Welcome to the Droplr + Designer series. Each month we’ll showcase a designer or developer, give some insight into their creative process, background, and work. We’re thrilled to launch the series with designer David Lanham.
Lanham is known for fusing the natural with the synthetic, organic with robotic. His is a vivid world of hyper-cute creatures, mechanized monsters, and supernatural spirits. It’s a realm inspired by boyhood romps through the tangled thickets of suburban Florida and the etherial films of Hayao Miyazaki (Creator of Studio Ghibi and animated films Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, and many more).
The designer is best known for creating creatures. He gave life to Twitterriffic’s baby blue bird and conjured up legions of adorable critters for Facebook’s popular social stickers. You might be familiar with the lovable antics of his characters Pepper the fox, Bun the rabbit, or even Sinister Oyster. He also created Hatch, a Tamagotchi-like iPhone app that puts players in charge of an adorable creature. Finally, he’s worked for the renowned Iconfactory as an icon and UI designer. He currently lives and works in North Carolina for the app dev and design shop Impending.
Tell me about your fascination with nature and technology.
Growing up in Florida, I was always playing outside.The weather was decent year round and there was a creek and some woods near my house. The kids in the neighborhood would hang out down there and we would tromp around through the woods and get into trouble. My dad was a computer programmer, so we’ve always had computers and gadgets around the house. Both nature and technology were an integral part of my life growing up.
Have you always been into art?
Yes, definitely. My uncle used to come over and I’d tell him stuff to draw and he’d draw it out for me. And he was a sculptor as well. I never picked up that side of things—I’m no good at sculpting—but the imaginative, creative side of drawing really stuck with me. I took after-school art lessons with a teacher in town and when I went to college I studied drawing and painting with a design focus.
Does your work start in the analog world?
Yeah, I have a whole bookshelf of sketchbooks. If I’m not on a computer I’m usually just doodling in a sketchbook.
Is there story behind your characters and the world they inhabit?
A lot of the weird drawings are just drawn freestyle. I’ll draw shapes and lines and just use my imagination to pick stuff out and see where it takes me. I liken it to watching clouds. You can see faces in the clouds and pick them out.
Hayao Miyazaki is a big influence on your work, yes?
His environments and characters and worlds are just so comfortable. I feel like I could just go live there.
Tell me about your work at the Iconfactory.
It’s a lot more critical thinking and figuring out puzzles rather than just going with wherever the flow takes me. It’s nice to have that looseness offsetting the technical detail constraints that icon design usually requires. There’s a lot more to take into consideration. It ends up being much more of a graphic design problem, but you can also bring a lot of the playfulness into the work as well. It seems like the more successful icons kept a nice balance between the two.
What do you look for to get that spark of inspiration?
A lot of it comes down to playing off words and how the developers would describe their product, almost anthropomorphizing it, almost making it a character. It might be a networking app that looks for computers nearby. A few things come to mind—you think about radar, animals that find things nearby with feelers, hands grasping for things. This is an octopus that can feel around and find stuff nearby. It’s smart and it can figure out how to open things and use them. You can go in a bunch of different directions and see what resonates best. It doesn’t always have to be a computer representation of the software, it can try to play with some more organic ideas that a wider range of people would recognize.
Tell me about Hatch.
It’s our ambitious pet project [snickers]. It’s a way for me to dive in and learn animation and also see if we can make a virtual pet for smartphones. It’s like Tamagotchi, but going from the 1-bit origin to what you can do now with rich graphics and sensors on smartphones. It’s like having an animated friend that you can carry around with you, which I’ve always wanted.
What can you do with Hatch pets?
It’s pretty limited right now, but as the iPhone starts getting more sensors and we get access to those sensors, we can do more. There are a lot of possibilities, even with the health and movement stuff. We could end up comparing the pet’s health to yours. It might get sick if you get sick. There are lots of things we still need to implement. It still doesn’t get dirty or get baths yet, which is something I really want to add. It’ll be fun to see where we can take it and make it a sustainable project.
If you could work on anything, what would it be?
I think the animation side of things has really hit a very satisfying place with me. The goal would be to make some animated shorts and then keep making them longer and longer, see what happens. I’m going to take take a lot of my drawings and see if I can put a story to them. All the characters definitely seem to inhabit the same world and I’d love to weave them all together into a larger story. That’s what I’ll be working on next.