I recently had the chance to interview Prisca Schmarsow about work, teaching, web dev/design and everyday life. Thanks Prisca for taking part!
Full name and Age please
Prisca Schmarsow, 39
Favourite Biscuit and Drink?
Amaretti & Capuccino
Last book your read and last movie you saw?
Book:: “Designing for the Web” (Mark Boulton)
Where and when did it all start?
Well, I was one of those people …. I used to think I am not cut out for working with computers. I started with hand-drawn visuals, doing pub blackboards and drawings/illlustration for adverts and did not think I would get my head around being creative on a ‘machine’. Quite funny now to think of it….
Gently pushed by my partner – I eventually did venture into the digital arena by doing a graphic design course – and it all started there. Painter was, and in many ways still is, my favourite app at the time. Doing graphic design work – I was soon drawn to the internet and its design possibilities. Though I was by then quite happy to work digitally – I was still a bit of a techno-phobe, thinking my head would not be able to cope with the technical complexities. So when I did start with webdesign – I took the then easier road of flash design. It gave me complete control over my designs. I absolutely loved creating flash websites though I of course soon realised its drawbacks and its place within webdesign overall.
And then there was “designing with web standards” by Jeffrey Zeldman, introducing me to webstandards and a better web 🙂 After finding Eric Meyer and his site – I went onto to learn handcoding and CSS from online resources — and here I am 🙂
Is there anyone in the industry you look up to?
There are many, too many to list really. I love the web for its online community spirit — I feel I owe my knowledge and understanding to all the helpful and lovely geeks out there. I could tell you lots of stories on how various people have helped me through various stages of learning webdesign – this would fill a book 😉
Suffice to say that Eric Meyer is my all time guru – I feel I owe him and Jeffrey Zeldman my current career. Had it not been for their writing, sharing of knowledge and inspiration on so many levels – I don’t think I’d be doing what I am doing now and loving it. And of course now there are many more inspiring people, too many to mention.
You teach web design, how did you get in to teaching?
Teaching is not something I ever envisaged myself doing, to be honest. I’d been working with graphic and flash design for about 2 years when the training place where I had done my first course had a vacancy for a graphic design and multimedia tutor. I would not have dreamed to apply but work was slow and my former tutor encouraged me to go for it. So I did – and to my surprise got the job despite my complete lack of experience. And though it was incredibly nerve-wracking initially – I loved it. Now I run the ‘design for the web‘ (as well as the ‘digital animation‘) course at TowerHamlets College and can teach what I consider good working practices to my students, hoping to send them into our industry with good skills – aware of what matters: good user-friendly design, web standards, accessibility and so on. And the ones who make it – make me proud 🙂
What does a general day consist of for you?
Always start with a cup of coffee 🙂 I usually work on several projects at the same time, splitting my day’s time between them. Depending on whether the academic year is in flow or whether I can focus entirely on design – I divide my time up between my 2 jobs, taking care of my clients as well as my students. I usually take care of formalities in the morning and do a lot of the creative work towards the end of the day or evening. Love the holidays from teaching for being able to keep my own hours so I can do some late sessions if the mood takes me.
As well as teaching you also have your eyedea.eu team, how is that going?
The eyedea team is currently undergoing a change – we’re working on our new site at the moment as we are shifting our focus now primarily onto webdesign. It all started as a freelance collective, combining multiple skills and working together as a team. Two heads are always better than one and we love collaborating on various projects and learning from each other.
As time went on we continued to work mainly on webdesign projects so we’ve decided to refocus. We’ve all still got our own areas and specialities, from photography over illustration to writing – but our main field remains the web. So I’m really enjoying designing our new site and looking forward getting it out there.
Where does your heart lie, with design or development?
Design all the way… I do enjoy the challenge of coding and certain aspects of front end development – but if I had to chose one over the other, nothing can beat design. I’m a big fan of the Bauhaus and its principles which are my motivation. Design is for people—has purpose—aims to be used and enjoyed though it might go unnoticed through its successfully designed and implemented functions.
Do you prefer teaching or full time design and development?
It’s the balance between the two that I like. Though teaching can be very hard work at times (mainly due to the bureaucratic mountain of paperwork it involves) it also keep you on your toes. I enjoy the challenges it brings and the learning environment, I remain a student myself.
And I do love design work, from start to finish – love the entire process and couldn’t do without it. And I do consider myself a designer who teaches and not the other way around so I suppose design would have to be my final choice.
What do you consider to be the biggest contributing factor to your success?
The open and sharing spirit of the web. Without the many many friendly and sharing people online I would not be doing or loving what I do. In my early days of flash design – I learnt everything from online resources. I had had 1 day of flash introduction and went from there. Learning from online tutorials, forums, even personal support from individuals. My first ever site went online with someone in the Netherlands holding my hand – taking me through every single step via online chat. Overwhelmed by the technical aspects – it would have taken me ages by myself so this was a major moment for me – and I could not believe how supportive the online community could be.
Fast forward to “designing with web standards” – had it not been for Jeffrey’s book – and then Eric’s site…. I would not be handcoding now, or even have a clue about good webdesign. And then there are people like … actually too many to mention, I’d only forget some vital names. Sites like ‘A List Apart’, blogs by inspiring designers as well as developers who explain in plain English complex techniques and so on keep me learning all the time. (This is why I don’t really agree with the term ‘self taught’. Though I did the learning by myself in a physical sense – I would not say I am self taught – but rather have been taught by so many lovely geeks online)
So the short answer simply is: the biggest contributing factor are is the open and sharing spirit online.
Are you a mac or PC user?
Mac – though I think I was just lucky to learn on a mac. Saying that – I have to admit I am always in favour of gorgeous visuals which is why I’m happily sticking with Apple 🙂
Where do you see yourself in the future?
Hopefully continuing to try to make the web a better place alongside everyone else.
Will you be heading to anymore conferences in the near future?
Would love to – depending on time and money. At times some of the best conferences clash with my teaching — or are simply too pricey for a freelancer… But I do love the talks and the slides seem to be getting more creative now as well.
Prisca Schmarsow Portfolio Website