A couple of weeks ago we published the article Expert Advice for Students and Young Web Designers, in which we presented a group interview with professional designers and developers. We tried to find answers to questions that are particularly useful and interesting for those just starting to design websites for a living or considering diving into the Web design industry.
In the comments to that article, many readers wished we’d invited more female designers on the panel — in particular because, “There is no way of discerning how the experience of a female designer might differ, simply because there is a complete lack of representation.” So, we decided to prepare an article featuring specifically professional women designers giving their expert advice for young Web designers.
Today, we are glad to present a group interview of successful women working in the Web design field. These 16 female professionals will discuss inspirational topics such as the influences that have had a big impact on their work, as well as practical details, like how they managed to get where they are today. Of the 15 questions we asked, one obviously had to be about how these women have positioned themselves in this male-dominated community. We also look at the challenges they face in their careers as designers. So let’s get started by meeting these people, whom we thank once again for their thoughtful interviews. Here are their names and positions:
- Rachel Andrew (edgeofmyseat.com | this is rachelandrew.co.uk | twitter)
- F. Claire Baxter (Vanity Claire | twitter)
- Jan Cavan (Dawghouse Design Studio | twitter)
- Adelle Charles (Fuel Brand Inc | Adelle Charles | twitter)
- Kristi Colvin (Fresh ID | kris colvin | twitter)
- Molly E. Holzschlag (Molly.com | Twitter)
- Eva-Lotta Lamm (Eva-Lotta Lamm | Twitter)
- Gisele Jaquenod (Gisele Jaquenod and Birdie | Twitter)
- Inayaili de León (Yaili | Web Designer Notebook | Twitter)
- milo317 (3oneseven | Twitter)
- Sarah Parmenter (You Know Who | the blog of Sarah Parmenter | Twitter)
- Elena Scanteie (Design Disease | Twitter)
- Grace Smith (Postscript5 | gracesmith.co.uk | Twitter)
- Amber Weinberg (amberweinberg.com | Twitter)
- Lynda Weinman (lynda.com | Twitter)
- Lisa Sabin-Wilson (E.Webscapes | Just a girl | Twitter)
You may be interested in the following related posts:
- Group Interview: Expert Advice for Students and Young Web Designers
- 35 Designers x 5 Questions
Professional suggestions, tips and ideas from some of the best Web developers from around the world.
1. Who are your role models, and what styles influence your work the most?
Rachel Andrew was a great role model to me. I always remember seeing her in .Net magazine. She was the one who really made me realize that it wasn’t just a boy’s job and that girls were also flourishing in this “new” medium.
As far as designs that influence me, I hate to be cliche, but Apple was the one really pushing its own style early on. Its style was heavily designed beautiful elements on fairly simplistic, white space layouts. This is something I looked up to and tried to model my early websites on.
I’ve always been a fan of the works of Michael Heald of Fully Illustrated. As for the way I design, I’m not sure if any particular person has influenced me, but I certainly find inspiration from the work of other designers and my surroundings.
Role model: none. Influenced by contemporary architecture and classic art.
I don’t really have a Web design role model. There are those in the industry who have my upmost respect, such as Andy Budd, Jason Santa Maria and Mark Boulton (to name just a few). Alongside these, I like to look outside of Web design to people like Seth Godin, Jonathan Ive and Michael Bierut, because constantly looking only to those in your industry can be limiting to your growth as a designer.
I feel my style as a Web designer has slowly evolved but has been pretty consistent since I started freelancing. I like detail, attention to typography and giving the content room to “breathe” and flow. I would probably say, then, that the move towards grids and minimalism in Web design has influenced my style the most over the past few years.
I don’t really have a specific role model. My role model is imaginary. My path to hopefully perfecting Web and blog design takes a lot of different inspirations. I bookmark three to six (portfolios, websites, blogs) per day, but I hardly find time to look over those in detail. I do appreciate the large websites with a clean professional look, and also I like those small blogs, websites, personal pages that have an inspiring graphic element that makes me say, “That is a cool site!”
I don’t like naming designers because I’m more likely to just take a wide variety of URLs from many different designers. Sometimes a designer can make one great website, and then the next project is a complete bomb, so giving up names isn’t what I do. The last bit also applies to me. :) Anyway, after a great project, a designer must expect some dips in the road. Success after success is an illusion!
2. Is it difficult for female designers to find their place in the design community?
In design school almost every student was female, so I don’t think so. I find that most of my clients (agencies and other freelancers) are male, but it is definitely not rare to see women designers, and I have quite a few as clients. 99% of what I do is actually front-end development (CSS, HTML, WordPress), which I think is even rarer to find a woman in. I get comments (which are annoying, honestly) from men that they’ve never seen a woman developer before… it makes me feel like an nearly extinct bird or something :)
Inayaili de Leon
I wouldn’t say it’s difficult to find a place, but it certainly is a community with predominantly male designers. I guess if you do good work and are generally a nice person, you’ll have as much success as any of your male counterparts.
I personally don’t believe it is difficult. Talent speaks much louder than gender. Good work is good work. I’ve never had any issues with being a woman in the industry, and I feel I’ve had the same opportunities as my male counterparts. Although, it is still disappointing to go to conferences and rarely see many female speakers. Is this because gender is still a factor in the industry, or is it simply because there are fewer of us?
However, I think part of the problem lies in the lack of willingness among many female designers to get involved in self-promotion. I believe as a whole that we don’t tend to bang the drum about our work as hard or market ourselves as strongly. In Jeffrey Zeldman’s article “Women in Web Design: Just the Stats,” he writes in the comments something that reinforces my thoughts on this:
More men brag than women; it seems to be a culturally learned behaviour. Several absolutely brilliant women I know cannot be persuaded to write or lecture or otherwise promote themselves… There’s a concensus that women, however smart or talented, are less likely than men to put themselves forward. We all miss out by not hearing their voices.
Without a doubt, the industry is male-dominated. For example, just in the UK, women make up only around 39% of those in the design industry (Design Council). I think this is mainly because Web design is still confused with IT in general. Many females feel you have to be a math, science or programming whiz to pursue it as a career and simply don’t believe they have the ability.
Sometimes it is, and yes, it is a male-dominated industry. I didn’t really realize this until there was one time I didn’t get a job that I applied for solely because I was female.
3. How did you manage to get where you are now? What did you study, and how did you become interested in design?
I am primarily self-taught, though I did take some graphic design courses at a community college in Houston, Texas, from a wonderful, real-life experienced former corporate art director. I floundered a bit in my 20s (I’m 44 now), seeking the right career path. I did some creative things, like visual merchandising and catering, where I learned skills that factor into projects I do now. I attended a university in my home town for some basic courses, but then moved to Houston and didn’t know what I wanted to do.
The Web as a medium in which you could express creativity was just taking off (this was in the mid ’90s), and between the graphic design courses and teaching myself HTML (no courses existed yet to teach Web design), I just sort of wound up doing website design in addition to the print design I was doing for some book authors.
I created a fairly popular vegetarian website and used it to teach myself all sorts of things, in addition to doing all the recipe creation, article-writing and graphics every month, like a monthly magazine. I also implemented a cookbook script, email for users, greeting cards and other technical features, and used all of those things as experimental lessons. Very early on, I met a developer who wanted me to design interfaces for his Web products, and that is how I began designing software and learning about user experience and human factors analysis. Because of the work I did for him, I wound up becoming a specialist in software design, usability and product marketing.
But the experience with my vegetarian website is what gave me the confidence to pursue design as a career. I did not take the typical path of being taught by an instructor and then going out and getting a job to gain experience. I taught myself what I was interested in, gained experience and, once I had mastered the skills of my trade, offered my services doing that for others. I’ve been mostly self-employed since about 1993 for that reason.
Molly E. Holzschlag
I come from a background in communications, writing and media studies. So, being more than design-specific, I have long been fascinated by how we communicate. Whether this communication is visual, written or any combination of media makes little matter to me. I’m interested in what can be improved in the way we communicate. Honestly, I cannot remember how far back this fascination goes. I’m sure it started very early in my life.
I’m an ex-dancer and old enough that Web development couldn’t have been a career choice when I was at school anyway!
I started developing websites at a very basic level in 1996. At that point, there wasn’t a lot to learn, so I developed my skills as the Web developed. Initially, I thought that, with an arts background, “design” might be something I could do. As time went by, the more technical side of the Web became more interesting to me, and I am purely a Web developer these days. I don’t do any design at all.
I’ve always loved art and design since I was a little kid. I loved to draw and paint. As I got older, I realized that anything but math would suit me well, and that’s when I realized that anything creative was for me. I went to college at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York and received my BFA in graphic design in 2001. After college, I worked for a few design firms and then fell in the television industry. I worked as the art director for a CBS and FOX affiliate for six years until it was time do my own thing. I started Fuel Your Creativity over two years ago, then met my business partner Joshua Smibert, and we co-founded FUEL. The “start-up” life and love for entrepreneurship grew from there.
I am not actually a designer. I teach computer design tools and have built a strong sense of design aesthetics over my years of being around design and designers. I am self-taught in all areas, with no formal design or computer training. I followed my interest and passion and worked hard to teach myself things — plus added in a little bit of guts and tenacity.
Design was always a hobby of mine, dating back to the mid ’90s. I do not have any formal education in design or Web development. Like many out there, all of my skills and knowledge come from self-teaching and hands-on experience. I started my adult life in a career as a registered nurse and did design as a hobby on the side, and it just grew from there.
To get my name out there, I spent the first few years in design giving away my work for free. This manifested in things like downloadable HTML themes and blog themes for Movable Type and WordPress. I also released several free WordPress themes to the public back in 2003 and 2004. That is a good way to circulate your name and talents; if your stuff is good, people will use it.
From there, my design business evolved organically through word of mouth and through people using my work that I was giving away. My business grew and flourished in 2003, so much so that I was able to earn a decent enough living to leave my full-time job as a nurse and to focus on work that I love doing and that allows me to work from home and spend more time with my family.
[What did you study, and how did you become interested in design?]
I never studied a bit of design, aside from reading Smashing Magazine — heh :). I became interested in design through an insatiable interest in and curiosity about everything related to the Web and the Internet.
[When did you realize that you'd like to design on a daily basis?]
I slowly built my design business as a hobby. When my days started bleeding into my nights and I had more work than I could handle alone, I realized that I needed to give up one thing or the other. Either my nursing career had to go or my design work had to go — or at the very least be tempered. I realized that I would always have my nursing degree, but not always have the opportunity to work for myself, doing a job that I love and making a decent living at the same time.
When I was sleeping only 15 to 20 minutes every night by doing both jobs, that is when I realized I wanted to do design on a daily basis.
I was always drawing from a young age. I remember my parents giving me rolls and rolls of wall-lining paper to draw on because I used to run them out of paper so quickly. As long as I had a pencil, crayon or felt tip in my hands, I was happy. Going digital, though, was something I did much later on. My school wasn’t great on technology facilities, so I studied fine art until I left school, all the while practicing Web coding and digital graphic design in the spare hours I had at home. I guess design was always in my blood. I’m not sure where it comes from, though, because neither of my parents are like this at all. Web design interested me when the Internet was still in its infancy, and I was lucky enough to jump on board at that time, when we were still designing table-based layouts!
4. What are the most difficult challenges a designer faces in her career?
I think one of the biggest challenges is to make your designs and ideas reality. Developing a great concept or design is one thing, and making that concept a reality is quite another. On this path, you face a lot of challenges and obstacles. You have to communicate your design to stakeholders, clients and developers; you have to convince those who make decisions that your solution is the right thing to do; you face time, budget and technical constraints, and you have to decide where to compromise and where to defend the “soul” of your concept. (Mike Kruzeniski gave quite an interesting talk at Interaction10 about how his design team approach this problem at Microsoft: “Poetry and Polemics in Creating Experience.”)
Finding your own unique style, staying up to date on the latest technology and gaining a presence in the design universe.
Maybe it’s because I am a very positive person, but I can’t really think of “difficult problems.” But there are challenges for sure, as in every profession. I for one have experienced, when developing projects, that making your opinion heard is sometimes hard, because people (employers or co-workers) consider the perspective of designers to be too artistic or utopian and not practical or commercial enough. I don’t think they realize that many designers are shaped as much by marketing as by visual language. We can be good advisors. But of course, it’s just a matter of showing what you’re made of; eventually they’ll realize you can be a much more important piece of the puzzle.
Looking back over my career, I can see that it’s easy to find oneself stuck in a creative rut. Although this happens to every designer at some point, continually striving to push the limits of your own creativity and of the status quo is essential to maintaining your footing in the design field. No one makes any waves by doing what their colleague did last week or last month. So, I’d say that finding inspiration in unlikely places keeps me busy and keeps my work from going stale.
The term “designer” is very broad and can create challenges in understanding one’s skills and limitations. Some people are great designers and not technically skilled at implementation. Others are more technical than design-savvy. I think the first challenge is to determine what you’re truly good at and then, if you’re self-employed or seeking employment, being able both to demonstrate your talent and to craft a polished message, which can be hard.
I can do a client’s website so much faster than my own portfolio, for example. Sometimes knowing what to emphasize or focus on is hard, but you have to find the right words to communicate in a way that is understandable to the people who hired you (those people themselves not being designers). A great designer can increase a company’s revenues more than they realize (design is a subliminal selling aid), so finding the right creative fit and giving a designer room to create, experiment and push the envelope is really important to getting their best work.
Another significant challenge for designers is simply keeping up, especially if they’re self-employed, because now they have to deal with marketing themselves and all of the client administration and accounting. Throw in social media, and it’s hard many days just to find time to design anything!
5. What would you recommend to students who aspire to working in design?
Never stop learning, and never stop seeking out new knowledge. Technology moves at an extremely rapid pace, so while you may have graduated with that design degree, that doesn’t mean your schooling will ever end. A big part of my daily focus is keeping up with emerging and ever-changing technology, which moves in the blink of an eye. Just when you think you have it all figured out, you realize you don’t. Just make sure to leave enough time in your routine to refresh your brain on everything that is happening around you from a technology standpoint.
Molly E. Holzschlag
No matter the field, I believe we must follow our passion and gifts. Not to do so is to disregard the fact that we have each been given something unique and special in this world and that part of life’s challenge is to honor that. In turn, with confidence and strength in our convictions, I believe there is nothing we as individuals or humanity cannot do.
Get into the field early, and gain experience through internships, if possible. Work for free. No, not free like that. Gain the kind of experience you’d like by getting in touch with some awesome brands and asking them if they’d be cool with you re-designing a campaign or logo for your portfolio. That’s much better than making stuff up, like some people do. You’ll then have those connections, and who knows what possibilities will turn up from that outreach. Really concentrate on your preparation and presentation.
Don’t be afraid to work outside of your comfort zone. This helps you find your voice and personal style. Seek out and follow constructive criticism. Take a business course, especially if you aspire to work as a freelance or run your own studio. Familiarize yourself with as many artistic disciplines as possible. If you’re an aspiring Web designer, learn the fundamentals of print design and layout (and vice versa). A well-rounded understanding of multiple design disciplines will help you better communicate with a team of multi-disciplinary artists as you move through your career, which is invaluable.
Experience is much more critical than formal education. School projects may not contain elements of real-world issues, such as time and budget constraints, difficult client communications, mistakes at the printer, failed technology. Experience also helps build a portfolio, so in addition to school projects, I would try to do freelance work, intern at a real agency or creative place or even create your own real projects: blog, software, directory, something that will serve as real job and teaching experience.
6. How does a student determine whether design is for them or they should pursue another career?
Do what you love doing. That goes for any career. If you are bored with the industry now, then it probably isn’t for you! If you love what you are doing, then work and fun can merge a lot of the time, which is a much better way to live than dreading the 9:00-to-5:00 every day. Yes, you need talent, but enthusiasm, a love of what you do and hard work can get you a long way. :)
Inayaili de Leon
If you don’t love it, then you should pursue another career; and that applies to any career, right? When you love design, you want to know more. You look at the world around you with your “designer eyes,” and you can’t really do it any other way. You can’t shut off. This is both a cursing and a blessing, which you’ll learn to live with and enjoy.
A genuine love of what you do, coupled with a desire to set yourself apart from the pack and continually push the limits of your creativity are traits inherent to any successful designer. Given the transient nature of our industry, it’s essential that designers perpetually strive to create something newer, bigger and bolder. Without this passion, drive and initiative, designers will find themselves disheartened and stuck in a creative bottleneck. So, I guess the short answer to this question is: passion (although a little patience and a thick skin wouldn’t hurt either). If you enjoy doing what you do and have the talent and diligence to see it through, go for it!
You have to be enthusiastic about everything around you: fonts on a movie poster, the way a label on a bottle of milk is designed, everything. Liking design just isn’t enough these days. I gave a talk to students wanting to pursue a Web career a couple of years back, and by the end of it about half still wanted to do it and half didn’t. I gave them a balanced talk on the ups and downs of Web design.
Sometimes things sound more glamourous than they actually are. As wonderful as the worldwide and local conferences and other meet-ups sound, the reality is that you sit at your desk 300-odd days a year. Some people just aren’t cut out to sit in front of a screen eight-plus hours per day, and that’s absolutely fine.
7. How did you adapt your skills and knowledge to the challenges you faced?
I listened, read and learned from various outlets. My own personal experiences certainly helped lead me to where I am today. I’m sort of stubborn, so I don’t give up until I’ve achieved all of my goals!
The school I went to was really “old school” in that it really only taught print design principles. It had one Web design class, but it was behind in terms of using CSS and tables. I feel bad for my fellow students, because I know a lot of them are struggling to find work, because print design is a shrinking field, and most of them aren’t holding design jobs right now. Lucky for me, I got into Web design and development when I was kid, so it was easy for me to adapt the print design principles that I learned to Web design, until I was able to freelance on my own and find a niche fully in development.
Molly E. Holzschlag
As a head-strong, independent personality, my experience is likely different than that of many others. Instead of starting out with a company and then moving to freelance, I started out freelance and stayed that way for the majority of my career. It wasn’t until I turned 46 that I decided to accept an actual employee position with Opera Software, if for no other reason than I finally found a company whose ethics and ideas with regard to the Web, the world and communications are most compatible with my own. The biggest challenge? Remembering that I have bosses! I tend to work quite well with others but am coming from a lifetime of making my own decisions without checking with powers that be. This is a change for me, and I’ve made a few blunders in this regard.
I’m completely self-taught, which I feel has always been advantageous to me, as I continue to teach myself new things all the time. You have to when you work in this area.
Every new project and client is an opportunity to learn a new skill. I love to learn, and I view mistakes and setbacks as lessons, not tragedies.
8. What are the most significant things you wish you had known when starting out designing websites?
There are many things that I should know about, but one that bothers me constantly is the lack of self-promotion. It sometimes makes me regret the road I’ve taken, and other times it makes me work that much harder to achieve my goals. This job takes a tremendous amount of time, and you hardly notice when the hours have passed and you haven’t gotten the result you desired.
Almost all the things I know today plus the things I’ll learn in the future. Being a good (and hopefully great) designer is the sum of a lot of small and big bits of actual knowledge but most of all experiences and hours of practice that you’ve put in over the course of your career. There is no recipe or quick top-10 tips list that make you design great websites overnight. But some fundamental things will help you on the way to becoming a better designer:
- Being able to listen (users, customers, clients, stakeholders, anybody who is great in his or her field).
- Being open-minded and curious (to discover and explore the unknown).
- Being passionate about what you do. Doing just the minimum to get by or doing things you are not really interested in will not push you to improve your skills and thinking.
- Working hard. Revising things. Doing them again, but better.
Oh, and one easy thing: write and sketch down everything. Capture your thoughts and ideas when they pop into your head. It’s amazing how quickly you forget a lot of good stuff.
IE hacks ;P
Oh, so many things. I have learned all I know about making websites by making them, so for me the whole road has been a learning experience. But I would have loved to have known much more about usability in general terms, not just Web design. You can get so many wonderful things from studying a bit about it.
It took a while for me to realize that quality is better than quantity. When I first started designing, I over-extended myself, thinking I was somehow obliged to take on any project that presented itself. As a result, I got a lot of work, but very few projects made it into my portfolio. I’ve since learned to sit back and analyze a project’s scope before committing time and resources to the client. That’s not to say that I don’t still occasionally over-extend myself, but long hours are the nature of the business!
9. What is the most disappointing mistake or problem that you’ve encountered in your careeer?
When I was teaching at Art Center College of Design, I wanted to become the Computer Graphics Department Chair and was overlooked for consideration. I remember crying in the office of the Graphic Design Chair (the only time I’ve ever cried in someone’s office!) and telling her prophetically that I might someday be the most famous computer graphics teacher to ever work here. I left right as my writing career was taking off and had hundreds of thousands of fans of my books encouraging me to go off on my own. Going off on my own turned out to be the best move I ever made, but I was heartbroken to leave Art Center and really felt that I could have transformed its department.
The lack of professionalism between clients and freelancers and between freelancers themselves. It’s common for me to see freelancers cursing on their Twitter accounts or posting inappropriate things. Not only do clients see this, but it scares them away. This is also a huge faux-pas if the freelancer is using the account for their business (which most are). I also have had clients try to get extra revisions without paying full price or without paying the full rate. They would never do this to a doctor, lawyer or other professional, so why would they do it to us? You should never take someone on as a client who does this.
Inayaili de Leon
I guess one of the biggest problems is evaluating yourself on a monetary basis. You always end up devaluing yourself, especially in the beginning.
The most disappointing problem I encountered was a non-paying client. It was at the beginning of my freelance career, and fortunately it was only a relatively small amount. But it did teach me the importance of choosing clients wisely and just how essential a rock-solid contract was.
Honestly, myself. I was told just yesterday that I have always and continually under-priced my services, which was kind of hard to hear but not inaccurate. I have also stopped and started a lot: rebranding, taking a job then going back out on my own, etc. And that has hurt me overall, although I have stabilized and committed to my own brand and changed my company around this year to rectify that.
One of the things I should have done differently in the past (but which I have done now) is find a strong partner who has skills that I lack or don’t have time for, such as business management. I brought on a CEO to do business development and manage this company so that we can grow and so that I have time to create and do the things that help our clients succeed and focus on products and new ideas and opportunities. One person usually can’t do it all. Finding a great partner or company environment that allows you to explore and do your best work is often the difference between a happy designer and a struggling one.
10. What should students and new designers focus on outside of their course work to advance in their careers?
I think it’s important for any student or designer to take the time to be involved in the local Web community around them. Learning and sharing from others who are already in the field you’re aspiring to can only help to advance your knowledge of the industry itself, which will make you a more well-rounded designer.
It’s often through these types of events and conferences that we meet people and companies who share our interests and goals (which creates opportunities to work together), which is of course exactly what you want as a person just starting out in their career.
Molly E. Holzschlag
World culture and languages, history, art, philosophy, architecture, food. Also, travel: find out what others experience, and get a taste of what the world is really like, not just what we see through familiar media. Be social, be friendly, learn as much as you can about diversity and humanity. And ultimately work constantly towards improving oneself in all ways, personally and professionally, no matter how often we might stumble or be overwhelmed.
Do real-world projects, whether it’s developing a website for a group, church or friend’s business or contributing to an open-source project. Real-world experience gives you something to put in your portfolio and helps you apply the skills you are learning in practical ways.
In my studio, I have three different types of “designers”:
- The guy (or gal) who purely does design (that is, graphic design with Photoshop, Adobe, etc.);
- The guy (or gal) who does not do graphic design but can code some seriously sexy CSS and develop themes in HTML, Flash and different CMS tools;
- The guy (or gal) who does both.
This last one, the one who does both, brings home the biggest dollars from our projects.
11. What job-search advice do you have for recent graduates?
Love what you do, and keep on practicing! Start building you own Web presence too!
My advice would be to not leave it until graduation to start doing “real” jobs. It’s important to get real job experience early on, be it through internships, small freelance jobs or volunteer work. Experience outside of university projects helps you build an interesting portfolio and get some ideas about how design works in the professional world. Internships and freelancing are also great for building a first network of contacts and for demonstrating that you are great to work with, which can often lead to a “proper” job after you’ve finished university. I actually got my first job after graduating at the same agency where I had done a six-month internship a year before. A few weeks before my graduation, I got an email from my former boss asking if I could imagine taking a permanent job with them, and two weeks after my final exam I moved to Paris and started working.
Don’t neglect social media tools in your job search. My last five hires in our studios were done through various social-media networking through websites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Plenty has changed since I graduated. It was much easier to find a job with a good resume and a semi-good college portfolio in my field, and it wasn’t even that long ago! Now, you really have to stand out from the crowd and do things differently. Get creative in how you plan to get that job you would love to have. The sky’s the limit really. If you can get in front of your dream job, that’s half the battle. And I am a big proponent of always giving a killer “leave behind” so that you’re memorable and it doesn’t get thrown in a desk drawer.
12. What should new freelancers do during the first few months of their business to succeed?
I think the key these days is to network and market yourself. Many of us are out there, so one of the first steps has to be to get your name out. Make sure you know what you can and cannot do (everyone has different abilities); focus on your strengths; and also make sure you enjoy doing it (it makes it all so much easier)!
A lot of listening and practicing being sensitive to what the client wants and to the goals and priorities of the job. I think newbies are often very reluctant to ask questions or to appear not to know something, but it’s actually better to be forthcoming about what you don’t know than to assume and make a misstep because of it.
Don’t give up. I went for two months before I started getting steady work, but by no means did I just sit around for those two months. I spent my days marketing myself, through Twitter, on blogs and job boards and emailing agencies. I even started my own blog, and the traffic and SEO points that I got from it have really helped clients find me.
Use your networks. Make sure everyone you know knows you are available. Twitter, Facebook and so on are fantastic for this. It goes without saying, you need your own website to point people to. Even if you are a developer rather than a designer, use your website to write about interesting things or to showcase some experiments or sample code.
It’s been quite a while now since I’ve been freelancing, so I may not be the best person to ask. But in general, I’d say the same things apply that would be needed to succeed in any job. Be a pleasure to work with. Be reliable. Communicate with your clients so that they know what to expect and how the project is going. Be confident in your work but ready to listen and learn. Follow your instincts, and always do the best work you can in the situation.
13. What are some of the best ways for new designers to find clients?
A strong portfolio, you own unique style, some well-done freebies and stamina.
Go after them. Don’t expect clients to come to you if you’re new to the industry. What worked the best for me was cold-emailing agencies for their overflow work. Some people might think that’s spamming, but it isn’t if it’s short, relevant and only done to a company once.
If I knew the secret ingredient to this question, I wouldn’t make it public :D. From what I can tell, the best way to find clients is to be good at what you do and to be extremely critical of your own work and to tell yourself that other designers can do what you do cheaper and faster. That will boost your imagination and work ethic. At the beginning of our careers, we all sold our creativity cheaper, and that is normal for someone starting out. In time, work quality grows, and the income grows as well. Then, you arrive at a point when clients come to you and not the other way around. Another thing is who you know, and using items such as social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to find more clients.
Build your Web presence. Once you get your name out there, clients usually come to you.
14. What are your personal organization or time-management tips for a professional designer’s workflow?
Molly E. Holzschlag
I work in utter and complete chaos. It’s not for everyone, but somehow I’ve managed to get a lot done despite that. :)
I would actually love to know how other people handle their work days. My days seem to be so split up into different sections at the moment, it’s almost impossible to manage. Things have been hectic because I’ve been designing the UIs for a few iPad apps, and those have obviously been on deadlines.
But generally I use an app called The Hit List. I turn off all IM apps until a particular task is done, and I tend to work late to compensate for the lapses in concentration that invariably happen during the day.
A few of my tips to stay productive and organized are:
- Plan ahead
I usually plan my tasks (using TaskPaper) at the end of each day. This enables me to evaluate exactly what I need to accomplish, and it means I have a clear picture of how the next day will look, and it helps keep me focused and efficient. This prep usually takes around 20 to 30 minutes. During this time, I also usually tie up any loose ends from the day’s work.
- Deal with emails immediately
Whenever I receive an email, I either respond, filter, delete or archive it. Constantly looking back over each email every time I check my inbox adds up to hours of wasted time each week. So, I try to look at each email only once. I’ve also found that setting up filters, canned responses and labels is an excellent way to automate my inbox and increase my productivity because it allows me to spend more time on work and less time in email!
- Track time
I use a combination of Rescue Time and Toggl to track where my time goes. These apps log the hours worked on both client and personal projects and have highlighted areas in my own workflow that I’ve then been able to tweak to improve my overall productivity. It’s easy to get to the end of a project and find out you’ve actually worked for an awful lot less than you quoted, simply because you weren’t tracking exactly where and how your time was being spent.
- The dreaded admin
It’s not a favorite task of any business owner, but it is essential to keeping our business organized (no one wants to spend time figuring out their accounts come tax time). So, I take some time each Friday morning to make sure all of the week’s affairs are in order. This could be invoicing, filing or accounts. It’s not fun, but then I know the rest of my week will be free of disruptions from these types of tasks.
I use Things for personal organization and management of my daily to-dos and operations management of FUEL. I find that working with timelines keeps me in check and ahead of the game for the most part. If I let myself get behind, I get too distracted, and that’s never a good thing when trying to be creative!
Oh my. I am actually not so good with time management. I am always overworked. But I love every minute of it. However, I always advise not to take on too much; not just because you need to be rested to work properly, but because you might not be able to complete your projects — and nowadays, an online reputation can be destroyed much faster than it can be built. So, just make sure you can handle everything you take on. You could always recommend a friend. This is what I do when I can’t take on work. I recommend the client to contact someone who I trust can please them.
I am very disciplined. If I don’t have time to visit with friends, go to a party or see a movie, I’ll put work first, and always have. I see a lot of people who don’t have self-discipline or strong work ethics, and they don’t go far to be honest. Almost all super-successful people work very, very hard.
15. How do you handle the pressure of deadlines and find time for your family?
Inayaili de Leon
I’m not married and I don’t have any kids, so that means I can work late or during the weekend if need be. I like to have deadlines. If you have good relationships with your clients and good communication skills, the deadlines won’t be completely ridiculous. You can either plan your time well and get your bit done in time, or you can just plain procrastinate and then freak out at the last minute — it’s up to you. I think I’d go mental if I didn’t have deadlines. Projects would just drag on and on. I wouldn’t be able to stop changing things here and there. It’s good to know when it’s time to stop and say, “It’s done.”
Molly E. Holzschlag
I don’t. This is why I’m unmarried and have no children. That’s not what I intended, but it’s the way life worked out for me. I used to regret it, but now I realize that I’ve received a different kind of blessing. I have been able to travel the world and meet some of the most incredible people, from paupers to princes. For me, to travel and interact with such an array of humanity is the greatest gift of my life, and I feel very, very blessed for it.
It’s tough. I work a lot of hours, and I’m most productive at night, so I usually get more done in the late evenings, when I can concentrate in peace. I always save certain hours for family time. Start-ups are hard and demanding, but I always find time for my family. It’s a bonus (but imperative) that they are very supportive and patient.
Along with my husband Vlad (who is also a designer), we cry to ourselves about deadline pressures. I cry on his shoulder, and he cries on mine. It’s a fair deal. I personally have a great friend and partner at Design Disease in the person of Jacob Gower, who deals with all of my clients from the first moments to the end of the projects. This way, I have the comfort to work in peace.
There are no magical solutions in the career of a designer. Every single person has a different path, a different vision, a different result, and that makes this job unique.
It’s been a huge challenge, and I am not sure I’ve entirely succeeded. I am definitely a workaholic, and it has hurt my family’s feelings many times. I think they know me so well now and see that my hard work has paid off, so they aren’t as critical any longer. It helps that my daughter is 20 now and has her own life to lead, but when she was younger she was upset with me quite often. I am not sure that I balanced life and work well at all.
Deadlines are fine; they go straight in the diary. As long as the client has provided everything I need to meet the deadline, it comes and goes without any hiccups. Family is a bit more tricky. I’m not too good at balancing this, because I now work from home, and it’s even harder when you have access to everything on an iPhone. I’m never away from my emails. I’ve gotten into the really bad habit of checking them, too, when I wake up at night. Generally though, the work-life balance is fairly okay. I work hard during the week, and I like to make my weekends a real break.
I sleep on the couch a lot. I’m kidding; I don’t really!
About three years ago, I realized it was getting to be very difficult handling everything on my own. As a freelancer turned studio owner, I wore all the hats in the shop: accountant, bookkeeper, maintenance person, receptionist and eventually, when I hired staff, personal director and counsellor. I was also taking on creative projects, so my time was extremely thin.
It was then that I hired a virtual assistant to help me with the day-to-day administrative tasks of running a business. She helps me with email, new project requests, accounts receivable and payables, just about anything I need to help me re-focus my time away from administrative duties and back onto the creative work I love doing.
When you aren’t getting enough sleep, eating enough food, drinking enough water, and your family is wondering whether you’ve gone missing, that is generally when you know you need to either scale back a little or hire.
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- Group Interview: Expert Advice for Students and Young Web Designers
- 35 Designers x 5 Questions
Professional suggestions, tips and ideas from some of the best Web developers from around the world.