Meet the Staff: R.A. Ray
So what do you do at Unit Interactive?
I solve problems with design. I also do a lot of front and back-end development and learning and teaching and experimenting, but all of that is in the service of design. I think my role is to be a facilitator for my coworkers to do their best work and to expand the capabilities of Unit as a company.
What you mean by facilitating others to do their best work?
I like to be part of collaborations with very smart and capable people and I’ve long felt that my main benefit to an office setting is to push my coworkers’ (already) good work to be even better. I love to try and find the missing piece to a design that’s almost perfect and I’m almost always available for teaching or bouncing ideas off of. Then there’s the “R.A. Effect,” which around here means that my presence in a room causes technology to start behaving. This is a Real Thing. [Hmm, the Editor finds this one doubtful.]
I attribute some of this self image to my affinity at a young age for the book Wizard’s Hall. The boy wizard in the story isn’t much good at magic himself, but his presence makes everyone else’s magic much stronger.
You mentioned teaching. Does a lot of that go on at Unit?
In a very informal way, yes. We all share new knowledge as we come by it and pass around our expertise as needed. I also school the office daily in ping pong.
How’d you end up working here?
I started designing and building websites back in 2002 as a hobby and decided pretty quickly that it was what I wanted to do to earn my living. In 2006 I got my first job in the industry working for people who were initially afraid when I told them I wouldn’t be building sites with tables. About the same time I stumbled on Andy’s writing and began keeping up with Design View.
Two years later I started my own agency and a year after that my partners decided it wasn’t something they were interested anymore and I was out of a job. Providentially, Unit was hiring and we hooked up. It’s weird to think of it this way, but my company’s failing was one of the best things that has happened to me. Blessings in disguise and all that.
What’s great about your job?
I believe the internet is one of the great human experiments. I think we’re in the middle of a complete societal paradigm shift. No one controls information anymore. People can teach themselves just about anything they want. I didn’t graduate from college, Andy skipped it altogether, and everyone here learned (and are still learning) how to build websites on their own. This is all terribly beautiful and getting paid to participate in it is a great blessing.
The culture at Unit is spot-on as well. We’re encouraged to be well-rounded people instead of slaves to our work. My employers understand that I have a family that comes before work and they don’t treat me like an errant child. If I have something that I need to take care of at home, I take care of it. If I have work to get done, I get it done. That’s the way it should be.
So college isn’t required anymore? Do you think there’s a role for college or a degree to play in the design professions or are these things anachronisms anymore?
Education is required. College is part of the bureaucracy we’ve built around the need for education, but the only relationship between college and educated people is that those seeking education often go to college. This is what makes time spent at a university worthwhile. Not the curriculum, but the aggregation of intelligent minds and experts. However, I’m of the belief that we could be far more effective in how we organize these aggregations than the traditional college setup.
I went to a traditional college (Texas A&M) but I don’t see any intrinsic benefit to graduation. One is no more educated right before receiving their certificate than right after and, since no oaths are required, graduation is nothing more than the final mechanism for the bureaucracy to stamp the student as “approved.” It is sad how reliant much of our society has become on certifications and standardized testing.
We’re lucky in the design industry that those who matter understand that formal education is irrelevant. Ours is not a skill set that can be faked or obfuscated. Anyone seeking work in design must show that they are a capable designer, degree or not. So, college can be very important for an aspiring designer, but only insomuch as they use their time there to make themselves competent.
So what do you do when you’re not working on apps and websites?
I sort of have a hobby addiction. Right now, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training and competition takes up most of my free time – I’m in the gym at least five days a week. I also read everything I can get my hands on. I design and build my own furniture, collect unique table-top games, run, and play disc golf and ping pong. I enjoy the best of music, movies, TV, anime, and food (both cooking and eating). On any given weekend it’s an even chance that my wife and I are driving around Texas or Oklahoma visiting friends and relatives. I’m not much for sitting still.
Being an active member of my church is a huge part of my life as well, but I don’t want to lump that in under “hobbies”.
I hear music coming from your office every day. What are you listening to?
Lately a lot of Mumford & Sons, Del, and I love working to the Tron: Legacy soundtrack. Foo Fighters just released “Wasting Light” that I’m about to pick up and Blue October is supposed to have a new album out later this year, so perhaps I’ll drift a bit back towards rock for a while.
What do you know now that you didn’t know two years ago?
More than I could possibly communicate and far less than I would wish. “The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of our own ignorance.” – Benjamin Franklin
R.A.’s personal website