A few weeks ago, I got an email from a Senior in the Graphic Design program at Western Washington University. She was interested in meeting up to do an informational interview with me. I had done a couple of these with designers myself when I was in school, so it was cool to have the opportunity to be on the other side of the table and hopefully offer up a young person in our community some advice.
While much of what was covered in the interview are things that I touched on before on this blog, I decided some of you might like to see what we talked about. The interview was a little over an hour, so I am going to publish this in parts, here you go! Thank you to Nicole for the transcription!
Interviewed by: Nicole Adsit, Friday, October 22, 2010.
The first job I got out of school was for a company that made high-end presentation material — mainly portfolio books. Their mail client base was commercial photographers and they had a full design department that offered design, branding and marketing services to commercial photographers. Now, I really wanted to get in there doing design — but they weren’t gonna hire me cause I had no experience.
They did have a sales position available though selling the portfolios and I thought I can do this, get my foot in the door that way. I worked as a sales person for almost year got close with the Art Director showed her projects I was working on on the side and one day she said “Hey, Do you want to try giving me some ideas on this project?” So I went home worked on that and within a few months I was pulled out of the sales job and started as a designer. I was there for almost 5 years collectively before I left to start my own business.
So it was taking whatever I could and being like, “I know I’m not going to be a designer but I at least wanna be around creative people,” and in that environment I just focused on learning whatever I could about the business and making myself indispensable there.
When I left the interview though, I was thinking, “well why don’t I just do that? Why wait 5 years?” So I started laying the ground work and left my job 4 or 5 months after that point.
So I went in and interviewed with them and let them know I was going to be looking for freelance work in the next few months. That was encouraging, there was a lot of security in those positions but also a lot of freedom. When you’re on a contract there’s a little bit of security but you’re not an employee. I ended up taking a short term contract doing web development for a hospitality company in town… it was only 15 – 20 hours a week, but that was enough to allow me to leave my job, pay rent and stuff. Once I landed that I left and started focusing on building my personal brand online, networking with people building up a client base.
I’ve never done a cold call in my life. A lot of my networking was through other people. This person would introduce me to this person. Basically, getting to know one person, them hooking you up with someone else, and so on… meeting other designers.
No. I think that would be completely unethical to steal someone else’s clients. My former job actually became one of my top clients and would hire me out for freelance work regularly and I still have a working relationship with them. And after being gone for several years, I have had some clients I worked with back then that have since ended their relationship with my former employer come to me, but to actually take a client — I just see that as shady.
I started working full time in February of 2008 which was the beginning of the recession. You would think that would be the worst time but I feel that was the best time. I feel like if I can be successful in the last three years then it’s only gonna get better from here.
I am interested in growing their business—some clients get really excited about this and we form a strong client/designer bond… some people just want someone who can work cheap and fast and get something out the door for them. That’s just NOT me. – Liz Andrade, Interview at They Call Me Marty
Last month, I was listed in a post on Line 25 called 40 Amazing Female Role Models in Web Design — crazy, i know! I was pretty excited to be included on such a list of kick ass ladies, including a couple I’d already interviewed for this blog, including Niki Brown and Krissy Gogel. From this list, I let word out on Twitter than I was interested in interviewing many other ladies from the list and the first to come forward? The lovely Tanya Merone! You can check out her site at tanyamerone.com or follow her on Twitter @tanyamerone.
Good design must be intuitive, memorable, and deliver its message.
I am a Graphic Designer based in New York, specializing in User Interface Design and Development. My edge is creating clean, appealing, and functional designs which comply with the latest web standards. I love when people look at the finished product – whether it’s an application, a website, or a postcard – and find the user experience and presentation intuitive.
There’s an old illustrated children’s book that I flip through sometimes. It has been published around the time I was born by an obscure author, and I used to love to read as a child. Its yellowed pages are decorated by colorful doodles that cover simple but captivating illustrations. Looking through the book brings back many happy memories and inspires me to this day.
It depends on where I am at the moment. If I’m at home, I got for a walk, a jog, or use my home gym. If that’s not an option, I rely on design blogs and my twitter stream for inspiration. Some of my favorite blogs are:
I have two types of clients, those that require on-site presence, and those that do not. When I started 6 years ago, I made a conscious decision to keep my personal and professional lives separate. I failed. The only rule of thumb I’ve been able to follow is to keep Facebook private to friends, and Twitter open to everyone.
My favorite project would probably have to be the NFL intranet portal. The client envisioned it as a very dynamic site filled with colorful imagery, that invited a lot of creativity from my end. Plus, the client was very receptive to new ideas. They were happy to consider them even if they did not end up using all of them.
Who doesn’t have a client that rushes you only to drag their feet, that can’t relinquish any control, or who demands design that doesn’t comply with usability standards? I think all designers have come across these kinds of clients at one time or another. It’s the designer’s ability to handle situations gracefully that showcases their professionalism.
If the iPhone and the iPod have demonstrated anything, it is that user experience matters. Good design must be intuitive, memorable, and deliver its message. When 9 out of 10 people can use your product without flipping through an instruction manual, you can almost pat yourself on the back for good design. The design must also be aesthetically pleasing. There are common shapes, patterns, and colors that suggest excitement, relaxation, or other emotions. Picking the right combination for the desired effect is essential to an aesthetically pleasing design.
Favorite HEX? My random number generator tells me it is #cc0066.
Do you say “font” or “typeface”? Font.
When setting live San Serif text, which do you choose more often; Helvetica, Arial or Verdana? :) Probably Arial.
Favorite Keyboard shortcut? Ctrl+Z. Too bad real life doesn’t support it :)
Favorite internet celebrity &/or internet celebrity crush? Heather Armstrong from dooce.com. Her writing style, openness, and humorous photography are impossible not to enjoy, whether you agree or disagree with her approach to life.
Brian over at BK MacDaddy Designs blog has featured me in his series Behind the Avatar, check it out!
Interviewed with a batch of other freelancers about the ups and downs of doin’ it on your own!
For the next installment in my interview series, here’s another kick ass freelancer, Krissy Gogel of 6bDesign in Baltimore. You can check out her blog and work at 6bdesign.com or follow her on Twitter @6bdesign.
I’m a freelance web designer, all around tech geek, and advocate for animal welfare from Baltimore, Maryland. In my spare time I enjoy playing video games, watching football, spending time with my husband and our adopted and foster pets.
I started making websites in ’96 at the age of 15. I had designed a lot of ANSI/ASCII logos, menus, and newsletter templates for different BBSes, programs, e-mags and art groups, so making the jump to web design once the 8-bit scene seemed like the natural thing to do. I bought a book on HTML, downloaded Coffee Cup HTML editor and taught myself how to make websites. Since I knew some C from modding BBS software HTML seemed easy and I picked it up almost immediately. I will admit that my first few sites did look like typical mid-90s Geocities/Xoom/Angelfire sites with tons of “cool” bullets, bars, animated spinning gifs, and image reflecting Java Applets. I eventually got better and my websites began getting some attention, so started freelancing from the basement apartment at my Grandmoms house where I lived.
Freelancing was very fun at the time, but it wasn’t very lucrative. Once I turned 18 I made the decision to get “a real job” and move out of the basement. I got my own apartment and a part-time seasonal job as a sale associate at a local Baltimore independent music store called Record and Tape Traders. That two month seasonal gig turned into career that lasted for eight years. I held many positions at Record and Tape Traders, but the majority of my time was spent as a store manager in charge of training. When the independent chain of 11 stores was sold to an out-of-state corporation in 2007, I chose not to reapply for my job and decided to try freelancing again. I learned many sales, marketing/promotion, communication, time management, merchandising, and general business skills in that eight-year period which gave me an entirely new perspective on web design and user experience.
If you don’t count the Atari XE with the 5.5 in. floppy drive I had in the 80’s, I got my first computer, a Macintosh Performa in 94. One of my cousins noticed that it had a 28.8k modem and introduced me to the world of “modeming” and gave me the numbers to a bunch of local Baltimore area BBSes. As an art student, I was very impressed by the amazing 8-bit, 16 color graphic ANSI and ASCII on some of these bulletin boards. I downloaded as many art packs as I could find, created some 8-bit art myself, and ended up joining Unit – a local art group run by Beverly Guillermo. Eventually I traded my Performa for a 486 with DOS and Win 3.1 so I didn’t have to run Telix (telnet program) and Acid Draw (ANSI/ASCII Editor) through a DOS emulator. As the local underground art and BBS scene began to fade, I decided to take the plunge and get internet access so I could start hanging out on IRC in #ASCII and #ANSI where the “famous” 8-bit artists hung out. I eventually joined other groups: Remorse (a division of Acid), Mimic, and CiA while running my own group, Aspire.
I absolutely loved creating ANSI and ASCII art.
If I’m feeling burnt out I usually take a break and try to regroup. Just closing the laptop and heading downstairs to the kitchen for a cup of coffee can clear my mind enough for ideas to flow again. When I have the time, I’ll whip out my handy Moleskin and doodle for a while. That seems to help clear my mind. I get some of my best ideas when I’m not thinking about the project I’m working on.
When I’m feeling uninspired I rarely ever look to the web for new ideas. I prefer to look at items around my house and office instead. Books, magazines, catalogs, CDs, DVDs, video games, and the product packaging of everyday items offer me lots of creative inspiration.
I don’t really have any rituals to help me cope. Since I work from home, trying to maintain certain daily, weekly and monthly routines seems to help me stay on track. I’ve also had to make certain self-imposed rules about when I work. It’s very easy for me to catch an attitude when my work starts to interfere with my home life and takes away time that would normally be spent with my husband, friends, family and kids. And by kids I mean cats and dogs :)
Recently I have been freelancing for Blue Sky Factory designing and updating email newsletter templates, landing pages and banner ads. It has been very refreshing having “co-workers” even if my only contact with them is over the phone, through email, Basecamp or IM. But as much as I have loved my time freelancing for Blue Sky Factory, I would have to say that my favorite project to date has been Blendetta.com. Blendetta is a pop-culture blog that I designed and run with my BFF Amirah Rahim. We worked together at Record and Tape Traders years ago and we both have web jobs now. Writing for Blendetta has kept me in touch with music and pop-culture trends and gives me the freedom to write about stuff I like – not stuff I should write about.
I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons since I’ve been freelancing. I’ve learned that only about a quarter of my time is spent actually designing while the other three quarters are spent handling administrative duties. I’ve learned that although working from home is convenient, it’s not as cost-effective as one might think once you take into account the cost of supplies, utilities, hardware, software, etc. I’ve learned that freelancing to pay the bills is not a part-time job. I’ve learned that you need to watch the trends, experiment, push yourself to the limits, but must always stay true to yourself, what you like, and what you do best. But most importantly, I’ve learned that web design and development is not something that you learn and do – it’s a continuing learning process. You can never know too much, especially since the web is constantly evolving. So my advice to those considering freelancing: Always Be Learning. Find out everything you can about design, color, typography, freelancing, taxes, time management, invoicing, etc. Being a one-person company is a lot of hard work since you are doing the job of 10 people. The more you know, the easier it is.
Personally, I like the changes. People get outraged when sites like Facebook make changes. Just the other day, people made a big stink because Twitter added tiny in-house advertisements on profile pages, although it didn’t affect their experience. Change is inevitable, and in my opinion a good thing. When things don’t change, they don’t move forward. If the web in general didn’t change, we’d still be looking at those Geocities pages with the animated spinning gifs : )
Without question my favorite book of all time is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. To think that it was Lee’s only published book is quite inspirational. Knowing that reminds me that anything is possible as long as you put your heart and soul into what you love doing. I also find much inspiration in the opening credits to the movie. The contrast of the modern typeface and the classic images is amazing; especially considering the film was released in 1962.
Favorite HEX? #4E27C. I’m a huge Baltimore Ravens fan.
Do you say “font” or “typeface”? Font.
When setting live San Serif text, which do you choose more often; Helvetica, Arial or Verdana? I shouldn’t admit it, but I will – Verdana. I hope all of you Helvetica lovers still like me! : )
Favorite Keyboard shortcut? Alt-Tab. I always have 2,623 applications open.
Favorite internet celebrity &/or internet celebrity crush? Christian the Lion. Ever seen that video on YouTube? It’s absolutely amazing!
I first heard of Michelle Goodman’s Book “The Anti-9to5 Guide” (and blog under the same name) just a few weeks after fleeing my staff position for the freelance life when she did an interview with Kristen Fischer on FreelanceSwitch.com. I picked up a copy of the book, which gave me a lot of insight on what awaited me in the world of the self-employed. Michelle’s books are must-have freelance resource guides and they even manage to make you laugh out loud (don’t you love it when books do that?!) Check out The Anti-9to5 Guide and her latest, “My So-Called Freelance Life”
I was recently able to interview Michelle, she talks about everything from visiting the beach for inspiration to writing about gadgets to sock-monkey slippers! Check her out…
My burnout usually stems from overwork and lack of sleep, which is where I’ve been at this past week. So to recharge, I sleep, get outside with the dog, do a little home improvement or watch some Battlestar with my guy (we’re on season 3), read, pop in a movie, dance around the house to 70s hippie rock (you already know about this), or see friends. Basically, I step away from the computer.
Going to the beach, even for an hour with the dog, always helps tremendously. But for serious burnout, a cabin plus a couple nights of 12-hours of sleep does me right. Oh, and I always get inspired when I go to the bookstore, though it has to be an independent bookstore. It’s fun for me to just hang out there and poke around the titles for a couple hours. Not the business/career titles, but the creative nonfiction and fiction ones.
“Don’t be such an idiot!” I didn’t plan for the self-employed life. At all. I quit my day job, moved 3000 miles west, and decided to freelance while on the drive out (to California, though I’m now in Seattle). I was 24, broke, really freaking shy, terrified to network or speak up for myself, and really clueless about rates/contracts/taxes? It also did not help that I had the business and marketing sense of a Beagle, no contacts in California, and the skimpiest of portfolios. (This was a couple years before the web.)
Had I planned things a little better, I would have figured out how to get un-shy and networked my ass off before I left New York (I was working in publishing, for chrissakes! a veritable goldmine of freelance work! at least then…) I also would have built up some contacts and better writing credits, and maybe even socked away some cash before embarking on my excellent freelance adventure.
Okay, I’ll fess up. I really don’t shower before I start working. I do it at the end of the day, mainly because I like to exercise after work. And there are weeks here and there where I don’t change out of my pajamas for a couple days in a row—or bathe. But working in the clothes I slept in for two straight does make me feel like a bit of a recluse or mental patient (not that I have anything against mental patients). So I’ve been moving toward cleaning myself up and putting on clothes before I work, sometimes even running out for an errand first (gasp!).
This dressing in the morning thing is more of a recent development. I used to just put on a fresh pair of pajamas before working. As for the slippers, I really do work in them, only they’re sock monkeys, not bunnies.
Blood pumping work = writing a column about a topic I feel strongly about—for example, how so many people marry for health insurance (those that can marry, anyway) because it’s so dang unaffordable or how getting paid in exposure as a freelancer is usually a bum deal. Also, having to do interviews on a fun topic that resonates with people, like tattoos in the workplace. But more than anything, I love writing more essay-style pieces for anthologies and kickass media outlets, which I haven’t done enough of lately. Oh yeah, and loved writing the new book, except toward the end where I was freaking about the deadline.
Bread and butter work = the more corporate work I do. Some of the projects are a total slog and you get through them by reminding yourself how much you’re getting paid, and some are surprisingly fun. For example, I currently have a gig writing articles for a tech company about their mobile phones. I get to mess around with the phone and try getting certain apps and tasks to work with it. And then I take screenshots of what I did and write a conversational how-to article about it. To me, this is a lot of fun.
That we’re hobbyists who are either independently wealthy or living off a spouse with a day job and health insurance. So many of us aren’t. I find it so inspiring that so many single folks make a decent living from project-based and other self-employed work—and buy houses and cars and raise kids and take vacations (okay, maybe not this year, but you get the idea).
I did a TV interview a couple days ago and the newscaster said, “I have a tip for people who want to freelance: Make sure you marry someone with good health insurance.” I’ve heard that advice given a lot, especially to women, and it pisses me off. Even though I wrote an article about how some couples hasten tying the knot (or tie the knot when they otherwise wouldn’t have) in the name of one of them not having to drop a wad of cash on health care. If I could game the system this way, I would too; I’m sick of paying thousands a year to health insurance companies who cover squat. But to imply that you have to be married to freelance is just stupid. And pretty insulting to those of us doing just fine on our own thankyouverymuch.
So that I end on a positive note, I will say I’m grateful that freelancing has taught me how to market myself and hustle for work. I know a lot of other freelancers who feel the same way — and a lot of employees who, sadly, feel paralyzed and terrified right now. I’m worried about the crap economy too, but I think I’d be much more worried if I had one employer as opposed to half a dozen or so, and if I wasn’t reasonably confident that I’ll always be able to find some project to do, even if it’s not my first, second, third, or hundred-and-third choice.
This next interview is with Niki Brown, a web designer and blogger living in Boston, MA. Niki works by day at a small web design firm and by night (and in the wee hours of morning) cranks out freelance design and content for a design blog, which I am sure you all know and love, The DesignOBlog.
One of the first things I do when I feel uninspired is to get as far away from my computer as possible. Last time I felt uninspired I hopped on the subway and headed to an old historical neighborhood of Boston called Beacon Hill. So many old buildings, texture and lovely typography.
My favorite project to date has been my blog, I get to write whatever I want and design things how I like it! :) People say they hate designing for themselves, but I love it.
My 9-5 (or 10-5) ‘day job’ is a Designer at Brunello Creative. We make the internet a better place one website at a time :) We do a lot of web work for Mens Health: (Mens Health Yoga Center, Eat This, Not That.)
I usually spent 10-20 hours a week freelancing and blogging. Right now its skewing more towards blogging :)
I’m sure I would attend more local networking events if the internet did not exist, and I would probably go crazy…
I think Tropicana’s new packaging is horrible.* My friend Steph wrote a good blog post that basically sums up my opinion. I think that drastic redesigns are not the way of the future. Realign, not redesign.
* since my interview with Niki, Tropicana released word that because of negative feedback, they’ve received. The newly designed cartons would be discontinued. Read more about this at NYTimes.com.
Design affects everyone because it influences our decision making. It can be as trivial as a choosing carton of orange juice, or as serious as a way of finding design for a hospital.
I think good or bad design is sometimes in the eye of the beholder (although there are definitely rules that design should follow)
Favorite HEX? #ff0000 although I never use it :)
Do you say “font” or “typeface”? I use both interchangeably, I like breaking the rules like that :)
When setting live San Serif text, which do you choose more often; Helvetica, Arial or Verdana? Unlike some people who hate helvetica, its my trusted and true sans font.
Favorite Keyboard shortcut? Apple + tab
Favorite internet celebrity &/or internet celebrity crush? Gary Vaynerchuk, but only for his wine prowess.