iPhone design, freelancing, the universe and everything

Paul Boag

Sarah Parmenter joined us on our 12 hour marathon podcast to celebrate the shows 200th episode. She talks freelancing and iPhone development.

: Sarah, what were we going to talk about?

Sarah: I don’t really know – are we talking about a hybrid of kind of freelancing and iphone user interface design?

Ryan: We actually had a question that came in from a lad called Luke which was about getting started

All: You have to ask the beginning question though!

Ryan: Yeah – What’s your biggest cock up?

Sarah: What’s my biggest? Oh, actually nothing to do with Web Design at all. I used to work backstage the same as Rachel. I was doing some work experience backstage at a show called Les Mis in London and I was just doing work experience and basically to cut a long story short they put me on the sound desk at the back. And although I’d always loved the show, I hadn’t seen it before. So they sat me at the sound desk at the back and about a quarter of the way through Act 2 they just started firing guns everywhere, and so I just jumped out of my skin and pushed some of the audio sliders forward at which point the show kind of went into a bit of a mish mash of guns that shouldn’t have gone off, and stuff started happening and I wasn’t invited back after that. *everyone laughs*

Ryan: I won’t be two seconds and I’ll get the question that we were going to answer

Sarah: That’s fine

Ryan: Right. So, Luke Franklin posted this question this morning ‘What is the best path to take to have the best head start into a design career?’Does a University degree help much and once I do the degree what’s the next step. In basic terms, what are the key things I have to do to make myself successful when I start in Web Design?


Sarah: Okay, I’ve probably said it a few times, various different things… But I think specialising is the probably the biggest choice you can make is to specialise in something, whatever your ‘re going to specialise in, run with it. Don’t try and learn everything right at the start because when I’m looking for a freelancer for something I look for someone specific. I’m looking for a Ruby on Rails developer, I’m looking for a PHP developer I’m not looking for someone who’s a little bit good in a few things, I’m looking for someone who’s the best in what they do – not jack of all trades as the old saying goes. But as far as like Degrees and stuff go, I’ve had really mixed views on people who’ve done degrees and i don’t know whether it’s because the of way the courses are run down here but south end and leeds??? is quite an arty kind of place and the colleges here kind of let them do whatever they want to do. Whenever I get portfolios sent to me they’re always quite … Gothic, I think is the kind way of putting it (laugh). They tend to have a lot of band art work in them and stuff that me as an employer I guess, I can’t look at that and see how that could relate to whether they could do the job that I need them to do. So I have mixed views over the whole design course thing. I personally didn’t go to Design College or anything like that. I mean, i did my GCSE in Art but personally, down here they’re not that great. I think they’re great for a basic foundation in a lot of things. I mean, if you’re going to go into Typography then it’s a must but generally I’ve just got mixed views about the whole college thing.

Ryan: I think specialisation, a lot of people ask me about specialisation at the minute, and there’s a lot of people also talking about generalising and doing lots of different things, specially if you’re a freelance Web Designer, you’re kind of expected to do lots of different things and be multi-skilled instead of just specialising because the client doesn’t necessarily know what they’re asking for. You say that you do websites and they expect you to be able to do everything. How do you work? Do you do a bit of everything or do you specialise in a particular area?

Sarah: I do, I do a bit of everything but I think the important thing is that clients come to me for a specialist thing to start with and then just kind of assume that your skills are so, that you’ve got such a broad set of skills that you can achieve these other tasks that they want you to do. I tend to do more of the design side of things whether I like it or not. I actually started out coding when I was younger. I didn’t really do the design side of things at all but as I’ve sort of, got older, whether I like it or not, that’s the path that the people who are coming to me have decided that I’ll take so…

Ryan: So they’ve kind of decided your specialisation

Sarah: They have really.; they’ve kind of decided what I specialise in, and you know, the iPhone stuff is quite a recent thing as well. But I find that they come to me for that initially, and then, because, if you can design for the iPhone, you can design a website. So therefore your skill set will go to that as well although it always started in.. I think not necessarily people will come to you for a specialised skill and then stick with you because they’re comfortable with you and then assume that you can do everything anyway. And usually they’ll still keep you as a project manager, even if you say “Oh, actually, I can’t do this but I know someone who can.. Um.. they always keep you as their sort of ‘go to’ person anyway.

Ryan: The iPhone UI stuff that you’ve been doing, you’re talking a lot about that at the various conferences this year as well, aren’t you?

Sarah: Yeah

Ryan: you can kind of decided that you fancied doing that and you’ve become quite known for now, you’re getting to do working, to do iPhone UI stuff – how did you start going down that path?

Sarah: Um, it was actually a client of mine. I designed his website, and um, a really nice guy, he just decided to take a chance that I’d be able to do the user interface design of his iPhone app. And so, it was kind of, it was all his doing really. he just took that leap of faith that he saw my work, he liked my work. He gave me a chance to do the iPhone user interface design of that app and that came out really well and he got some really nice comments from Apple actually on the app, and it kind of went from there really.

Ryan: And people has just been contacting you because they’ve seen your work you’ve done through that?

Sarah: Yeah, I think it’s also because I’ve got a bit of a different approach to it, but one that people probably wouldn’t;t know from the outset looking at the website, which is a bit strange. But I go through, I just don’t design, I go through how the apps actually work with them as well. Whether they can cut down on the amount of screens that they;re using. Um, whether the actual user interface is working as it should do or how people are expecting the app to work. Um, there’s kind of all that process as well before you even hit Photoshop. So, um, I think it’s been handy to have that kind of background, um, documents to be able to send to other clients, to say, you know, this is the kind of way I work. And I think that actually what sold me, sold the clients on a couple of jobs, to use me to be honest.

Ryan: Did you find moving on to the UI work with the iPhone a natural progression from what you were previously doing or is it a new thing?

Sarah: Um, it’s a bit of both really. I mean, if you’re confident in using Photoshop, um, then you’d find it a lot easier than someone who’s been designing in the browser for along time, or anything like that. But there are some real specifics of working with the iPhone that you just wouldn’t come across in your general Web Design knowledge of what you do day to day in designing websites. You just wouldn’t;t come across it. So from that sense it’s been a bit of a learning curve but it’s also been great because it’s designing for a completely different platform. You’re not just thinking about how things look on a screen. You’re having to think about the fingertip size of the things that you’re designing and whether they;re large enough for people to actually press. And it’s a completely different mind set of designing for the web.

Ryan: And what are you talking about at the conferences this year then? Are you just sharing your experience of what you’ve learned?

Sarah: Well, actually I have to write them down because I get them both muddled up. Um, DIBI conference I’m talking about the principles of iPhone user interface design and at Future of Web Design (London) I’m talking about the ten tips for iPhone user interface design *laugh* so there are two completely different subjects apparently. I’ve got to do two completely different talks but obviously the principles of iPhone UI design always remain the same, so yeah…

Ryan: I guess you’re able to, it’s not iPhone specific things, it’s, you have the experience if someone turned round to you and gave you a completely different device and said, ‘alright, we need to design an interface’ you’ve got all that experience behind you that can say ‘right, this is the best way to design an interface for this device’. Um, so can you see yourself moving into anything else if given the opportunity?

Sarah: To be honest, do you mean other mobile devices?

Ryan: Maybe, maybe other new things that come along like iPad, or any touch sensitive stuff.

Sarah: Yeah, I mean, um, to be honest the iPhone just interested because I’ve got one. I’d interacted with it since the first generation one and I was comfortable with how I used it and things like that. I probably wouldn’t;t be comfortable if it was any other mobile device, purely because it’s, I don;t have knowledge of it therefore there’s going to be someone else out there who’s better at designing for that device than I am. I’d love to go into the iPad when it eventually comes out but I need to get my hands on one first really. To see how that’s all going to work. Um, but as far as specialisation, I’d rather specialise in the Iphone. I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon. I think it’s, you know, probably the most well known touch phone that you can get so, um. I can’t see myself straying away from it anytime soon, No.

Ryan: Okay *laugh*

Sarah: Did that answer? Sorry…

Ryan: It’s good. So What’s attracting to you to designing for the iPad? Is it just something new or just the challenge of designing for a new platform?

Sarah: The challenge of designing for a new platform but also the kind of users who are going to be using the iPad. I think the kind of people, this is going to sound really awful, the kind of people that are going to be using the iPad are not, as we’ve discussed in various blog topics over the past couple of weeks on the Internet. Um, it’s not necessarily made for us with our superior knowledge of how various things on the Mac work and things like that. It’s meant for our Mums really. Mums and Dads who ring you up with lots of questions, how this works, how you get email working. I think it’s going to be a fantastic device for the basic internet user. So I think, on that level, it’s going to be really interesting to see if we can develop websites, you know, I can just imagine sort of developing great buttons *laugh*, and things that tell them exactly where they need to go. But I just think from that point of view I think it’ll be an interesting discussion to be had amongst the Web Design community as to the actual user that’s using it rather than the device itself.

Ryan: Yeah. How do you think that um, how do you think that’ll affect your approach to designing for it? That’s a tough question isn’t it? *laugh*

Sarah: I don’t think it will affect my approach in the way I work at the moment, the whole wireframing and trying to get the user interface working the way people expect it to work. So I don’t think it would change much from that sense. But I think, when you bear in, when you’ve got such good information, perhaps, about who your target demographic is, who you’re going to be designing for, I mean, maybe the iPad will take off with other people but personally I’d just have one because I want to design for it not because I’d necessarily use it. Um, I think the really interesting thing is going to be the ebooks, or ibooks sorry, that are going to be available for it. I think that will be really interesting if they do open them up to the UK market. that will be interesting to design for as well.

Ryan: Let’s talk a little bit more about running your own business and being freelance

Sarah: Ok

Ryan: Dealing with clients in particular. *laugh* Um, how do you find and retain the good clients, well retaining the good clients is straightforward – you do good work and they come back to you. How do you seek out your clients or do they find you?

Sarah: I’m lucky enough now that they find me and I’m kind of quite acute to the warning signs of some clients of whether they’re going to be good ones or not right from the offset of the way they approach you. The first email that you received, whether it’s copied in to a hundred other designers as well *laugh* you haven’t been blind carbon copied . Little things like that kind of bring up warning signals and if I get too many of them I just stay clear nowadays. But at the start, it was a completely different matter. I was taking on whatever clients I could get my hands on and because you have to to start a business. Um, so yeah it’s a difficult one but now I’m in a lucky position of they find me so..

Ryan: We were talking with Elliot earlier and how you increase your rates and that slowly filters out the good clients from the bad ones. Have you found that as well?

Sarah: Yeah, i have actually. It was Andy Clarke, when he called me one day and said, ‘Oh we have this thing called ‘double fridays’ or something *all laugh* He said every friday we just double our rates just to the person who comes, you know the enquiry comes through the door, just to see whether they’d pay it. And that’s how he’s established his rate is from ‘double fridays’ *all laugh*

Paul: I don’t believe a word of it. He makes it up, He doesn’t really do that!

Sarah: He told me! You can ask him, he’s up next, but that’s what he told me is that he just kept doubling until someone said ‘no’. *all laugh*

Ryan: One of the best quotes I ever heard was if the client doesn’t go ‘phooooah’ when you tell them the price then you’ve not charged them enough *all laugh* When they go ‘phoooah’ and ‘okay’ it’s just about right. *all laugh*

Sarah: But rates is really hard on to get right. I was talking to Jon Hicks at the conference in Bristol last year and when I told him what my rate was he went ‘Oh, I thought you’d be more expensive than that’. I don;t know if that’s a good thing or not but, um, I think it’s a funny thing, rates, and it’s really hard to get right and I’ve probably still not mastered it to be honest. But, um, I’m getting there. *laugh*

Ryan: It’s one of the things that you don’t, it’s not written down
anywhere what you should be charging, is it. you kind of learn from other freelancers, other agencies, you kind of feel your way through and hope you get it right eventually.

Sarah: yeah and it’s one of those things that other freelancers are kind of, um, you know a bit cloak and dagger about to be honest. It’s, a lot of people tend to think well it they’re charging that much and I’ve been doing this for x amount of years and I should be on the same. Um, t’s a really hard thing to try and gauge, what your rates should be and how you’re leveling with your peers really as well. Um, but I think it’s more difficult when you’re just starting out as well, but the thing I think is the most important is that you shouldn’t charge, you shouldn’t be really cheap when you start out. Because that caused me no end of problems when I first started out. There was only one client who came to me and said ‘If you do this job for me cheaply, I’ll use you forever more’ out of all the clients that I obtained at the beginning of starting the business, he was the only one to this day that still uses me. The rest of them I didn’t hear from again so that’s like the old chestnut, if anyone says that to you I definitely wouldn’t do it cheaply for them laugh*

Ryan: Yeah I had that recently as well, they said ‘Oh there’ll be plenty more work coming up. I said, ‘Well, I’m not going to drop my rates just for the same reason you wouldn’t sell me a product for cheaper on the proviso that I’m going to buy the next one from you”. They went, “Oh, yeah.”

Sarah: Exactly. I’ve got the best, um, thing to say to people like that now when they say that. I say “Well, okay on the next job I’ll give you a discount then or we’ll bring the price down in level with maybe further work that’s going to happen, but for this one – uh uh, sorry”

Ryan: Yeah that’s good.

Sarah: And generally, that’s the last you hear from then *everyone laughs*

Ryan: They usually turn out to be the bad ones. THey’re the ones you don’t want to be working anyway, aren’t they!

Sarah: Thing is, I think like pricing in the Web industry is really difficult as well. Because we’re on the Internet, there’s no barriers as to who you can use really anymore. I mean, beside from the fact that if you use someone outside your time zone, it’s slightly annoying but it doesn’t stop you from working with someone in America, or in Australia. SO the rates of pay in, between here, America, Australia, India are all very different, in as much as what you can get for your money. So, I think it’s such a difficult one to try and pitch what you should be charging and things like that. It’s really hard.

Ryan: Sorry, I got distracted by the feed going up with people shouting at me for being too quiet and not speaking into the mic properly. I’m sorry, I’m sorry to be mumbling so much I’m sorry! *everyone laughs” So we’ve got another question. Obviously this is the 200th show so what do you think it’s going to be like on show 400? What do you think the Web Design landscape’s going to look like at the 400th show?

Paul: That’s going to be another, 2 years, 4 years? 4 years.

Sarah: 4 years? Wow.

Ryan: That’s going to be 2 years, 400 – we’re on 200 now

Paul: Oh yeah – 2 years. *everyone laughs* No, 4 years, 4 years!

Ryan: 50 shows a year, oh yeah, 4 years.

Paul: Look, you can’t speak up loud enough and you can’t do basic maths. We’re going to have to throw you off

Ryan: Fine *everyone laughs* … sorry, Sarah. Carry on

Sarah: That’s all right. I’m just, I think the Web as we know it could change quite dramatically, um. I think we’ll be using a lot more handheld devices so I think that will be what we see the Internet as rather than how we, the traditional method of how we bring up a browser and viewing a website. I think we’ll have various devices for different things that will pull in information from the web as we know it. Um, but I think it will be a little bit different. *everyone laughs*

Paul: Is your answer to this question “It’s going to be a little bit different”?

Sarah: No!

Paul: I’m sorry, I’m teasing *laughs*

Sarah: It is going to be different, but I think it’s going to be different how we view the Internet, I don’t think we’ll be sitting, apart from us because we’re Web Designers and we have to sit in front of a screen all day. I think for other traditional internet users it wouldn’t be sitting in front of a computer and opening up a Web Browser. I think we’ll be doing a lot more on handheld devices and so change the way that we build websites for those devices. You watch, I bet it’ll happen now and you’ll have to eat your words. *everyone laugh*

Paul: I’m not arguing with you, it’s just that little bit lacking in, ummmm, in detail saying it’s going to be different.

Sarah: Sorry, did I just clarify that for you?

Paul: You did, thank you very much. Much better now. I’ll go away *laugh* I’m in trouble now, I can tell.

Ryan: Just you wait, Paul, in 4 years time the internet will be a little bit different and you’ll be eating your words. *everyone laughs*

Paul: As they’re saying in the chat room, it’s a very hard and unfair question

Sarah: My goodness! They’re sticking up for me?

Sarah: Some of them have been awful today in the things they’ve been saying *everyone laugh*

Ryan: You feel that already, because when you come to the barn, within about a mile radius you lose phone signal here and it’s like your heart stops. It’s like “I’ve lost signal, I’ve lost signal. It’s like your life support machine’s been turned off *everyone laughs*

Paul: hang on! This is my working environment you’re slagging off! I like it here!

Sarah: But you’re not there that much are you! *everyone laughs*

Paul: Okay, you’ve got your own back

Ryan: Okay Sarah, well thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us

Sarah: No problem thanks for having me Ask Andy about double Fridays

Paul: We will, he’s on next I think he makes stuff up

Sarah: He makes stuff up? no!

Paul: Thanks a lot, bye


Thanks goes to Wendy Phillips for transcribing this interview.

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