Comfy Life

Profile: Erin Fenley, Lead Designer

Posted by Comfy N. Lovinit on Jan. 30, 2017

Erin brings sharp design skills to Comfy. With a master’s degree in Design for Sustainability, work experience at UC Berkeley’s Office of Sustainability and Energy, and standing as a LEED GA, she’s more than a visual designer, she’s committed to creating great design specifically for sustainability projects. After five years in the Bay Area, Erin recently started working remotely from the chill mountain town of Asheville, NC.


Tell me about the path that led you to join the Comfy team.

I would say that I’ve been a designer—knowingly or not—for most of my life. I can even remember as a tiny kid being super into penmanship and very protective of my crayons. I was not a sharer. In high school, I took more art classes than anything else and studied art in undergrad, which is when I really started diving into the world of graphic design. After college I spent three years teaching elementary art to a bunch of munchkins before going on to work as a designer and art director for an advertising agency—making ads for ketchup, cheeseburgers, and, my favorite, sweet tea. That was great and fun because all of those things are delicious! But after a few years, I really felt the need to do something more valuable in a larger sense and better aligned with my morals and ethics.

I think my interest in energy efficiency evolved in large part from growing up in Southern Appalachia where both of my grandfathers were coal miners. My entire life I watched, up close and personal, the destruction of the landscape through mountaintop removal mining. I wanted use my skills in a way that could help counteract that damage, at least in some small way.

I decided to go back to get my masters at SCAD, focusing on design for sustainability, learning how design thinking can make products and systems more sustainable. A lot of what I learned in grad school has directly informed what I’m working on now—developing a very coherent, beautiful user experience that influences sustainable behaviors and ultimately makes people happy. After grad school I worked at UC Berkeley’s Office of Sustainability & Energy where I met SDH and Andrew for the first time. I saw their demo for (a prehistoric initial version of what would become Comfy) and I was completely blown away! A year or two later I was approached by a talent agency about this cool new startup doing something with building efficiency. I took a look and thought, “hey, I know these guys!” I’ve been with the company for about two and half years now, and it's been wild to watch it grow. It was like a baby when I started and now it's like an honor-roll teenager, I guess.


What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Well, I think the most challenging aspects of my job are, oddly, often things that I enjoy the most. For instance, working to make something flow better in the app or solving a complex visual problem that can lead to utter confusion to our users! One of the fundamental components of Comfy is the fact that we have three buttons. It’s incredibly simple and easy to use and we’re committed to maintaining that integrity as we expand our features and product offerings. So, that’s the ultimate challenge I think—creating a simple and beautiful experience for our users as we continue to add awesome new functionality.


Is there something you do to help you perform better?

I think the most significant thing that’s upped my game recently is that I’ve started working with some new design software. I’ve been using Adobe products since I was 15, so I feel pretty expert in that realm and was sort of resistant to switch to something new. But recently I’ve been trying out some new programs like Sketch and Zeplin, which are made especially for UI design and think it's safe to say, I’m a believer! After scouring the internet for every single tutorial, hack, and plugin that exists, Sketch specifically is now almost as second nature as Illustrator or Photoshop. So that’s massively changing my workflow and making me super-productive when it comes to UI design.

I also like to make sure I devote some time to some non-work related side projects. I have a little studio in my garage where I do a bunch of crafty things like sign painting and lettering and it’s kind of like my haven. When I go in there, everything gets muted or put away. No screens, notifications, or alert noises. It’s super important to me to have at least some analog creation time so that I can get back onto the screen and stay excited about the projects I’m doing at work.

" Wilson is a chi-weenie and is very into fashion. He has a line called “Wilsonwear,” we do a lot of photoshoots..."


What does your life look like outside of work?

Well let’s see, I love roller skating not rollerblading…I have nothing against roller blades but that’s not my thing, I skate quads and there’s a big difference there. I played competitive roller derby for seven years and recently started skating at skateparks doing ramps and bowls, which is a great thing to start when you’ve just turned 38. Ha! I also spend a lot of time with my dog, whom I love very much. Wilson is a chi-weenie and is very into fashion. He has a line called “Wilsonwear,” we do a lot of, I’m not kidding I am that crazy dog-lady.

I also recently relocated to Asheville, NC and am really focused on building community here, getting involved with activism, politics, and LGBTQ issues. When I lived in Oakland, I organized the SPARK program for the Comfy team, volunteering to work on projects with local kids. Asheville is a special place because it's a very progressive town. I mean, nothing really compares to the Bay Area, but there's a lot of people doing good things here. So yeah, between skating, my dog, and community building, that takes up most of my free time but I’m always trying to do things that bust me out of my own mold.


What can you geek out on for hours?

Oh man, the first thing that comes to mind is really embarassing and I can’t even say it. Okay fine…nail art. I know! You would never believe it but it's true, and it gets even worse, nail art YouTube videos. I could watch them for hours. I have special people I follow, like Simply Nailogical (look it up) and I’m occasionally inspired to make my own nail creations. Unfortunately my dog doesn’t like it, it's not within his fashion parameters. So yeah, there’s that.

And then of course, there’s all the design stuff I can geek out on forever like typography and early poster design for magicians and circuses. I could watch sign painting videos or read books on techniques indefinitely. Once you start immersing yourself in design, your whole world changes. You can’t help but notice the design elements of everything around you, it almost physically hurts sometimes, like “oh noooo, that sign breaks my heart!” But it can also make you feel wonderful to see something that’s really thoughtfully designed. That’s probably why I also love finding treasures [said in a thick mountain accent (tray-zures)]. Treasure hunting is when you go to the antique junk store where you might find something really unique and beautiful, like a set of frosted glasses with dogs on them. Whatever it is, it's gotta be special. I just love huntin’ for treasures.

Want to work with Erin? Well, we're hiring! Check out all open positions and apply here.

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