What Does an Illustrator & Photographer Do All Day?

This week on the Boagworld Show we are joined by designer, illustrator and Instagram photographer Mike Kus.

This week’s show is sponsored by The Digital Project Manager School and Resource Guru.

Transcript

Paul Boag: This week on the Boagworld Show, we're joined by designer, illustrator, and Instagram photographer, Mike Kus. This week's show is sponsored by Resource Guru and The Digital Project Manager School.

Hello, and welcome to the Boagworld Show, the podcast about all aspects of digital design, development, and strategy. My name is Paul Boag and joining me on this week's show is Marcus Lillington and-

Marcus Lillington : Hello.

Paul Boag: Mike Kus.

Hello, Mike.

Mike Kus: Hi, there. How's it been? All right?

Paul Boag: I'm doing very well. It's so nice to speak to you again. It was great just before we kicked-

Mike Kus: I know you too.

Paul Boag: … we kicked off. We had a bit of a chat, didn't we? It feels like forever.

Mike Kus: Yeah. Yeah, I know. It does. We sort of get together once every two, three years.

Paul Boag: I know. I know.

Well, from what I can gather from your Instagram feed, you spend half your life jetting around the world on exciting trips.

Mike Kus: Well, no, no, no, not so much these days, yeah. I have done in the past. Yeah.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Mike Kus: It's sort of added a different strand to the design thing, yeah.

Marcus Lillington : Well, that's intriguing, because last time you were on the show Mike, which was two, three years ago, maybe more actually, time flies by.

Mike Kus: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington : You were talking a lot about that. I'm guessing things have changed and moved on. But, we'll see-

Mike Kus: A little bit. A little bit, yeah, a little bit.

Paul Boag: You were recently on Liz's show, The Elastic Brand, weren't you?

Mike Kus: Yeah, yeah.

Paul Boag: She was really, because I've been working with her as a mentor. As soon as we started talking about the idea of digital brands and that kind of stuff, your name instantly comes up. But, that's far from all you do, isn't it? You do this quite cross section of different stuff.

When friends and family ask you what you do, what do you say?

Mike Kus: Yeah, I think normally I just default now to say design and photography.

Paul Boag: Right, yeah.

Mike Kus: But, if I'm talking to someone, if I'm trying to explain to someone in the industry, I guess it would be just a combination of, I guess it's quite heavily branding related web design. Normally, my projects encompass both those things, branding and web design. Photography, which is a hobby but, also, semi-professional through the work I do with brands and Instagram.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Mike Kus: Yeah, so, I end up doing quite a lot of varied interesting things across all of the different spheres. Sometimes, Instagram crosses with the design world, because I've done work with Adobe and Getty Images before. They sometimes cross paths like I do design and photography mixed together sometimes.

Paul Boag: That's interesting. With the Instagram stuff that you do, because that grew organically, wasn't it? You were just a very early user of Instagram, and then you built up this huge following.

Mike Kus: Yeah.

Paul Boag: The thing that I always took away, and one of the things that I absolutely loved about your Instagram work is you were always, you only ever used your phone to take the photographs. Is that still true, or have you branched out of that a little?

Mike Kus: Yeah, I have branched out of that a little bit. But, I still, it's still my primary use of … Basically, yeah, it's just the camera I have with me all the time is my phone, so that's what I end up using. But, for a lot of the professional things I do, I use a camera, because they might need a high resolution, inaudible 00:03:59 a higher quality picture that a phone can't deliver.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Mike Kus: You do get some, there is some nice effects you get. It is a bit, a different experience shooting with a real camera to a phone.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Mike Kus: But, to me, it's sort of like there's pros and cons with both. Because, I love the fact that with a phone you just, you get, in a way, you get more interesting things, because you happen to have it when something interesting happens.

Paul Boag: Yes.

Mike Kus: You know?

Marcus Lillington : Yeah.

Mike Kus: Whereas, I don't walk around with my camera ever.

Paul Boag: It's very, the reason I pick up on this, it's nothing to do with what we're supposed to be talking about on the podcast, but the reason I pick up on that is my dad is a wildlife photographer. He lectures all over the world on wildlife photography, writes books on it, et cetera.

The one thing that he has always gone on about is when he speaks at photographic conferences, he's that guy that says, "You don't need a fancy camera." He's always until relatively recently, he always had secondhand, hand-me-down Canons and Nikons and things like that. He argues that you don't need that fancy stuff to be a good photographer, and I absolutely agree with that.

Mike Kus: Yeah, yeah, me too.

Paul Boag: You're the first other person that I've seen that seems to have a similar attitude. Photographers seem to become obsessed about their kit, you know? Ooh, I-

Mike Kus: Yeah, I agree totally. I've never been into tools ever really. I'm not really into my design tools particularly. I like them for what they do. But, I'm not really into photography tools particularly like … I've got a whole range of different phones. I've got a couple of cameras.

But, I think for me, the most important thing is, it's the photographer, and it's how you take a picture. I've always said, "99% of a great photograph is really the person behind the lens, and the decisions they make."

I also love the fact that you can take great pictures with phones, because it just sort of democratizes the whole thing, and anyone can take great pictures. That's the great thing about technology, isn't it? That anyone can have a radio show. Anyone can have a TV show. Anyone can be a photographer. That's what I love about that.

Paul Boag: Did you-

Marcus Lillington : It's cool, isn't it?

Paul Boag: No, it would … Was there any kind of plan in the Instagram stuff? That, "Oh, maybe if I start putting work out there it might lead to stuff," or did it just kind of happen?

Mike Kus: Yeah, totally unplanned, just a complete, just a hobby. Although, it did dawn on me back in probably even it was, I think it was in 2011, I think I had about 10, 15,000 followers or something, and I just thought, "Maybe there's something I can do with this." This was before influencers really.

Paul Boag: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Mike Kus: It was before that sort of thing, and very, very soon after I thought of that, I started to get a few emails about doing projects. It's since become a much, much more I guess competitive landscape that. Influencers, it's not just about having a lot of followers. It's about the field you work in.

I guess there's a lot of people who, I think in the early days, people were using people, just basically, people who had a following. Whereas now, it's definitely you get picked for projects that are much more relevant to the person who is supposedly doing the influencing.

I do a lot of stuff … A lot of the stuff I do always ends up me taking photographs out and about in the countryside and in my local area. Anything that's related to that I can get involved with really.

Paul Boag: Right.

Mike Kus: Outside of that, I'm not like the kind of influencer who's always on Instagram stories-

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Mike Kus: … talking to my audience and that sort of thing. Yeah, much more, and I like it like that. It's good to do things that you're genuinely-

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Mike Kus: … interested in.

Paul Boag: Yeah, otherwise, it just turns into, that hobby just turns into another job and another obligation that you have to do.

Mike Kus: Exactly, yeah.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Mike Kus: Yeah, yeah, so-

Paul Boag: You must know that.

Marcus Lillington : It sounds quite familiar.

Paul Boag: Yeah, I was going to say, Marcus. That must be like music was for you.

Mike Kus: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington : Obviously, we were trying to have hits back in the day. We were signed to a record company. But, when we had five or six in a row that did nothing, you just start thinking, "It will never happen."

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington : "It's a magic thing that happens to other people," and then almost by surprise, "Oh, we've got this success coming out of America." But, it all added up really to … All's too strong, but we weren't really doing what we wanted to do.

Once all that fizzled out, and I got another job, and now 25 years ago, whatever, I started playing in other bands, it suddenly became something much more enjoyable, because I wasn't doing something, I wasn't making pop records, which is never really what I wanted to do. It was just what you were expected to do as a young boy band type of thing, so yeah.

Mike Kus: Oh, yeah, totally, yeah. I can relate to that very much.

Paul Boag: That brings us, so it sounds like that's gone over a little bit of a tipping point with the Instagram stuff, and maybe you're doing a little bit less of that now and doing more of the digital branding stuff. Is that a fair assessment?

Mike Kus: Yeah, I think so. Yeah, I feel like in the last year, I have shifted much more heavily back to the design stuff, yeah, branding. Like I said to you before we came on air that I tend to do branding projects with digital … We talked about this actually with Liz about she was saying, do you see online branding different to branding?

I don't see it different. I just see, it's just an arm of your brand, isn't it?

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Mike Kus: But, I do tend to end up working with brands that essentially do live their life online. I guess it's just come from the whole web design days. I guess I made my trade in that specific sphere working with startups and doing websites and realizing actually what I was good at was, I don't know, just creating a, finding out, digging into what a brand or a company is and expressing that through visuals online. Yeah, it's basically what I'd say I do-

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Mike Kus: … branding and web online.

Paul Boag: That, because what I love is that you don't just, and you've talked about this before, but you say you don't have a process, but you actually do talk about that you start with coming up with a strapline of who, something that represents, and then you build the design around that. That is very much that interplay between brand and design, isn't it? How the two sit-

Mike Kus: Oh, yeah.

Paul Boag: … side-

Mike Kus: Yeah.

Paul Boag: … by side.

We won't get too much into that today, because, as you said, you recently did an interview at The Elastic Brand.com. If you want to know more about how Mike works and operates, then check out that, because that's really good. What we're going to talk about is more of the, what actually Mike does all day, what his day looks like, how he works, that kind of stuff.

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Keep an eye out for the next course. You can find out when it's being run and all the other details by going to theprojectmanager.com/boagworld.

Okay. Mike, so, let's talk a bit about your career. What it is you do? How you got to be where you are? Let's start with, well, let's start at the beginning. How did this all happen for you? How did you get to where you are today?

We first met when you were working for a company called Carsonified back in the day that was doing, running events, and you came on to do their design stuff. How did that come across? Because, you didn't have experience in digital before that did you?

Mike Kus: No. No, that was really, that was quite a sort of little, that was an amazing little turning point in my life that. Because, I had already, I had gone to college, did an art degree, and then ended up coming out of that, and I worked for The Body Shop. I did work for the retail design, visual merchandising department. They taught me how to do Photoshop, Illustrator, and stuff.

I had a good few years there. I did a lot of print design for them. Then, I, essentially, working for them full-time, then, I went freelance, did it for a few years freelance. They were my only client. Then had a restructure, and I was literally, bam, out of work.

Paul Boag: Oh, crikey.

Mike Kus: Yeah, and it was before the internet was really … This was back. It was right back in early 2000s, 2001 or so, 2000, 2001. I was printing out A4 sheets of paper of my designs and sending it off to companies to try and get some work. In this time, actually, I started to illustrate a lot, because I had no work, so I just spent all day drawing pictures in my bedroom. I did actually end up getting a job locally.

But, then, after a few years, I just realized that, then I just realized the world was changing. It was changing from an analog to a digital world.

I remember one time, I got contacted by this guy who I've done work for from a local company, and he said, "Do you want design a website for me?" I was like, "No, I don't design websites." I was like, I remember just cycling along one day, and I thought, "Maybe I should design that website."

Basically, I just, I called him back and said, "Actually, I will do it. I do sort of do websites," which I didn't at all. Basically, I phoned up my friend, I went, "I need you to teach me how to build websites."

My friend basically, he just, inaudible 00:16:04, this is back in fixed-width day. I think he-

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Mike Kus: … just said, "Right, okay, open up this HTML file." He goes, "Okay, type, div." inaudible 00:16:13. He just taught me how to do a menu that night, and I just deleted it and redid it, deleted it, redid it. After a couple weeks, I had done the homepage.

Across that year, I did two or three websites, did my own portfolio. I could only do design in HTML and CSS, and that's all I'd ever really-

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Mike Kus: All I ever could do, but it was enough to get, to be all right designing stuff online.

It was funny. I came across that Carsonified job, and I came across that Carsonified job early in 2008, and I remember I passed it by my wife, and she was like, "Yeah, that's cool, but we're not moving to Bath." I was like, "All right." I was like, "Okay, fair enough." It was really weird, and I just carried on doing my stuff. I was like, "Well, at least I've learnt new skills."

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Mike Kus: It was really weird. I remember I was just working really late one night, and I got this email, and it was from Gillian Carson.

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah.

Mike Kus: She just said, "Hey, we're looking for a designer. We'd like you to come in." It was completely, given that they were in Bath, and I was in Chichester-

Paul Boag: Wow.

Mike Kus: … it was completely … I never contacted them. I never did anything. It was just I had just seen this one job in the whole country, and then they contacted me. Then, I got that job.

It was a great few years for me at Carsonified, because Ryan was really up for me just to do my thing. I guess Carsonified was this amazing canvas for me to just experiment and do all this visual stuff I wanted to do online and have an audience for it.

Paul Boag: The point came where you'd got this amazing job, that was quite a high-profile job in the industry. Because, at the time, Carsonified was running all of these events. You had the opportunity to speak at conferences. It really helped raise your profile. Then, you walk away from that, and you set up and run freelance.

What was going on in your head during that? Because, a lot of us, a lot of us struggle if you've got a nice, safe job, and you're ticking along well, and especially, if it's a nice, high-profile one that was quite a gutsy move. I'm interested as to what happened there.

Mike Kus: Yeah, looking back, I can't totally remember what happened. But, I think what it was, was is I was getting asked to do a lot of stuff from other people, getting a lot of emails from people saying, "Hey, can you design this website, design that website?"

Ryan was really cool about it. I actually said to him, "Can I design some of these websites for other people?" while I was working at Carsonified. I think for the last few months at Carsonified I actually did do freelance work for other people. Ryan was okay with that.

I just think there came a time I just thought, "If I get," I remember saying to, "If I get 20Ks work booked in for the next few months, I'm going to take a leave and do something else." I got those projects booked in, and I thought it was enough for me to feel safe to do it, so I did it.

Incidentally, at that time, I could already feel Ryan moving away. Because, we had already done the first version of Treehouse by that point which was Think Vitamin.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Mike Kus: You know-

Marcus Lillington : Oh, yeah.

Mike Kus: I think it was still called Think Vitamin. I don't know what it was called, it had something to do … It was, yeah, he … At the time that whole thing was inaudible 00:19:55 Think Vitamin at the time, and it was starting out the courses there. He was already moving away into something new at that point. There was no, it just felt like an evolution really.

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah.

Mike Kus: I moved off into my own thing. It just, it felt quite a natural thing to do. It didn't feel like a jump ship or anything. It was just an evolution of a career.

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. There's some interesting things over that little potted history you gave us very briefly there. One is I loved the Blaggit 00:20:34 mentality of, "Oh, I could … Yeah, I do websites," and having no clue how to do them.

It's really interesting. I had a very similar experience myself back in actually the Town Pages day. When me and Marcus used to work together at Town Pages where we won the National Trust which was a huge client for us and was a really big deal. One of their requirements is we make the website accessible. I was like, "Oh, yes, we can do that." I had no clue. I knew nothing about accessibility at all at the time.

Another one was we won one of our first clients as Headscape, and they said, I know I've told you this story before, said that they want a content management system. I was like, "Well, inaudible 00:21:23," so I worked out how to build a content management system. I think there's something to be said for just throwing yourself into the deep end and seeing what happens, so I loved that.

Mike Kus: Oh, totally, yeah.

Paul Boag: The other thing you said, which I really loved as well is when you made that decision to move to freelance, you gave yourself a trigger point, "If I get 20Ks worth of work." I always think that really helps with big decisions like that.

For example, I had an equivalent to be honest when I left Headscape. I said, "If this certain thing does not happen, then it's time for me to move on from Headscape," and that's what I did. It gives you that impetus to take that extra step, didn't it?

Mike Kus: Yeah, it does, yeah. It is nice to have those. Because, leaving Carsonified for me wasn't … Like you said, it was a great job to have. It wasn't something I was going to give up lightly. There had to be a trigger point. In a way, I guess it was sort of an arbitrary trigger point I made up, but it did make that decision easier. I just, it wasn't, I wasn't tearing my hair out over it. I decided I'd put that trigger point in place and then hit, I did it.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Mike Kus: That was it.

Paul Boag: Yeah, no, it's really, really good.

Marcus Lillington : You come across-

Mike Kus: I'm not saying-

Marcus Lillington : … Mike, as being, I don't know, very laid-back, not very kind of, how can I put this?

Paul Boag: Highly strung like me?

Marcus Lillington : Well, yes, there is that. But, no, more, not sort of like the kind of person that's like, "Rrr, I'm going to go and get it." You just don't come across that way. But, a lot of these decisions you made were quite brave I think, or maybe it was just like, "Nothing else to do, let's just go," kind of thing.

Mike Kus: No, yeah. Yeah. No, sorry, carry on. You carry on.

Marcus Lillington : No, no, I was just saying we said similar, when we started this whole series off with Paul and I talking about what we do all day and went back over the eons of history about when we first met each other. It has been a case of sometimes you just got to jump and see.

Mike Kus: Yeah, I know, yeah.

Marcus Lillington : I think you've done the same, but you don't come across as that kind of-

Mike Kus: No-

Marcus Lillington : … person.

Mike Kus: Well, yeah, decision makers don't always find it … The people who know me will testify I don't always find it easy to make decisions.

But, yeah, no, but I think in certain, if you can be decisive I think in your work, it's a brilliant thing. Actually, in terms of my design work at the moment, the last six months, I've felt much, much more decisive-

Marcus Lillington : Okay.

Mike Kus: … much stronger as a designer for some reason in the last six months, year. I've got no idea why that is. Maybe it's just because I've had that shift back from photography back to design.

But, I don't know, I used to, I don't know, it's like … You would know this Marcus from music, is that you know when you can get to a point in creativity where you just feel like you don't know what you're doing is any good anymore. I have had that time with design. But, I feel like recently I've, I don't know, for some reason, I'm just a bit more confident in my ideas and more confident in decisions I make with design.

I did a project recently, and I did the rebranding for this travel company. We're still working on it, and there's changes to be made. But, when I submitted the original branding concept, I just submitted it, this singular concept, because I just, I knew it was the best idea I've had. I didn't really feel the necessity to add in all these other things that I've done. Whereas in the old days, I'd go here's 27 ideas.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Mike Kus: I feel like, and the thing with design, especially with branding and stuff, it's really, when you approach it with … You talk to your client. You really understand who they are. Whilst there may be a few ways you can interpret that, you as an individual designer, you're going to have your own interpretation, I don't really see there being hundreds of options. I feel like if you use the information you've been given, and everyone's clear about what that is and that direction, you probably, you don't need to come up with loads and loads of different things to decide between.

Marcus Lillington : Yeah, that's kind of-

Paul Boag: Go on, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington : Sorry, I was going to say, I think it's a little bit, it's hard to compare music with professional design work. Writing songs, let's put it that way, because I worry, because I don't think I've written a decent song in 15 years, 10 to 15 years, and I just think that's an age thing, and you lose your spark, and you lose your drive and that kind of thing.

However, if what we're saying here, if we're making the comparison that as we get older maybe more professional, more comfortable in our skin to be confident about saying, "No, this is it. This is what you're getting," and I think we do that as well. The work we do, we're a lot more, we don't faff around with, "Here's three versions of a homepage," and all that kind of stuff anymore. Maybe, I'm wrong. Maybe we can still be creative and have a spark when we're older.

Mike Kus: Well, I think, and it's funny, you talk about that. The reason I related it in my case to design to songwriting is because, well, two reasons. One, I do some songwriting as well, and I've recently taken it back up after a long break.

But, also, because of this kind of work I do, the kind of branding web work I do is still pretty creative. It still involves a lot of illustration sometimes and a bit more of a … It's in a way that's normally why people hire me is to get … See, it's like the web design I do is normally less of the technical end and much more of the creative end. That's why I related it back to the songwriting.

Marcus Lillington : Yeah, yeah.

Mike Kus: Because, for me, it's still like there's quite a large part of the web design I do is relying on that creative spark. That's one of my greatest fears is not having that.

It is, I look back in a way, when I was at Carsonified, I was like this sort of like machine. It felt like. That I could do inaudible 00:27:59 loads and loads of … It is different. It is, you definitely are a different kind of person when you're older.

Paul Boag: Is it, do you-

Mike Kus: I don't know how-

Paul Boag: … think-

Mike Kus: I mean-

Paul Boag: I mean from … Sorry to interrupt you, but I always think about when I was younger that yes, I was an idea machine, and I churned stuff out at a rate that I don't do now. But, it was rawer somehow. My hit to success ratio was lower. The ideas that came out were less considered.

I can almost see that if I'm honest from looking at your work. It's been a while since-

Mike Kus: Oh, totally.

Paul Boag: … I've looked at your portfolio. There is a shift where the kind of stuff that you did before was very creative, very innovative, very unusual, while today maybe slightly less, but more appropriate, more suited.

Mike Kus: Yeah.

Paul Boag: That's, it's different. It's not better or worse in my opinion if that makes sense.

Mike Kus: No, I agree, yeah. I'm much more aware of striking a balance. To be, I guess to be fair, going back to the Carsonified projects, they were, they had much more leeway in … We were doing it almost being creative for the sake of it and wanted to be seen like that.

But, you're right now. Now I'm working on branding projects, and the companies have got, it's important for them to get it right, and I have to strike a balance, and I'm really aware of that balance now. I try my best to get as much creativity in. But, at the same time, I never would want to do it at the expense of what's necessary in terms of keeping things in line … I guess, you what I'm saying professionally. There's a balance to be struck, and, hopefully, I definitely feel like I am striking that more now as an aged designer.

Paul Boag: We're sounding so old, aren't we? This is terrible.

Mike Kus: Yeah.

Paul Boag: One of the things that … We talked a little bit about your character, and we've talked about how you come across as this very calm, this very laid-back, relaxed person. One of the things that in my mind doesn't add up is you and sales and marketing.

I joked at the beginning of this, before we started recording, I joked about you being so arrogant and full of your own self-importance. Obviously, I was being ironic, because you are completely the opposite of that. You're the kind of person that I imagine would suffer from impostor syndrome at times. I know you don't like public speaking. Just the idea of you going out and selling and promoting your services doesn't seem to fit with how I mentally view you. Where the hell does your work come from?

Mike Kus: Yeah, well, I think traditionally, it's always come from just putting out work.

Paul Boag: Right.

Mike Kus: In my mind, I see putting out a project, and I do use Twitter and Dribbble and Instagram. I do put out the work that I do. But, yes, you're right. I don't go crazy in sales. I don't have any strategy for sales and marketing. It's always like inquiries via people seeing my work online or word of mouth recommendations. I've never done any sales at all.

This public speaking thing, I don't dislike public speaking. I get something out of doing it. But, it's, in terms of it relating, yeah, but I wouldn't ever see it as an exercise to promote myself, if you know what I mean. It's more just trying to, I'm interested in the idea of conveying … I love the idea of imparting design knowledge or ideas to other people, and if that could help gain some work that would be a great thing.

But, yeah, there is no strategy. I just, I'm not always crazy busy. I've had quieter times and more … I've been very busy for the last six months, and I'm busy into the future now. But, sometimes, I've had quieter times, and I've filled it up with other things.

Paul Boag: Do you-

Mike Kus: I'm lucky enough to get work.

Paul Boag: Do you write any of … You say you rely on Dribbble. You rely on Twitter and Instagram and putting your work out there. Do you write that into agreements with clients that you want the right to be able to share this kind of stuff, or do you just have to broach it and hope for the best, or do you just do it?

Mike Kus: No, I don't write an agreement. I just do it. I never put anything out that's not already out in the public domain.

Paul Boag: Oh, okay. You never show work in progress?

Mike Kus: I'm not, I'm not … I never do that no.

Paul Boag: No, okay.

Mike Kus: I never show work in progress. I never put … The only thing I put out, I've just published a website for a Hollywood-based sound studio called Snapsound.com. I've just published that all over Twitter last week. But, it's only anything, the only thing that I would put in my portfolio is anything that's already out there. But, I've never, yeah, I wouldn't ever put anything out there without the client's permission that wasn't in the public domain. I'd always ask permission.

Marcus Lillington : Some of our clients, we have a clause in the contracts that we try, encourage our clients to sign, not all of them do. We have a clause in there that says we are allowed to put together portfolio pieces using their name. Some of them say you can't do that.

Mike Kus: Yeah, yeah.

Marcus Lillington : But, we still kind of do it.

Mike Kus: Yeah. I guess, yeah. Yeah, I've never had any problem with that. But, I'm always pretty careful about the stuff that I would publish I think.

Paul Boag: Paul's asked quite an interesting question in the chat room, which is, how much of the work that you're winning do you think is coming through your portfolio, things like Dribbble and Twitter and stuff, compared to we want to hire Mike Kus? In other words, how many of the people already know you when they contact you? Have you got any gut reaction?

Mike Kus: Most people, well, know me, people who know of me normally, yeah. Normally, they've … A lot, yeah, I've just got a new project coming up, and they've just said they've known about me for years, but, obviously, never had a need to use me until-

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Mike Kus: I get that quite a lot, "I've always liked your work," sort of thing. "We've got this project." That does happen, yeah.

But, I don't just, yeah, I don't actually, if I say I, I do use Dribbble, but I don't … I do inquiries through Dribbble. But, I don't think, I'm not sure I've ever actually ended up doing a project through Dribbble. I do get inquiries. But, some of the people, my friend designers, they get a lot of inquiries through Dribbble and end up taking those projects on. I tend to have quite a lot of conversations in Dribbble, but they don't always go somewhere. Normally, I think that's because the people on Dribbble who contact me don't know who I am.

Paul Boag: Yeah, absolutely.

Mike Kus: They just, have just done a search for whatever, UI or something, and I've come in that search inaudible 00:35:34.

But, yeah, sometimes, the conversations go somewhere. But, generally, the ones that, projects that I win, there's normally some sort of background information there. There's normally some sort of relation to people knowing about me from something else.

Paul Boag: I, I-

Marcus Lillington : It is such a huge … Sorry, Paul.

Paul Boag: No.

Marcus Lillington : There's just one thing you said there, which is it's a huge sales lesson, which is you said that they've known about you for years, but they didn't have a project that fitted with you. That, it just says that's why you need to keep in contact with people or just keep waving your flag, because-

Mike Kus: It's true, yeah.

Marcus Lillington : … we've had projects, well, we're in the middle of one at the moment that was due to start in 2014, and it started in November.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Mike Kus: I had-

Marcus Lillington : Just stick with it basically.

Mike Kus: Yeah, totally. I went back to a client once, a couple of years ago, and I just felt like I hadn't done any, I just felt like I had done, really gone down a real creative, illustrative route, and I wanted to do some web-related UI work again. I just wrote to them and said, "Hey, I'm thinking of, I'd like to see some web UI work, let me know if you've got anything." They just went, "Oh, yeah, we've got this app redesign." I went, "Okay, I'll do that." It was just because I happened to mail them about it. This really big project came in.

Paul Boag: Yeah, and that's the advantage, isn't it, about, as you move on in your career you build up more and more of those kind of contacts, and you get, you build relationships where you could turn around and just say, "I fancy doing a bit of this. You got anything on that?"

Mike Kus: Yeah.

Paul Boag: I do that sometimes. I tell you, but I know exactly what you mean about Dribbble as well. Because, I suffer from a similar kind of problem. Well, it's not a problem. It's wonderful that, that actually my site has been around for so long that it rates very well on SEO. I get a lot of people that google, I don't know, customer journey mapping or whatever. My stuff comes up, they come through, and they contact me.

Very rarely do those actually turn into work. The ones, always without exception, the best work is the work that comes, "Oh, I've been following your stuff for years." That is every time, because they already know you. They know what to expect from you. The project is going to go smoother, because they're not going to be surprised when you produce what you produce at the end of it.

Mike Kus: Exactly, yeah.

Paul Boag: Absolutely.

Mike Kus: Yeah, that's my same experience, yeah.

Paul Boag: Let's talk about your typical month, right?

Mike Kus: Okay.

Paul Boag: I'm quite interested to know, we'll start with month, because going day is probably a bit much. But, give me, over the last month, give me an idea of the kind of mix of work that you're doing over a typical month.

Mike Kus: Yeah, well, this month, I'm working on branding a web design project for a travel company based over in Portugal and Morocco. I've been working on that since the end of last year, and that's ongoing. That's everything from, we're currently working on the website. But, it's also covering, because I did the brand as well, it's covering everything from they've got car decals, they've got T-shirts-

Paul Boag: Wow.

Mike Kus: … all sorts of other literature. There's a lot of stuff to do and the brand document itself.

I've also done-

Paul Boag: Sorry, could I interrupt you? Sorry to interrupt you. I want to ask you a question with that. Is that a client you met face-to-face, or do you normally do the whole thing remotely?

Mike Kus: That's all remotely, and I've never met them.

Paul Boag: Okay, all right.

Marcus Lillington : Really?

Mike Kus: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington : Wow, okay.

Mike Kus: Yeah, yeah, but, I do talk to them on the phone.

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah.

Mike Kus: We have video calls like this.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Mike Kus: Yeah, yeah, and we have a really good relationship actually. Yeah, it's really, it's good to chat. We talk through things. It's like being, in my mind when you video call or you have a phone call, it's pretty much like being with them. But, yeah-

Marcus Lillington : Any excuse to go to Portugal? Oh, surely.

Mike Kus: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, but, yeah, so I've done that. I've been doing an Instagram project taking, showcasing the capabilities of a Huawei phone-

Paul Boag: Oh, okay.

Mike Kus: … in the last month, which has been pretty cool.

What else am I doing? I'm preparing, I'm doing research at the moment for designing a new branding project that's coming up, a web project, which will start next week.

Paul Boag: Now, you said research-

Mike Kus: I'm also-

Paul Boag: Sorry, you said research there, what kind of research you talking about?

Mike Kus: Really just gathering inspiration and stuff and trying to work out in my head … We've already gone ahead in an initial meeting in London last week, and now, I'm just going, I'm basically just going to spend the next week, then I'm immersing myself in who they are and where I think we could … I got, this is sort of this creative part where there is a little bit of less process. I've just got to try and …

I do have a process, like you said, and I've talked about that at conferences and my process which is essentially is getting all the information from them, working out in the most succinct possible way how to say what they do to the right people, and then creating a visual story to go with that. That is what I do.

But, there is an initial point, part to this which is the bit that I'm afraid of losing as I get older, is that initial creativity. I often get ideas in the shower, just be like, having a shower, be like, "Damn, that's it. I'll do that." My mind just wanders off into these weird places. It's almost like you're sort of semi-dreaming. You got all these ideas happening. Then, if I get them, I'll quickly note them down in my phone and then explore them when I get into the office.

I'll be doing that this week. I'm also, I am, I also haven't actually gotten myself in gear yet, but I'm supposed to be writing a photography book.

Paul Boag: Oh, really? Excellent.

Mike Kus: Yeah. I had been offered a publishing deal, which is cool. But, I'm not doing it right now, because I just don't have the time to do it to their schedule and stuff. I feel like as well, so I just … I want to do it, my, I haven't decided, I want to do it my way.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Mike Kus: I feel too pressured to do it their way right now. They've been really cool and really helpful. I'm sure we'll speak again.

It's a bit, it's going back, the idea of the book is to encourage people to get into photography, not with necessarily mobile phone, but that is geared at people who might just be using a mobile phone. It's all about the fact that you could buy this book and look through it, and if all you have is your mobile phone, everything in there is relevant for that. It's not going to be about apertures and-

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah.

Mike Kus: … shutter speeds. It's going to be just about the whole, there will be some stuff. It's about the creativity and thinking about-

Marcus Lillington : Composition.

Mike Kus: … light. Yeah, just all sorts of, everything that goes into taking a photograph but without all the technical stuff. I want to get that in gear too.

The funny thing is, as you know, I think you've heard me, you must have this as well, and I've seen loads of people talk about it is this idea that when you're busy, you're like, "I've got to do my photography book." But, you can't because you're busy.

Then, if you go quiet, you're suddenly, you're all like, "I should be doing my photography book," and you're not. It's like you need … I've realized that actually I've got to try and do these things all at the same time.

Paul Boag: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mike Kus: Because, as soon as you're quiet or you've got more time, it's really hard to push yourself to do the things you always said you would do.

Paul Boag: Yeah, that's why-

Marcus Lillington : All I do is worry about the next project. Where's that coming from?

Mike Kus: Exactly, I think that's what happens, doesn't it? You get those worries, and you just can't focus on just doing your own thing.

Paul Boag: That is one advantage of signing a contract with a publisher.

Mike Kus: Yes.

Paul Boag: Right? Because I've-

Mike Kus: It makes you do it.

Paul Boag: I've got, I've signed up with Smashing for my next book, and they've given me, they've given me, as you do, you get an advance on your fee. I'm thinking, "I've taken money from them. I've got to produce-

Mike Kus: Yeah, no, yeah.

Paul Boag: … something now."

Mike Kus: I was totally aware that, that would be the trade-off. I absolutely knew when I said, "Actually, let's not do this right now." Because, it meant that I wouldn't do it right now.

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Marcus Lillington : This is like therapy for you, Mike.

Mike Kus: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington : You've come around. Do you think you probably should sign that?

Mike Kus: Yeah, no, I think-

Marcus Lillington : Go on.

Mike Kus: No, I was going to say, yeah, no, you're totally right. Once you sign a deal, you get your advance, you're definitely going to be writing that book, aren't you?

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah. That's a month, brilliant, great. Do you, on an individual day, I'm guessing for you, pretty much it could be all over the place depending on what you're working on. But, do you have any kind of routine or anything that you follow? Do you start with email? Do you go for a walk at the beginning of the day? What's your routine, if any?

Mike Kus: Yeah, well, no, I'm pretty, yeah, I've got a routine. Any routine that comes into my life really is essentially through my family. I get up, two or three days a week I'll take the kids to school first before coming to the office. That's quite a normal thing to do.

Then, I'll get, grab a coffee come to the office. I try not to do email in the morning, because it's a really productive time in the morning. But, I do end up doing admin, but you get unexpected emails, don't you? Some that need to be acted upon quickly.

I'll tend to get a chunk of time in on a certain, my current design project, maybe go back to some admin in the afternoon. Sometimes, I go out of the office and just take a walk around Chichester and take some photographs. I'll often, in the morning, on the way in actually if the light's really nice, I'll take a detour to somewhere I like, take photographs and do that. It doesn't take too long.

Then, in the evenings, I normally try and go for a run or something like that. Ideally, I like to do the admin in the evening, so I don't get distracted by it in the day, and that's my goal. But, I will say I've got to do things like do homework with the kids and stuff like that as well. But, I think my day is relatively, yeah, they are varied but pretty normal I'd say.

Paul Boag: Yeah. You've talked there, you go to the office. You don't work from home. You have separate office, do you?

Mike Kus: Yeah, yeah, I've got an office in town here, and I share it with a couple of other, another designer, another, Oli 00:46:59, who does pretty much what I do. Yeah, he comes in and also my friend, Tom. Dan Edwards was in here, who, you know Dan.

Marcus Lillington : Oh, okay, yeah.

Mike Kus: Up until recently, before he moved to Product Hunt, and so it was the four of us, now, there's the three of us. But, yeah, I just, I'm not much of a home worker. I can't work from home.

Paul Boag: Ah, fair enough.

Mike Kus: I just do sort of, I can work from my home a little bit in the evening. But, even sometimes, if I've got to do work in the evening, I'll come back to the office, because there's just something about the walls. If I'm in the office, I feel like I can do work.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Mike Kus: But, at home, I just, I don't know it doesn't feel like a work environment to me. It just, it doesn't feel right. I find it really difficult.

Paul Boag: Right, so everybody's different. I'm always interested in how homeworking can be one of those polarizing things. You either, it's something you absolutely love, and it feels right, and it's a good fit, or it's something that really doesn't.

It's interesting that Andrew Miller is saying the same about email. It's very polarizing. Some people see it as an essential part of their job, as I know you do Marcus, and other people just see it as a distraction, an irritant. Yeah, such is life, isn't it?

Marcus Lillington : With the homeworking thing looking at the three of us on the screen here, you work from home all the time, Paul. You work away from home in an office all the time, Mike, and I do 50-50 pretty much.

Mike Kus: crosstalk 00:48:29.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington : That's the perfect scenario for me.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington : I love-

Mike Kus: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington : … being able to do both.

Paul Boag: Well, I never like leaving crosstalk 00:48:36 the house.

Marcus Lillington : No, I know.

Mike Kus: Yeah, it's good.

Paul Boag: The very last question I want to ask you before we wrap up is, do you think about the future? You talked about some anxiety about you're being able to continue doing this. Do you have a plan? Do you think your job's going to change, or are you a take it one day at a time kind of person?

Mike Kus: I think in reality I'm a take it one day at a time kind of person. Yeah, I guess my plan is always to do something on the side of this, but I really like designing for clients. I'm not, I love the idea of having a business venture aside from designing for clients. But, at the same time, I haven't expanded my design business, if you know what I mean. I don't employ loads of people. I employ people on an ad hoc basis to work with me, who I need on an individual project.

But, I guess I just like, I am a maker, do you know what I mean? I'm still the person that makes all the things. I don't … I feel like whilst I like the idea of having some sort of business, I'm not really, I don't see myself as a business person. I see myself as a creative person who makes things.

The book idea, I think that's a possible departure, not a permanent one, but that's the sort of thing I can see myself doing on the side.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Mike Kus: Because, it's still creative, it's still … But, it's something slightly different to the idea of just doing client work.

But, in terms of actually running a business, I don't know really. I feel like sometimes I feel I'm happiest when I just admit to myself I like making things.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Mike Kus: I like designing things for people. I like writing little song ideas. I like illustrating. I like taking photographs. If I'm really honest, those are all the things I like doing. When you enjoy something, it's hard to get away from that, isn't it?

Paul Boag: Well, why would you want to, is the big question? I remember having a conversation with you quite a while back where you were toying with the idea, do I build an agency and start employing people? I find it interesting that you've chosen not to go down that route.

As somebody that walked away from an agency, it's an interesting, that is a big decision. That there is this perception that to be a success you have to grow a big business and be an entrepreneur. But, if success to you is making stuff rather than managing people, why on earth would you want to do that?

Mike Kus: Yeah, that's it. I think there's a pressure in society isn't there? That in general that this idea of being an entrepreneur and building something is what you should be doing. But, the truth is, you just need to do what makes you happy.

Obviously, you've got to do something that earns you money, but I'm not massively … I like the idea of having enough money to live and not scrimp and save every week. But, I'm not obsessed about the idea of being rich or anything. The things I love in life are pretty simple. I'm really actually an easily pleased person.

Marcus Lillington : Same here, absolutely, yes.

Mike Kus: Yeah, yeah, I don't need a lot. I've got a guitar and family and some good friends. That's all I really need and want.

Paul Boag: Also-

Mike Kus: inaudible 00:52:32, I'm sorry.

Paul Boag: No, no, go on, go on.

Mike Kus: I was saying, the one other thing I do love though, the one thing I really strive for is I love making, I do have quite romantic ideas about achieving a creative goal. I used to love the idea of just creating something that you're so proud of that you put it out there that hopefully moves other people in some way. That's the one other thing I think, the other ambition I've always had with a project is to put it out and inspire some other people. That's sounds really-

Paul Boag: No.

Mike Kus: I'm not trying to, not in a, I don't want everyone to be inspired by me.

Paul Boag: No, I know what you mean.

Mike Kus: I love being inspired by other things, you know?

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Mike Kus: I think, wow, if I could do that, it would be great.

Paul Boag: Well, you obviously are doing that judging by Paul's comment before we started the show in the chat room. It goes on about how much he admires your design work. I just completely stomped all over him with my sarcasm and rudeness. But, yeah, you do some incredible work, Mike. You certainly inspired me, and I'm sure you have a lot of other people as well.

Let's talk about our second sponsor before we make Mike endure the horror that is Marcus' joke. Our second sponsor for this week is Resource Guru. Resource Guru's a team scheduling tool used by organizations like Apple, Ogilvy, Saatchi & Saatchi, and NASA. If your tool is being used by NASA that must have been so cool the day they found that out. "Oh, yeah, we work for NASA, and we use your tool." They're probably launching rockets with this particular piece of software, and I just think that's awesome.

Resource Guru, do Headscape still use that? They did years back, but whether Emma 00:54:31 changed things? You still do?

Marcus Lillington : No, we still do.

Paul Boag: Excellent, so you can add Headscape.

Marcus Lillington : And Headscape.

Paul Boag: Yeah. Not quite so-

Marcus Lillington : There you go.

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Marcus Lillington : Absolutely.

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Marcus, joke time.

Marcus Lillington : Yes. This is a particularly average one I think, fair to say.

Paul Boag: Oh. Oh, you've-

Marcus Lillington : I've set you up.

Paul Boag: … really-

Marcus Lillington : All right.

Paul Boag: Oh, yeah, you've really built that one up then.

Marcus Lillington : I had to delve into the past a bit for this. Please send me more jokes, Mr. Edwards and ignore Paul being nasty to you like he was earlier.

Anyway, here we go. I quit Sudoku Club last night. They didn't make me feel welcome. And, I realized it was, because I was just making up the numbers.

Paul Boag: Yeah, that's, that's poor. That is, yeah.

Mike, thank you very much for joining us on the show. It was a-

Mike Kus: No problem.

Paul Boag: … really good show up until that point. But, there you go.

Mike Kus: No, no thanks for having me. It was great.

Paul Boag: It's-

Mike Kus: Always good to chat to you.

Paul Boag: Yeah, it's-

Marcus Lillington : Yeah, lovely.

Paul Boag: … always good to catch up-

Marcus Lillington : Very nice.

Paul Boag: … with you, Mike. I'd like to do it in person in a pub before too long. That's what we need.

Mike Kus: Yes, we should do that.

Paul Boag: Yeah, so-

Mike Kus: Yeah, definitely got to do that.

Paul Boag: Next week, we've got Harry Roberts on the show who is a senior UI developer at Sky and the mind behind a site called CSS Wizardry. He's got a fascinating background and story, so we will delve into that next week.

But, for now, Mike, where can people find out more about you?

Mike Kus: Well, either on mikekus.com and my user name on Twitter, Dribbble, and Instagram is all Mike Kus.

Paul Boag: Easy.

Mike Kus: K-U-S.

Paul Boag: Yup.

Mike Kus: That's about it. That's it, yeah.

Paul Boag: Yeah, definitely-

Mike Kus: crosstalk 00:57:07

Paul Boag: … definitely go and check out his work, because Mike has got some really gorgeous stuff, and I am envious of somebody with so much talent. On that note, I will end the show, thank Mike, thank Marcus, and say goodbye.

Marcus Lillington : Bye all. Bye.

Mike Kus: Thanks, see you, bye.

Stock Photos from wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

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