Vordik Designer Spotlight: Damian Watracz

Anastasia Lamotchkina

Today we’d like to welcome Damian Watracz to the Vordik blog. Damian is a born and bred Polish graphic designer that has dabbled in everything from simple UI projects to helping define entire brands through design. Damian boasts the unique ability to stay extremely organized while radiating a creative flair!
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Hi Damian, thanks for taking a minute to chat with us today! Let’s kick this off with a bit of a personal question. When you’re not behind a screen creating digital experiences, where would we be most likely to find you?

My passion is travelling on a motorcycle. A couple of times a year I take my camping gear, my camera and a map, and go on a motorcycle adventure to some distant locations, away from civilization, internet, people, business, and all that noise. I have already visited some of the most beautiful countries in Europe including Croatia, Slovenia and Romania on my old Italian motorcycle, and this year I plan on visiting Greece and the Austrian Alps. So, if I’m not behind the computer screen, you can probably find me on the road 🙂

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Getting back to the professional side of things, could you tell us a little bit about how you got into the design world?

Ever since I was very young, I really liked to do pencil drawings – I would spend hours drawing my favourite cartoon characters from TV. Then, when I got my first computer at 15 years old, I started to play with basic software like Windows Paint and Corel Draw just for fun. You could say that I got my first paid graphic design gig a couple of months later- it’s kind of a funny story: A friend of mine had really bad grades in school and he was afraid his parents would find out, so he decided to hire me to “improve” his poor grades on his report card. I did some photo manipulation to change the numbers and printed his new diploma. I guess I did a pretty good job because his parents never figured out that it was a fake. After that I did couple of funny photo manipulations for my friends, some basic websites in high school before forgetting about graphic design for a while.

If you can believe it, I actually studied mathematics and informatics in University, earning a bachelors degree in the major, only to realize that I wasn’t on the path I was meant to be on. As soon as I realized that, I started to build a simple portfolio, which ended up landing me a job at a local company that provided me with lots of opportunity to grow professionally.

One year later (at 22 years old), after reading lots of books and gaining some experience, I discovered Graphic River. It was a chance for me to create graphic designs and sell them online. I was so passionate about the idea that I up-and-quit my day job and spent every day creating files to upload.

“At first, my files were being rejected right, left and centre, but I stayed positive and persistent, which payed off in the end when I reached #1 Top new author in January of 2011. I reached a record of 320 sales, with the second-place author at only 79. My best product stayed #1 for over 3 months after that”

Then, we went with the flow and set up a WordPress Theme Shop (Invent Themes) next to my bed in my room with friends – Michał Środek & Marcin Środek. Our first theme got us to #1 Top new autors on Theme Forest in June 2011 (with 388 sales). Over the next year and a half, we created several different successful products with the best one hitting over 1500 sales. Eventually, each of us ended up in different cities working on something else, taking our lives in separate directions.

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In the mean time, my work was featured in many web galleries and blogs granting me a lot of exposure. People started contacting me with inquiries about custom work, so my first clients actually found me, rather than the other way around. With a couple of good projects to show, I created my new online portfolio (this time in English), and that was a real breakthrough. A lot of people were eager to hire me and because of time constraints I was able to hand pick projects that I was really interested in. I set up a dribbble account and gained a following there. A couple of months later, I was working with startups from Silicon Valley and various digital agencies from around the world.

Quite the story! So now that you’re more established as a designer, are you able describe your personal style in a few words?

I would say that my style is minimalistic, clear, business-oriented and focused on typography & content instead of simply creating pretty pixels. I always try to design something that will not only look good, but that will also be functional.

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There are lots of new trends shaping web design in 2015; what are some of your favourites?

Currently, I’m loving the minimalistic and flat design trend, and I really like how people have started subtly meshing skeuomorphic style with flat design in web and UI. Several months ago, flat design was so trendy that people completely forgot about gradients, shadows, and depth of field, but now we’re seeing more of a fusion between those two styles in modern websites and mobile apps. A good way to understand what I’m talking about is taking a look at Google Material design guidelines.

Do you have a favourite piece in your portfolio? What was the inspiration behind the design?

Hmm, I would have to say that my favourite is the Realty Pixels website. The task* was to completely re-design their brand and website in order to freshen it up and bring it up-to-date. I had a lot of freedom, so I started with sketches and ideas, and designed a new logo from scratch. Sometimes inspiration comes from the simplest places, and in this case I was inspired by a colourful rainbow. That’s why the website features a few warm accent colours, different for each section/page. The client loved the final product so much that we’ve since started collaborating on a few other projects.

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*Note that Damian was only responsible for the design, and not the development of this website

Can you offer up any tips on staying organized and productive in a freelance environment?

If you’re doing freelance work from home, as hard as this may sound, it’s a good idea to force yourself to get up early, eat a healthy breakfast, get caffeinated and start working as soon as possible. I always get the best creative work done when my mind is still fresh in the morning. I also like to read books about productivity (for as little as 30 minutes a day), because I find that they boost my productivity and time-management skills.

“To avoid getting distracted, I’ve gotten rid of all games on computer and I normally disable websites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube during work hours”

I find a big pitfall is starting your day by answering emails as so many people tend to do automatically. The best time of day to clear your inbox is in the evening, when the creative work is done. I also use Toggl app to keep track of the amount of time I’ve spent on each task. Each time I start the counter, my level of concentration increases.

Talk to us a bit about working internationally. Has it in any way helped shape your career?

I’m lucky enough to be able to say that I’ve worked with people from every single continent. From startups in Silicon Valley, to web agencies in the US and Canada through to companies in Europe. It’s definitely helped me a lot to work in so many different environments and on so many platforms (web, ui, mobile, print), both as a part of the team and as a contractor for specific projects.

I was able to learn a lot about the industry, discover new trends and technologies, and gain a ton of experience. I would never have achieved as much by working limiting myself to local companies. After four years of freelancing, my career path lead me to a permanent position as an Art Director at a New York company called Prism Communications. They’ve recently opened up their new office in Krakow, so that’s where you can find me from 9-5, Monday-Friday.

Finally, we’d love to know what’s on your plate right now. Are you working on anything exciting at the moment?

Last year I started working on an amazing project with Vordik – we created a whole new visual experience for a large fitness consultancy called Health Systems Group that included building a fresh responsive website. It was an awesome project and I had a lot of fun working closely with the Vordik team. The website is about to go live very shortly, and we’re all excited to see users interacting with it.

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Well that’s about all the questions we have for you, thanks again for taking the time out of your busy day to chat with Vordik. We had a lot of fun getting to know you and can’t wait to see what’s next for your career!

If you want to keep up with Damian, the best place to find him is on Dribbble, Twitter or his personal website