Has the pandemic changed the way you and your team(s) work together?
Joshua Hurtado: It’s been most noticeable during certain workshops in our process. We’d get people in the same room to work together and solve a specific problem, usually on a big whiteboard. I kind of miss that. Tools like Miro/Figma can get the job done, but don’t replicate the experience of being together.
When it comes to feedback and helping each other out, we’ve got a good combination of process and tools to help lower the impact of working remotely. We’ve continued a bi-weekly design team critique and I have one-on-ones with each team member as well. Our team has gotten used to pinging each other for a quick zoom when they need some “over the shoulder” problem solving or advice.
Can you talk about collaboration between PRPL’s designers and developers? What does that look like?
Ha! For sure. We’ve been refining process on our end to document FRD’s earlier so devs can start building basic structure. We then try and annotate design for more front-end and interaction level directions as we go. I’ve been trying to do it directly in Figma with comments, although it can get dicey when there is client comments and annotations in the same thread.
Feature request for Figma - multiple comment threads lol
Any advice for new/up-and-coming designers looking for a role at an agency like PRPL?
Create a portfolio with a few examples of work that you’re proud of and can talk about for an extended period of time. I’d recommend documenting what you learned from that work, the challenges you faced and what you’re proud of about it.
I’d also recommend a concise resume that is well designed, but not super flashy. Write well and pick a good type and you will stand out.
Things that will set your work apart
Good typography and color choices.
Things that will set you apart
Communication (if the content of your portfolio is well-written, that’s a huge plus), ambition without entitlement, honesty and vulnerability.
How do you keep yourself from becoming burnt out?
Olivia Howard Lee
I keep guard of my time and try to let my home life be my home life. Sometimes a tight deadline will change that for a few days, but in general I think good time management is helpful for burnout, because recharging is built into your schedule.
I also try to pursue what interests me outside of work. Not everything has to be about design or art. When I was younger I was stuck on this idea that if I didn’t do something special with all my time I’d get left behind or something. It’s gotten easier to see the things I invest time in outside of work as achievements, whether improving as a husband and dad, planting a garden or reading something interesting.
Do you think it’s important to make time for personal projects?
Olivia Howard Lee
Yes! But I’d echo what I said about achievements. For me, personal projects are a mental break from the need to achieve, and they don’t have to be design related (although they often are). I do them because they make me happy and are a form of rest.
What has been your greatest accomplishment as a designer/director so far?
Olivia Howard Lee
As a designer, I recently had the chance to pitch branding work for a large development in Orlando. We were late to the process and essentially had a couple of weeks to put together paid concepts against a few other agencies. For me it was a chance to test things I believe about communication and design, and to flex muscles that the agency doesn’t flex as often. We won the account, which opened up a ton of exciting and varied work for the agency to engage in. I’m really proud of the effort I put into my initial concepts and I’m excited to be able to actually talk about it soon!
As a director, I’m proud of my team. I’ve had the opportunity to work directly with company leadership to truly value the effort that designers at PRPL put forward not only through communication, but through compensation. It means a lot to me to give people tools to grow their career and their life outside of work.
You were promoted to creative director this year, what were some of the challenges of taking on your new role and then translating your role into the even newer experience of everyone working remote?
I think finding my voice as a director has been the biggest challenge, because I’ve been very comfortable as an independent contributor for most of my career. There are a lot of conflicting ideals you have to balance as a director.
Pushing people to do their best work while maintaining a safe-space that allows for failure.
Inspiring the team while being vulnerable and transparent.
Instituting processes while encouraging people to chart their own course.
I’ve found it incredibly rewarding to grow at this balance and to be a better advocate for my team. It’s important to me to earn trust and to actually be helpful, so I hope that is what my team is experiencing.
You’re a dad! How has fatherhood informed or changed how you approach creative work?
Yes, a very happy one! I think becoming a dad made me feel more “ready”. I realized that I can handle higher stakes and take on roles with increased responsibility and accountability.
What design process do you follow, and how do you keep the end users at the center of it?
I’ll answer in multiple parts. Process can change based on type of work, but generally at PRPL we follow a strategic and collaborative design process. We use tools that encourage transparency between our clients and internal teams (such as Figma). We take documentation seriously. We also ask questions and recognize that our assumptions are just assumptions.
Are there any strategies you use that help you stay focused when working remotely?
I don’t have a huge problem with it. But sometimes I find that if I’m drifting a bit, playing some music without lyrics helps me get in a zone.
How do you handle balancing user experience with deadlines?
Planning and team communication is key. The earlier the better. I think if you set expectations with the client early on and walk with them through your process, its easier to be up front about which things will take time/priority at certain stages of the process. Also we have a pretty robust strategy phase that we’re learning to use more intently to define the design/build schedule to account for the time we need to get feedback/iterate.
Thanks for doing this AMA Josh, it’s been a great read! What resources (tools, sites, books, networks, etc.) do you use to help stay creative and current?
Nielsen/Norman Group, Typewolf, Figmalion, Under Consideration
I subscribe to all those
I have a few design books but they are mostly inspo books
Those are some good ones ^ I’d also really recommend “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. Its real long but a good read and I found it applicable to a lot of things including how people may respond to your work
You have a diverse illustrative style, how do you decide which style to use for each piece?
I try not to think too much. I do a lot of semi-structured illustration projects, where I run with periodic themes from a list. Often I’ll feel a certain way about a theme, or an image will pop in my head in a certain style, and I’ll usually start there. I may start in one style, and then see something interesting as I’m working and discover a new offshoot of that style or a new style altogether. I guess that’s the loose goal, to create something unique that I think looks good and that I hope people enjoy.
I keep my Instagram the most updated with illustration @jhurtat if anybody is interested!
Was creative direction always a goal for you? If so, what did you work on to prepare yourself to take on that role?
I don’t think so. I’ve always wanted to grow as much as I can in my career, but I haven’t always worked at agencies so I didn’t have a specific role in mind. I just want to do a really good job at what I do.
At PRPL there were places where I really believed I could help make a difference in the company, so when given the opportunity I pitched that to leadership and worked for a period of time where I fulfilled my pitch.
I think communication was the biggest thing I had to take inventory of. I came to the realization that how you communicate your work is (at least) 50% of the battle, but what happens when you’re responsible for the teams work and not just your own? What happens when you’re in charge of framing design for the agency? Putting that accountability into perspective helped me prioritize what goals I wanted to focus on and what process improvements I could institute to help the team.
It always comes up, “Do I need to know how to code?” It would be great to have some details or perspectives around the pros, cons, whatever.
It’s a good idea, especially if you design digital products.
Having a foundation helps you understand what you are designing. You’ll be a better designer because of it, and you’ll be able to more effectively work with developers because you can generally speak the same language.
For web design, I’d recommend understanding:
Basic HTML and CSS
The difference between structure, layout and behaviors in development
How your CMS works
How can I get my portfolio to stand out amongst all the others out there?
Good typography and color.
How has the unique circumstances of 2020 affected how you approach creative?
Honestly….not that much on a personal level. It has caused the work to change on some levels. Some clients need up-to-the-minute support with Covid-specific communication needs that we couldn’t have forecasted before hand
It’s also been interesting to consider how new ideas have come from being stuck at home which has inspired us in some ways
Like running “The Tonight Show” from Jimmy Fallon’s house lol
Seeing that being done, it makes you think wow there’s so much we can do
It highlights something I really believe: Constraints are opportunities. That’s where actual problem-solving gets done, and designing or creating under constraints gives you the opportunity to do something new.
Thank you for sharing your time with us today Josh
What drives your decision making and communication style?
I think like 90% of problems are because people aren’t listening to each other. I generally want people to understand each other and move forward together - so my communication style is geared towards facilitating that reconciliation.
When working for an established brand, how often do you suggest improvements on brand guidelines. Do you volunteer suggestions, or do you wait for client to ask?
It depends on what I’m working on for them, but in most cases if see something that’s going to be a hindrance I respectfully bring it up in the early stages of discovery.
I do a deliverable that’s a combo of a Creative Brief & Moodboard where I set a lot of my initial design vision for the project. I’ll usually use that tool to make recommendations to brand changes that I think will be beneficial for a client.
For smaller clients the brands aren’t that well defined so I have a lot of flexibility and end up creating the palette and type system. For more established brands I figure out how to translate the guidelines into the project and will usually recommend things like tweaks or additions to the color palette to address accessibility concerns.
We also get a fair amount of branding specific work, where clients will pay us to audit their brand and make recommendations, or create guidelines for them to help rein in existing internal stakeholders. Those are complex but fun.
What’s your toughest interview question?
My cousin wants to be a designer. What’s the most important thing they should know?
Josh late but who’re your favorite standup comedians and why?
Steve Martin, Norm Macdonald, Dave Chappelle
Steve Martin I love because he’s such a great entertainer that he can try really experimental stuff. The joke is often him failing at the joke.
Steve Martin performs stand-up comedy for dogs on the Tonight Show
Norm Macdonald is painfully funny. Its all in his delivery. He’ll say something that is not funny but its funny because he said it. He also enjoys like making people listen to a bad joke and its hilarious to me that he enjoys it.
Norm McDonald - Moth Joke
Dave Chappelle is really deep and its just crazy to think about some of the stuff he talks about and the layers to it. Watch his opener for SNL from a week or two ago. There you go
Dave Chappelle Stand-Up Monologue - SNL
Also his interview with David Letterman on Netflix is really insightful
Also what makes a great comedian? Are there skills and knowledge from your comedy experience you pull from in your role as designer/director/leader?
Hmmm. I think who people find funny is subjective but that’s part of it. SOME people have to find you funny. I think honesty, vulnerability and storytelling are big parts of it.
Improv made me less afraid to say what I think. So I’d say that’s helped me quite a bit in design and leadership. To know that its ok to take risks based on your experience and that you can fail sometimes and still pull of what you’re trying to pull off.
Generally, what are some of the variables you think about when concepting jokes? Are there certain things to keep in mind to better engage your audience? Would you think differently about your jokes towards a small audience vs say, a Netflix special?
So generally the type of comedy I did (back when there wasn’t a pandemic) was all spontaneous so it didn’t involve any writing. I’ve actually never done standup lol but I’d like to try it one day, maybe like in an open mic.
That being said there were some factors that might be applicable in both. A lot of my stuff was character driven. My goal would be to really embody a certain character and find the humor in how they would respond to certain situations. Since improv is kind of a “team sport”, it was also useful to listen really well to the other performers and be playful with their little “mistakes” here and there. Since it’s all so spontaneous, someone can say a little thing here and there that they didn’t mean to say but if you pick up on it there’s humor in that and you can either use it for a laugh or let it drive in a new direction.
I’d say you can also definitely read the room. Usually after the first half of the show we would talk about how the audience is responding and tweak from there.
This is the end of our first AMA Event with the one and only, Joshua Hurtado of Purple, Rock, Scissors. Feel free to check his work at: