© 2017 margins

David Delmar 

and Resilient Coders    
april 2017
 
graphic design
web design
web development
activism
resilientcoders.org

How did you start to think about getting Resilient Coders off the ground?

 

What I started to do at the time was sort of code my way out of the problems. I took some vacation days to volunteer at a youth detention center teaching young men the basics of html and css, and whenever I would tell people about my work, they would say, “well that’s cool and all, but tell me about that teaching that you’re doing.” Resilient coders took off from there.

 

What are some of your personal struggles with design that contributed to the creation of Resilient Coders?

 

There were a bunch of things that I learned early on. They blew away my preconceptions of what design and art in general should look like and shouldn’t. A great example, which we see a lot with our students, is “I don’t want to make my design work, my aesthetic, look like something I’m not. I don’t want to look like Mr. Software design.”

 

I have that conversation a lot with some of our starting designers, but you have to look back at your objectives. What is the point of this portfolio site? Is it to show off your work or to get a job? If the objective of the portfolio site is to get a job, then you need to align your work accordingly, and you do have to fit yourself into this mold of Mr. or Ms. Software. If that’s what people are hiring for.

 

If that hurts your soul—and I understand if it does, it did mine—create another site. Put your artist endeavors somewhere else, where it’s not necessarily going to be conflated with who you are as a professional, but can speak to who you are as an artist. I have that to this day. I have my online professional presence, and I also have a portfolio site of just my work. I don’t care if that’s interpreted as commercially viable because it just exists for my own artistic exploration. That’s a discovery that I had to make early on.

Edited for length and clarity by Alicia DeWitt

When David Delmar spoke at Boston University's Arts and Ideas Symposium this November, his enthusiastic cadence and colloquial humor left the audience intrigued. We all look for opportunities to use design to solve real world problems, but Delmar has done it

with something momentous. Resilient Coders, an organization dedicated to "hacking the opportunity gap" is influencing the way we think about design for change. margins connected with Delmar about his career path and the development of his organization over the phone.

Since we’re talking about being commercially viable and styles of this day and age, are there any particular trends that you like seeing or that you don't like seeing?

 

Trends are trends. They come in and you see everyone using, a particular slab typeface for a hot minute, or a particular color palette for a hot minute. I think that what people forget is that you are communicating something always. Sometimes what you’re communicating is “I am following a trend.” 

 

I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with a very insightful designer that I happened to complete disagree with at a dinner. I was kind of chiding him for a big corporate redesign that got a lot of press. [I was] basically calling him out for being kind of boring. What he did was grab a napkin and a pen. He showed that people don’t realize that there is a spectrum from trendy and new, to safe, predictable and timeless. And all of the brands fit somewhere on that spectrum. If you're designing for a bank or a law firm or a political candidate, you want to be timeless, elegant, safe, so that is going to be the objective for that design work.

 

The objective of your design work should not be to flex your own design muscle, it should be to be invisible, and to let the design work do the communicating that it needs to do.

Resilient Coders logo

"You need to be willing to advance both initiatives: your own personal design aesthetic and that which happens to be commercially viable"

Screenshots of Commit Resilience, a campaign to "fight hate with compassion" after a surge in hate crimes following the 2016 presidential election. Designed by Resilient Coders

Talk to us about process, both with getting resilient coders off the ground, and with how you personally make work.

In the software world, the core tenant of Lean and Agile Design is to be iterative. To try something. To build, measure and edit. That, I think, has a bunch of applications in design, in development, and in Building Resilient coders. That’s how we built our program.

 

We’d try the minimum viable product—the initial attempt to do something—which was riddled with assumptions. Then what you do, is go out there and measure. A measurement can mean something different depending on what you’re measuring for. Then, using everything you learn from that measurement, you pivot accordingly. I think that you can apply that to design and artwork, and that’s certainly what we chose to build up the program. [We started] with a short run cohort, designed specifically not to be successful. Designed only to help us shed light on our assumptions, whether they were true, false, or partly true.

 

In my personal experience, the same [method] can be applied to design work. The first time that I have created any piece of artwork, was not the best iteration of that particular motif, concept, or piece. It’s always when I come back to it after having consumed more information, or more artwork, or more context that I’ve come back to it with a renewed sense of purpose, aesthetic, or direction.

 

I know there are folks who say it’s important to be kind of immediate and authentic, and I get that. It just depends on what your objective is with that piece of art. It also depends on your style.

 

Do you wish there was anything the general public new about the design world?


One thing is that, design should serve a purpose. It is usually to communicate an idea. Design is not decoration even though it’s sometimes mistaken for decoration. I also think that a good designer is going to be invisible when creating something for a client. That’s something that gets lost in the noise.

 

The other thing is for clients. I wish that people would just invest in a designer that they trust, and let them design. I’ve definitely met folks who are just shitty at being clients, and they end up with shitty design work.

 

I think it’s our job as designers to kind of maneuver that conversation before it flies off the rails. That’s undoubtedly the most valuable skill I’ve acquired as a designer, and it has nothing to do with Photoshop. It was being able to communicate to a client why they already like what I did. That was the moment in my freelance life that I was able to really turn the process around. I could do the design once, maybe twice and then make the case as to why that was the best possible design.

Are there any people outside of the field that are big influences for you?

 

Yeah I have a few different influences that I keep coming back to. I have a series of Chrome extensions that allow me to see what's really popular right now in the design world. The one that I would recommend, and that like the most is Panda. Panda is a chrome extension that gives me the opportunity to explore what’s popular in Google.

 

I also draw a lot of design wisdom from other sources. There’s a print shop that I really love called Aesthetic Apparatus. I keep a bunch of their work up at my house. They’re just phenomenal. They’re based out of Minneapolis.

 

More broadly than that, I’m Mexican American, and there is a certain design and artistic legacy that comes with that heritage. I grew up really liking David Siqueros for example. To me, he’s the greatest artist that ever lived. He’s an inspiration in my worldview. That could be largely because of the heritage I grew up with—my parents took me to see a lot of his work in Mexico City—and those are influences that I always go back to.

 

But you have to live within the context of your day and age. You can draw stuff from Pre-Colombian Artwork, or from Siqueros, or from anywhere else, but you need to be cognizant of all of the individuals that are operating under a different place and age. You need to be a designer cognizant of your environment.

"Build, measure, and edit. That's how we built our program"

At one of my first couple of jobs—when there was work that I did that was rejected from a client—if I thought [the work] was ultimately a better final version that we ended up going with, I’d take those and print them out. I’d post them on the wall under the title, "The Rejection Collection."

 

I used to work right there by that wall, under my "Rejection Collection," because it was a good way to remind myself of a bunch of things, depending on what I’d need as a reminder of that day. It’s a good reminder that I fuck up on a regular basis. It’s a good reminder when I’m producing what I would consider soul-sucking design work, that I’m also capable of good design work. And that if people don’t necessarily read it as such, it’s not an indictment on the artwork itself but a result of the needs of a particular client.

 

I think it’s really important for artists or designers who are trying to do commercial work, to understand that a good designer is invisible. You shouldn’t see the mark of that person’s style in much of their commercially viable design work. And I know that the design professors at BU are going to disagree with that. I went through design history as well. I studied Paul Rand, and I used to sit there in class and think, “yes, I’m going to be a designer who is both commercially viable and has his own style.” That’s probably not going to be the case at first, and you have to reconcile that as a professional designer. You need to be willing to advance both initiatives: your own personal design aesthetic and that which happens to be commercially viable in your day and age.