David Conrad is Seattle area designer and celebrity, largely responsible for the growing design community.
It was great getting to know more about him as well as get some ideas for creativity with my own kids.

I hope you enjoy it his answers as much as I did!

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Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a guy, living in Seattle, married to children’s book author and all-around amazing woman. We have two kids, seven and eleven, who are the sun in our solar system. I’m also the owner and design director at Design Commission, a user experience design firm in Seattle where we battle against complicated digital products through the application of two simple concepts – truth and magic.

David Conrad with his wife, daughter and son.

David with his wife, daughter and son.

How did you get started as a designer?

My life as a designer was officially started when my mom dragged me to the International Design Conference in Aspen in 1995. She had a sense that I’d like design and by the end of the first day I was hooked. I also spent a lot of time in high school and college hanging around with geeks and so I learned a lot about networks and computers and that really solidified my interest in the intersection between design and technology. That was the seed that sprouted Design Commission.

When you were first starting Design Commission, how did you juggle your time between your family and work?

We started DC under the most ill-advised circumstances possible, opening our doors only four months after the birth of my daughter. That said, we typically did a pretty good job of setting boundaries with regard to weekends and nights. You have to find ways to compartmentalize and leave work at work. I’ve always sort of hated that phrase. As a business owner, it’s impossible to do – at any given moment there’s something you could be doing to improve your chances of survival. But you’ll never do it all, so it’s important to pick someplace to draw a line so you can live your life.
I also think it was really helpful to have a place outside of the house to go to for work. I freelanced out of our house for a little while when I was younger and it was nearly impossible to stop working. Having a different physical space that you have to expend effort to get to helps set some boundaries.

David Conrad of Seattle with his daughter and son.

Enjoying some sun with his kids on the stairs.

If things have settled with your agency at all, how do you manage your time between the two now?

Things have definitely settled. Probably mostly because I don’t have the stamina for twelve hour days any more. I almost never work more than 8 hour days. I can’t. Also, I’ve learned that it’s more important to make sure I’m doing my best to be present when I’m at home. If things are going well at home, things almost always go well at work.

Outside of work, what other ways do you use your creativity?

I’m more of a tinkerer when it comes to things outside of work. I have about fifty projects started at any given moment, but only finish a few each year. Early this year I got into screen printing for a few weeks. Then it was drawing, again for just a few weeks. I’ve been helping my wife get her side-project, Stitch Redux, off the ground.

I find it’s hard. Creativity is just like any other muscle – you have to maintain it with exercise or it atrophies. That exercise is hard to do when there are so many other acute things requiring your attention.

making a custom sneaker design

David’s daughter, getting ready to make some custom shoe designs.

What’s a fun creative project you’ve done with your children?

This summer we built a Little Free Library in front of our house. My daughter and I just did a shoe design contest which was a lot of fun. She’s really into projects – a video for CreativeMornings, or going for tours at architecture firms, or even just hanging out and drawing together. We try and encourage that with our son as well, but to be honest, he’s a lot more interested in Rescue Bots than creativity right now.

David Conrad with his daughter at Seattle Creative Mornings.

Some daddy / daughter time during a sunny, outdoor Creative Mornings session in Seattle. (photo credit Jenny Linquist, http://jennylinquist.tumblr.com)

In what way(s) do you think being a founder help you be a better parent?

I think there’s a lot of similarities in how they challenge you to be conscious about your values and how you’re communicating them. I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t done the greatest job of that, but it’s something that I’m constantly thinking about. Integrity is critical for both roles. For me that’s been a lot easier to understand as a founder than as a parent. It’s hard to tell your kid to get off their phone at the dinner table when you realize that means that you can’t check the Seahawks score while you’re eating either.

(GO HAWKS!)

How did having kids change your perspective on what you do?

I think the biggest change has been in helping me cultivate an understanding that there are people who I very closely identify with (my kids) who have very, very, different perspectives than I do. They care about different things and have a fundamentally different view of the world and what matters. That’s important to being a good designer – the ability to empathize is one of the most important skills a designer can cultivate. You can do that without having kids. But with kids, you can’t survive without it. So it helps.

Any funny or embarrassing stories, or learning experiences while running Design Commission?

Ahem… yes, but I’m pretty sure I’m blocking out most of the embarrassing stuff. There was the time we were racing our rental bikes at SXSW and I crashed and got a black eye. But all I learned then was that it’s not a good idea to ride your bike after you’ve been to an industry party sponsored by Johnny Walker. When you invest over a decade of time into something you’re going to make mistakes and get embarrassed no matter what it is. Go easy on yourself.

Is there anything you would like to promote?

Sure, generally, I’d like to promote thoughtful design, community, and hard work. More specifically, I’ve loved being a part of CreativeMornings (which embodies all of the afore mentioned qualities) and if you haven’t been to one, you should come to one. You’ll like it. Promise. Also, if you’re as much of a fan of pencil and paper (still the best design tools around, for my money), you should check out UI Stencils. Of course, if you’re looking for something to bring a little joy to the walls of your home, Stitch Redux makes some mighty-fine things. I love the bags made by a past DCer for MackerelCrow.

You can follow along with David’s life, work and musings below:
Twitter – https://twitter.com/davidconrad
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/davidconrad
Studio Website – http://designcommission.com
Personal Website – http://davidconrad.com