Marc Barrowclift is a full stack developer and designs different products & writes in his free time.
Who are you, and what do you do?
My name is Marc Barrowclift, and I work full time on helping maintain the DVR Scheduler at Comcast. Nowadays, in my free time I’m typically either writing articles on my blog or recording a new episode for my podcast, Bad Music Hertz.
How did you get interested in that?
Funnily enough, the blog began seven years ago as a means to an end; my primary interest at the time was (and in many ways remains) web development & interface design, and I was desperate to create a place where I could learn and practice it. However, I was initially intimidated by the deeper knowledge required for building dynamic web apps, so the path of least resistance was taken in the form of a static personal website. The simple static website framework I went with (Jekyll) just so happened to also bring along with it rudimentary plain text blogging support. Since I was interested in playing around with article designs, I decided to commit to writing a few articles to populate the space. It was through the process of writing those “placeholder” articles that I discovered I was quite fond of it and took more of an active interest in finding more things to write about.
What tools & gear do you use? (Could be hardware, software, something else entirely.)
I use Macs for all my work, equipped with Sublime Text for text editing and Git Tower for version control. For the blog itself, Jekyll is used to generate simple static builds of the site from templates and Markdown files.
Besides the tools, what are the routines & habits that help you get your work done?
I live and die by a written todo list. Every week I use a page from my notebook to write down my task items for that week, and check off or add comments as needed through the week. Any items that weren’t finished must then be hand written into the next week’s page, as a sort of gamified incentive to get them done so they don’t have to be continuously rewritten. This sprint-like todo list is then used to track the progress of everything from personal projects to household chores.
I encountered your work through the Annual iOS Music Player Showcase. This seems like a labor of love, with music at the core. Some of your other projects have to do with music, too. What role does music play in your life?
Music for me plays a vitally important role as a meditative exercise. When I decide to listen to music, it’s a signal to also put away what I was working on, set aside a block of time for myself, and listen to a full record front to back. The music tends to help me sort through emotions and recenter myself, and as a result I always walk away feeling more refreshed. This feeds directly into why I love vinyl records so much, the medium itself forces you into dedicating time and energy into the setup and takedown for each listening session, making the whole process feel more intentional and ritualistic, helping ease my mind in and out of the experience.
While you work as a full-stack developer, you design products in your studio in your free time. What sparked your interest in design?
I distinctly remember when my Dad finally bit the bullet and decided to replace the family’s archaic Compaq PC with a new Intel-powered white plastic iMac. I spent hours on that machine obsessing over Mac OS X’s candy-like glossy UI and beautiful animations found in every nook and cranny of the system. I remember being particularly fond of the metal trash bin icon, of all things. It wasn’t until later in life that I gained an appreciation and interest in the functional aspects of design, but obsessing over the visual design of Mac OS X at that time was certainly the catalyst.
What's your design philosophy? What does it mean for something to be well-designed?
I’d say my design philosophy is that design is the compromise between function and appearance; designs that prioritize one over the other are often poorer for it in comparison to alternatives that strike more balanced choices. In my mind, for something to be considered well designed, it must be as visually captivating as it is functionally useful.
What resources (books, videos, etc.) or advice do you have for people that might be interested in what you do?
Instead of traditional books or other education media, I’d rather argue a deeper intuition can be honed by simply cataloging works that inspire you with functional and beautiful designs. After carefully combing over that reference pool, you’ll start to become aware of high-level patterns and good practices that will afterwards seem obvious. Picking up that kind of intuition is something I’ve struggled to do passively with books, videos, etc. in the past, so if you also find that approach isn’t clicking with you, I’d encourage you give this a shot. It also has the added bonus of giving you a jump start in learning what your general tastes and design voice may be, based on which designs you gravitated towards and cataloged into your reference pool.
How do you relax or take a break? How do you avoid burnout?
Well this is certainly relevant, given that the past year's iOS Music Player Showcase nearly did me in, haha. In short, it’s hard, and I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m having some success with taking the time to make a plan far in advance so I can pace myself and avoid “crunch time”, but that has its own complications (deadlines inevitably slip, applying this approach doesn’t scale beyond a couple large projects, etc.) All I can say for certain on this is taking a moment to listen to music and give my mind a rest is therapeutic and never fails to help ease my emotional fatigue whenever it starts to set in.
What are some of your favorite things that you've created?
I think it would be my website itself. It started life as just the playground where I could learn web development and design, and has naturally gone through many iterations over the years. I’m quite proud of where it finally settled.
Who or what inspires or motivates you; or, alternatively, that you admire?
I’m continuously inspired by Marc Edwards’ bjango website and his apps. He’s a thoroughly remarkable designer and a treasured member of the community, given his extensive contributions publicly accessible on his Articles page. I’ve also lately grown quite fond of Gavin Nelson’s stupendous icon work, they’re humbling to say the least, haha.
What would be your dream setup?
I’m so grateful to say that after many years I’m very nearly close to my “dream setup” (that being a reasonable modern all-in-one iMac and a nice wood desk, I truly don’t desire anything more than that). I’m happy to say I’m “there”, but my poor 2017 Intel-era iMac has certainly never felt older, and at this point I would strongly eye a “Pro” Apple Silicon iMac should one pop up at some point down the road...