Can you tell us a little bit about how you first got into the web design industry?
I originally trained and worked as an apprentice sign writer after studying fine art and animation at college. After a couple of years I decided that it wasn’t really for me and started my own company Brave Art, where I was going to be doing specialised painting of children’s bedrooms. I managed to get hold of the right people at the NHS and was planning a contract for painting children’s wards in Hospitals.
While designing my new companies website alongside a friend, he told me there was a job going at the company he was working for at Fubra.
He phoned his manager there and then and I got an interview that week, 2 weeks later I had the design job. I spent 3 happy years working for Fubra. I would recommend any young designer to work at a web company at the beginning of their career. I met some of the most awesome developers and designers and many life long friends that are all in my industry.
You recently launched your new portfolio which features some of your fantastic illustration work. Has drawing always been something you’ve been interested in?
Yeah my original passion was illustration, I studied fine art at college. I was lucky enough to have a great illustration teacher. Out of school and college I would take classes in human anatomy. Since working on the web I have always tried to bring my illustrative style into my site designs.
How have you found your first year as a freelancer? Have there been any surprises or revelations that you weren’t expecting when you started?
I have loved being full time freelance, if I am honest I didn’t realise it would be so hard. Being the only one running my small company I have to bring in new work, attend meetings, answer endless emails, let alone doing the actual work. One thing I wasn’t expecting was the odd troublesome client not paying on time. I have learnt that creating a solid contract along with payment terms will help you with getting money in from the off.
What is your normal workflow for creating a website from start to finish?
I always start my site designs with pencil & paper, I enjoy creating wireframes on paper as when making reiterations it is far quicker, they just don’t have to be perfect. The starting stages should be for idea making. Jumping straight into a wire framing program or Photoshop can sometimes stump my creativity. Once I have a wireframe story board sketched up and agreed with the clients I move into Photoshop. Allowing the wireframes to guide me but not rule the design I am to create.
A lot of clients ask for more than one website design or idea, I don’t mind doing this if they are willing to pay for the extra work days it takes. My strong belief is that after the wire framing stage you should have a good enough idea of what the site design will be like. One solid idea is enough to build upon and edit. If I don’t develop the site myself I use one of the many talented freelancers I know and have worked with in the past. Even though you are a freelancer having a small team of freelancers either on Twitter or Skype has been really beneficial. If my workload has got too much or I need a guy specialising in HTML5 then I know the guy to call on.
Do you still use the Visual Task System you blogged about? It is such a logical way to work through projects!
I do, I am still as of yet to find an online task system that works better than a visual task system. I have used pretty much all the task systems including Basecamp in the past they are all great but when I really want to remember a certain task I simply write out a post-it note and I have it in front of my all the time to remind me. If anybody wishes to read any more about it visit my blog: Why a visual task system has proven so productive
You and Phil Ricketts launched Remember The War last year which gained a lot attention not just for the quality of content and the message it provides but also because it was created in such a short space of time. Can you let us know how the project came about and what the process was.
On October the 5th I awoke to the news that Steve Jobs had died. I sat that day reading so many inspirational stories about the man himself it inspired me to get up off my arse and make one reality as soon as I could. That day I spoke with my designer friend Phil Ricketts and told him my idea. He was as excited about it as I was which was fantastic. The guy is brilliant, he has a great work ethic so I found it extremely easy to work with him.
Other than illustration and design I have a massive interest in History. When browsing the web for anything historical I found myself on sites made back in the late 90’s. We are not recording our world history in the correct way on the web. There has been a lot of talk recently about how our educations systems are outdated, well it is the same on the web. We do not utilise the technologies available to us to help teach our children in a interesting and modern way. This is why I came up with RemembertheWar.com to bring history on the web into the 21st Century.
We built RemembertheWar in a week! Still not sure how we managed it. We launched it as a remembrance site for World War 2 to coincide with Remembrance Day 2011. Due to the massive success of the idea with over 12,000,000 hits in our first 2 months we are looking to launch version 2 of the site very soon, with hopefully more Wars and historical events added in the future.
You (along with several hundred other folk from the web industry) recently attended Simon Collison’s New Adventures In Web Design Conference. The reaction to the conference on Twitter has been incredibly positive. What was your highlight?
It was a fantastic event, Simon did very well keeping it running so smoothly. All of the speakers were fantastic. Naomi Atkinson’s talk was great she touched on many things I can relate to including the education system and how we can help improve it as designers. I was looking forward to Kyle Steed’s talk a great deal and he didn’t disappoint, he made the whole thing very personal which I thought was awesome.
My favourite speaker of the day had to be Cameron Koczon who co founded Brooklyn Beta an event I really hope to go to one year soon. His talk was the most inspirational for me, he spoke about areas on the web needing more help from entrepreneurs and how startups can be created in these areas to solve these problems. I was lucky enough to have a chat with Cameron at the after party where we spoke more about the startup scene. To sum it all up NAconf is awesome and you all have to go 😉
Are there any other web conferences you regularly attend?
I would love to attend a lot more than I do, time is my main issue or the lack of it. I try and attend lots of local web events to me, one being http://webmeetguildford.co.uk/. Local meet ups and events are just as important to go to as the large conferences like NAconf. You get to meet lots of local web people, be it designers, developers, SEO guys or whoever. As a freelancer networking is very important, I recommend you keep a look out for local web startups who will host events in your area. I have made lots of great connections in the past year and even some good friends who I now talk to frequently.
Where do you find inspiration on the web?
Twitter is definitely my main source of inspiration, following great people who tweet such awesome and new things all the time helps inspire me to change my designs and try new and exciting things. Dribbble is great for it but I don’t think you should let it guide you too much, being original with your style I think makes you an interesting designer.
Are there any other designers in the industry producing work that you really admire?
There are so many great designers out there at the moment, I love what Kyle Steed does on the web with web fonts and illustration. Mike Kus has a great personal style he carries through his designs. Jonnotie produces some great UI for his clients and I am currently beta testing his new app made specifically for designers Shipmentapp.
What hobbies do you have and do they help you ‘switch off’ from the internet?
In my previous job as a sign writer I got to travel around the country fitting signs, while on my travels I learnt to surf. The only problem is now I don’t really have the time and being land locked like I am I can’t just pop to the beach in my lunch hour. I play Xbox when I get a chance, to be honest I have definately spent far to much time on Skyrim 😉 Photography is another passion of mine, I seem to have collected far too many cameras which are now cluttering my living room.
The only thing I do daily to totally switch off is cooking, I am best at this with beer in hand and a lot of advice from Jamie Oliver. 😉
Finally, do you have any tips for people looking to get started in the web industry?
I see a lot of very young designers on Twitter and Forrst talking about starting their own company. My main bit of advice would be to go work with your piers, don’t be afraid to have an open mind. The more you can learn from these people the better you will do in later life. By all means take on your own freelance work and get experience this way as well. But working alongside other people in our industry is the only way you will develop as a designer.