Designer In The Spotlight (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.
Hi! I’m a 25 year old half Chinese/English guy, called Kai Chan Vong making his way through different mediums of design such as markup, design, photoshop, css and now jQuery.
I come from a background in computer games design, graphic design and working freelance as a web designer to pay the bills while in university. I’m a strong advocate in thinking about user experience, usability, accessibility, seo, mobile devices, layout and so much more.
2. How long have you been designing and what made you become an artist / designer?
As a lad I always used to wonder what made things tick. Not just from the visual aspect, but also the mechanics behind it. I was well known for taking things apart in my household and leaving them scattered on the sitting room floor for days before reassembling them.
My other hobbies growing up, included drawing, painting and sitting on the computer for hours playing with HTML (trying to figure out just why I could do everything but change colours) and learning Paint Shop Pro.
3. Where do you work and what is your daily routine?
I work for a London based company with around 6 million users, aiming to make donating and fundraising a breeze for charities and every day people. I’ve worked on sites for British Heart Foundation, Tesco, Cancer Research, BT and many more. Also working for our sister company based in Boston. It’s not easy being half Chinese!
I’ve been at Justgiving.com for a year and eight months, having previously worked at PartyGaming. A company with a fantastic team… despite working on banner adverts and posters which still haunt me to this day. Pop-up blocker ahoy!
I try to inspire and help the designers and developers. I also work on the brand and design guidelines whilst trying to get stuck in to designing and creating sites.
4. How did you market yourself in the beginning of your design career and how has that differed to how you market yourself now?
In the beginning (it feels like so many moons ago), I would do websites and designs for anyone and everyone. Even the local council.
Once I’d finished studying I made it a real point of phoning people whilst working on my portfolio site. It’s absolutely nothing like it was back then.
Loads of people would phone me up and either say, “I really think you have talent.. but you need to change your portfolio. My client wont look at it seriously.” Others would phone up saying how it stood out from the crowd and was excellent, promising me a job with one of their ‘many’ clients.
It was extremely difficult at first. Some days my parents would come home from work and ask me what I doing with my life, hoping to become a web designer and not understanding what I was trying to achieve.
They didn’t believe I could do it and that I was just in my room messing about on my computer. It still makes me sad that they don’t really get how hard I worked. I believe that anyone with a dream can do anything if they put their mind to it.
5. What are your tools of the trade? This could include hardware, software and traditional tools.
I use a Wacom tablet for drawing and rendering, a variety of different mice (I honestly have a hell of a lot), an amazing dual monitor setup and a macbook pro for personal stuff at home.
In terms of software, it’s all the usual adobe things, my editor of choice is notepad++ customized beyond belief.
I also have a Canon D400, I believe any true designer should have one of these. You can learn and build wonderful designs, patterns and textures with a camera. I also carry around with me, everywhere I go a sketchbook and pen, it’s the foundation of ideas and notes.
6. How do you manage the business side of design such as accounting, invoicing and bookkeeping?
I don’t anymore! But when I did, my father used to help me out. It’s handy having someone in the family who is down with the numbers.
7. Where do you get your inspiration and how do you keep up to date with what is happening in the industry?
It would have to be using the delicious popular page twice every day to try and get an idea of what is popular and for new tricks with CSS, jQuery and other things.
Every two months I’ll pop into a shop and buy up to 5 different magazines, going through them with post-it notes (aren’t they wonderful things!) to keep track of cool layouts, designs and tricks. Oh and of course, take photos on with my camera of advertising all around me on my journey to work.
I do get some pretty funny looks when I’m frantically scribbling away on a magazine or taking photos of a bus that’s speeding away from me. That’s just the price you have to pay for being a designer though. People’s opinion of you, not your sanity!
Also listening to podcasts, talking to people and going to conferences / workshops help a lot too.
8. Can you please guide us through a typical project from start to finish.
I’ll normally have a read of the brief, chat more about what we’re trying to achieve and then sketch out some ideas from the top of my head.
Following that, looking through some of the pattern libraries on my Flickr, trying to get inspiration and seeing how other designers get around layout problems. We’ve started trying to use pattern libraries in our current design so should a page have X amount of copy and need to explain Y number of pages, we’ll use template Y.
Then following on from this, I’ll look at some of the previous pages to think about how to fit it in whilst taking the design forward and then the fun begins. Some of the time it can go through a psd treatment and others it will pretty much get created with old assets from recent projects (more for in-house design work).
I don’t work as much on client work as I did last year… however when I do, it’s normally under pretty strict design guidelines. My favourite is still reading the Noddy design guidelines for Leukemia Research whilst on the train to work. I can tell you I got some pretty funny looks from people that day.
9. What are your top 3 websites / books and why?
Just a god like book, which is so handy to carry around in your bag. It also doubles as a weapon should a developer start center aligning 4 paragraphs without a thought for how someone will be able to read it.
2. Flickr.com – I get so annoyed with the design that I have lots of notes in a sketchbook about how I would improve it. But even so, I just love the community aspect of it and how it feels like a game with the stats. It’s a great site, there’s just some things which could be done better!
3. Last.Fm – I’m a huge fan of the design even if I hardly use the site that much. I use their radio app all the time and it’s amazing and I put this in as my 3rd because I think the designer of the site got a lot of unfair criticism for the redesign, even though it was a great improvement. Plus what they’re doing for the music industry is outstanding.
10. What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to someone just starting out?
Don’t give up. But don’t expect it to be easy. If you want to be half decent, you should expect to work really hard and try to learn from others as much as possible. The Internet has made it so that if you want to be a great designer – you need to learn from others on a day to day basis. Whether that’s from friends, co-workers or other designers… you need to constantly have your mind open. Good luck! You can do it 🙂
Jacob: Thank you Kai Chan Vong 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.