5 (Unexpected) Elements of Great Design From One Talented Artist

Nate Bolt designs to awe.

His design work does not necessarily follow a set of principles. Instead, Nate follows the paths of great designers, using their work as inspiration. Nate believes that great design is a combination of “skill, talent, love, obsession, and luck.”

Read on to learn about the work and artists that inspire Nate, what his dream project would look like, and why he loves creating tools that support peoples’ workflows.


How has your passion for design developed over time? When did you first discover it? How have your perspectives on design changed? What are some of the factors that influence this change?

My passion for design ebbs and flows with how much I drink or dislike whatever I’ve just made, which is obviously related. My perspective on design has changed so that now I think design is not design. It’s just a bag of details, research, and magic. But now I get more of a combination of awe and bewilderment all the time when when I think about design that I really love. I used to think there was a formula you could follow to create incredible design – some set of principles or instructions that could lead to solid gold – but now I just think “oh wow that is incredible how the f^&* did they make it?” Thank god the process is still pretty rewarding.

What do you think makes for great design?

A special touch and a bunch of luck. There’s an intangible beauty and soul in great design that crosses all disciplines. It’s that thing when crazy little details all come together for some greater purpose. The joinery on a 1952 Wegner ch28 chair, the touch of the wheel on the first iPod, James Victore’s “racism” poster from 1993, the first Instagram “share this photo” design. They all impacted the world, leaving a mark like Steve Jobs always talked about.

But there’s no formula for great design, only established paths you can follow. Some people seem to create one great design, most of us never do, and some people do it over and over. In that regard it’s clearly art. But then there’s the functional component that throws a huge logic wrench in that perspective. That’s why I like this 19th century botanist, Jacob Bigelow, so much. He basically brought the word “technology” into popular usage and wrote a book about what he thought went into technology. Similarly, I think design is some insane combination of skill, talent, love, obsession, and luck. There might also be aliens or divine intervention involved depending on your celestial beliefs.


Do you have any advice for aspiring designers?

Find the absolute most inspiring designers that make your jaw drop and beg them for a job. If you don’t have the skills or experience to beg them for a job, go get that experience. Steal everything and make it your own, but attribute properly. I stole this entire paragraph from Tony Fadell, who was VP of engineering for that whole iPod thing and also made Nest.

Describe a dream project.

Research and design for an autonomous driving interface inside an all-electric 1962 Ferrari 250 GTE. There would definitely be a team working on this with me. A dream team, if you will. Until then, I’d like to have ethnio inside car interfaces to allow real-time remote research of in-car experiences. So Elon, if you’re reading this, holler at your boy, and bring a Ferrari.


What goals do you have for yourself? How do you stay motivated and inspired? Describe a discouraging situation and how you overcame it.

I just finished the biggest anti-goal book ever “The Antidote,” so I’m on an anti-goal kick right meow. I generally like creating tools that other people use to create things. Tools are awesome. They have a potential built-in value because you never know what someone will create with a tool, and supporting the workflow of other people makes me really happy. I recently found out both Food Stamps and Gambling interfaces were being researched using Ethnio (that’s my company) and this brings me great joy.

I look at Dribble for inspiration. I also get inspired by photography and art a lot – the new Broad museum in LA blew my mind apart. And the technology in the Rain Room at LACMA was also particularly cool.


For a discouraging situation, I was a left-tackle in Pop Warner football when I was 12 and as a tall lanky nerd I got absolutely destroyed. But I loved it. I was basically the worst, but I’ll never forget the coaches explaining/screaming to me how important a left tackle is to the overall offense. It’s not a glamorous position, but it really mattered. So even though I hardly stood a chance against most of the defensive players I lined up against, I had a blast because I felt like I could really make a difference if I ever figured out the play book. I never figured out the play book. BUT STILL.


Anna Lizaur is a Marketing Manager with about.me. She graduated from the University of Virginia. Anna is fluent in Spanish and can count to 100 in Chinese.