Hey! Hope you’re doing well! I’m extremely happy to publish my second interview on Icon Utopia! Today we are talking with Scott Lewis – head of content at Iconfinder.
You can find him on:
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you? Where did you come from?
My name is Scott Lewis and I live in Richmond, Virginia (for now) in the United States. I am 46 years old and have lived in Richmond for the past 22 years.
What is your story, how did you get started with icon design?
I started drawing and making creative things when I was a very young child. Fairly early on my parents noticed that I had talent for drawing and they encouraged me in this. I started taking art lessons when I was 15 years old and eventually studied art and design at university (East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina).
The very first icons I designed were as part of a design class project in which we were asked to represent common objects using only 3 different line weights. I chose brass musical instruments. My first attempts were pretty bad but not being content to not be good at something, I kept practicing and eventually fell in love with designing small glyphs and logos.
After I finished university, I worked as an Art Director for different ad agencies and design firms for 8 years but wasn’t really happy doing creative work where I had to compromise my creativity to comply with clients’ whims. So starting in 1998 I taught myself computer programming and by 2001 had switched to doing web development full-time. But I kept doing logo and icon design as a hobby.
By an funny twist of fate, my hobby lead me to cross paths with Martin LeBlanc, CEO of Iconfinder and he encouraged me to start selling my icons. I honestly had never really considered that someone would pay me to do something I love so much. I also started doing some freelance blogging for Iconfinder. Martin and I became friends and I eventually joined the Iconfinder team as the Head of Content and senior developer.
Tell us about your working day. What does your creative process look like?
Well, my working days are very long, to start with. My primary job is as a Senior Developer and Head of Content for Iconfinder. My main responsibility is to build up and curate the inventory of icons on the site. I work between 8–10 hours each day for Iconfinder then work for a few hours on my icon designs most days, whether it is creating more stock icons, doing custom icon design for the occasional client, or working on my Icon-A-Day Dribbble challenge. I don’t do a lot of custom icon work these days, to be honest. Since Iconfinder offers custom icon design as a service, I prefer to refer any custom projects to Iconfinder and one of our super-talented designers. It’s a fine line to walk so that my icon design work doesn’t conflict with my obligations to our designers. I avoid being in a position where I’m competing against our designers or against Iconfinder.
My day starts at about 7:00 AM with a healthy dose of very strong coffee (Contact Scott if you’re interested in his coffee recipe). Since Iconfinder is based in Copenhagen, Denmark and I live on the east coast of the United States, the rest of my team has already been at work for 5–6 hours by the time I wake up. So I try to start my work day as early as possible so we can collaborate.
The first thing I do is check email and see if there are any pressing issues that need my attention. Next, I spend the first 1–2 hours of the day reviewing all of the new icon submissions to the site that come in over night. We pride ourselves on having the shortest review times in the industry (about 24 hours) so I like to stay on top of this task in particular.
After reviewing all of the new icon sets, I will respond to any support requests that need my attention. I also try to spend some time every day reaching out to and recruiting new, talented designers whom I have stalked on Dribbble, Behance, or any other place I can find them. If you are a talented icon designer, and I haven’t emailed you, don’t worry, I will (or you can email me and save us both time 🙂 )
After I finish my day at Iconfinder I take a break to eat dinner and play with my four dogs – Sammy, Stuey, Marlow, and Maddie. My girlfriend and I are huge dog lovers and they play a big part in our lives.
My creative process is very old-school. I carry a sketchbook with me everywhere I go and I doodle a lot. Any idea that comes to mind that I might find interesting or want to try as an icon. Every icon I create starts as a sketch in my sketchbook (or on some scrap of paper I have handy).
Once the sketch is where I want it, I either snap a photo with my iPhone or scan the sketch into the computer, take it into Illustrator, and start converting it to vectors.
My day ends anywhere from 1:00 AM – 3:00 AM. Needless to say, I drink a lot of caffeinated beverages. I would like to get more sleep, but this is currently the only way I can do both of the things I love: Working for Iconfinder and creating icons.
What is it like being a part of Iconfinder? What are your main responsibilities?
I love being a part of the Iconfinder team and it really is about as perfect a job for me as I could hope for. I get to use most of my skills and be a part of building something I really believe in and care about.
Since we are a small team at Iconfinder, we all wear a lot of hats and do pretty much whatever needs doing. That said, my primary responsibilities as Head of Content are to review all new icon submissions to the site to make sure they meet our design and technical standards. As I mentioned in a recent blog post, Better Icon Design in Six Easy Steps, I try really hard to not reject any submissions. If a set of icons isn’t quite premium quality, I will work with the designer to improve the designs so we can approve them. I try to be much more personal in my approach than other marketplaces. We don’t want to be a big faceless corporation but more of a resource and partner to designers.
As I mentioned already, I am also a Solutions Architect/Developer so my job entails helping with back-end development on the site to add new features. How much time I spend doing development varies depending on what our work load and deadlines look like, but it averages out to about 50% of my time overall.
People often ask me what the best places to sell your icons online are. And I always recommend Iconfinder as one of the greatest marketplaces. From your perspective, what made Iconfinder become the world’s leading marketplace for icons?
I think the bulk of the credit, initially, goes to Martin for that. He had a fantastic vision and passion. Since he is a designer, too, he has always been very focused on taking care of the designers, whether it is icon designers (contributors) or web and app designers who are customers. Martin has built a really fantastic team of people who are intelligent, talented, and really care about what we are doing.
It would also be impossible to provide the service that we do without a lot of really talented designers trusting us to help sell their icons. I have interacted with many of the designers personally and have even become friends with some of them. They are as passionate as we are about providing a great product.
Our primary focus is always on providing something useful and valuable to both contributors and customers/site users. Having a great idea or a great product is only the start, however. Execution/delivery is everything so we put a lot of effort into being as responsive and attentive to our site users’ needs as we can. For many of us that means working some odd hours, not taking many days off, and doing just about anything we can to solve a problem.
We also try to be as transparent as possible with how our site operates and taking care of the occasional problems as quickly as possible with as little hassle and inconvenience to users as possible.
What are the Iconfinder’s future plans?
World domination! I am not at liberty to discuss any concrete plans, but our mission is to help designers make a living doing what they love. To help do that we will continue to add products and services that help icon designers tap into new revenue streams and to provide high quality resources to designers, developers, and businesses.
I know you’ve been posting icons daily on dribbble. Could you tell everyone about the benefits you’ve noticed since you started doing this?
Yes, I am creating a new icon design every day for all of 2016. I actually got the idea from you. I read your blog post about how doing the same challenge changed your life and I was really inspired to do it. It has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done as a designer. The results have really blown me away on several levels. The fantastic support from the Dribbble community, potential clients, and other designers has been wonderful. I have tripled my number of Dribbble followers.
On a creative level, there is no question that my icon designs have improved tremendously. Because of the need to come up with new ideas every day, you have to let go of the obsession with perfection a little bit and take risks you might not take otherwise. You have to risk a design not working or not being great. But they usually do work and I’ve started doing concepts, subject matter, and styles I might not have otherwise. I am doing my best work ever. My sketching has become more prolific and improved as well.
I feel a lot more confident as a designer and we still have 8 more months in the year, so I am really excited to see where this all leads. It is challenging to keep up and I am chronically 2–3 days behind on posting, but I am really loving doing the challenge.
Any advice for the fellas who want to start creating icons?
Yes, if I may be so presumptuous. First, get a sketch book, take it with you everywhere, and draw, draw, draw. You really cannot do enough sketching and no other activity will improve your skills as a designer as much as sketching. Second, make a lot of icons. Even if you aren’t very good, make a lot of bad icons and keep making bad ones until they stop being bad. Third, look at the work of designers you like and deconstruct how they are achieving the results they are. But PLEASE do not just copy. Be original, even if you have to risk not being very good (see the previous step about making bad icons). Lastly, look at a lot of design even outside of icon design and learn everything you can about why and how design works.
If you could redesign the icons for any product ever created, what would you choose and why?
I have thought a lot about this question and I honestly cannot think of an answer so I will change the question a bit. I would love to either design the icons for the Olympics, or design travel icons for airports and trains.
Thats it! Scott is really amazing guy and I’m glad I had a chance to interview him. Hope you enjoyed second interview on the Icon Utopia. Many more to come! Cheers!