Interview with Wendell Fernandes: User Interface and Icon Designer
This week I had the opportunity to chat with Brazilian-born user interface and icon designer Wendell Fernandes. Wendell was one of several designers who brought us the new Monster.com. In addition to Monster.com, Wendell has also worked with clients like Dell, and DivX so it was really interesting to hear what he had to say.
Wendell, thank you very much for participating in this interview. Can you begin by telling us a little about yourself? Where are you from? How did you get your start as a designer?
Hello Grant, and thank you very much for the time and opportunity, I really appreciate it! My name is Wendell Fernandes, and I am from Brazil originally. I came to the U.S. in 1999 with my family when I was just 15 years old. Drawing has always been a huge part of my life. When I was young, I used to draw cartoons, portraits, paintings and even caricatures all the time. In fact, it used to get me into a lot of trouble. Later in life, I realized my passion for communicating ideas visually and soon became interested in graphic design. I can honestly say God has granted me a great gift, to express myself in many ways and “creating” is a big one among them all.
For those of us who have never heard of you before; can you tell us about some of the projects that you have worked on?
Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to work on some great projects. In the early days I worked for an email marketing company called e-Dialog, Inc. During that time, I had a chance to design and build emails for, Nike, Citizens Bank, Avis & Budget, Discover Financial, Nintendo, and even The NFL.
After e-Dialog, Inc., I was called to be one of the main User Interface designers for the new Monster.com. This was a tremendously challenging and rewarding. My responsibility was to design new icons and styles for all of the major components throughout the site. During that time, I worked closely with some fantastic people including Pablo Sanchez, Kelly Baker, Blair Gyllenhaal and Nicole Zassenhaus.
In 1999 I started Dellustrations, a small design firm located in Massachusetts. Since then we’ve had some good and bad times but some how we have managed to stay afloat and survive. I direct a couple of designers and developers and over the years we’ve had the opportunity to work with several large corporations including DivX, and DELL.
Wow! That’s a pretty impressive list of clients! The UI for Monster.com is very impressive. Can you tell us a little about the process of landing a position like that? I suspect that position wasn’t exactly posted on their website (or was it?). Had you been in touch with the people with Monster beforehand?
Thank you very much Grant. Landing a position to work at a company like Monster.com is not easy. I have always felt that “the best [things] always come to those who wait” but you could easily say that I was in the right place at the right time. I was blessed to have a few contacts within the Monster organization and eventually they called on me to be one of the 3 designers to work on their site’s visual interface. In the end, we generated over 600 PSD files in a 6 – 8 month period.
To land a position like the one at Monster, I suggest the following:
- Maintain a network of friends and professionals.
- Don’t turn down jobs, take them, share knowledge, network, and get it done. If you don’t know how to do something, find some one who does.
- Never stop learning.
- Put God before your work, he is faithful and will grant wishes that you might never have expected.
600 PSD files? That’s incredible! Did you have to produce them all by yourself or was this a group effort? Can you tell us a little about the approval process for this project? How were layouts submitted and approved? Who had the final say?
It really was a lot of work from the beginning. On my first day, I had one initial meeting to get to know the other designers that I would be working with. From that point on, we both began designing mockups non-stop as every Thursday we had deliverables due. Both Kelly and myself produced a lot of the visuals, each with different tasks and different sections to touch on. I was lucky enough to be the one who got to work on the home page and setting the styles and structure the first week. After that we began rolling out visuals portraying that style. This process lasted for about 4 months. After that we brought on a third designer, Nicole Zassenhaus.
The whole process took a lot from us, and we had to work closely with the developers to get our ideas across. We encountered road blocks every day. There was a constant need for outsourcing small details, and when we found that we couldn’t find the correct person, or business to work with us, we would do the work ourselves. It was during this time that I learned how to design icons.
I’m always amazed at how much work and thought goes into a project like that. It’s even more impressive to hear stories like yours where you literally jump right into the project on day one. It must have been a bit overwhelming at first. Any tips on how to cope with the stress and pressure?
Every project has it’s highs and lows. Here are 10 tips to handling the stress and pressure in an environment like Monster and any other major business.
- Use your time wisely. A day has only 8 to 9 hours, don’t waste any of it.
- Be open and listen. Even if you know the answer it doesn’t mean you can’t listen. Many times we tend to lose patience when listening to instructions we already know. It is much better to listen than to ignore.
- Only go to meetings when it’s 100% necessary, don’t waste time in meetings just because you were invited. Remember you’re on a deadline.
- Take every break you are allowed to. Designers MUST take time to themselves to recover and reload.
- Take a 5 minute walk throughout the day.
- DO NOT leave small tasks for tomorrow if you know you can do them today, they build up.
- Be professional in your conversations, meetings, phone, and most importantly your email and chat windows.
- Take your boss and coworkers to lunch once in a while and break the ice of the “workaholic” environment.
- Always organize your work area! You wouldn’t believe how that can influence your day-to-day work.
- Instead of dark and heavy desktop wallpapers, try something light, subtle and calm. This is the last 10% of your stress free work environment.
Earlier you mentioned that you learned how to design icons while working on the Monster.com project. Since then, you have done icon work for companies like Dell and websites like Smashing Magazine. In your opinion, what makes a good icon and when is the best time to use them?
Icons are something that will never get old in my opinion. Even though there are millions of icon sets/styles to choose from we can still have a hard time finding that “one” icon to represent what we want. What makes an Icon work is not just a good design. An icon will only work if it conveys correctly what is meant to. There are a lot of designers out there, and many are very good designers, but many of them lack the creativity to convey the right message inside a 16×16 space. When icons were first introduced, they were meant to facilitate the content flow, navigational issues and we must remember that.
I agree. Icon design is an extremely important aspect of a good user interface but I have found that it is an aspect of our industry that very few designers ever master. Can you walk us through the steps that you take to create an effective icon?
I use either Illustrator or Photoshop, sometimes both. Over the years Adobe has really delivered great products and Illustrator and Photoshop are perfect for icon design. For some insight into how I approach icon design check out this tutorial that I wrote.
Wow! That’s a really nice tutorial. Thank you for sharing it! Can you tell us a little about your workflow? Do your icons usually start out as a sketch or do you just jump right into Illustrator or Photoshop?
Work flow differs from client to client. Sometimes we can get pretty aggressive and design right off the bat but most of the times we take our time and discover our clients’ needs to the fullest before going digital. It assures quality and commitment. Below are the steps that we take for most of our icon design clients.
- Discovery: We speak to our clients regarding every aspect of the project. This includes questions like; where will the icons be used, motives, deadlines, priorities, etc.
- The Icon List: This is when we request a small to-do icon list from our clients regarding the icons they need and organized by priority.
- The Sketch: After discovering the needs we move into the sketch process. This is where we will define the angle, position and direction for every icon. This is also the time where they can see them and make comments, thus final revisions.
- The Vector Magic: We move into the digital and delivery of final products.
This process usually takes no more then 2 weeks depending on the amount of icons needed and direction. Our record was 120 icons in two weeks, so we can handle quite a few icons and adapt to our clients’ need.
That’s pretty amazing! 120 icons in two weeks is crazy! What would you say is the most popular use for your icons? The web, print, or software applications?
Our icons are usually used for all types of mediums, Web Applications, Print Design, Software Applications even personal blogs or small engagements. We try to get them all across the board and deliver to any client. No job is too small.
Wendell, thank you so much for participating in this interview! If my readers would like to contact you for design work how can they get in touch?
Grant, thank you very much for the time and the opportunity to share my experience to the world. Contacting us is easy. You can visit us at dellustrations.com and contact us by sending us an email to info [ at ] dellustrations.com. If clients needs a quick logo design, we offer a great service for logo design at logoexpedite.com. Once again, thank you very much!