I remember how when I was a child, I thought that designers are people that “design clothes”. That was literally the only perception of design I had.
I joined an after–school class called Web Design when I was 13. There, I first played around with Front Page. Then I learned the basics of HTML by simply memorizing all the element tags. I remember how cool it was to be able to create something out of nothing—it felt like magic. But thinking about those years now, I realize I had been doing that before.
Growing up in a single-parent, working class family in the early nineties in Slovenia was tough. We simply couldn’t afford the toys a normal child wants. I remember watching cartoons on the Italian TV channels and how they were constantly interrupted by commercials for toys. Even the commercials were cool, we didn’t mind watching those at all. The creators always found ingenious ways of presenting the toys in such a way that you’d end up filled with the desire to get your hands on one of them. And that was a huge source of my frustration, but also of my inspiration.
Not being able to afford toys didn’t stop me. I used everything I could get my hands on to create my own. Paper, cardboard, wood, glue, duct tape… anything. I remember creating things like trucks and airplanes out of those. My grandfather brought me some Lego blocks from Switzerland at some point. Now that was cool. Again, I had a limited range of those but I had been building rockets and robots long before Lego started an official range of those.
Now that would be a dream job—playing around with Legos all day (like these lucky bastards). After joining that web design after–school class, I started to dive deeper into design. I started taking on professional projects for local clients in high school. I started drawing interfaces and websites in Photoshop soon after that. That was the first time when I started to think about myself as a designer. That was also the time when I started realising that I had probably had a mind of a designer for my whole life. But it had always been a hobby for me. There was no design course at any of the universities in Slovenia so it would always remain just that. A hobby. At least that’s what I thought at the time.
I tried quitting design two times but somehow I kept coming back to it. For some reason it stuck with me, like I was meant to do this (I think it simply boils down to the fact that I kept doing what I loved). I entrusted the steering wheel of my life to my curiosity, always did what I thought was right and never looked back. It got me where I thought I should be. Now, I call myself a designer, I am a designer, and no it’s not a hobby anymore. It’s not even a job. It’s a way of life. And I still love it.
Matej is a Senior UX Designer at GitLab and the author of the Better Web Type project. Originally from Slovenia but his passion for simple and usable design took him on a journey through Germany, Luxembourg, London and all the way to Edinburgh in Scotland. He thrives in the grey area between design and development.