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“When did you decide you wanted to be a designer/developer? How did you get where you are now?”
I always knew I wanted to do something creative from being a kid. I loved any kind of art or craft I could get my hands on – I just wanted to make stuff. When I got to secondary school (about 12-13), my interest in ‘traditional’ art died down – this is when I discovered web design. Me and one of my good friends started making basic HTML layouts for Neopets, with graphics made in MS Paint. The stuff we did is laughable now, but we thought it was incredible at the time, seeing stuff we designed and made on the Internet (which was still new and exciting for us)! From here, it spawned me creating my own personal website and learning ‘proper’ HTML/CSS, and I had so much fun doing it. The coolest moment was when I realised I could do it for a living.
Once I’d left school, I decided to ditch A Levels (which is the standard path once you’ve finished mandatory education in the UK) and signed up for an Interactive Media course at Newcastle College. It covered a lot of bases, from game concept art, to Flash, to graphic and web design. I already knew I wanted to do web design, so from here I went onto a Foundation Degree in Web Design at the same college. This is when I started getting real about what I wanted to do. I had an awesome class and an incredibly passionate tutor, who got us all knocked into shape ready to take on the industry. I worked my butt off to make sure I was proud of all of my work, and managed to land a few freelance projects and an internship along the way. My first job was as a junior web designer and developer at a design agency, and early last year I moved into a user experience / user interface design role at an agency that mostly works on mobile (iPhone/iPad/Android) apps.
“How do you promote your work as a young designer?”
I think the most important thing to do is have an up to date portfolio online, especially when you’re looking for projects – people want to actually see what you can do! I always made sure that I had full size design comps available to view, and live sites if possible. It’s important for people to see the integrity of the work you’ve done, not just the quantity of projects. I’ve always preferred the ‘case study’ format of portfolios, where you describe how you approached a project, the tools and techniques you used and some personal commentary. It gives a lot more context to the person checking out your work, as well as letting you talk shamelessly about what you can do.
“What are the tools and/or techniques that you use to prototype a new project?”
It took me a long time to realise that the best way to protoype a project is with pencil and paper. I love the throwaway nature of sketching up quick concepts, if it sucks, you can just start again, whilst when you’re creating more polished prototypes in a software package, I always felt like I begrudged throwing something away that took me a while to put together. Working on paper means I usually throw away about 10 ‘good’ ideas and end up with a much better solution. Once I’ve got past the initial paper prototype stage, I mix it up between using Balsamiq Mock-Ups, Keynote and HTML/CSS working prototypes. I use Keynote Kung-Fu , which gives you a bunch of reusable assets to quickly create wireframes in Keynote.
“Is design time for a given project defined by the industry, by clients, or both?”
For me personally, clients. It all depends on the project, sometimes you get clients who are really design-orientated, and are happy to spend a lot of time working with me on several iterations of wireframes and user interface ideas, and other times there’s clients that just want something done and will approve the first thing you send them. It all comes back to budget with client projects. Naturally, I love the design projects where I have a lot of time to iterate and make something ‘perfect’, but realistically, that hardly ever happens. The hardest part of working in the industry for me was letting go of design work that I wasn’t 100% happy with, because of what the client wanted, or time constraints.
Naturally, I love the design projects where I have a lot of time to iterate and make something ‘perfect’, but realistically, that hardly ever happens.
“Where did you start with web design and do you have any easy tips for beginners?”
When you’re just starting out, I don’t think there’s any ‘easy’ way to be a good web designer. Most of the battle is getting inspired, getting comfortable with your own intuition and developing an impeccable attention to detail. You really just have to practice! Set yourself imaginary design briefs or create a personal project, where you have plenty of room to breathe when it comes to design and just do what you think is good, and get constructive feedback on your work. The web design community is so open and helpful, (almost) everyone is willing to help someone starting out. In terms of improving your design style and technique, you should avoid completely ripping off someone’s work, but there’s nothing wrong with deconstructing people’s design work that you admire and trying to take pieces of that away with you. For instance, how people use textures, gradients etc. I started out creating awful looking websites, and I still wouldn’t say I was brilliant, but the best part of design is you can always learn new techniques and get better.
The best part of design is you can always learn new techniques and get better.
If you’re learning how to write front-end code, two words: ‘View Source’. I mentioned before I started doing web design making layouts for Neopets. The mark-up I was writing was, in hindsight, awful, but the way I learnt was by seeing how other people had built their layouts, and trying to manipulate their code to do what I wanted it to do. I often used to save a website, check out the stylesheet, and turn things on and off so I could see what different things were ding. People learn in different ways, but for me, learning from other’s was the biggest thing.
“Was school useful for you? I’d be interested to see your progression from school to work.”
The two years I spent doing my degree were invaluable. I had a brilliant tutor, who really pushed us to do our best, as well as my classmates being an awesome group of people – they were all talented and motivated and kept me going. Within my course there was a lot of interaction with the industry, in the form of live briefs, visiting local agencies and people coming in to speak, which gave me the insight I needed to be successful when I finally progressed into a ‘real’ job.
There was a lot of overlap between school and work for me – I started my first job midway through my degree. The quality of my work improved rapidly as soon as I started working on real client work, mostly due to working with much more talented designers and developers and always pushing myself to be ‘up to scratch’. The feedback you get from your peers and your clients can really knock you back sometimes, but for me, it made me much better at my craft.
“How’d you go about looking for work after uni?”
As mentioned previously, I was lucky enough to start working while I studied. The web design community in my area (North East England) is so welcoming and close, so by attending local tech/design events, I ended up meeting a lot of people that lead to them seeing my work, and offering me an internship. Reaching out to local designer/developers/agencies, whether that’s in real life, via email, or on Twitter is always the best way to go. The best thing to do is to get yourself out there and make your name known, whether that’s by commenting on blog posts, attending events or just drumming up casual conversation on Twitter.
“How did you know this is what you wanted to do?”
I got into web design because I was apart of a community where a lot of people had personal websites and blogs, and I was really curious as to how they went about doing it. When I was building my first website, I was so excited about what I was doing – I just found the whole process of making things look good and work just as well really appealing.
I also loved the fact that there was a seemingly endless level of progression with web design – you never stop learning. I relished the fact that I could be in a career that would be moving at a breakneck speed, and as a geek at heart, I’m always hungry to know more, and learn new things.