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AMA: Heyo, I'm Matt D. Smith, better known on the internet as @mds. Ask me anything.

8 months ago from , Director of Design at MDS

Howdy ya'll. I'm a designer that's run an independent one-man studio for the last decade. Within the last few years I've gotten into products—educational courses, mac apps, design resources, etc. I've been married for 13 years and have 4 kids.

On top of lots and lots of client work here are some of my recent projects:

I tweet at @mds, post photos and stories on Instagram, and of course have a Dribbble account. I've also got a Youtube channel that's been neglected a little, but I plan on resurrecting it soon.

I'll be answering questions today from 10AM – 5PM Eastern on Tuesday August 7th.

Ask me anything!

67 comments

  • Brijan P, 7 months ago

    Are you going to watch Bachelor in Paradise tonight? If not, why?

    14 points
    • Matt D. Smith, 7 months ago

      I'll watch it if you record yourself watching it and provide commentary for me via text message videos.

      1 point
      • Brijan P, 7 months ago

        uh duhoi... like I'm not going to do that anyway. Whats your favourite movie? If its not The Notebook I know you're lying you ol sap.

        1 point
        • Matt D. Smith, 7 months ago

          Haha. The Notebook was a good one. Pretty sure I cried a little. I enjoy about every movie I watch, with the exception of Magic Mike, that was just really really bad.

          My goto answer for that question is usually Pulp Fiction. I love Tarantino stuff and all of the crazy symbolism and subtle details he puts into his films is crazy.

          I also recently watched Pee Wee's Big Holiday on Netflix and it was absolutely fantastic. =)

          1 point
  • James HallJames Hall, 7 months ago

    Hey there,

    What do you do to not go crazy being a one-man studio? How do you handle the load of Marketng/Sales/HR, etc?

    What tools do you use to keep all of this going?

    As a bonus question.. do you have a daily routine that you try to keep to?

    5 points
    • Matt D. Smith, 7 months ago

      I typically work very closely with the clients I take on and it feels more like I'm a temporary part of their team. That and I also have a decent amount of variety with products, etc. Also, working from a creative coworking space helps a lot too.

      I use Google docs/sheets as well as Dropbox Paper for organizing and sharing things with clients/collaborators, etc. If things really big, I'll spin up Trello or Basecamp.

      Daily routine-wise. I really aspire to wake up as many days as I can around 4:30-5AM. With 4 kids, it's gets loud and crazy fast. I'm a much better person/designer/husband/father when I get some good me-time in. Current daily schedule is strength training/lifting on M/W/F and running (when I can) on Tu/Thurs/Weekend.

      7 points
  • Michelle Wong, 7 months ago

    Hey Matt! hope all is well. My question for you is what design tool/prototyping tool do you use to manage design systems and interactions and why you like using them. Second question is what challenges do you have now compared to last year (or 4 years)?

    P.S. Loveeeeee your youtube channel and how responsive you are with emails, questions, instagram!

    2 points
    • Matt D. Smith, 7 months ago

      Hey Michelle! I can't say that I've ever really "managed" a design system, but I have created lots of them—usually in Sketch—but tools like Figma, Studio, and Framer X are definitely on the rise and tackling similar problems.

      I typically choose design software based on speed. Performance and optimized workflow capabilities that give me lots of quick key shortcuts and the ability to create my own. Figma as been a great experience coming from Sketch... and I'm doing a lot more with Studio right now too. The speed at which you can create animations and rich prototypes with Studio is pretty mind-blowing.

      Biggest challenge now is thinking about things with a longer-term lens rather than doing anything and everything to pay the bills. Thinking and working towards creating more sustainable projects, income, etc. that I feel really good about sticking with for a long time.

      P.S. Thanks for watching my videos! I reeeeaaallly wanna get back into a regular video schedule soon. Also, I love answering questions and being responsive. Thanks!! =)

      1 point
  • Alessio Tecleme, 7 months ago

    Hi Matt. Thanks for doing this!

    I’ve recently made major changes to my career and I’m currently working on my UI/UX portfolio. Are there any books/articles that you think every designer should read? Or will I learn best by just making lots of work (and mistakes!) by myself?

    Thank you!

    2 points
    • Matt D. Smith, 7 months ago

      I don't have any "you must read this" type of books for designers, but I would highly recommend reading books on psychology, persuasion, business, etc. to get a really well-rounded view of what motivates people. Knowing why/how/when people are motivated plays a paramount role in designing products. That to me, is just as important as knowing design patterns, and what not.

      I have a small list on my site of some books that I've read, though it's missing probably 12 or so of the latest reads. http://mds.is/reading

      Constantly learning from others in non-related fields also helps me make a lot of connections, even if metaphorically, to business ideas, design ideas, etc.

      4 points
  • Account deleted 7 months ago

    I had no idea who you were before this ama, but your work is awesome and I'm reading your blog now. Lots of cool stuff in there. What's your favourite song right now?

    2 points
    • Matt D. Smith, 7 months ago

      Dude, thanks so much. Just checked your site and the feeling is mutual. Great stuff. Love the flame emoji as the tag and the multi-flame emoji as you go deeper, lol. Genius. Especially like your Exodus project.

      Fun fact: The RIFT font was designed by my studio-mate, Mattox Shuler, while sitting right beside me. Originally made for his card game, Control

      Hmm, favorite song right now... I've had "Hit Parade" by Mutemath on repeat for a few days now. Can't say favorite-favorite because that's just too much commitment. =)

      2 points
      • Account deleted 7 months ago

        Thanks man. Please give Mattox a pat on the back from me. Rift is easily one of the best fonts I've ever used. It's like the dream condensed font I would've made if I had the talent or patience to do it, which I don't.

        Regarding Exodus - That was a really cool project, but unfortunately they didn't really use any of the designs. Some of my ideas got implemented using their current design language, but hey, it's always there if they want to use it. #freelancelife

        I've just read over your process for designing Contrast and I never really thought that about applying symbols to that level, and I'm doing it on a project at work right now and you've already saved me time, so thanks again!

        1 point
  • Juan HerreraJuan Herrera, 8 months ago

    Hi Matt. I don't think I have any questions, but I just wanted to say that Contrast is one of my favourite tools when designing. It's extremely useful, and a lifesaver.

    Good stuff, keep it up :)

    2 points
  • Carlos AndujarCarlos Andujar, 7 months ago

    Is there anything fluffier than a cloud?

    2 points
    • Matt D. Smith, 7 months ago

      If there is, I don't wanna know about it.

      2 points
      • Carlos AndujarCarlos Andujar, 7 months ago

        ......you're alright MDS. You're alright.

        Asides from obviously recognizing semi-obscure Simpsons quotes, what advice do you have for a designer who's working on building a digital product idea? How much should he/she take on themselves, how much should they delegate?

        1 point
        • Matt D. Smith, 7 months ago

          If you've never done it before, I'd recommend taking on as much as possible yourself.

          Even more unsolicited advice... pair down your product to the most basic version of what it could be and don't overthink it. Set a launch day, like 4 weeks from now. 3 months maximum. Start talking about it. Get feedback now. Don't be afraid of sharing your idea. See if you can make presales. Go ahead and reach out to people who you think might be interested.

          The worst thing you can do is lock yourself in a room for 8 months and work on it in secret and then launch to crickets. I had to learn that the hard way. =)

          3 points
        • Matt D. Smith, 7 months ago

          Also, just saw that you're in ATL. If you're ever in the Athens area, hit me up!

          1 point
          • Carlos AndujarCarlos Andujar, 7 months ago

            Good feedback. Yeah for me there are some back-end development hurdles that I have to figure out which I think is what will take me the most time. I have most of the design and experience figured out. But yeah, like you said I'm sure I can strip it down for an MVP and get the concept out there.

            And yeah, I don't get to Athens as much as I should, but will def hit you up next time I'm out there!

            1 point
            • Matt D. Smith, 7 months ago

              Right on. Definitely recommend a good dev to partner up with if it's stuff that's over your head. (It's over mine and just not what I'm experienced in and familiar with)

              1 point
  • Eduardo HigaredaEduardo Higareda, 7 months ago

    Hello Matt,

    This isn't a question but I only want to mention how much inspiration you are for me and a lot of young designers.

    I'm a Mexican designer who always had this issue "finding my way" as a designer, but unfortunately, In the process, I've met a lot of egocentric and toxic designers (designers that are so good in aesthetics but so poor as a person) and that pull me down.

    But when I found your work and started following you; I began feeling motivated by you; you show us a lot about hard work, about being a super nice person and also be open with your work without neglect your personal life.

    So thank you so much for being such a nice person.

    But because this is an AMA I have a question for you:

    How did you started in design? I love hearing that kind of stories

    2 points
    • Matt D. SmithMatt D. Smith, 7 months ago

      Wow, Eduardo. Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment!

      I've definitely seen my fair share of toxicity in the industry and that's just simply not in line with my values. I find great joy in being as kind as possible and I'm genuinely motivated to encourage people and want them to do their best. It means so much that you've gotten a little motivation from that. Thank you for letting me know! =)

      Here's my super quick autobiography in design....

      I was always drawn to art as a kid (most kids are, right?) I used to draw tons of Mortal Kombat characters, Simpsons, and any other random cartoon or video game I was into. We had a computer around ever since I can remember. I'd always make digital birthday cards, mothers day, fathers day, cards etc. with this program called Print Shop Deluxe. Even had an illegal business in high school burning CDs for friends from songs I downloaded on Napster. I'd design and print a custom CD jewel case for every CD I sold.

      I started taking art classes in college, drawing, painting, sculpting, etc. and loved it. That led to going into the Graphic Design program for 2 years and graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts.

      First job out of college was designing anything and everything at a small cycling and diving component manufacturer. Here I started learning Flash on my own and making horribly awesome animated websites. Slowly taught myself HTML/CSS along the way.

      Started contracting at agencies for a few years, then started getting more clients. More and more clients. Many years later... and here we are. =)

      2 points
  • Nemi Banigo, 7 months ago

    What designer would you totally love to work with, and why?

    1 point
    • Matt D. Smith, 7 months ago

      Tough to say one individual in particular, but probably someone who has like 10–20 years more experience than me that has already produced amazing work in their career.

      4 points
  • Spenser WolzSpenser Wolz, 7 months ago

    Matt, thanks again so much for being here!

    What kind of music or bands do you enjoy while designing/coding? Do you listen to different stuff depending on what you're doing? I find while designing, listening to hard rock/heavy metal is more my speed but while developing I gravitate towards softer kinds of music...keep me calm I suppose.

    1 point
    • Matt D. SmithMatt D. Smith, 7 months ago

      I do love some good heavy metal and hard rock, but the majority of the time I find myself listening to quirky electronic music that I can kind of jam to at a medium to high tempo—whether it's design or code.

      When I'm really trying to be productive, I'll listen to the same song on repeat all-day long for multiple days in a row.

      2 points
      • Spenser WolzSpenser Wolz, 7 months ago

        Favorite heavy metal/hard rock albums?

        I think my top three are:

        1. Morbid Tales by Celtic Frost
        2. Ride The Lightning by Metallica
        3. Don't Break the Oath by Mercyful Fate

        If I ever find myself scrolling through Spotify aimlessly, I'll often fall onto those as my "get stuff done" tunes.

        0 points
        • Matt D. SmithMatt D. Smith, 7 months ago

          I don't know why but I've never been able to name "favorite albums" very well usually just favorite songs or memorable ones from growing up.

          Favorite heavy stuff is probably:

          1. Master of Puppets by Metallica (also love Enter Sandman, Nothing Else Matters, etc.)
          2. Various songs from Dream Theater (In the Name of God is probably my fave)
          3. Hmm, not sure of a third. I'd probably through in any SRV album here, though not metal obviously. He's just so good. =)
          3 points
        • Dan Leahy, 7 months ago

          Metallica is my absolute go-to when I have a tight deadline. I highly recommend streaming the live album S&M top to bottom a few times and see how much quality work you pump out. :)

          0 points
  • Gerald Miller, 7 months ago

    Hey Matt,

    Big fan of your work and owner of Contrast! Don't know if this has been asked yet, but where do you go for inspiration?

    1 point
    • Matt D. SmithMatt D. Smith, 7 months ago

      Thanks for the support.

      I don't really go anywhere in particular for inspiration. I'm constantly inspired all day, everyday. Just being generally observant and looking for new ways to make new connections with new things.

      1 point
  • Sean P, 7 months ago

    Hi Matt, What software are you using these days for your UI animations?

    1 point
  • Tropical HoochTropical Hooch, 7 months ago

    If you and Dann Petty were to throw hands who'd win?

    1 point
    • Matt D. Smith, 7 months ago

      Probably Dann. I'm not much of a fighter. Unless you are hurting my wife or kids, then I would destroy you. ;)

      2 points
  • Joshua MillerJoshua Miller, 7 months ago

    Hey Matt, thanks for the awesome Instagram stories, sharing your process, learnings on YouTube, and letting us join in on the fun.

    1 point
    • Matt D. SmithMatt D. Smith, 7 months ago

      Hah, thanks for calling my IG stories awesome. Each one I post I think to myself, “this is stupid and probably no one cares” lol

      1 point
  • Joel Cook, 8 months ago

    Hi! Can you walk through a little bit of the process of doing contract work for agencies? Were they all local? Were contracts per project or was the contract work for a specific amount of time? Would they require you to be on-site, or was it remote? Would you be doing contract work for multiple agencies at the same time?

    Thanks!

    1 point
    • Matt D. Smith, 7 months ago

      Mostly all were local to the Atlanta area when I first started out. Started out with a project and an estimated bucket of hours—billed hourly. Later I secured a contract retainer for a year with a guaranteed 20 hour/week minimum. After that, definitely hourly per project with just about any larger agency.

      Not usually ever doing multiple agency work at the same time, because most of my work was always pretty full-time when I was doing the projects with them.

      2 points
    • Matt D. Smith, 8 months ago

      Oh, and as far as process goes. My first solid agency project came in around 2007 or 2008 because one of their recruiters found my work on some random portfolio site of mine. I had a few phone calls, and pretty much came in and got to work on the first day I got there. Sorted out HR stuff on the spot and got to work. It was kind of hectic that day and they needed a designer quickly. In those times you have an advantage of zipping through any type of hiring process, because they simply nee the work done.

      Other times happened in a similar way at different agencies, especially as I began to have a reputation for delivering good work, communicating well, and just being kind and nice to work with in general.

      The more work I did for agencies the bigger my network grew and it became easier and easier to get work at other places, when someone who had worked with me in the past would vouch for me. Borrowed credibility is a beautiful thing.

      Eventually it slowly turned into more client work and less agency work. It's more stressful, easier to get burned, but you can make more money.

      2 points
  • Daniel GoldenDaniel Golden, 8 months ago
    • What are your thoughts on float labels atm?
    • What's it like balancing work and being a husband with 4 kids?

    Edit: Just saw your tweet about forntite editing... so new question: What's your ideal loadout if you had your pick of every item in the game?

    1 point
    • Matt D. Smith, 7 months ago

      I still really like float labels. To me they make typing into input fields more fun. They're definitely not to be used at all times, at all costs, but if it makes sense for your project or product, then you should go for it. If not, don't... no problem. =)

      The balance definitely comes down to a good structure. If I'm waking up a little early and working out consistently, my days feel like they fall into place much more easily. I go to my office around 8 or 9 (sometimes I'll do a few small things earlier) and always come home by 5:30 PM. Then I hang out with my wife and kids until their bedtime around ~9 or so depending on the time of year. I rarely work at night, unless there are some critical deadlines here and there, but those are rare.

      My wife and I always watch shows and/or movies together (we're best friends) and go to bed at the same time (99% of the time) Unless I'm staying up late playing Fortnite. Which has been happening a little too much lately. =)

      4 points
    • Matt D. Smith, 7 months ago

      Haha. Yes!

      1. Scar, for sure
      2. Heavy
      3. One of the new SMGs (or Sniper, but I'm not great at long range)
      4. Minis
      5. Medkits
      2 points
  • joe andersonjoe anderson, 8 months ago

    As a technical designer/entrepreneur, what products would you like to build if you didn't have to worry about time or money for the next 2 years?

    1 point
    • Matt D. Smith, 8 months ago

      This is a really tough hypothetical question for me, because I'm incredibly pragmatic and have been thinking about money (worrying?) non-stop for the last 10 years as I've been the sole income earner and we've gone from a family of 2 to a family of 6.

      The products I really enjoy building are focused heavily on problem solving for a very specific thing. More so than some cool new thing that may or may not stick because it's not a pain point for others.

      3 points
  • Thomas ChrétienThomas Chrétien, 7 months ago

    Who are the designers who inspire you the most?

    1 point
  • Walker Reed, 7 months ago

    What are the rhythms of your family life? What habits or vision are you trying to reinforce in your kids? And how does that practically look with the busyness of your work life?

    1 point
    • Matt D. Smith, 7 months ago

      Ooo good one. Our day to day is typically pretty structured. We get up, kids get up, eat breakfast and hang out together. I go to work, wife is home with the kids (much harder job than mine) and I'm home by 5:30 PM 95% of the time. We try to limit their technology as best we can, encourage reading and trying new things.

      I often talk to them about their mindset (and having a positive one) and the impact their words and decisions have on others.

      I don't often feel "busy" per se, but I do make a big effort to prioritize family and work time appropriately, which often might look "busy" on the outside, but it's more of a focused schedule without a lot of wiggle room for too many extra things.

      2 points
  • Artin Kiassati, 7 months ago

    Has being extremely good-looking affected your design career in any way?

    Jokes aside, I'm a big fan dude. Keep up the kickass work!

    1 point
  • Jason LiJason Li, 7 months ago

    Thanks for doing this, Matt. Currently part of a 2-man studio and curious about your experience running your own. Did you ever come to a point where you could have grew to a larger studio, and if so, why did you decide to stay small?

    1 point
    • Matt D. Smith, 7 months ago

      Hey Jason. I've come to several points where it was necessary for me to contract both designers and developers. It's definitely kind of stressful being in the manager role when multiple projects are going and it's you personally that are on the line for each. Ultimately I decided, I enjoyed being "the guy" coming in and doing "the thing" on projects, without having to worry about making payroll for a company. I've become very accustomed to hitting income goals on my own and adding employees to that always scared me. I've come very close to hiring before, but ultimately decided it's not really what I wanted.

      I'm much more excited when I'm working on products too, that have potential to earn income without crazy expenses that can come with keeping someone on staff fed with work.

      2 points
      • Jason LiJason Li, 7 months ago

        Thanks for answering. I think the same — I want to be "the guy" and a lot of my projects have just been me going into startups and being their designer. This is great validation.

        1 point