David and I met a few years back on Twitter through fellow Seattle friends. He was charming, funny and blew me away with the design projects he was working on. Since then, he launched his own iOS design and development business with a childhood friend, called Xhatch. The business has exploded due to David’s keen eye to detail and the attentive teamwork put into the projects. But brilliant design isn’t all David does, traveling is a top hobby and he can be found circling the globe at least once a year with his laptop in hand – balancing work and play. It is my pleasure to introduce, David Hoang.
1. Where are you from and what do you do?
I’m from a suburb near Portland, Oregon but I call Seattle my home. I lived there for six years before moving to Brooklyn, New York. My cell phone is still 206. And I am an iOS Designer for Xhatch Interactive.
2. How did you get into design?
I’ve always been interested in design. I earned my BFA in Visual Arts and wanted to be a painting instructor at a university. However, at some point I realized I like to express for others vs. myself, which is (what I think) the core difference between design and art. I want to build things for people to use.
3. How long did you work in the design industry before you became a freelancer?
I worked at ExactTarget for two years before freelancing. There I got to work with some phenomenal clients: Nike, Expedia, Hotels.com, Microsoft, etc. ET taught me how to be a professional and execute on projects.
4. What is Xhatch and when was it founded?
Xhatch is the company I work for. It was co-founded by myself and Adam McDonald. It stands for “crosshatch” which is a drawing technique of using parallel lines to create value. I always liked the analogy of that for the convergence of design and development. Adam is the developer and I’m the designer and we both are involved in every aspect of the project for perspective.
5. How did you find qualified professionals for the Xhatch team?
I’ve known my co-founder since we were 11 years old. There is a certain type of trust there that cannot be broken. It can be difficult to work with friends, but Adam and I have known for a long time that we wanted to create a company together. Jake and Jason, our two other iOS developers, used to work at Adam’s old startup, so there is a strong sense of synergy and trust among the developers, too. We like to think of ourselves as an entity versus individuals, kind of like The Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Our plan is to grow and expand, but we are very patient about who we choose to add because we want as few moving parts as possible. I would say we knew for about a year and a half that we wanted to add Jason and Jake before they joined, so find your prospects early.
6. What are the positives and negatives about owning a design business?
The positive is that you are responsible and accountable for everything. The negative is that you are responsible and accountable for everything. When you own your own company, you are the first to fall on the sword, so you need to take it seriously. Working at a company has a sense of comfort because it always seems like you have someone to go to for help. When it is your own company, you’re on your own. That’s why having a mentor or getting people to advise on your company is so key.
7. Traveling is a love of yours. Why is it imperative that you travel as often as possible?
Traveling always gives me a sense of clarity and allows me to see things in a different perspective. I go to Europe once a year just to gain inspiration and see things from a different point of view.
8. Does your career allow for you to travel freely?
It does. We all work remotely most of the time so it doesn’t matter where we are. When I am abroad, it is quite nice because I am ahead of the developers time-wise so we get more clock to work with.
9. Have you ever landed clients or leads from your social media networks?
We have in a very subtle way. It was not us tweeting at people asking if they need work, or even announcing it. However, we started working on Shelby’s Quest because Kami was following someone who was following us (who we did work for) and made the connection there. For me, networking is not an event but just a state-of-being. You are always constantly connecting with people so social media extends the opportunity to get to know people—ultimately, landing us work.
10. Tell us about Shelby’s Quest and why it is such a unique iPad app?
Shelby’s Quest is an app that is a series of games for kids with autism to work on their fine motor skills. It is really important to us to work on ideas we really believe in, but also ones that can benefit someone’s life, particularly children. I find it fascinating how so many iOS apps have literally changed the lives of people. It has been one of our favorite projects to work on as it is a positive contribution to society.
11. How has your design career changed over the last decade?
The way I see the world has just evolved, and that has helped me as a designer. Each project I work on I gain more experience and learn lessons that I can take away for the next project, which has helped me become a better designer.
12. What is Carogram and when will it be released?
Carogram is an Instagram viewer for the iPad. We used a lot of multi-touch functions for users to play with photos and sit down and enjoy looking at them. While there are some other Instagram iPad apps available, there wasn’t one that we would use, so we decided to make one. It is going to be available in the app store sometime next week—it’s in Apple’s hands right now.
13. Carogram is Xhatch’s first iOS app, what were some of the ups and downs of developing an app?
Besides finding the time to work on our projects and balancing that with client work, there were no problems at all. Two of our team members worked on this (myself and Jake Moore) and we were pretty efficient about the process. It was a lot of fun.
14. What advice would you give to newbie designers who want to break into the design world?
The first is keep executing and focus on the work. You can’t fake craftsmanship or quality, and it is something you can do regardless of who you know. It’s no different than a basketball player practicing on their shot. The better you are at executing, the more your brain can focus on concept and idea as your hands, eyes, and mind are trained to design. The second piece of advice is to ask questions. It is never a bad idea to ask someone how you can get better or what you can be doing better.
15. What mentors have played a significant role in your career?
They have played a vital role in my development as a designer. I have many mentors, but my first one is Marie Thacker at Awesome Giant, who really taught me what she knows and shared her experiences with me. You really just need to find someone who inspires you or you like their work, and ask questions or observe their work. Every designer needs at least one mentor.