Designer In TheSpotlight (DITS) is a weekly feature that I run every Sunday (or more) to help particular individuals in the design community get their name ‘out there’ and to educate the community as a whole. It is a series of questions that asks the designer about themselves and their job as a designer. If you would like to be featured in an upcoming DITS post fill out the form here.
1. Please tell us more about yourself, your background, education and what you do as a designer.
For years I thought I was going to be an illustrator, since I spent the majority of my childhood drawing, and used to draw and design various things for school, like posters for drama productions, pamphlets for open evenings; that sort of thing. In my early teens I really got into comic books in a big way and started writing and drawing my own, which I used to print and sell to school friends. I was pretty sure I was going to pursue a career in comic book illustration, but then I discovered music. I formed my own band and then got into digital art (very late, actually – not until 1999) and started designing CD covers. Then I realised I needed a website and my interest in the medium was fueled.
I went to University and studied for a degree in Contemporary Media Practice, which was very vague but allowed me to focus mainly on Digital Media. My web design knowledge at this time was next to nothing (I couldn’t write HTML at all) and I focused straight away on Flash.
Over the course of my years at university, I started doing sites for friends’ bands and so built up a portfolio quite quickly. When I left uni I was very lucky to get a job at EMI Records, who (I think) were pleased by the musically-orientated portfolio.
2. How long have you been designing and what made you become an artist / designer?
Oops. I think I’ve answered that above! But also: I’ve been designing ‘professionally’ (i.e: from when I graduated) since summer 2004.
3. Where do you work and what is your daily routine?
I work for myself, and I work at home, in the heart of the English countryside. In terms of a routine, I start work around 8.30 to 9, although I never actually begin any ‘real’ work until 10. I spend the first hour catching up on email, RSS feeds, Twitter, general web surfing and research. I’ve recently written about why we should all write off that first hour. Editors note: You may also be interested in this article on the best time of day to do things as a designer.
4. How did you market yourself in the beginning of your design career and how has that differed to how you market yourself now?
I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve had to do very little marketing. I submitted my personal site to a lot of CSS galleries when I released it in April 2007 and that had a huge snowball effect, in terms of it getting featured and linked to from a lot of other sites.
When I started writing for magazines and speaking in public last year, I did have to push a bit to get myself out there (by phoning up and emailing magazines like .Net and asking to speak at events like Oxford Geek Night. These days I’m lucky enough to be invited to appear at events and write for magazines, and I haven’t yet had to ‘look’ for work – all of my clients have come to me first. I’m very grateful for this, and I know it won’t last forever!
5. What are your tools of the trade? This could include hardware, software and traditional tools.
As of last week, I’m now the proud owner of a new MacBook Pro and 24″ LED Cinema Display, so that’s my hardware. Software-wise, I use (unsurprisingly) Photoshop for all design work (coupled with InDesign for print stuff), and I build sites with TextMate. Other apps I use on a daily basis include Transmit for FTP, MAMP for local development, Things and iCal for task management, Scrivener for copywriting, and LittleSnapper for capturing design inspiration.
6. How do you manage the business side of design such as accounting, invoicing and bookkeeping?
I have an accountant who takes care of my tax return paperwork; I just keep a record of my earnings and expenses, which I give him at the end of the year. Most of the ‘business’ side of things I have to deal with (apart from dealing with clients) revolves around booking in (and re-arranging) projects in Things and iCal. Never underestimate the time this takes!
7. Where do you get your inspiration and how do you keep up to date with what is happening in the industry?
I try to get as much inspiration from the offline world as possible, because I’m a firm believer in how getting your inspiration from only one place will make your designs stale. I’m taking more and more inspiration from print these days, but I also frequent a few ‘gallery’ sites for web-specific inspiration. Best Web Gallery and CSSBeauty for instance.
8. Can you please guide us through a typical project from start to finish.
The client gets in touch to say they’re interested in working together; I email them back with details about my availability, daily rate, and general process; they give me a bit more information about the project; I send them a series of questions to answer so that I can get a decent brief; we discuss and finalise the approach we’re going to take; I produce wireframes and get feedback (and modify where necessary); I produce designs and get feedback (and modify where necessary); I then either hand over my PSD files and a rough styleguide if it’s a design-only project, or I begin coding the site (and modify where necessary). Occasionally I’ll outsource some development stuff to a friend if it’s particularly heavy back-end code.
9. What are your top 3 websites / books and why?
Ooh, that’s a tough one! ‘I Love Typography‘ has done great things for promoting an interest in typography and it’s a great source of inspiration. There are sites I frequent (like the ones I described above) but I’m not sure if they’re my favourite. From a design point of view, I love visiting Jason Santa Maria‘s personal site because of the way he ‘art directs’ each post. I’ll also happily pour over anything created by Miguel Ripoll, who’s my favourite designer. Oh, and Tim van Damme has done some superb work recently, like http://24ways.org
10. What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to someone just starting out?
Work for ‘the man’ before going freelance straight out of university or college.
Jacob: Thank you Elliot for taking the time to fill out this interview: If you want to be featured as the next Designer In The Spotlight, please fill out this form.