JON HICKS: Yeah exactly yeah.
GERRY SCULLION: So Jon Hicks thank you so much for being on the podcast. Really enjoyed speaking to you. And Aman thank you so much for joining us as well.
AMAN BRACH: Thank you for having me.
JON HICKS: Yeah thanks guys.
GERRY SCULLION: So there you have it. I hoped you enjoyed this episode and if you would like to be part of the conversation or community, hop on over to thisishcd.com where you can request to join the slack channel and help shape future episodes and connect with other designers around the world.
Thanks for listening and see you next time.
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