He can turn empty pixels into tasty bits of candy; with only a touch of his fingertips he transforms the mundane into the extraordinary. This week in the Intridea Insider, meet our prodigious web designer, David Potsiadlo.
"Pots", as we call him, is loved by all of us at Intridea for his artful and brilliant designs. His most famous work at Intridea was the redesign of Intridea.com that went live early this year. Aside from his stunningly simple and creative designs, what is most fascinating is his design process and sources of inspiration, which we talked about at length during our interview.
Pots draws inspiration from several sources, with an overall approach to design shaped by the writings of the author and comparative mythology scholar Joseph Campbell. "The goal with the Intridea redesign was to incorporate the spirit of the old site (the grass, trees, and sky), while simultaneously incorporating design elements from Michael's most recent design (the fuchsia, beige, etc)."
Pots then explains how this quote from Campbell, "we live today in a terminal moraine of myths and mythic symbols", inspired him during the preparatory stage of the design process. "What Campbell is saying is that we, in the modern world, are surrounded by the remnants of symbols and images by which people in the past used in their attempts to express the inexpressible. New mythic structures seemingly always grow out of old ones, and include symbols and that the previous ones had. This is often equally true with the forms of a visual design." Pots believes that a website can be the "visual spirit of a company." He reasons, "So, I thought it right – and perhaps more importantly, helpful – to honor the existing design (Michael’s) along with our original Intridea design." On our new site you'll see clouds, grass, hills and trees, along with some of the fuchsia and beige elements that Michael introduced in his previous design.
After collecting ideas on the inspiration board, he focuses in on a specific direction and design concept. "The next step is tricky, and I think where the magic hopefully happens. The idea is to look at the old and existing, and let it pull you in a way that 'takes you past it.' The idea is not to get stuck on existing visual design items used by others." He also has to ensure that the aesthetics he used were not stuck in the cliched past, "but rather, indicative of new trends and forward motion in design." Pots talks about Campbell's interpretation of a mythic symbol and relates mythic symbols to design elements: "His interpretation is that the symbol should be 'transparent to transcendence': In other words, it should allow us to take the symbol in, and allow ourselves to not get stuck on the symbol itself, but rather what the symbol points to." Ultimately, Pots fully acknowledges that the most important aspect of all of this is whether or not the final design speaks for itself and actually works. "In the end, if the final product doesn't do its job, then all this talk about inspiration and process doesn't really matter."
Although his process is alive with notions of mythological theory and visual philosophy, it can be summed up quite simply: "My process for all new sites starts like this: get a vague, abstract idea of the vision I want to achieve. Next, look for examples of sites using similar visuals. Next, I organize my inspiration into an Illustrator file. Collectively, the goal is to use these elements as a springboard to create something alive and new." Here is a look at the initial inspiration board he created for our current site design:
Pots was in the fortunate position of having a substantial amount of time to devote to this particular redesign project. He admits that in general, the constraint of time can often reduce the scale of each step in his process. "I think a big challenge as a growing designer is to realize that every site can't be the most-epic-process-ever-omg." And when he is under restrictive time constraints he finds that, "Ultimately, communicating with clients to rein in their design expectations" is important.
Pots’s creative talents revealed themselves at an early age. Long before he started with Intridea, he drew Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for his classmates' trapper keepers in the third grade. Always inspired by his older brother, whose drawings he loved, he started drawing when he was very young; "Sketchbooks were the medium of those days. Tons of blank pages." He had a habit of doing each new drawing on a random blank page in the sketchbook; "The idea of going through the pages in linear order was the opposite of my instincts. In a sense, this made finding a new blank page kinda tough when the book began to get full, but it was still the way I enjoyed doing it. I had to find the right blank page for my drawing at that particular moment." He loved drawing cartoonish war and battle scenes over ocean backgrounds, complete with battleships, attacking planes, helicopters, and submarines. Much of the drawings in his later years were inspired by the backstories for his favorite video games like Dragon Warrior, The Legend of Zelda, and Diablo.
In between drawing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for his third grade classmates and working at Intridea, he grew up in suburban Maryland where he loved exploring the forests, playing video games, piano and ice hockey. Pots went to college at the University of Maryland where he started out as a Computer Science major. He had done some programming in high-school as an extension of his gaming hobby. "One useful side effect of all the PC gaming was getting comfortable with DOS. I quickly grew comfortable learning basic command line stuff." He had several PASCAL and C++ classes in high school. "As much as we coded, we also learned how to get around the computer lab’s security codes so we could play Quake 2 on the LAN." But he wasn’t in the Computer Science program very long; "After 3 months I firmly decided to quit that major; it was lifeless to me. Not in a judgmental sense, but rather on a personal level: at that time in my life, it too closely represented the path of non-discovery."
Pots majored in American Studies which gave him the flexibility to focus on sociology and music. "Sociology allowed me to continue learning about different global situations and introduced me to my budding interest in tribal religion, which grew into a passion for comparative mythology." His music major allowed him to deepen his understanding of music theory after playing piano for ten years and augmented his passion for playing guitar, which he claims was his "unofficial major" in college.
After graduating, Pots worked waiting tables, playing gigs at local bars and coffee shops, and devoted a lot of free time to creative writing. It wasn’t long though before he realized he needed a "real" job, and he got hired with the Chesapeake Research Consortium. "That gig had me handling various tasks, including maintaining a website. Best of all, they had a training budget. I could buy books dedicated to HTML, CSS, Photoshop and Illustrator. This was heaven." He looked to sources on the web like Zen Garden for guidance as he taught himself the gentle art of of web design. As he learned Illustrator and Photoshop, he discovered ways to take characters from his creative writing and put them into visual form. His creative writing not only inspired his art, but it also motivated him to re-approach guitar from a new perspective: "I became interested in the possibilities of writing esoteric folk songs, instead of just playing what people in coffee shops wanted to hear."
After working at CRC for a few years, he started freelancing on the side. "I was taken by the web possibilities and how it could be translated into a career. I freelanced for about a year, and did everything you see here:
He spent a year doing freelance work before he ran into Chris Selmer, Senior Partner at Intridea while he was at a DC tech event. "I was hired shortly thereafter. It was a dream," he reflects.
It didn’t take anyone long to discover how talented Potsiadlo was. In addition to rolling out our new website design, he has been busy designing for several client projects, including EarthAid and HowAboutWe. He works from his home in Maryland where he lives with his wife, Shannon, and their baby girl, Norah. He enjoys working at his home office, but admits that he really loves working in coffeeshops too: "Sitting in chairs previously used by others doing their own respective work, drinking from mugs once used by others while doing likewise. The ambience of creativity in these settings is one of my favorite things. I think my favorite encapsulation of all this comes from this TED talk (author Elizabeth Gilbert, on creativity and genius.)"
Though he certainly loves music, he prefers to listen to podcasts while he works. "I think podcasts represent an awesome realm of creative use of the internet." His favorites include Leo LaPorte’s TWiT.tv network, the sports and pop-culture ramblings of Bill Simmons, and geeked-out movie conversations on The /Filmcast. When he's not having fun with his family or being creative with music, images or language, he enjoys doing work in his home's garden and watching sports on the TV.
Potsiadlo could be considered a Homo Universalis, a modern day Renaissance man. From his clever sketchings, to the intricate songs he plays on guitar and piano, to ice hockey, to his interests in global issues, to his love of comparative mythology, to creative writing, to the art that he creates for the web. It’s hard to believe so much talent can come from one human being. Then again, Pablo Picasso may have said it best when he reminds us that the artist is not just a set of eyes or ears, but a political being:
"What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who has only his eyes if he is a painter, or his ears if he is a musician, or a lyre at every level of his heart if he is a poet, or, if he is merely a boxer, only his muscle? On the contrary, he is at the same time a political being, constantly alert to the heartrending, burning, or happy events in the world, molding himself in their likeness."
This post is part of a weekly series, called "Intridea Insider"