Can you tell us a little bit about how you first got into the web design and development industry?
I originally trained as a scientist (chemistry) at university and I worked in a chemistry role (mostly in a laboratory) for a large pharmaceutical company for many years. In 1997 or so, the company disposed of its old PCs and I bought one to use at home. I learnt HTML in the evenings by following a tutorial and I built a personal home page.
After that, I created a pub guide website http://www.horshampub.co.uk because I used to visit lots of country pubs, on my mountain bike, and that was the only subject I felt qualified to build a website about. I started doing more and more web-related work, both as a small part of my day job and in the evenings/weekends on other personal websites. To cut a long story short, the company and I parted in late 2001, and I decided to go freelance as a web designer. It was just something I felt I had to do.
If you are interested in the full story, I wrote about my career path in a blog post recently.
Do you consider yourself to be mainly a designer or developer (or a bit of both?)
As a freelance designer what are the main positives and negatives?
The positives are that I can mostly do what I want so long as I earn enough money to pay the mortgage! I love working with CSS and HTML and websites in general. On the downside, the first 1-2 years as a freelancer were tough because I did not have any web background to speak of. Additionally, another disadvantage is that freelance income is not always predictable … and chasing clients for money is not something I enjoy.
Do you find most of your clients locally or do they come from all across the country?
They are mostly nearby (Sussex). Many people seem to want someone who is local.
What is your normal workflow for creating a website from start to finish?
I have always designed in the browser and that’s probably because of my self-taught HTML background. However, it’s also a reflection of the type of websites that I like (mostly, these are not graphically intense). I use Dreamweaver and Fireworks as my main tools. Dreamweaver gets a bit of a bad press because many people use it in WYSIWYG mode without thinking what they are doing but I think it works quite well as a code editor and I use that and its site management features quite heavily.
At the start of a website project, I come up with a basic wireframe, either in my head or on paper. I have a series of basic CSS layouts, a bit like a library, that use the same building blocks. I start with (what I consider to be) the nearest layout to the wireframe and build it from there. The design may take input from the client (eg from their other marketing materials, sometimes from a pre-existing logo) but the end result is primarily from an iterative CSS/HTML build process. I build graphic elements into the CSS/HTML layout rather than starting with Photoshop or Fireworks comps. In many cases, I think it’s better to show a client a first HTML prototype that they can click on rather than a static visual.
In terms of my CSS layout library, it’s not very big, but I find that it’s quicker to start with something that I am very familiar with. Some of the layouts in the library have been built by deconstructing websites into their base building blocks and some from common CSS layouts on the web. I also have a series of website examples that I sometimes show clients. These might be based on templates or tutorials that I have bought or collected or experimented with. I find that any kind of starting point is useful, even if it has to be heavily modified, and I would rarely start from a completely blank canvas.
You also provide Dreamweaver training. How fast do your clients pick it up?
It’s pretty mixed I would say. Many people underestimate what building a website involves and I get the impression that some think Dreamweaver is like using a word processor. In these cases, it can be difficult to achieve lasting results. On the other hand, I have some clients with greater motivation, more aptitude, and more realistic expectations, who have used the tuition to start their own web business. Great stuff!
Where do you find inspiration on the web?
A whole range of websites but I also find inspiration from books like Flexible Web Design by Zoe Mickley Gillenwater and the Art and Science of CSS by Cameron Adams et al.
Are there any other designers in the industry producing work that you really admire?
I like the work of Dan Cederholm http://www.simplebits.com and the approach he takes (as espoused in his books like Bulletproof Web Design and Handcrafted CSS). I like the advanced CSS and typographical work of Andy Clarke http://forabeautifulweb.com
Do you subscribe to any blogs, podcasts or magazines to help stay on top of the web design world?
Yes, far too many RSS feeds to mention! I listen to the Boagworld podcast but it’s difficult to find time for many other regular podcasts. I used to listen to The Rissington Podcast but that seems to have stopped. I subscribe to .net magazine.
Do you attend any web design conferences or events?
I have been to The Future of Web Design and dConstruct in previous years which were good. This year, I went to Bamboo Juice in Cornwall which was a more low key grassroots event. I also go to the occasional evening meet-up like Skillswap in Brighton. I would like to go to more conferences but I find that some are rather expensive and the presentations are not always directly applicable for a freelancer like me. I prefer to attend events where I can bring something technical back into my day job and I’ll probably try and go to a few workshop-type events next year.
What hobbies do you have and do they help you ‘switch off’ from the internet?
I go out cycling/mountain biking. It definitely does not involve thinking about the web! I support England cricket, football and rugby, which involves shouting at the TV a lot.
Finally, do you have any tips for people starting in the industry?
Learn about the latest methods and use these to build a website or application around a subject that you find interesting. Follow the highest coding standards.
Thanks for taking part in the interview Clive!
You can learn more about Clive’s work and follow him on Twitter using the links below: