As real as it gets… Dustin from Relmone.com

In 1994 I was going to college for adolescent psychology. Back in high school I had started a small clothing company called Lowkey. That was the catalyst that would pull me into design, but Dustin was the one who would get me started. We met up one day and he worked up some designs for Lowkey. I couldn’t communicate what I wanted and that’s when it happened. I gave Dustin $300 for an old HP with Photoshop and Illustrator and started to design on my own. During that time Lowkey went away, but learning design and being mentored by my friend opened up a new chapter in my life. Today, I am a designer. I blame this guy.

Not a lot of people know your background in design and development before it became an occupation for you. I remember hearing you tell stories of soldering memory into your computer way back in the day. When and how did it all start?

It first started in Development I suppose. I have always been fascinated with computers and it started at a really young age (possibly around the age of 8 or so). I was accidentally exposed to an AtarI 2600 by one of my older sisters (1 of 4 sisters, mind you). We would sit for hours playing Combat…. anyway not to be long winded… after that I ran across a Tandy Radio Shack TRS-80 also known as a “TRASH-80”. So, I would goof on that piece of junk playing text based games mostly of the Dungeons & Dragons style ones and trying to “program” here and there a bit. Just hacking mostly, reading manuals and messing around. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing at the time. Hell, I was a kid with a new toy and I wanted to figure out how all this “computer” stuff worked. I was notorious at breaking down toys and rebuilding them. I loved taking things apart to figure out what was “under-the-hood”. I am rambling…

Later on an Intel 8080 entered my life finally. I begged and begged my dad to get me a computer. My dad is so old school and never really got (hell, still doesn’t get) what the big deal is/was with computers. A little background on my dad… he was some boss guy at Teletype (later bought by AT&T) at the time that managed the guys that made computer hardware parts. Every once in a while Teletype would liquidate some of their hardware at their facility and sell it at a really low rate to their employees. My dad brought home computers for us to play with and that’s how I got a hold of an IBM Intel 8080 machine. This was the second 8-bit microprocessor that Intel had ever made. I remember that he had brought home one of the first touchscreen (if not the first) computer PC that was a phone. It was a huge computer with a touchscreen that was about 15” and that was nothing more than a digital rolodex. Circa 1985 or so.

You initially wrote more code than designed. When did you make the transition of merging your coding skills into design? What influenced you the most at that transition?

Even though I loved computers and hacked around on them for a really long time I still didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do when I got out of high school. I think I thought of computers as just a hobby and not something that I could make a living from. So, I went straight to college for a bit to get some basic classes out of the way while I was contemplating my BS Major. While I was at the university I heard about this thing called a BBS or a Bulletin Board System. I guess that was my first real entry to the “so-called” internet before the internet was called the internet. On the BBS’s I would goof off on checking out “warez” playing Trade Wars and chatting with other people. Later on I got really interested in this thing called AOL 1.0 and thus my somewhat real entry into the more real internet but not really. Here again I goofed on AOL for a bit started to get interested in web pages since everything started to get more graphical and not so much text based anymore. I started to learn HTML. Once I got HTML down pat I realized that the web pages could be a lot more “prettier” and started to create my own graphics. They were complete crap.

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Dustin Williams from RelmOne.com

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Later on I had an epiphany that I should study computers as my Bachelor Studies so I went into the Computer Science program at the university. I did the whole college thing for a while but me being a non-conformist really hated what I had to learn as opposed to what I wanted to learn. I flunked out in a lot of classes… a lot! Playing a $&*t load of video games attributed to that too (street fighter, mortal combat, the list goes on). I started to feel guilty that I was spending my parent’s money and decided to finally drop out. At the time I had landed a paying gig at the university writing and designing websites to promote economic advancement within communities and cities. One of my new media professors got me the job and thus launching my career as a web designer/developer.

You have worked in a number of areas of design in regards to interior design, print, apparel, and web. What do you favor most in design? What do you favor least?

While I was in my early stages of college I worked for an interior design group. I saw an ad in the paper where someone needed someone to move furniture and I needed a job. While working for the interior designers I somewhat realized I had an eye for design and often times I would help design a little while I would move furniture for the designers. I worked there for 3 years and learned a lot inadvertently about interior design. I really loved it.

I hate print! Well, not really… I love textile and apparel design and printing. I co-owned an apparel line with Chris Spann from www.dickiejones33.com where we did all of the designing and printing in-house. Those were great times and we learned a ton about business development as well as creating our own $&*t, printing our own $&*t, shipping out our own $&*t, “repping” our own $&*t… etc. That clothing line taught us a lot and it was a self-sufficient business that sent us all over the country to promote and we ended up selling worldwide: USA, Spain, Portugal, New Zealand, Australia, and the UK.

In 2001 you and I became business partners in Sire Industries. I was screen printing by then and you were getting deeper involved with the web. What was the experience like for you? What lessons did you learn from the experience?

Sire Industries was one of the best things that has ever happened to me in my life. We became a lot closer as friends, we were doing some rad creative things and we traveled all over the states doing something we were really passionate about. Chris taught me how to screen print… which was really awesome. Learning how to do something a bit more traditional, such as screen printing, really opened up another creative channel for me and it was something that I could apply to other aspects of design.

One good lesson that we learned was that it’s not always about the “business” or making a ton of money. It was a lot of hard work but the experiences that we had were priceless.

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Dustin Williams from RelmOne.com
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You never finished college, but have more experience and knowledge than most graduates. Why is that?

I think a lot of it is passion and the belief that I can do whatever the hell I want to do. Passion goes a long way for the most part. It also gets in the way of things too. Sometimes I can get way too emotional and bent out of shape over design related issues. I have a tendency to argue a bit too much when it comes to design related things such as UI or UX design.

I also have that desire to continue to learn new things, keep up with the new trends and keep up with ever changing technology.

You have a lot of passion for what you do. What is your advice on up and coming designers?

My advice is to question everything. Just because someone is a career professional doesn’t necessarily mean that they are right or even wrong. I think it’s ok to question these people and even the way they do things. Don’t be afraid to be wrong. One of my favorite quotes: “if you are not prepared to be wrong then you’ll never come up with anything original. “ I think that pretty much sums it up.

A few years ago our focuses went different directions. As I got more into design, illustration and typography you became deeply involved into web, UI and UX design. What was your main influence for going that direction and how have you utilized you’re skills in that area of design/development?

I think I have always been a “user experience” and “interaction” designer while I have been doing any kind of design work. Just recently people have been putting a lot more emphasis on making more sense to a design. Especially on user interfaces. Nowadays it’s super important to have a great user experience in an interface. More focus have been put in this area to make a website or app easy to use, easy to find what you want, or to even to spend less time on the website or in the app, etc. I try to position myself as a person knows what’s going on with technology today and I think that has always made me shift my direction in subtle ways. The most important reason for the shift is my desire to keep learning. I think if you have that desire for learning new, cool things then you will always have a shift if what you do.

In 2008 you moved to Seattle and went to work for Teague and then Microsoft. What was the experience like and what things have you taken with you from those jobs?

This is a super important question that I need to answer for everyone out there that has any ambition to be good at what they do. So, working at Microsoft was huge for me in terms of hitting a personal pinnacle in my career. Hell maybe anyone’s career but I really don’t think like that though. I was recruited by TEAGUE to go to Seattle and work for them… (I will come back to the Microsoft gig in a bit.)

If you don’t know who TEAGUE is let me just say that it’s one of the oldest Design Firms around (about 80 years old). I went to work for them as an interaction designer and it was a great experience for me. While I was there I worked on some really rad projects and a lot of them for Microsoft (Zune and MS Mobile mostly). I worked with some really smart people there that were Industrial Designers and other Interaction Designers. Now, if you know me… then you would know that I love to surround myself with way smarter people than myself and TEAGUE was definitely one of those places.

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I learned a lot about the process of Industrial Designers and I was introduced to a lot of super talented people. I even rubbed shoulders with designers that I had always looked up to.

Being in Seattle there were opportunities left and right for what I do and I equate that to a kid in a candy store. So, I started to bounce around on gigs and jobs for a little bit and finally I was recruited by Microsoft to work on a super-secret project called “PINK”. I had no idea WTF the project (they wouldn’t even tell me) was about but it really peaked my interest and there was a lot of “hub bub” on the internet about this project that Microsoft was working on (search Engadget and Gizmodo posts on “MS PINK”). At the time I had a couple of more opportunities to work for Xbox and ZUNE, but I decided to work on the “PINK” project. – let me just state for the record that while moving to Seattle I had absolutely no desire to work for the Corp Giant. None! – BUT this turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences of my design career. Again, I worked with amazingly talented people and worked on a really kick ass project as well. I was one of the early designers to the project and a lot of what I did went into the final project. Sadly, after that product shipped it was killed about 3 months later. That project was the Microsoft KIN mobile device. The cool thing is that most of the design work and the design methodology went into the new Windows Phone 7 project that we see today.

I will say one last thing about this… working for Microsoft was not any different that working for anyone else. If anything, it made me realize that I just want to design and design exciting things…. things that are exciting to me.

After a few years you moved back home from Seattle. What was it like coming back to a much less affluent job market from what you had just experienced, with an even smaller community of designers/developers?

So, the wife and I decided to move back to Arkansas. It was a really tough decision since I was leaving the mecca of design, cool projects and talented people. And…. my wife’s career was really hot at the time as well. She was working for Dale Chihuly as his Print Coordinator.

Here is the quick rundown on us coming back. My mom was not doing well at all. She had gone into remission after having cancer before we left and then she got really sick again. I got scared and wanted to come back home. At the same time we found out that we were having our first child and we always wanted to come back to Arkansas to have a family. In about 2-3 days we made the decision that life was too short and for us to go back “home”.

Deep down I was sad as hell that we had to leave our careers in Seattle, but at the same time the reality was that we needed to be home and that we could do anything from anywhere if we really wanted to. The lesson that I learned was that it doesn’t matter what you do, who you are, what you want to be… It’s about living simple and doing what you love from wherever. You are the only person that can make anything happen and you are the only person you can be mad at if things don’t go your way… period.

You have always been very motivated and self-starting? Tell us about your current endeavors and future goals.

Lately I have teamed up with a friend of mine to develop a few web apps and websites… I am always looking to do something new and if I can use my skills to do it, then I will more than likely be all about it. Those projects are nice to escape from other things that I am working on and they are usually things that really excite me. I always have something going on … I am a busy body and can’t sit still. That drives my wife crazy.

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Dustin Williams from RelmOne.com
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In regards to having a lucrative career, doing what you love, what skill sets have worked well for you in helping you move forward? Tell us about social engineering.

My best skill set is being real and honest with the people that have interviewed with or worked with and mostly, being honest with myself.

I can’t neither confirm nor deny that I know anything about social engineering.

You have free-lanced for a number of years. What things have you learned along the way that have helped you the most in working with clients?

The only advice I have to give is to be honest about expectations. Yours and the clients. Also, get the money talk out of the way as soon as possible. Trust me that will go a long way.

If the project is something that:
doesn’t interest you … doesn’t pay well … doesn’t fit your skillset … has a jerk for a client …
DON’T DO IT!

With experience all over the place in design and development. What advice would you give to those trying to come up and get noticed?

Don’t worry about getting noticed. If you want to be celebrity go into the entertainment business or something other than design. Focus on doing what you love and do it with passion. I have gotten recognized because of the work I have done and I really believe it has been because of the passion that I put into my work. Become involved in the design community and become involved in those areas that excite you.

Focus on you but not at the expense of others.

Network and surround yourself with people that are way smarter than you and keep your ears and your mind open. Question everything.

You and your wife just designed a new house. The house is very unique and stands out. What was that experience like in terms of design?

Let me first state that “designing and building a home is a bitch”. It’s definitely not for the light hearted and for people that don’t want to put in the effort or work. Other than that it was an awesome joy to see something that me and my wife designed in that large of scale.

It was a whole different world designing it though. Especially designing things to real life, physical scale. We learned a lot and sometimes the hard way. Our goal was to build something totally different and something that we could call our own. We were definitely inspired by a lot of things. Some of our inspiration came from living in Seattle and we wanted to bring some of the architecture we liked there into our home. We designed the interior of the house to be open and loft style. It’s very industrial on the inside with exposed heating and air ducts very much like a loft that we lived in while in Seattle. Other aspects also include some eco-friendly things such as the materials that we used and the efficiency of our appliances. The more we went down the path of being eco-friendly we found that a lot of it is bullshit or the cost was just stupid. What’s really sad that to be eco-friendly means that you need a lot of money to do it.

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Dustin Williams from RelmOne.com
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I think that’s the BS factor of trying to do something earth friendly. We also had a hard time with financing the house. That’s something else that opened my eyes about how our financial institutions look upon design. Since our home was so un-ordinary the banks didn’t want to invest in us. It really pissed me off but we got it all figured out in the end.

My dad helped us out a lot and I learned that I got a lot of really good traits from him. He’s a no BS kind of guy like me and he will get it done or figure out how to get it done.

What do you do in your spare time when not behind a computer? Hobbies, interests, etc.

I love to ride… BMX, Mountain Biking, Road Biking and I love to run. I really love photography but only from an artistic or environmental aspect.

I really love any aspect of automobiles (design, engineering, etc.). I can rattle off some odd fact about a car, tell you what make and model a particular auto is and give you the specs on an auto too.

Let’s say I want to do what you have done. Where would I start? What would I need and what would I have to go through to get there?

I have always felt like that I could have started my design career earlier… But I also think that I couldn’t have gotten where I am today if I hadn’t had the experiences that I had before my design career. I f$%&-ed off and f$%&-ed up a lot when I was younger but it made me who I am today.

My only advice would be to do what you do and do it well. Be smart about your resources… They are there you just have to find them.

Any last words, rants, opinions, advice on life in general?

Life… ahhhhhh it’s a f$%&-ed up ride. Enjoy it and do what you do. Do what you do well. Become the best because you want to. Don’t ever take $&*t from anybody. Always stand your ground.

I am always down for a chat. I love to talk to new exciting people or hell anyone. Holla at your boy.

Portfolio: www.relmone.com
Twitter: @relmone
Facebook: www.facebook.com/relmone

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Dustin Williams from RelmOne.com
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2 Comments

  1. Steve wrote:

    Great article – I’ve worked with Dustin and he’s the real deal. Great designer, but more importantly, great human being. Good to see you happy D!

  2. Kyle Judkins wrote:

    Fantastic interview and write up. Great to see a full story of how someone got from point A to point B in their career, especially someone I know. :D

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