270 - Phill Ryu

Phill Ryu is a Product Designer and the Founder of Impending

Phill Ryu is a Product Designer and the Founder of Impending, a team of four shipping apps straight into pop culture. They have helped design apps like to-do list Clear and HeadsUp! for The Ellen Degeneres Show.

He was also the co-founder of MacHeist, the popular software bundling site that was started in 2006.

Twitter → twitter.com/phillryu

Inside Phill's Workspace


  • Recently upgraded to Mac Studio + Studio Display. There’s not much to say about it you haven’t already heard, but it’s a pretty spectacular replacement for my 2015 iMac.
  • I’ll briefly comment on my virtual setup. Dock must be pinned at bottom with auto hiding on, and satisfying amounts of magnification. I’m a command tab + command tilda user and simultaneously think it’s silly how many different window management solutions Mac OS has layered on over the years while stubbornly clinging onto my personal favorite. Finally a highly recommend setting up an auto screenshot sharing app, like CleanShot that can automatically copy a shareable link to screenshots as you take them. Super useful. And one plug for Soulver, a true indie Mac app gem that is weirdly under the radar.
  • Apple Trackpad. I was a mouse guy for a while but these days I don’t game on my Mac and find the trackpad a little more relaxing without the sound of a mouse scraping on the desk. I still haven’t picked up those fancy multitouch shortcut tricks though. I really should.
  • Lego figurines, made with amazing AR BrickIt app on a couple separate occasions with different friends. The app is crazy cool – the best part is, it’ll give you a bunch of model instructions to choose from, but you are going to be missing some pieces and forced to improvise along the way. IMO while niche it’s one of the handful of actually amazing AR experiences today, and the figures we made are souvenirs with good memories attached.
  • Two succulents in cute corgi (Rexxar) and cat (Bruce) pots. I got these from Amazon after seeing the amazing Animal Crossing planters Alice Lee made for herself and shared on twitter.These were the cutest ones I could find for myself.
  • Can I admit something? I got really into making my place cozier over the past two years, and it’s because of Animal Crossing. I loved decorating my virtual home and island to make it just perfect and it was actually a great way to play around and figure out what I liked. And then it was like why am I not investing this effort into my real life home!
  • Uplift standing desk. I like this desk but I would be lying if I said I regularly use it in the standing position. I’ve probably used it in standing position ~100 hours over the past few years I’ve had it and I would call it naively aspirational in hindsight. But it is a nice surface to work on, and it’s the first desk I have that came with wire hiders and things and the effort I put in there to tidy and hide cables has been worth it. (The built in power sockets are also very useful!) But yes it is slightly embarrassing how little I stand on it. Shifting to stand mode now.
  • Embody chair. This was a splurge many years ago with my partners at tap tap tap set on one. They roped me in so everyone could expense one without feeling guilty. Its hydraulics recently broke and my cat took over it for stretches and tore it up. But it’s done my back good service for something like a dozen years.
  • Fugu plush. This is a one of a kind test-run prototype plush based on our ‘fugu’ character. We spent like 3 years trying to breathe life into it (Hatch for iOS), and really wanted people to think of it as their pet, and more than an app or game. We ultimately weren’t able to make Hatch the lasting project we hoped it to be, but love our little fugu. And maybe we’ll revisit someday.
  • Muhammad Ali portrait. This was a birthday gift earlier this year from my dad. He mentioned in the note that I really enjoyed a biography of Ali as a kid. “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” In some ways that’s what we aspire to do too at Impending – staying nimble but hopefully with some real knockout power when the perfect opportunity comes up.

What is your favorite item in your workspace?

This moment I shared on twitter and the reaction to it (Apr 25) really made me grateful for the view out my window. A lot of times the most important work gets done gazing out at the tree outside or people walking by. And thinking back, I’ve always picked places to live with a nice view out to work to. So I think that, or my cat Bruce who likes to sleep on the bed near me while I work.

How do you spark creativity?

Hmm I think patience is importance, and when that wave of inspiration comes, riding it. Like how I imagine the life of a surfer to be. I don’t know if you can spark it reliably when you want or need it, and thinking of it that way might be a road to frustration.

When real inspiration comes in the form of an awesome hook or premise for a new app or something, it’s usually grounded in a pretty different perspective we have on the ‘genre’ or category it’s in, and I think a different valid perspective can make things easy in a way. It always naturally flowers with more good ideas that align with it in a kind of fractal way if the perspective was both legit and fresh. So if that’s not happening with a project we move on.

How do you keep the work-life balance with so many projects going on at once?

We usually have just two going on – ongoing Heads Up! work, and one more personal/indie project we are excited about. We have an expansive shelf, or graveyard, of interesting prototypes and unfinished projects.

I don’t consider myself a good 'multi-tasker' and I think it’s important to be able to load in and retain a model of what you’re working on in your limited brain space while you’re working on it. So for me it’s important we keep our projects/ideas fairly simple (which fits mobile app context well) and avoid splitting our focus as much as possible.

And I guess as a team we’ve just wisened up some over the years on sustainable hours, a better work-life division and internalizing that we’re halfway through a marathon now and interested in reaching the finish line, whatever that may be.
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