Hi, my name is Kristian Mohl, I am a designer and member of the Croatian Association of Artists of Applied Arts. I live in Croatia, where I run a small but capable design studio. I am a versatile designer with 20 years of experience in various design fields; from identity and graphic design, UI/UX design, icon and font design to digital illustration.
Throughout my career I have been part of large and small creative teams in several design studios and an advertising agency. I have worked as a Designer and an Art Director, before I decided to start my own studio. The most important lesson I learned from my journey is that simplicity is hard (to achieve) and less is more (difficult). It applies to everything, not only to design, because our human mind tends to complicate things, probably out of fear of boredom.
What is your background and how did you get into design and/or development?
Finding my path and passion was easy - as soon as I learned to hold a pen, I started to draw. I started my first job soon after finishing formal education in Applied Arts and Design, where every design had to be done manually. It was in a small design studio, where I came in touch with computer generated design and later with the Internet. Please note that internet access was rare in small companies in the late nineties in Croatia. I started out as graphic designer, designing mainly for print but when I first saw a web page, a whole new world suddenly opened, and I instantly knew where I wanted to go!
How do you describe what you do when you meet new people?
I usually say that I'm a designer, without going into details, because people either know something about design or nothing. If they want to know more, I charge by the hour. I'm joking, but there's an interesting idea :) Thanks to Apple's reinvention of the phone, design has become a bigger part of our lives, which makes it somewhat easier for me to describe what I do.
Would you give us a glance at your day? What is your workday like?
I'm a "morning person", I like to get up early and sometimes meditate and/or exercise before starting to work. Then I check up my e-mails and set my priorities for the day. Sometimes I spend the whole day in the office doing the actual work and sometimes I'm out the whole day, going from one meeting to another. I like that rhythm, because it breaks the routine. For the same reason, I like to work on a two to three different project at once. Evenings are reserved for my loved ones, my wife, kids, and friends.
Over your career, what took you the most to learn, understand or master?
I started in a paper-based design (in a time when Photoshop had much less filters :) so it was a struggle for me to develop a mindset of a web designer. Web design was (and still is) very different from print design and it took me roughly 6 months before I really began to understand the medium. Back then, web page layouts were built with tables and spacers, and comparing with today's web standards and HTML5, it was a laborious job to make a good looking, functional website.
Who or what inspires and influences your work?
I never really had role models. However, in my earlier years, works from various designers that influenced me had two things in common: simplicity and minimalism. Being a designer for a quite some time now, I can say that I've managed to find my own voice. So, now when I need an inspiration, I take a look at my past work, take a sketchbook and draw, leave my phone at my desk, and get out in nature and walk. I'm still learning to listen to my intuition, but I'm getting better by the years. Regarding my design philosophy, I can identify myself with these thoughts:
• Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. — Albert Einstein
• Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. — Leonardo da Vinci
• Weniger, aber besser. (Less, but better.) — Dieter Rams
What is one project you are most proud of and what was the most challenging and rewarding part of it?
It's hard to single out one project, it's like asking me which one of my kids I like best :) I'm joking, and I don't want to say that I'm proud of all of my projects, quite the contrary - I'm actually my own greatest critic! For example, the project is done, the client is happy and I move to the next project. After enough time has passed, I go back to see the project with fresh eyes, without emotional attachment. It gives me insight into things I could have done better, things I need to improve. This approach keeps me focused, but also humble and grounded. So, instead of singling out one project, I'd say every project is a world for itself. You can see some of my best works on my website.
How do you think your career and job will evolve over the next 5 years?
I wish I knew! It's really hard to say, because technology today is evolving and changing our world faster than ever before. I'm sure automation and artificial intelligence (AI) will greatly influence the society of tomorrow. Regarding design, we already see a lot of automation here; I'm talking about templates and design resources, like we have on Sketch App Sources, and you can already build your website with the help of the AI! I think Atomic Design methodology will really take off in the next few years, so I'm already adopting it in my workflow. Whatever the future holds for us, I have no doubt that the world will always need creatives like us.
If you could, what career advice would you offer to your younger self?
I'd say: "Believe in yourself, never fear that you're not good enough, you can do anything you set your mind to. If you wish to make a career in the interactive design, learn to code. No matter how hard you think it is, or if you think you don't have the brain for it, give it a try! We both know you'll never be a developer, but you should understand and appreciate the world where your design lives. It will give you some insights which will help you become a better designer." The only trouble with my advice to a younger self is that the absolute best time to take that advice is actually NOW :)
What are some of the design, development, and project management tools in your workflow?
Nothing fancy. I believe tools don't make an artist, and the best tool designer may have is good ol' pen'n'paper. I'm still with Adobe but not on a subscription model. From my Twitter:
Design apps on a subscription model are like public transport: you don't own them and you have to pay for a ride.— Mohl Design (@mohldesign) July 2, 2015
Also, Post-It notes, Glyphs, Brackets, InVision, E-mail, not necessarily in that order.
You recently proposed an idea for new Sketch logo. How did you come up with it? What tool did you use? What inspired you to take action and share it with the community?
I am an Adobe user but I'm definitely not a fan! They acquired and "discontinued" two great apps, which I loved: Freehand and Fireworks and since I don't like subscription models, I'm looking at new alternatives like Affinity and Sketch. Anyway, as you may know, Sketch was using two symbols concurrently: a diamond for a Sketch app and a hexagon pen for their Bohemian Coding company.
One day I saw Sketch's tweet announcing that diamond symbol alone will be used for both their company and app logo, ditching the hexagon pen symbol. I was sad to see the pen go, because it symbolizes a Bézier curve tool - a cornerstone of a vector design app, such as Sketch. Looking at pen and diamond symbols side by side, I got inspired to combine them into one symbol, and make the best of both worlds. I made few sketches on paper, used Illustrator to digitize it and decided to share it with the community and with the Sketch team.
I simply saw the opportunity to make something better. Once I saw it, I couldn't unsee it and let this opportunity pass me without even trying. I guess every designer has done something similar, and I think we should, because we exist to create, improve, invent, it's why we're here for. I think designers should show the initiative when the opportunity arises, just like we should jump the street and save a wandering hedgehog off the road. I know I would.
What advice would you offer to those starting out in the field?
Never stop learning. Learn about the field you're going into, but also learn different things, be versatile. Go wide enough, so you can narrow down. Work hard, reflect back on your work and improve. When you're starting, you're searching for your own voice, so it's ok to check out other designer's work, but not too much or too often, because it might make it hard for you to "hear" your own tiny, growing creative voice. You should read books, listen or make music, travel, walk or work out, play and save often :)
What makes you smile or enjoy life?
I enjoy spending time with my family, having a few laughs and beers with my friends, but also those a-ha moments when I'm creative. Coming up with the idea for the Sketch logo was one such moment.
Where would you travel to or what is your favorite travel destination and why?
I always wanted to visit the wilderness of Northern Canada and be part of the expedition to the North Pole... ok, reality check: I'd like to take the Trans Siberian Express to Vladivostok and visit Japan. "Why would you travel that long and by a train?", I hear you ask. Because I like adventures, because it's the longest railroad line in the world and because I believe the journey is more important than the goal. As for Japan, I like their culture, particularly Zen concepts of simplicity and their aesthetic ideals which I admire.