Interviewing Chris Spooner

Spoongraphics - Chris Spooner



So you’re pretty well known and have a huge following but where’d you start. Where’d you grow up/go to school etc?
I grew up and went to school in Sheffield. Throughout school I found the art & design subjects my favourite, so I followed these right through to college and university. After uni I managed to land the first job I applied for, which was as a Graphic/Web Designer at a small local studio. I stayed there for 2 years and it was during this time I set up my SpoonGraphics website and design blog.

This blog soon gained popularity on the web and began bringing in a lot of freelance projects that I worked on in the evenings and weekends. I soon found I was enjoying my freelance work much more than the day job, so I took the plunge into self employment. Since then I’ve been living happily sitting in my home office all day long. I can’t imagine ever going back into full time employment!

What were your early school days like? Good grades?
Pretty average I guess, couple of B’s, lots of C’s. Never managed an A. Good in the overall scheme of things when compared to some of the derps in my school but I actually failed my Design & Tech GCSE which would have meant I couldn’t go on to sixth form. But being “one of the best in the class” the teacher allowed me on the course.

What went wrong with the Design & Tech GCSE? I know you have to take something like Electronics or Graphic Products for that Design & Tech course, which one did you choose?
I can’t actually remember! I know the actually exam was very essay heavy, which was probably the reason for the fail.

What did you end up doing in Sixth Form?
Art, Design & Tech and Geography – Can you spot the odd one out?

Bit of a map fan?
Geography was one of my favourite subjects actually, the teachers were cool and it involved some fun trips. There’s nothing like standing in the middle of a river in Scotland measuring current flow and erosion.

Similarly, Design & Tech, Geography, History and Art were my favourite subjects. How did your courses go in Sixth Form?
They all went pretty well. C’s and D’s this time but it was enough to allow me to go on and do a HND at college (which I then topped up to the degree by adding in an extra year on the course)

Were you doing anything extra-curricular whilst you were in Sixth Form, what year was that? 1999-2001ish?
Nights out on the town were common around that time I think. That was when I was working part time at Currys electrical store so we all used to go out together.

Were you dabbling in web design/dev back then?
I remember having a passive interest in it and built a couple of table based sites for personal stuff. It wasn’t until I landed that job at the local design studio that I had to suddenly learn everything.

What were you doing in your HND? What did the course consist of?
It was a Multimedia Design course that involved everything including print design, web design, 3D modelling, video editing and Flash animation. Because it covered so much everything was spread so thin you didn’t actually learn much about any particular discipline!

And which part did you lean towards, was there a favourite?
I actually took more of an interest in 3D modelling and Flash animation and didn’t care at all about print or web design. Which is ironic as my interests completely changed after a couple of years.

What was it that drew you towards those?
The work opportunities for web and print design were much more common that 3D and Flash, so the more time I spent doing web and print the more I began to enjoy it.

I also found I picked it up much quicker with it being founded on the “Art” and “Design” subjects from school. Whereas 3D modelling and Flash was completely foreign.

The extra year to top it up to a degree, was it still as ‘all over the place’ as the year previously or was it more structured?
This was much more structured as it was a specific Art & Design course. Although it was half dissertation based so I was quite lucky to get through it haha. Ironic again that my income is now based on my writings…

Did you already have the job lined up by the time you finished college?
I was originally planning to take the summer off, but my parents saw the job in the local paper and recommended I applied just to gain interview experience. So I ended up getting the job and not having my summer break.

ha! Parents. What was the role? How old were you at this point? What work were you doing? Did they offer you good renumeration back then?
This was classed as a Graphic/Web Designer. It was only a 3-man studio (including me) so I was just working on whatever came through the door. Age wise I was 20-21 and the pay was pretty average.

What was the experience like as a ‘first job’? Learn much, what was it like working within a team which is different to what you do now?
It was a good experience and it gave me a great opportunity to learn how client projects are managed from start to finish, which is why I always recommend students try and get a job at a studio before going into full self employment. With it being a small studio it wasn’t so much team work. I’d be managing almost full projects, so work wasn’t really being passed from one designer to another like it is in a larger agency.

How long did you stay there for and why did you leave?
2 years in total. I would have stayed for longer but my design blog became a conflict of interest with it bringing in work outside of my day job. I had the choice of shutting down my blog or leaving, so I left. It turned out to be the best decision of my life considering the opportunities I’ve had since.

So out of that two years, when was your design blog started?
That was started in 2007, sometime during my employment, but I can’t remember how long it had been running until it became a problem… I seem to recall around a year.

How was it a ‘problem’? Did your boss see it as one? How active/popular was it when it became a problem?
It was a problem in that I was attracting clients and working on projects outside of my job, when I should have been taking on those clients as projects for the company. By this time it had a fair following and had just began bringing in a basic revenue from ad sales.

Would the revenue it was making have sustained you and your life? Was Laura (hi Laura) in your life at this point?
That was the exact reason I chose to leave, I didn’t have anything to lose. The ad revenue covered my basic outgoings each month, both me and Laura still lived at home and I had the prospect of a decent number of freelance clients thanks to the exposure my blog had generated for me. It turned out I earned more in my first month of freelancing than I used to get from my monthly wage from my job.

Were you still nervous of leaving a full-time job?
A little, but I also had the confidence that I landed this job easily so if all else failed I could have just got another graphic design job.

What’s the story about the domain again?
I bought and set up my portfolio back during my college/uni course as part of the personal branding module. Back in 2006-2007 I saw WordPress sites like Bittbox and Smashing Magazine springing up and posting tutorials. I’d learnt loads from tutorials myself so I decided to set my own up and post the things I had learnt for others to learn from. I just happened to do this on a sub-domain of spoongraphics and Blog.SpoonGraphics was born.


In hindsight would you haveĀ preferredĀ having it directly at
I would have probably chosen a different name altogether, but it kind of worked out in my favour in that it linked into my work as a freelancer and boosted my exposure as a designer. My has always been hidden in the shadow of B.SG and attracts only a fraction of visitors. The majority of my work has always come through the blog so I guess its name has never really mattered.

Now… isn’t your only ‘property’ now?
Nope, after a couple of years I’d taken more of an interest in CSS and web design in general, so instead of switching focus from graphic design, Photoshop and Illustrator I decided to make the most of the opportunity to set up a standalone blog with its own name and domain, which ended up being Line25.

Why another site rather than growing the original property?
I could quite easily have added web design to B.SG, but I’d learnt so much from growing my first blog I was interested in doing it again but armed with my new knowledge.

Plus I thought it would be a good idea to separate my revenue streams into two different properties. If one was hacked or destroyed for any reason I’d still have a backup. But overall I just fancied building another site with a completely different brand and style.

Did you have a structured plan of how you were going to do it?
As structured as my plans go haha. I knew I had an established audience I could promote it to, but I mainly just planned to post content that people would find interesting. If knew I did it right traffic and subscribers would come.

Did you have a list of content lined up and created which you were going to release?
I had the first few posts written and ready to post out immediately with the site launch. After that I just fell into my usual routine of creating content based on whatever captured my interest at the time.

Ok, so now with two properties how was your week and daily routine looking. I think by this point you’d stopped doing client work?
The freelance work had definitely reduced at this point but I was still doing the odd job. My week consisted mostly of creating the designs for the tutorials, followed by the actual tutorial article. Some would take longer than others so I didn’t really have a set routine, it just took as long as it took. My schedule of one post per week gave me plenty of time to create the content though.

Was that one post per website?
Yeah my post schedule has always been an article/tutorial on Mondays (on both sites) followed by a smaller roundup or news post on Fridays. I’ve often been asked why I didn’t ever post more, but the answer is that schedule has always worked for me so I never had a reason to change.

A lot of the other design blogs posted every day and took on multiple authors, but I’ve always been happy keeping my site personal.

Did you do any kind of online marketing to help grow the sites? You obviously have revenue streams from the two sites? Can you list the revenue streams?
The only online marketing I’ve done is promote the posts via social profiles and news submission websites. I’ve just relied mostly on creating content that people would want to share, or stuff people are likely to search for.

The major revenue stream has always been ad sales, but over the past few years I’ve increased that to include the members area and a hand full of affiliate links.

Even more recently I’ve managed to add my gaming channel to the revenue streams too, which I always enjoy bragging about to my friends haha.

How strict are you with your time and routine from day to day?
I have a loose plan for my week but it’s never strict. I just work on stuff as and when it needs doing. I try to keep it to normal working hours, but my gaming stuff often spans into the evening, but then that’s not really work is it?!

Is it? How does she feel about you taking over the living room?
Unless Laura has America’s Next Top Model on TV. Then it’s important work. Most of the time I game during the day while she’s out anyway. She doesn’t mind if I’m ever behind and need to collect clips for a video though.

Going back to the tutorial sites for a moment, how do you continuously learn to be able to provide the tutorials?
The tutorials often teach me in a way. I base the tutorials on whatever captures my interest, so with the example of the responsive web design tutorial, that was my first attempt so I did all the research and learning beforehand, then condensed and explained it in my own words. I often hear from readers that they’ve finally understood a concept thanks to my plain English approach, which is always great to hear.

Other tutorials, especially on B.SG, tend to be based on the same tools time and time again. It’s just the subject and style of the design that changes.

How is the growth of Line25 and B.SG? is it still going up for both. Have you ever had a stagnant point. Any challenges with those blogs?
The growth has been very steady of the past couple of years. These days there’s no big traffic spikes when new content is posted like there was in the good old days. I’m hoping that’s down to the design blog community being much more subdued nowadays as opposed to it being my content sucking!

The only problem I’ve had in the past was my servers crashing, but thanks to some help from friends, especially David who you put me in touch with, that has all been sorted.

My gaming videos actually gain more views than my design content, but the difference is my design content lives much longer thanks to Google searches, whereas gaming videos are very short term.

What kind of server setup are you using?
I have two VPS servers, 1 4GB for the front-end, 1 1GB for the databases.

So now you have B.SG, Line25 and recently you started your Gaming Channel. When did that start, why and what were your aims for it. Can you describe your the setup you use for recording and give us some details on how you promote your vid, is there a website for it or is it all done via YouTube?
I found myself playing a lot of Call of Duty in my spare time, so in true Chris Spooner fashion I decided to create guides/tutorials to share what I’d learnt. I used to watch a lot of gaming videos on YouTube so just like I did with WordPress in 2007 I decided to give it a go myself.

Chris Spooner Gamer

Tech wise I record using a HD-PVR onto my MacBook, then record using a Blue Yeti mic. I create all the visuals in Photoshop then edit everything in Premiere.

The gaming scene is so big on YouTube you’re better off concentrating your efforts there than setting up a special website.

Early this year I was signed up as a partner with IGN Entertainment, so my videos are promoted on IGN’s YouTube channel and main website and I get paid via the ad views on my videos. This IGN partnership also grants me a license to use gaming footage, so you’re not relying on “fair use” copyright terms.

Your videos are pretty rad. The growth on those alone has been very quick. As a Battlefield 3 player myself I’ve kept an eye on your videos. How did the IGN thing happen?
It was just a “who you know” kind of thing. Another YouTuber called Gamevidz got in touch just to say he enjoyed my videos, then after exchanging a few messages he mentioned he’d recently been contacted by IGN so he would put a good word in for me.

How do you find the YouTube community? YouTube commenters can be pretty brutal most of the time.
You’ve got to have thick skin to be part of the YouTube community. My core subscriber base is pretty cool, but you can tell whenever one of my videos is featured on IGN. Suddenly there’s double the amount of dislikes and streams of people telling you how much you suck. Every time a video is featured it adds a nice bump to my sub count though, so the majority obviously enjoy what they saw haha.

How much time would you say you spend on your gaming channel?
Hmmm… 1-2 hours gaming for clips. 30-45mins recording audio and creating graphics. 1 hour or so editing.

Do you record the audio live or do it later? I’ve actually had someone message me when playing BF3 and ask if ‘that famous dude who does the videos is my friend?’
The majority of my videos are guides so I record the audio separately and pick out the best kills from a bunch of game clips. Hahaha do you know any other YouTube gaming people? I don’t know whether my stats count as famous yet!

So now with B.SG, Line25, Your Gaming Channel… and now I’ve seen you start a MotoVlog? Are you trying to start another property or are you testing the waters? Did you see a lot of room to manoeuvre on YouTube and make revenue?
The motovlogs are just for fun, and an excuse to make use of my GoPro when not doing any extreme activity. I just post them on my personal blog to keep it active but their views are quite low.

YouTube is actually a tough market to crack if you’re wanting to earn revenue. The gaming portion is one of the largest is that’s difficult enough.

Did you mean to start the gaming channel specifically to make revenue? As in, when you started making your videos were you/are you still doing it for fun or is there enough revenue being made where you wouldn’t want it to stop?
With the gaming channel I did start that with an aim to make revenue (whereas with my blog I didn’t). I still do it for fun though as that’s the main ingredient for any content you create on the web, if you’re not having fun your content will probably suck as you won’t be putting 100% effort in.

It’s the creation of the videos I enjoy, just like when I record those motovlogs. It’s always nice to get thousands of views, but in the case of the motovlogs I still do it even if they get just a couple of hundred views.

Do you see yourself expanding in to anything else in the future?
Not in the near future. Who knows what the distant future might hold, but for now I’m happy plodding along doing what I’m doing.

Which bit of what you’re doing now do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy all of it, it’s funny how over time I’ll lose motivation in a certain area, but then a month later that’s the area I’m having the most fun. It’s good to mix things up, if I’m having a creative block I can just go and murder some people on my Xbox.

Have you ever been made an offer to buy one of your sites?
Yes, but I declined without knowing the offer.

haha! How supportive are your family of what you’re doing? Do they get it? You ‘working’ from home playing on the Xbox?
It’s funny no-one really understands what I do. They just get the part where I do some stuff on the Internet and I get paid for it… Sounds pretty shady actually!

You’ve been doing it for 5 years now though? And you’re not in Jail yet?
Yup, B.SG anyway, Line25 was set up in 2009 and my Gaming channel early 2011.

Hang on, we’ve missed one along the way… even your Dog has become famous!
Oh yeah, his website actually has more subscribers than my personal blog.

Did you ever randomly thing about expanding it and monetising it?
I thought about adding some ads on there then donating the money it receives to an animal charity but it’s no where near the level where it would be anything worthwhile.

Touch wood that this never happens but what would you do if B.SG and Line25 weren’t here tomorrow?
I’ve got the rest of my life to go back to freelance work. It would be a lot tougher without the blogs to generate the exposure, but in a way my gaming channel success has kind of put my mind at rest from this exact worry. At least I know if the sh*t hit the fan I could potentially set up some kind of “business” that makes money on the Internet.

But even if I stopped updating B.SG and Line25 the search traffic alone could sustain it for at least a couple of years.

Do you think you’d feel guilty not posting anymore after so long, do you personally feel a responsibility to produce content that people expect?
Definitely, I find it hard to believe that so many design blogs from the 2007 boom have either been sold or neglected, especially some of the big ones. I know they go for considerable amounts of money but it just wouldn’t feel right.

That’s actually a downside to my Blog.SpoonGraphics site – I can’t exactly go and sell that one with it being attached to me as a person and my design business.

Do you do any more client work?
I haven’t done any for a while now. Client work can be fun and can help you learn new techniques you otherwise wouldn’t think of trying, but it’s always a gamble whether it’s going to be a dream or a nightmare haha.

Do you ever feel restricted creatively without the client work and ‘project work’?
Sometimes, but on the other hand I can just create whatever I want whenever I want and use it for a tutorial. For instance I can design a logo for say, a fictional denim jeans company (see recent B.SG tutorial) and create it exactly the way I want without it spanning 3 weeks while you email the client back and forth and make changes.

Very true. Will we be seeing your tutorials venture in to iOS/Mobile design?
I haven’t yet as I’ve found there’s a lot to learn before you can go ahead and write tutorials on the subject. That’s the kind of thing I would benefit from with client work, it would give me that incentive to look into it, but currently it’s something that only lightly tickles my interest.

Is it important to you to be a part of a creative community?
Absolutely, I get inspired to create certain styles of art and design just from seeing what other people are creating.

Are there any designers, not necessarily who people know that you love the work of and really respect?
To be honest I don’t really take note of names. Usually I’ll be inspired when creating roundups or showcases for a blog post. I’ll scan hundreds of pages on various websites and pick out designs that catch my eye, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a well known or unknown designer.

Do you have a biggest love of design, whether it be architecture, type, web etc?
That also tends to change depending on my mood haha. You can kind of see a trend with the subject of my blog posts to get an idea of my current love. At the moment I have a thing for vintage/retro design.

What does a typical day look like for you?
I try and get up around 7:30. That doesn’t always work. After breakfast I’ll take Jake out to play with some of his dog friends at the local park then he sleeps while I work.

Depending on the day the work might be emails/rss feeds, blog posts or gaming videos.

After dinner I’m either out on an arranged event with family, watching TV or doing more work.

What are your favourite RSS feeds? Any feeds in there that could be classed as unusual?
They’re mostly feeds from various design blogs. Yet again I don’t really take notice of the name I just click what looks interesting. These are the links I tweet out throughout the week.

Any favourite movies or TV shows? Favourite Music?
I’m currently into the American reality shows on Discovery. I enjoy American Guns, Fast N’ Loud and Wheeler Dealers. Music wise it’s tough to put a finger on my preferred genre. Laura laughs because one day she’ll come home to some Heavy Metal, the next day might be some Celine Dion (don’t judge me!).

Favourite food? Favourite Book?
Food: Grilled Chicken Breast. Book: I can’t read.

Most Memorable BF3 kill?
Probably a glitch where I killed a guy with an Assault rifle and he went rag-dolling vertically skywards before falling back to earth. It’s at the end of one of my videos but unfortunately I can’t remember which one.

What kind of legacy do you hope to leave?
I always enjoy helping people so being remembered for that will do me.

Gavin: Thanks to Chris for taking the time to do such an extensive interview, time ran away with us. You can follow Chris on Twitter, visit Spoongraphics, Line25 or his gaming channel.

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Head of Interaction and Service Design at DigitalDWP.