I’m excited to share this interview with Jesse Penico! Jesse and I have been connected on twitter for a few years, and I’ve admired his work for a while, so it was great to get the chance to talk with him about failure. Jesse has been doing some awesome work, and he has a really refreshing style that stands apart. When it came to failure, he had great stuff to share concerning young designers and confidence, so let’s get to it.
Yea, for sure!
I’m originally from Florida, but I currently live and work here in Seattle at HTC. I believe that stands for High Tech Computers (laughs). I’m a visual UX designer, at least that’s what they call me.
Yes, though I should warn you: I give a lot of backstory when I tell people things, it’s just kind
of a habit.
Ok, cool. So I grew up drawing and creating things all the time, and I also really loved legos. So when I got to high school, I took as many art courses as I could. My art teacher in high school was great, she helped us push ourselves. She wasn’t too strict, but was very constructive as how she wanted us to progress as artists. She really encouraged me to pursue art, and was probably the biggest influence on me that led to me to go to art school.
It was suggested by both my art teacher (and my grandparents, oddly enough) that I go to Ringling College of Art and Design. So I did, and I ended up majoring in Graphic Design. One of the big reasons I did that was because the school catalogue was not only well designed, but also designed by students. I was really inspired by that and immediately had goals set in my head to be a designer. I had an amazing time at Ringling, and graduated in 2009.
Right out of college I got a job at RELEVANT Magazine, which was quite an incredible experience. I had interned there for a summer in 2008, which was a big part of why I got the job. My 2 years there were both amazing and stressful. Probably the two most stressful years of my life. I learned a lot though, particularly how to work with a self-proclaimed “Creative Director” who wasn’t trained in art or design. That is probably one of the more difficult positions to be in as a designer, to have a creative director who isn’t a designer. All in all, it was a great learning experience and I learned a ton about design.
I met my wife Sarah on a trip to Seattle, and we ended up dating long distance for a year. I decided to quit my job at RELEVANT and I moved up here to Seattle without a job. After applying to HTC, I happened to get a call and ended up being offered the job right after I moved. It was crazy timing, especially since I had only been doing print and editorial design before that. To get hired as a UI designer without having much prior experience in interactive was strange to me. So that’s how I ended up here in Seattle.
Throughout college, many times I would look to fellow designers for inspiration, as well as whatever I found on the internet. A huge inspiration for me then was Invisible Creature, those guys were just killing it. They still are killing it, in fact. So there were a few studios I connected with aesthetically; such as Aesthetic Apparatus, The Small Stakes, etc. I loved their styles, their techniques, and how they were doing stuff. They were always evolving. I started taking hints from all of them, and tried to emulate some of their work to see if I could pull off similar stuff to what they were making.
As time went on, and especially now, I feel like I’ve grown enough as a designer to not have to do that as much anymore. I don’t feel the draw to find a certain studio and do what they do, I’m getting to a stage where I’m finding my own style and feel for design. I think it’s a cool place to be, and it can only get better from here. I’ll never get to a point where I think “I’m at the pinnacle of design”. I don’t even think designers like Stefan Sagmeister or Michael Beirut even think that—or at least shouldn’t (laughs).
So I’m currently doing UI design, which I’ve only been doing for a little over a year. It’s interesting to me, since the mobile space is so relatively young, and it’s evolving constantly. The iPhone created this massive industry for designers and developers, and I just happened to get thrown into that 5 years later. Even now, as fast as it’s evolving, it’s still young. Who really knows where it will be in 2-3 years? It’s pretty insane.
For inspiration, particularly with UI design, I find myself looking at a lot of iOS instances. I definitely use dribbble and Behance. I’ve been a user of Behance for years, there’s a lot of great stuff on there. I feel as if the past several months I haven’t been looking for that much inspiration, but that’s because I’ve been in more of the production stage here at HTC.
I think right now I see it as a semi-long term thing. Coming out of college and working at RELEVANT for a few years, I had a dream of starting my own design studio. Justin Mezzell and I would always talk about how we were going to start one someday, which would be rad. That’s always going to be in the back of my mind, wanting to start my own thing. Obviously it would be incredibly tough and there would be a lot of challenges getting something like that started.
After working here at HTC and learning about UX design and the mobile space, I’ve really grown to enjoy it. I knew nothing about it before I started, and now I’ve been able to work with and talk to so many talented designers. A lot of the people I work with have been in the industry for years, and have worked at several companies. One of the guys I worked with is now a UX lead at Hulu, which I thought was awesome. I definitely love doing print and random design on the side, so it’s cool I have the opportunity to do that as well. In fact, I highly suggest that designers with full-time jobs try their best to do side projects, time willing. It can help invigorate you as a designer and improve not only your skills, but your happiness.
Nothing in particular comes to mind here at HTC, but I’ve only been working on one project the past year. That hasn’t been a failure, thankfully (laughs).
When I worked at RELEVANT, I was definitely stretched in a lot of ways. Me and the one to two other designers that I worked with would have only about 3-4 weeks to design an entire issue, so when I was tasked to design an article I would have a very small amount of time. There were many times where I’d come up with a design and show it to my boss, and it wouldn’t be either what he wanted or what it should’ve been. I dealt with failure a lot in that area, where I just had to keep trying and trying until I got it right. It was definitely frustrating when my fellow designers and I thought that the solution I came up with was dead on, only to find out that people that were above us thought otherwise.
It’s hard to think of one specific project where it was a failure, but something did pop in my head that was more of a general struggle and failure while I was at RELEVANT.
When I came out of college, I was probably the fastest designer in my class, or at least one of the fastest. I remember a lot of friends I was in school with would spend a lot more time on their projects, but I would receive and equal or better grade. Not saying I was better than them, but there were definitely instances where that happened. I even remember being called out by a close friend for it, but we don’t need to get into that (laughs).
When I got to RELEVANT, it was such a fast-paced agency environment that within a month I got called into my boss’s office. He pretty much told me “You have a month to be as fast as the other designers you work with, or we’ll have to talk again.” So I was pretty much threatened to be fired if I didn’t start speeding up.
I remember going home and being devastated. I was terrified. I was just out of college, and didn’t have any experience at a “real job” before this, and I kind of freaked out. My boss told me that I was too slow, and that I needed to focus more and basically not be on Facebook and Twitter as much as I was. So I stopped visiting any of those sites, put my head down and made the best of my time while I was at work. I’ve always had a problem with time management, and it forced me to get better at managing my time there. Within a month or two, I had gotten to where they wanted me to be.
Through that, I gained a lot more experience with being able to quickly design things. That was a huge part of working there, it was so fast-paced I can’t quite describe it. To put it in perspective, when I got hired at HTC, everyone here was telling me during the interview process that it was a really fast-paced environment, there was so much to do and I’d be probably working late more often than not. At the time I thought “Well, I’m kind of used to that, so we’ll see how it goes”. It’s been great, and even during the tough times it hasn’t been nearly as rough as the pace at RELEVANT.
Yea, definitely. I didn’t get to the point where I felt really confident and could just bust out stuff until at least a little over a year into it. After that amount of time, I was at the point where I was confident enough in my design and had proven to my boss that I was good enough of a designer to do what he wants me to do. That was a huge part of it for me. Once he started really seeing that I had that confidence in myself, he was able to have confidence in me. It was a gradual process of just being in the “real world” and gaining more experience. It was a stressful time, but gradually I got comfortable and was able to gain confidence and it really helped my work.
If I could give any advice to anyone, it would definitely be what I kept hearing from others about me: You need to have confidence in yourself. You’re a good designer, you don’t suck like you say you do. I still kind of have that struggle, where I think I’m not a good designer, but it’s usually after I look at some experienced studio that’s been doing it for over ten years or anything by Brandon Rike, but yea.
Yea, and that’s how it was at RELEVANT initially. They were skeptical of hiring me in the first place, and they were upfront about that when they hired me. They usually never hired anyone right out of college. I had to really prove myself. I was terrified going into that, but eventually got to a good place.
Don’t give up? I don’t know (laughs). Like we were just talking about, be confident. Being confident goes a lot farther than you think it would. It shows your superiors that you can get stuff done and get through it, and they in turn are more confident in you. That becomes a positive cycle, in a way. You gain more confidence when you see they trust you, and it continues.
Try not to lose focus and hope in the project, whether or not it’s a crappy project. Just push through it, and have some endurance.
Yea. I guess my advice is pretty general, but I hope it was helpful.
Absolutely. Thanks for having me!