Streamlining Creativity with Minimal Process: A Conversation with the Font Awesome Icon Designers
In a recent episode of Podcast Awesome, we sat down to chat with Font Awesome icon designers, Jory Raphael and Noah Jacobus. They discuss their philosophy of design and their approach to the design process and how their process varies from project to project.
Check out this overview or listen to the whole podcast conversation!
Design with minimal process.
Design is an ever-evolving field, and the way designers approach their work is constantly changing. And the consensus between Jory and Noah is to design with as minimal a process as possible. This approach to design focuses on creating a product or experience that is simple and straightforward, with as little complexity and fuss as possible.
Jory: “For the longest time, I don’t know that I necessarily had a design process. Or if I did, it was kind of by accident. But I felt like I needed to have one. In the olden days I’d read client proposals. They would often ask for what the process was and sometimes it’d be like, I’d make it up because it was never codified in my mind because the creative process in general is so — by its very nature — amorphous and all over the place. If we’re thinking about icon design in general and icon design at Font Awesome … and this is going to sound like a cheap answer, but as little process as we need. I guess it’s different when we’re designing a new icon that’s going to go into the existing Font Awesome icon set, or if we are thinking through an entirely new icon style or, or things like that.”
How Figma helps streamline our workflows.
Though Figma is more suited for web layout and app design it has surprisingly robust vector drawing tools that make it perfect for creating an icon design system. This type of system is great for creating something that has many different repeating pieces that need to be reused, as well as pieces that modify other icons. And the collaborative features of Figma make it even more useful, as multiple people can access and edit the design at the same time.
Noah: “Some of those features that actually lend themselves really well to creating an icon design system, especially one like ours that has so many different repeating pieces that need to be reused and things that modify other icons and stuff like that. So that’s that and its collaborative features, which is something that Illustrator didn’t have at the time, maybe still doesn’t. I haven’t really kept up with it. Just kind of made it a no-brainer for that, especially once we started adding more folks who needed to access all that stuff at the same time.”
Design process is messy.
Design process is messy. It can take a lot of trial and error to get something just right, and it’s often difficult to know when to stop tweaking and move on. Despite the messiness, the end result is what matters. And it’s possible to create something that’s both aesthetically pleasing and efficient without spending too much time on the details.
Jory: “We started talking about the design process and what ours is. And in the creative world, I think there is this idea that you have to do something in one way in a lot of cases, but when you look at someone’s finished piece of art or finished icon or finished design, it’s a mess. As for me, I’ve got things all over. And I think that’s one of the reasons I love sketching in something like Figma because you can draw something quickly, duplicate it, do a variation, go back, make little tweaks. And it’s just like throwing stuff against the wall and moving things around and trying different things. And you’ve got an undo button, so you’re not locked into anything, which is lovely.”
Process depends on context.
Depending on the size of the team, the scope of the project, and the type of design, the process and approach to design can vary. For example, when working with a smaller team, a designer may be able to get away with less process and more creative freedom. On the other hand, when working with a larger team, more process and structure may be necessary to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Noah: “On Twitter and social media people often ask questions like, ‘should designers do blank?’ It depends, man. It’s the same with process. And especially when process is vastly different if it’s just you versus if it’s you and another person or a team, product designer, or web designer. If you have more people to communicate information to, that’s a vastly different process, and probably needs to be more rigid, and documented versus when, it’s just you making icons.”