CalmSpark (aka Imran Ashraf) may have begun his career in law school, but he’s always had a passion for the arts. When he decided to pursue an architecture degree instead, he needed to find a way to pay his new tuition costs. That’s where 99designs came in.
When our mobile app category debuted a few years ago, CalmSpark began participating in the contests exclusively—he’d always enjoyed experimenting with user interface design and had a knack for creating Winamp skins and web sites. With limited competition, he began making good money and was soon able to pay his way through university.
Now graduated, he continues to chase his creative dreams by working on 99designs full-time as an app and user interface designer. His beautifully minimal interfaces are difficult to resist, and he’s found a sweet spot with early-stage start-ups and mobile app companies in need of a data-driven revamp.
We sat down with CalmSpark to chat about his experience on 99designs, his design heroes and where he sees mobile app design going in the near future.
Name: Imran Ashraf
99designs handle: CalmSpark
Location: United Kingdom
Specialty: App design
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a user-interface interaction designer from the UK.
How did you get started in design?
As a kid I was always the super creative arty one in the class. As I grew up, that side was somewhat extinguished and I ended up studying law at university for a few years.
I had a super geeky hobby of designing Winamp skins and this was my first foray into User Interface design. At this moment in time, I was also producing a lot of digital abstract and typography work, and I decided to create my own online portfolio. Over the next year or so I picked up more about web design and interface design in general.
I ended up dropping out of law school and securing a place in architecture school. However, I had to pay for tuition and general uni costs myself.
I managed to pay my way through university by working on 99designs. After graduating with a degree in Architecture, I decided to carry on freelancing as a UI/UX designer.
How did you hear about 99designs? What’s your experience been like so far?
When I first started doing web design, I landed a long-term client who introduced me to 99designs. At the time, there were no app contests on 99designs, so I entered a few web design contests but didn’t get very far.
Several months later, 99designs introduced the App design category and I decided to exclusively enter those contests. I started entering every contest I could, and because there wasn’t much competition I managed to make some good money and I was doing something that I loved when it suited me.
Once 99d introduced 1-on-1 projects, I started seeing more of those pouring in and it made follow-on work with clients far smoother. I don’t enter as many contests as I once used to, but I still take on app design projects that come my way.
How has 99designs affected your creative career?
I am a full-time designer and I do rely heavily on 99designs for new projects. In terms of affecting my career, I had the opportunity to work on some great projects on 99designs and that allowed me to add some really impressive work to my portfolio and attract more clients.
Do you have a favorite project or client you’ve worked with?
I’ve worked with some fantastic clients over the years, I don’t think I could pick just one. Cop-out answer, I know. Sorry!
What interests you most about app design?
App design isn’t just about creating pretty visuals, it’s ultimately about helping clients solve problems and meet their business goals.
I love the variety of problems that I get to work on, and I love the fact that these projects make people’s lives easier. It’s very satisfying and a bit surreal to think someone on the other side of the planet is interacting with something I designed and finding value and benefit in it.
Is there a certain type of company you enjoy designing for?
I have two types of companies that I find I thrive with. One type is early-stage mobile start-ups, who have a concept that really changes peoples lives and the stakeholders value and recognize design as being an integral part of their success with users.
The second type is mobile app companies who’re looking to revamp their interface and they have certain user friction points that they need to remove. Normally they have a plethora actual user research and data that I can work with and it makes the work more nuanced and focused.
You have a beautiful, minimal aesthetic. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Thank you! I have a formal education in Architecture and I always loved the work of the early modernists, particularly Mies Van der Rohe. I’m also an unashamed Apple fanboy and the work of Steve Jobs and Jony Ive has really shaped my views on effective design.
What do you consider most challenging about designing for mobile? Do you have any tips for overcoming those challenges?
With mobile apps, all of the laws of good layout design are even more exaggerated and important because you’re working with size constraints and users have severely short attention spans compared to other mediums.
The user experience has to be really intuitive and every use-case needs to be thoroughly thought out and tested. It’s so important to be focused and make sure every interaction is effective as possible. It’s easy to design nice looking screens in a vacuum, but the challenge is to fit them all together, make them flow and make sure the user can effectively carry out the task in the most effective and elegant way possible.
Technology is changing rapidly. Where do you see mobile going in the next few years?
With the advancements in speech/chat bots and especially VR/AR, I think we’re heading for a world with “invisible” interfaces.
I’m a big fan of futurist Sci-fi movies and am hoping the type of interfaces seen in movies like Oblivion, Tron, Iron Man in real life. I’m still amazed at my iPhone, the fact that I have this George Jetson type device in my pocket.
What do you do when you’re not designing?
I’m really into self-development, mastery, music, traveling and reading in general. I also have a lovely wife and family and all of these things keep me very busy. 🙂