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Interview: Android Smartphone Image Creator Zandog

June 11, 2010 - Written By Chris Yackulic


Mobile smart-phone manufacturers design and create some of the most innovative ways for us to use communication and media technologies on the go. When images of these new devices are press released or by other premature means, we don’t get much to work with when it comes to publishing or developing for these great mobile products. Manufactures generally don’t release any sort of spec or render development file to work from and that can make it frustrating for outside media,  developers and designers to get presentations up. That’s been changing though as a few designers are picking up the slack and developing working, editable images of the mobile products we enjoy using everyday and some of theme are down right accurately scary.

We got a chance to talk with one of more upcoming and predominate designers about what and why he does these little mobile design gems. A rare look into the design world from a creator’s standpoint and get some opinions on a wide variety of Android topics

INTERVIEW

Can you tell Android Headlines and your fans about yourself and your background?

Hi. Thanks for having me. I’m Alex Gillis, (Zandog) a graphic designer from Seattle, Washington. Most importantly about me I suppose, I have 3 intelligent brats and a loving wife.  I’ve been developing in graphic design, primarily in the web industry for a few years now. I got into the field with intentions on joining or opening a web design studio, but quickly realized how saturated the web design market has become and you really have to be well rounded in order to prosper and frankly, my coding skills are not great. I still dabble in web design but found marketing, concept and user interface design more personally rewarding. Recently, I’ve found myself in different non-web related graphic design projects.

Can you tell us a little bit about your business and what you do?

I’m kind of a part time guy with full time intentions at the moment. I do corporate security work 3 days a week to make extra money and I design from home and in studio if needed, the rest of the week. My design work right now is primarily marketing with a bit of concept and User Interface design. I began doing interface design for the iPhone, primarily hand-held gaming. I comped the control, menu and multiplayer systems that were later implemented. Soon after, I got into the iPhone jailbreak community developing the Cydia logo and web, logo and interface elements for ZodTTD’s iPhone game emulators along with a few more unmentionables. I really love the iPhone by the way. I didn’t leave the platform, I just need to be flexible with the future of mobile computing and right now Android is the place to be for many reasons.

Looking your portfolio, you have beautiful designs Many of the involve phones, specifically HTC and Android. What attracted you to these platforms in particular as a user and artist?

Google has really gone out of their way in providing the stepping stones for something great and it’s not just for the mobile smart-phone industry, but mobile computing as we know it. With a generally free Linux based operating system and the freedom and flexibility to use it as a developer sees fit; is exactly what tech geeks needed. Since the OS is in it’s infancy with Android 2.2 coming out, it’s only going to get better as the SDK and API’s mature and get released. Companies like HTC, Motorola and the like have picked up on this flexibility and are capitalizing on it. We’re even seeing mobile devices like tablet and laptop PC’s running this new platform. With all the posturing and gesturing going on between the big players of this mobile platform war, believe it or not I think Apple and Microsoft have their work cut out for them if they keep this up. The words proprietary and closed platform aren’t just a dirty words anymore. Their a demise.

Which one of your .PSD designs is your favourite and why?

That’s a tough call, but if I had to pick one it would be the HTC EVO 4G.PSD. At first, I had very little to work with when it came to trying to design that particular smart-phone. I scoured the web for information on it’s specifications, dimensions and high resolution images but there was nothing really to go on. I decided go straight to the lions den on this one and I called HTC of America. They were happy to help me out when I explained what I was doing. I somehow gained the information and images I needed. The one insight I didn’t have was an idea on what Android OS they were going with. When it comes to the .PSD’s, timing is everything and I couldn’t wait around to find out what to comp up so I decided to design my own Android interface that I thought would complement the phone. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on the concept UI for the EVO 4G design and I think most people wish it were actually going to be on the phone. It kind of shows how quickly OS designs need to move to give users what they want. We’ll have to see what comes up.

Are you surprised by the popularity of your Android designs?

The only surprise for me has been the feedback I’ve gotten on them. Everyone seems to really like them. Designers take them apart and examine how they are made and I’ve even gotten a few offers to license them for commercial use. Developers like to demo and comp their work on the .PSD’s. It’s only been since the beginning of February that I got serious about .PSD reproduction of these smart-phones when I released the Motorola Droid .PSD and I’ve already gotten over 70,000 hits on the websites their distributed on and 20,000 on my Deviant Art profile alone. It makes me very happy to not only get these PSD’s attention, but giving them away non-commercially for free.

How would you feel if a phone manufacture were to ask you to design a custom user interface or phone for them?

This is an interesting question because manufacturer’s generally have very capable and a lot of times, innovative interface and hardware designers, but implementing designs like mine for practical use seems to be another story all together. I think that’s where phone manufacturer’s have a hard time catching up with the demands of the users they are supplying. A lot of research and development is put into designing these phones to maximize the overall user base and I think the few comps I’ve put up are realistic, but would target a minority tech heavy users. A lot of professional mobile designers face this reality daily. I’ve been approached by the Android ROM development community regarding my interface design and I’m very interested in what can be designed and used that manufacturers just aren’t willing to take a risk on. Out of the many UI’s I’ve designed, I’ve only posted two in my .PSD’s publicly (Nexus One Redux & HTC EVO 4G .PSD’s) and both have gotten a lot of heads to turn. I wouldn’t mind “stretching” something into place but more importantly, I would love to be approached to design an Android interface by a phone manufacturer. What an awesome opportunity.

You come across from your FAQ section as very honest and “local”, how do you think this relates to Android and your own personal style as an artist?

I think that most people who use Google’s innovations regardless of what it is, do it for three major factors. It’s free, it’s simple to use and it’s not competing against anyone else looking to make a dollar. How much more honest can you get than that? Obviously there is a source of income at work for Google, but I also know that it’s put toward providing for the users of those services in a lot of ways. Being honest, open and free is something we’ve needed in technology for a long time. There is no other way to progress as a society without these principals. Being honest and open about your intentions, knowing there is not much a competitor can say seems Goliath in a sense, but when your doing it to better the users as a whole, it’s more like David. Without going into my own business ethics and style too much, I hope this makes sense.

Being in the design business professionally, I’m sure you need something by your side for appointments and jobs, what made you choose an Android (Droid) phone over it’s competitors?

Let’s face it. The iPhone just doesn’t operate effectively as a business phone. Yes, it’s got sync abled apps for planning, finance and contacts but trying to multitask these seems to be a chore. This goes back to me talking about what the world is ready for. The Blackberry platoform is a prime example of what businesses are looking for and it’s yet to be really replicated on another platform. One reason why the Black Berry is still the most widely used OS and device by an overwhelming amount. But like any smart shopper, it wasn’t the devices available that brought me to the Android platform. It was the service provider, their policies and customer services that gave me the Motorola Droid. I did quite extensive comparisons of the cellphone carriers in my area, looked at their service agreements, the contract rules and policies, especially that even they adhere to. Not to mention the type of coverage and plans. Being an iPhone user, AT&T would be a great carrier.. If it didn’t have the iPhone. The service is below par and the customer service just plain sucks and this truly isn’t their fault. I think the cellphone service provider industry just isn’t retrofitted to handle these kinds of devices yet. It’s kind of ironic that you bring this up now by the way, as AT&T decided to shaft the iDevice users with limited data plans after promising unlimited data for some time to come. T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon all have comparable contracts but it was the lower price, deeper coverage and yes, phone selection at the time that made me select Verizon and the Motorola Droid. I’m a tech geek. I gotta have my mobile computing fix too, ya know?

How do you feel about applications and the development they have on creating and editing images on Android devices?

Regardless of the app you pick, mobile image editing was not meant to be done on a phone. Photoshop.com, PicSay, Androidlet are all basic editors I’ve looked at and didn’t use more than twice. It’s best to use your Android phone for picture taking and leave the editing to a Mac or PC based platform.
Would you like to see more sophisticated editing applications or less?

By editing, I assume you mean on the Android phone platform? No. Although I can totally see an Android Tablet doing a more than sufficient job at image editing and I’d expect that it will be coming here in the near future.

As an artist, what applications do you enjoy on Android that you would also recommend to users, familiar and new, to the Android platform?

Coming from the iPhone platform, more specifically the jailbroken community, I wouldn’t hesitate to tell users who are comfortable with experimenting to root to install a solid ROM. It’s be against the carriers and manufacture’s warranty so be cautious and know what your getting into, but the rewards for doing so are immense. Designing for this open ROM system is also very rewarding. Anyone who likes to theme or design should look into the prospects. On the safer side, if you really want to design for the Android, Google’s own developer.android.com offers some of the best resources for getting into designing for the platform. I’m personally enjoying LauncherPro’s Froyo theme and setup and Gameloft games at the moment. 😉

What is it about the Android platform your really like?

If you put your mind to it, anything can be done on an Open Source Platform like this. And it’s free! I think it has a stable future.

What changes would you like to see in future releases of Android operating system?

Google needs to take their app development support seriously. Build a more robust, secure and comprehensive Android Market, which I hear they are in fact doing. Android is new, but it’s truly missing out on the wonderful applications that are provided on the iPhone Appstore and platform. Everything from productive and creative apps to AAA quality, fully immersive 3D games. Android will get there, but Google has to provide the doormat for those developers who truly want to migrate to the Android platform, so they can walk through that door. And build platform AP’s that make it easier to develop these high quality software applications. If done right, the desktop computer will be less relevant.

Which current or future phone has you the most excited?

I love what HTC is doing right now with their lineup of phones but they need to put more time into perfecting the Android Operating System on their phones. There are far too many issues with they’re phones software and it’s really hindering what potential the hardware really has as a great mobile device. I’m more interested on how Motorola plans to follow up with the Droid 2. I think they learned some things about what worked from the original Droid and interface performance is a key issue that they are focusing on. They also have some call clarity compatibility issues they need to work out with some carriers.

You rendered the iPhone 4G, HTC EVO 4G and now the Motorola Droid Xtreme in .PSD format well before anyone got their hands on decent images for anyone of these devices. How did you get access to the information to do it?

Uhm, wow… I’d like to use the little birdy told me, routine but honestly it’s industry insiders like yourself that share what they have with me. The fact that I can use the accumulated information to design a “close to accurate” concept of the device is why I get the opportunities I suppose.

Is there anything you’d like to say before we go?

Sure. Mainly a thanks to the people who watch my work on Deviant Art and the ROM community. Your feedback and support means a lot. Thanks to you, Androidheadlines.com for the opportunity. And for those of you who like my work, watch my profile for more .PSD’s like the ones posted.