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Interview with Web Designer and Front End Developer Ryan Taylor

Havoc Inspired | Follow Ryan on Twitter

You’ve recently decided to become a full-time freelancer. How are you finding this so far?

I bloody love it! I’ve wanted to work for myself full-time for a long time and if you’ve spoken to me in person in over the last few years I’ll have probably told you so. “Ultimately I’d like to work for myself full-time” was starting to become my catchphrase. So I figured it was about time I took the plunge. I’ve no regrets so far and still have a roof over my head so that’s a win in my book.

Have you found that Twitter has made it easier to get new enquiries from potential clients?

I’ve found twitter to be a great resource for getting the word out about things I’m working on and of course staying in touch with my peers. It’s difficult to gauge how many enquiries come through it though. At the moment I’m finding a lot of my work is coming through collaboration with other designers and general word-of-mouth.

Do you have any advice on mixing freelance and family life when you work from home?

My son is brilliant at getting me away from my computer. He literally comes and gets me out of my office if I haven’t already met him at the front door when he comes home from childcare.

Getting established as full-time self-employed has in some ways been helped my the fact that my wife is doing a degree and is often studying or is on placement in the evenings so I never feel like I’m neglecting anyone. We always ensure we spend the weekends together so all in all my work/life balance is pretty good for our particular situation.

The new Naomi Atkinson website is fantastic. Can you tell us about your collaboration and involvement with the website?

Thank you! I’m really pleased with how naomiatkinsondesign.com turned out. The design was done by Naomi, the photography by Dan Rubin and the front-end development by me. It was a lot of fun to work on, Naomi is a brilliant designer who has great attention to detail and having access to Dans skills with a camera was just icing on the cake really.

Responsiveness was very important to us all. Once Naomi had nailed the look and feel of the design, it became a team effort to perfect how visitors would interact with the site and how it would adjust depending on the context it’s being viewed. I then went to work bring it all to life. I think we’re most proud of the team section. It’s a combination of jQuery and CSS3 transitions with a pure jQuery fallback for browsers that don’t support it. This results in a much smoother experience on mobile devices with native transition support.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you first got into the web design and development industry?

Well I was originally an IT Technician, I worked in the private sector as well as within education (several collages and a university). When I started working in IT we were still repairing computers, changing components and occasionally the old soldering iron would come out, but by around 2004 it had all become pretty much monkey work. A computer broke and you sent it back to Dell and installed a replacement. I was getting really bored!

I’d been looking around for an alternative career and for a while I thought I’d get into CG animation, join some gaming company and achieve stardom creating the next Half-Life. The only problem was that I wasn’t very good at CG animation…

Around this time (2004) I was playing a game called Guild Wars and was part of a guild called War Masters I believe… (might have just made that up, can’t remember) anyway there were about a hundred of us in the guild and we decided we wanted a website and a forum to share strategies and stuff, all very geeky, and I volunteered to build the site.

It all gain momentum from there really. I remember following Dreamweavers help tutorial on building a website, which was in tables, and a good friend of mine Paul Stanton (who I was working with at the time and who was already designing and building websites) hit me round the head with a CSS book and that got me looking into Web Standards.

I landed my first full-time position as a Web Designer/Developer in 2006.

What is your normal workflow for creating a website from start to finish?

If I’m doing the entire site from start to finish, my process is typically research => wireframing => design concepts => front-end build => cms integration => go live.

I aim to keep the client involved throughout the course of the project with an in-person kick-off meeting when possible and a training day/half-day towards the end of the project before go-live so that they can add more content to the site and any last minute bugs can be ironed out.

Like most freelancers I’m always reviewing and attempting to improve my workflow so if something falls down for one project I’ll modify my approach for the next. Nothing is set in stone, it’s all quite flexible.

Above Screenshot: Cambridge Pianoforte website design, front-end development and CMS integration by Ryan Taylor

Are there any other designers in the industry producing work that you really admire?

Oh yeah, tons. Naomi Atkinson, Dan Rubin, Elliot Jay Stocks, Mike Kus, Jessica Hische, Tim Van Damme, Ryan Downie, Oliver Waters, Simon Collison, Meagan Fisher, Sarah Parmenter, Roan Lavery, Jon Hicks to name but a few.

Do you have a particular web design conference or event that you never miss?

Not particularly no. I’ve been to Future of Web Design and Web Apps a few times, DIBI, dConstruct, New Adventures, SXSW. I try to attend as many as I can as I’ve found them to be one of the best ways to network with other designers and developers but it all depends on my schedule really. I’ll be attending New Adventures again in January 2012, Mr Collison throws a cracking conference so looking forward to that one.

Above Screenshot: The new Headscape website – Design, front-end development and CMS integration by Ryan Taylor

What hobbies do you have and do they help you ‘switch off’ from the internet?

I’m learning to play guitar. I’ve actually been “learning” for quite a long time (translate that as I butchered the thing once a week then put it back on it’s stand), but now I’m actually having lessons and have bought a decent guitar – a Yamaha APX 500 – which is my baby and hangs on my office wall. Apart from that when I’m not working I’m spending time with my family.

Finally, do you have any tips for people starting in the industry?

My advice would be to network as much as you can, attend meet-ups in your local area, collaborate with people and learn from them. Conferences are a great place to do this if you can afford them. I was lucky in that I met Paul Boag early in my web career and he’s been a good friend and mentor to me ever since, which is why when the opportunity arose for me to mentor someone myself I was happy to do so. I’m currently sharing my insights with a nice Canadian chap called Chad McDonald who wants to expand his skills into front-end development as well as design.

Thank you so much for taking the time to take part in our interview Ryan 🙂

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  1. Great little interview, love the Ryan’s work too. I’m in exactly this position as a newly freelance a web designer in Cardiff, UK and its nice to feel like i’m going in the right direction after reading this. Put my mind at rest a little. Cheers. B.

  2. I really like this interview, in particular the bit about getting started.

    “Finally, do you have any tips for people starting in the industry?”

    I worked for an agency for years more or the business side but wanted to get a bit more involved in creative, this was received like a led ballon and resulted in my handing in my notice, up grading my mac and sitting in the spare room waiting for the phone to ring…

    Surprisingly the phone hasn’t rung, and i have found myself on freelancer sites like people per hour.

    After winning a few jobs I find that price is the main driver for prospective clients and it isn’t exactly linked to their expectations.. resulting in me spending hours and hours on their site for next to nothing.

    As a new starter in this, armed with nothing but a desire to do well and create great sites on platforms like wordpress whats the best way to get out of the trap of doing cheap sites to get started?

    I have never been able to be mercenary and just want people to be happy but there must be a way to manage the effort VS reward ratio..

    Cheers,

    Luke

  3. Nice interview. It’s definitely true that personal contacts and word of mouth is everything when freelancing. But that doesn’t have to be face to face. Some of the best collaborations and projects I’ve been part of have started via contacts who I’ve never even seen face to face!

  4. Nice interview,

    I’ve seen self employed for 3 years now, so it’s nice to read about someone else in the same boat!

    @Web Design Kent – I find that using the FreeIndex is a great way to gain extra enquiries and get excellent reviews.

    Keep up the good work on here!

  5. A really interesting interview, a good read and interesting to know people’s roots when they on in a similar industry to myself. The website examples in this post are really nice and make me want to better my own design and personal development as a designer.

  6. Great interview that makes me works hard and smarter!
    The main problem is that I can’t get me away from computer to get some rest, so I can better work on the project, instead I am wasting my time and fooling myself that you don’t need to rest unless the project is finished. So the productivity drops and probably the ideas and quality as well.

  7. Some good tips there Ryan, particularly about the networking and mentoring.

    Let it be known that freelancing isn’t an easy option but nevertheless, can still work with the right contacts (as with any business I guess).

  8. A very insightful interview. I have only just started out as a web designer after a long career as a Cisco engineer. I suppose that everyone just wants to build up their business to pay the bills at the end of the month, but getting job satisfaction for a design well done is probably more rewarding

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