Dan Mall

Dan Mall is an award-winning art director and designer, based in Brooklyn. He's currently a Design Director at Big Spaceship, former Interactive Director at Happy Cog, technical editor for A List Apart and co-founder of Typedia and swfIR. Besides speaking at conferences like SXSW, An Event Apart, and Future of Web Design, Dan has taught advertising at the Miami Ad School, web and graphic design at the Philadelphia University of the Arts, and Flash at the NY School of Visual Arts. His clients include the likes of Google, Crayola, HP, Lucasfilm, Microsoft, GE, Wrigley, The Mozilla Foundation, Thomson Reuters, and The Sherwin-Williams Company.

Dan writes about design on his site, and tweets as @danielmall.

Published Thoughts

Pure and genuine religion…means caring for orphans and widows in distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

James 1:27, New Living Translation.

Regardless of religious affiliation—or not—please take time out to help those in need, without agenda or selfishness, but because that can make all the difference for someone.

Let there be” by Gungor has really been speaking to me lately:

Darkness hovering
Grasping everything it sees
Void empty
Absent life and absent dream

Let there be

Angels toil and crack open scrolls of ancient dreams
Countless worlds of his
Brilliant stars and breath and stream

Let there be (light)

Where there is darkness
Let there be light
Where there is nothing
Let there be light

Let’s change the phrase “designing in the browser” to “deciding in the browser.”

The 10 most interesting things I’ve come across over the last few days in no particular order:

A little advice for those that freelance or run a design studio. When someone asks you if you’re interested in a project, the answer is “yes” 99% of the time. Don’t decide based on the referrer’s understanding of timeframe, budget, or any of the project requirements. Take the opportunity to talk to the prospective client; give yourself the chance to sell your own terms. After all, if those clients really want to work with you, you never know how flexible they’re willing to be.

There’s a big difference between freelancing and running a business. Be cognizant of which one best suits you.

On Pricing: The Object Value System

Few people talk about pricing in our industry, and for good reason. There's hardly a straight answer for "What should I charge?" It depends on many factors: the value of the project to your client, the amount of inquiries you currently have, the type of project, who the client is, the services needed, the amount of time necessary to complete the project, the amount of time you have available, and many more.

For even the greenest of designers, gut reaction is often disregarded for logic, to their own detriment. Trust your gut; it can tell you many things that a spreadsheet cannot.

Here's a system I use to help qualify my gut reaction. Ask yourself what object you would barter for this project. Let's choose a website redesign as an example, a type of project many likely get. Choose an object to represent the value of your project. If your client offered you a new iPod touch instead of cash, would that be fair to you? Probably (hopefully) not, which means you value this project at a higher rate than $199 (currently the going price for an iPod touch). What about a Playstation 3? An iPad 2? Dinner at your choice of 3-star Michelin restaurants? A Canon EOS 5D Mark III?  A week-long all expense paid trip to the resort of your choice? Rent for a year? A new Volkswagen Touareg?

Let's say you thought the Canon EOS 5D Mark III was a fair trade for this website design. Since the current price for that camera is about $3500, that gives you a good sense of the minimum you would charge for this project. While I certainly don't suggest making this the only way that you evaluate value, it can definitely help you to hone in that gut reaction to get a sense of where you really place the value of your project.

If you're interested in learning more about how to price a project, check out these excellent resources:

At Grok, I had the privilege of sharing a thought that’s been on my mind for some time now. Since starting my own business, I’ve been blessed enough that I can choose the types of projects I take on. That choice never comes lightly, as it often has financial, emotional, and spiritual benefits and drawbacks.

It’s definitely an important time for design. Lately, I’ve noticed a trend of many talented designers looking to do something “bigger,” whether that’s doing more meaningful client work, joining a startup, or creating their own products. Brooklyn Beta really exposed the great opportunities to help organizations like charity: water, be disruptive in stagnant markets, or kickstart the reformation of the United States healthcare system.

I was raised to believe in moderation; too much or too little of something is often a bad thing. If everyone’s helping to solve a global crisis, who’s left to help the local mom and pop shop get their business off the ground with a small new website? If everyone’s reforming healthcare, who will create that silly iPhone game that will bring my daughter hours of enjoyment?

When I was contemplating starting SuperFriendly, I thought very hard about the type of work I wanted to take on and how I would describe it. I landed on this tagline: “Defeating apathy and the forces of evil.” While it’s a bit silly, I really do believe in it. It serves as a reminder to me about why I’m doing this in the first place. Defeating apathy is about creating more enjoyment in the world, whether it’s making my wife laugh or entertaining a whole nation. Defeating the forces of evil is a constant challenge to leave the world a little better than I found it with every project I participate it. Will this create pollution… environmentally, digitally, or otherwise? Will I harm someone physically, emotionally, or psychologically? Will our planet have been better off if I never did this? I was convinced that if I kept this as my focus, I would be doing my part, regardless of the scale of that impact.

At Grok, I rhetorically asked my group whether I was shirking my responsibility if the impact of my actions wasn’t large. In retrospect, I wanted affirmation. Instead, Tyler Mincey called me out. He said I was absolutely neglecting my obligations. He reminded me that this is the most opportune time in history because we have immediate influence. I can send 140 characters into space and a small army’s worth of people are ready to argue, agree, fight, discuss, or activate at a moment’s notice. And, if I take that tremendous ability and squander it on creating the next fart app, then yes, I’d be doing a disservice to myself and all the people I could have helped.

Damn you, Tyler.

I continually struggle with this. I want to work on the whimsical, the first world, the "let’s make good even better" stuff. I want to groan and whine when Netflix streams at medium quality instead of high, and I want to count it a huge success that I convinced a client to choose that particular shade of orange… you know the one. But there are other kinds of work that are important.

I still believe in balance. In that discussion, Rogie made a great point that if you’re hungry, you can’t properly feed others; if you’re not whole, you’ve got much less of yourself to give. I agree wholeheartedly. I believe that there’s an equilibrium. I’m not sure what the outcome will be, but at least I have a different way to look at my work.

With great power, and all that jazz.

Every client is looking for "simple, clean, and modern".

What I wouldn't give for a client that was looking for something "rich and flavorful".

I always have something to do. "In my free time" is just a joke I sometimes mutter to myself. Without proper ways to manage that, I'd go crazy.

Though it seems like overkill, I use a system of loose and strict to-dos to help me get through my day. For starters, I use Notational Velocity (synced to iPhone and iPad through Simplenote) to record my random thoughts. I've been sprinkling Evernote into that mix, but haven't quite found a reliable reason for it yet. Once something from those lists are actionable, I'll move it into topic-based lists in Workflowy (as a Fluid app). Lastly, when I'm at a list to move it into a daily list, it goes into my trusty TeuxDeux (also as a Fluid app).

That's how I get things done.

We work in an industry where our waste is cheap; let's take advantage of that. No one remembers the stones that get chipped away; all they see at the end is a refined, beautiful sculpture.