This week on the Boagworld Web Show we are joined by Andy Clarke to talk about your web design career choices.
Paul: Hello and welcome to Boagworld.com, podcast for all those involved in designing, developing and running websites on a daily basis. My name’s Paul and joining me—oh Marcus is here, but we don’t care about him—joining me is Andy. Hello Andy!
Paul: Andy of the Clarkson-eses.
Andy: As in Jeremy Clarkson. You want to go there.
Paul: You know he is your hero.
Andy: I do feel a certain affinity for Jeremy Clarkson, I have to say. I found out today that it is actually now no longer acceptable to say ‘Brainstorming’.
Marcus: Why not?
Andy: It is un-PC to say ‘Brainstorming’.
Paul: Why, because some people don’t have brains?
Andy: No, because apparently—and this is a serious point—some people who have epilepsy find that term offensive.
Marcus: I’m lost for words.
Paul: Yes, so am I.
Andy: I only found this out today because I wrote ‘Brainstorming’ on a board with one of my new clients, who in her previous life, used to train police officers. And the first thing that she said was that ‘We weren’t allowed to say ‘Brainstorming’ at Manchester Police because it’s not PC’.
Paul: That’s terrible. So there you go. That’s a really, really… I think we could stop now. I think we’ve done the season. We’ve shared a useful piece of information that nobody knew. This is going to be a long show.
Marcus: It is going to be a long show. What’s your opinion on that Andy?
Andy: I think that it’s politically… I can’t say bollocks on Boagworld, can I?
Paul: Of course you can!
Andy: I think it’s total bollocks.
Paul: It’s political correctness gone mad. That’s what you are supposed to say, isn’t it.
Andy: I think so. I mean I don’t want to sound like Nigel Farage, because frankly who would. But I do think that it’s EU PC gone mad. Actually it’s not to do with EU, but it’s mainly to do with Americans. I am going to blame Americans for our politically correct landscape.
Paul: Really? We just blame Americans for everything.
Marcus: We usually do, yes.
Paul: Absolutely, that’s good. So anyway, hello Marcus.
Marcus: Hello Paul. How have you been on your few weeks off?
Paul: I haven’t been… you do this all the time to me! I’ve worked damn hard these last few weeks.
Marcus: Swanning around in the beautiful countryside.
Paul: I was swanning around in the beautiful countryside.
Andy: I don’t believe a single word that comes out of his mouth anymore, now that he’s bought the green screen. Because he could have stayed somewhere near Barnstable and just projected all of those beautiful backgrounds.
Paul: To be quite frank, the green screen is the bane of my life at the moment. I am having problems with my video quality. It happens as you get older.
Marcus: What? The camera is shy to your face?
Paul: It doesn’t like looking at me anymore.
Andy: Try soft focus.
Marcus: When I was flicking through the show notes earlier, which I won’t give away yet Paul because you can kind of introduce all that bit. But it did make me laugh that three old men are talking about people starting off in web design.
Paul: Oh yes, totally the wrong three people to be discussing it really. I couldn’t help but invite Andy on the show. Because he’s been kind enough to invite me onto Unfinished Business a few times. And if you haven’t heard Andy’s podcast, it’s worth checking out. Although I say that, but I never actually listen to it.
Marcus: I’ve been on it, but I wasn’t with Andy.
Paul: Yes but you’ve been on it, but have you actually listened to anything other than the episode that you’ve been on?
Marcus: Oh I probably listen to an episode every other week.
Paul: Because this is my dirty little secret. That I don’t listen to podcasts.
Marcus: I don’t listen to podcasts either.
Andy: I don’t listen to yours.
Paul: So Andy, do you actually listen to podcasts?
Andy: I listen to a lot of podcasts actually, yes.
Paul: Do you really? I used to.
Andy: Yes, I listen to them often when I am working on my own or when I am in the car and I actually listen to them with one earbud in when I am going to sleep, because there is nothing that puts me to sleep faster than listening to John Gruber’s talk show.
And I love it. I absolutely love it. I listen to it a lot, and I really, really like it – it’s one of my favourite pod casts. But you put an ear bud in and you set your podcast client to sleep timer for fifteen minutes. It starts off, and I am gone. So I listen to the talk show in fifteen minute increments. It takes like two weeks to listen to an episode.
Marcus: Oh there you go. It would annoy me having ear buds in at night.
Andy: It falls out after a while. You just have to roll over and it’s gone.
Paul: There’s a new set of earbuds coming, which a Kick-starter project, the only Kick-starter project I have ever backed which is for a pair of earbuds which basically have no cord to them. So you can wear them in bed and then lose them.
Andy: Are they Bluetooth?
Paul: Yes, they are called Earin. They haven’t actually shipped yet, but I have backed them.
Andy: I hope you can’t hear this cat yowling in the background. Shut up Lucy!
Paul: I could hear you shout ‘Shut up Lucy!’ Does that count?
Marcus: I assume the Cat’s called Lucy?
Paul: No, his wife’s called Lucy. So rude. Why she puts up with him, I don’t know.
So this season we’re going to be talking about running your own Web Design business. We’ve got a whole season dedicated to that. Because basically since we started the podcast in 1945, that’s just the single thing people wanted us to talk about and I’ve managed to put it off for this long. But I’ve decided to finally do it. And the reason we never did it before, was because why did we want to help other people set up and run competition to us. But I’ve reached a point where I really don’t care anymore.
Marcus: We have spoken about it. We haven’t done a whole series on it. We have done the odd, we used to do—and this really is back in the 50’s—we used to do questions from people and responding to them as part of the show. And that was often about ‘I am considering leaving my job’ and things like that. But that was such a long time ago, it’s not really relevant.
Paul: Yes. It felt like it was time to do it again. And what I wanted to do to kick the season off was just focus on one particular area which is a broader web design career question. Before we get into setting up your own web design business, because that isn’t the only option available. You can get a job, like proper grown-ups do. But I wanted to start by looking at web design career choices more generally. And who better on the show Marcus, as you pointed out, than three old men who can’t remember how they started their careers?
Marcus: That had nothing to do with web design. It didn’t exist when I started my career.
Paul: No, but actually Andy, you’re even more old than Marcus aren’t you?
Andy: You make it sound as if I’m about to draw my pension.
Paul: Well you could do?
Andy: I am close to a bus pass.
Paul: You must be in the SAGA age group now.
Andy: Give it until November, and I’ll start getting those offers through.
Marcus: You’re a smidge older than me then.
Andy: Just a tiny touch.
Paul: But I have got to say, he looks a lot better than you these days, Marcus. The picture he has in Skype doesn’t do him justice, let’s put it like that.
Marcus: I still use a picture from ten years ago, from pretty much every social media platform that there is.
Paul: Are you like one of those people on dating sites that show a photo of them twenty years ago?
Marcus: I should dig out some old picture from the band days thirty years ago. That would be a good idea. People put pictures of themselves as children, so that could be a thing to do.
Paul: I actually think you look better now than you did when you were in the band.
Andy: You two should get a room.
Marcus: I know. What if he fancies you as well? Apparently you look a lot better than me, Andy.
Paul: Me and Andy are spending a dirty weekend together, soon. Aren’t we Andy?
Andy: Yes, I have heard talk about this. My social secretary did tell me that something was being planned.
Paul: Mmm. So there you go. So anyway, back to the season…
Marcus: You can’t just leave that hanging!
Paul: Yes I am going to leave that hanging. I have a social life, Marcus and it doesn’t always include you. Just saying.
Marcus: It never includes me.
Paul: No it doesn’t. There’s all these other web design companies…‘Yeah, we go out together, we hang out in the evening’. We’ve never done that, have we?
Andy: We haven’t done that enough and I think we might as well talk about this for a moment because this weekend, it’s not just a social weekend, I think there is going to be a little bit of business talk along the way, is that I sent a fairly desperate email out to you and a group of our friends earlier on this year, basically saying ‘Help, I’m really frustrated and I don’t think I want to do this job anymore and I am really not sure what to do next, so I wonder whether we could get together and talk about it?’ I think that was the kick off for this particular meet up?
We talk about how to start off a web design business but I think we are constantly starting a web business. I mean I know that I am right now, starting the other one that just happens to have the same name with the same people, but I want to do different things.
Marcus: Oh that’s very close to my heart at the moment.
Paul: You’re not allowed to come.
Marcus: No I don’t want to, so there! No, just the idea of ‘Is this really what I want to do?’ I spent most of last year thinking that, and we had a really bad year last year, and this year has been like starting again, and the fact that it’s been like starting again and we’re crazy busy, it’s all getting back on board again, it’s taken that ‘Do I really want to do this anymore?’ away. It was a bit of a slap around the face, interestingly. It really has been starting again.
Andy: It’s better without Paul isn’t it.
Marcus: It’s different without Paul. We are working on a project together.
Paul: We’re working on several projects together Marcus, but at Headscape I am only working on one with you.
Marcus: So yes, it’s different. I bumped into Richard Rutter at a Conference recently and he said he was in exactly the same place around Christmas time last year. Just sort of rudder-less but then he was better when I met him a month or two ago.
Andy: I think people go up and down, I mean I know that I have. I came back from Australia and had a conversation with Paul about potential future directions and he gave me some food for thought and I feel a lot better about things now. Just because of some of the changes that we’ve made and some of the stuff that we’ve done. I think people go up and down. Creative people do go up and down, I think its part of our nature.
Paul: You have to remember that a lot of us, we’ve gotten into the web because we’re attracted to the new and the exciting and stuff like that. But the web isn’t new and exciting in the same way. But it’s not that Wild West that it was. So I think we are having to re-invent ourselves and I know certainly I was ready for that. I’d reached the point where I needed to do something new, I needed to do something different and that has worked out well not just for me, but I think it’s worked out well for Headscape as well, as it’s reinvigorated you guys as well which I think is an important part of it.
Marcus: Totally and everyone that works for us. It’s just been a ‘All hands to the pump’ thing. Back in January I was worried that everyone was going to filter off, but they didn’t. And there was a lot of loyalty shown and it was great. Very inspiring in a way.
Paul: But this is the wrong way to start the podcast. We’ve all just sat here and we’ve just said ‘We’re fed up with our career’.
Marcus: I didn’t. I said it’s changed.
Andy: I said it’s better now.
Marcus: Yes, ditto.
Paul: But we’re not exactly selling this as a career choice to all the people that are going to listen to this show that’s supposed to be about web design career choices. But we are just being honest. Even the rock and roll lifestyle of a web designer. Right actually, at the beginning of this season I am going to use this term we designer to be an all-encompassing term for anyone who works in digital. Because I can’t be arsed to come up with some politically correct term that encompasses developers, UX people, content people, blah, blah, blah.
Andy: Can we have a rule though please Paul?
Paul: What’s the rule?
Andy: We cannot call people Engineers. Because here is the thing. I went for a walk the other day and I walked along the canal between Llangollen and Chirk which is beautiful along the Welsh border. And men dug that canal. Literally with spades and shovels, they dug that canal by hand. And we walked over a bridge and it must have had about a billion rivets in it that was designed by Thomas Telford and it was an amazing structure that spans the border between England and Wales. That thing, Engineers built that, right. You cannot be an engineer unless someone can walk over something that you’ve made.
Paul: Are you allowed to print out the website, put it on the floor and walk over it?
Andy: I suppose you could do that. Bridges – engineers. Dicking around with a bit of code – not an engineer.
Paul: There we go. You heard it here first, people. Anyway, we’re fifteen minutes in and we’re still on the introduction so I am going to stop at this point and do a quick sponsor slot as the sponsor slot relates to the discussion. This whole idea of finding sponsors the whole time, I haven’t got time for it. So wonderfully we’ve found two sponsors who will sponsor the entire season between them which is awesome. First of which is Template Monster who was a sponsor on last season, but what they are doing which is really cool this season is to get things integrated a little bit more, so a big chunk of the discussion points that we are going to talk about, the questions that we’ve got have come from the Template Monster community. So some of them are from the Boagworld community and some are from Template Monster which is really great, as they are actively getting involved with the show which is great.
I am doing so much with them at the moment. They are actually quite a cool group of people. I have a lot of time for them. I am currently working on a web course which they are going to give away free which is ‘An introduction to designing for the web’. Like basic design principles, which is really kind of cool. So that will be coming out in dribs and drabs over this season as and when they release it.
Their site is worth checking out. Ok, let’s put cards on the table. Templates are never going to be as good as doing a bespoke design from scratch that’s specifically designed around your individual needs. But in a lot of cases it’s a very sensible business decision to go down that line. If you are looking for templates that you are going to edit and customise and all of the rest of it, then I highly recommend Template Monster. They have over forty-six thousand designs, stack loads of categories and as I’ve been doing this course, this ‘Introduction to designing for the web’, I’ve been looking through their stuff as it’s a really simple way of getting examples to use on the videos. I just go through Template Monster and use the various examples that they’ve got, which is great. And I am really very impressed with some of the templates. The quality actually is pretty high on a lot of them. So it’s also worth signing up for their newsletter and their blog as they give away loads of stuff for free there, so check that out. All of that stuff you can get to, find out more about Template Monster, newsletter, blog, samples, all the rest of it at Boagworld.com/templatemonster.
Discussing web design career choices
Paul: So today we are talking about web design career choices and we’ve got a whole stack of questions and we’ll just work through them and see how far we get in the time we’ve got available.
The first one, we haven’t got names against any of these, so apologies to those who submitted these, if your name isn’t included.
Marcus: We used to make them up, Paul.
Paul: Oh right. Dan from Ireland says ‘Is it possible to become a web designer without a degree?’ In today’s world. Andy what do you think?
Andy: Of course it is.
Paul: There we go. Done.
Andy: I think all three of us are completely unqualified to be doing the jobs that we are doing. In terms of actually written down, on a piece of paper, qualifications. I am not saying education isn’t important. Education is very important. But in terms of actually having a degree in a web design or related area, no, of course you don’t. I know some really good people at some good universities. I deal a lot with Richard Eskins at Manchester Met quite a lot and I’ve got to know his current intake of students and they do some really good stuff. There are some really good people there but as to whether or not you actually need a degree to be a web designer, no. Of course not.
People come at this from all kinds of different areas and one of the interesting things about the web is that people come at it from all kinds of different positions. Some people come at it because they are interested in the creative, like me, some people are coming at it because they want to solve problems or they might be technical in relation to something like development or they might be interested in structure so they love things like content strategy or information architecture or whatever. Or they might be interested in anthropology or graphical studies. All of that science-y stuff that I can’t do. So that’s an interesting thing so it just goes into this huge melting pot. So in terms of actually being a web designer, can you do that without a degree – if you are going by your definition of a web designer means everybody, then I suppose the answer is some can and some can’t.
Paul: Hmm yes, that was what I was going to come back and say. Yes I can see that from a designer-designer point of view. But if you are a server-side back end coder I think a degree says something. It’s says something about your ability to learn and to understand and to understand basic principles of development. So maybe it’s a bit different. The other thing, maybe I don’t know, is do you think even from a designer point of view that things maybe have changed. Yes we managed to get into the industry without a degree because there were no web design related degrees out there. Do you think that’s still the case?
Andy: Yes, I think it depends a lot on what you are wanting to do. It depends a lot on your attitude and approach to things as well. We don’t need to hire any design talent right now, but if we did, I’d be looking much more at how somebody presented themselves, presented the work that they’d done rather than actually seeing what qualifications that they’ve got. Sometimes I would like to see experience and I think education is very much part of that experience. I would be a very different person now, had I not done an Art degree and a foundation course for a year before that. I would probably be doing something completely different. That degree taught me to be adaptable. It didn’t teach me anything in my day-to-day work, not even creative stuff, it didn’t teach me about advertising, or typography or layout or anything. I was just a rubbish painter. But the fact that I had to learn to be adaptable through that education process, that taught me a lot in later life.
Marcus: I think degrees teach people how to analyse things properly. Assuming they pass at the end of their studies. We’ve never hired a designer—a creative graphics type person—with a degree. But we’ve never hired a back end developer who hasn’t got one. I am kind of with you Paul, part of the reason for that was there weren’t any degrees in web design, but at the time there were degrees in computer science, physics and things like that which relate more to back end coding. But I am not so sure that we will start to see designer CVs with degrees on them. I haven’t seen them yet, and I certainly see one a week, someone coming through asking if we have any jobs.
Paul: Just to qualify there, you mean somebody with a web design degree? Because we’ve definitely hired designers with degrees but just not a web design degree.
Marcus: Yes, those things didn’t exist. But it will be interesting to see if they do start to come through more and if there’s an expectation from people who have taken them that it carries weight. Which I guess it should do. But there was always an argument five to ten years ago about it wasn’t even worth going to University. I don’t know if that is the case or not now.
Andy: The other thing to consider is whether or not you want to be hired outside the UK, particularly in America. For example it’s incredibly difficult to get into the States anyway, but to get something like a H1 work visa without a degree is pretty much impossible. And if you want to work for a large tech company, and I think Google are still this way, they don’t even touch anyone that doesn’t have a Computer Science degree. I don’t know how they hire designers these days but I think that kind of thing might matter if your ambitions are going to take you outside the country.
Paul: Mmm. That’s a really good point actually. I mean there is another kind of, theres a spin off question to this which is quite interesting. Which is, ‘If I want to be a lawyer, I have to jump through certain hoops to be a lawyer. And if I can’t jump through those hoops, I can’t go through that education cycle, then I will not become a lawyer’. So if we are saying a degree is maybe a nice-to-have for a web designer but not essential, if you decide not to go down that route, how do you know whether or not you are good enough to be a web designer? How do you know that you are good enough to do this job? Which is a question somebody has asked. I honestly don’t know the answer to this one because I am still not convinced I am good enough to do the job.
Marcus: Who gets to decide on what is good enough and what isn’t?
Marcus: A portfolio can tell me an awful lot about someone’s competency and whether they are good enough. So if you have done a load of work, whether it’s in your bedroom or for someone else, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have a degree.
Paul: I got the impression from this question was that someone was saying ‘Is this a career path that is worth my time persuing?’ And the answer is yes. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel as if there is any kind of magical… that would be a valid question to ask if you wanted to be a pop star.
Marcus: Well the answer to that question is ‘No, it’s not worth it’.
Paul: But it’s a valid question in the sense that you’ve got to have certain musical abilities. For an orchestral violinist or something, you’ve got to have certain natural abilities. I don’t think that’s the case in web design.
Marcus: Ahh I disagree.
Andy: And I disagree.
Marcus: I said this in one of my rare posts that I wrote six weeks ago, that I think designers have an eye that they are born with. Of course you have to learn stuff to support that.
Paul: Ahh, hang on a minute. See we’re going to have this problem all season. I meant that in the broadest get involved in the web rather than be a specific designer.
Marcus: But to be a visual designer is very much a part of web design, so for that element of it, then I think there is a certain amount of natural talent required.
Andy: Being good enough is relative, for one thing and also people change. Their abilities change all the time. You’re not going to hire somebody that is a fully formed web designer. And I don’t want to dictate what people do. People that work for me, I don’t want to dictate the style of whatever they create. But I do want them to be able to have an eye and appreciate perhaps some of the sensibilities that we find important. We are very, very particular about typography and layout above everything else and sometimes we will make a design is purely all about typography and purely all about layout and there isn’t a single graphical element in it. And people think you’re mad. But those are our design sensibilities and those are the things we find valuable and I would expect a designer to understand that and to have an appreciation for those elements outside of the context of everything else. And those are the kind of things that I would value in a designer that I work with.
And above all else, somebody is very good with dealing with clients. I honestly believe that being able to actually sit in a room with somebody and to talk about a design not in a condescending or a patronising way in terms of explaining things, or even in some kind of egotistical way. Some way in which you can actually relate to the person sitting opposite you and talk about this thing in front of you. It’s extremely important. And that’s a skill that I think a lot of people are lacking. It takes a while to get there. It takes a while to build up your confidence.
Paul: I think that is one of the… that ability to interact with other people is something that Universities really don’t teach very well. And Marcus I know sometimes you lament the fact that you didn’t go to University. But actually swanning around the world and going on talk shows and all that pop star sort of stuff that you did, I know I joke about it a lot, but it was actually probably a very good training ground for those softer skills.
Marcus: Absolutely. One hundred percent. Yes, I always said rather flippantly, it taught me how to be a salesman. I certainly don’t lament not going to University, but certainly back in the days when it was free, which it would have been for me, I think it would have been a great experience. I would probably have spent most the time off my head but I just didn’t do it. And I kind of wish I had. But it’s no huge regret at all. My regret with it to a certain extent is that I’ve always felt a lot like an imposter. The imposter-syndrome thing. Because I don’t feel as though I have any background in web design (with air quotes) and I’ve just brought in logical thinking and empathy for others, dealing with the people I am working with, which kind of works and I always felt a bit out of place and wish I had something that I could go ‘Hey, I did that.’ But that’s life.
Andy: The next question is about being a generalist and whether or not that is a valid career option and I think that one of the things that time at University should do is to give somebody time, three or four years to actually find out which direction they want to push off into. That’s not to say people are going to stick to that path. I didn’t ever think that was what I was going to be doing now, when I went to Art School, but it gave me time where I could experiment with things. I could think ‘wow I am actually a really terrible painter, but I really enjoy photography’. And if I hadn’t done that I wouldn’t have taken the kind of career paths that I did. And I do worry sometimes that our education system in general, all the way through high school and all the way through University focuses kids so heavily, so quickly. And so they are often locked into a certain career path and they then find it very difficult to deviate from.
I think the University is brilliant for giving people that opportunity to go ‘Do you know what? Yeah’. Take my son for instance. He didn’t know what sort of geologist he wanted to be when he started his Masters. He could have gone into oil, or exploration, or research or all these kind of things. He’s taken a slightly different career path to most of the other people as he’s found what he is interested in. And that’s really worth it from a University point of view.
Paul: Mmm. I agree. But what about, following on from this generalist thing. Is it a valid career choice to be a jack-of-all-trades?
Andy: You say that as if it’s a derogatory term.
Paul: No, no, sorry. Because I would consider myself a jack-of-all-trades.
Andy: Actually, we are all an ensemble of skills. Whether or not as a graphic designer you know about typography but also you know a little bit about UX or you know a little bit about making something responsive or whatever. Everybody is a package of skills. So therefore I think to a certain extent we are all generalists, or we should be generalists. Because if you are only focused on Information Architecture and that is all you are ever going to do, then you’re going to have a pretty boring time aren’t you. And you are never going to be exposed to the kind of other influences that come from outside of your chosen area which could actually make what you do better.
Paul: Yes. And there is also of course the element of even if you are an obsessive in Information Architecture and only care about that, you still have to work with designers, developers, copy writers etc. so you need to have a basic understanding of their areas and their skills. So my feeling is absolutely. I think generalists have got their place. And they have their place at every level as well. There is this view that a generalist is the kind of person that works on small websites, where they do everything from beginning to end. But actually I think there is a real role for someone with a broader portfolio of skills at a higher level as well, to bring those different specialists together and to get them talking the same language and interaction. And I think our perception of being a generalist is actually quite a narrow perception of being a generalist. My interests extend way beyond the field of the web into things like psychology and marketing and business analysis and all kinds of different areas and I think all of that aids and improves the quality of the work that I do in my actual job, if that makes sense. In the same way that no doubt that your interest in photography has improved your design skills.
Andy: And I think if we are talking about generalists as in, for example, what stuff and nonsense was for a very long time, was me making websites for people. I would design them and I would make up the code in Dreamweaver and ultimately I would write CSS and I would plug in a little CMS and I would fill it with content and I would deliver it to the Client and it would be ‘There’s your website’. That’s a very common view of a generalist. And I am sure that there will always be at a certain point in the market, there will always be a need for exactly that kind of person, or exactly that kind of company. At the age that I am I don’t want to be doing that anymore. Which is why we have moved away from that so that we are much more focused on the advertising and the marketing and the general message, and the graphic design and things like that. So I suppose our skills haven’t changed, it’s just that we are focusing on a particular area now.
Paul: Yes, and I think that’s another advantage of being a generalist that I like is that you have that ability to pivot more and to re-learn new areas. I started off as you did Andy, as a designer. I did that for a long length of time and then I became increasingly interested in the user experience or usability, user interface side of things. Moved from there onto more of the business analysis stuff and it’s kind of just shifted over the years. And I like that. And it goes back to what you were saying about not getting yourself stuck in one niche and not being able to move out of it. I am a huge fan of having a broad skill set personally, but it doesn’t seem to be particularly trendy these days, does it?
Marcus: No. Andy mentioned earlier, that you want people who work with you or for you to deal well with clients. I often think that there is a kind of association with specialists that doesn’t include that. So I am kind of keen on the generalist term because I think it means that you can deal with people.
Paul: Yes. Absolutely. So, here’s an interesting question that is where the rubber really hits the road, which is…
Andy: Did you just say that?
Marcus: He often comes out with these Americanisms. I have to slap him. I left it to you this time.
Paul: I entirely deserve that. I can’t defend myself. It was disgraceful behaviour and I ask your forgiveness. I was going to ask, one of the questions I have got here is, ‘What are the chances of succeeding as a web designer in today’s marketplace?’
I’m banging on a lot at the moment about how it’s quite a tough marketplace and I think both you Marcus, from a Headscape point of view and Andy, I’ve had conversations with you both. You’ve both told me in the past that it’s been a struggle over the past year or so—you’ve just said it a minute ago, Marcus. I’m not recruiting anyone at the moment, you’re not anyone Marcus, Andy you’re not recruiting anyone. Should people be thinking about this as a career path at the moment?
Andy: First of all, and I am sure it was probably the same for Headscape, over the last couple of years there was no shortage of work. It wasn’t as if the phone wasn’t ringing, the problem was that the phone wasn’t ringing with the type of projects with the type of budgets that we wanted to work on. So we were unfortunately working on a lot of smaller, a lot of lower budget projects that by their very nature mean that there is a lot more maintenance, there is a lot more creative energy that you need, there is a lot more of everything that goes into producing the same amount of stuff. Which actually just makes it bloody hard work.
Marcus: But we, well you know this Paul. Last year, yes there were not enough opportunities, good opportunities, as you mentioned Andy but equally there were some good opportunities but we kept coming second. Second on this, second on that, for this reason, for that reason. To the point of at the turn of this year that this can’t carry on. It simply can’t. And it’s proven to be the case. We haven’t won everything we’ve gone for this year, but we got our usual fair share. I think that we’ve had to set our sights slightly lower, but that implies some kind of…that I am being rude to our new clients. But we’ve had to take a view on some budgets and go ‘yeah, ok we can do a job for this’. Whereas maybe three years ago we would have said ‘no this is our price for doing that piece of work’. So we’ve had to be a little bit more pragmatic about our pricing, but that’s not to say we’ve had to cut through it. It was like, if everything could go wrong, went wrong last year, but it seems that’s not the case right now. It could be because we are smaller, bringing slightly a different attitude towards things, but yes, we’ve won stuff that we just weren’t winning last year at all. And it was for various reasons. Two of the things we didn’t win would have been the biggest projects we’d ever gone for. So…
Andy: The thing is, the question asks about what are the chances of success. Again you have to ask ‘what are you measuring that against?’ As a small business, with very little in the way of overheads, I mean apart from salaries I think our overheads are £500–600 a month. Don’t ask me what they are because Sue deals with all the paperwork and all the money side of things. But we have very low overheads apart from what we pay ourselves. And because we worked from home for sixteen years up until fairly recently, our overheads were so low that we didn’t necessarily need to do an enormous quantity of high value work to have a damn good living. And just the two of us working together would routinely do a £150,000–160,000 a year. And we don’t owe anybody any money, we never owed anybody any money. We always pay our bills on time and people always generally pay us on time and I consider that to be a successful business. We are still doing it sixteen years down the line.
We are not going to compete on the same jobs, alongside Headscape or Clearleft or any of the larger companies, despite people thinking what our profile is. Because it’s pretty obvious when people meet with us that we are just a two or three person team and we concentrate in a certain way. But that’s ok, as I don’t want to necessarily be working on websites that cost £150,000 and take a year to make because that isn’t in our interests either. So you can only measure success where you find it and I suppose the real measure is whether or not you are happy doing what you are doing and you are able to make a financial success of it. And there is plenty of work around. There’s no shortage of work, it’s just a case of getting the people that know that they want to buy you, to buy you. And to know where you are.
Marcus: I am in complete agreement with you there, Andy. I would also like to say on this particular question, there are two sides of it. All we’ve talked about is if you are going to set up your own business. What about if you want to become a web designer and work for someone else. What are the prospects there?
Paul: I think that the prospects are pretty good there.
Marcus: Yes, certainly are.
Paul: Not necessarily within agencies, because there are agencies that are getting squeezed at the moment for various reasons, but there is a desperate need for in-house teams. The biggest thing I am doing now, is working with in-house teams. And I’ve just come back, as people know from Scotland, working with a client there. And they are trying to recruit three or four different people and they can’t fill any of those positions. So from that point of view, I think absolutely there is a lot of opportunities to succeed.
Andy: Not to plug my own podcast, but I have just published today (I am not sure when this is going to run out) but it is Episode 107 of Unfinished Business with Andy Budd. You Paul get mentioned a couple of times and Andy and a bunch of other people are talking about this squeeze on agencies and other people moving in-house and I think the thing that it really highlights is that there is no shortage of opportunity for design talent. Whether or not you go work in-house or with an agency, there is absolutely no shortage of creative opportunity.
Paul: And not even just design talent, I think from everything from content strategy through to user research to all of the different fields, there seems to be a good solid demand for it. So absolutely.
Hey, here’s a good one. ‘What is the biggest mistake one can make in starting their web design career?’
Obviously we can’t draw that much from our own experiences because nobody was paying attention when we started our own web design career and we couldn’t cock things up. But what do you think the biggest mistake is now?
Marcus: Oh that’s tough. I think if we are going to divide it into setting up your own business and going to work for someone else. Setting up your own business, the biggest mistake would be to spend all your money and get into debt. You need a Christ Scott in your ranks. My partner in crime, and Paul’s old partner in crime. He’s very sensible.
Paul: I know, I’ve missed him. The biggest thing I have missed is him tutting at me and telling me I can’t buy a new toy.
Marcus: That’s not really what you mean is it. I don’t know is the honest answer.
Paul: To me actually this one and the next one tie together. Because the next one is ‘How do you find your next job?’ And I think the biggest mistake you can make in your web design career is not to engage with the rest of the web community. For me, I see a lot of web designers who sit in their little isolated bubbles ok? And as a result they are not being exposed to new things, they are not being exposed to innovations, but they are also not networking and building relationships and becoming actively involved in the community.
Andy stop sending me sketches to my Apple Watch while we are doing a podcast.
Marcus: Your Apple Watch? You’ve got one?
Paul: Of course he’s sketching a penis to me… How old are you Andy, again?
Marcus: See that’s interesting. In my mind I am 17, possibly 18. How old are you Andy?
Andy: Yes, I’ve never got beyond 12.
Marcus: Fair enough.
Paul: Do you know Andy, that’s really weird, because that’s exactly the age I think of myself as well. Because we now have got to the point where my son is just starting to be more mature than I am, which worries me.
Andy: What was the question again?
Marcus: Who cares?
Paul: About finding your next job and also about the biggest mistakes and I was putting those two questions together and saying it’s about engaging with the community and the biggest mistake is sitting in your little isolated bubble and not getting out there and meeting people and going to conferences, and being at meet-ups and reading the blogs and engaging on Twitter and all that kind of stuff. Because for me, I spent years working in relative isolation, with just a small team of people oblivious to the fact that there was a bigger world out there. And it wasn’t until myself, Marcus and Chris went to @media2005 that I suddenly had this realisation there were other web designers out there and there was a community or industry or whatever word we want to use. So I think, that’s for me, a big thing.
Paul: Andy has no opinion on the subject, I can tell.
Andy: No, I actually didn’t want to rush into it.
Paul: You wanted to leave it hanging for a moment?
Andy: No, I think being sociable is really important because I think I spent way too long working on my own and although I was fairly active on the blogs and on the Twitters and all that kind of stuff and went to conferences and everything else, my actual working life was pretty solitary. And that’s only changed relatively recently. So if I could have gone back and changed that I think that I would have benefitted from working alongside people a lot earlier. And I think if you are starting off I know people that have gone and worked with companies and we all know people that have basically come out of university and they are bright sparks and rising stars and they go and work on their own. I can think of several examples. I think that being sociable and having other creative inputs is extremely valuable and I don’t think that it’s necessarily useful for people to just sit on their own and think ‘right I am going to make something’. I think that’s almost anti-creative.
Paul: And I think it can be I also know of some young up and coming designers that look very… look like they are going to be really amazing and take off and they work by themselves for a while and then they burn out and they disappear because they are not getting fed by other people. And one of the things that I often say is that if you are starting out in your web career I actually think it’s good at the beginning stages to work as part of a team. To kick off straight away and go freelance I think is tough. It’s a tough way to work.
Andy: I didn’t do this, but I wish now looking back that I had had more of a creative or business partnership. We tried it a couple of times and it didn’t work out but I like the idea the older that I get to work alongside somebody where you can really bounce the ideas around. I mean, Dan Edwards and Ryan Carver for example have formed a really nice little partnership which is along exactly the same line as people in advertising. Copyrighters and Art Directors would work together since the 60s etc. And I think we should see a lot more of that kind of stuff. That’s not to say you have to get married to somebody or go into business with them, but having somebody that understands you and you can understand them and the way that you work together is really important. And actually meeting people offline is really valuable. You’re not going to get that. We all know what it’s like when somebody has a perception of you or they think you are a certain way because of your Twitter persona or whatever it might be and there’s nothing actually better than meeting up with people and getting together, which is why conferences are so valuable.
Paul: Absolutely. Do you know what? I am going to wrap it up at that point otherwise this will become a really long show. Thanks everybody for all the questions that you sent in. it’s hugely appreciated. Sorry if we didn’t get to yours. Keep them coming in. I am blogging each week about what we are going to be covering the following weeks and you can add comments in there as to what you want us to discuss and what you want to cover but you can also drop me emails. The whole season is going to be about running your own business so drop us any questions you might feel relevant to that.
Next week we are going to look at starting your web design business and what to do in those first few crucial weeks, so if you have any questions around that, then drop me a line.
Paul: Before we hear Marcus’s wonderful joke to wrap the show up—sorry Andy you will have to sit through that there is no way around it—one more quick mention. This sponsor is Lynda. Lynda.com is going to be sponsoring this entire season of the podcast. We very much appreciate their support. They’ve got over 3000 on demand video courses on business, creativity, technical skills. Andy didn’t you do a Lynda course back in the day?
Andy: Oh my god, in about 199- no, it was about 2005–2006 I went to a CSS course and I still get people buying that course which I am absolutely staggered by, but yes, it was a good thing to have done.
Paul: Yes, they have been around for a long time. Probably the most well-established of all of these different video learning environments obviously because they are almost as old as Andy. They’ve got some great courses on typography, colour theory, logo design, y-framing, CSS, you name it they seem to have it. You can watch and learn from top experts who are passionate about teaching. I have to say, I remember watching yours Andy. I don’t think I really knew you back then, but I did watch your course. I was quite impressed actually. You looked very cool, you had a very swanky studio at the time. It didn’t have any apes in it, it was when you were in your mod stage rather than your ape stage.
Andy: Some people would say I was always in an ape stage.
Paul: You could stream thousands of videos on demand, learn at your own schedule. Courses are structured so that you can watch them from start to finish or consume them in little bite-size pieces which is really nice. You can browse through each course transcript or follow along or you can search for answers and skip to that point in the video which is massively useful. Video learning is great but if you can’t skip to the bit you want it’s a pain in the neck.
You can take notes as you go along which you can refer to later if you want to, all within the Lynda system. Download tutorials and watch them on the go, including on IOS and on Android and you can create playlists of your courses to watch etc, etc. You can get a ten day free trial if you go to the url Lynda.com.
Now this season we have got guests on the show, so well I fake laugh because I am kind of obliged to. But there is no guarantee that the guests are going to do that so I really feel you need to step up your game with your jokes.
Andy: No pressure.
Marcus: This one is from Darryl. Thank you Darryl. More jokes please people.
An old man walked into a barber shop for a shave and a haircut. He told the barber he couldn’t get all his whiskers off because his cheeks were wrinkled from age. The barber got a little wooden ball from a cup on the shelf and asked the old man to put it in his cheek to spread out the skin. When he’d finished the old man told the barber it was the cleanest shave he had had in yonks, but asked ‘What would have happened if I had swallowed the ball?’
The barber replied ‘You’d just have to bring it back in a couple of days, just like everyone else.’
Paul: That’s seriously really good.
Andy: Ok, that is actually pretty good.
Paul: Darryl, thank you very much. That was really good. That was the best joke I think I have heard you tell in a long time Marcus. It gets a 7/10.
Marcus: Wow, that’s got to be the highest mark I have ever got.
Paul: We’ve never marked you before, but just presume that’s the highest you would have ever gotten.
So that’s it for this week. Thank you Andy for coming in, we’ve really enjoyed having you on the show and it’s been an interesting discussion topic and I look forward to where we are going this season. Andy are you happy to come back at some later date on the show?
Andy: I would be more than happy and we must have you back on Unfinished Business at some point to talk about usually Dr Who with Mr Hicks.
Paul: Yes, I seem to be paired permanently with Mr Hicks, which is no bad thing, I like him. He’s nice.
Andy: And his pyjamas?
Marcus: Don’t know where to go with that.
Paul: Ok, thanks for listening, and we’ll be back again next week. Goodbye!
Links mentioned in the show
- Andy Clarke
- John Gruber
- Richard Rutter
- Richard Eskins
- Episode 107 of Unfinished Business with Andy Budd