Interviews:

24 Jun 2009

3

Blogger, Designer, and Self-Employed – Interview with Chris Spooner

Chris Spooner1. To get started, could you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do for a living?

Sure, I’m Chris Spooner, I work as a self employed designer and run my design blogs, Blog.SpoonGraphics and Line25.

2. How did your two blogs come to be, and why did you create them?

Blog.SpoonGraphics was created over two years ago originally as a little experiment with the WordPress application. I had seen design blogs springing up and decided to give it a go myself. Soon after publishing a couple of tutorials and freebies, the site started to grow in popularity. Many articles and posts later the site is continuing to grow and has reached a fantastic level of popularity in the web community!

Line25 was setup more recently, given the enjoyment I have developing Blog.SpoonGraphics, I decided to branch out and do it all again. I wanted to focus more on web design topics, but with Blog.SpoonGraphics developing a name for Illustrator tutorials, I didn’t want to suddenly switch subjects. Setting up a second blog seemed like the perfect way forward, and Line25 is also seeing some unbelievable growth in the four months it has been active.

3. Where do you find inspiration for your blog posts, and how do you keep coming up with fresh ideas?

Ideas for blog posts tend to appear from general Internet browsing and picking out interesting images from magazines. If there’s a feature that catches my attention, creating a blog post on the topic is a great way to research into the topic further, which also helps polish my own skills.

Blog Post Title

4. How have your blogs come to have such a strong following? What advice would you give to bloggers just starting out?

Keep up the hard work. Even with Line25 having the advantage of receiving an already establishing group of subscribers from Blog.SpoonGraphics, it’s difficult in the early days to keep a consistent level of traffic. Keep the faith and pump out articles that you think would be interesting to fellow designers, sooner or later one will be picked up and receive a decent influx of visitors.

5. Where do you find inspiration for your designs?

Browsing design galleries and the work of inspiring designers is always a great help, although I also seem to pick out interesting images from magazines and general things I come across on a daily basis.

Designs

6. What first got you interested in design, and how did you go about getting into this industry?

I’ve always been fairly creative minded, and went down the creative route throughout schooling and college. After university I landed my first job as a Graphic/Web Designer at a local small studio. A good website has always been a useful resource for landing jobs and opportunities, so that’s one recommendation I’d give to others.

7. How (and when) did you transfer into the freelance designer lifestyle? How did you turn your work into a personal business and gain your first clients?

I worked on a couple of personal and client related projects in my spare time outside of work to begin with to gain a feel for managing projects completely by myself. After a while my blog revenue increased to cover my basic monthly expenses, which was a great help in making the transition to working for myself. The exposure it has developed online now brings in clients from around the world, along with some really interesting work!

8. Could you describe a typical workday in your life as a freelance designer and blogger?

A typical workday starts by catching up on Twitter and browsing through a couple of links I come across. I’ll then check over emails for the day and respond to clients or messages from my blogs. I usually aim to work on a project or blog post in the morning, and one in the afternoon, so depending on what I have in store at that moment I’ll either work on some kind of web design, a little coding, a logo design, or think of a topic to create an article about. Midday I’ll head off for some lunch, then check over my RSS feeds for some cool topics from the blogosphere. My interesting findings are then posted to Twitter to share with others.

9. Has owning Blog.SpoonGraphics and Line25 helped you find clients, or helped your freelance design career in any other way?

For sure, my blog over at Blog.SpoonGraphics has been a fantastic source of clients, mostly through the exposure it has given online. So much in fact, that I hardly need my portfolio website anymore.

10. What is your general design process now that you have the freedom of freelancing?

My design process tends to vary slightly depending on the nature of the project, but generally an estimate will be created based on an indication of time needed for the work. This is then invoiced as a 50% deposit and the project started with research and sketching. Designs are created and supplied to the client, followed by an invoice of the remaining balance. Between these steps I try to keep the relationship personal and informal, in my eyes there’s nothing worse than all that boring business jargon and malarkey!

11. Finally, what are some of our future goals for your blogs, your freelancing business, and for yourself?

I’m looking forward to developing both blogs further into the future with new posts and useful content; Line25 is heading towards the 10k subscriber milestone so I’m looking forward to that achievement. Outside of blogging I’m looking to continue on with a selection of interesting design projects and generally keep on top of any upcoming changes in the industry!

19 Jun 2009

4

19 and Successful: Interview with Sam & Zach Dunn

Interview with Sam & Zach Dunn

To begin, can you both tell us a little about yourselves and about your role with Build Internet?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/wumbus/3641743012/

Sam: We’re both going into our Junior year at University of Hartford, and be turning 20 next month.

In terms of the blog, I typically cover Photoshop and jQuery, although I have dabbled in other categories such as PHP and discussion pieces. Additionally I’ve been responsible for the design of Build Internet, now on it’s second revision.

Behind the scenes I have a fair share of involvement in our other projects such as the our upcoming One Mighty Roar company site, which has limited the amount of posts I’ve been able to make thus far, that’s changing soon.

Zach: Seeing as how we’re twins, I don’t have all that much more to add onto what Sam has already said about our background. However, as far as the blog goes I work a lot more on the regular posting schedule with a focus on usability, motivation pieces, and WordPress.

I handle the majority of the community components of blogging. This means that I go out and promote the latest posts, keep the social media up to par, and just flat out mingle in the web niche when possible.

How did Build Internet begin? What inspired you both to create it, and what has motivated you to keep it going?

Zach: We’ve worked on web design for years now. It wasn’t until the past year or so that I began to actively read blogs in the web design and development niche.

A big motivator has been the successes of other bloggers in the niche. Take Jacob Cass for example! To me, Jacob represents a great example of how a student can get a solid head start into a career while still attending a University. It’s absolutely amazing to see the amount of diverse client work Jacob has brought in as a result of his blog. David Leggett is another great example of a young guy managing high quality blogs that actually impact thousands of people.

Sam: We were both avid readers of several web niche blogs and wanted to dive into it ourselves. I would say the community has been one of the most pleasant surprises of all, immersing ourselves in it through our blog has caused us to make some great connections.

What do you two write about on Build Internet? Who should read your blog?

Zach: We (try to) write about useful things. Our articles are meant to spark discussion or food for thought on the topics important to the web niche. We post under the mentality that sometimes people just need to have their attention brought to the simple overlooked possibilities out on the web.

Everyone has seen the “30 Amazing WordPress Theme Widgets” style posts out there, but not everyone realizes how easy it is to do it themselves. We like getting people to do things rather than just show them good looking things without explanation week after week. We try to empower people by giving them bite-sized bits of good internet and give a direction for real applications.

Sam: First off, everyone should read our blog. Now if I can be more specific and slightly less bold – anyone in the web or graphic design niche would probably benefit from clicking around. We also try to discuss trending topics or business practices via articles. Odds are if someone is visiting this blog, they’d enjoy Build Internet too. See how I wove in that shameless promotion so seamlessly?

What is it like to be so successful in the online world at such a young age? How do you balance college, the aspects of offline life, and your growing blog?

Zach: I don’t want to give anyone the wrong impression about our success. Even though we’ve experienced phenomenal growth in the past six months, I wouldn’t define us as a clear cut success just yet. We’ve still got plenty of growing to do, and a lot of that comes with balancing time.

During the college year our availability changes by the week. Since there are two of us running the blog together, it made it much easier to stick to the every 2-3 day posting schedule which has worked so well for us so far. Our biggest motto is to “Stay social”, and I think we’ve done a good job at that so far.

The New Office

Sam: I get a kick out of this question because while I am appreciative of where we are right now, we still have a long way to go when compared to fellow niche blogs like Tutorial9 and Smashing Magazine.

My friends IRL (that stands for In Real Life, it’s an acronym that saves me bundles of time), laugh occasionally because of the pretty open love affair I have with the internet. While I have been known to do some marathon hours, most particularly in the development of my Supersized jQuery plugin, I keep social too. The whole education thing just limits how frequently we can post new articles.

I wouldn’t normally ask about income in an interview like this, but because you both are as young as me and most of my readers, it’s inspiring to know about income potential at such an age. How much do you make off of Build Internet, and does it function like a business in some sense?

Build Internet is directly tied to One Mighty Roar, which is our web design and development business. The income from the blog has been a moderate success and it’s brought in enough to fund things like our new office and other various costs related to running the blog and business.

I’d rather not get into exact specific numbers, but our chief income comes from BuySellAds (which is an easy number to calculate…hint hint). Adsense brings in a couple dollars a day, and we’ve got a few leads for clients from it too. All in all, we’ve managed to fund some cool things but it’s nothing to get excited about yet.

We’re hoping in the next year to reach an income level from the blog where we can fund paid guest posts in the style of larger blog networks like Envato. We’ve had a few guest posts already for exposure alone, but it should really be a compensated in the future.

Sam: As an added bonus, Build Internet functions as a miniature PR agency for us. We’ve gotten contacted from all sorts wonderful individuals.

Your blog is about web design, development, and business. When and how did you become interested in these fields? Tell us a bit about the history of both of you on the Internet.

Zach: Looking back it’s been funny to see where we came from. Our first website (since taken down) was built at the beginning of high school using copy and paste Dreamweaver snippets. We registered with a .tk address and was filled stuff that only had value to the people who made it.

In high school we started with the computer science route, but it was too much math and not enough creativity. We jumped over to the web design side of the hall and founded Cazzu Media at the end of our Junior year in high school.

We’ve grown a lot through client work and side projects since then. One of the biggest changes made is the company name. A number of factors led to the change in branding. The least of which is the unsavory meaning of the word Cazzu to southern Italy (We’re sorry). We’re currently finalizing the name change to One Mighty Roar, and we’ll be moving forward with some exciting client jobs.

Sam: I got a kick out of the whole art and creativity thing throughout elementary school, did the computer science track in high school, and somewhere in between decided I hated cubicles. When I put all of those things together I decided that web design was the perfect three way polygamist marriage between art, coding and creativity.

Is there any advice or tips you can give to someone just starting out a blog, or with online entrepreneurship?

Zach: Overall, the best advice is the most obvious. Be useful, even if you think it may be obvious. Don’t think that you can produce content without any clear cut direction. Try to fit in and complement your niche rather than top all the existing players. The blogosphere is not a cutthroat competitive area, and there’s always room for more quality blogs.

I find my best content comes from things where I’m learning in the process too. That’s why I suspect our jQuery tutorials are among the most popular. I teach myself for the tutorial, and then teach others based on my attempts.

Last piece of advice is to have idols. Not a stalker sense, but just have accomplished people in the niche who you look up to. It helps to have someone to aspire to when you’re putting together a plan of action. For us and blogging, it was people like David Leggett, Jacob Cass, and other 20-ish year olds with quality content.

Sam: Be the most candid, genuine, real human being possible. When starting a blog you are trying to reach out to a community of real people, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t be one too. Be conversational and get involved in the community to build an audience.

What are your future plans for Build Internet, other projects, and for yourselves?

Zach: We’re going to hopefully continue to build up the readership on Build Internet. Sam and I are both currently working on a number of guest posts for other big name web niche blogs.

Sam: We are aiming to expand the reach of the blog by driving up RSS and Twitter subscribers and increasing the frequency of posts. Additionally we have One Mighty Roar, our company site, which will serve to be a hub for our client work and our blog network. We are currently in the process of getting some quality blogs together under the One Mighty Roar network, we already have The Nonsense Society (an art blog), but there will be some hip new additions in coming months. We’re royally stoked.

Officeal

Also be sure to keep a lookout for Zach and Sam’s new blog, Officeal — planned to open in early July. It’s going to be a blog about awesome offices — pretty interesting stuff — so keep checking on BuildInternet.com for when that launches!

Officeal

16 Jun 2009

3

Interview with Steven Snell – The lifestyle of a web designer, blogger, and freelance writer

Interview with Steven Snell

1. First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do for a living?

I’m 30 years old and my wife and I live in suburban Philadelphia (in New Jersey). It’s kind of hard to say exactly what I do for a living. I’m a web design, blogger and freelance writer, but I kind of bounce around in terms of the balance between the three. Sometimes I feel like spending more time working on sites for clients, and other times I may put that on hold and dedicate more time to freelance writing. Fortunately, my work allows me some freedom to pick and choose at times.

2. How did these two design blogs start, and what motivated you to create them?

Vandelay Design Blog DesignM.ag

The blog at Vandelay Design started about two years ago. At that time I knew absolutely nothing about blogging. My goal was to put some articles on the site in hopes that the content would help to draw search engine visitors and ultimately lead to some clients. Before too long the blog started drawing way more traffic than I ever expected and I started noticing that many of my readers were other designers rather than people who would be looking to hire a designer. At that point my focus with the blog shifted and I’ve never really used it to directly promote myself or my services, which was my original intent.

DesignM.ag started in July of 2008 because there were some things that I wanted to do with the site that I didn’t feel were completely appropriate at Vandelay Design. Even though I don’t use the blog at Vandelay Design to promote my services, it still is a portfolio site and that comes with some limitations. I wanted to start a more community-oriented site that could include things like a design job board, a gallery, and a news section, in addition to a blog. To me it made more sense to start a new site since there was really a new purpose.

3. Were your blogs always community based? (If they weren’t, how did you begin to create community around them?) How has a sense of community enhanced your websites?

The community at Vandelay Design is actually what got the blog really moving in the right direction. At first I was just using the blog as a way to publish articles, like I said earlier, I really didn’t understand the community aspect of blogging or social media. I started getting some traffic, somewhat unexpectedly, and people started commenting and linking and that is really how I began to learn about blogging. In some ways I feel like the community around the blog was stronger when there were less readers because I would be familiar with most of the commenters and I had more time to visit their sites and interact there as well.

At both Vandelay Design and DesignM.ag the design blogging community is largely responsible for any success that I’ve had. I’ve been fortunate enough to get a lot of great links and meet many awesome people that have allowed the audience at both sites to grow. Without that I don’t think I would still be blogging.

4. I’ve seen you around the blogging community over at Smashing Magazine, FreelanceSwitch, PSDTuts+, and many others. What is the freelance blogging lifestyle like?

Freelance blogging has been great for me. I actually never set out to be a freelance blogger but I was offered a position with Daily Blog Tips after I submitted a guest post and I almost said I wasn’t interested. I decided to give it a chance and I really liked it. It’s a great way to get exposure and links to your own blog, but the best part is that you get to meet some very influential people. It’s been really cool to work with people like Vitaly Friedman from Smashing Magazine and you can learn a lot about what it takes to run a successful blog just from being involved on a small scale. The downside of freelance blogging is that it does take a lot of time if you’re writing detailed posts, and that is time that you lose for working on your own sites. The last few months I’ve really cut back on my freelance writing because I have been focusing on some of my own projects.

5. Where do you find motivation and inspiration for everything you do, from web design to writing?

A lot of my motivation comes from the desire to run a successful business. I worked for several years in typical corporate America jobs and it really made me hate that lifestyle of working for a company that cared nothing about me or my future. So even though those people don’t care and would never really know whether my business is successful or not, I still have the attitude that I’m going to succeed in my own way to show that I don’t need a job from them.

In terms of design inspiration, I get a lot of it from design galleries and blogs. I try to also mix in inspiration from offline sources, but since I spend the majority of my time online I often find myself going there first.

6. To what would you tribute your overall success? Is there anything specifically that helped you become as well-known in the web design community as you are?

Well, I still have a long way to go before I would consider myself to be successful, but whatever success I have been able to have along the way I would attribute to consistent effort and a great network of friends and colleagues. I look back at the first few months of blogging and almost none of my blogging friends from that time are still actively blogging. Most got discouraged and gave up, or realized it just wasn’t that important to them. Blogging for an income takes consistent work, even when things don’t seem encouraging. Once I got my first small taste of blogging success (I literally went from about 10 visitors in one day to a few thousand the next because of an appearance on the Delicious front page) I became determined to grow my blog and that has kept me motivated ever since. I’ve been lucky enough to get some really great readers that have supported my blogs, and getting links and mentions from others in the community has been huge.

7. What advice would you give to anyone just starting out in the field of web design, or freelance blogging?

For web designers my advice is to find what you truly enjoy and follow after that. Some people love freelancing and others prefer working as an employee. And some people want to start a small studio of their own. Even though you may be a designer, those situations are all very different. My advice is to evaluate the differences and see what fits best with your lifestyle and your goals. And also, always be working on your own skills and abilities. I know I have a long way to go as a designer, but at least I can feel good about the fact that I’m moving forward.

For those who are interested in freelance blogging, my advice is to be assertive. If you don’t have much of a profile yet, the freelancing jobs are not likely to find you. Be willing to take the initiative and contact some blog owners about the possibility of writing for them. Taking action always beats not taking action. Also, I would advise freelance bloggers to work on building their own blog(s) at the same time. Constantly writing posts for other blogs can be very draining, and as soon as you stop, the money stops coming as well. By having you own blog that makes some money you will be better off.

New Gallery Sites

Steven has also just started up 5 new gallery sites, so be sure to check them out below. All are a great source for inspiration!

Cart Frenzy

A showcase of excellent e-commerce web design.

Cart Frenzy

Type Inspire

A Showcase of excellent typography design.

Type Inspire

Minimal Exhibit

A showcase of minimalism in web design.

Minimal Exhibit

Folio Focus

A showcase of outstanding portfolio websites.

Folio Focus

Blog Design Heroes

A showcase of excellent blog designs.

Blog Design Heroes

05 Jun 2009

4

Interview with Jacob Gube of SixRevisions.com, a Web Design and Development Blog

1. Let’s begin with the basics. Could you tell us a little about yourself and your blog?

I’m Jacob Gube (pronounced as “goobeh”): a 26 year old web developer, author, and the Founder/Chief Editor of Six Revisions, a web publication that shares useful design and development information and tutorials. My passion in life is creating (and writing about) awesome websites and web applications. I also like taking pictures as a hobby; something that I’ve been neglecting because of all the things going on right now.

2. Is being a professional blogger your full-time job, or do you work on other projects as well? Do you have any other websites that keep you busy?

I am not, and never will be, a full-time blogger. To be effective at writing about the topic of design and development, I have to practice the stuff I write about on the site. I have a full-time job as a Web Developer specializing in distance-learning education and online training sites and applications.

As for other websites: I don’t have any other web property besides Six Revisions, though I do work closely with the people over at Smashing Magazine, so if there was any other site keeping me busy — I’d have to say it was them. Vitaly Friedman, Co-Founder and Chief Editor of Smashing Magazine, is a friend of mine and is a person I take a lot of advice and inspiration from, whether its in my writing or what TV shows are worth watching. He always manages to find ways to improve my writing and makes me think of things I’ve never thought of before. I’ve also learned a lot about how to become a good publisher/editor from him. Having written for various other online publications, I would have to say Smashing Magazine is the best place to write in.

3) It’s easy to see that Six Revisions is very popular. How long did it take to get the following you have now, and how did you do it?

Six Revisions has been up for a little less than a year and a half, and the journey from the start to what it is now has been a life-changing experience for me. How did I do it? I think the main recipe is to write about what you know and to let your passion, knowledge, and experience about the topic show in the stuff you write. I think that’s what makes people come: they want to read about design and development not from a professional writer, but from someone who’s just like them.

When it comes to contributing writers — I typically recruit and publish authors that write not as a profession, but rather, as a passion. For example, Jan Cavan from Dawghouse Design Studio, who writes Photoshop tutorials for Six Revisions, is a design agency graphic/web designer whose work has been featured in .NET magazine. Tyler Denis from Denis Designs and Matthew Heidenreich from PSDVIBE are freelance designers who share their Photoshop expertise on Six Revisions. Angela Rohner, who puts together these beautiful design showcases, and who runs my favorite web design gallery (TheBestDesigns.com), is an Art Director and front-end developer for a design studio. Francisco Inchauste, the brilliant mind behind Finch, is a UX designer. Phil McClure from theRailWorld.com, who writes about RoR, is a software developer. These are just a few of the great and talented people who write stuff for Six Revisions readers — they’re real professionals who just happen to have a knack for writing.

4) As a blogger myself I know how hard it can be to keep focus. How do you stay motivated to keep working on Six Revisions, and creating new posts almost every day?

When you receive emails and comments from readers thanking you for the stuff you share, whether it be a cool slideshow jQuery script, a freebie set of textures, or a showcase of designs that’s inspired them in their own work, that is motivation enough to keep going. I have an obligation to the readership to provide them with useful information on design and development.

The key is to have a love for what you write about, otherwise you’ll run out of ideas and you’ll never put the time you need to keep a regular posting schedule. The topic I write about is what I think about before I go to bed, and the first thing I think about when I wake up – it’s sad, but true, and you know what, I don’t mind it one bit. If I were to love something else, like spelunking or baking cookies, even if I worked as a web developer, I would write about those topics instead.

5) When did you first become interested in the world of web development, design, and blogging? What inspired you to do what you’re doing today?

Let’s start with development first. I started as a hobbyist software programmer making command-line games — this was about when I was 14 years old. About a year later, I learned about HTML. It must have been HTML 2 or 3 (probably 3), and there wasn’t really any CSS back then, so just inline properties for things like background color, widths of elements, and table layouts.

Let’s jump ahead to design. When I was about 17 years old, I grew an obsession towards Photoshop; I saved up all my money for three months to purchase my very own copy. I started off professionally as a freelance graphic designer, more specifically, a brand identity designer for small businesses and start ups — this is about the time I was able to hone my skills using Illustrator (you can see one of my early vector illustrations in college on Flickr).

But I always loved doing web-based stuff so I transitioned into web development, towards PHP and client-side scripting like JavaScript and Flash AS, taking my passion for coding along with me.

Blogging just happened by accident: I was looking for an outlet to share and maintain an online archive of the things I learned from work, and a weblog just seemed like the natural way to accomplish this. I set up a site, installed WordPress, and in under a day, I had a post up even before the “sixrevisions.com” DNS records had fully propagated.

And that’s my story in a nutshell. In short: being a designer/developer was planned since they’ve been my passion most my teenage and adult life, blogging just sort of happened by accident and on a whim.

6) What advice would you give to a person just starting out in your field, whether it is blogging, design, or development?

I’m not going to try and say something smart and enigmatic to make myself sound intelligent and cool, that’s just not my style: if you know me, you’d know that I’m a practical and straight-to-the-point person.

For designers and developers: learn your craft well and be sure to keep up with what’s new, even if you don’t plan on using it; that way you’re always well-informed. For example, I know about Flex 3 even though I’ve never applied that knowledge; I’m dangerous enough with it to be conversant about it. Start a blog, that’s the best way to learn and to force yourself to keep up with what’s going on around you.

Bloggers: write about a topic you know well, not about a topic you think will generate the most site traffic.

7) What are your future goals, both for yourself and your blog?

That’s a tough one. I’m not that much into planning, and I believe that if you work hard and do what you love, the rest will fall into place, and at the very least, you’re doing something you love doing. I do know that I would like to redesign the Six Revisions layout, as well as improve site features and findability (I did the current layout in a rush). I do like the simplicity of the design as it is now though, so I’m not sure when I’ll ever want to redesign it.

Other than that, my goal is to finish the books I’m writing and not get my editors mad(der) at me for being late on my chapters… again.