Prime Time Design: Unpacking the Creative Process with John Shih from X9 Studio

Samsung Developer

Design inspiration is all around us; however, tapping into it is another story. Fortunately, there are members of the Samsung Developers community who’ve cracked the code and defeated ‘designer’s block.’ We connected with several watch faces/themes designers and over the next few weeks will be sharing their advice, creative processes, and sources of design inspiration.

To kick off our series we’re featuring John Shih from X9 Studio, an industrial designer by trade turned watch faces/themes designer and 2019 Best of Galaxy Store Awards winner. As a kid, John was always interested in art and grew up surrounded by creativity - his brother is a photographer and his father an engineer. Read on to learn about how he developed his design approach and how he expertly combines function and beauty.

When and why did you start designing watch faces/themes?

My journey started in 2013 when I was working on a project for high-end mechanical watches produced in the US using aerospace materials and manufacturing technology. During my research on the fashion watch industry, I realized smartwatches are the future and shelved the mechanical watch project. Fast forward to 2018 when I got myself a Samsung Gear S2 and started designing Watch Faces for Tizen OS. Shortly after, I stumbled upon the early Samsung Themes development program and jumped on the opportunity because I think themes and watch faces are a natural match. That’s how I got into developing themes.

What does your design process look like? Do you have a strict protocol or is it more free flowing?

When it comes to watch face development, I treat it like I’m designing a real watch piece. I start with sketching ideas on paper or a digital drawing program, then refine the designs in a vector program like Adobe Illustrator for both UX and legibility tests. From there, I finalize the design in CAD and render it for the watch face app. I have a similar design process for themes, although it’s less methodical than watch faces.

How has your design approach evolved over time?

I apply the fundamental principles of design (color theory, contrast, proportion, balance, etc.) to all my projects. These principles haven’t changed much and neither has my approach to design. I have discovered that there is a market for high quality content at a higher price point. Now, I spend more time crafting better content.

What was the inspiration for your most successful Galaxy Watch Face and how did you make it a reality?

Inspiration can come from anywhere, at any time. As for my most successful Galaxy Watch Face, I don’t think there was any one thing or event that triggered the idea. Sometimes I sit down with a digital drawing pad, put on a pair of headphones and start doodling without any preconceptions. After hundreds of doodles, a few might trigger the light bulb and then I build on those doodles to turn them into a reality.

How do you strike a balance between the vision you have for a watch face and its functionality? Is this the most challenging part of the design process?

I’m a firm believer that form follows function, even in digital. From the initial concept stage, I make sure functionality always comes first. In most cases, the design vision in my head is very close to the final design. However, there are some tweaks along the way due to technical limitations.

The most challenging part of the design process for me is color calibration of AMOLED technology, because its gamma can’t be reproduced on today’s computer monitors. Sometimes it takes over a hundred color corrections and tests on the actual devices to ensure the design intention is kept.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give a designer who is stuck in a creative rut?

Design isn’t a job for me, it’s a passion. I’m constantly thinking about it. However, like everything else in life, you need a break every now and then. My advice is to make time to do something different. Before the pandemic, I would often go camping and let nature recharge me. Now that we’re stuck at home a lot, I do a short meditation and then put on a pair of comfortable headphones and start doodling mindlessly. Go with the flow and see where it takes you, you’ll be surprised at the outcomes.

Thanks to John for sharing helpful advice on the design process, staying creative and finding inspiration for Galaxy Watch Faces or Themes designs. You can learn more about John Shih’s creative process in this Live Chat with Tony Morelan and you can connect with X9 Studio on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Designers, we hope this post helps you put your ideas into action. Make sure your Galaxy Watch Faces or Themes portfolio is ready for the next submission window, which is open from February 10th to the February 23rd.

Stay tuned next week for the second installment in our ‘Prime Time Design’ series featuring Pedro Machado from Health Face and follow us on Twitter at @samsung_dev for our latest updates.