Not only can some of these projects be designer-reputation-dangerous, and going design-overboard can be a disaster but there is a strong sense of knowledge and research needed for showcasing the artists work and designing music players “right”. Fonts matter here. Icons and motion are other things that make these media and sound applications sell. Jonatan, working on both consumer-facing products and his own applications such as Cloudcast, and Covers seems to be one of the few that make viewing selections of music and podcasts work.
Starting with designing icons for a Golf application in 2009, Jonatan, Living in Spain, has ventured out of his comfort zone and created visually enticing secenarios, with functionality always in the back of his mind, he shares that he “started designing icons as a hobby and trying to improve the whole look and feel of certain apps (whether they were for the user interface or the application icon itself). Then I also started to look at creating icon packs (which has its own challenges like creating consistency) to give them away for free. This way I would practice and get exposure which of course would lead to even more downloads. At this point I wasn’t looking at making a living with this. In fact, I was unaware that would be even possible!”, Jonatan explains. The needs for users are central around his work, and his reputation has grown fondly through networks like Dribbble and Behance. Growing into roles at Opera and Vodafone has also been key stepping stones for this advancing career – “Our work affected more than 400 million users. Most of the work we did is under NDA so this is just a small portion of it”. Now working full time at Midtone Design Jonatan has discovered what it means to get paid as a designer, and how to grow both side projects and his digital agency.
Can you describe early school life? Describe your home town? Was school or a particular person an influence during your early creative career?
I was born in Argentine, just like my parents. However all of my grandparents were born in Spain and then when the war came they moved to Argentine.
I grew up in a very small town called Allen, inside the state of Rio Negro which belongs to the Patagonia zone of Argentine.
I always loved computers and technology in general. When I was a kid whenever I had in my hands a new device I can’t help it but touch all the buttons and see what I can do with it. Every single time I had the chance to get into a car there was a new world of controls to touch and twist. I also used to open and dismantle almost all of my toys just to see how it works and then use the lights, the motors, the screws and everything I can get from it to build my own stuff. You can’t really imagine how much things I broke. I didn’t realise at the time that curiosity was my main driver (and still is). Curiosity have been my most valuable asset for helping me improve and learn new things.
Then my first *real* computer came. I say real because previously I only had an old 286 that could run MS-DOS and Prince of Persia only. I had a few tech books around the house from one of my dad’s friends and I totally devoured them. All that knowledge allowed me open my first PC up and tear it apart. Then I put it back together. It worked and I was happy to learn everything by myself. I realise that I loved to learn, just the way we usually learn I realise that I didn’t quite liked school but I loved to learn
Later at age 12 or so I was totally decided that I wanted to be a hacker and developer so I needed to install and explore linux (*Conectiva* was actually the first linux distribution I ever installed). Back in the day it was quite hard to make everything work, from installation to drivers setup to make everything work (GPU, Sound, Modem, etc).
You might be wondering why I’m telling you all this? because it is fun to think back to that memories, connect the dots and realise that I usually ended up spending more time *visually* tweaking linux than what I spend learning some other technical aspects. On most of things I did, unconsciously, was trying to make them feel good and improve the whole experience.
You mentioned that illustration and drawing was a core part of your growing up. Describe your first job in the creative field?
If this question also includes freelance work then my first job was to design a few icons for a Golf app (back in 2009). I worked with the client on some sketches and then I moved them to digital. It was pretty short project but quite amazing that I was creating something, that hopefully the client will like and in exchange for my time I will get a payment. My first job ever, yay!. I was by definition a “professional designer”.
Looking at your portfolio you have a ton of attention spent on Icon Packs. Can you elaborate on these? Were they for a particular client?
I started designing icons as a hobby and trying to improve the whole look and feel of certain apps (whether they were for the user interface or the application icon itself). Then I also started to look at creating icon packs (which has its own challenges like creating consistency) to give them away for free. This way I would practice and get exposure which of course would lead to even more downloads. At this point I wasn’t looking at making a living with this. In fact, I was unaware that would be even possible!
One of the “most successful” icons I ever did was the *Canon 400D Camera and Lens* which gave me lots of exposure, downloads and funny enough, even my first client!. I did this icon to test myself and see what I could be capable of. It took me several days but I learnt tons of techniques and things though the whole process. (More than 500 layers were used here)
What are some of the processes that go into these?
Process is as follows for icons:
1) Talk with client about their goals and ask different questions about their clients, brand, etc
2) Start with some sketches showing different ideas and directions. Sometimes what you think it will work perfectly once it’s on paper it turns out not to be so great or interesting so I tend to “brute force” a task as much as I can by testing different ideas and directions. Once we’re happy with once I move it to digital
3) On digital I usually study lightning, shadow, perspective, proportion, shape, colours and more to convey what we decided we wanted to transmit. Refine until we’re both happy!
Let’s talk Midtone, your agency. You mentioned that it was started as a hobby. Can you talk to this? How did you get your first client?
When I started to design it was merely because I enjoyed doing it. I had a job as a computer technician but I was finding myself almost everyday with Photoshop open most of my free time. I was learning a lot everyday and I really liked how I was able to achieve new things. One of my main motivators was the feeling that I was able to create something new and hopefully something that will make others feel good, just like when you walk in into a really nice hotel and you feel good, the people is nice, the place smells nice and basically everything feels just right. Ultimately I think it made me feel powerful and in control while being a huge challenge as well.
But moving a bit forward, when I created my design studio I already had some personal work to show what I could do for potentially new clients. In fact, I got my first client before I even had a chance to think about making a living designing! I didn’t realise I could create profitable business from this, not even knew what *freelance* word meant!
What clients are in your line up today?
Currently I’m working with the great guys at Tidal. Previous clients includes Vodafone UK, Opera Software and Metalab among others.
Working now for Tidal, as a freelancer is exciting. How did this relationship come about? What are your internal projects like?
Aziz Firat (@Azizfirat) worked with me at Opera, although we were in different teams, we usually chat here and there or ask for graphics resources, etc. When I finished my work with Opera (that btw lasted more than 5 years!) he also leave Opera and went to work for TIDAL. After a few months they were in the need of re-designing lots of things so that’s where I came in and since been working with them and other great designers that made the new iOS and Android app possible (Emiel Janson @emieljanson, Kagan Yaldizkaya @kaganin and Michel de Graaf @michieldegraaf )
Can you elaborate on how you start client onboarding, what is that discussion like?
Usually it varies a bit from the type of project and client but it all starts with me receiving an email *insert new email arrived sound here*. I first try to find out if it’s a project that could go well with what I consider are my best skills, otherwise I would advice or recommend other colleague for the task. You might be wondering “what about leaving the confort zone?” Well, I do like to do that but obviously not with clients and professional work! I would explore it myself as a personal task first, then see if I enjoy it and think if I would consider it to offer it as one of my skills. Sorry I derailed!
After that I would meet or e-meet (usually is the later) to discuss further with client and get more info while also ask questions regarding brand, target audience, goals and so on. Once small details are worked out and deadlines fit nicely for both the fun starts!.
So in passing you mentioned you have side projects. You design and develop applications with your friend Fernando making apps together since 2010 (Luxylight, Squire, Flight Card, Cloudcast), and now Covers. How did this start?
Fernando was one of my first clients back when I started my design career professionally. He had some concept on what later came to be Squire and he wanted me to create some mockups to explore the idea. We liked each other so much that we end up creating and app together called Luxylight. It was a simple project but it helped us to see if there was possibilities of a long-term relationship. Later he asked me to join him on the Squire project. From there we started develop apps in our free time together.
Flight Card without any doubt. It was a simple app, meaning it did a few things but it did them well. Design-wise I consider it one of my best atemporal designs so far (have in mind this app is from 2011 and it still looks modern and fresh). We were featured on many important websites such as Wired, Forbes, TNW. Even Apple featured us in the App Store and in presentations they made all around the world showing the app as an example of good user experience and design.
When starting Covers, like the others, what is the relationship like between you and Fernando? What are the duties between you and him? Are there any clashes?
He usually takes on the development side while I do the UI/UX part. We design together the product itself. We discuss on what features we want on the MVP release, the deadlines and so on. However we always try to help and push each other as much as we can with ideas, challenges, opinions, etc. Ultimately we know each of us decide and has the last word on what we’re responsible for.
Describe Covers for us? When is it launching? What is next?
Covers is meant to be a super simple tool to find tracks or artists you love and listen to the cover versions of their songs. Covers 1.0 is already out in the App Store, now we’re working on the 2.0 release where we’re adding Playlists support and a premium subscription for more features.
What is in the future for Jonatan Castro? Is there a company you would like to work or dreams you have for Covers’ future?
Keep learning and try to improve every aspect of my life. Last year was a huge improvement for me personally as I went through a hard moment, which was also the trigger that made me grow so much and experience lots of new things that produced an incredible change of mind. Also working on my own products is important to me. Creating something from the ground up is really an amazing experience and I want to keep doing it for as long as I’m able to.
What has been your favorite project to date (both freelancing and side projects)?
I have to say that one of the most enjoyable projects to do was Tidal client for iOS: super fun kind of app to do mockups for, great team to work with, enough room for creative thinking and an entire company willing to change and work together on creating a better experience for the user.
What keeps you motivated in this industry?
Technology and design is a huge part of our current society so we have an immense responsibility as designers to use this technology to help improve people’s life. I can’t be more excited of what technology will bring us next and I would like to be part of it, designing the next-generation experiences!