Running a successful web design agency

Mike and Keir from Carsonified interview Marcus and Paul on how they have made Headscape the successful web design agency it is today.

Keir: Okay, hi Paul

Paul: Hello!

Keir: Thanks for joining us.

Paul: That’s alright!

Keir: Thanks for agreeing to let us turn the tables.

Paul: Are we not saying hello to Marcus?

Keir: Oh sorry, hello Marcus!

Paul: He’s refusing to talk now!

Marcus: Hello!

Keir: So we’ll ease you guys in gently, first of all to you Paul, obviously now your company has grown big and strong and you’ve moved on really from being a web designer / builder…

Marcus: I want to see where this is going!

Paul: You’re going to ask me what my job is aren’t you?!

Keir: No! I’m not going to ask that I’m just going to ask do you miss doing that, being hands on, that sort of thing?

Paul: I have moments of it, yeah. Because I’m somebody who has a short attention span, and I like skipping from thing to thing, I felt like I’d reached a point where when I was designing, all my designs were looking the same. Which was an indication that…

Keir: I think Marcus is nodding for some reason Paul..!

Paul: That my designs all look the same?! So that to me was the part where I had to start moving on and doing different things. But no, I dabble still, I do Boagworld, I do Headscape, but yeah, I do miss it sometimes.

Headscape website

Keir: On the same subject, do you find it hard to relinquish that control at all?

Marcus: No!

Paul: (Laughs) No! Not at all!

Marcus: Sorry I was answering for Paul!

Paul: And I think you’re correct! No, I have certain standards that I think we should keep to as a company in terms of quality of code, that kind of thing. But the guys at Headscape are very good. So it’s often semantic arguments that we have rather than anything of value! In terms of design I have to battle against the fact that I have personal preferences in that I have a design style…you have a design style. When you’re working with a designer, not everybody at Headscape produces design that is in line with my personal aesthetic, and it should be that way because you want a broad range of stuff, but sometimes I struggle to recognise that this is a good piece of design, it’s just not what I like.

Keir: Is there not a Headscape aesthetic, a little bit?

Paul: I think there is to some degree, we pretend there isn’t and we tell our clients there isn’t, but I think there probably is, and I think that’s largely come about (a) because of my own personal bias, but (b) because of the type of clients we work with. With the majority of clients we work with we would be laughed out of the room if we did the kind of stuff you do.

Marcus: That’s a bit harsh! Bloody Hell!

Paul: I’m not saying its bad! It’s great design!

Keir: I think a nice big pumping heart on the homepage of Headscape? That would go down a treat Paul!

Paul: And I know that Mike can do that kind of design.

Marcus: We’ve been talking Mike up a lot lately.

Paul: I know!

Marcus: We’ll have to start interviewing you now!

Keir: Right, back to the questions!

Marcus: As an inspiration for the guys at Headscape to maybe go down a different route, and your work is very inspirational from that point of view. They all say ‘Ooo Yeah, we like a bit of that!’

Keir: That’s nice to know!

Paul: They need to have opportunities to break out from the constraints and the boxes that they’re put in because of the type of clients that we work for.

Keir: So that raises an interesting question, how do you deal with that internally when someone comes and the brief maybe doesn’t quite need a new avenue to go down – how do you hold a designer back from experimenting, do you suggest other outlets internally?

Paul: To be entirely frank with you, our problem at the moment is the other way round, that our designers self-censor themselves, because they work on so many of these kinds of sites, and they predict what the client is going to say and so hold back sometimes.

Keir: And are they normally right or is there room for expression?

Paul: Yeah, they are normally right, but that’s not the point. I see it as our job to push the client. I mean there’s a classic example, I won’t name the client but there was one recently that said they wanted something ‘different’ and ‘radical’ and so we said ‘are you sure?’, and then we did all this cool stuff for them and then they said ‘could we tone it back?’ and so I turned round and said ‘you wanted something radical?’ to which they responded ‘Yeah, we didn’t really did we?!’ (Laughs)

Keir: So what do you see as the hot topics, or is there anything in the web world right now that really excites you? Or even you Marcus?

Paul: (Pauses, sighs) No. No!

Marcus: I’m much more business oriented, so things that excite me are…

Paul: Spreadsheets?!

Marcus: No, no… God no! Because we’ve been doing this for a long time, and we were never the sort of people to say ‘in five years time we’d like to be there’ but then suddenly we find ‘Oh, we’re there!’, so then you find yourself saying ‘What now then?’ and so I’m more interested in what the new thing would be. Because I’m not a designer, I’m not a developer, so I don’t really feel it’s my job to get enthused about anything in particular, HTML5 for example. I’m like, ‘great, cool!’ Paul is much better placed to answer that question as it’s not my specialism. My specialism in this world, if I have one, is talking to people who have websites about what their website could do for them, and so to a certain extent I need to be informed, but he does that for me.

Boagworld Podcast Live

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Keir: So how do you split your work for a new client? I contact Headscape for whatever reason, we agree to meet, I give you a brief outline of what my requirements are, would I speak to you (Marcus) and what sort of stuff would you want to get out of me and then would you hand over to Paul or the Project Managers?

Marcus: It varies. If it was a really big project I’d say to someone on the phone…

Keir: Give it to someone else!

Marcus: (Emphatically) No! No! Rather than have a lengthy chat on the phone I’d say I’ll come and meet you, and it would usually just be me at that point. And for virtually all projects people will come to us with a ‘We want to do something’, not a ‘We’ve heard you guys are quite good, what can you do for us?’ 99% of the time people have a pretty specific idea that they want us to do x, y or z, so I’ll go along and talk about that, and question why they might want to do that – that’s really the big part of it actually. Why do you want to do that? How’s that going to help you? Is it going to make you more money, is it going to make people who come to your site happier?

Keir: So very much from the business angle, the benefits of having a web presence or what expanding it will do for their own business? Bottom line stuff really?

Marcus: Yeah, to a certain extent, but also that’s the kind of nice client who comes to us. Quite often what we’re doing is responding to invitations to tender, and then it’s case of a brief will come through and we will respond usually with a phone call and questions – what do you mean by this and this and this, are you sure you want to be doing that. We’ll respond with a proposal and hopefully we’ll be invited back to talk to these people, at which point I’ll wheel him out (Paul!) and he’ll enthuse at them for half an hour!

Paul: It takes me a while to latch on to the part of the project that excites me, because if you go into a pitch not excited about the project, you ain’t gonna win it.

Keir: Sure.

Paul: But once you’ve indentified that thing in it that really grabs you and you want to do then I’m away and it’s great. So I mean, I tend to go in at the pitch stage and I give the big presentation. Then we normally, if we win it, at the beginning part of the project is where I flesh out that stuff that I was enthusing about, so where we really develop and set the direction of it. I talk the client through the process, help them to focus the vision, and that’s done in conjunction with the development team, the developer, project manager, designer, all the rest of it. Once that process has been done I step back and the project manager runs with the project.

Marcus: That’s the big bit out that I do. Requirements, information architecture, stakeholder interviews, all that stuff, and then I’ll step away from it usually. Then project managers, designers and developers get on and build it.

Paul: Periodically through the project I keep my eye on it to make sure that that vision that was created at the start of the project hasn’t been lost at any stage.

Keir: Just quickly because I’m really keen to know, there’s a lot of talk in the internet about, and I hate the term, spec work. Mark and I have talked about this a lot. I’m of the opinion that doing a tender or response to a proposal could be deemed as doing spec work in some respects because by the definition you’re doing work – how much time or value and what’s the end product of that…

Marcus: Shall I tell you how I define it? I as a sales person, and I do information architecture as well and that is all paid work, but at least 50% of my role is as a sales person and sales people don’t get paid by clients.

Paul: They’re a cost of sale.

Marcus: So if it’s work that I’m doing then it’s fine, if I have to get a designer to do work as part of that document, then I don’t think that’s right

Paul: Because those are chargeable people, I’m a chargeable person.

Keir: We know that Paul!

Paul: The most that Marcus would require of me would be to bounce some ideas around in the proposal stage. The pitch obviously is free; we would go up and do that. But the way that I view it actually is that spec work in my opinion is work that you give to a client that could potentially be used in the actual project. So our proposal documents aren’t spec work….feel free to disagree

Keir: No, it’s interesting because you make it sound like you go to a pitch with nothing?

Marcus: Correct. We don’t pitch any graphics ever.

Paul: No. Never. Never any graphics.

Keir: OK, so how much work would you say goes into a pitch?

Paul: Into the pitch itself?

Keir: Not the actual time of the pitch.

Paul: OK, preparing for the pitch, well the proposal, a lot of work goes into that.

Marcus: At least a day. Usually two.

Paul: Because that, with the type of work that we do, there’s quite a lot of boilerplate in it, ‘We’re Headscape this is what we do’ but with large public sector organisations that we tender for they want to know a lot of detail like financial history, they want to know the name of your third child, but it’s not a document that necessarily contains lots of ideas.

Marcus: A good way to think about the process is – we’ve won the work, and the process usually starts off with him analysing the existing website, the brief they’ve got, talking ideas, he’ll make a bunch of recommendations out of his own mind as it were. I’ll then test that on a load of stakeholders via one to one interviews. Based on that we’ll then put together a report which pulls all that together. Then we’ll do information architecture, then we’ll do mood boards that will kick in to the actual design. And that’s a load of work that I’ve just described. If we value giving designs up front then all of that is pointless.

Paul: It’s the fact that before you make a recommendation to the client, either in terms of visuals or in terms of the direction or vision of the site, you need to understand the client, you need to understand the business and the objectives. You never get all of that from a brief. It doesn’t matter how thorough they think the brief is. So therefore our proposals are very detailed responses to the brief that has been provided. But oftentimes that not what we’ll end up delivering. Often we’ll win the work, do a lot of research work and then turn round to them and say ‘Actually what you asked for out of the gate was this, and that’s not the right thing, we need to be going in this direction.’ So the proposal document only really exists to establish our credibility and to get us to the point of actually winning the work. There’s not loads of stuff in that proposal that they could take and say ‘A-ha’ I really like these ideas I’m going to take these and go with another agency. It’s not that type of document, but with a piece of speculative design they could do that, they could say ‘A-ha’ I really like this bit of design, I’m going to take this and give it someone who is cheaper.

Marcus: To finally nail this point to the table! We see proposals and pitches, the proper response from us is to basically tell our prospective clients that we can do a really good job, and give them lots of reasons why. We think your project might be really similar to the one we did for this client. Look at all the work we did on this and this was the process we went through, with lots of pictures of what we did for that client, but no actual ‘ We might be able to do something that looks a bit like this for you.’

Keir: That’s a historical thing though because you’ve got a canon of work, you’ve got heritage. What would your advice be to young people up and coming, 18, 19 20 years of age when you’ve not got that canon, you’ve not got that history?

Paul: I would encourage them to actually do some voluntary work.

Keir: Build up the portfolio

Paul: Yeah.

Marcus: It’s the same when you’re looking for a job, we want to see your portfolio, what you’ve done before and we think clients are the same.

Paul: My attitude is, let’s take a piece of speculative design work is going to cost two days of a designers time – I’m just plucking random figures out of the air here – but you could spend two days doing speculative design work for some dodgy guy who says ‘If you do some speculative design work you’ll win the business’ – and let’s be honest, these are the kind of guys you are going to be working for when you start out – screw that for a game of soldiers, he’s just trying to get one over on you. I’d prefer to spend to the two days working for a local charity that have got no money but a really worthy cause, give them a great design that they can take away and build or do what they want with, and then I’ve got a good portfolio piece.

Marcus: That said, we used to do designs up front. We were shooting ourselves in the foot doing it.

Keir: Before we move on, I think the one thing that struck me was of your comments, and I think it was in response to a particular blog post was that spec design work was actually bad for the client, more than it is for the designer which is quite a unique perspective

Paul: I was reading some of my stuff over that because I think we have a rock solid argument. I won’t go through the whole argument now because there are other things to talk about but basically it boils down to the fact that as a designer or developer you are not well enough informed at the spec stage to produce anything other than a piece of show-off work – so all you are doing is going ‘Taa Daa!!’ look how talented we are! You are not solving any problems, you are not challenging their brief, you are literally just doing a bit of fancy work. And the reality is that if you are the client you are paying for it anyway, because we have to roll the cost of sale into the project. But here’s the killer. You’re not just paying for the piece of speculative work I’ve done for you, but you’re also paying for the speculative work I did for ‘Mike’ who turned us down., because we still have to recover the cost of time we spent doing Mike’s piece of work. So the reality is your paying for your own speculative piece of work and for other people’s speculative piece of work! Sorry, I’m pointing aggressively!

Paul Boag speaking at Future of Web Design

Keir: I’m retracting quickly!

Marcus: I’m gonna get him a box to stand on!

Paul: But I get really annoyed about it and really passionate about it. I would never hire a company that does speculative design work because I’m paying for other people’s design work! It doesn’t make sense!

Keir: Moving swiftly on! (laughs) Going back to the original question! So there’s nothing exciting going on in the world of web?

Paul: Sorry, I’m very aware we’ve gone off on a tangent! There are two levels of excitement. There’s the Silicon Valley, web app type of excitement that everybody features. The cutting-edge, we’re-some-fancy-agency-startup-with-lots-of-venture-capital. And then you go to a conference and there are large companies that are ‘dealing with scalability with over a million hits!’, and you think to yourself ‘very interesting, but no kind of impact on my life’ – but over time that sort of cool stuff tends to trickle down, and I get excited at the next tier down. I get excited when I start to see some of that really cool stuff that maybe is old hat now, that everybody was talking about a year ago or maybe two years ago, when I start seeing that appearing on average websites. Websites that the vast majority of us are working on.

Keir: Can you give an example of something that has done that for you recently?

Paul: Just this whole web application culture of Javascript driven, application-like / desktop-like, because for such a long time that was only for things like Gmail and Google Maps and stuff like that, but now that’s all trickling down and you’re starting to see rich internet applications in boring everyday sites, whether it be a university site or you know, Sussex Police! Anna was telling me about a Police website where is you hear a police helicopter flying over you at night you can look it up the next day and find out why it was there and what it was doing! And all of those Web 2.0 things about openness and transparency as well as some of the technology stuff like AJAX, all of that stuff is now becoming mainstream. And I get excited when fringe stuff becomes mainstream, and the bigger community of developers outside of ‘The Valley’ all start doing it. That’s why I get excited about the web, and that’s why I get excited about stuff that everybody else was excited about a year or two years ago!

Mike: We wanted to move on to the subject of blogging. As a company I believe you don’t blog?

Paul: Not as a company no.

Mike: So you blog as Boagworld, but recently we’ve been intrigued to see you’ve been blogging more personally on Posterous so really we’re trying to work out, is Boagworld purely on the education side and those on your micro-blog are more personal? We were particularly struck by one article – what was the title? ‘The Idea of Personal Brands Stinks’, you use AudioBoo, you have a lot of outlets, how do you decide what goes where?

Paul: You’re making a fundamental mistake here!

Paul: I make many Paul!

Paul: The fundamental mistake you’re making is that you’re presuming that I have a strategy! Which I really really don’t!

Mike: The question should have been, what do you get out of blogging professionally and personally?

Paul: I’ve never been so professionally interviewed!

Keir: Apparently Anna can cut stuff out! It’s apparent that you might get work out of your blogging, I don’t know, but you obviously get more out of it than just that?

Paul: OK! Let me see if I can find a question in there somewhere!

Keir: We don’t do this for a living you know!

Paul: There’s a few things to comment on. First of all, without a doubt, blogging is a major marketing tool for Headscape. The vast majority of our new business comes in via that. It is definitely and categorically a business tool. But it didn’t start out that way. When I started out blogging, it was a little bit of ego – we went to @media 2005 and they got different bloggers to stand up and I thought ‘I want to be like that!’ so I get very inspired and I started blogging partly because of that. But I quickly realised no-one was interested in what I was writing at the time so the blog for me became this place where I could take what I was learning and picking up and rationalise it in a way that made sense to me. So it became a way of me wrapping me head around everything that was going on. It was also a way for me to be storing and holding the stuff I was learning because my memory is horrendous and to this day I find myself saying ‘I’m sure I’ve written something on that’ and I go onto my blog and it’s a way for me to remember. I know it sounds stupid but I really do this, and so I’ll read through my blog and say ‘OK, so that’s what I’m supposed to think about this!’ But it really helps to clarify my thinking – so that was a big part of it. But Boagworld, the domain was bought and I thought I’d write a bit about web design, it was my personal website, and as I wrote more about web design as my head was buzzing with that at the time as this was the time of Web Standards and we were getting into accessibility. And then other people started to take an interest in it and it grew and grew – and then we started the podcast which really came out of the fact that (a) I’d got an iPod for Christmas that was just about beginning to support podcasts, and so I looked for a web design one and there wasn’t one so I thought ‘I’ll do that’ because it’s easier than writing one and I’m crap at writing.

Marcus: (Shyly) Hello, it’s Paul, this is the first ever podcast!

Paul: (Laughs) Which is pretty much what it sounded like!!! It’s like stepping back in time listening to those early ones.

Keir: How long ago was that Paul?

Paul: 2005/2006? I’ll have to have a look. No, it must have been 2005. It was growing, it was building momentum until it eventually became this thing of it’s own. It was beginning to have marketing benefits and I was beginning to spend some of my work time doing this. So relatively recently I came to this realisation that Headscape had robbed me of my blog! Which I’m quite happy with as it’s turned into this great marketing tool which is fun to do and I love it. But I had nowhere to share, I dunno, a silly video of James or some cool thing that was nothing to do with web design or whatever else. So that’s where Posterous came from. It was just an easy way for me to talk about something that wasn’t web design. Occasionally bits of web design get in there – I’ll tell you my dirty little secret for this one, which is that often, if there’s an idea I’ve had, I’m too lazy to write a blog post about it, I’ll record a video. But I won’t put the video onto Boagworld as there’s an expectation that I’ll have a transcript of it to make it accessible, and so I just put it on Posterous to get around it which is really naughty and I should be ashamed of myself! But I do occasionally do that. But most of the time Posterous is just about me having fun. Then you get into things like AudioBoo – AudioBoo is my idea of micro-podcasting, like Twitter is micro-blogging. So it’s little snippets of tips and advice. So, how do I decide what goes on where?

Keir: You’re interviewing yourself now!

Mike: Let’s go and get some coffee! Marcus?

Paul: So basically, if it’s not good enough and not long enough to be a blog post, it’ll become and AudioBoo, that’s if it’s about web design. If it’s about web design and it’s too long for an AudioBoo, it’ll become a blog post. If it’s not about web design, it’s Posterous.

Keir: So you do have a strategy!?

Paul: But where it falls down is where I’ll do a little AudioBoo about something which is the beginning of a thought, then it ends up as a blog post and then it ends up on the podcast as well. So it kind of ripples through.

Keir: That’s cool – it’s interesting to know all that but what I’d personally like to know is what makes you want to share such personal stuff sometimes? I know you’re a Christian and you talk about God, but you also talk about some other personal stuff sometimes too? What is it in you that makes you want to do that?

Paul: I think it’s two things. It’s two major parts of my personality. One is that I am a massive extravert, I’m a massive show-off – I’m never happier than when I’ve got a massive audience. To be entirely frank, you know!

Keir: Had anyone spotted that?!

Paul: Unlike Marcus I can’t sing or play a musical instrument! The best I can do is jump up and down, wave my hands in the air and say ‘Look at Me!’ So there’s that aspect to it. I think there’s another aspect to it. Somebody said to me right when I was a young kid, they said Paul, the thing about you is that you live with your heart on your sleeve, what you see is what you get. And I still think I’m like that now. I’m a very open person. If I’m grumpy everyone knows I’m grumpy, if I’m happy everybody knows I’m happy. I live my life in the open and always have. So I do that online, because I’m not a different person online than I am offline, and I know a lot of people are, but I don’t choose to be that.

Keir: Thanks Paul, that’s a nice explanation.

Mike: OK, one of the questions we have is about honesty and speaking and blogging. Do you ever…

Paul: I make up stuff all the time!

Mike: But it’s very hard I think to always be honest, in all spheres of life. Do you feel you are always as honest as you are?

Paul: Does this go back to the conversation we were having previously Mike?

Mike: It does yeah.

Paul: Because we had this conversation, me and Mike about when you stand on the stage, and sometimes you get off after a presentation and sometimes you go ‘Why did I say that?’ and you think, ‘I said that because I think that’s what people expected me to say’ rather than what I was actually thinking. I mean you gave the example about where you gave a talk about sketching where you said ‘Get away from your computer and start sketching’ when that’s not actually what he does. (Laughs) Well it was either a case of share an example where I had done that and I would rather humiliate you than me!

Mike: Yeah, I wanna reverse that! Anna can apparently cut things out.

Paul: No, no, no editing. We tell people that but it’s a lie! And I’ve done similar things, I’ll be honest. For me where the line comes with honesty is, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying ‘I think this is the way it should be’ – but where you fall down and it gets a bit shady is where you say ‘I think this is the way it should be’ but fail to mention that you’re actually there yet, we’re heading in that direction. And I’ve made that mistake too. But I do try and be transparently honest – I don’t try and dress up anything that I talk about, and in fact I’m probably a bit self-deprecating actually. Actually I think a lot of people think I’m a bit of a joker and a bit of a moron. But I do like to simplify things and I do like to take the mystery out of things – I think there are a lot of people, and this goes back to our conversation, I think there are a lot of people making out like their job is a lot fancier, a lot harder than it actually is – and we do like to justify our own existence by using lots of clever words., and having ‘processes’ and ‘methodologies’ and ‘systems.’

Mike: Cool, thanks, that’s interesting. So coming on to status, how important do you think status is in the industry?

Paul: OK, well I’m glad you worded that question the way you did, as I was worried that you were going to word it ‘How important is status is to you?’, and you’d purposely put the question of honesty beforehand! (Laughs)

Keir: We were going to ask ‘How big is your ego?’ but then we’ve scribbled that out! But this also comes off the back of your article about personal branding; the idea of web celebrity, a lot of people would refer to you as one of those.

Paul: I’m going to be entirely honest about this right – which I don’t think a lot of people are. Yes, I love it.

All: (Laughs)

Paul: Of course I love it! Of course you’re going to love it when someone comes up to you and says ‘You’re Paul Boag aren’t you, I really love what you do!’ and anyone who pretends that they don’t like being praised is a liar.

Marcus: I’ve got quite a funny story actually. I went to the Comedy Store in Leicester Square last Friday evening, and we got there and sat in our seats, and there was this young couple, both of them in their early twenties came and sat down next to us for the first half. And I kept seeing this guy look at me, and I thought ‘He’s recognised me!’

All: (Laughs)

Marcus: Nothing was said! Interval comes, I get another beer and sit back down. And he said, ‘I think I know who you are’ and I was like…you’ve got it wrong!

Keir: You’re Paul Boag!

Marcus: But supporting what Paul’s saying, I get recognised at conferences. ‘Say something’ that’s what they always say.

Paul: Yeah!

Marcus: Especially Americans!

Marcus: So I said to one guy, ‘You’re a web designer are you?’ and he said ‘No, I think my Mum’s got one of your records!’

All: (Laughs)

Marcus: It’s gone full circle now. If it’s someone young I expect them to recognise me from the podcast.

Mike: Didn’t your daughter’s friend come up and say she knew you from the podcast?

Marcus: Yes, yes, it still amazes me, because I just pitch up once a week and try and make it look stupid!

Keir: What band were you in again?

Marcus: A band called ‘Breathe’

Keir: And now it’s ‘Stroke the Toad?’

Marcus: Now it’s Stroke the Toad.

Paul: Yeah, to say you don’t like that, I mean, I was at Thorpe Park recently with my youth group and we were queuing up and some guy came up to me and said ‘Are you Paul Boag?!’ and my youth group were wetting themselves, they thought it was hilarious! And yeah I like it, course I do! And people are really kind, they’re really nice about it – but you gotta keep it in perspective right? You know, I’m a niche of a niche of a niche of a niche. I might aspire to be Leo Laporte, and Leo Laporte might aspire to be a daytime TV presenter who aspires to be I dunno, a mainstream TV presenter who aspires to be a film thing and so it goes on. And it’s the whole premise – and I reject the premise – but it’s the premise that because you’re well known, and because a lot of people have heard of you, that in some way your life is of more value. And I think that’s the point I was trying to get across in the personal branding thing. There’s this friend of mine I grew up with who got married to this Indian guy, and she works out in India – we actually raised money for her on the podcast over Christmas – and runs an orphanage out there with a couple of hundred kids who have had their lives ruined. She does more good in a single day than I will do in my lifetime. And OK no-one knows about here, and no-one is interested in her, and I get people come up to me on the Tube?? And that’s ridiculous to me! And that’s what made me angry and that’s what made me want to do that post. And then it all gets out of proportion and it all gets silly. Where in our culture – sorry this is all getting a bit heavy! – where in our culture did we get to a point where Kevin Rose can’t stand in a blimmin’ party without being mobbed by people? You know, that’s weird? There’s something screwed up there.

Marcus: That’s not weird? That’s normal?!

Keir: I guess celebrity is changing? When I grew up fame was the pop stars, the rock stars and now you’ve got tech celebrities.

Marcus: If they had a rock star in that room they would get even more mobbed, but it still happens.

Paul: Just because it’s normal doesn’t make it not weird. Just because it’s been going on for a hundred years, doesn’t make it not weird.

Marcus: I’d say it’s human nature.

Paul: Yeah, and I’m saying human nature sucks!

Marcus: Well deal with it!

Keir: OK, so it has some benefits to you, but it is important?

Paul: In the industry?

Marcus: I’ve been thinking about this. Who’s the most famous web celeb? Zeldman maybe? People with big web projects and big budgets go to Happy Cog because of Zeldman’s celebrity. Not only that – he wouldn’t be famous if he didn’t know his stuff and talked well etc etc.

Paul: The sad fact is there are designers and developers and agencies out there that are as good as Happy Cog.

Marcus: Course there are.

Paul: And there are certainly ones that are better than us. But they don’t get the exposure because they are introverted people. It makes me sad but that’s the reality.

Keir: You actually said the other day in your video…

Paul: Oh don’t quote me back! I’m going to have to contradict myself!

Keir: You said the other day that you could be introverted and be just as successful.

Paul: Yeah, I think you can, but in a different way.

Marcus: What, in a non-successful way?! You can be as good a designer, as good a developer without being famous, but if you’re trying to win business using the Zeldman / Happy Cog argument then you’re going to be a lot better off if you’re somebody who’s known.

Paul: Yeah, but you could still be known and be an introvert. It’s indentifying the methods by which you’re known. For example, Rachel Andrew. Until relatively recently she didn’t do a huge amount of public speaking, and even now doesn’t do massive amounts. But she’s written book after book after book after book. She’s known for that writing and that has given her the profile. You could be an introvert and blog, and have one of the best blogs in the world. You could be submitting gorgeous designs to CSS galleries and be winning work that way. So it doesn’t need to be by being mouthy and extrovert.

Keir: The funny thing is there are agencies out there that are as good as each other – some might win work because of their public persona, and then there are those who win work because they constantly put out a really high standard of work.

Marcus: There are others that might win work because they have a really pushy salesman! It’s just another way of marketing yourself or your company.

Paul: To be honest, look at yourself Mike. OK, you’ve done a couple of speaking slots, but you haven’t spoken a huge amount. But your work has been picked up by people, and people have gone ‘Wow, I really like that’ and that’s spread virally without you jumping up and down like I do going ‘Look at Me!’ So it’s perfectly possible, it’s just a different way of doing it.

Keir: Another question that’s worth asking is that a lot of people have become well down for their niche – recently you’ve been talking a lot about educating clients, Mike has talked a lot about creativity and where he gets ideas from., they tend to be offline. Andy Clarke talks a lot about progressive CSS, CSS3 that sort of thing, for someone who is looking to get their face known in the industry is that something they should do? Find something they’re really interested in and just push it out?

Paul: Absolutely. I remember much nearer the beginning I’d built up a popular podcast that a lot of people listened to and were passionate about. But I couldn’t get speaking opportunities. And I think it was Ryan actually, who was honest enough to talk to me about it and it was his response that was ‘I don’t know what it is that you do?’ – a lot of people don’t know what it is I do! But

Keir: That’s a whole other interview Paul!

Paul: He didn’t know what box to put me in. People like putting other people in boxes.

Mike: It makes picking speakers easy to be honest.

Paul: So you can go, ‘We need someone in this slot who’s going to talk about business’ or ‘development’ or whatever else. I packaged myself very specifically for conferences and speaker opportunities, I will talk about this kind of stuff. Once you’ve done it once, that’s it. But, the problem is you can’t do that forever. You need to re-invent yourself. Jeremy Keith is very good at that. He started off as the DOM scripting guy, then he became the microformats guy, now he’s the HTML5 guy. He knows how to move from thing to thing. He would say that his interests change and he moves on, it might be, it might be a totally subconscious thing, but it’s a damn clever thing, however you slice it.

Marcus: I would argue that this applies to life, not just web design. I’ve got quite big kids now, and I’ve been saying to them for years now relating this to subjects that they are studying, do what you like doing, not what you think you ought to be doing. It applies across the board. If you can do something well, you are going to enjoy doing it.

Keir: Yeah, that will come out when you speak about it, in the passion.

Paul: OK?! Finished with us?!

Marcus: You’ve got a whole podcast here! At least 45 minutes!

Paul: OK, well thanks very much for listening to Boagworld, we’ll see you again next week!

Keir: Thanks a lot!

Thanks goes to Andy Wickes for transcribing this interview.

  • http://claytoncorreia.com Clayton Correia

    Thanks for this. Going to listen to it over lunch.

  • http://benbodien.info Ben Bodien

    Having met both, I think Keir and Mike are the wrong way round in the transcription :)

  • noviolence

    With those bitesize peaces i always get confused a little..
    is it always from past or future podcasts or is it mixed?

  • Anonymous

    That’s a great interview with lots of tips to run a web design agency.
    Thanks for the post.

    Regards,
    Amy
    Cowboy Millionaire Review

  • http://www.w3sketch.com Thank Money

    Ready to start out as a freelance web designer? I think getting a
    Web Design Business Toolkit would help get the ball rolling.

  • http://twitter.com/pixelpr Monika Loryńska

    Seems like an interesting interview but this font makes it impossible to read… I gave up

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