BQ&A: Pat Dryburgh on Design, Development, Health, and Music

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Who are you, what do you do, etc.?

My name is Pat Dryburgh. I’m a guy from a small town in Ontario, Canada who recently moved to a big city in British Columbia, Canada. The eldest of three, I grew up constantly wanting to entertain those around me. From that came my love of music, which through a long and winding journey led me to a now-5 year career as a designer. I’m also a film producer, working on my first feature-length documentary with my best friend.

Just because I suppose this is mandatory, how do you actually properly pronounce your last name?

Like Edinburgh, with a Scottish accent. Unfortunately, I can’t roll my R’s.

What tools do you use to get your job done? Software, hardware, etc.

My main machine these days is a 13” Macbook Air, which I now regret purchasing. Don’t get me wrong, the computer itself is amazing, and is perfect for most of my work and play. The limitations, however, have become more and more apparent as I do more and more video work. So, while I love the form factor and general performance, I’m starting to think I may need something with a bit more oomph.

For video and photography work, I personally own a Canon 5D Mark II, and my production company owns a Canon C300 and a Sony NEX FS700, which shoots at 240 frames per minute so we can slow all this crazy footage way down.

If you stop and think about it, it’s actually pretty incredible the amount of software the normal person interacts with on a day-to-day basis. Software has created a world where you can fit a camera, a telephone, a word processor, an image editor, a calculator, a GPS tracker, a recipe book, an mp3 player, a dictionary, a roledex, and a full magazine rack in the front pocket of your Levi's skinny jeans. (Editor's Note: Hopefully not too skinny.)

And that doesn’t factor in what’s accessible through a web browser, or in my Applications folder. And when I think about what software I use to “get my job done,” I know there are plenty of applications I would completely miss on a first pass.

That said, I think I can sum up the key applications into two categories: communication and production.

I hate and love email, because my inbox is never filled with things I want to deal with, but it still somehow connects me to a larger world beyond my desk. I stick with the default Mail clients that come with the Mac and my many iOS devices, only because I can’t take the stress of switching to a new paradigm. With every email message I take one of three actions: I reply to it; I archive it; I leave it in my inbox for weeks until I get over whatever hurdle is keeping me from performing one of the first two actions.

And, because one can never have too many inboxes, I also use iMessage, Facebook, and Twitter.

Production is an interesting topic for me, because I produce so many different types of things. My design work relies primarily on the Adobe Creative Suite, but also includes apps like Justnotes for note taking and copywriting, Keynote for wireframing, and LiveView for visualizing.

For web production, I float between multiple text editors, all of which I can’t stand and none of which I’m willing to give up just yet.

Video work is done in Adobe Premiere, Motion, and, on occasion, iMovie (they really nailed their Ken Burns effect feature). I also write scripts in Justnotes (though I really need to find a proper tool for this).

Before we talk about online stuff, I know you're a big music guy. I am somewhat of a music person myself (I play the piano, I've done a few recordings, etc.) — what instruments do you play and how long have you been playing them? How'd you learn them?

I love writing and performing music. I started when I was 13 in order to impress girls, and since that has yet to pan out, I just keep learning instruments until I find the one that works.

My first love is the guitar, which was technically the second instrument I learned to play (like most 8-year-olds, I didn’t last long with piano lessons). The first song I learned was “Wheat Kings” by The Tragically Hip, which my band Boss Rebel covered on our last album. It’s such a simple song, a classic three-chord progression, but the story the song tells is so heartbreaking, I get still get chills whenever I play it.

After guitar, I picked up bass and drums, returned to the piano, studied saxophone in high school, and fooled around with the mandolin. Sadly, I only own guitars at the moment, but am on the lookout for a few used instruments to flesh out my living room jam space/couch.

Oh, I also sing.

Where can we find some of your music?

I believe the last Boss Rebel album, “Heavybad,” is still available on iTunes. It’s not the most thoughtful of records, but is fun to throw on in the background of your next house party.

I had a hand in writing a couple of the songs in my second film, Imprint, the soundtrack of which you can download for free from Bandcamp.

I have some unreleased material I’m still trying to figure out how to get out there. I recorded a three-song EP back in 2007 that is still one of my favourite things I’ve done musically, but the lyrical content no longer resonates with me. It was never released, so I would love to rewrite the lyrics and re-record the vocals and put it out there, but I’m having trouble getting my hands on the master recordings. If I can somehow get that together, I would love to release it for free on my site. I also have an idea for a five-song EP I would love to do if I can find the time.

You've got a new gig at The Brooks Review. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Ben’s been a friend since we met at Macworld in San Francisco last year. We had chatted online on and off, and linked to each other’s work as well, but meeting him and hanging out and grabbing burgers and beers together really made me realize just how cool of a guy he is. He’s incredibly honest, which I love. You know that whatever comes out of his mouth is the truth, no holds barred.

I’d been doing some maintenance work for his site for some time, holding his hand when the monstrosity of a CSS file became too much to handle alone. Then a couple of months ago, Ben wrote to me about wanting to take a break from the site for a week, and asked if I’d like to guest edit the site in his place. I had a blast writing about tech, something I haven’t done in a long time, so when the week was up and he asked if I’d like to contribute on a weekly basis, I jumped at the chance. I’ve missed the last couple of weeks due to busyness at work, but I have a few ideas percolating for my next post.

You also recently "re-launched" your own (beautiful) site, but then haven't updated it in a while. I fear The Brooks Review might have taken over. Do we have to say goodbye to your own, personal blogging?

It’s weird, because I really anticipated writing on my site consistently when I relaunched it a few months back, but since launching I haven’t felt like I’ve had much to say. I’ve been writing a lot in Day One, which is an app for keeping a personal journal. The things I write in there aren’t really suitable for public consumption, though. So, I’m writing, just not the right stuff.

We talked about music earlier, and lately I’ve been thinking about adding a back catalog for the three or four people who might be interested in listening to things I made a few years ago. I also have trailers for the films I’ve made available online, but there isn’t really one place to go and see them. So, if and when I get some free time I’d like to add things like that to the site.

The other reality is that blogging has changed so much over the last five or six years. I remember my blog being a way to meet people all over the internet, as we exchanged stories and links with one another. Now, blogging feels more like yelling from the stage in an empty theatre. All of the discussion is happening in places like Twitter or Facebook or App.net.

At a certain point, life gets in the way of documenting it. I have so many things on the go, so many irons in the proverbial fire, that by the time I think to write about them, I’ve moved on to the next thing. I’d love to take some time to slow down and write just for the joy of writing.

Professionally, what is it that you do? It seems like you do a bit of everything from design to coding. How'd you learn those skills?

My job title at Perch is “Sr. User Experience Designer”, which encompasses maybe 20% of what I actually do for the company, let alone what I do with my own projects.

Basically, my history is this: Once upon a time, I was a broke musician who needed a website and couldn’t afford to pay for one so I built one myself. I’m not too proud to admit those early sites were built with tools like FrontPage and Swish (a simple Flash editor that really wasn’t built for making Flash sites). Eventually, I moved on from these drag-and-drop tools and taught myself HTML, CSS, a bit of JavaScript, and how to hack together a WordPress theme.

Much like learning the guitar, teaching myself web design was a means-to-an-end. I needed a site for my band, so I figured it out. What I never anticipated was that this simple decision would truly change the direction of my life, introducing me to so many amazing people and ideas and projects that I never would have learned had I completed school (I’m a Bible college drop-out, who had planned to be a youth pastor for the rest of his life).

Music was the catalyst for my interest in film, as well. My band shot a music video one summer, which led to my friendship with Edward Platero. When Edward asked if I would be part of a short film he was doing with some friends for a contest, I said sure. That led to two more short films and now this feature-length documentary called The Drop.

Any tips or advice for people just starting out or wanting to learn?

I’ve had a number of friends who have asked me how I learned what I know, and I’ve come to figure out what they’re really asking: “Give me the one website I can look up to teach me everything I need to know about design.”

When I started out, I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. I thought every site was built with FrontPage. I thought every site was static and required re-writing multiple HTML files to add new content to the table layout I had developed. But, as I began learning and exploring, I came to discover all of these amazing technologies and skills that I didn’t even realize existed. If you ask 100 random people on the street what jQuery is, I doubt you would get a single correct answer.

So, what I say to these people is “do it.” If you want to learn how to design a website, do it. If you want to learn how to play guitar, do it. If you want to make a film or take a photograph or record a podcast, do it. Right now you don’t have the slightest idea what to do. Neither did I.

Tell me a bit about Hundred Down. How is that going?

Hundred Down is a podcast I started with my two good friends, Bill and Ed. Each of these guys have had tremendous success losing weight by eating a specific diet, called Paleo. I won’t bore you with the details, but basically I now only eat meat, veggies, fruits, and nuts.

I have been thinking about trying to lose weight for a couple of years now, but this past December I committed to it. In fact, losing 100 lbs is my New Year’s resolution. However, unlike most people who make similar resolutions only to forget all about them by February, I resolved to make mine last. I put a system in place — a podcast where I would be held accountable, where I can learn about this new lifestyle I had adopted, and where I could seek the help and encouragement of friends — and then stuck with it.

The show itself is one of the highlights of my week. It’s my new church. It’s where I have the opportunity to work through my own sh*t with two people I respect and admire, and then share that conversation with the world. We aren’t pulling in huge numbers of listeners, but the ones who have joined us on this journey are truly amazing people. It’s been an absolute blast.

You've got a serious beard, man.

Actually, I don’t. :(

I shaved my beard right before Christmas, as a surprise to my mother who absolutely hates it. Then, when I started the diet, I set up different goals and rewards for different weights. At 20 lbs I allowed myself to eat sushi again. At 65 lbs I’m allowed to get a dog. And, at 80 lbs, I’m allowed to grow my epic beard again.

The Twitter avatar hasn’t been updated to reflect the current state of my facial hair simply because I miss my beard.

If you could only install one third party app on your iPhone, what would it be? Mac?

Well, I should probably say Perch for the iPhone, since it’s the one I had a hand in making. But, other than that, I would have to say Sleep Cycle.

On the Mac, I have to say Photoshop. Apple has a replacement product for just about every other app I use (though I’d hate every minute of having to use Final Cut Pro X), and Photoshop really does have an incredible feature set. I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.