Martin Bean is a talented young developer from the North East of England. Working through the day at online marketing and digital marketing agency Digital Pop, Martin spends the rest of his time freelancing for yourfightsite.com. An avid fan of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and with a great understanding of back end development, Martin will achieve a lot.
Full Name and Age please
Martin Bean (Martin Christopher Bean if we’re being pedantic) and 20 years.
Favourite Biscuit and Drink?
Fox’s Crunch Creams and a cup of coffee. Together.
Last Book you read and the last movie you saw?
The last “book” I read was actually a graphic novel: “Batman: The Long Halloween” by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. Someone referred it to me as it was apparently one of the graphic novels The Dark Knight team took influences from for the movie’s story (and it was interesting to see those similarities, albeit subtle). The last movie I saw was “Angels and Demons” on DVD. I thought it was a bit pants to be honest. My girlfriend assures me the book is far better, so I may have to pick up a copy to see if she’s right.
Where and when did it all start?
I’m not sure how or exactly when it started. I remember being in maybe the second year or secondary school (so about 12) and picking up a book on HTML in my school’s library. I gave up after the first chapter. I would later re-visit the idea of learning HTML and building websites and was a fair bit more successful than my first attempt.
I also had a copy of FrontPage on my home PC, but worked religiously in the code view. Crafting HTML pages and getting irked with FrontPage’s habit of inserting Microsoft specific tags and removing them way before I heard of standards compliant mark-up or what it meant. CSS then came soon after.
I began subscribing to Practical Web Design magazine (a now-defunct offshoot of .net magazine) and that helped my HTML/CSS skills considerably in a quick amount of time.
At college, I didn’t really progress my skills that much. I had a good knowledge of HTML and CSS and was the go-to guy with my peers for help, but other than that I wasn’t going anyway technically, but picked a hell of a lot up in terms of the theory of web design and design in general. In my second year of college, I got a placement with a leading new media design agency in Newcastle. They threw me in the deep end, telling me I had two months to learn PHP (which saw me end up swimming rather than sinking) and got my foot in the door to employment in Newcastle. I would move to Newcastle from my home town of Darlington little over a year later after a couple of stints at other agencies in the region.
Is there anyone in the industry you’re enjoying the work of at the moment?
Andy Clarke. But that vested interest is biased as he’s redesigning the home page for CannyBill, a product by dpivision.com Ltd, whom I used to work for.
What does a general day consist of for you?
A week day usually consists of getting up at around 7:00am. I hop on a Quaylink to Newcastle City Centre, then get on another bus to work. At the moment my days are spent working on a super-secret project, but other than that I’m a web developer for a digital online marketing agency, so there’s never a shortage of projects. But currently I working away developing a social networking site in PHP/MySQL.
What’s your cup of tea, front end dev or back end dev?
Definitely back-end development. I thought I would be a web designing, but turns out my calling was in development.
You’re a huge fan of MMA and set up yourfightsite.com, who do you think will be able to take the title from Brock Lesner? (I’m a fan also).
Good question. Brock Lesnar has this stigma that due to being a former professional wrestler and a multiple-time WWE Champion that he shouldn’t do well in a “real” fight sport, but the fact of the matter is, is the guy is a monster. His only downfall is his lack of experience in MMA fights which was glaringly visible in his UFC bout with Frank Mir back in February 2008 I think it was. That will be Brock’s downfall – a lack of experience. However, with each and every fight he closes that gap, and no one can go toe-to-toe with him in terms of size or strength.
Are you a PC or a Mac and do you have a reason for choosing one over the other?
PC, simply for the fact that I’ve never had enough money for a Mac when I had to buy a new machine at home. And at work we all use PCs. However, if I had the option I would definitely grab a Mac.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I think it’s dead set that PHP is my core skill set, but in the future I hope to expand my knowledge of web technologies. I want to be a versatile programmer and have a great knowledge of various languages. Java interests me, .NET not so much though. I don’t want PHP to limit my capabilities in the realm of server-side development or programming. I definitely want to become my au fait with AJAX as well.
Will you be heading to any conferences over the next year?
I’ve been wanting to attend a conference for the past year or so, but haven’t been able to whether it was because of money or lack of time off etc. I’m really pining to go to one, so think I may try and attend one in the North East first, just to see what’s involved, and then go for a larger one down south. Richard Quick’s Bamboo Juice conference piqued my interest somewhat and was about to go until something came up at the last minute, despite the nice chap offering me a discounted ticket!
It’s a strange one, I never thought I’d be in the position where I had to defend myself over my own apparent death.
I noticed some strange searches hitting the blog just over 24 hours ago in the style of “gavin elliott dead” and “gavin elliott killed” which started raising some alarm bells. Our family name is quite strong and there are plenty ‘Elliott’s’ to go around but matching both my first and last name is not something that happens frequently.
I ran my own couple of searches which led to newspaper articles that were possibly pre-published then taken down, and further investigation in the last few hours has shown why it’s been happening.
Unfortunately/Tragically, Private Gavin Elliott of 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, was killed in Afghanistan after being shot on Thursday 3rd September.
It is very close to home, just over 3 years ago I was serving in the British Army, in the Royal Engineers. A few friends from home have been killed and some soldiers I knew of have also lost their lives. To have someone die in a war with the same name as you is eerie to say the least and I feel for his family and friends.
This, very short blog post, is a quick note to say that it is not actually me who passed away and a very big tribute to Gavin Elliott of 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment for doing something he believed in whether it was protecting the Afghan people or serving with his mates.
There is always a time when we’ve kicked back our chair and thought, “Heck yeah, I’ve just done an awesome job!”. It could be writing an article, making client/customer interaction better, an awesome design or other piece of work where you know in your soul you’ve achieved something great.
I wanted to know what others classed as their most proud piece of work was to date and the reasons why. I’d love to hear about the work you’re most proud of!
I would say that I’m most proud of the Vandelay Design Blog, not necessarily from a design perspective but just the overall results of the blog. When I started the blog I really knew nothing about blogging, so it’s been an incredible growing experience. I’m excited about the community of readers that have chosen to subscribe to the blog, and I’m proud that I’ve been consistent with it for more than two years.
My blog would probably have to be my proudest achievement and has been my longest ongoing project. It’s a great feeling to be able to do what you love for a living and my blog allows me to do this, all while having a readership that teaches and motivates me to do it better each day.
When I took a step back and really thought about it one piece kept jumping into my mind “Xycoon”. I have never been able to put my finger on exactly why I like this piece so much. Perhaps because when I look at it even now 5 years later, I still would not change a thing about it. I doubt many of us can say that about to many of our pieces.
In terms of greatly influencing my online reputation, I think the Polaroid Redesign V2 (my project codename – see attached) propelled me into some kind of a spotlight. Beyond the positive feedback I got on the design, I was actually also featured on quite a few CSS galleries and whilst I now (slightly) cringe when looking at the design, I can still acknowledge the fact that it increased the speed in which I established my online branding.
I also later released the design (twice) as a free WP theme (see: WP-Polaroid V2 WordPress Theme ), which probably single-handedly sent about 250K unique visitors to my blog. The Polaroid Redesign V2 was also the first blog design that paid for itself in terms of the ads I sold, so it signaled a “first of many” trend for me.
I’m most proud of the very original FlashDen.net site from back in 2006. It’s not my best design or CSS work, and looking back it had a long way to go to becoming really usable, but I’m proud of it because it was the site that started Envato!
I’m most proud of my two blogs, the self-titled David Airey and Logo Design Love. I’ve learned a great deal from the people who visit, and the content helps potential clients to decide if I’m the right man for their design project. They’re also the longest combined project I’ve worked on, approaching three years now.
It’s hard to pick one, but I think the ‘Blue Flavor’ poster I did for Blue Flavor was one of my favourite projects. I had loads of fun doing it and I was really pleased with the end result, as was the client. It was the kind of job I’d do for the pure enjoyment anyway, so it was great for it to actually be paid work! I got to do some drawing, mess around with a few cool typographic and textural treatments, and generally have a lot of fun mixing up illustration and design.
I co-created this website while at University with Paddy Donnelly. It was a ‘small’ side project to help me research web apps and to try out Ruby on Rails (and to try and make a little bit of money). The Big Word Project we set about listing all the word of the dictionary and selling them for $1 per letter. By buying a word you linked it to your website of choice. First family and friends started buying words, then John Gruber mentioned it on his blog and that kicked off a hoard of bloggers buying words to their sites. The highlight was getting interviewed by Wired magazine. The website still survives today and has sold over 6,800 words.
My piece of work I’m most proud of has to be my site over at Blog.SpoonGraphics. I built it purely as an experiment to gain a feel for the world of blogging, and it soon started to take off and developed a good profile in the community. It has continued to develop and now has reached an amazing level of exposure, seeing huge traffic and subscriber stats. It has also built me a great profile against my name, bringing stacks of opportunities from interviews on various sites, appearances in magazines and even the odd book! With none of this never being expected it’s definitely my most valuable achievement.
My most prized piece of work so far is definitely my blog/portfolio site – http://www.andysowards.com . The reason for this is simply because it was my launching pad to what I am today, its my constant piece of ongoing work. It will never be perfect but with each revision (it was recently/currently redesigned and is now almost officially on version 2.0) it gets a little closer to what I want it to be.
I have had a LOT of fun working on it and in the process have learned so much about WordPress and its inner workings so that I can pass on that knowledge and value to my clients. Everytime I see it, I get a feeling of accomplishment, and am always thinking of ways I can improve it and bring more value to my readers/clients.
For some reason I’m particularly proud of Design-Newz.com. It took me about 5 or 6 hours to design and code this site (much less than usual) I was feeling inspired and creative and just went ahead with this simple idea I had. I’m known for redesigning my sites all the time, but I haven’t touched this one (except minor tweaks) since its launch and it’s been online for a while now. This design has been stolen, copied, plagiarized, etc… many times! And that’s probably why I’m proud of it.
Back in 1999 Star Wars Episode 1 came out. My coworker, Jonatha Caspian and I were discussing the costumes that year and I told her how I thought the Queen Amidala costume was beautiful. She suggested I create that. I told her I didn’t even know how to sew. I believe I started that project in August. The first month I spent researching every photo I could get my hand on of the dress and gathering supplies. Jonatha taught me how to sew and I ended up creating that costume at night after work for another month. I would photo copy the embroidery on the front panel of the dress and enlarge it so I could draw the pattern in paint on the fabric. I had to think out of the box to create that costume for instance the bubbles at the bottom were plastic and I bought three Nerf footballs and spray painted them with transparent stained glass paint. I even added lights to the inside that were battery operated so they glowed at night. The headdress was made of cushion that is used in couches and carved for the shape then wrapped with hair extensions.
In 2001 when the Smithsonian museum hosted the Star Wars exhibit I wore it on the metro into the exhibit (they asked people to dress up on the first day). I had been in a car accident the week before so I wasn’t moving that fast and I missed the group photo but I still had fun because tourists kept asking to take their photo with me (they thought I was part of the exhibit).
Now this costume sits on a mannequin and gets worn by various geeky friends when they come into my apartment and you can see it here.
Not to mention the fantastic response it received, I’ve had many an email thanking me for releasing the template that has been downloaded thousands of times and most recently it has been licensed to be included in a new CV building application that is on the horizon. It might have been a spare time effort, but I am indeed very proud.
What am I most proud of? This is probably a mixture of personal and ‘work’ related. I chose this piece of work as, number one, it is my Son which I am always proud of and all the new things he does every day (he is two years old now). And number two, it is a personal project that I really enjoyed working on, and it came out pretty much exactly how I envisaged it. Working on a computer everyday limits the time I get to pick up a pencil to work with.
First off is GTPlayground.com. It was the first of it’s kind at the time and filled it’s niche perfectly. It was also the first time I ventured into the CSS and Div world. On top of that I programmed the entire thing myself. Not a single plugin was used. Considering that my main focus has always been design I am still proud that I managed to create that beast.
Secondly, I am proud of what we did with From the Couch. That site took about 10hrs to create but has changed the way we do business online and offline. It has opened doors that we never knew needed opening and given us access to some pretty influential peeps in the web industry. I am proud that we got there first (daily web vlog) and never gave up. I am also pretty stoked with how the redesign came out
Matthew Smith – www.squaredeye.com
I would honestly say that I’m probably most proud of this design at this point (of those I can show) attached. The Matthew Henry Project.
Martin Bean – www.mcbwebdesign.co.uk
What piece of work am I most proud of? Probably one my latest pieces, a website for a family member’s pub. It doesn’t sound that fantastic and it may not be a website for a multimillion pound organisation, but it was still fun and rewarding to see the finished product launched.
Why is this project the one I’m most proud of? Good question. Maybe it’s because being primarily a website developer, I normally don’t get unleashed on designing a website from the very beginning. Maybe because it was a break from crafting away on the back-end of corporate websites. Or it may be because it was the first project in a long time where I got to see it out from the very beginning to the end, when the site was launched.
The website is fairly basic and not that complex, but I felt the way the site ended up looking and working was a success, especially when you consider it was designed and built over the course of a couple of days. The site is˜like many others˜powered by a bespoke content management system and features various modules for different types of content, such as news articles, upcoming events, a photo gallery and feedback form. There is also a few enhancements powered by jQuery, such as pop-up details on events and gallery images that adds a little sparkle to the finished product, which can be found at www.doga68.com.
My favorite piece of work, or the work I’m most proud of (to date), isn’t just one piece but a collection of paintings I like to call the “inner beast” series. I completed these 6 paintings nearing the end of my military service in Japan in the summer of 2007. They reflect the inner struggles I (we) all go through in life. I like to think that we all have animal instincts. So instead of paintings some abstract colors or shapes to express emotion, I wanted to dress my emotions up and give them some character.
The reason I chose these as my favorite is because they are so personal and really the first official collection of anything I have done to date. I hope to complete more work like this in the future.
As designers progress through their careers they sometimes forget where they started. Some designers can spend well over 40 years in the industry and will still carry on designing well in to retirement. The trouble of HDD errors and random formatting throughout a computers life can erase a designers early days. Unless you’ve been willfully backing up your work from the early days it’s very difficult to keep track of where the “old stuff” is.
I spoke with quite a few designers who still had some of their “old stuff” to show off, and to see what kind of work they started doing way back when. A lot of the text is un-changed from the emails I received as I wanted the designers themselves to critique their own work. It’s amazing to see how far most of them have come.
I do indeed, in my spare time I used to design helmets and the first design I ever did was a helmet which created using Microsoft Paint in order to create the outlines and then Fireworks to paint it. It is attached.
Here is a screenshot of the very first full websites that I did. I am not scared to show it.
It was my own portfolio site that seemed to do pretty well on the CSS Galleries, and was launched just over fifteen months ago.
It was coded all in html and css without a CMS solution (as I didn’t know what one was back then) and i soon got fed up of having to go through and edit all the pages. I soon realized the error of my ways and scrapped it.
Version 2 is in the pipelines and a few of you will have seen this, and is expected to be launched towards the end of August.
I created this way back in high school, must be about 1999/2000 when we were just allowed to start using computers and photoshop for projects. This isn’t the first piece I did but I remember the first piece. It was when we got our first PC for Christmas ’95 and I drew a golf green with flag pole in PAINT – it was awesome! Back to this piece – it was for a packaging project as part of my GCSE’s. The Video cover (yes video!) was created in photoshop and I managed to squeeze in as many cliches in as possible (hey, it was the first time I’d used a computer for design!) Look at the ‘graphic pen filter’, unnecessary emboss, and really bad cut outs! The photos were fine, but the deadline got so tight that when it came to printing it out there was a problem with the printer and not even the teachers could get it to work correctly and this is how I had to hand it in!
I could have chosen a piece that looked kinda ok but thought this is the fun of it and probably the first time I got onto a computer, all my designs previous is drawn and sketched and not too bad!
I did this website for a friend of mine. He’s a magician and the website was (and still is) for promoting his services and booking. Of course when I built this website I did it all with tables and inline CSS and put as many keywords in the meta keywords and description as possible. I did this website back in the days when people thought you could just stuff a page with related keywords and easily end up on the 1st page of Google for those keywords. Things have changed a lot since! 🙂
So, I remembered this website that I made back when I was in high school. I used to keep and breed a fish called the Jack Dempsey, and I made a Geocities website about them. I haven’t seen this site in years, but thanks to archive.org, I managed to pull up a version of it from 1999, which would have been about a year after I stopped updating it. Hope you enjoy! (oh, this is hideous!)
I had to dig into my archives and go look for stuff that is not laying around here since it is so old 🙂 I started out in ’92 so that’s ‘pre-internet-dino’ time 🙂 I was a print designer back then. I still am, but it’s not the mayor part anymore like it was back then.
My very very first design of a brochure is incomplete (I only found parts of it) so I’m showing you my 2nd one. It dates back to ’92. Computers (Macs) had only 4 MB of RAM back then (imagine!) 🙂 So some of the things were done by hand (analog) still: photos were placed into the layout at prepress agencies etc. This 2nd brochure is also designed that same year. The logo is not designed by me btw, so it’s just the layout of the brochure. On the back there is a watercolor I made. I still have the original watercolor.
This is really old stuff and definitely not ‘my best’ design (I came a long way since then). The means were different to, like I mentioned before. All imagery was still done analog e.g. the illustrations of the tiles, is not digital, it’s paper that was scanned in at the prepress agency.
Basically when I was learning to use photoshop I was like 18 or 19 at the time, and would take pictures from my camera phone and grunge them up and post them on myspace, thankfully I don’t use myspace anymore LOL. This is probably one of my first attempts of that.
This is nowhere near my first design project, as I’ve been designing forever, but this was one of the first websites I designed after joining EMI as Junior Web Designer, and that was my first ‘proper’ job after leaving uni:
Unfortunately I do not have a screen shot of my first website anyway. It wasn’t much to look at to be honest. It was a site for Rank Films and consisted of the rank logo (you know, the guy hitting the large gong) centred on a grey background (no background colours at that stage) with a load of left aligned text underneath (no table based layout yet!).
Hi Sarah, a big thanks for taking part in the interview!
1. Full Name and Age please. 🙂
Sarah-Jane Parmenter – not long turned 25
2. Favourite Biscuit and Drink.
It’s got to be Oreo and De-caff coffee, I’m allergic to caffeine which somewhat limits my coffee consumption but I’m partial to Starbucks Christmas coffee!
3. Last Book you read and last movie you saw.
Last book I read was The Four Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris, the classic that I think most web people have read, and last movie I saw was Quantum of Solace.
4. Where and When did it all start?
When I was 3 my Dad sat me on our Atari and taught me how to play a game called “Kings Quest 3” – but on a web design front, it all started when I was 14, so that would have been 1997. I remember having the Internet which charged you per minute and thinking chat rooms were amazing. My friends and I used to use Geocities as personal homepages for photos of our friends and family. My best friend had a page of her family photos, another friend thought it would be quite funny to get me to see if I could hack into her account (yahoo security wasn’t that hot back then, all I had to know was her dogs name to change the password) and change all her pictures to Transvestites (running joke as her family were all above 6ft) instead. The Geocities UI was clunky and instead I learnt the HTML to quickly enable me to change the pictures every night after she changed them back. She never knew it was me and I only owned up to it about a year ago.
When I had grown up and become a bit more mature (!!) our family friend from Australia came over who is a web designer carving his name out in the Australian web design world. He handed me a copy of Dreamweaver and I decided to tinker with it every night after school to see what I could do. I then had a brief stint in casting, whereby I did more work on the company website than casting people in commercials, I decided from that point on to go solo and try and get into the web design world, having no overheads and nothing to pay out for made this an easy step for me.
I then built up the business from my Mum and Dad’s spare room, after 18 months the business had outgrown the room and I looked into renting an office suite in Leigh-on-Sea, this I did and employed a friend of mine to help me run the business. In 2007 I bought my house with Stuart and it coincided with the girl who worked for me wanting to move to London with her boyfriend. The building in which our office resided had been refurbished, and not for the better – we found we were taking clients out rather than seeing them at the office, so it seemed a good transition to move out of the office and set back up again with a dedicated office at home, and this is where I am today. You’d be suprised how many of the well known web designers work from home!
5. Is there anyone in the industry who you look up to?
Andy Clarke and Twitterers, Andy is a web standards guru and genuinely nice guy, we keep in contact and he always makes me laugh, I’ve learnt so much from him and his books. People on twitter are just amazing too – always willing to help and offer guidance. Twitter has been an amazing tool for me, I’ve learnt so much from different people.
6. What was a key factor in your professional growth and development?
The Australians. As Roger is an insomniac he’s practically online 24/7 so whenever I got stuck I was able to get an answer quickly and finish what I was trying to do. This is still the same now, he’s an amazing person to have on board.
7. Where does your heart lie, with design or development? And why.
Development, I think. I get more satisfaction out of development as design is classed as art and it’s so subjective, I do absolutely love designing however I don’t like the process of getting sign off, where you grapple with the typical “make my logo bigger” comments. I have had the opportunity to work with other designers recently, this has been great as you both have common goals and objectives. I’d ideally love to fill up my diary with other designers work!
8. Out of these 3, WordPress, Light CMS and Expression Engine, which do you like the most and why?
Expression Engine without a doubt. Andy Clarke introduced me to it and it’s capabilities overwhelm me, it’s just an amazing tool that can be used in so many situations, I’m still learning about it but I’ve managed to gain quite a bit of knowledge in a small amount of time just experimenting with it.
9. Where did the name YouKnowWho come from?
I was browsing around the Internet and came across a link at the bottom of a website that said “Designed by You Know Who” – I was curious and clicked it, it went to a totally differently named company site and it became clear they did that for inquisitive people to click on. I then decided I loved the name and the potential it could have for future marketing and snapped it up there and then.
10. What is the biggest project you have worked on?
A personal one actually. One Valentines day we decided to flood our local privately owned shopping area with heart shaped balloons and hand written cards simply saying “Love You Know Who” with our contact details on the back – we had over 3000 balloons and to pump up and over 400 cards to write. We had a team and went out at 5am putting them in front of the shops. By the time everyone started going to work the area was flooded, it looked amazing.
11. Throughout your entire career to date, is there any particular problem you’ve ran in to more than once? Clients, Jobs, Work, Family?
Clients – ones that barter with your prices are bad news, never do a job on the cheap as a one off, they will always expect further work at that price. Never send anything over without them paying their invoice in full first and always get a design brief. If I had lived by these rules the first 2 years in business I would have done a lot better!
12. What do you consider to be the biggest contributing factor to your success?
I don’t believe I am successful yet – I think I do my job very well and that it’s unusual for a girl to do this job. I make mistakes, we all do, but I like to think my mistakes are kept to a minimum and always try to learn from them quickly. The definition of success for me is the ability to hand pick clients you want to work with and disregard those you don’t, I’m not in that position yet!
13. Where do you get your inspiration from and where are you most inspirational?
I find inspiration mainly online. There are great galleries for almost anything on the internet, I especially love faveup.com. When not online though, it’s generally about lunchtime when I’m walking the dog, I’ll come up with a crazy idea for a website or realise the best way to mark-up a site.
14. As we all know you’re a mac girl, what are your 3 favourite apps?
Adium, LittleSnapper and Things.
15. What other projects are you currently working on?
I’m currently in e-commerce mode, I think due to the economic downturn people are placing budgets online rather than retail stores. I’m currently working on a skateboarding store, a fancy dress store and a DIY store.
16. How do you balance your time between work and normal life?
I’m rubbish at it. I used to be excellent when I had an office as it was a 15 minute drive away and quite scary when no one was in there, but now I’m in my home office, I’m rubbish. I’m always checking my email or working out what app might help me run my business better, but because I enjoy what I do, it never feels like work.
17. Where do you see the future being?
I would love my future to be in designing and building top notch sites for other designers. I’ve had a taste of this recently and it’s great as they know why you might want to leave whitespace or not make a logo 500% of normal size. I went to a psychic recently and she said I’m going to be doing a lot of talking via work based travel, which could mean conferences – this is something I’d really love to get into as it lends itself perfectly to me also being in performing arts.
18. You’re a well known designer, do you class yourself as famous?
Not at all!! I’d be surprised if many people had heard of me, I haven’t written any books or spoken at any conferences yet so I don’t think my name is out there as much as others, I’m gradually building a profile but I think because I’m relatively young and female it’s a tougher job – not using the female card but as the majority of web designers are male I think it’s easier for them to align themselves with other male web designers.
19. Are you heading to any conferences over the next year?
Yes, I’m hoping to go back to FOWD next year and I really want to get to various workshops of Andy Clarke’s.
20. If you had one goal to reach (anything) within 3 years, what would it be?
To have my own studio down here with 2 others working with me. I’ve only ever wanted a small studio, not an office, a studio – that’s my dream.
21. If you had one piece of advice for anyone wanting to venture in to the your industry, what would it be?
Specialise. Don’t try and be clever being mediocre at loads of things just be fantastic in one.
p.s. Random questions from myself, theatre and web design? How did they become mixed?
Good question. I’ll go with the short answer 🙂 – They don’t really mix I guess, theatre is something I go into in my own time, it’s a great escape from sitting at a desk all day. Web design is my job, that I’m lucky enough to love too. Sometimes there is an overlap, like when I did the VoxPops at FOWA this year, it was like water off a ducks back as I’ve done TV in the past (that’s a whole other story) and I know enough about web design to competently interview people, that was a win win overlap for me 🙂
Thanks ever so much for taking time out of your schedule Sarah and answering questions for Floobe.
Q4. Did you enjoy working from home when it all started?
No, I found it pretty tough. It’s hard when you don’t have someone to bounce ideas off and ask for opinions. It’s also tough to stay disciplined. I think a mix of working at home and office works best.
Q5. Is there anyone in the industry who you look up to?
Jason Fried, Mark Zuckerberg, Evan Williams, Kathy Sierra… the list goes on.
Q6. What was a key factor in your professional growth and development?
My father and mother drilled into me that I could do whatever I put my mind to. This has given me the confidence to do a lot of what we’ve done.
Q7. Where does your heart lie, with web apps or conferences and why?
I love the web and technology, and I also love connecting people. Carsonified will always continue to build apps and sites, but our core revenue comes from events. I love seeing people’s faces light up at events when they’re encouraged, inspired or challenged. There’s such a buzz when everyone comes together.
Q8. Out of these 3, WordPress, Light CMS and Expression Engine, which do you like the most and why?
WordPress – hands down. Matt has done an amazing job with WordPress – it’s easy to use, completely open source, and very powerful. What more could you want?
Q9. Do you see Carsonified as work or just a way of life?
Definitely a way of life. It’s a part of me and even though we only work four days a week, I think almost constantly about new ideas and projects.
Q10. What was the biggest project you’ve worked on so far?
Both DropSend and FOWA London are huge projects. There obviously very different but both are challenging and rewarding.
Q11. Throughout your entire career to date, is there any particular problem you’ve ran in to more than once? Clients, Jobs, Work, Family?
The hardest part about running Carsonified is that there are really big ups and downs. When it’s rocking, it’s rockin. When it’s hard, it’s really hard. However, I love crafting a company where the team and our customers feel loved and cared for. That’s my ultimate goal.
Q12. What do you consider to be the biggest contributing factor to your success?
The fact that we try quite hard to treat other people like we want to be treated. We do our best to put ourselves in the shoes of our customers and contacts.
Q13. Where do you get your inspiration from?
My wife, Gill and my son Jackson.
Q14. What are your 3 favourite apps?
Gmail, Things and Twitterific.
Q15. Do you think any company can do a 4 day working week?
You bet. It just takes a hell of a lot of determination and a specific decision to focus on quality of life instead of revenue.
Q16. How do you balance your time between family, carsonified, your apps, fowd, fowa etc??
It’s hard – we constantly balance everything. That’s something I find quite hard. However, I’m working harder at leaving work at work. I turn off email on my iPhone over the weekend and try to Tweet less.
Q17. Where do you see the future being?
For the company? We’ll be doing more events (probably smaller instead of big expos) and building more apps.
Q18. You’re a well known individual, do you class yourself as famous?
Nope 🙂 I might know a few people in our small web world, but I’m no where close to being famous.
Q19. Are you ready to head out to other parts of the UK to do other conferences, i.e. fowa or fowd?
You bet. We’re planning on taking FOWA to Dublin soon!
Q20. If you had one goal to reach (anything) within 3 years, what would it be?
Launching another web app, and taking FOWA and FOWD to more places. Also, a little more cash in the bank wouldn’t be bad 😉
Q21. If you had one piece of advice for anyone wanting to venture in to your industry, what would it be?
Be bold and humble. Anyone is contactable, so just keep trying and be respectful. Find a way to be helpful to someone before asking for their help.
p.s. Random question from myself, what core qualities do you look for when employing someone?
Friendliness and helpfulness
Ryan, good luck in your future and look forward to talking to you again soon. Would love to pop down to Carsonified HQ at some point.
I’ve been reading Elliot’s blog for around 1 1/2 years now and have always been intrigued by his progression through the industry. He’s been moving fast, now freelance and speaking at conferences around the world I thought he’d be a hard man to catch. Elliot is one of the nicest guys you could ever talk to, he’s one of those down to earth guys that you’ve always got time for. He took time out of his busy schedule to speak to me.
1. Full Name and Age please. 🙂
Elliot Jay Stocks, 27
2. Favourite Biscuit and Drink.
Biscuit: Those Digestive-like Hovis ones, with a spot of cheese.
Drink: A variety of Belgian beers; probably Grimbergen Dubbel.
3. Last Book you read and last movie you saw.
Last book: The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins. Last movie: Iron Man
4. Where and When did it all start?
I started drawing from a very young age and I drew all the time. At school I was often asked by the teachers to illustrate things like concert programmes, pamphlets that were given out on school open nights; that kind of thing. Illustration was very much the centre of my life. Near the end of my time at school, I became art editor of a new school magazine and also started to experiment with computers, using a crude version of what would become Photoshop Elements. I was pretty late getting into computers, really; in fact I was pretty much a technophobe until this point, which was about 1999 / 2000!
In terms of getting into web design, it wasn’t until I was in my last year of school and working part-time in a Virgin Megastore (in Bromley, Kent). A few of us (the staff members) played in bands and so we decided to release a CD of our music, convincing our managers to sell it in-store. I handled the operation with a couple of other guys, but it ended up with me being responsible for the album art, the point- of-sale material, and the website. This was my first taste of web design and I was using a online consumer-level web-building package called Homestead. I created the site for our little record label and my own band’s site, and it all went from there.
It wasn’t long before I realised the limitations of Homestead and got a cracked copy of Dreamweaver. To be honest, though, HTML scared me and I focused all of my efforts on Flash. I started building Flash sites at uni and ended up creating the site for our degree show in 2004. By that point I’d built up a small portfolio full of sites for my friends’ bands, so when I graduated in May that year, I had a music- heavy portfolio that landed me the job of Junior Web designer at EMI Records. And that, I guess, was when my career ‘officially’ started.
5. Is there anyone in the industry who you look up to?
There are so many people I look up to, and it changes all the time. In general I’m a fan of anyone who does great work and tries to do something even vaguely original. My favourite web designer is Miguel Ripoll, who’s also a friend of mine: he has such a distinct style but his work isn’t like anyone else’s. He’s also extremely hard to emulate because he’s just so good. I could name a bunch of other people but it’ll just sound like a shout-out to my friends. It’s strange because a couple of years ago I was a total fan-boy when it came to speaking to ‘big name’ designers; now I find they’re my friends! But I still get nervous when speaking to some of my idols, even when I know them quite well.
6. What was a key factor in your professional growth and development?
Ooh, good question! Getting my first proper job (at EMI) was a big thing for me in many ways, but mainly because it allowed me to quickly build up a portfolio full of famous musical artists. I’ll always be extremely grateful of that fact.
When I left EMI after two years and went to Sanctuary Records, I worked on lower-profile sites but really got to hone my skills in XHTML and CSS; it was around that time that I really started to stop using Flash. The environment at Sanctuary was extremely relaxed compared to EMI, so it also allowed me to really take my time over things and invest a lot of that time into learning.
Near the end of my time at Sanctuary, in April 2007, I released the first ‘proper’ version of my personal site and it got featured on quite a few gallery sites. The visits to my site rocketed (from around 2 uniques a day to around 2,000) and it was just a snowball effect.
When Ryan got in touch and asked me if I wanted to work for Carsonified (then called Carson Systems), I was extremely chuffed, and this was another big step. My public profile was already growing, but the association with Carsonified help raise it even more. At around the same time I started writing for .Net magazine, and shortly after that I started speaking publicly.
In short, every change of job has been a key factor, although the biggest change really happened around mid 2007, when my work started to become ‘known’. When I left Carsonified in April this year to start my own business, that was a huge step, too. I think that ‘going solo’ helped solidify my own identity as an individual rather than simply being part of a company.
7. Where does your heart lie, with design, speaking engagements or even writing books? If you were paid for all? And why.
I love writing and I love doing speaking engagements, but my heart totally lies with design, and art in general. Like I said before, I come more from an illustration background than a design one (which is ironic, considering how little illustration work I do these days). If I ever started to write or speak more than I designed, I would consider myself a fake, because how can you be an authority on a subject when it’s not your main focus? I write about design and I speak about design, therefore I should always be designing.
8. Out of these 3, WordPress, Light CMS and Expression Engine, which do you like the most and why?
I probably don’t have the knowledge to answer this one with any real insight. I’ve heard great things about Expression Engine but have never used it. I’ve heard relatively good things about Light CMS, although from what I understand, it’s very basic. My CMS of choice is absolutely WordPress. I keep meaning to get into EE but I kind of like being able to see the PHP I’m dealing with. I actually know very little PHP, but I feel like I have more control if I can see it; I’m wary of the way EE hides it away outside of the template files. But I’m open to suggestion: if EE – or any CMS for that matter – can replicate the exact functionality I have in WordPress but in an easier way, or can expand upon that functionality – then I’m game.
9. What was it like working for Carsonified?
Great people, fun times, lots of travelling, some interesting challenges, and lots of exposure. Also, at times, very hard work!
10. What was the biggest project you worked on whilst working there?
The rebranding of Carson Systems to Carsonified was probably the biggest project. It also fed into the rebranding and redesigning of all the other sites, so it was kind of an ongoing process. Mike’s carried that forward in a new direction, and I really like what he’s done, especially with the new events sites.
11. What made you go freelance, were there any defining factors?
Without any offence intended for any of the companies I’ve worked at, when you’re an employee, you’re working towards the goals of your employer. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I wanted to work towards my own goals. I wanted the freedom to take on a variety of projects outside the standard job description of a ‘designer’, work from anywhere in the world, have control over my own timetable and workload, and work fewer hours. I wrote about working fewer hours quite recently: why being freelance does not mean you have to work more hours.
12. Throughout your entire career to date, is there any particular problem you’ve ran in to more than once? Clients, Jobs, Work, Family?
These are some very demanding questions, Gavin! 🙂
There’s always been a problem with balancing work time with home time, but I’m getting better at that and I can safely say that I have a better work- life balance now that I’m my own boss.
One problem I’ve consistently come up against since I started my career is that I’m never 100% happy with what I put out. That’s not me being a perfectionist; I just find that at the last moment in a project, some of the subtle niceties are lost and you don”t get to add that extra bit of TLC you were planning on. Often this is caused by tight deadlines, but also I’ve found that last-minute client changes or code bastardisation thanks to dodgy CMSs can knock your 100% good project down to 99% good. I’m not sure I have an answer to this dilemma, but I hope I find it eventually!
13. What do you consider to be the biggest contributing factor to your success?
Well that’s very kind of you to think that I’m successful! There are two factors that I see have helped me out a lot: firstly, exposure. By that I mean it helps immensely that you can find me all over the web, in magazines, etc. Some of that exposure has occurred because of the high-profile companies I’ve worked for; but most of it has occurred because I’ve got myself out there, calling up magazines, asking to speak at events, submitting my sites to endless galleries, etc. The second factor is client base. As I said before, I’m extremely grateful that my first job let me fill my portfolio with big-name musicians.
Ever since then I’ve worked with other big-name clients, whether it be more in the music industry or well-respected web-centric companies like WordPress and Blue Flavor.
14. Where do you get your inspiration from?
I think what I find most inspiring is the beauty of the natural world, as poncey as that sounds. I love the countryside, I love trees, and a beautiful landscape will never cease to amaze me. That said, I’m not sure that that’s the inspiration that ends up in most of my work. My favourite artist is Alfons Mucha from the Art Nouveau movement, but again, I’m not sure if his influence shows itself that much in my designs. I love comic books – particularly Mike Mignola’s stuff and the anime-tastic illustrations of Joe Madureira – and I hope that occasionally shows through.
Ironically I think it’s my influences from my early years of design that are still evident. Dave McKean was one of my favourite contemporary artists, although I think so many young artists and designers have been influenced by him that it’s almost pointless to say so. Also, the artwork for Nine Inch Nails’ CD releases around 1996 – 2000 were a profound influence on me (particularly the early work of Rob Sheridan and the textural stuff by Russel Mills); in fact they got me into computer-based artwork. The very first website I saw and loved was the old Juxt Interactive Flash site. I think some of that still comes through in my own style, and also probably explains why I love Miguel’s stuff so much.
15. As we all know you’re a mac man, what are your 3 favourite apps?
That’s a tough one! I don’t think there’s any way I can narrow it down to three. Besides the designer’s staple diet of Adobe Creative Suite apps, my must-have three would be TextMate (for web development), Linotype Font Explorer X (for font management), and Things (for task management). But I’d like to cheat and also recommend three unsung heroes of OSX: Scrivener (for long-form writing of books, articles, etc.), ExpanDrive (for Finder-based SFTP), and Photonic (for Flickr). I’m also really excited about three apps still in alpha: LittleSnapper (for screenshot inspiration management), Espresso (for web development), and a font management tool that I can’t remember, but which looks very cool indeed!
16. What are the benefits and negatives of being freelance?
This question deserves an article in itself! I’ll have to be brief.
Benefits: being your own boss, choosing what work to take on or turn down, working from home, rearranging your work schedule to suit your personal life and not the other way around, claiming back anything and everything as expenses, working on personal projects during ‘work’ hours, and generally earning more money. Negatives: having to be very strict with yourself and your schedule, dealing with lots of paperwork, bearing the sole responsibility for everything, managing outsourced help, and not having a guaranteed income. But give me the negatives any day: the benefits are worth it! For instance, I’ve decided to take December off to work on some new music – I’d never be able to do that if I had a regular job.
17. How do you balance your time between your designing, writing and speaking?
At the moment, because I’m writing a book, I’ve had to be very strict about scheduling writing time. When I was in full-time employment, I always had to do my article-writing (for .Net magazine) on the side, but as soon as I went freelance I had the freedom of being able to do that in ‘work’ time. Being freelance also allows me to do things like take a week out of my schedule to go and speak in another country (which I did a couple of weeks ago). Unfortunately, because speaking gigs invariably involve travel and the preparation of speeches, they can take up a lot of time. But this can all still be counted as ‘work’, especially as some are paid. And expenses are always covered, so I try and treat all speaking gigs like free mini-holidays! I’ll nearly always end up writing my presentations a few evenings before performing them, but I don’t mind putting in a few extra hours here and there. Designing / writing / speaking has yet to rear any real scheduling problems.
18. Where do you see the future being?
For me or for the industry?
In the not-too-distant future I’d like to spend a little more time focusing on personal projects. I have a few waiting in the wings that require some attention, such as a new album, a second book idea, and some printed schwag I intend to sell. At some point I’d love to write / illustrate / design / publish my own comic book.
As for the industry: I’m excited about the future of typography on the web, although the painfully slow adoption of new standards will probably still mean years of browser hacks yet.
19. You’re a well known designer, do you class yourself as famous?
I’d probably sound like an arrogant bastard if I referred to myself as ‘famous’, and although I appear to be relatively well known in the web design industry, I’m not getting invited to red-carpet movie premieres just yet! 😉 I’ve been recognised on the street before (and I freely admit that I love it when that happens) but it’s hardly fame. I’m just flattered, really. There is actually some unpleasantness associated with being well known (more people are there to watch you slip up or send you nasty emails), so I’m not sure I’d want to become that much ‘bigger’ anyway.
However, for work purposes, having a high profile in the industry is great. Since going freelance in April, I haven’t once had to look for new work! Let’s hope that continues…
20. Are you heading to any conferences over the next year?
Definitely. I always have so much fun at conferences, often because they’re the only chances we get to meet so many of our web-based friends in the flesh. I’m delivering one of the keynote speeches at Oxford Geek Night X in January, speaking – and teaching a workshop – at Web Directions North in Colorado in February, appearing as part of a panel at SXSW in March, and speaking at Twiist.be in Belgium in May.
I’m not sure what’s happening in the second half of the year yet, but I’ll definitely be attending dConstruct, which was my favourite event of this year.
21. If you had one goal to reach (anything) within 3 years, what would it be?
Top the achievements of the last three years!
22. If you had one piece of advice for anyone wanting to venture in to the your industry, what would it be?
Work ‘for the man’ before going freelance. The amount of experience and the ease with which you can build your portfolio is far superior for a first-time designer. I actually wrote about this recently: http://elliotjaystocks.com/blog/archive/2008/build-your-profile-to-get-more-freelance-work/
A massive thanks to Elliot for taking part in the interview. Look forward to chatting again in the future.
I’ve been running various blogs over the past 2 years and have now decided to merge two of them. One being this one (gavinelliott.co.uk) and the other being floobe.com. I had great thoughts about floobe.com when originally starting out, but lack of time and even less effort hindered it’s progress.
The high hopes were hindered by lack of effort and the lack of effort was down to having too many places to blog when all I wanted to do was produce awesome content. I’m certainly not shy of hard work and writing content, years ago between 2000 and 2003 I wrote regularly at nvmax.com as the Gaming Editor. Our competitors back then were neowin, nvnews and guru3d. All three were very big websites and we had a plan to progress hard and fast through the ranks of which we were already pretty high.
I’ve been wanting to progress my writing in many ways so finding ways to move on and add better content was key over the past couple of weeks. Making the big decision to port the content from floobe.com to here was a big decision I must admit but one which I feel I have to do.
So in future you’ll be getting the same kind of awesome content as you saw on Friday with the 30 Designers, 1 Question post as the follow up post is already in progress.