If you’re a podcast junkie like us, you might be familiar with Spec.fm — a top-rated podcast network for designers and developers at every stage in their careers. The Spec network is currently comprised of thirteen different podcast shows, with more than 100,000 downloads per week — a pretty amazing feat considering Spec started out as a side project only a few years ago.
Today, we’re joined by Spec Co-Founder Sarah Jackson to hear how Spec got started and quickly turned into a passion project success story for the books. Read on for an important reminder of what truly makes your design community so special and unique. After hearing Spec’s story, we couldn’t feel more proud to be a part of such a generous, supportive, and passionate bunch of creatives. We’re confident you’ll feel the same after this tale!
Tell us about yourself and your background in design.
Hey there, my name is Sarah. I’m a Minneapolis native but I moved to San Francisco in 2013 with my partner and my dog in hopes of a brighter future in tech. I ran a small website design studio with my partner before moving to the Bay Area. I couldn’t get a job in the San Francisco tech scene for the first year, so I took a job at a bakery (B-Patisserie) as a front-of-house during the day, and worked on writing, side projects, and going to as many meetups as I could by night.
I couldn’t get a job in the San Francisco tech scene for the first year, so I took a job at a bakery.
Eventually, I was able to snag a job at Mule Design studio as their office manager and assistant project manager, but continued to feel a pull to create something at the end of the day. So during the evenings and weekends, I volunteered to edit and produce the Design Details podcast.
Where did the idea for the Spec network come from?
Spec started with Design Details and Developer Tea . All of us — Brian, Bryn, and Jon were from areas that didn’t have a lot of community at the time. Moving or working with companies in the Bay Area exposed us to an overwhelming amount of people who were like us. We wanted to expose some of that to other people like us from cities with a small or non-existent design and development community.
We never expected it to be anything more than a fun side-project that we could work on during nights and weekends, that shared some stories and hopefully helped one person feel a little less alone. All of a sudden, we had companies that wanted to be sponsors, fans who wrote in asking for more, and other people who wanted our help creating content they could give back to their own communities. So, we said, OK — I guess we’re doing this for real, and made the network official.
Why do you believe podcasting is important to design?
I have a background in PR, Marketing, and Business Development. In those professions, at least in my experience, everyone is so guarded of their techniques or sharing their process with anyone in the immediate circle. Nobody has time to help a fellow teammate and they feel no need to help you when you’re struggling in those fields. It can be a real battle to get your foot in the door.
Product Design and Development is very different. Everyone is willing to and wants to share their process, techniques, and expose what’s under the hood. They’re proud of what they are working on or struggling with and want to share that with anyone who’s interested in hearing it.
I think the reason the design and development community is so open is because the profession is still so young.
To be honest, at first, it really freaked me out. Why would someone take time out of their own day to get coffee with us nobodies and tell us all about how they solved a problem we’re also running up against with no clear benefit to them?
It blew my mind, but I realized there was something special about this profession. I wanted to get more exposure to it and share that exposure with the rest of the world, who was maybe feeling like they had too many battles to face.
I think the reason the design and development community is so open is because the profession is still so young. There’s no time for secrets or guarding process for the sake of a raise. Everyone in Product Design and Development is together, learning together — and I think it’s important that we share those stories for incoming generations.
In your opinion, what are the qualities of a good design podcast?
Design is visual, and a podcast is audio. The trick to a compelling podcast is triggering a listener’s imagination. If you can do that without having to show the audience what you’re talking about and encourage someone to build or create something, you’ve got one heck of a show.
Our number one goal is helping designers and developers level up in their careers. We do our best to showcase the folks who are out there building and creating to anyone interested in learning a skill or language. We hope they can be inspired to build something or start a community in their home towns.
At the end of the week, if we can share a story or have a guest on and they can get connected to someone who needed help fixing a bug or solving a problem that week, we’ve done our job.
Do you have any pointers for designers interested in sharing their own insights through podcasting?
Start with the content first and then share your ideas with your friends and other folks in the community. The community will help you make it better and keep you motivated when you’re feeling like you can’t do it.
You can always invest money into fancy gear and things later on, but if the content isn’t there, or you don’t like doing it over and over again, it won’t be worth it. Let the community help you.
For more side-project success stories, check out the story of Color Hunt and how Joanna Behar turned a passion project into a full-time job.