Brett Marshall is a senior UI designer at CentralSquare Technologies and has experience in creating interfaces for first responders.
Designing for public safety might not sound like the most exciting job, but that's because you haven't heard Brett Marshall describe it. As the principal designer at CentralSquare, he helps design interfaces that are used by police officers, first responders, and public administration agencies across the country.
Brett and I talked about the unique challenges he faces with his work, and he also shared how he went from designing at ad agencies to winding up at his current role. We also discussed Brett's background, and he spoke about some his influences in the industry and what he wishes he knew when he first started as a designer. Learn more about him in this week's interview!
- Brett Marshall's Twitter
- Brett Marshall's Linkedin
- Brett Marshall on Medium
- Brett Marshall on Dribbble
June 14 at The Greene Space — doors open at 7:00pm!
Revision Path is a Glitch Media Network podcast, and is produced by Deanna Testa and edited by Brittani Brown.
Maurice: All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.
Brett: I am Brett Marshall. I'm a principle designer at Central Square living in San Diego.
Maurice: Talk to me a little bit about the work that you're doing at Central Square.
Brett: You know it's really interesting. Central Square is a public safety company and a public administration company so what that means, essentially, is that they work with municipalities and cities to provide solutions for the public admin side. You know things like bill pay, that's the one I always get to. I don't work on the public admin side. So that's one of the ones I know. Like city inspections, that sort of thing for government employees. They use that software.
Brett: I work mostly on the public safety side which is generally more exciting. We're working with first responders so police officers, firefighters, EMTs, dispatchers. You know the people that answer the phone when you call 9-1-1. So it's been a really interesting transition from working in an agency environment to then working on things that are long-term products that have been around for a long time and have literally life or death consequences based on the design decisions that you've made.
Maurice: Yeah. I mean when I think about government software, I did not think of good design. Like those two things just don't tend to mesh well. I'll give you an example. So this was maybe about, oh my God, this might have been 10 ... Yeah, this was 10 years ago. Wow, time flies. So this was 10 years ago. I was working on a mayoral campaign and the candidate that I was working with, she had this idea to do something that was called Accountability Atlanta. And the reason she wanted to do that is because she wanted to have a well-designed interface for people to interact with city government services. So whether it was trash pickup, reporting an outage for something. You know the things that people would normally reach out to city government for. Because what happened was, I think folks would find that the initial way to do so was confusing, it wasn't well designed, it didn't make sense. And so she wanted to have a more well-designed, sort of modern interface to make all this work.
Maurice: Long story short, she didn't win so I don't think this was ever implemented. But that always sort of got me to thinking about how it is that ... I don't know. Design just doesn't seem to fall into the realm of city municipality software like that. It always seems to be such a ... It seems to be more of the domain of engineers than of designers.
Brett: No, that's pretty much spot on. It's interesting within this industry, I mentioned early on that you're making life or death sort of design decisions. And that's true. But if you take a look at the sort of space for public safety or just city websites and applications in general, the bar is extremely low. You can really just slap on a new coat of paint and people would be happy.
Brett: Now that's not what we do. We're going in and fixing all the workflows and making things easier, more easily identifiable in addition to making things look a lot better. I think the biggest thing is, there's always a lot of constraints and sort of gotchas within working in this industry and public safety and public administration where nothing's 100% straightforward and clean. There's always, "But did you think about this?" Sort of statements with most decisions. And it can be really easy to say, "Fine, like whatever. Let's just go with this." And you're not quite satisfied with it and it doesn't perform the way you'd like or it doesn't look as clean as you'd want. And it's just a lot of companies out there just based on the output, sort of leave it at that. They'll get halfway there and they'll give you a C- effort, assuming that they have actual designers there.
Brett: But for the most part, you're right. They don't have any designers. When I first joined Central Square, I was one of the first designer hires there. My director had come on about three to five months earlier. So this is a pretty new endeavor for the industry in general. Just kind of looking at the competition. There's not very many companies out there that actually have designers. So winning by default kind of right now. But a lot of our stuff hasn't been super released yet. We've shown it at a couple of conferences. It's been really well-received. In general, we kind of say that our client base is resistant to change and that's sort of been the mantra up until design came into the organization. And after we've shown it at a couple of conferences, done a bunch of usability tests, that's not really what people tend to believe anymore. At least once design is involved. Because it's really just, "Have you considered all of the constraints? Have you talked to enough users to believe that your solution is actually what's going to work for them?" And that's what we've done so far. So we've kind of changed that narrative from, "Well we can't change anything because they'll hate it" to, "Well we've sort of went off and found all the situations that can occur and we've accounted for those and users are really happy." So that's what we've kind of transitioned to.
Maurice: What are some of those constraints?
Brett: Yeah, so let me see. I'll talk about a police officer scenario. So one of the things that we have to think about is officer safety, right? So one thing that probably seems pretty straightforward is I get a message from someone or something changes on an incident, you'd expect a notification to come in. "Hey, this thing has changed. Hey, you got a message from this other person." One of the things that separates us a little bit is, we don't know if the person's actually looking at the screen and this could be really important. We don't know if that person is even in the vehicle. So how do we ensure that that is read but also not clutter up the screen?
Brett: So those are some of the constraints that we have to think about. Ultimately, we ended up saying, "Okay, well we can make a reasonable assumption that if someone interacts with the screen, they've seen the notification that is pretty front and center on the screen. So we're going to show all of those notifications that come in until you interact with the screen and some capacity." So if there's a tab that's closed and there's something that's updated inside of it, we show an indicator on that. Once they open that and it's actually within view, then that indicator would go away. It would read as kind of, "Hey, this is already read." And then you can kind of move on from there. So that's just like a really quick example of things that you would think are really straightforward, things that you could probably get in UI kit but then in practice, it doesn't really work out the way that you would think.
Maurice: So it sounds like some of those specific design needs aren't always necessarily visual. Would that be correct?
Brett: Yeah, yeah, definitely. A lot of the things that we have to do we have to think about options that are going to be turned on and off by the administrators that set up the software for the customers. So all of these different agencies have different ... I mean they have pretty much the same needs. They like to organize things a little bit differently or their city structure is a little bit different so they want to see ... I want to see these five locations and I want these to be in these different colors so my dispatchers can say, "Oh, I can take a look at it and in a really quick glance and I can say, "Oh this is in Nit City in San Diego. Oh this is in Coronado in San Diego." Things like that.
Maurice: That's really interesting how ... I mean of course that was an organizational aspect. I wonder how much though that would differ from ... Like we give a police officer as an example. What about say for emergency 9-1-1 operators or for firefighters. Do you find that it's kind of the same type of thing?
Brett: Yeah. It's really interesting. One of the biggest differences and one of the bigger challenges that we've had is we're working on, at least in the public safety side, there's around nine applications that are active and being used by customers out in the wild. And one of the initiatives early on was how do we unify these? How do we make it easier? So those sort of natural regions. Like oh, we should create a design system, right? So one of the bigger things to worry about in that scenario is how do we create a design system for a dispatcher like you mentioned and a police officer of the vehicle. Which maybe that doesn't sound like that big of a deal, but when you consider the sort of inputs and if you've ever been inside of a dispatch center which probably isn't super relatable to many people. Not many people are probably going in a dispatch center. But essentially, you'll sit there and they'll have a headset on and each setup is a little bit different. So the sort of conventional setup will be, you'll go in there, you'll sit down with a dispatcher, they'll have the headset on, they'll have anywhere from four to eight monitors in front of them. And depending on how they have it set up, you may have multiple keyboards and multiple mice. And it's -
Maurice: Oh wow.
Brett: Yeah. It's usually a pretty low-lit room and they want to use the keyboard as much as possible. They don't want to scroll, they don't want to touch the mouse because they're really efficient. And that doesn't work for everybody, also. Like there may be ... I've been to sites where they're using the mouse half the time and I've been to sites where they're using the mouse like 5% of the time. So you take that sort of input, the sort of environment that's there and then you juxtapose that to a firefighter who is inside of a firetruck, is using a touch device, most likely. It's sort of bouncing around because the vehicle's moving and you're at a little bit farther distance. And it could be really bright outside or really, really low-lit at midnight or something like that.
Brett: So trying to find the balance of how we support those two really extreme scenarios with the general same design language has been really challenging and actually really rewarding.
Maurice: So no picking UI kits off of Dribbble or anything like that. That's not going to work for city apps like that.
Brett: No. No, it would not. It would be one of those things where pretty early on you'd start realizing that cool, the buttons work most of the time but pretty much everything else we've got to customize a good amount. So it's been really interesting figuring that out and working with engineers on that from different code bases and trying to keep those things kind of in-sync too.
Maurice: Now because you're working with software for municipalities, how often does accessibility come into play?
Brett: Pretty often, actually. One of the main things that we need to look out for is people that could have any sort of eye condition, colorblind, that sort of thing. We need to be really sure that we don't just try to say, "Oh, well if it's a particular color that conveys a message completely." So it's, "Hey, if this thing's yellow, that could mean this is a safety type situation." But when we do that, we would also need to think about, "Well what other sort of indicator is there? Is it that this bar is only present on these types of components that would indicate, hey, this is different. This is a safety issue. Or is it adding the triangle warning icon along with it?" That sort of thing. Which is pretty straightforward. It just gets a little bit difficult because adding those sort of backup indicators can make things really cluttered which is sort of the expectation with, like you said, municipal city applications, that sort of thing.
Brett: So it's trying to find that balance of making things accessible while also not cluttering the screen which is pretty difficult. They want to see as much on the screen as possible. But they also want to be able to comprehend it, too. So it's kind of striking that balance.
Maurice: Yeah. What have you found since starting all of this has been the biggest challenge for you?
Brett: Biggest challenge, that's a good question. I would say trying to get a little bit more quantitative data around usage of buttons and sections of applications. As you could probably imagine, cities aren't super keen on allowing you to have a bunch of analytics on their software. So it's been a little bit challenging doing that. So we've had to sort of make our own data in a sense by doing benchmarking on existing applications and then gathering that data and then every time we go out for usability test we're asking general survey followup questions. How did you feel about this? Was this easy to do? How would you rate this from 1 to 10? That sort of thing. As well as recording, "Okay, we took this benchmark of this workflow on the existing software and then we did our new workflow in the new UI." And then documenting, okay it took 30% less clicks. It took 18 less seconds to accomplish the same workflow. And then aggregating that as we've done for about a year and a half now to where we have at least enough to stand on when we make a suggestion about something. But it would be really nice if we had that and we had more quantitative data so we don't have to go out every time and confirm, "Okay, this is what we thought and that's correct." You know?
Maurice: Yeah. Now you've worked at a couple of other design companies in the San Diego area. You sort of briefly mentioned that you came from agency life to Central Square. I'm curious, what was it about agency life that drew you to Central Square?
Brett: That's a good question. Yeah. So I had been in agencies for ... I don't know. I think four or five years when I first moved to San Diego and I think agencies are a really good starting place for designers. There's a lot of fast paced work. You're working on a lot of different types of work. Fairly often, you're dealing with customers and depending on the quality of the customer they could be really difficult or really demanding. So you sort of cut your teeth on those experiences and they're ... I'm glad I had them, but I'm glad I'm not having them anymore. I feel like, and every designer's different so maybe designers are like, "Oh, I want to be in an agency for 25 years" and that's their thing.
Brett: But for me, I like to solve problems and I really can't get very inspired by creating the same kind of marketing site over and over again. Where there's a hero image at the top, there's some sort of navigation. There's some sort of buy now button or do our demo now type button, a bunch of reasons why and then a contact us thing at the bottom. So once we've done that for a number of years, you sort of get tired of it. And I wanted to move more into product life a little bit more to the sort of projects that I really enjoyed the most at agencies where the projects we're able to start an application for a particular customer and kind of hang with them a little bit.
Brett: But ultimately, with most agency projects, they end and you check in on them later and it's kind of a crapshoot a little bit. You're like, "Oh yeah, I did a really good job." And then you'll check out their website six months later and it looks completely different. You feel like a little bit of what you had in there but they're using it wrong and you're just like, "Man." Little bit -
Maurice: I mean I think there's something about that design work that just ends up being ... it's too femoral. It doesn't stick around for long enough for you to really put your stamp on it.
Brett: Yeah, yeah. That's different in product life though, right? You're doing stuff to where once you do it, it's not set forever but there's enough reasoning around it. You fought enough for that solution to where it's not going to change in a few months just because someone wanted to change the color. They read an article somewhere that said, "You should put a newsletter sign up on every page that pops up." That sort of thing.
Maurice: Yeah. What else did you learn from those agency experiences?
Brett: I think that's when I ... So I'll kind of start with this. So when I first came to San Diego, I was looking for a job, obviously. And I had actually had some development background so one of the things that I was looking for, I was like, "Well I'm looking for a job so ideally it would be a designer job but it could also be an engineering job, at least for the time being. But then I'll make the switch to design."
Brett: So I ended up coming out here and getting a job as a front-end developer. It's kind of crazy actually because it was sort of a site on scene type of deal where I was still in the East Coast and they had did like a little interview process. They said, "Cool, yeah you're hired." I was like, "Wow, okay." So that was kind of surprising. I started at this company called Believer as a front-end developer there. And I did my time there. That's really when I started to dig into the UX side a little bit more. So when I joined on, it was the engineering side and the designer side with a pretty big disconnect in the middle there. That was around I think 2012. 2013. 2012, 2013, somewhere in there.
Brett: And that was first when responsive design was kicking in and I had done some responsive projects designing and developing them. And the first project that actually stuck me on was their first responsive project and it was super new to them. So I feel like the contract was, "We'll make a responsive website." And they're like, "Ah, I don't know what that means so we'll just kind of stick it in there." So I just kind of got stuck with this -
Brett: It's like I just kind of got stuck with this, and I was like, "Well, I think this is how it should work," and the designer I was working with, I think it was probably his first responsive site too, so he had some expectations that were either a little bit unrealistic, or maybe I was still a little bit green as an engineer, so I wasn't quite sure how to, handle that sort of thing. So from there I was like, "Well, there's this really big void of, why are we making these decisions?" Because a lot of it was purely superficial like, "Oh, that looks really cool. Wouldn't it be cool if ..." Those kinds of deals coming out.
Brett: So I was able to sort of adjust my role a little bit about a year into where I was still doing front end development, but I was also sort of like a UX consultant type person where I would go out, and I would run these workshops with clients, and I'd do a little bit of usability testing, either through usertesting.com, like going to the coffee shop, that sort of thing because the budget wasn't really big. You probably know this, but clients don't want to pay for UX work. If you just say ... They just want-
Maurice: Boy, do I know that, yeah.
Brett: Yeah. They just want the comp, and they would be like, "Oh, that looks really cool." They don't understand, "Well, we don't know if this is going to work, so we should probably figure it out." So my budget was always really shoestring, like, "Okay, you've got about eight hours on this project to do whatever," and it's like, "Cool." So going through that, and then once I did my time there, I was able to go to a company called Grizzly in San Diego, and learn a lot, again, as a front end engineer there. And then about a year through, make my transition fully to design. Now there were like a handful of projects. They were like, "Oh, we're kind of late on designers right now. Hey, can you handle this project?"
Brett: And I would do that, and that was one of the main reasons why I actually joined that company because I feel like I had a pretty good shot of making that transition to design at Grizzly over the company I was at previously. The company is called Believer. So the relationship between engineers and design is sort of the relationship that can kind of make or break a project or product, and sort of being able to live through both sides of that relationship, and then sometimes also thinking, "Hey this engineer is going to develop this," after I design it only to realize, "Oh that engineer actually got pulled to another project. You're going to actually have to engineer what you designed."
Brett: So sort of working that full gamut of doing engineering, doing design, doing some consultant work has really shaped my career in a way that I can generally speak to engineers pretty intelligently, and kind of speak the lingo, and sort of get that like, "Hey, this guy kind of gets it. He's not going to ask for the moon and have no idea what it's going to take to actually get there." And I think that's really helped throughout my career.
Maurice: Yeah. What is the design scene like in San Diego? I'm really interested to know about that.
Brett: Sure. I'd say there's two sides. So there's product, which is kind of stiff, not a ton of movement there at least from what I see. How else would I describe that? What is that here? I know there's Intuit out here, I think Eat Your Peas out here, there's a lot of medical and bio companies out here that have designers. Now, as far as what that design work looks like, I mean if you're working for like a bio medical company, I think you can imagine what that design typically looks like. So I'd say at least that side of San Diego is pretty kind of established, a little bit older, kind of stagnant, and then there's the agency side of it, which is probably a little bit more apparent in San Diego. They're definitely the people that get a lot of the visibility.
Brett: I have kind of a love/hate relationship with it a little bit, so at the agencies that I worked at they're like hip, they're trendy, good coffee, that sort of stuff, working downtown or around the downtown areas like those little burroughs. It was really cool. I used to go to that when I was at Grizzly. Two of the co-founders were actually the local chapter organizers for Creative Mornings, so I used to go to that. They'd be like, "Hey, come down." I think it was every Friday or one Friday of every month they would have a different thing. Are you familiar with Creative Mornings?
Maurice: Yeah, yeah. We've got them. I mean we have them here in Atlanta, but I know that they're in other cities as well.
Brett: Yeah. So we'd go to that. That was really cool. They have donuts and stuff, coffee, you have an hour or so of someone talking about their experience and whatever the topic was internationally that month. I had a good time, I met a lot of designers, so that's sort of the love part of the sort of agency vibe in San Diego. The kind of hate vibe of it is there's a particular look of what a designer looks like in San Diego, at least like a hip designer that's sort of like looking the part over being the part a little bit.
Maurice: Okay, like a hipster kind of thing?
Brett: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So there's a lot of hipsters out here, and it's cool. I like going down there and eating at a hip restaurant or whatever, but I don't know. I feel like there's a lot of emphasis put on, "Hey, do you have that sort of hipster vibe, and taste, and that sort of thing a little bit?" And I don't really fit into that. I'm just like, "Well I just want to do really good design," and sometimes it's, "Oh well do you kind of look the part?" So that's a little bit frustrating a little bit, but that's definitely not the case in the product world in San Diego.
Maurice: But I mean in terms of community, do you feel like there's a community there? I mean aside from Creative Mornings that you mentioned where you hear from other designers, you feel like you get to collaborate with other designers. Does that exist there?
Brett: Yeah. Yeah, I think that's probably more in the agency world again. I'm actually going to a meetup this Wednesday. It's like a design systems panel, and I think it's in La Jolla, which is like a super expensive community on the coast. It's crazy out there. But yeah. I mean there's a decent community. What is there? There's SDX, which is an organization out here where they have monthly events. They have a kind of a Continater Active day, which I think is actually next week that they put on. I've gone to that a couple of times, which is really good. They'll attract some speakers from around the country. I know a couple of designers came. I don't know if you know Taj Reed. He used to work at Microsoft. I know he spoke there a couple of years ago, collaborated with Grizzly a little bit on a couple of projects.
Brett: There's a couple of other meetups that are out there. San Diego Speak Easy is one. There's one meetup that I go to definitely yearly for them when Jared Spool comes into town. He'll have a conference that he puts on, and he'll give a talk sort of as a lead up to it, so you can go to that and check that out every year. So it is a pretty good community. If you go downtown you could probably spot a designer anywhere in any direction you look. So I don't think anyone is mistaking it for like San Francisco or anything, but there's a lot of designers out here, I'd say primarily in the agency world though.
Maurice: Okay. So you moved out to California for work, but let's talk about where you grew up. I really want to know kind of where you got this spark for design. Can you talk to me a little bit about that?
Brett: Yeah. Well actually I moved out to San Diego because of my wife is from San Diego, and she moved to-
Maurice: Oh okay.
Brett: Yeah. So I was finishing up college and she was in San Diego. She moved to Delaware where I'm from for a few years once I finished my bachelors degree, and then we moved out to San Diego. That was kind of the deal. She was like, "Hey, as soon as you graduate, we're moving back to San Diego." I was like, "Okay. Sounds good to me." So yeah, and that's when the job came in. Well we're moving with or without this job, so I was able to secure that. But spark for design. Yeah, I don't know if this is a typical story, but when I was young I liked to draw a lot. You remember those Disney cassette, like the really big plastic ones where you'd see like Aladdin?
Brett: Yeah, yeah. So I would draw the backs of those, I would draw like 101 Dalmatians, Aladdin, that sort of stuff. So I'd draw that and I'd be into that for hours. I used to have this friend, we were really into wrestling back in the day probably from like five to 10, five to 12, something like that. Super into it. We'd pool our money together and buy the little Pay-Per-View, and watch it and stuff, and he would come over and we would always make a wrestling magazine every week. So he wasn't super good at drawing, so he would come up with the storyline, and I would draw the wrestlers, and we'd play matches on N64 and stuff, and talk about it. It was really deep level wrestling nerd stuff, but I loved it and he loved it too.
Brett: So the first sort of entry point was like, "Oh I really like to draw." And as I got a little bit older, the high school I went to was called Polytech. They're a vocational school, so one of the programs that they had was called visual communications, and at that point I kind of figured out, I was like, "Well, if I want to do something with art, and I want to be able to make a living, visual communications kind of seems like the thing to do." I'll still be able to do stuff that's creative and stuff that I'm passionate about, but also be able to move out of my mom's house at some point, right?
Brett: So that's when I first got started with that. High school. What are you like, 14 or something? And getting into that class and picking that particular vocation at that school really taught me a lot. I was pretty advance once I got into college, I had already learned how to use Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, pretty much the Adobe Suite, and had a lot of time to kind of experiment, and we had deadlines, and we had projects and that sort of stuff, like all the basic stuff that you'd get in college I had already done about three and a half years of, and I was really prepared when I walked into college to be able to sort of say, "Oh yeah, yeah I've done that. Cool. Yeah I know how to use this." Where they were going over like, "Here's Photoshop. Open this book and create this thing." So that's actually really prepared me for college and the early part of my career.
Maurice: Nice. After high school you kind of had this knowledge going into it. What was the plan then?
Brett: I didn't have much of a plan actually. I took a year off. My mom, bless her heart, she has a vague idea of what I do. She doesn't really know, but she worked for the State of Delaware at the time, and she saw a job posting open up, and she was like, "Oh there's this spot in the DMV, and you can work in the sign shop, and you can design signs or something." And I was like, "Okay, I'm 18. I'm working at ..." Where was I working at the time? Like a Walgreens or something like that. Like, "Okay, I'll try that out." So I get in there, do the interview, I get the job, I'm like, "Cool. Where do I start?" I see them working, and I talk to the guys, and I look at it and it's pretty cool.
Brett: They're using Illustrator and stuff to make, and I'm talking like street signs, and maybe it's the occasional new park type sign where you get to do kind of cool-ish stuff. For the most part, it's stop signs and stuff. So I'm like, "Okay." And people are sitting at computers, and they've got the vinyl cutter over there, and they're saying, "Okay, start cutting." It's not print, but I forget what the actual term of it is. They'll start cutting out the letters and stuff, and then the next phase is taking that vinyl and laying out on the metal and all that, and I thought that was I was going to be doing. I was like, "Okay, this is all right until I figure out what I want to do."
Brett: I was wrong. I wasn't doing that. I was cutting the metal that they were going to be putting the vinyl and stuff on, and so I was like, "Wow, this is not what I expected." It's kind of cool though. I got to learn how oh use one of those super big hydraulic sheet cutting machines, and how to brush metal and stuff.
Maurice: Oh nice.
Brett: So that was kind of cool. It was an interesting experience being able to do that stuff, learning from people that were there, that was kind of cool. That's kind of what happened directly out of high school. And then I actually got a job at a print, like a mom-and-pop print company. Man I feel like I'm dating myself. Like who works at a print company now?
Maurice: You'd be surprised. There's still a lot of print out there.
Brett: Right, yeah. I mean it's a pretty small company. It's a super small company, but no it was cool. They allowed me to have pretty flexible hours to get my degree, and it was a really crazy environment. I think that prepared me a lot too. Your day was super unpredictable because people just walk in, and my job was as I guess a graphic designer there. So people would come in with anything. They'd say, "Oh I need to get this church bulletin design, and print it by Friday," or something. So you'd have those sorts of people walk in. If you weren't busy and everyone else was busy, maybe someone would come in and be like, "Oh I need 1000 flyers," or something. There's this one guy, this DJ that would come in all the time. What's his name? DJ Swerve.
Brett: DJ Swerve. He would come in.
Maurice: Now that would be dating, if anything with DJ Swerve.
Brett: Oh yeah. That isn't even the most dating thing about that guy. He would always be like, "Make sure it says growing sexy on it." And I'd be like, "Okay man."
Maurice: Oh no. Oh no.
Brett: Yeah. It's like, "All right. Come on down to DJ Swerve. Keep it growing sexy." He would say stuff like that, and I'm like, "Okay. Okay bro."
Brett: Yeah. So I could be doing that, but like, "Oh let me get that on canary," or something. Like, "Okay." So you'd be doing that or another scenario where you're not busy and everybody else is busy, someone would come in and be like, "Oh I need to ship this to Beijing," or something. So sort of working all those angles, and juggling that stuff as someone that's like ... I guess I was probably 19 at the time. It taught me a lot. It taught me about sort of keeping your cool, and being sort of levelheaded, and being able to sort of adapt to a lot of different situations.
Brett: It goes kind of crazy in there. And then actually it's like, "Okay, leaving at 5:00." And then driving up to the university that I went to, and then be in class for a few hours, and then getting home at like 10:00 or 11:00. So it would be kind of brutal to try to do that now, but in the moment it just felt like what I needed to do. After you get in that routine a little bit, you're not really thinking about how crazy long your day is. You're just like, "Well, this is what it is."
Maurice: So who are some of your influences? Who or what I should say are some of your influences now as a designer?
Brett: Now as a designer. Let me see. I'm going to come back to that one. I can tell you who was influencing when I first kind of started. I feel like everyone kind of creates these lists or maybe they don't. At least I sort of created a list of people that I kind of followed a little bit early on, and I still follow now a little bit. Early on it was kind of engineer based because I was still a little bit green there, and I was like, "Oh man, I want to learn how to do this stuff." And in the east coast at that time, the thought was if you wanted to design, you're going to actually going to need to know how to code it at the same time. I was wrong, but it was a good experience. So one of the people that I followed a lot back in the day was Chris Coyier that runs CSS Tricks.
Brett: So I learned a lot, like a ton of my CSS from that guy. I used to listen to the Shop Talk Show. That was a podcast that they had. I'd listen to that a lot with a guy named Chris Coyier and Dave Rupert. And then one of the designers that I was following then and following now a little bit is Dan Mob. I think he lives in Philadelphia. I think it's in that Philly area. He used to work at some agency that was pretty popular. I think like Jason San Maria came out of there, Jenn Lucas came out of there. She's a front end developer. So I used to follow him quite a bit. I think he runs his own agency now called Super Friendly. I saw him in San Diego a couple of years ago. He gave a talk, so that was cool.
Brett: Man, I need to get a better list of designers. I'm not going to check my Twitter right now. I have a bunch of them. Let me see. Yeah. I can't think of too many. I know Dan Mob, Chris Coyier, Dave Rupert, those last two dudes are engineers. I know I follow a couple of people from Facebook with Julie Zoe I think. Something like that. She's like a manager at Facebook, so I follow her a little bit. I think it's a pretty mixed bag now of designers, design managers, front end developers. Since that's kind of my mixture of a background, it's kind of the people that I tend to follow.
Maurice: Okay. So what are you most excited about at the moment when you look at your work, you look at your career? Is there anything in particular that you're super excited about right now?
Brett: Yeah. So recently I actually got a promotion, so I'm moving into a principal designer role. So that's going to allow me to take a step back a little bit in the thick of products, so I'm going to be able to take a step back and kind of focus on some of the design systems work that I've been spearheading as well as work with the labs team that we have. So we're going to be doing a little bit more feature facing, innovative type things with machine learning, that sort of thing. So that should be really interesting to get into. That's one of the main things right now. Also, I think I'm going to be getting into a little bit more mobile design coming up here soon. So I've got a little bit of experience with that, but not as much as I'd like. So taking the design system and making sure that things are going to work on more of a
Brett: ... and making sure that things are going to work more of a mobile experience. I mean things that I would have scaled down and that sort of thing now. Recently, I just tried to start based on the design system that we've created. Things are a little bit out of proportion. They're not fitting in as you'd expect as part of a mobile experience, so making those adjustments is the next wave of the design system we've created. So I'm pretty excited about that.
Maurice: Do you have a dream project or anything that you'd love to do? Doesn't necessarily have to be work related but just in general is there any kind of project you'd love to work on?
Brett: Yeah. I've toyed around with this a little bit. I guess I don't have a reason for why I haven't done it outside of me generally being a procrastinator and probably lazy. Any time Black History Month comes up, I love going on Twitter. I forget who does it. I think it's some author out there. [inaudible] retweet him or like him or something or I'll see them. But they'll do a spotlight on a particular African-American person and will talk about ... oh, this was the first African-American engineer or not engineer but a surgeon and they actually created the first ... or they did the first successful heart bypass surgery or something like that. I always think those things are really interesting.
Brett: I guess probably the last year or so I was like, "Man, I'd really like to create a website where ...," and not just during Black History Month, where it's like, "Hey, these are all these things that have been done by minorities that you don't even think about." You're like, "Oh, yeah ...," not the light bulb but something else. Well, maybe the light bulb. No, I'm just kidding. But they'll be focusing on particular things. I just I don't know. It's something that I think I'd like to do at some point. I've thought about just being able to spotlight minorities and the things that have been done by them, because I think those things get lost in history a little bit and I think having this being more forward facing. I think there's a couple of website out there but they're not super, well designed. I think there's a couple of things here could be really cool to add to it and make it a little bit easier to find those things. That's something that I'd like to do.
Maurice: Well, I mean there's no shortage of them. So if you wanted to do you're own, you definitely can jump in there. It's funny when you said that I was thinking of this site called Black in History. The guy who does it, his name is Alex Pierce. So we've had him on Revision Path, my god, five-ish years ago I think. We had him back awhile ago. But it was basically a Tumblr site. I think he still has it on Tumblr. So every time you go you'll see a different person of color there, different black person to put a finer point on it. So you would go and you'd maybe see Shirley Chisholm or you would see Dorothy Height or you'd see Langston Hughes or something like that. It was super, well designed. I think he's gotten definitely some design awards for it.
Maurice: But yeah, I mean look there's no shortage of those sites out there. I think definitely adding to that is only a good thing, so maybe in the future, make that happen.
Brett: Yeah. Yeah, that'd be nice. It's one of those things where it's a passion project. I just hope I don't fall into my usual set of pattern. I think it's pretty typical if you recreate your own website and you have a blog on it or something. You're like, "Man, I'm going to start blogging as soon as I make that website work where I can blog." Then you do it and then you don't actually blog on it. So as long as I don't fall into that trap, I think I'll be all right. Yeah.
Maurice: Yeah. I had to stop telling myself that I was going to do a blog. I have a Tumblr that I update every now and then, but I don't fool myself with thinking I'm going to have time. I don't have enough time really to do long form writing about things. I would love to. I just don't have the time to do it. It's actually easier for me these days to just talk about it than to write it. I get what you're saying. My current site right now is basically ... it's mostly just an information site. You can get my bio on there. I've got something on there about consulting.
Maurice: I do have one page that I update every so often and I just call it my Now page. I let people know this is what I'm working on right now. So if you contact me about anything, I'm just going to point you to my Now page and if what you're asking for doesn't match what I'm currently doing, then the answer is no because it's just really a time thing. I mean the work that I do at Glitch takes up a lot of time. The other projects I do outside of work take a lot of time. So now what I try to do is just ... How does Maxine Waters say? You try to reclaim your time when you can. That's what I'm trying to do. So I definitely understand that.
Maurice: When you look back at your career what do you wish you would have known when you got started?
Brett: That's a good question. I thought about this a little bit. In general, I go back to the thought of when I was getting my degree and thinking, "Hey, I need to get a job here at some point. I need to make ... I got to start paying these student loans back here soon. I got to figure this out. I can't work at this printing shop and afford these payments."
Brett: So when I was looking for a job ... I think it was Simply Hired or Indeed or something, I would set up a little notification and it would ... I set one up for graphic design and web design. Every day they'd send me emails. I'd get maybe three hits on a graphic design. I'd open up the email and it'd say [inaudible] three jobs in Philly, Maryland, Virginia area, because I was willing step ... move out a little bit at least at that point. So I saw that and I was like, "Okay." Then I would look at the web design one and there would be 50 new jobs a day. I'm like, "Wow. This is crazy. Okay." But like I said earlier all of them would say, "Hey, it'd be really cool if you could code these too."
Brett: So I had a bit of a misinformation at that point early on. I tell my ... at least I used to tell myself it's like, "Well, if I would have just gotten into design a little bit early instead of thinking I had to go in in the engineering realm as the only option at the time. Maybe that would have ... I probably would have advanced a little bit more." I did that for around four-ish years. But at the same time you really can't get those experiences back. I feel like it's ultimately led me to where I am now. It's a strong part of what I bring to the table as being that person that has a really deep understanding of what it takes to be an engineer. That's what I would probably used to say. As far as now, I don't know. Maybe just try to get into product a little bit earlier on because I find it significantly more interesting than agency life, probably would have tried to get in that product world a little bit earlier.
Maurice: What's next for you? Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
Brett: Man, I never know how to answer that question. I only get asked that at work. I'll be like, "I don't know. Kind of like what I do now." That's probably not the question that they're looking for. I mean the answer that they're looking for. Like I said, I'm starting a new role here soon. I really like the idea of what that's going to bring, not being as in the nitty-gritty a little bit and being able to mentor designers a little bit more like I'm doing now. Being able to level people up and see how their careers are progressing a little bit. That's something that is ... it's a little bit challenging. I think that's probably the way it goes. But I think it's a rewarding at the same time. I'd say that's next, doing a little bit more mentoring, a little bit less hands-on design work as far as the day to day and being able to work on special projects, that sort of thing.
Brett: Probably reading a lot more. Not necessarily manager books but sort of seeing where that fits in that space. In general, I think I'm probably more of the individual contributor role versus manager role in that sense. But I think anything's possible in the future. I think when you look at it and in terms of the path that you can take once you're ... I guess it goes associate designer, mid-level senior, either a principal or a lead at that point and then it's director and then past that it's ... who knows if I'll get there. But I guess at that point it's like VP or something or it's a ... I guess that's the path. I'll see if I fit in that manager, that director role at some point. I don't know.
Maurice: I mean design roles are tricky though because it varies so much based on ... The reason I'm mentioning that I mean it varies so much based on where you go. Because we just came off our annual on site and one of the ... I won't say surprising things I heard but from members on our team is that they would prefer to just be individual contributors. They don't necessarily want to go into management, but it seems like that's the role that a lot of these types of positions take. You're going from individual contributor management whereas some people just want to be strong individual contributors. That's what they like.
Brett: Yeah, yeah. I was joking with my co-worker the other day. Because it feels like if you don't go that route and if you try to stay an individual contributor ... I mean I don't see a ton of 50 year old individual contributor designers. So it's like, "Oh, man what do you do?" We always joke, "Man, we're just going to get phased out. We have to figure out something else." I was like, "Yeah, I think once I'm done with design I'll be a barber or something. I'll just completely switch it up." It's like, "Man, I don't know." I just can't see myself being like 50 and still doing this. Design is one of those things where you don't age super gracefully. And maybe I'm wrong on that. Maybe I'll be 45 and I'll be like, "No, man. I still got it. Let's keep going." But that's just one of my thoughts just thinking about man what comes next after that if I don't want to move into a manager role? For me, it's ... maybe I'll be a barber or something or cook. I don't know.
Maurice: I mean there's nothing wrong with being a barber. Everybody got to get their hair cut hopefully at some point.
Maurice: But it's interesting that you mention that. I remember seeing this thread. I think it was on Designer News about what designers after 40 do. It was amazing the range of responses. Some people want to just be individual contributors. Some want to move into management. Some feel like if you're still designing at 40 then you need to start your own business or get out of the business or something. It was really interesting seeing the range of that because it also talked about, well, what do you do for saving up for retirement, because whether you're at an agency or you're working in house somewhere sometimes that can really vary. If you freelance for a long time and you haven't built that structure up, what do you do when you're in your 40s and 50s and you're still designing because you're playing catch up in a way. It's something that I don't think is talked about enough in the industry right now.
Maurice: Certainly, I think of course a lot of the talent skews young. They want people right out of school, fresh out of school, etc. Certainly with the advent of technology that means people are able to get into this younger and younger. But it also means that people can get into it at any time, at any age and still continue to do it. You'll be in your older ages 40, 50, etc. and still being able to viably contribute work. But of course there's ageism in the industry and there's a whole number of factors. I anticipate this being a topic that will be brought up a lot more probably in the next four to five years because it's something that I think this industry right now has not really reckoned on. I mean a lot of these Silicon Valley-ish start-up companies are getting larger. They're getting older themselves.
Brett: Yeah, yeah.
Maurice: So it's a valid point of discussion I think.
Brett: Yeah, yeah. It's interesting. Bay area companies they ... At least I feel like when a start-up first is created they always have a bunch of young people in there for a couple of reason. Right? Generally you can pay them less and they don't really know their value yet. I guess that's the same as paying them less. But I remember-
Maurice: And you can work them longer too.
Maurice: Yeah, that's true.
Brett: They just feel happy to be there. They're like, "Man, they gave me free beer. Cool. I'll just stay here all night. Whatever it takes."
Maurice: Oh god.
Brett: That was my mentality when I first got to San Diego. I was like, "Cool. Yeah. I'll get it done." That's a good attitude to have but as you get older you're like, "That's not really going to work. I got bills. I got a mortgage now. I can't work until midnight or come in on a Saturday super frequently." You have to make some adjustments there. Yeah. Yeah, that's one of those questions where who knows what I'll be doing in I guess 20 years now. I don't know. I don't know.
Maurice: I mean it's something we all need to start thinking about. What does that next chapter look like? Because I know 40 and 50 year old freelancers that are still out there and it's like, "How? How are you doing it? Is this working?" I'm just curious. I know that this conversation's going to come up more. So I'm glad at least we're able to talk about it a little bit now.
Brett: Yeah. Yeah, well-
Maurice: Yeah, just to ... No. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Brett: I was just going to say with ... I think at some point there's definitely a swell of people that are getting a little bit older because you think about when design on the internet has been something that is really ... hit the ground running. I don't know what would you say like late '90s, early 2000s is when people really started making stuff on the internet?
Maurice: That sounds about right because a lot of that was trying to adapt print based design style ... I mean this was back when people were still using tables.
Brett: Tables. Yeah. Rounded cornered GIFs.
Maurice: But like [crosstalk] ... Right. Spacers.
Brett: Yeah, yeah.
Maurice: I tried to use those print based artifacts in a way in order to map that onto the web. My goodness, I remember I was working at AT&T at the time, and the big shift that we were going through was switching from table based layout to CSS layouts. I mean you could have turned the world upside down. People were so incensed about it. You definitely had a camp of people that were just going to do tables, and you had a camp that wanted to at least transition into CSS and wanted to see how it would work. Even now, I think the old style of CSS is now being deprecated in favor of preprocessors and Flexbox and the Grid which ... that was about the time I stopped doing ...
Brett: Yeah, yeah. Me too.
Maurice: I had my own studio but I was like, "Yeah, I could tap out right here. This is good." If I could find someone that could do this that's great but no. I'm good.
Maurice: Yeah, yeah.
Brett: So yeah. It's funny. I'll have some sort of greenish engineers come to me and say, "Hey, how would you do this? How would you do this in CSS?"
Brett: I would be like, "Oh, yeah, so I would do a float here and do this and do that."
Brett: "Oh, you wouldn't just use a grid."
Brett: I'm like, "I don't really know how to use that. So I don't know. I don't know what to tell you."
Brett: Or I'll be looking at code because I'll be QAing a little bit, and I'll be like, "Oh, this is what they use. This is kind of interesting." I mean I sort of know what it means but I don't know. I don't know. A lot of new stuff out there now.
Maurice: Well, Brett just to wrap things up here. Where can our audience find out more about you and about your work online?
Brett: Yeah. So speaking of redoing our website I have this website in place now. I don't think I'm ever going to change it again because it's zero maintenance. So my website is Brett-Marshall.com.
Brett: It's just a collection of links. It has my Medium link on there, LinkedIn, also my Dribbble, that sort of thing. So I haven't contributed to Dribbble in a little bit, like a year or so. So I don't know. Maybe I'll put some recreational stuff or maybe once we can actually put some of this stuff out here publicly with CentralSquare maybe I'll update that a little bit.
Maurice: Nice. Well, Brett Marshall, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I mean first off just thank you for talking about the work that you're doing around doing UI for municipalities, apps and things like that. Because I think for a designer certainly ... if anything the last few years have shown us is that design is very important as it relates to government and civic types of things, whether it's misinformation campaigns or fake news or anything like that or even voting. To be completely honest talking about voting interfaces and stuff, we're seeing that these are areas which have ... might have been neglected by design, where it's starting to fail us in some very fundamental ways. So I'm really glad that you're doing the work on this and that hopefully this will inspire others to look at doing UI work as well. But other than that, just thank you for sharing your story, for talking about your work. I really, really appreciate you coming on the show.
Brett: I appreciate it. I appreciate you for having me on.