Matt: I met Nathan back when his design company Heist was just getting started. I admired that he and his partners were shaking up the digital services space with a new innovative approach to building digital products. Unfortunately what they were trying to do may have been a little too soon to market as the company closed it's doors this past spring after 3 years in operation. I sat down with Nathan to discuss his career so far and chat about what he does to stay on top of an ever-shifting space.
Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?
Well, I’m a bit of a Product Designer and Design Manager hybrid. I’m in a weird position at this stage in my career where I’m still doing hands-on design work but recently I was also managing and leading a design team at Heist.
It’s a really interesting spot to be in. I’ve got the opportunity to contribute through designing and shaping experiences myself, but I’m also able to help other designers do really great work.
What was the path to becoming a designer like for you?
In high school I tinkered around with motion graphics and computers, and I knew that was something I was really interested in. I stumbled upon the New Media program at Ryerson University, which is like this mashup of fine art, interaction design and physical computing with Arduinos, soldering and stuff. It was a great program to shape my thinking as a designer about how we - not just interact with screen based experiences - but also physical experiences. So I was really fortunate that I stumbled on that.
After that I ended up getting an internship at an ad agency, my internship turned into a full-time job, and then I think it was on the fourth month I got fired [laughs]. I was a horrible designer, I was not properly equipped to have a job as a designer. In school we had the tools to design experiences, and think about people and technology in really impactful ways but there wasn’t the “this is what a comp is”, or “here’s how to use type on a grid”. So, I got fired.
One of my friends from school was a developer at this other ad agency, and I asked him if they needed designers and he said, “oh yeah we need designers!” So I showed up there doing contract work - I think I did web banners for 5 or 6 months - just web banners. I hung around there and it was eventually acquired by a company with a strong user-experience design team and they brought in some smart people that I was able to learn from on the job. Understanding how to structure experiences, what a customer journey map was, and how to add visual range in your design abilities etc.
I did a little stop at Teehan + Lax which had been my goal all along, so that was a really amazing experience to be able to work there and work really closely with Jon Lax.
Some of the guys that I’d worked with at other design agencies, we all got together to start Heist after I did Teehan + Lax, which was weird to give up. I’d always wanted to work at Teehan + Lax, it was my dream in highschool but there was a really amazing opportunity to try and go build something myself.
So why did you go and start your own company? Like you said you had kind of made it to your goal, why quit and start your own company?
Well, like I said going to Teehan + Lax, it was where’d I’d always wanted to go. Chris, one of the other partners at Heist, had kind of been bugging me to start something before I came to Teehan + Lax. I’d gotten the taste of where I wanted to be and I wanted to try and go build something on my own. I realized that it was really great to be able to work around the people at Teehan + Lax and I could either be on the ground floor of something myself, or try and work my way up at Teehan + Lax. I thought I’d learn more by cutting it on my own, so it was a good opportunity to go chase.