Devin Fountain, Goodtime agency


How much of your work is visual design?

I think all of my work is visual design in some ways. Even when I’m not designing a website but building it instead, I’m taking into account what things would look like animated, hovered, and interacted with. Visual design is all-encompassing in my work just as much as accessibility and the UX of the thing itself.

So to answer your question more simply, 100% of it. But I don’t categorize myself as a visual designer, I just think that the visual design is a necessary addition to a good product.

Your agency, Goodtime, uses no-code tools. Does that change the way you approach visual design?

I think no-code tools have enabled me to take the front end web developer part of my brain and combine it with the designer part. I know what each thing does in code, so to see it as a WYSIWYG editor, just makes it feel more like an extension of a design tool. It means I don’t have to compromise and explain ideas to someone who would have to execute something in a huge pile of code. That lack of compromise means I can see every detail to its end result.

Does it feel limited in any way?

I think sometimes it can feel like the tool is limiting me and other times I feel like I’m limiting myself. The only time I feel limited by a tool is when there’s an interaction I want to do and know that it’s possible and even quite easy with a few lines of code. But then the tool itself is missing a small feature for it, that I know would take a day or so to add. Usually I code around it but sometimes you just want to click a few buttons and know it’s easy to modify instead of pushing it live every time you want to see a change.

I find that I limit myself sometimes by self auditing a little too much. Maybe I’ll design something that I know will be easier to build rather than something that I know will be tough but gorgeous. It’s always a trade off when you design and build. Who will get the bad end of things? Me the designer, or me the developer? I’m the villain of my own making and it’s the best thing ever.

Is it OK for a designer to have a signature visual style?

I don’t see why not. I don’t believe in total binaries of what a designer should and shouldn’t do. If you have a unique signature style and clients are signing on for work, then that’s really all that matters to me. I can’t say I have a particular style and try to adapt to whatever fits the brand’s look and values but I can say it’s something I would love to achieve some day. I’d love for another designer to see something of mine on Dribbble and without looking at the username say, “Oh ya that’s Devin’s work for sure.”

Do you think your work follows any broad visual principles?

I tend to veer heavily towards more vibrant and cartoony looks even if I don’t intend to sometimes. With my most recent project, the design had a lot of square corners and pastel colors and it felt like one was leaning towards what I’d do whereas the other was strongly leaning in a serious direction.

I do try to keep my color choices at a minimum though, finding my main 3 colors for text, background, and CTA, and then play with colors around those foundations. I need to make sure it works before I can throw in the whole bucket of paint.

I also have a serious aversion to serif fonts but that’s just a personal vendetta of mine. It’s like food that you love until you get absolutely sick of permanently. I was obsessed with them in college and used them to death and now I’d prefer to never see one again.

You were involved in Petal’s excellent new website. What does it take to reach this level of quality?

It’s funny that you say “reach the same level of quality” because when I look back at my own work, I feel the same way as I did when I was a junior designer, striving to be better, like some of my design heroes.

But the things that I think differentiate this level of work from someone who might be wondering how they can do the same thing really comes down to constraints in their process.

Create rulesets for yourself to work within. Limit yourself to 3 colors. Limit yourself to a single typeface and see how far you get. Try only using one weight and varying color. Really truly, see how far you can get without everything in your toolkit.

That’s been my recommendation for new designers and probably will continue to be for a long time. The canvas for a website is huge, and you can go hog wild, but you’ll find more success if you reign yourself in. Go nuts first, then pull it back.

Did you have any principles for colour on the Petal website?

There weren’t any hard and fast rules for using color aside from the two cards having the signature yellow and green colors associated with them. I knew coming into the project that I wanted to consolidate the amount of colors they were using and guide them towards more meaning.

So for example, on the dedicated card pages, I stick to their primary colors with shades of the same color to separate sections between each other. This way, no matter what page you’re on, you can tell where you’re at with the color coordination.

But for full pages I used every color to draw your eye down the page and always in the same way. If you compare the pages you can see that the order of the colors are nearly always the same, so the same 4 colors never feel like they’re next to each other and repeating. Look at the contact page for example, each icon from left to right goes: green, yellow, blue, and sometimes a darker blue.

With those light principles we can decide what we think you should look at vs. what is informational and clickable.

How do you discuss visual design with clients?

I tend to shy away from it with clients specifically. I think it’s almost too easy for them to get caught up in what it looks like and less about how it functions and feels for their audience. I’ve had client meetings where we collaborate on moodboards and color palettes and fonts and it quickly gets overwhelming for them as all the opinions collide. There’s only so much to untangle from five people in a room with opposing visual opinions. If there is a good way, let me know!

So your clients trust you to make the visual design decisions?

They do. It’s a bit like having too many flavors of ice cream to choose from and ultimately being left unhappy no matter your choice. They’re seeing what could be instead of what is or should be. You hire me to make you look good and that’s all I want to do, I promise.

Have you got advice for other designers who struggle with stakeholders?

For designers that struggle with opinionated stakeholders, I like to repeat a phrase over and over. “You’ve hired me to do this task and my current best thinking is that [insert your strong opinion here]. If this is something you still want, I can make it happen, but I strongly advise against it.”

It’s really all about setting expectations that you’re the expert. You’ll still ultimately do what they want but you’re letting them know in a nice way that they’re clearly making the wrong move.

If you’re going to hire a mechanic to fix your car and are trying to tell them what to do, why didn’t you just fix it yourself in the first place?

Setting the expectations early that you are hiring me for a thing you cannot solve in a way that brings you value is all in making sure they’re the right fit for you too.

Is there anything I haven’t covered but that you think is important?

To all the designers out there making their work grey on grey: I can’t see your website on a sunny day and neither can your parents.