What led you into design?
My brain has an anxiety-induced switch where if I can help or make things better, in any way, I feel like I have to. The classic interview joke about your weakness being a perfectionist is very true in my case. It can be a pro and a con as people can see you both as a mission-oriented advocate for change or just as a self-righteous dick.
I started designing websites properly, in my late teens as I volunteered to make a site at college as I felt the one that existed already wasn’t very helpful to new and current students. The plan originally was to just make some tweaks but I turned it into a bulldozer job, ripping it up and starting again. Even though the work took much longer, I felt much more satisfied that I had done a good job of it and then started getting addicted to the dopamine when others told me it was much better.
SuperHi came from the same iteration cycle. I felt like I could help people learn to code so took a freelance gig at General Assembly when they opened in London. Eventually, I felt like I could teach better without General Assembly so started my own code school in London, called Steer. This eventually felt like it wasn’t helping enough people to have an in-person school, so I launched SuperHi to let people have high-quality education from anywhere, rather than just in London.
I moved with my wife to New York in 2016, before Trump and Brexit happened, so it's been an interesting journey of trying to start a business in a brand new country without any local connections.
Even now, SuperHi is currently going through its own rip-it-up-and-start-again moment. We’re rolling out a much bigger mission to help creative people get fairly paid for sharing their skills, via SuperHi Plus, as well as the educational aspect too. I feel like we can support people that want to achieve their dream careers while also educating others at the same time. Maybe that is proof of me being an advocate for change, or being a self-righteous dick after all.
What does a typical day look like?
I need to be dangerously caffeinated to be able to function so the first thing is a bee-line to a 12-cup-sized Mr Coffee pot at around 8 am. After a bit of tickling with our two ex-rescue cats, it’s time to go to work.
The SuperHi team has always been a fully remote team, even before Covid, so it’s common for the morning to be meeting-heavy with our European team members. The biggest surprise for most people I’ve worked with is the amount of context-switching I can do, which is a habit that’s been built up over years of running companies.
My work days are always incredibly varied and changeable, to the point where I can’t even predict what work will be done by the end of the day – it can feel like firefighting or spinning plates. The only constant is that things will change.
In the past, I used to work until late into the evening, every single day. There was always work to be done, but I found that treating every day like a sprint was having an impact on both my physical and mental health, so I forced myself to stop at 6 pm every evening to do some form of exercise, usually cycling or strength training. I used to absolutely hate sports, but I’ve learned to embrace Type II fun – the concept where something is miserable while doing it but fun in retrospect.
Recently, I've also taken up ceramics – a fancy way to say making pots – so I get my hands dirty (literally) every Wednesday evening.
What's your workstation setup?
For working, I use:
- A 24" yellow iMac
- A Keychron K1 mechanical keyboard
- A Magic Mouse
- Two Elgato key lights
- An Elgato stream deck
- An Akai MIDI controller (for some top-secret projects, coming soon!)
- An Opal camera
- A GridPlus Lattice1 for our blockchain interactions
On desktop, I remove all the folders (for keeping it clean) and the main apps I use daily, beyond the standards, are:
- VS Code
On mobile, I use iOS with a lot of folders. I only have two 'pages' and the second page is full of folders organized by topic.
Where do you go to get inspired?
A few years ago, I found that I'd be more inspired by web design than any other media but more recently, I realized that I really enjoy textures so I've found that my design senses get spiked by a wide variety of media than just browsing the internet (but a big shout out to Site Inspire and Hover States for when I do need web inspiration). Give me big, bright, crunchy textures over yet another website!
I've found that a range of inspiration sources, from 3d to ceramics, has widened my design inspiration. I see it as similar to learning to cook new cuisines in that it opens the variety of ideas you can incorporate into your day-to-day.
What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?
Recently, I've been starting to learn 3D with Houdini in the evenings, just for a little bit of experimental fun, and I've been really enjoying the idea of node-based interfaces. The idea of drag-and-drop 'coding' and plumbing things together feels slightly alien to my usual flow of text-based coding but it feels like drawing with code.
What pieces of work are you most proud of?
Recently we launched SuperHi Basic Income, an experimental program that gave people $1,000 a month for six months, along with a laptop and education provided by our courses. I’ve been a big fan of the concept of universal basic income for a long time and hadn’t seen many schemes do it, especially aimed at creative people. There were no specific outcomes for the program too, so if we found all the winners did nothing with the money, that was totally cool too.
We wanted to make the whole concept as transparent as possible. I felt like people would think that is giving away $30,000 to strangers with no set outcomes would sound like a scam, so we wove in as many ‘trustless’ layers to it as possible. Crypto is a polarizing subject but it is a tool that by its very nature is transparent and public by default, so we used it to power the financial layer of SuperHi Basic Income. We could prove that all the money was there, ready to deploy, and have a full trace of us sending money each month.
We ended up receiving over 22,000 applications for just seven places which shows the need for progressive social policies like basic income. At the moment, the winners are still receiving their money but we’ve found that already it’s made a massive difference in their lives in such a short amount of time.
What design challenges do you face at your company?
There are two main things: firstly, we are a remote company with people living across many time zones so it's common for team members to not be online at the same time. We always try to make sure that everything is documented and asynchronous but as with any remote company, there can be misunderstandings or confusion.
Secondly, we have a lot of big things that we're trying to do and with a small team, it means that we have to be particular about what, and who, we help. One of the most recent changes within SuperHi is that we're trying to be more direct with helping people – in the past, we helped people by giving them skills and that would be indirectly helping them make more money, but now we're focusing a little more towards helping people directly make money with their skills. Making sure that the team are all aligned with who we're helping and how we're helping them is always a priority.
What music do you listen to whilst designing?
Any advice for ambitious designers?
Keep learning and don't be afraid to take risks.
I know that's a cliché but I've worked with designers who both stay in their comfort zone and others who try to evolve and do different things, and I've found that a willingness to change is an indicator of a successful career. Look at your favourite artists, musicians or filmmakers and you'll see that even the ones with a certain style will have little evolution over the years.
You can achieve this by exploring different design mediums and techniques (think Oblique Strategies), and seeking feedback from peers and mentors. Push yourself and be pushed by others!
When I was younger, I was a lot more guarded over showing work in progress, partly due to being a perfectionist and partly out of a fear of embarrassment, but the more I worked openly, the better the work became due to that feedback on the risks taken.
Anything you want to promote or plug?
Only a shout-out to the whole SuperHi team – we've been slowly building a fantastic little team over the last 7 years and it's always a big team effort whenever we launch anything new. You can find me on Twitter at @riklomas or drop me an email at email@example.com.