Brian Lovin


Hey man!

I've been really enjoying your Journal lately. It seems like a fairly clear stream of thoughts in reaction to internet articles :)

Super curious why you decided to get into writing. You've been doing it for a while, right?

well thanks man

um i've been blogging off and on for like 10 years so its just fun

but lately i've struggled to write because it seems like everyone else is writing about the same things or at least very close to the same things

so the journal is basically a way to dip my toe: instead of trying to come up with an original thought i can just piggyback and refine my thinking about what other people are writing or sharing

i mean it's daring-fireball to the T, but i still get the value of having to be critical outout what other people are putting into the world and then take the time to refine my own ideas into writing

so yeah, that's valuable

i mostly stopped sharing the journal links on twitter too, because i'm still super self conscious of it. so if people find it on my site and decide to follow that feels great, but is a side effect and not an objective

i think the community is a bit...quick to dismiss anything called a "journal" b/c it sounds a bit pretentious. i don't want it to come off that way, but i suppose it might. maybe i'm bad at naming things

Why do you say people are writing about the same things? Which things?

umm...i think it's because i'm just so sucked into this bubble that i see everything

i suppose more objectively i'd realize that not everyone in the world is reading the same things i'm reading, which might be more encouraging to share my thoughts

but...i'm in the bubble so i feel like i'm not to the point of adding much original value

also, super young into my career as a designer, so... :P

Not sure that matters, does it? Is the feeling that everyone is writing about the same things or everyone is writing about the things you want to write?

well. to be honest i think what's happened is this:

people write generally-applicable posts on medium where the conclusion is loosely "it depends"

but then it's shared as "truth" on social media

so now people, myself included, are tired of it

so as a result i'm gravitating more towards technical tutorials and implementation things, like...objective writing

and since i'm so young in my career i don't have enough experience to add to that discourse, yet

That's a shame

I'm not a fan of reducing opinions to "it depends"

It strips them of all the insight

It's one of my issues with the "should designers code" question. Everyone dismisses it because they feel inadequate to dictate what people should or shouldn't do. But that's missing the point. They dictate regardless based on their actions and hiring decisions.

yeah i mean i'm being hyperbolic

but you're right

perhaps its the framing of things, i don't quite know

i don't know, i've been having a lot of really good offline convos about should designers code

like, going really deep into the nuances of it. and i don't think that the web or twitter or my own blog is a good medium for that

Why is that?

same reason i think the podcast wouldn't work well as transcribed interviews published online

there's a lot of weight in how conversations happen in a physical space

and i do think that gets lost online a bit in a 1:many writing format

To me it all comes down to authenticity. The 1:many format inevitably leads to a "performance" that is much too transparent nowadays. So, it dilutes the message for me

I guess I find the 1:1 conversations more interesting because there's room to dig deeper into how people really feel and ultimately who they really are. That's harder to do in a 1:many situation. Inevitably people "sell" an image and that's often times very clear and thus gross

That said, I think there's room to deliver the same message regardless of the platform —in this case, talking about whether designers should code or not.

i agree

and part of "selling" that image is how damn small this community is

nobody wants to be ostracized

I've wondered for a long time your thoughts on fame. I feel like with a platform like Design Details, you encounter it all the time. I mean both for you guys and your guests.

It seems like Design Details has turned into a sort of status symbol now

so a few things up front:

1. i think people thinking design details is a status symbol is very interesting and not something we expected. i don't know if it's true or seen that way by *everyone* but if some people feel it is then...I guess that's cool? if that's the case then it feels great to focus more on bringing a diverse and more interesting set of guests onto the show to share their stories

2. some people want to be rockstar yeah. but i think more people just end up becoming one.

and from most of the "rockstars" we've had on the show it's a side effect of working a fuck ton and shipping products that solve problems for people

i think you're spot on in what you said earlier. people trying to be a rockstar are easy to see through. people trying to provide value to people and do great work just...become

sometimes people ask to come on the show for one reason or another, usually it's for marketing reasons. 99.9% of the time we'll decline or not respond – that's not to say the person isn't doing great work and doesn't have a great story to tell, but that's not what our show is

it is not a marketing platform for people

so, we invite people on the show

which opens a whole can of worms about diversity in all senses: gender, religion, race, background, discipline, work experience, age, etc

i guess that doesn't answer your question really...

do other people want to be famous? not sure i can't speak to that. some people you can sort of ... sense? and to be honest i don't think there's anything wrong with that

1. the concept of famous is so weird in our industry. if you have 50k twitter followers you're considered famous and are in the top 1% of designers in terms of *social following*. but that doesn't make you are the top 1% most skilled designer right?

2. i think it's uncool to ever say you want to be famous. so people mask it in different ways – and i think most people do this

i mean you're asking me - what do you think?

do you want to be famous?

do you want a lot of twitter followers? what does famous in our industry even mean?

I actually think fame/celebrity/stardom plays a giant role in our society. We worship celebrities now like we used to worship saints years ago. The explosion of the selfie, broadcast platforms, even Snapchat! Everything is about *you* and your perspective and gaining a following to validate it. Instead of questioning one's perspective, we want people to rally behind it as if that would give it more validity.

So yeah I definitely think it plays a big role in what we do as designers. People want recognition and find the platforms that provide it --twitter with its followers, Snapchat with its views, podcasts with its listeners.

do you want to be famous?

What's remarkable is that these are all passive participants. Followers, viewers, listeners, they are all people without opinions, they're just bodies in your army that arms you with confidence.

So I would say "no" for that very reason —I enjoy a good argument much more than fame

I guess "influence" can lead to interesting discussions because you reach more people

So at a certain level I desire influence, but I have too many problems wih authority to be comfortable considering myself one

see i think there's a mental thing that happens when your social count gets above like...100. it just becomes a number.

it's hard for humans to map 50k twitter followers to 50k people

also influence != authority

i think about that when we interview people

About what?

i guess a few things

i got feedback from geoff teehan once that we should ask tougher questions and don't let guests cop out

and i struggle hard with that because i'm so non-confrontational, to my detriment

so i just wonder what the balance is between asking hard questions and pushing for the truth vs. something closer to what the show is now, which is more storytelling and banter

i think there's room for the first kind of show on the internet. but you need an experienced host who knows how to talk the talk and push when the guest needs to be pushed

i'm too inexperienced to do that

as a designer and an interviewer

Yeah, I guess that's why I asked about "fame". The show sometimes feels like a self promoting platform and your conversations naturally land there


i can see how some episodes might feel like that

but what we've found, and what we hear time and time again from people who listen to dd is that they relate to the stories and backgrounds of the people we interview

and so that's where we gravitate

and when you get people talking about themselves and their stories, of course it's self-promoting because that's the definition :P

although i wouldn't quite classify it as...promotion

we invited them there

we asked them the questions

Why did you get into the podcast? How much did you really think about it (or did it just happen)? Has it been what your expected?

so these are definitely things we've thought about and talked about

um lets see

so first of all - i don't want to speak for bryn necessarily, but i'll try to speak as a "we" and get the gist right

we both wanted the show to be about people building cool shit

like...we just wanted to meet them, right?

essentially i give a shit, influenced heavily by bryn, about 1:many mentorship

and the podcast *can* be that

sometimes we might fall short

and that's why people tell us they like the show. they feel like they're just listening in on a conversation that would happen anyways

because it's true!

So tell me more about 1:many mentorship and how exactly does DD help you achieve that?

The way the podcast is structure it seems like a one-directional conversation between you guys + guest and the audience

So mentorship in that sense sounds to me like preaching

1:many != preaching

is what i'd argue

in the same way we don't say a blog post is preaching

some 1:many mediums *are* preaching. church, for example. literally.

but that's like the whole rectangle square thing right?

i think there can be 1:many mentorship in telling people's stories

trying to learn why people do the things they do

it's not objective

and it's not truth

it's just stories and lessons

and i think discerning listeners can tease apart the larger narrative across episodes to form their own opinions

So, why did you want to meet so many designers? What do you get out meeting them? And why did you make the leap to think "we should record this"?

haha i'm afraid there's less calculation and rationality than you'd want to hear

it sounded fun

something new to try

i like new things

bryn had the idea to record

he has an audio background so it was feasible

so ~150 designers later, what have you learned?

always use the bathroom before recording an hour-and-a-half podcast


I just realized I don't know the Nice Boy™ origin story

How did you even get into design? What drew you to it?

there was this guy Adii Pienaar, i'll never forget him

back in the day he was Adii Rockstar

kind of funny looking back

but his blog was the first blog i ever remember

It was about business, wordpress, web design mostly if i remember

and i can so clearly remember this tipping point of realizing that this random dude in south africa was sharing his thoughts with me around the world

so at the time i didn't even know what a blog was

but i was so curious and enamored with this guy Adii. He was making wordpress themes and was one of the first people to ever turn them into a serious business (woothemes)

but the cool thing is he ended up being on the angel investors in Buffer, which is the start up i ended up at

total coincidence, and i only learned that after the fact. but, small world

Did you meet him?

nope, still haven't met him

he has no idea about any of this i don't think

Crazy to think that you're someone's Adii Pienaar right now

haha i guess

so anyway i just wanted to learn and replicate, so my blog was (no longer works)

and i wrote about my learning process. eventually i wrote photoshop tutorials and random things. and listicles. oh god the listicles

i didn't get serious about websites and design until college. so that whole period was just blogging on elite by design for fun and being a high schooler

well yeah so i eventually quit elite by design because i chose to focus on my grades

that was probably dumb. but no regrets

i mean it wasn't huge. but it was getting a few hundred thousand readers every month at the time...which is kind of silly because i didn't know what i was talking about

but back then there was a totally different design culture in terms of bloggers and commenting and sharing the smallest bits of learnings as tutorials

i kind of miss it

A few hundred thousand readers every month sounds pretty huge to me!

that was when digg was big though

so i don't know if it was necessarily regular readers's not super important

that was just the entry point to everything

That's pretty wild -- my first was a poetry blog believe it or not

I think poetry is an overstatement

It was basically a journal where I tried being as abstract as possible to talk about vulnerable things

So I would talk about a break up using a fly in the windshield as a metaphor

that sounds pretty rad actually

how old were you?

Probably 16-18

But it was wild because I would get random readers (not hundreds of thunsands, more like dozens) that would comment on my posts and these were people I've never met in my life

as a young impressionable kid from Costa Rica, this was pretty mind blowing

you've been sharing some of your writing with me during the past few weeks

how is it going? what are you doing it for?

Writing is one of the few things I can do from start to finish without needing anyone, so I was using it to "release" when I felt I hadn't done something in a while

I have a bunch of drafts sitting on Medium — I'm trying to let them sulk in there for a while to see if I can find a coherent message I want to say, rather than just a stream of thoughts that may not be particularly insightful to anyone

I've been looking for side gigs recently, not because I want to learn more skills necessarily, but because I want to have a cadence of releasing things into the wild.

That's why I've been doing more speaking at conferences, writing, and now this chat blog thing

love it

i couldn't stay sane if i wasn't shipping things on the side

i guess going back to the original conversation about the journal – i get the same feeling by doing that

every weekday, one thing minimum

it's a nice pace and i like the habit going. it's been ~3 months or so of doing it and...yeah, it feels good

Yeah that's awesome. I admire anyone that can do something consistently for a long period of time like that

It's so hard to follow through with things

for me anyway

for everyone

consistency is key

ha fun story about that

when we were starting the podcast i read some stat online that said something along the lines of "most podcasts don't get past 8 episodes"

for the same reason people stop working out, stop dieting, etc: you lose momentum and don't see results fast enough

so we decided we'd record 8 episodes before releasing the first one, so we'd get over that hump

we only ended up doing 5 episodes before starting to release anything, but that was so damn important for 2 reasons:

1. we got to test and tweak the original bumpy waters of recording a podcast

2. by having frontloaded 5 episodes it gave us more than a month to record #6

3. It felt like this amazing commitment that, no matter what, we were going to publish 5. there wasn't a question of ever getting to that point because we just...did it all ahead of time. no expectations. no ideas how it would turn out.

That's super awesome. What kept you going after that? Was it an instant hit?

i honestly am not sure

i wish i'd written more about the process at the time

i remember for sure getting it on producthunt after a few episodes

and that was our first big spike (a few thousand people)

we got lucky and had a few early spikes of listeners finding the show somehow, mostly things like Product Hunt or word of mouth

and then it's been growing slowly but naturally since

p sure your breakthrough episode was #5

that was KEY for us

i can't think of a more critical episode to our success

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Brian Lovin


Brian is a product designer at Facebook and co-host of the Design Details Podcast. He also builds Spec, a community for designer and developers, and writes on his website at

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