Magnus shot to online fame being one of the founding three partners of Woothemes. I got to chat to Magnus about where it all started, where its going and all things Woo!
Full name and Age please
Magnus Jepson, 30 in a few days.
Favourite Biscuit and Drink?
Stratos (Norwegian choc-bar) and Coke Zero
Last book your read and last movie you saw?
“Anvil! The story of Anvil” and “Angels & Demons”
Where and when did it all start?
For me it started with web design as a hobby, next to my full-time job as a programmer. It evolved to a passion, and eventually I stumbled into WordPress and started making WordPress themes, which led to co-founding WooThemes.
Is there anyone in the industry you look up to?
Since I’ve only been in the web industry for a short time, I never really got to know who the “leaders” in the industry were. But I have a great deal of respect for designers like Liam (www.wefunction.com), Collis (www.envato.com) and obviously Adii (www.adii.co.za) which was the guy I looked up to from the start of my WordPress venture. We are now business partners which is kinda cool.
You’re one of the 3 original Woo members, how did you become Woo?
I started out by myself, creating a few free WP themes, then eventually selling a few of them. I then got in contact with Adii, who was also in the market for “premium” WP themes, and did a collaboration with him. That progressed into another couple of themes and soon after that we decided to re-brand to WooThemes, together with Mark Forrester.
What does a general day consist of for you?
Mostly coding, support, admin on WooThemes. I’m pretty used to working 8-4 from my old job, so it hasn’t been that hard for me to go freelance, and I really enjoy my daily tasks, which make it a lot easier to get up in the morning. I try to sneak in a few minutes of Guitar Hero every now and again too.
You live out in Norway and have only met your co-founders once, does it get lonely not having the other guys around?
Not really… we have our weekly skype chats, and also text chat on skype every day, so I feel as though I’m part of an office, although we don’t have the physical contact with each other. It’s also a lot easier to get work done when you don’t have distractions around you.
Where does your heart lie, with design or development?
Though question. I think if I had to choose I would go for design, since a web page is something that is so much more visible to others. It’s so much more rewarding when somebody gives you credit for a great design, contra having solid code…
Do you prefer being woo rather than what you were doing?
I wouldn’t trade it for anything… Working at WooThemes is a dream job, as you get to do work on your strong points, and you don’t have to design a theme specifically for a client. It is also so much more satisfying to be in direct control over how much you earn.
What do you consider to be the biggest contributing factor to Woo’s success?
I think it is a mix of perfect timing, good partnership, hard work and great designs.
You’re known for working on a PC, do you think you’ll ever change to mac?
I dig my iPhone, but I could never get used to the one button mouse on the Mac. I’ve also been running Windows 7 for a while now which is a big step up. And I can never get used to the font smoothing on Mac’s 😉
Where do you see yourself in the future?
Things change very fast online, but I hope that I will be in a similar position as today. I doubt I’ll ever go back to corporate work… Once you see the light, there is no turning back.
Will you be heading to anymore conferences in the near future?
Surely to FOWD again next year, but nothing other than that planned. Conferences are great for inspiration and networking, but I don’t see the benefit of going to multiple conferences every year. The best part of FOWD was meeting the Woo gang.
David Pache (dache.ch) has always caught my eye as a designer, with a never ending list of inspirational logo design works. At 25 he has established himself in the world as a leading logo designer. Big thanks to David for taking part in this interview. The interview took place in February 2009 on Floobe.
1. Full Name and Age please.
David Pache, 25
2. Favourite Biscuit and Drink.
Butter biscuits (Petit Lu etc.); Coffee
3. Last Book you read and last movie you saw.
Adrian Frutiger – Typefaces: The Complete Works; Slumdog Millionaire
4. Where and When did it all start?
I created the concept of dache when I was finishing design college. I knew that I wanted to be self-employed in order to have full control of my designs therefore decided to focus on logo design with additional services such as business cards, letterheads, website design and consultation. Back in 2005 I took the plunge, after completing some research through online design competitions to gauge how my designs would be received. With many positive reactions, I launched the website and business.
5. Do you have any formal qualifications and do you think these helped in your professional development?
I do have formal qualifications however when it comes to design, I think that it is more your inspirations which develop you as a professional. That said, I would not be where I am today without learning the techniques and history of design and art, in order to have the ability to express my ideas into working concepts.
6. What do you think makes a good designer, a qualification or the lust for the job at hand?
As said before, I do think that qualifications are invaluable however, if a designer does not have the perseverance to put their ideas out there for public opinions, they are just that – a qualification! As with many trades, we are nothing without our clients therefore I think there is always room for more designers but it is a difficult market to get recognised in therefore a lust for the job is essential.
7. What was a key factor in your professional growth and development?
When I initially started dache, I had no prior business knowledge therefore I think a turning point for me was when I had been able to complete a few projects from start to finish and gain an idea of what it was that the clients needed in addition to my design skills. Over the past years, I have been able to hone my customer service which has greatly improved my new business levels and my relationships with existing clients.
8. What do you consider to be the biggest contributing factor to your success?
Without a doubt, my clients are the biggest contributing factor as, without their continued interest, I would not have a successful business. Also, a great part was websites, such as yourselves, doing feature articles and also I have been fortunate to have been selected to have my work in several publications eg. logolounge and los logos.
9. What is your daily working routine?
I am lucky to work from home. A typical day comprises of administration, invoicing, new business marketing and follow-up. The main part is spent creating design concepts and revisions from the briefs I have been given and consultation with clients to gain feedback. I also maintain my website and have recently launched the ‘dacheboard’, my online blog featuring articles.
10. What made you go freelance, were there any defining factors?
As said previously, I knew from the start that I wanted to work for myself therefore I do not have the comparison however I do not regret my decision due to the success I have received in the past few years.
11. What are the benefits and negatives of being freelance?
This is obviously a question of personal opinion. In my experience the benefits of being freelance include the ability to make your own decisions, freedom of time management and workload and retaining the full benefits from your designs. The negative side of that is that you usually start from scratch therefore progress initially can be slow when you are trying to build a customer base and enter into the general marketplace.
12. Throughout your entire career to date, is there any particular problem you’ve ran in to more than once? Clients, Jobs, Work, Family??
I would not pinpoint it to any person in particular however as a designer, I have styles and techniques which I enjoy creating. In business I have been approached to create a logo for clients who do not appreciate the same style. Whilst this is not a problem to create other styles, it is often more challenging to work on these to fit in line with exactly what they require. Having a variety of applications and techniques within your portfolio is essential though.
13. What is the largest project you have worked on?
Spanning over several months, my largest project was the re-branding of the Grooveshark identity, an international music platform with attached social network, allowing their users to stream full length songs, build playlists, share music and make friends all for free. The creators of Grooveshark employed me to create a new image for their company branding loosely based on their existing logo as they had already gained great success. The project took a lot of time with small tweaks being made throughout and consultation with the client being constant. It was a long but enjoyable experience.
14. Where do you get your inspiration from?
I find that my surroundings enable me to create designs that are contemporary, innovative and unique. I take added inspiration from music, sculpture, the suprematism art movement and the works of painters such as Picasso, Kandinsky and Mondriaan which interest me greatly.
15. What are your tools of choice, hardware and software?
iMac and Adobe Creative Suite are my tools of preference and I predominantly utilise these on all projects. In addition to the computer based applications, I am a big user of the Dot Grid Book which I use after my sketching stages to accurately plot my concept designs before transferring them to the computer.
16. Where do you see the future being in the world of logo design?
To be honest, I think it’s difficult to predict how the field will change or develop. But I have noticed a slight trend in reviving styles from the 70s. I suppose therefore it would be expected that the 80s will have a strong influence over the next phase.
Also, in logo design, there is a great influence from the other genres of graphic design. I see a trend towards very illustrative, photographic, even almost what many might think of as ‘arty’ effects. These are being used more and more by designers to fall in line with where the field is going.
In general, I think that the future outlook for design is very positive. With the market in the recent decades developing with the mass production of computer technology, we are now seeing a period where the general public are aware of our market, are more willing to accept the concept of design and are hungry to seek out good work. This is good news for the industry as we are seeing more clients and are being encouraged to produce better quality projects. We are also being given much more freedom to experiment in our approaches.
17. You’re a well known designer, do you class yourself as famous?
Definitely not, I am well known within the design community but logo design is a very small niche of this massive network. I would also question if this is even possible anymore with so many people all completing the same task in differing ways.
18. Are you heading to any conferences over the next year?
Nothing planned as yet but I attended the Future of Web Design last April in London and would love to return this year.
19. If you had one goal to reach (anything) within 3 years, what would it be?
Since finishing my studies and jumping straight into business, I have not had too much time off to concentrate on personal goals. I guess I would like to do some travelling. It is not really a goal as such but something of great importance to me to see many places of interest whilst they are still worth seeing.
20. If you had one piece of advice for anyone wanting to venture into your industry, what would it be?
Good design is not always based on moments of genius, a lot of preparation is key to a successful design business.
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.