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Reagan Ray is the lead designer and resident illustrator for Paravel.

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Interview

Naz Hamid

March 01, 2011

Tell us about your background. How did you get started? Have you always worked for yourself at Weightshift?

I’m a third-culture kid, which I find important to my worldview and in how and why I approach things the way I do. The short story is: a decade each in London, Kuala Lumpur and Chicago (actually a decade plus one) and now decade four starting in San Francisco.

I studied Information Systems in Computer Science — it’s a weird place in the Computer Science field which qualifies you for not much really. I figured out quickly that I wanted to somehow merge my love for graphic design with technology and my field of study. In the late 90s, Web design was a new field with which I could play and consider the idea of a career in.

Two busted dot-coms followed in the two years after I graduated university which found me in a spot where I had to make things happen on my own. So I pushed ahead by necessity rather than choice — I made my own bones. I kept designing, kept making websites and eventually was fortunate to find work with good people doing good work who I admired and respected.

Weightshift is almost a decade old. For eight years it was just me, a moniker from which I designed from. Since moving to San Francisco, I made a conscious decision to grow the studio to four and this year we’ve added another person and maybe later, one more. There’s this ideal I have in my head, to remain fiercely independent for as long as possible and to do good and smart work that allows for a quality of life that everyone should deserve.

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How do you think your international upbringing impacted your design and how does remaining fiercely independent benefit you as a person & you as Weightshift?

Having experienced different cultures influences everything I do, consciously or not. In terms of design, it’s more of an appreciation of the visual vocabularies and the different tones of the world — being able to appreciate an Asian aesthetic or a European or American one. That those aesthetics and being able to go out of your current environment and seek inspiration or remember a different aesthetic from a different culture is important. It opens up your toolbox.

Being fiercely independent is important to me and to the studio for similar reasons. I’ve fought for a certain amount of freedom and flexibility in being able to choose the sort of work we take on — indirectly affecting our lives. Does the work we do fulfill our work desires and how does that affect our lives at large? How does it affect you from a business perspective — still got a roof over your head and enough to eat?

The ability to spend time away from a screen and a computer and experience the world at large and do other things related to the work (speaking or travel or just collaborating on projects) is necessary for a healthy mind. So that independence, to be able to work on other projects outside of the studio allows everyone to be able to explore other experiences and not just for work. The things you do outside of work — that you’re passionate about — should be equally nurtured.

What are your favorite aspects of the design process? Are there any areas you're interested in improving your skill-set, or learning more about?

The question answers itself in a way. Learning something new from any project or undertaking is one of the best things about the design process. In a roundabout way, my favourite part is our approach to work and the capacity to learn, that the challenge teaches you something. The work you choose is important in that respect. The way we like to approach work is that each problem doesn’t just have one solution. Common sense right? There’s no cookie-cutter, this-is-the-only-way-we-do-it methodology. We have structure and a foundation in how to approach a type of solution but we don’t impose some kind of totalitarian methodology or platform onto a problem. We stay flexible, we adapt.

I like crafting solutions in this way. That even if a client or an internal project we undertake comes at us with a predisposed idea — they want an iOS app or a web application or want to spend a lot of time on an identity or brand — that we find out what the core problem is and propose an appropriate solution that best fits their needs, their audience or users. This means that if a web application shouldn’t be what they’re looking for or an identity system is at complete odds with their core values, we tell them so and if they’re not into it, we pass on the work. Obviously, we lose the potential for the work or refer other people but in the end, it’s what’s best for the client and more importantly the work, the thing that gets created in the end. That thing needs to live, breathe and survive.

Let's talk specifics. What are your 3 favorite typefaces? If you could add/remove any feature in Photoshop what would it be? What music do you listen to when designing?

Hah!

You know, when I think about type, I can’t have just three favourites. I have a few choices (sans, sans serif, slabs, humanist, etc.) in different styles (clean, modern, heavy, technical, cold, warm) that I like to use to evoke a mood or a style. Whatever the project needs. I do gravitate towards certain forms or shapes that I like. Some of these are shown below though:

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Photoshop is such a powerful tool. People love to bash it and partly deservedly so — though I think as software it’s trying to appease and appeal to many groups. It’s great for me as both a designer and a photographer that I have that power in one package. However, Adobe’s Lightroom is a perfect example of software that’s limited in feature-set comparatively, yet nails what it offers. There’s a lot of cruft in Photoshop that I don’t use perhaps because I’m not as optimally attuned to it or I have my own way of structuring data. If anything though, I’d love to see Photoshop take on some of the philosophy and direction that Lightroom has. Lightroom feels significantly different from the rest of what Adobe offers. Perhaps it’s more that Adobe or someone else needs to build a modern design tool that’s geared towards what we design for the web and mobile.

Music is a heavy, heavy thing for me. I love it. As much of it that I can. I love playing music and creating it and the music I make is akin to the music I like to design to — it’s sort of electronica but with soundtrack score elements to it, that sort of epic feel, highs and lows and building up to climaxes. When I think of an artist who does this really well, I think of Scott Hansen who makes music as Tycho and who’s a great designer of course.

Primarily though, it’s the aforementioned, but also instrumental rock — two sides of it, either math rock or much mellower. These are all without vocals but alternately I listen to a lot of heavier rock, bordering on metal or progressive metal, where the vocals and lyrics are hard to make out anyway.

In the end, it really depends on my mood. Some days, I just need it to be hard and heavy to get motivated and some days, I just need the quietest music I can barely hear. And sometimes, silence does wonders.

Describe your work day (hours & rituals you keep) and your work environment (how your workstation is set up & what your office is like).

I generally get up early — 6:30 if not slightly earlier. I’m not a sleeping-in type of person nor am I much of a late night owl either. The day typically starts off with some physical activity. I’ve long been a cyclist and that’s one of my primary interests. For just over a year now, I’ve added bouldering into the mix. I ride to the climbing gym three times a week and I ride every day. The sharpness of physicality snaps the mind awake and clears the head. Once I return, it’s turning on the dashboard: web, email, Skype, Twitter. Follow up on client emails and reply to the studio internally. This is important — communication is key for the studio and customer service is a high priority. I try to write sometimes as my mind is generally racing with ideas while I’ve been out riding or climbing. It’s good introspection and reflection time. The rest of the day is either made up of solid blocks of work time broken up by meetings and a few calls and Skype sessions with the studio. Typical stuff. Though I maintain certain rules about it — discipline is important. You can read more about that here.

I work from home and for a long time never felt that an office was necessary. This is likely changing in the near future though as we’re finding more of a need for client-facing portions. The Chicago side of the studio does have an office though.

The set-up is your typical Mac designer sort of thing. Not all that interesting. I get the best I can for as long as I can. Phineas X. Jones once told me that and I’ve held true to it. Music’s important so speakers are good and the headphones too. Redundancy is also good, so 6 external hard drives are running, typically 4 or 5 at a time. Cloud backups too.

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Again, being at home is nice. I get to sneak in a ride during nice days when client work is light or as necessary to clear the mind and come to a solution to whatever’s bugging me. Also, I love our dog and two cats, so getting to have them around is a plus. Otherwise, it’s as quiet or as loud as I need it to be to get things done — the independent and flexible thing.

Show us an image of the most inspiring thing you’ve seen this week.

I keep coming back to this photo. It’s from some people doing a motorcycle exploration tour in Vietnam. It combines a lot of things I love — travel, two-wheeled transportation and adventure. Again, it’s that sense of experiencing new things and new places that informs one’s worldview and how they approach the day-to-day. Coupled with the unknown and getting out of your comfort zone which I find are two things necessary for growth.

It’s important to see the world, and I mean, not just physically, and to not know things and get out of your comfort zone — to learn and experience them, to broaden oneself.

We really appreciate your time on this Naz, thank you.

Pleasure was mine. Thanks for the opportunity. I think this site’s going to be great.

Naz Hamid's Work
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