PRODUCT DESIGNER AT GOOGLE
Sebastien Gabriel is another talented French designer based in San Francisco. He works at Google and when he's not drawing dinosaurs, his everyday job is to make sure Chrome is always in its best shape. How great is that?
He is also one hell of a writer. Every single article he wrote is a slice of delight, full of useful tips, smart opinions and he knows how to choose his words wisely.
Sebastien is talented in so many fields (design, writing, photography, Trivial Pursuit...) but he is also a trustworthy friend. He might be not the most smiling guy in the world but I can assure you that he is generous, smart and funny... in his own way 😜
He is the kind of designer I want to be in a few years!
You wrote a really deep article about "How [you] joined Google" on Medium but can you summarize your path to get into design in a few lines?
Design and visual/UI design more specifically has always been an escape route for me, a “safe place” where I got to really spend time polishing every details and feel like I was building something meaningful. And I mean meaningful in a personal way as I found gratification in it, it was fulfilling.
When I was studying multimedia management I was trying to get every design gig I could because I was bad at everything else due to my lack of motivation towards, well… almost all other subjects.
At the time, it was really all in or nothing and I went all in in UI design for the entire length of my studies. I always wanted more and was always eager to start new things.
Everything I could show to even the smallest of audience gave me this gratification that I kept looking for over and over during these years, that was what drove me.
"I started contemplating writing again more and more and when I discovered Medium, I was really attracted to how easy and beautiful their approach is on writing."
So you’re a designer at Google. Would you say that designing is your dream job?
My "dream job" is a fluctuating concept. I never thought I'd be able to, one day, join Google and be able to do what I'm doing right now. I spent countless hours designing back when I was in France and I loved doing it. I never really knew why, I found it was something I was good for so I kept on improving and working on it. Additionally, I was getting enough gratification out of it to keep me going.
By the time Google proposed me to join them, I didn't even have a plan for the years to come, I had been only 2 years on the job market, in a city and country that doesn’t value visual and UI design nearly as much as they do here.
So there was no way I would hesitate even a second to come here and continue doing what I was doing.
I guess things fell into place in the course of years I've been doing design. I had fun most of the way. Today I still have fun and I get to tackle bigger problem but sometimes I think about my initial passion, what brought me to computers in the first place, video games.
If there's something I spent more time on than Photoshop, it's that. It started really early and it's the one thing that kept on amazing me and putting this wide smile and child look on my face throughout the years.
I guess my dream job would be to provide that feeling to people through video games. I'm not about the technical part, I'm about the impression and the feelings that the experience provides to the player through everything that makes the game, design, gameplay, graphics, story. The thing is, I'm not that good of a game designer and I honestly do not think I could make a living out of it.
So here I am, doing a job I like that enables me to do something I love, among a lot of other things, like being able to eat and provide for the people I love. It's a good deal.
How/when did you realize that this was your destiny?
It's kind of related to the previous question. When what I was doing enabled me to have access to a place literally millions of people want to work at, this is when I realized that I should embrace it. I jumped on board, accepted the offer and moved to the US, a country that always appealed to me.
I know that you write a lot. Your articles are always such an inspiration for me and a lot of designers. How/why did you decide to start writing?
During my studies I held a little blog, written in French, gathering and displaying the best design bits I considered inspirational and that I gathered around the web during my daily browse. I enjoyed collecting things I found everywhere on the web and I kept them on my hard drive, always around form me to look at when I was looking for some ideas or inspiration. Along with this daily collection (I was writing every day), I was writing some fun things about them and - sometimes even unrelated stuff - in the form of overly convoluted sentences that didn’t have any other purposes than entertaining the few readers that was actually following it (mostly friends of mine).
I did this for a few months, gathering something like 50 readers per day.
I was thoroughly enjoying it but after a while though, my audience stopped growing and maintaining it got longer and longer. At this time, I wanted to expand my audience to English speaking territories. I’ve always been comfortable with English so I decided to translate both my portfolio and my blog in English.
While it tremendously helped my career to translate my work in English (along with starting posting on Dribbble) I can’t say the blog was as successful as I just couldn’t translate the whimsical side of my articles to the English language, my jokes and writing structure just wasn’t being carried and it lost its spirit. I decided to stop and focus only on my portfolio and creating freebies to give away. At least these are understood by everybody *Laugh*
Fast forward a few years, I moved to the US and logically got more and more comfortable with the English language. My very scholar approach to it changed to a more relevant one, closer to the everyday English everybody actually uses, better to communicate effectively. I started contemplating writing again more and more and when I discovered Medium, I was really attracted to how easy and beautiful their approach is on writing. I also didn’t want to maintain another Wordpress or anything like this because of time constraint so it was perfect.
I started by writing two opinion pieces, the first one being on the Oculus acquisition by Facebook (I’m a big gamer), the second being a more philosophical spout about caring about the little details in visual design.
I was really surprised by the number of reads they had compared to what I was doing before, Medium having a lot of reach and audience. Put in perspective, the numbers were small of course - 300 read for the first one, 1K for the second - but I felt the same way I did back when I was writing tiny articles in French. No matter the numbers, I had fun and that’s what was important.
I remembered that a few people asked me back when I joined Google to talk about my experience of it, from France in a small company to the US, working for Google. That’s when I wrote “How I joined Google” my third article, a 18 min read exactly about that.
That’s when the story went crazy. I guess thanks to the “clickbait” nature of the title and the high interest surrounding Google. I was really scared to release it at first, really concerned it was going to look like an big ego trip rather than an actually interesting piece. I was stunned by how nice people were about it and how well it was received. I got some email from people all over the world saying that it has been inspiring for them, I really didn’t think it could go that far. It’s still to this day one of my most read stories.
Today I tend to write even longer pieces that take me quite a while to publish. They’ve been pretty technical lately with things like the designer’s guide to DPI and the Sketch related ones.
Who was your favorite superhero/villain growing up? Why?
I was never really into comic books when I was young which is what pops into my head when we talk about superhero/villain. I was more into mangas, it's a big thing in France, like comic books in the US. But even then it's hard for me to find an heroic figure I was deeply inspired by.
I watched and read a lot of things and I was deeply interested by the stories and characters but at the end of the day, it's the constellation of these stories and characters I'm attached to, not a specific one.
I'm still trying really hard to find one single hero I could think of while writing this but its seems impossible. What I can say is that all the ones that pop into my head have something in common. They are all vulnerable and have a strong trauma that made them who they are.
I like Darth Vader for example, I'm a big Star Wars fan (how original). He's the embodiment of what jealousy, need for power and grief can do to someone both mentally and physically. Besides to the obvious uber-villain symbol, no other character of the franchise nearly approaches the depth of Vader.
A character way less known, even more so in the US is "Gally" from the Manga "Ganmu" ( translated "Gunnm" in french and "Battle Angel Alita" in English). This Manga describes a dystopian world in which the poor live on the scorched surface of the earth in anarchy while the rich live in the sky and in space, in a totalitarian system led by technology. Oh and their brain, consciousness and soul are replaced by computer chips which is the ultimate step towards immortality... and an epic story plot.
Gally, the hero, is a pure bionic woman formerly one of the most efficient and heartless Mars-trained warriors. The only thing still human in her is her brain. She is found almost dead in an earth landfill and has to learn everything back from the start, building a new version of herself, more human, thanks for those who help her. Her entire journey is made from both the unbearable sufferings she endures and the love for her new made friends in a constant inner battle between who she wants to be and who she was.
This manga has everything in it space, battles, a futuristic dystopia filled with completely insane people, robots, quantum physics, body modifications, insane technology and a human race so advanced that they face immortality and the metaphysical questions that ensues such as the meaning of life. A must read.
You know that Batman has his Batcave and Superman his Fortress of Solitude. What's your favorite place/environment to do what you love?
Right now I do not have that but I'd love something quiet, probably facing the ocean. It wouldn't completely be cut from society, but calm enough for me to be able to hear my thoughts. I seem to have lost this ability due to all the constant surrounding noise.
I still enjoy the city very much but this will be the next step I think.
"I think our generation saw a lot of great things yet we're still so primitive. I'd love to be part of a space bound mankind, not earth bound."
Do you have a favorite object, like a lucky charm or something that really matters to you?
I hate objects. I was able to separate myself from every token or things I may have held throughout my life. Maybe it will change in the future if an object reminds me of something or someone I deeply cared about and lost.
What superpower do you wish you had and why?
Live eternally, may it be through technology or just pure magic. Although I always wanted to become a robot, you can see the Gunnm influence here.
I cannot cope with the fact this is just the beginning and that I'm going to miss so much in the future, especially when it comes to space exploration. I think our generation saw a lot of great things yet we're still so primitive. I'd love to be part of a space bound mankind, not earth bound.
What is your personal Kryptonite?
Myself, nothing gets more in my way than me.
Who would you choose as a sidekick to fulfill your passion as a designer? Why?
It’s tough to pick a side-kick. So many people were had a strong influence on me over the course of my short career.
If I had to pick I’d say Bertrand Fouillet. A long time best friend of mine with whom I shared a lot during our studies (and after) and who was always there for me. He’s a designer as well with a broader skill range than mine. He’s a very talented and committed guy.
What is your definition of a modern hero?
Somebody who does good without anybody knowing it. The ultimate sacrifice you can do in today's world, besides your life, is your ego.
Can you name 3 persons who inspires you everyday? Your very own heroes.
Now I'd like to remove my wife, mom and dad from the possibilities. Because they were/are able to deal with my bullshit on a daily basis, and that's inspiring, but these are obvious answers.
You know when you idealize someone and then you find that thing about them that is disappointing and which leaves you in a sea of doubt, self-loathing and crumbling representation of what an ideal version of you would be?
Well having firm, and blind beliefs in someone is either going to blind you or disappoint you at some point. I found that being inspired by a little of everybody and being ok with them also having flaws, just like you, is more beneficial.
So I have a 1000 people that inspire and despise me at the same time, sounds way healthier isn't it?
One more thing... Mask or Cape?
Mask, haven't you seen “The Incredibles”? Edna made so many great points against capes.
Jokes aside, masks are awesome. They have the power to hide your real self from the others and from you, enabling you to re-invent yourself. Even it's it's only for a limited time, it's great to be able to escape sometimes.