Born on St. Helena Island, in the South Atlantic Ocean, Robin Richards studied in Colchester, Essex, UK, before returning to St. Helena, where he worked as a teacher, ordnance surveyor and in local media. While on the island, Richards started and ran his own design business—the only one in a 1,500 mile radius—and, as the story goes, owned the only iMac and iPod in the South Atlantic for some time. In 2009, he moved to Bristol, UK where he focused on infographics at a new start-up, before moving on to become part of the JESS3 design team where he's responsible for overseeing their information design, working on all projects ranging from infographics, data visualization and developing UI for Web and mobile platforms. His work has been featured on TechCrunch, Flowing Data, Fast Company, Gizmodo, BBC, Guardian, Alltop and Information Is Beautiful.
Collaboration and A Blank Piece of Paper
If you have a degree in what field is it? I originally studied fine art at the Colchester Institute in Essex, UK. While studying, my work began to become more graphical, so I switched to graphic design. That was a while ago, so the classes were very much print-based, so I did a course module teaching myself and trying different things to build a Web site. It was all new to the tutors at that time, and they didn't understand it, so I got a pass mark just because I made it work.
What’s the best site you've seen lately? What’s so great about it? Diesel Island. The full-screen Island Streetview is what really did it for me—the way it enables the exploration of a new environment in a way that’s familiar. I found myself exploring the island and since I don't care much for clothes, it was a bit of a surprise. Also the construction of it is impressive (just the love, sweat and long hours that when into making it); imagine mixing it with OpenGL, the next trend to hit big, and the potential is huge.
If you were to change professions, what would you choose to do? Media. I worked as radio presenter/producer for a while on St. Helena Island and loved it. Interviewing people was the bit I really enjoyed. Loved just talking to people and discovering new things. It was a shared experience for me, as I could ask any question I wanted “for the listener,” but I was usually hungry to learn about the subject as well. There is a simple pleasure in talking to someone about what they know best.
Design or technology? Which is more important? Why? Neither. Each serves the other and without either, imaginations would be crushed.
From where do your best ideas originate? Having a respect for different viewpoints, and different ways of approaching a problem is something I value and welcome, so... collaboration and a blank piece of paper. Put any number of people into a room with a sheet of paper and ask them to look for a solution and they will not be able to not come up with ideas—they may not always be the right ideas, but the group will be on its way to solving the problem.
How do you overcome a creative block? I have a shower. Strange as it may seem, the running water clears my mind and ideas seem to flow. A friend recently showed me Aqua Notes. They’re brilliant. I use them all the time and my ideas are never lost.
In one word describe how you feel when beginning a new project? Open. At the beginning of any project there is so much potential and the end result could be anything. I like to be open to exploring anything because even wrong turns and mistakes can be valuable in making an end result the best possible.
What well-known site is most desperately in need of a redesign? LinkedIn. There are so many great functions, but I get so lost and overwhelmed that it becomes difficult to know what to do. It lives in that professional social space, and given the simplicity of other social sites, it feels a little dated and almost like its wanting to accomplish too much on a page. I’d love for it to reduce what’s on the page, create more focus on connections and activity and update its eye candy.
Do you have creative outlets other than Web design? Drawing. Whether with a pencil or pen, I have always enjoyed it; it’s very calming.
What music are you listening to right now? I like to type something that relates to my mood that day into Last.FM and enjoy whatever randomness comes up. I find I can listen to stuff on repeat a lot, so that way it keeps my ear enjoyment fresh. I also enjoy Designers.MX which, again, breaks up listening patterns. Music evokes moods and gives me energy so I like to be surprised by it as much as possible.
What product/gadget can you not live without? It’s an old one, and not sure it meets the modern use of the term gadget but... a Pilot Hi-Techpoint pen and a notepad.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve bought online? I don’t tend to buy a lot. I try to limit myself to buying only what I need.
What’s your favorite quote? “Don't be afraid to fail.” It informs everything I do.
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Learn the craft, focus and work hard. Always continue to learn new skills and apply them. I learned that the hard way. In the creative industry there is always something new to learn, as the technology changes so fast, and people are always pushing the limits of what’s possible in new and exciting ways. Knowing what’s possible and how to successfully use things in new ways are powerful creative tools.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? The value of collaboration. Both on a personal and professional level, talking about design and creating stuff with others is fantastic!