“Bringing your laptop to bed—that’s a horrible mistake”: Pablo Stanley on life as a remote designer
Aug 6, 2020
For a lot of people, life as a remote designer has come as a big surprise. But for world-renowned illustrator, designer, and co-founder, Pablo Stanley, the ‘new normal’ has a lot in common with his old normal.
After spending years as Design Lead at the fully remote InVision and working remotely at Lyft since, Pablo is an out-of-office veteran. Being a designer on-the-go comes naturally to him—so naturally that he decided to quit his job and start a company. You know, just to keep things interesting.
We caught up with Pablo to talk about setting boundaries between work and home life, making your side project your day job, and why everyone loves illustrations.
Making working remotely work for you
Maze: How does working remotely affect your life as a designer?
Pablo: The pros are, obviously, no one else is going to use your bathroom—that’s very important for some people. You can take infinite naps. You can just move your computer to the couch and work from there.
But there are also cons. Suddenly, there's no distinction between work and life because somehow work just came into your home—the personal place where you felt secure from the outside. You have your office there, and everyone from work is looking at your bedroom.
Maze: How do you avoid getting distracted at home?
Pablo: Being at home, it's really easy to just turn on Netflix or start playing Mario Kart.
But at least for me and the people I've seen, it’s actually the opposite. Now work is at home, that’s all you do—so you feel productive and like you're creating value. Some people are bringing their laptops to bed. That's a horrible mistake because suddenly your place of rest becomes your workplace too.
So make healthy boundaries. Try to do things that you used to do. For example, commuting. If you're allowed to go out wearing a mask, just go around the block. Even though you're coming back home, you still did your commute—maybe you listen to your podcast, and then somehow your mind makes that switch of, “Oh, now it’s time to work.”
Maze: You’ve previously described Slack as ‘the new office.’ What are the pros and cons of Slack as an office replacement? As a designer, is there anything you’d change?
Pablo: Great things about Slack are: you can have very specific conversations, you can switch between conversations, you can connect conversations, and if you miss something, it's documented.
But obviously, it doesn’t recreate the office experience. In the office, you have all the serendipity, the talking, the bouncing of ideas. When you're writing messages, a little bit of that magic is lost.
Our team also uses Discord’s voice and streaming channels. That’s actually pretty cool because it feels like you're there: “Hey, did you try this?” “Hey, did you guys do that?” “Hey, I feel like coffee.”
You hear other people's lives happening, and that's kind of comforting. It's almost like the coffee shop experience, right? You go to a coffee shop and even though you don't know all the people, you hear the sounds and you feel like you're around other human beings. That’s something I wish Slack added.
Maze: Do you ever feel like the notifications are too much when you want to focus?
Pablo: Yeah. A lot of these digital tools do that. Your team has to do a good job of figuring out what’s redundant, what’s repetitive, and what’s unnecessary. Get rid of that stuff and try to focus the conversations in the right places.
Also, try to block time on your calendar just for working with no meetings. For managers, it's hard because they want to keep control of things and want to know everything. It's just a matter of trying to create processes so these tools aren’t disruptive.
"Your team has to do a good job of figuring out what’s redundant, what’s repetitive, and what’s unnecessary. Get rid of that stuff and try to focus the conversations in the right places."
Talk to your team at least every two weeks about what worked, what didn't work, then take action on that. Try not to make a call for everything. Don’t always tag everyone in Slack. Use asynchronous conversations as much as possible.
Steady salary design job vs. pursuing your passion project
Maze: You just went full-time with your new illustration project, Blush. How does it feel to make the switch?
Pablo: It's a little bit surreal, to be honest. It has only been a few weeks since we went full-time, and two or three months since we started it.
Our side project became our job. When it was a side project, it was something that we just wanted to do. And now that it's our job, I fear I’ll be like, “I need a creative outlet! I need to do something else!” So we want to keep the culture as alive as possible.
One thing we started is that every Friday is all about you—an opportunity for learning, trying a new idea, experimenting with something. It doesn't have to be Blush-related. Just something to take care of yourself and your mental health. That’s really important for us.
The only condition is that you have to share what you learn on Monday. “I did this and I learned this”, or “I rested. I needed some rest.” That's great. The company benefits from you having that.
One team member actually just spent all day in the pool. And when I say pool, I mean a plastic kid's pool that you just sit in. He's got one of those. Apparently it has been a great buy.
Maze: Describe the debate in your head between working as an in-house designer at a larger company, or 100% committing to your own project.
Pablo: I was fortunate enough to get support from teammates, mentors, and investors that believe in this. Now this is not just a dream—we can actually make it a reality.
But making that switch was hard because it feels so personal. It's something that is yours, and suddenly you don't have the comfort that it's just a side project—and that if it doesn’t work, you can move onto the next thing. Now it’s like, no, it has to work. It needs to work.
Also, leaving a steady paying job is scary. What if tomorrow we don't make enough money to pay ourselves? Or to pay the bills? We'll have to shut down—we'll have to actually do that.
“Even if the business fails, we will succeed because we learned. We grew. We tried it.”
So as a founder, you get paid crap because you're always trying to save the company some money. My two co-founders were paid really well as engineers in Silicon Valley, and now they're taking this huge risk doing it for pennies.
It's scary as hell, but it's also really exciting. We get to set our own rules. And even if the business fails, we will succeed because we learned. We grew. We tried it.
Maze: Blush lets anyone create and customize illustrations made by professional artists. Why are illustrations so popular on websites and online products?
Pablo: I think doodles have always been popular. It's not a new thing. In the early 00s and late 90s, everything had characters, things moving around, animations—it was like the wild, wild west of the web and creativity.
Over time, designers got better at identifying things that could be improved and standardized. The web became easier to navigate because we started creating design systems and building patterns that are recognizable to the user.
When you start standardizing things, you start removing what's unnecessary. The crazy stuff from the early 00s with flash animations everywhere, games you click on, stuff exploding—we identified those things as distracting and removed them.
"I see trends in types of illustration, but I don't see illustration itself going away.”
But we also removed good stuff that could have stayed, like artwork and images that actually brought life to a site and to a message. Now everything looks the same on the web—square and a little bit boring. So as designers, I think we decided to bring back a little bit of that human touch that we used to put on websites.
Modern technology also allows us to do big, high fidelity illustrations with small file sizes. It used to be all compressed JPEGs—and once you compress it, it's going to look like poop. Now, suddenly we have SVG and the ability to animate vectors on the web.
So I think it's a combination of us realizing that we can bring a human touch back to the web, and also technology allowing us to do a lot of creative things without affecting performance.
I see trends in types of illustration, but I don't see illustration itself going away. Illustrations on the web often look the same because everybody's trying to copy each other, but I feel like that just happens in the art world in general.
Diversity in the design community
Maze: One of your side projects is the online directory Latinxs Who Design. How do you feel about the current representation of Latinxs in the design community?
Pablo: It depends on where you look. If you're looking at Silicon Valley, Latinxs and people of color are underrepresented for sure. Not just in design, but overall.
I think there are two goals for this site and others like it. One is for Latinxs who have this thing in common to get together, help each other, talk about opportunities, how to grow as a designer. We have a Slack channel that lets everyone talk to each other, bounce ideas around, and post job links.
And these sites also help people make their hiring pools a little more diverse, bringing more women, people of color, and Latinxs into jobs.
I want to think that people aren't intrinsically bad and saying, 'we're not going to hire Latinxs.' That's dumb. It's just that the tools for them to interview people, to bring them into the conversation, don't exist. So they don't know how to reach people in different communities, or from different backgrounds.
These kinds of tools allow people hiring to reach out and say, "Hey, come over, apply." The idea is to make the people that you're interviewing more diverse, so you meet people that you might not have.
Thank you to Pablo for the interview. You can follow Pablo on Twitter.