Colin Panetta, Director of UX/UI at Last Call Media joins us for our second episode of Yeti Village to chat about his design background, illustration work both in and outside of the company, and how it really feels to present a project at Design4Drupal.
You can listen to this episode of Yeti Village below, or by searching for “Yeti Village” in Apple Podcasts or the podcast directory of your choice.
Colin: What type of a noise does a banana make?
Susie: You go, [mouth noises 00:00:05]. He would just to that in planes to annoy people. He would just make banana noises.
Susie: He would do it to strangers.
Colin: Who had wronged him?
Colin: Or anyone?
Susie: I think who had wronged him. He’d just make banana noises. Okay.
Susie: Well, let’s start.
Susie: All right. Welcome to episode two of “Yeti Village.” Why don’t you introduce yourself?
Colin: I am Colin Panetta. I am the director of UX/UI at Last Call Media.
Susie: Very nice.
Colin: Yeah, it’s all right.
Susie: How long have you been here?
Colin: I think seven years, I think somewhere around there.
Colin: Yeah. If it’s 2018, that would mean 2011. That’s definitely within two years either way.
Susie: Yeah, yeah. What brought you to Last Call?
Colin: I went to college for design years before that, and I got out, and I was like, “Well, I’m not going to do that.” And then I worked at a film festival for five years. And then that ended, and I needed a job.
Susie: Of course.
Colin: And I was like, “Weil, I could always try that design thing again.” So I was looking for really anything. And I was really set on the Eric Carle Museum, was hiring an education position and that’s what I had done at the film festival for five years. And I was like, “This is great. I’m an illustrator. That’s an illustration school. I’ve done this kind of work. I’m definitely going to get this job.” You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket so I also applied to work the register at a computer repair store. And during the interview, I was like, “I don’t care about this job. I’m going to get that other job. Who cares?” I just have to. It’s responsible to do this. Yeah. And I did not even get a callback on the education job. I had a reference from someone who was a friend of the person who was hiring, like a really good reference. And they didn’t even call me back. I heard through the grapevine that it was super competitive.
Colin: So I did get a callback from the computer repair store, but they were like, “You’re not going to work the register. You’re going to do design because we’re starting to do websites.”
Susie: That’s pretty amazing. What’s funny is I actually feel like the best interviews are ones that, whether intentionally or not, you don’t care about. Where you’re just like, “I’m me. Whatever. Whatever happens, happens.”
Colin: Yeah. And Sean, who did the interview, told me that. He was like, “We had interviewed someone for that position. And they were really nervous and sweaty.” And they were like, “We’re not going to hire that sweaty weirdo.”
Susie: I don’t know about that.
Colin: And they’re like, “This guy seems cool.”
Susie: Yeah. That’s pretty awesome.
Susie: I mean, so you’ve been here basically since the beginning of Last Call?
Colin: Yeah within a year of the beginning, I think.
Susie: It’s pretty wild.
Colin: We still have clients who started before me. Maybe just one. I don’t know about everybody, but yeah. And I feel like Rob and Tom were within six months of me, before me. But there were other people who came and went before me. There was a designer who came and went before me, but I won’t talk to you about his work.
Susie: Probably good choice. I know recently, you’ve been on more of focusing on one project, but before that you were obviously on a lot. Is there one that was your most memorable since you’ve been here?
Colin: Yeah, yeah. I mean definitely the one we talk about a lot is John Hopkins Computational Cardiology. So I’m going to talk about that for a minute. Yeah.
Colin: That was a friend of mine, actually, a very good friend of mine works in that department. And what they do, basically, is they develop the technology to make computer models of hearts. I think it’s maybe called a cell explorer or something? It’s a very detailed model of a heart and they also, in addition to pushing the boundaries on that, doctors will scan their patients hearts, and send them that information so that they can make a model of that heart. And then that computer model can be examined instead of taking the heart outside of the person’s body, which is bad for them. So a very good friend of mine works there and through him I became friends with the person who runs the department. And I think they must have came to me. I don’t really remember how the initial conversation happened. But they must have came to me and said, “We’re looking for some design work.”
Colin: And it was a little bit of an unusual job because science departments … I guess this is probably a common conflict of interest for a lot of people. But I think especially for departments where the goal of what they do is to save lives, for them to try to set aside a big part of their budget for design is a tough call for them.
Susie: Yeah, yeah, I can imagine.
Colin: They came to us with a budget that didn’t allow for, we’re going to come up with a visual identity for you, we’re going to implement that on a round of designs, and we’re going to build a website for you. So the first reason that project was interesting was that we had to be really creative about how to work within their budget and still meet their needs. And so we wound up just giving them a one week sprint. And we really focused on frequent check-ins with them. And we also did a good amount of work on making sure we were aligned, before that sprint even happened. I went on-site, talked to them about expectations, learned about them. And it certainly didn’t hurt that I knew them already. And so in that one week sprint, we actually were able to come up with a visual identity, do a set of designs for their site for around four pages, I think, and also design a logo.
Colin: And I did a bunch of illustration work for it too. So the designer at the time and I were just cranking all day. I was just firing out illustrations, and sending them to him, and he was figuring out how to incorporate them into the stuff that he was doing. The client had expressed that, she said that if she wasn’t in science, she would be in fashion. And that’s super clear looking at her. So we had all these bright colors, and that opened the door for us to do illustration in there. And yeah, it came out really well. It’s one of the things I’m happiest about for sure.
Susie: Nice, nice. So, obviously illustration has come up a lot with the work that you’ve done here. And I know that you do a lot of it on the side. Why don’t you talk about that a little bit?
Susie: Yeah, illustration.
Colin: I’m trying to figure out a point of entry here. I do comics outside of work. And I incorporate computers into the process as little as possible because I do enough of that here. It’s all pencil and ink on paper. And for years, I did a lot of collaborations because when you do a comic all by yourself, it’s not thrilling to do. This is kind of a common thing with a lot of comic book artists, where they’ll say that they don’t like making comics, but they like having made comics. You know?
Susie: Yeah, yeah.
Colin: Like the process is not … Sometimes you’re just sitting at a table, and it’s sunny outside, and you see people playing ball in the park or whatever. And you’re like, “What am I doing?”
Colin: And so, but yeah, I did a lot of collaborations for many years. And just within the last year or two, I started focusing back on stuff that just me, just the stories I want to tell, and those are horrible, upsetting, miserable stories. Horror stuff. And I’ve definitely found that a lot of the work that I do there ends up finding a place here. Like the yetis have a lot of hand drawn elements. Those are really incorporating that stuff that I do with the much cleaner, not more streamlined, but yeah, just much more cleaner stuff here. So a lot of the yetis are just computer generated lines that are super straight and clean. And they’re combined with these hand drawn elements.
Colin: And then yeah, like that stuff that I did for Hopkins, those pencil drawings of hearts, that then have the gradient color applied to the pencil drawing. That’s not something that I would have figured out to do here if I hadn’t already figured out how to do it for comics. So yeah.
Susie: That’s pretty interesting. I mean, it’s a nice way to keep your creativity flowing on the outside. People like to say fill that bucket. You know, fill that creativity bucket of your life?
Colin: Yeah, yeah. No, that’s true, yeah. I definitely wouldn’t say that, but.
Susie: Well, I didn’t say I say it.
Colin: Yeah, I know.
Susie: I said, “People like to say.” Let’s see. You did just get back from Design 4 Drupal.
Colin: I did.
Susie: What is Design 4 Drupal? I would say for other people, but I also don’t really know.
Susie: I went to one once, but.
Colin: Oh, you did? When?
Susie: When I was at Common Media.
Susie: So 2015.
Susie: And it was at the We Work before General Assembly left that place on Common Ave or something. It was there last year at the We Work space or something.
Colin: I wonder if I only went to ones after that.
Colin: Or if just completely forgot what you’re talking about.
Susie: Nolan went. Nolan was there.
Colin: Nolan was there?
Colin: Well, then I must have been there too. He wouldn’t go three.
Susie: Yeah. Yeah. He would not go there on his own. No, yeah. I went there, but we, I think-
Colin: Do you think I met you? Do you know Nolan?
Susie: I did at the- Oh, yeah because I worked with him at Brigade. And I worked with Kyle so we went together.
Colin: So he almost certainly introduced me to you.
Susie: Absolutely. That’s where I met Kelly, I think, officially.
Colin: Oh, yeah, okay.
Susie: Because I think I had maybe met him at, I almost feel like he came to one of Common Media’s barbecues or something, and I met him there. But yeah, it was kind of like a whirlwind because I think we went there, stayed at an Airbnb. I think we literally only went to it was like an intro to user experience seminar kind of. But it was very like those …
Colin: It was like hours. It wasn’t like a one 45 minute session.
Susie: Oh, yeah. It was a whole day.
Colin: Yeah, it was a track or something.
Susie: Yeah. And it was very much, I think at the time, I was coming from freelance design, transitioning from Brigade to Common. And I was full on designer there. And I think we wanted to be user experience with design, but at the time, it was very much like the persona thing. And it was really interesting to learn about, but I remember being like, “We don’t do any of this.” So it was helpful, but I remember being kind of bummed. Because I was like, “This is all great, but what about actual web design?” I feel that was when it was really murky of user experience and user-favor design.
Colin: Yeah, I mean they always will because there’s so much overlap, but I think it was even more confusing then. Yeah, totally.
Susie: So we went to that, but for people who don’t know what it is.
Colin: Design 4 Drupal is a, I would say a design-focused Drupal conference. I think it would probably be more aptly named Drupal for Design.
Colin: Most of the people there, if not everyone, it’s not everyone, but it’s most of the people there are people who work in Drupal. And the purpose of them being there is to figure out how to incorporate design into their sites better. That’s not exactly the right phrasing, but yeah, just how to implement design work onto Drupal sites.
Susie: Now this might seem really basic.
Colin: I’m going to walk right out of here if it is.
Susie: Close up shop now. Done. Close it down. Episode two almost finished. No, but I’m not going to say what is Drupal? But I want to say in a way that-
Colin: No, you can say that. That’s fine.
Susie: I want to say it in a way because clearly there’s a really tight-knit Drupal community. More than a lot of other content management systems. So I guess in a really, someone who is not in the industry, what is it, especially as it pertains to the community that it’s part of?
Colin: Sure, yeah. I’m also outside of it, but I’ve worked at a place that does a whole lot of it for many years. So I would say that it’s a content management system or CMS. And that is just a way for site admin to enter content and then for it to be displayed as a website. A blog is a really obvious example of that. Someone would enter the content for their blog post into Drupal, and then Drupal would display it as part of the website. And Drupal is open source, which means that … What does that mean?
Susie: I think it just means, I mean, this is hilarious. I imagine Kelly’s head just popping out of the curtain. I think it’s basically that it’s not really owned by one entity, right? People like developers can kind of, it’s community driven.
Colin: That’s what I was going to say, but I think that someone does own it. I think what it means is like anyone can work on it. And maybe that ownership doesn’t exactly take the form of, we’re the company that owns this thing, but it’s a little more of like a non-profit type thing.
Susie: Yeah, yeah. That makes sense.
Colin: Neither of us knows.
Susie: No, it’s fine. When I eventually have my other guests that we’ll have on here. They’ll be like, “I just want to fact-check episode two.”
Colin: Right. I mean, but what is important is the concept of openness and that it’s open for anyone to contribute to. And that is what has created the community that’s surrounds it where everyone has the option, at least, to feel like they’re part of the creation and steering of where this thing goes.
Susie: Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. So Design 4 Drupal, you were saying, Drupal for Design. It’s really just a way almost to bring in, probably because the openness, it usually leans towards developers, obviously for Drupal. If you’re trying to incorporate the design community, which obviously, as a designer who has worked on other—like I think I had to design something for Ruby on Rails and I had to design something obviously for WordPress. I do find Drupal from a totally lay person design perspective, it is a pretty user-friendly. Just as far as even on our website, the backend. I think it’s a neat place to see design popping up more. And hopefully that will continue. It was 10 years this year, right?
Colin: Yeah, it was the 10 year anniversary. That’s right, yeah.
Susie: Wow. So you had a talk. What did you talk about?
Colin: It’s funny, actually in light of what you just said, because we talked about how the work that we did theming the admin site for mass.gov. And a lot of that conceptually, the talk was talked a lot about how it’s not user-friendly.
Colin: One thing that Kelly says a lot is that lots of times people take a look at it, and they’re like, “Why aren’t we using WordPress? Because the backend is so much earlier to use.” But yeah, we had a talk about that. It started out, Kelly spoke first. He talked about a certain method of working. He was talking about using a feedback loop type methodology to get closer to your customers, to make your product more usable, and to make sure that you’re listening to and responding to their needs and feedback. And then we used the mass.gov admin theme as an example of doing that.
Colin: And so something that the content authors as mass.gov really wanted, which there are thousands, of people who work in hunting license places, wherever you go to get one of those. All types of different things. They wanted it to be easier to use because even though it has a visual interface, they were having to rely and technical people to enter and edit that content. The first step that we are taking in helping to address that is theming it.
Susie: Which theming, making it look good. Making it look good.
Colin: Applying some visual design to it, yeah.
Colin: The reason for that, one of them is to make it engaging and pleasant to work in, which does heighten usability. It almost seems like it might be kind of frivolous or something, but it really does. If something is pleasant to look at and it just makes it so much earlier to use it.
Susie: And like you’re saying for some random person who is working in a field office, and has to go on, and edit something quickly, you need it to look nice and they want to use it so it’s very clear: this is where you edit, this is where you save.
Colin: Well, yeah. That’s the other thing we focused on this time because the admin site uses a lot of modules, they are all styled differently, a lot of them. And even without that, it’s not always clear where if you’re creating a piece of content, one set of fields ends and the next one begins. So we really focused on visual hierarchy, and using dividing lines and spacing to tell users where certain areas started and ended, and what their relationship is to each other, and stuff like that. I talked about that.
Colin: And then Jamie talked about the challenges of actually theming it, of applying that design to the look of the site because it’s not set up to do that. They definitely have focused on making Drupal sites themselves theme-able, but the admin site they haven’t. So he’s had to work really hard just to do it at all. And that’s what our talk was about.
Colin: Kelly has done a lot of these. He’s very good. Jamie used to be a teacher and is very good at talking. So he totally killed it, was really funny, making jokes, just talking about whatever.
Susie: Natural, yeah.
Colin: Yeah, total natural. Me, awful, really bad.
Susie: You go, “I got to go. I got to go.”
Colin: Yeah. You, I think, have said that you watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia?
Colin: I do not, but there are a few clips that are very dear to me. And you have a look on your face like you know what I’m about to say.
Susie: “So do.” So he’s doing the political video.
Colin: Oh, no, not even.
Susie: Oh, when he’s running for office. You have to. That’s exactly what I think of because Charlie writes his script for him, for Dennis.
Colin: Oh, yeah. No, the one that I was thinking of, I think it’s Dee. The character is Dee. She does stand-up comedy and she’s just dry-heaving through all these jokes.
Susie: Like “Uh.”
Susie: Because she gets so nervous on stage.
Colin: Yeah, no. As soon as the talk ended, that just shot right into my head.
Susie: You had some bubbly water.
Colin: And I was like, because I really, to be honest, and I asked Kelly if he could tell. And he was like, “Yes.” I came really close to—
Susie: Thanks, pal.
Colin: No, I should know.
Susie: No, I know. I know. It’s hard.
Colin: I came close to flaming out a couple times in the beginning, where I just was like—Because I can only read. I can only read so I wrote it out, and then I stood up there, and I read it. And there were a couple times where I was like, “I don’t know what words are. I don’t know how to read this.”
Susie: Yeah, you’re like Homer. The Homer gif backing into the bushes.
Colin: Right, yeah, yeah.
Susie: Can I be excused?
Colin: I think, I’m sure that if I did it more, i would be better at it. This is the second time I’ve done it and the last time was two or three years ago.
Susie: That’s not a lot and I think it definitely is something you have to do a lot. I hate public speaking. I hate it. I get very hot. I make weird jokes. I just get I don’t know. It’s not good. To be fair though, I don’t think I’ve ever really spoken in—I tend to do better if it’s something I’m very comfortable about, like because I was a project manger, and I always until I got the Brigade job, the design agency project management, I always was applying for admin jobs. And I always kind of felt like I was lying about what I was—You’re like, “I really care about organizing files. I’m really good about scanning documents.” And you’re like, “I hate this. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to be an admin.” So I was always very nervous in interviews.
Susie: So when I realized my passion was design and I started interviewing for design roles, I was very confident in like, “I love design. I live and breath it. This is everything I love in life. I love making things look better, learning new things.” And it was true, so I feel like that came off. So I’ve never spoken about design, but I say if I were to randomly have to talk about a random topic, I would probably be very awkward. But I think if I were to speak about design, I would feel a little bit better about it. Haven’t tried it. Kelly, ignore this part of the podcast because I have no intention of doing it anytime soon, anytime soon. Maybe eventually.
Colin: No, he’s going to jump right on that. Yeah, he is.
Susie: Oh, wait, what? Mark it down at 27.
Colin: You want to go to Boise, Idaho? There’s a Drupal conference. I think it would be really great if you did a talk at it.
Susie: And I go, “What is Drupal?” Don’t listen to that part of the podcast.
Colin: Yeah, no, what you’re saying makes sense. But that did not help for me. You can probably tell from my story about getting hired here that … I’m trying to find a good way to put this. I mean, web design, I love doing it and I’m good at it, but it’s not the thing that I wake up in the morning like, “I got to do this.”
Susie: I got to go design that web.
Colin: Yeah. That’s one of the reasons I always felt like I don’t know about speaking at a conference because I don’t have that internal thing driving me to be able to talk about it. But the thing that I have felt that way about is pattern libraries. I think that organizing and structuring things is something that I think I’m able to contribute to. And that is what I was talking about during this talk, but yeah, it didn’t help at all.
Susie: Well, the more you do, I guess, right.
Colin: Yeah, maybe.
Susie: Because you’ll do more.
Susie: Maybe. I don’t know. I don’t know. I mean, do you think, in a way … How do I put this? I feel like, I know, it’s very serious. No, but I’m kind of thinking about a way to talk about the future of the industry a little bit because I feel like it’s an interesting situation where you have people who don’t really fully grasp, which is why they hire companies like us, fully grasp what they even need for whatever problems they’re facing at the company or personally, if they’re looking to build a website. A lot of people are like, “Just use Squarespace. Just use Wix.” But they don’t understand, especially for larger scale or complex, really complex sites with databases and security involved, you can’t just. That’s why people build sites on Drupal and things like that. Do you think that that would almost be a strategy moving forward with theming? I think why people love those sites is because they’re so easy to build themselves, and go and edit, and you can hover over something, and just edit it. And I almost think, do you think that might be a way to approach websites in the future instead of almost theming the admin side from the get-go?
Colin: I do think that everything is always getting streamlined and packaged in a way … What am I trying to say here? I think that I know Kelly has a word for this that he uses all the time that I’m blanking on right now. But I think, yeah, as it becomes easier for people to make, and this is something that we dealt with years ago when our clients used to be, when we were still going after local restaurants basically. And we just came to this realization that we can’t sell ourselves to them because we’re not their best option because those other things work totally great for them, and cost five dollars a month or whatever.
Colin: So we’ve always been figuring out how to keep ourselves relevant, and stay ahead of that type of stuff. And I do think as it becomes easier and easier for people to make very nice looking and usable sites, that a lot of our focus is turning toward usability. And maybe usability on the backend too, which I hadn’t really thought about in terms of this context, but I do think makes sense. But yeah, a lot of the conversations that you and I have are about user interaction and stuff like that, and that’s not something you can package up quite the same way. So yeah, I guess my answer is yes.
Susie: Nice, cool. Well, thank you for being on episode two of “Yeti Village.”
Colin: Yeah. You’re welcome. It would have been funny if I said no, right.
Susie: It would have been.