"Decide what you want to do and become the person that does it."
We scroll through it mindlessly for minutes (sometimes hours...) at a time, but it's easy to forget that there's a whole team of people behind our favorite app: Instagram. Rich Arnold is one of those superstars.
And the former Vine designer knows a thing or two about social media, too.
But how do social media pros find their way into the design world? The product designer shares everything about his foray into design, from his first big project at Huge Inc. to exactly how he landed at one of the most popular apps ever.
So get ready... Rich's interview is so good, you'll want to double-tap the screen.
DesignRush: What inspired you to go into design?
Rich Arnold: I was pretty fortunate to fall backward into design. I was desperately seeking some way to be creative and not be broke so I found myself telling the advisor at my college, "I want to do the artwork for advertisements." The thought of saying those words now set my teeth on edge, but that was literally the only application of design I could fathom. It wasn't until I was actually a year into my classes that I saw that there was profoundly inspiring work being done. For me, the first thing I fell in love with was book design. I saw John Gall's original design for Lolita and I was blown away.
DR: What a lucky discovery! So tell us about your first big project. What did you wish you knew before you started, and what did you learn coming out the other side of it?
RA: My first professional work was in publishing and the thing I wish I knew was that there are a lot of bad romance novels getting published. My first big project though was probably redesigning CSpire's site while I was at Huge. I really had no digital design experience to that point so what I wish I knew going in was "anything at all." It would be a long time before I felt I had a semblance of what I was doing, but I got to see what a product cycle looked like, how working with engineering work, and most importantly, the dedication it takes to even start to approach "good" work.
DR: Speaking of "good work," what are some projects of your own that you are particularly proud of?
RA: I loved the work we did at FreeAssociation on the Cornell.edu redesign. Working with a university can be difficult because there's a lot of stakeholders involved, but we were able to get buy-in from everyone and it continues to be used by them four years later and they do a really great job supporting the design.
DR: It's really beautiful, too. Are there any design tools you swear by?
RA: I'm working in Sketch most of the time, but since coming to Instagram I've gotten very into Origami as well. The online community isn't all the way there for it yet, but it's really pretty incredible what you can make with it. Analog wise, I don't mess around with $40 Japanese handbound notebooks and pens or whatever. I'm pretty sure I actually only own pens with airline and bank logos on them. Turns out they're capable of sketching out my nonsense ideas just fine as well.
DR: We'd love to know a little more about you. What can we find you doing on your days off?
RA: Probably finding something else to work on or being a delinquent on Twitter, If I'm being honest, more often the latter. Really though, I do tend to keep busy with other projects. From nonsense like trying to compile the tweets with the worst ratios to book proposals. I find it hard to not to have something I'm trying to build at any given time.
DR: Are there any designers or brands that influence you?
RA: I don't know that any brands speak to me, that's not really where I go if I'm looking to be inspired. To me, some of the most compelling work being done right now is in fashion and hip-hop. Joe Perez has been doing some of the most interesting work I've seen in years.
DR: You’re currently a product designer at Instagram. What does a typical day look like for you?
RA: I'm currently one of the lead designers of Stories for Instagram. I'd say half my time is spent laying out a lot of really bad ideas and one or two that have a nugget of something smart in them. With a team and product as large as Instagram communication becomes a deliverable so collaboration with other teams and other disciplines is really critical to doing your best work.
DR: You have had such cool, coveted roles at Vine and Instagram. Is there anything that helped you land those particular positions?
RA: With Vine, I was fortunate that one of the founders, Russ, happened to find my portfolio and reached out. In general, though, having a strong presence online and within the design community goes a long way towards getting you in the room. Post your work, contribute to discussions, find something you're passionate about and make it, anything that helps get eyes on the work you're doing.
Also, life is long and this industry is very small and people will remember you, for better or worse. The people you see every day at a given job will eventually all be working at other places and you'll almost certainly want to work for one of those companies as well.
DR: Great tips. What advice do you have for designers who are looking to grow in their career?
RA: Find work that inspires you and then make something better. Stefan Sagmeister or whoever you admire doesn't have some organ you don't have. You should be looking at the best designers in the world and know you can sit at the table with them.
DR: That is so true — we all are capable of that success. Do you have any tips for scoring an interview (or job offer!) at a well-known agency or company?
RA: Getting the interview might actually be harder and I'm not sure there's a good catch-all for getting noticed. Once you're in an interview though, they've already seen and liked your work and now it's about showing everyone the decisions you made in your designs were intentional, that you can problem solve, and that you're able to articulate your process to a group of people.
If you're interviewing at a larger company, you can almost certainly find what their interview process looks like online so check that out and prepare accordingly. When you have to present, prepare a deck and really invest some time into making it and performing it. Also be confident. Your work got you here, you belong in that room.
DR: Such sage wisdom, Rich! Okay, last one: do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share with someone in the industry?
RA: Decide what you want to do and become the person that does it. Don't worry about faking it — the truth is, everyone is faking it at least a little bit.
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