Frank Bach is a product designer based in Los Angeles. He is currently Lead Product Designer at Headspace, a popular platform for everyday mindfulness and meditation. Born and raised in Canada, Frank made his way to sunny California to work at Edenspiekermann on Red Bull TV, where he learned the ropes of product design, design systems, and working across multiple platforms and timezones. In addition to his work at Headspace, he runs Sunshine Shop and LA Design and Dev. We caught up with Frank to learn more about his career path, approach to design and collaboration, and key advice for designers just starting out.
Hi Frank! Tell us about yourself – how did you get to where you are today?
My interest in design began with album artwork and skateboarding magazines. I loved the idea that someone’s job was laying out magazine articles, choosing photos, colors, typography, and putting it all together to tell a story. I was into music, and I always say that I’m more logistically and practically gifted than artistic — so it naturally fell on me to do things like book tours, work with the record labels, and make album artwork.
I went to design school in Canada, then later at Savannah College of Art and Design, which is where I discovered the world of UX design. In my late 20s, I had a career change from the world of brand and marketing to digital product and moved to LA.
Originally landing at Red Bull, I worked on their TV platform for just under a year where we launched globally, and then ended up at Headspace through good luck and timing. The company I was working for’s contract was ending with RBTV, and I was about 2 weeks away from not having a job. I hit the pavement and in 30 days I had 4 offers — phew! I’ve been at Headspace ever since, almost 5 ½ years later.
What first sparked your interest in design and visual art? How did you know it was what you wanted to do professionally?
In high school, we visited some of the local colleges to get a sense of what careers were out there. One of my former profs (he wasn’t my prof yet) showed the class a design for a lightbulb packaging. This was when the world was shifting away from incandescent bulbs to more eco-friendly ones. I was wowed by the idea that this was someone’s JOB! My dad worked in HVAC and plumbing and my Mom worked retail in a pharmacy. Being able to work in a professional environment that was creative and also technical seemed like a dream to me. It was never really a question, just a matter of how. I’ve never doubted it once – it all just feels so aligned with the path I’ve been on since I was a kid.
What inspired you to join the team at Headspace?
I got into meditation after getting sick. I was dealing with a thyroid illness and had to make a lot of major life changes to stay healthy, and I’m happy to say that I’m doing fantastic today. My wife got me into it – and at first I laughed it off. I thought it was so silly. But I was overworked, tired, and frankly at the end of my rope. Something had to give, and thankfully meditation and mindfulness provided some options for me at that time and ended up giving me a lot of focus and clarity on what I wanted the next 10 years of my life to look like. That led to me moving to the US, so when Headspace came knocking I was all-in! Easiest decision of my life.
Before all of this, work and me had a very toxic relationship. Long days, working myself down to the bone, poor communication, bad leadership, everything. Being able to mix in wellness into my daily routines and not feel bad for it was ideal for me… to be in a work environment where meditation, boundaries, taking care of yourself are all celebrated and not shunned. It’s great.
As Lead Product Designer, what’s a day on the job like for you? How has your daily routine changed since the pandemic started?
Well, I spend a lot more time at home (which I love). A day in the life usually starts off with coffee and an hour or two with my daughter. She’s 1 year old and loves waking up early. We play a little, then I get ready for the day ahead. There’s usually a sync up or stand-up of some kind, then 2 hrs of focused work. I’m trying to do more. Break for lunch and a walk, then usually some meetings in the afternoon. If I’m lucky I can get back into creative work, but with the responsibilities of a Lead, it’s not always possible. I have to zoom in and out of the work.
Leads are expected to, well, lead. Be the person who has answers (or knows how to get them), inspire the team, mentor colleagues, have some perspective on the future of your space, awareness and knowledge of your competitors direct and adjacent, etc.
What’s your creative process like and how do you approach collaboration with your team? Do you have any favorite tools that you use in your work?
There are a few processes we use, such as HDI (Hypothesis Driven Innovation) as well as Sprints (like the book). I try to always start with sketches, but mostly I try to start — begin anywhere as John Cage says. Starting is the most difficult thing for me, so just putting pen on paper or pixel on screen is a win. The rest kind of comes together after that.
Lots of communication. Over-share. Tools like Figma, Notion, and Loom make it easier in a remote environment.
In addition to your role at Headspace, you also have an awesome project called Sunshine Shop – tell us more about Sunshine Shop – what inspired you to create it, what kind of work do you share, and what’s up next for the store?
What started off as a small side project for myself to sell a few t-shirts and sweaters has turned into a full-on business, where we support artists and influencers who dabble in spirituality and existentialism with their own clothing lines and accessories. We’re getting into eBooks, which are outperforming merch 10x right now. It’s really impressive. The inspiration was just wanting to make my own stuff, and people showed interest so I figured out a way to get it in their hands. I can code a little, so I put together an ecommerce site over a weekend and have been building upon it ever since. We’d like to add 4-5 new artists to our roster, and continue to focus on eBooks and content in 2022. We’re averaging about 20 sales per day, and I think we can get that to 50 if we remain focused. With that said, Sunshine has no goals, no OKRs, no deadlines. We use angel numbers to price our items and launch our collections, and it’s purely a labor of love. If it became my full-time job I worry that it would not be fun anymore. Working with artists and being a creative and technical person they can lean on really brings me joy, and it’s such a nice alternative to working in the tech space.
What are our thoughts on the importance of having side projects? Do you have any tips for balancing your day job and side projects?
If you find yourself creatively itching, or frustrated with your day job, I recommend them! They keep you growing in ways that may not be possible in your 9-5 and usually allow you to unlock skills that you can carry with you. I’m a big fan, but I wouldn’t say they’re a must. Carve out some time every week that you can spend on the side project and stay loyal to that. Make to-do lists. Take it one step at a time. What’s the rush?
When you look to the future, what are you most excited about right now?
I’m happy that artists are able to make money in the NFT space. I have no interest in getting into it, but it’s refreshing to watch from the sidelines. I’m mostly focused on being a Dad, and wondering what the future of education looks like for my daughter. Who even knows?!
What are some of your favorite design resources?
The Design Details podcast is awesome. I’ve learned so much from them. Headspace just launched a series called the The Long Time Academy which is fantastic. I don’t read many magazines anymore, but some books I’d recommend are “Zero to One” and “Hacking Growth” as well as the “Masters of Scale” podcast. They’ve helped me hone in my business knowledge which has helped immensely in my career.
Finally, what advice would you give to designers who are just starting out?
Go wide. Figure out what you like. Don’t rush into it. There’s so much time to specialize in the future, you’re better off getting as much experience as possible so that you know what it is you want to focus on.
Stop comparing yourself to others. You’re on your own path.
Ask for what you want.
Put in the work.
Be nice to yourself and others.
Get some rest.
Don’t forget – there’s more to life than work.
For more interviews with today’s top creatives, visit the Noun Project blog.