Kelly Jepsen: Learn to take productive breaks

We asked Kelly Jepsen, a designer and cofounder of journaling app writr, how he comes up with good ideas. The app is introducing a new way of keeping a journal by asking the user thought-provoking questions every time the program loads up, thus removing that blank page feeling. If you would like to download writr, you can do so on the Windows Store.


 1. What do you do at Writr? What’s your background?

I am the Lead Designer and Co-Founder of writr. What I do at writr on a day-to-day basis is try to create the best product we possibly can by refining our ideas and bring them to fruition. We’re a young start-up, which means we are constantly exploring, learning, adapting, refining and implementing new ideas. My time is currently spread across a few projects within writr itself, some of which I cannot tell you about today sorry.

Predominantly I spend time refining writr’s interface, implementing additional functionality and new approaches as well as time spent maintaining and improving our online presence (websites, e-newsletters, marketing content etc).

At the beginning, we needed a captivating, memorable and comforting face for writr — this resulted in the writr owl, and the beginning of our brand. The product itself then emerged, and from there we constantly have product improvements and new ideas to explore. It certainly never gets boring, and I think I can honestly say that I learn something new every day (well, at least every second day).

2. How do you find designing apps different from other genres of design?

Honestly, at the root of it all — it’s just another problem that needs solving. Any good designer will know that design is about solving problems as efficiently as possible.

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User interface and user experience design (UI/UX) is no different, really. The team at writr identify what we want our users to achieve when they’re using writr, and the designer’s role is to create/find the best way to have them achieve this goal. It’s not always that simple of course, but at its core that’s what it boils down to.

We want to guide our users through a process — a journey — and one of my roles as the designer is to make this experience brilliant, simple and rewarding. At writr, our goal has always been to help our users build better lives. Whenever we consider bringing additional functionality into the application itself, we need to be conscious of how this added functionality relates to the overall goal of helping our user improve their life.

3. What do you do to get the creative juices flowing?

Good question. I don’t often feel I have a lot of creative juice flowing around (which is probably a terrible thing for a designer not to have). I prefer to approach projects from a logical, functional standpoint. Generally, I take more of a problem solving approach than I would a creative one. A project — any project — starts with a problem. Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper to uncover that problem, but there is always a problem and it needs solving. I feel my role, as a designer, is to solve this problem in the most logical, simple, effective way possible.

In terms of finding inspiration, motivation and to get my head thinking, I read a lot of blogs, articles and stories, watch a lot of interviews with people who inspire me and good music always helps (Future Islands are my new favourite, for anyone who’s interested). I hope that answers the question.

4. What’s the first thing you do when you get a brief?

Dependant on the brief itself of course, one of the first things I do is research any potential competition. Be it a product, poster or website I want to see what’s already out there. It’s good to understand the environment and market you’re tackling — I want to be comfortable with their trends and standards, but I also want to build on and improve what they have. I wouldn’t call it copying or even following suit, but simple understanding goes a long way when you’re entering a new project.

5. Who or what inspires your tastes in design?

Steve Jobs (and Apple, by association) inspire me greatly. The passion and conviction he had in creating great products is unfathomable, and is something to be highly respected. Apple is always a touchy subject (there are lovers and haters) but the more you learn about Steve Jobs the more you understand the products he created and how they changed the world. His appreciation for culture and taste was unmatched, and his marriage of gorgeous design with brilliant technology continues to be one of the strongest relationships on Earth. I love what Steve Jobs achieved through Apple, and continue to love the attention to detail and beauty they instil in their products today.

Another person who inspires me greatly is Rafael Nadal. Now, he doesn’t exactly inspire my taste in design, but his passion, attitude and relentless self-belief inspire nearly ever facet of my day-to-day life (and in turn, effect my approach to design). I don’t think I have ever seen anyone who is more dedicated to a cause than he is to becoming a champion. His training schedule is strict to the point of insanity and the humility of his character only but adds to my admiration.

6. How do you overcome mental blocks?

This is a tough one, and one that is very subjective and most likely very personal. One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give anyone is: Learn to take productive breaks.

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What I mean by a productive break is that instead of launching up YouTube or checking your Twitter for 10 minutes, actually get up out of your chair and do something outside of your regular working environment. A lot of research has been done around exercise and brain stimulation — and believe me, it works. If you’re stuck on something, like really stuck, remove yourself from the problem and come back to it. It may not be the best advice you’ve ever been given, but it works like a charm for me.

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