See all Insights

Creative Questionnaire: Eric Karjaluoto

Eric Karjaluoto is the creative director at smashLAB and the founder of MakeFive. As impressive as that sounds, hes still willing to do whatever it takes to get things done – whether its building comps or taking out the trash. Eric received his diploma in painting from the Emily Carr Institute in Vancouver, British Columbia. You can read his thoughts on design at

Current Project:
Most of my time these days is centered on our website MakeFive. Its a social network that allows people to make top five lists on everything and anything. The bulk of my time goes into improving the user experience on the site. Sometimes this means revising user-interface elements to be more intuitive; at other times it involves social engineering or ensuring that site activity is in the best interest of all users.

First step in my design process:
With all of our clients, we run through a consistent process that begins with thorough research in order to gain insight and understanding, from which we generate a clear plan of where we want to go. This works really well for our clients, and as a result we dont deviate from it.

Aspect of design I give the highest priority:
Whether the solution works or not. As a young designer I was overly concerned with creating smart or original design. Now I just want people to use the stuff we make and get it right away.

Method for overcoming creative block:
In my mind theres really one answer to this, and it is to just keep working. By doing so I find that I dont so much hope for a magic solution to fall in my lap, and instead I concentrate on just getting the job done. Doing so seems to normalize my work and allows me to keep going instead of getting stuck in a cycle of self-doubt.

One typical myth about web design:
I think this whole desire to be cutting edge is a hurdle for many web designers. Its really easy to get caught up in doing something new and exciting even when its not really necessary. We have to stop thinking about websites as gadget belts; instead we should aspire to design things that are as beautifully simple as knives and forks. Few people are excited about their cutlery, but most use it every day. This isnt a contest of how cool it can be, but rather an issue of how transparent our design solutions can become.

Most challenging aspect about web design:
It all depends on the project, but lately Ive really been struggling with the amount of information that needs to have prominence in more application-like websites. On a site like MakeFive, there are all kinds of really important things that we need to make easy for the user to access. Creating a topic, accessing email, checking their standing in the community… all of these need to be easy to find, but you can only turn the volume up on a certain number of them before it becomes overly noisy.

Figuring out how to make it work as youd like is one thing; making this clear to users is quite another. At the same time, you really have to remain responsive to the possibility that people will use your stuff in ways you hadnt anticipated.

Most underrated aspect of web design:
I talk to a lot of young designers these days who want to go back to print-based design because of the amount of control they gain. The thing they dont understand is the amazing reach of web-based work, and how it wasnt always this way. When I started at art school, the tools just werent as readily available as they are now. As a result, you were pretty much doomed to work on a local level unless you by chance reached some level of notoriety.

Today, however, anyone can connect with the community at large if they do something great. That little loss of control over the end product is, in my mind, an easy price to pay in order to gain the possibility of reaching so many. Plus, it affords so many new opportunities. User-generated content is particularly interesting, as you get to watch people do things that youve helped facilitate.

When I first knew I wanted to be a designer:
I think I was about two or three at the time. My Mom and a couple of other neighborhood moms were in our front yard writing their kids names on their toys as the kids were often mixing-up which toys were whose. This made me absolutely furious. It just drove me crazy that they were ruining these objects by writing on them.

I like music and appreciate how it puts me into a state where I can work better. Additionally, Im really excited to just get exposed to people with ideas. Lately Ive found myself hooked on TED Talks. Its just great to be around new ideas, no matter how different they are from mine. (Actually, sometimes its better if I dont really understand the realm these people work in as it forces me to think differently.)

Favorite tool:
Thats easy: a pencil or pen. Its easy to be lured by software, but I think it puts too many layers between you and your work. Im fast – and I mean fast – with all of the standard applications (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign), but I can still get ideas down better with a drawing tool of some sort. I guess Im old school.

Favorite design resource:
Observation. The best design resources are found in people who are pissed off because they are stuck in voice mail hell; people left scratching their heads to make a cryptic parking payment system work; or someone who wants to pay their cable bill, but cant find the log in information on the website. I just look for what doesnt work, and why. Its simple, and probably boring, but it works.

The one typeface for a deserted island stay:
Anything by Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones. Those guys absolutely rock my design world. Their families are so comprehensive that they make any designer look better. Sort of like playing a guitar–even the worst players sound pretty good with a Marshall stack behind them. Thats my big advice to bad designers: buy stuff from Hoefler & Frere-Jones. It will be your Marshall stack. No one will know that you suck.

Thats a looooong list. Lets start with these:
TechCrunch, Wired, Paul Grahams essays and Seths blog

Design-related book I highly recommend:
Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This: A Guide to Creating Great Ads by Luke Sullivan. His observations are spot-on and hes a damned funny writer.

Currently reading:
The End of Poverty by Jeffrey D. Sachs. Its completely out of my realm of experience, which makes it interesting; additionally, its written in a fashion that even a guy like me can understand it.

Life lesson:
Do what you love and it will never feel like work.

Favorite (non-design) past time:
Going out for interesting dinners with my lovely wife Amea and our wild little boy, Ozzy.

Related Posts