A little more than a year ago, I received an email from Drew Davies asking me to join Oxide Design Co. It was one of life’s rare moments of absolute clarity. After chatting with Drew about Oxide and how I would fit in and meeting the rest of the team, my mind was made up. And when I received that email with a subject line that read, “Oxide offer of employment,” I didn’t even have to read the message.

Since that day, my life has gotten interesting in many ways. I checked off a handful of major personal milestones (I bought my first house and got married), I’ve worked on many exciting projects, and I’ve grown as a developer. Since I joined the Oxide team, I’ve learned countless lessons and I would like to share a few of the most important ones.

Successful design must answer this one question: Is it useful?

The subject of this question can vary greatly depending on the client or the project. What constitutes successful design for a commemorative poster for an event is wildly different than for a website. The former is a balance of beauty and admiration, and it must remind people of the event. With these goals in mind, the visual design takes the limelight. In the latter, visual design must fit around usability and utility. That doesn’t mean a website can’t be pretty — the prettiness just can’t get in the way of the usability.

We recently submitted several pieces for AIGA Nebraska’s Show. None of the projects I took a lead on were submitted for awards. I would wager that most designers would be pretty bummed that none of their work was deemed worthy of submission for awards. That thought never even crossed my mind because, well, I’m not a designer. Does that mean the projects I worked on over the past year aren’t successful? Not at all! They all answered yes to that question: Is it useful?

Small teams are capable of doing great things. 

I am drawn to efficiency. It’s probably the reason why I gravitated toward working with designers. I appreciate things that work efficiently, and designers tend to make things more efficient.

In the workplace, efficiency translates more accurately to productivity. In the past I’ve read a lot about how different management styles affect productivity. Most of what I’ve read come to a similar conclusion: Small teams tend to be very productive. Small teams trust each other, and there are fewer decision-makers to slow the process down. Before I joined Oxide, the small-team theory had only been a theory in my experience. After I joined Oxide, I got to see it firsthand. Oxide does great work because we all trust each other, and if something isn’t working out, we can make changes on the fly. This is one of the things I appreciate most about Oxide.

Alignment matters.

And so do the other basic principles of design. In the process of becoming a confident developer, you will focus pretty heavily on improving your skills as a coder. Design takes on a different meaning, mostly related to object-oriented design and system design.

When I was in school, I took some entry-level design courses, but so much of my focus and energy was devoted to the coding. Now that I’ve been around the block a few times, I can lean on my coding skills (those will always be there), and focus more on how the things I build look. It’s been those most basic principles of design that have been most useful for me.

Alignment matters.

This is the other type of alignment. One of the things that makes Oxide a truly special place is the people. I work with four very talented individuals. We all trust each other. There’s never any second-guessing of each other. This trust is the foundation of the type of clients and work we get.

Michael Bierut, who visited Oxide’s office earlier this year, famously said, “If you do good work for good clients, it will lead to other good work for other good clients. If you do bad work for bad clients, it will lead to other bad work for other bad clients.” This couldn’t be truer. I believe we get good clients because they trust us to do good work, and that trust starts in the trust we have in each other.

Slack butchers color. Adobe CC butchers productivity.

Slack is a wonderful tool for workplace collaboration. But, without fail, when someone posts some work on Slack for the rest of us to peek at, it’s accompanied by a comment to the effect of, “Jeez, the color looks horrible on Slack.”

As for Adobe CC, anyone who’s used it probably has their own horror story.

Design is everywhere.

I sure appreciate good design a whole lot more since I started working at Oxide. I seem to notice bad design much more, as well.

If there is one, singular lesson to take away from my first year at Oxide, it’s that being part of a great team is a special thing.