Interview with Ryan Massad, Designer at Vizify

by . March 19th, 2013

Ryan Massad, Designer at Vizify

How do you start your day?
With coffee. That’s actually not a joke.

I work for a company called Vizify. Generally, we have a pretty good idea of what our list of priorities are, especially from the design side. When we don’t, we try to touch base and get everyone on the same page, try to figure out what our plan for the day is. It’s a startup, so things move really quickly, and our priorities kind of shift.

Aside from work, I start with a run in the mornings, and then breakfast and coffee before I mosey down to the office.


Did you attend a program or course in graphic design?

I attended the Art Institute of Portland, and I studied graphic design.



Do you think it matters in the long run?

Absolutely. It’s incredibly relevant to what I’m doing today. I’ve always been an artist, and I’ve been drawn to fine arts, but when I went to the Art Institute, I knew that graphic design was where I wanted to go. It definitely helped me hone the skills that are very relevant to the things that I’m working on today.


What element of design captivates you the most?

I’ve always been really drawn to infographics: they can become very beautiful and very easy to understand. Building interactive infographics basically has my focus lately. And now, moving towards mobile devices, designing for mobile platforms, and things like that have kind of taken center stage.



Prior to that it was always typography. I love hand-rendered typography. I grew up painting murals with spray cans and stuff like that, so it sort of made sense to transfer that to graphic design. It was figuring out, “What’s the closest thing I can do to what I love and already do and how can I turn that into a career?”



Who is your design hero?

I think Stefan Sagmeister is awesome. I’ve always been drawn to the spontaneity and creativity he inspires. It’s all hand-done and has that organic, human touch to it that I would like to get across in my work, especially in my freelance and personal projects. So, definitely he’s a huge inspiration in my design world. Mike Perry does a lot of amazing hand-rendered typography. And then I’ve had the pleasure to work with some amazing designers who’ve also inspired me in my career.


What is your least favorite aspect of contemporary design?

Stale design; things that are done to death, and people who aren’t searching for new ways to push boundaries. I see so many cookie-cutter things. You see so much of that plastered on walls and billboards every day. It’s not inspiring—it’s visual litter pollution.


I think it’s the job of the designer to decide if something is even worth creating. And if there is, how do we push that to the next level? How can it serve multiple purposes? When I see stock drop shadows and outline typography, it’s really aggravating.


What is one thing you wish that more people understood about good design?

The thought and the time that goes into it. Sometimes you work with client and they think it will just take you a second. That’s not how it is. The best design is a design that looks like it wasn’t even designed. When I read words, I’m reading those words and not reading the discrepancies between the margins.



Robert L. Peters said, “Design creates culture. Culture shapes values. Values determine the future.” What values do you try to inject into your design to begin the cycle anew?

Do we need to design this? Is there another way to tell the story with something that is already existing? We’re creating things constantly that are being thrown away. The culture is a throwaway culture. When you can design something that sustains and lasts and has multiple purposes, that’s one way we can give back to the world through design. Creating expanses anyone can be engaged in, find love in, and find enjoyment from. I think that needs to be the forefront of our minds as creators. Because, like, we really are building ideas that surround us and hopefully can motivate us.


What’s in your creative toolkit? When you get a project where do you start?

Totally depends. Generally, as digital as I’ve become, it starts with a sketch. It could be the most crude rough sketch that anyone else would not understand, but if I’m doing layout, I’m going to start with sketches in my book. It’s going to say what the basic proportions are, blocking out typographic elements and how squares and rectangles and shapes are holding that visual weight. That’s easiest way to get going. You can push things around on the computer forever and sometimes not get it right. Thinking through the process and understanding its goals. That might mean reading a brief 100 times or reading up about the product or knowing the brand. And starting from the ground up. For me, it’s in 99% of the time fleshing out ideas in my book before I get started.



What programs do you primarily do your work in?

Adobe® Creative Suite®, largely. Illustrator®, Photoshop®, and Indesign® are inextricably linked. You need to know them all to make them work with you. I’m constantly back and forth between them. Doing motion graphics is more After Effects®, another Adobe product. I design for the web but I don’t do much coding. I work with some amazing developers. When I do, there’s Dreamweaver® and things like that, but for me mostly it’s Indesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop.


Do you procrastinate at all?

I think everyone procrastinates. For me, I may be procrastinating or feel that way, by not getting straight to work on things. So much of the creative process is thinking things through—ideas rarely, or I should say not always, come when I’m sitting at my desk or in front of the computer. They come when I’m walking home, or to work, in the shower, or eating dinner. When you’re doing something else that doesn’t occupy your mind 100%, you can kind of let it go. I’ve had to learn not to be stressed out when I can’t get right into something. Another part of that is… Yeah, sometimes I do procrastinate. When I’m like, “Holy shit, this needs to get done,” I can rock it out. Whereas when you have all the time in the world, you take all the time in the world.



How do you deal with the creative block?

This comes back to what I’m saying about letting go when you have that creative block. The best ideas come to you like lightning bolts sometimes. But there are things that you can do, like brainstorming. It’s not a visual thing where I’m drawing; I’m just writing down words to get my mind going.


And then there’s looking at inspiration online, in books and magazines, or just drawing. It sometimes is just faster to sketch tiny thumbnails of things. I think you have to get all the bad ideas out before you can get to the good ones. Unless you work through every level of it, it’s hard to find the solution. I think everyone has a point of exhaustion—I mean, how many things can you be expected to bring it to life, as an individual? Sometimes I have good weeks and I have bad weeks. It’s important to recognize that and not beat yourself up about it.


Is there anything you do that is unique to your own design process, that you think others would be interested in hearing?

It really depends on what I’m doing. If I’m doing a motion graphic piece, sometimes it’s really helpful for me to have an idea of the pacing or to have the music that it’s going to be set to. Looking for inspirations that aren’t in the most obvious places. If I was designing a logo, or whatever it is, it’s all about iteration and drawing. Like I said, I’m so drawn to hand rendered things and lettering. When I start a project, it helps me to literally take my mind off of it for a little while and work through other ideas in my sketchbook. Draw things that are coming to me. It’s almost meditation.



So procrastination is your best friend?

Yeah, I think we need to embrace that. In school, it’s taught that procrastination is bad. There’s a level of procrastination that’s unhealthy and harming yourself entirely. We joke around here at Vizify too, that because everything moves so fast, procrastination is the key. We hold off on something because the whole concept is going to change, then you know you’re designing the next thing rather than the last thing that didn’t actually make it. So I think that’s an interesting way to look at it.


If you had the opportunity to redesign a favorite logo, artwork or architecture, what would you choose?

You sort of stumped me with that. I haven’t thought much about it. I have a little side project where I’ll redesign logos that I think could use it. It’s sort of a creative process of brainstorming at times. It keeps my mind going somewhere that isn’t necessarily work. I think there are logos that are working perfectly: I mean, how can you mess with Nike and things like that? Then I think about the other stuff that I see and wonder: why? Why does the Avatar logo, one of the biggest box office hits, use Papyrus? It’s almost like they ran out of time at the very end and threw it together. It’s not even a favorite movie of mine, but I would love to redo that.




Got inspired? Look out for another interview next week featuring Duncan Mitchell from Someecards. Don’t forget to leave us a message below for your comments and suggestions. Stay awesome everyone!


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