I was recently asked by those charming chaps over at .net magazine to have some of my work and a short interview featured in one of their profile sections, I was of course only too glad to oblige. The article came out a few issues ago now (issue 237) so I thought it would be nice to republish it here on my blog for those who didn’t get a chance to buy a copy.
Q. You used to be a hairdresser. How did you get started in web design?
I quit hairdressing in 2006 due to a combination of illness and the fact that I started to hate the job anyway. I bummed around for a while, DJ-ing around london and selling my old records online to pay the rent, but not really going anywhere. Then a close friend of mine passed away in 2007 and although it was very tragic it made me realise that life is short and that I needed to find some direction in my life. I’d been playing around designing flyers for the club nights I was doing and a friend had taken some basic web design courses at the Open University and had found a job afterwards straight away so I thought I’d give it a go.
Q. So you’re self-taught?
I am mostly self taught, the OU courses I took gave me a very basic understanding of HTML and CSS. As soon as I’d finished those courses I did two different internships with startups in London to learn the ropes a bit more, which taught me what NOT to do as much as anything. I think I learnt a great deal more from just throwing myself head first into work and picking up things as I went. One thing that struck me immediately was how willing the web design/dev community is to share knowledge, tips and code — which is great for any beginners.
Q. Are there similarities between hairdressing and web design?
Yes, which surprised me as much as anyone. I think having already had a relatively successful career in a different creative industry was really good preparation for becoming a web designer. Hairdressing (at it’s highest level, not the high street blow dry and highlight brigade) is all about an appreciation of form, function, shape, texture, colour and balance. A good hairdresser understands the need to balance aesthetics with functionality and how good technique can make a haircut keep it’s shape longer. This is no different to how a good web designer understands how form must follow function and that clean, well written code will make a website more robust in the future. It also gave me great people skills as I used to deal with 8 or more different clients a day, so I really learnt the value of consultation, if you consult properly before you start a haircut or website then you’ll eliminate a lot of the potential small problems that can appear later on.
Q. You work mainly for yourself. Are you ever tempted by the bustle of a big agency?
Yeah I work mostly by myself, though on some projects I’ll be part of a team, though I always work from home. I don’t think a big agency is right for me just now, I have been asked plenty of times by agencies if I want to join them but I always politely decline. I guess I like the freedom I have being my own boss, I don’t have to conform to any time schedule, I don’t have the ‘hovering art director’ problem to deal with and it’s just a really nice stress-free way to live. I’ve come to realise that my quality of life is more important than my job, working for myself allows me to have the life I want.
Q. What’s your take on prototyping in the browser?
To me, it just feels better to work in-browser. Photoshop feels out of context, especially now with websites being responsive or adaptive.
But I don’t think there’s necessarily a right or wrong way to do anything, it’s all about what suits you as a designer and also the nature of the project you’re working on. Some people find it better to comp websites up in Photoshop or illustrator, others like myself prefer to do most of it in the browser, as long as you get there in the end then it doesn’t really matter. I actually learnt how to write HTML and CSS before I learnt how to use Photoshop, so I guess that could be contributing factor.
Q. What about responsive design? Is it as significant as it’s made out to be?
There are those who mistakenly describe RWD as a fad or trend, and yes our industry is overloaded with annoying buzzwords that people latch on to but, NO, it’s not a fad, it’s just our industry evolving to ever changing circumstances.
I think that as more designers take mobile into consideration then we’ll see fewer gimmicks which I think will be a good thing in the long run. A lot of clients mistakenly think that “gimmicks” will make their websites more interesting, I think it has the opposite effect, to me it says “our products aren’t that interesting so here’s a bunch of stuff moving about to distract you from that” It’s up to us as designers to educate potential clients into having more confidence in the product or content their website is promoting.
Q. So should designers think more about simplicity? Should they train themselves to cut back at the end of a project, like writers?
That’s a very good analogy, comparing designers to writers, I’ve come to realise that my job is more about what I don’t add or what I take away rather than what I do. Because of the limited space available at smaller screen sizes, RWD makes you focus more intently on the site’s content and how easy it is for the user to access it.
Though simplicity itself is not an aesthetic, you can still have a visual pleasing or illustrative design as long as there is no superfluous design noise that gets in the way of the sites function.
Q. How do think this today’s responsive sites will be remembered? Are we in the golden age of web design or the Jurassic era?
I think we’ve been in a golden age of web design for a couple of years now, regardless of responsive design, especially when you compare today’s sites to the bloated, Flash-based, torn-paper-grunge rubbish that was around a few years ago!
How responsive sites will stand the test of time remains to be seen, but I imagine it’s like any other form of design or art, that which is well done and timeless will age well and that which merely confirms to the fads and trends of the day will quickly date.
In the future the amount of people who consume our work on mobiles or tablets will only increase so it’s up to us to make out sites as device independent as possible so. The best design is the one you don’t notice, no matter how you view the work.
Q. At what point in a project should a designer be brought on board?
Right at the beginning. A lot of clients make the mistake of thinking of designers as merely decorators that can just “pretty up” your site once it’s all been wireframed and prototyped. This trivialises the designers role to the merely cosmetic which is wrong, a designers knowledge, insight, instinct and experience can be invaluable in shaping practical considerations like navigation, content hierarchy and IA.
Q. As well as your design work, you run Free Faces an online repository of free fonts. Who are your influences in the world of typography?
That’s a really hard one to answer because the world of typography is divided into those who design typefaces and then those who experiment with them online.
I really like the work Tyler Finck, Gerren Lamson and the Colophon Foundry are doing right now, and also the experimental web font stuff of Trent Walton. Elliot Jay Stocks did a really interesting set of blog posts entitled “Tomorrows web type today” earlier in the year that focused on some future facing opentype features in web typography which I really enjoyed.
Q. You’ve blogged about other designers ripping off your work. How do you deal with the problem?
It happens so often now that I don’t even worry about it any longer, it is annoying but I can’t spend all day emailing the felons and then naming and shaming on twitter as I’d never get any work done. Having said that I did recently find one culprit who had hotlinked to my site’s stylesheet, so I made a few changes so that her site was covered in pictures of cats and text was set in baby pink Comic Sans! It’s important to have a sense of humour in this job and not take yourself too seriously. Though it does amaze me the nerve of some people, one guy asked if I could make some recommendations to improve his site after he had ripped off the design and code entirely from me!
Q. You’ve also blogged about parrots living wild in London parks. Is it true? And is Jimi Hendrix really to blame?
Yep there are hundreds of bright green parrots living wild in London. A few months back I was walking through the park opposite my flat, I looked up into the tree above me and saw about a hundred parrots staring straight down at me against the swirling grey early evening sky, I felt like I was in a Hammer Horror movie! I have this rose-tinged romantic image in my head of Jimi Hendrix letting loose a giant flock of parrots into the parks of London in a acid-fuelled animal love-in, but sadly that’s not the case. The truth is far more mundane, they probably escaped, and were released, from aviaries, pet shops and private homes.