James Alonso's Design Romance

Travel with us to Colombia to meet UX and UI designer James Alonso.

James Alonso's Design Romance

Travel with us to Colombia to meet UX and UI designer James Alonso.

Freelance is a hustle, but James Alonso wouldn’t have it any other way. Based in Barranquilla, Colombia, this UX and UI designer who makes “digital products for humans” manages an ever-growing international client base, while exploring beyond Colombia in search of knowledge, inspiration, and new connections with fellow creative folk. His thoughtful, clean designs for apps, dashboards, and layouts all aim to help companies and entrepreneurs grow and innovate. Here, Alonso shares his thoughts on the keys to client building, how fear dictates careers, and why design is like dating.

Create: When did you discover that design was a viable career path?

Alonso: I always drew and made art as a kid, which helped me to create sensibilities around colors and shapes. During university I started to see design as a potential career with legitimate opportunities to take action and create change, both in Colombia and abroad. After graduation, I began to refine my skills and build my portfolio: learning on my own, teaching myself, and studying others’ design to form my own fundamentals.

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Samples of Alonso's work.

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Create: What’s the design scene like in Barranquilla?

Alonso: It’s fantastic—and growing! Design is getting a lot more traction here [in Colombia]; new events and meetups are happening daily in big cities like Bogotá and Medellín, but also in “small” cities like Tunja and Manizales. And as the international scene levels up, more traditional companies around the world are undergoing digital transformations, which means better jobs and new opportunities.

Create: How do you describe the work you do to people who are unfamiliar with design in general?

Alonso: For me, design—specifically, solving a client’s problems—is like dating. You need a strategy, or a plan, which is UX. You also need to look sharp; that’s UI.

"Deciding design was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life was very natural and also exciting—like meeting my soulmate."

 

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Alonso designs for a range of surfaces.

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Create: What has been the most critical aspect of building a solid independent career?

Alonso: The secret sauce is to build a good client base, which is hard work; it takes commitment, consistency, trust, discipline, and (of course) meeting deadlines to do a great job.

Create: How do you find people to work for and with?

Alonso: Sharing my work on social media has been one of the most successful ways to gain clients and I believe that everyone, from junior to senior designers, should do it. It’s such an effective way to tell the world what you can do. I also ask for recommendations from existing clients I’ve enjoyed working with.

Create: Once they’re established, how do you navigate those relationships?

Alonso: Understanding someone else's ideas and mindset can be a challenge—translating those into a product or an interface even more so—but reaching the end of a project is so gratifying. Seeing what you helped create, and realizing that you made a difference in someone’s business and life is fun, but also always a struggle—against time, mostly.

Create: How have you set up your workflow to ease that struggle?

Alonso: My current workflow is the result of many years of iterations, while trying to standardize a process that is always adapting to the specific requirements and needs of each client. But the first thing is always to listen—and I mean really listen—to everything a client has to tell you. I’ll adapt my approach, then share it with them [so they know what to expect].

Create: What are your go-to tools?

Alonso: I try to depend on as few tools as possible so processes don’t become too complicated, but I do have particular programs depending on the stage of a project: Adobe XD for the first designs and ideas, then eventually the complex prototypes; Sketch for shapes and additional elements; Trello to keep track of tasks; and Slack and email for client communication and feedback.

For hardware, my laptop—a 15-inch Macbook Pro from 2018—is an elegant (and expensive) tool that’s very comfortable to use; I also have two additional 25" full high-definition (FHD) screens to increase my digital work area.

Create: Has your attitude toward your work changed over the years?

Alonso: As a beginner, it’s easy to get carried away by ideas that, in the end, are nothing more than passing thoughts. It’s important to ask why we want to be professionals; we can all have a great impact when we take solving problems seriously.

How do you creatively recharge when you need a break from work?

Alonso: It helps to go for a walk in the “real world,” or chat in person with family or friends.

Create: What advice would you give to design newbies?

Alonso: Move on from fear. Most people don't go all the way in their careers because it holds them back. It’s easy to think, “Wow, there are so many talented people out there, and I’m just a newbie. I’m not going to make it. The market is too crowded.” But those thoughts won't let you be the best pro you can be. There's always room for innovation and the only way to achieve it is by trying and failing. There are so many resources—social media, meetups, bootcamps—really something for everyone out there. You just need to take the leap.

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