Designers block: A Q&A with Russ Maschmeyer

Categories Web Design

For our first interview post with a creative, we got in touch with Russ Maschmeyer, a web designer living in Brooklyn with his fiancée fellow design-extraordinaire Jessica Hsiche.

[infobox margin_bottom=”0″ margin_top=”0″ border_radius=”all” color=”white” title=””] This is a series of interviews created in collaboration with our friends from Doejo – a new kind of creative agency, powered by an amazing collective of talent and technology. [/infobox]


The School of Visual Arts MFA alum has been working mainly as a freelance designer having worked on typography head-starter Type-A-File, interactive photo projecting tool Airloom and non-designer designer resource, among other projects.

He tells Inspired Mag what inspires him as a designer, what it’s like to collaborate with his future wife and fellow designer, and his forthcoming work at Facebook.

1. Where do you start when conceptualizing design and identity?

I usually have a pretty clear picture of what I’m after in my head (gotta move when inspiration strikes, right?). Where I go from there depends on whether I’m working on something strictly visual (like a logo), something structural (like a set of screens that make up a user flow), or something that’s code based (like a CSS trick or javascript proof-of-concept).

If it’s something strictly visual I’ll head straight to Photoshop and Illustrator and start messing around. I’m very grid oriented, so hand sketching only helps me iterate quickly if I don’t really have an idea yet. So, even if I have just a basic idea, if I can see it in my head I go straight for the screen.

On the other hand, if I’m working on an application or laying out a screen or set of screens, I’ll sketch because there’s a lot of ground to cover and you’ve got to get the important elements (information architecture, headlines, buttons, image blocks) roughed in before you lose your train of thought.

If it’s code-based, sketching and Photoshop aren’t really going to help at all, so I go right to Coda and start writing HTML, CSS, or Javascript depending on what’s required. Those are the most fun sometimes because it’s all about sketching interactions and behavior, not pixels.

Russ' workspace

2. How would you describe the design aesthetic of your home? What do you like to decorate it with?

Well, to say it’s my home is quite a stretch (though I am a permanent resident :)). It’s really Jessica’s apartment, which she has brilliantly and meticulously decorated. The style is definitely her own; equal parts mid-century modern, Joan Clever, and Daft Punk album cover.

It’s Jessica Hische’s world. I’m just livin’ in it.

3. What artistic medium have you been dying to explore but haven’t yet?

Professional Jell-O molding.

4. What’s the most Brooklyn-personified shop or restaurant you’d suggest to visit and why?

Without a doubt, Roberta’s, a little pizza restaurant in Bushwick, Brooklyn. I lived down the street from it when it first opened. It’s almost impossible to tell what it is from the outside because it has a little cinder-block bunker that used to be a car mechanic’s garage, but inside? Oh, on the inside you’ll find nirvana in a nine-inch, wood-fired, pizza-pie of the heathen gods known as “the Beastmaster” that’d make a rabid wolf heel & roll over. You’ll also find a lot of strangely-bobbed youths and an inordinate amount of young women with ill-advised leg tattoos.

5. Do you and Jessica Hische collaborate on many projects together (like the resource?) What else are y’all particularly proud of?

We’re always peaking over each other’s shoulders and asking each other’s opinions on the things we’re working on, but in terms of outright collaborations, there are a couple so far. is definitely the biggest one to date, but we’re also beginning to make some Tumblr themes (both premium and free) under the moniker Color & Light (

We have very different styles, so we’re trying to figure out how we can collaborate visually and not have it look too kooky. So far most of the collaboration has been me building, her designing. But definitely expect more co-designed co-built projects in the future! Jess is getting super-good with front-end development.

6. To clear your head, what do you do when you have writers/ designers block?

When in doubt, write it out! I don’t know. I don’t really feel blocked very often. I’m usually working on so much stuff at once that if my inspiration has hit a stopping point for one project I’ll shift over to the next and work on that for a bit. Then, when my brain gives me the green light I’ll come back to first thing. It might not happen that day or that week, but I’ll get back to it eventually.

For instance: I finally finished building a Millennium Falcon model kit that I bought from the “Star Tours” gift shop at Disney World in 1996. It might take 15 years, but I’ll always come back around on it.

7. What object or tool is best left low-tech (buttons, letter press, typewriter, etc) and why?

Well, if you catch me on a day where AT&T has dropped literally every call I’ve made two or three times each, I’d say phones. Have you heard the difference in sound quality between a landline and a cellphone? Holy crap! You can actually hear the words people are saying, instead of a garbled “Wh%t d!d yo# s@y? Sp#@k up!”

8. What are you currently reading for leasure?

It’s taken me a long time to fully admit this, but here it is: I love sci-fi and fantasy stuff. I’m a D&D nerd that never happened upon a 20-sided die. So, right now I’m on book VII of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, which is decent, but in terms of favorite authors I would definitely say Kurt Vonnegut.

9. What can you not leave home without?

My iPhone. That’s it. That’s everything. Without it I am rendered helpless as a babe.

10. What commissioned project are you currently/ or recently working on that you’re excited about?

This summer I’ve been acting as the Product Director for a startup out in San Francisco, called (for the time being) Eat Metrics. The rest of the team putting the b2b product together is awesome and it’s been great getting to flex my design muscle across the entire product, from core values and product direction to branding to the actual interface pixels. I think the product is going to kick some serious ass when it’s fully developed.

Though I’m also excited to be starting at Facebook in September as a Product Designer. They’ve assembled a great design team there and I can’t think of more interesting set of problems to deal with. Going to be quite the ride.

Russ Maschmeyer


John Lendman is the copywriter/ scribe of interactive web agency Doejo. Chicago-based Doejo is a creative hub of designers, developers and a bastion of ingenuity and imagination. The company has launched more than 300 web sites, marketing campaigns and applications since its founding in 2007. Follow us Twitter or check out our blog―if you can keep up.