2008 With Top Web Designers
The start of a new year is often a time of reflection on the past year, both personally and professionally, as well as a time to look forward to the year ahead. With that in mind, we thought it would be interesting to do a New Year’s group interview with a number of top designers and developers. We put together a big list of questions and posed two in particular to each of the participants.
We think you’ll enjoy the insight this panel provides into 2008 and 2009. There’s a wide variety of topics covered, including favorite resources, trend predictions, business lessons learned, upcoming events for 2009 and more. Let’s take a look at a large group interview with top web designers that takes a look back on 2008 and presents some predictions for the year 2009.
You may want to take a look at the other interview posts we’ve published earlier in our magazine:
- 35 Designers × 5 Questions
35 designers. 5 questions. 5 precise answers. Result: 175 professional suggestions, tips and ideas from some of the best web-developers all around the world.
- 50 Designers × 6 Questions
Even more insights from the best designers and web-developers across the globe.
Do you have any upcoming projects planned for 2009 that you’re particularly looking forward to?
I always look forward to conferences. It’s such a great way to hang out with talented, friendly people. SXSW is at the top of my list, even if I’m not speaking. With the folks from Sidebar Creative, we’ve got plans for more workshops, especially after the success of our first event, and we’re looking to roll out some new things next year. 2009 is shaping up to be a good year.
Do you have any thoughts or predictions about design trends that may become more popular or significant in 2009?
There’s been a maturation of design, with great usage of illustration and playing with the illusion of light. However, it’s been mostly decorative backgrounds and headers. There hasn’t been much push outside the generic two- or three-column layouts. Thankfully, we’ve seen a smattering of great art direction in 2008, and I look forward to seeing more of that in 2009. Jason Santa Maria’s, for example, is a site that I visit outside of my RSS reader every time because it’s unique. It captures my attention, and the content is well written and fantastically integrated.
Are there any design trends or popular styles from 2008 that you like more than others?
I’m not a big believer in “trends” in Web design as such. For me, in Web design the patterns are rarely widespread enough to be what we could call “trends.” For example, it is easy to see pockets of ideas and copyists and approaches gaining momentum, but look somewhere else and the tide is flowing in another direction. Sure, crap stuff like Web 2.0-esque shiny buttons and reflections, or the great drop-shadow plague, or something good like “Wicked Worn,” they were real trends. What did 2008 give us that equals those?
There is one positive trend I like. More and more people are designing for the subject and audience, regardless of what is perceived as “trendy” — minimal, if minimal is required, or vibrant, if vibrant is required, etc. Now that is a trend I’d like to see spreading far and wide: relevance! I hated that world we lived in where, for example, regardless of audience, a Web app would always have the same visual bells and whistles. Crap. Oh, and as someone who always looks to try to take risks with a design, I’m pleased to see plenty of others still doing the same. More risk-taking in 2009, people!
Have you followed the work of any particular designers during the past year?
I pay attention to every single thing Mark Boulton puts out because he is consistently inventive, accurate and well-researched. His transparent redesign for Drupal has been a real eye-opener into his process, too.
I have followed Garrett Dimon’s blog because he has publicly documented the design and build of Sifter. Everyone can learn plenty from Garrett.
Obvious one, but Jason Santa Maria killed it in 2008, especially with the art direction approach to his blog redesign, a technique we use a lot at Erskine and hope to see more of next year. Jason is quietly brilliant, a humble genius.
And (cheeky this) our own incredibly talented superstar Greg Wood. He teaches me new ideas every day and is more talented than he realizes. I advise others to study his code, his ideas, his art direction.
What are some of your favorite or most frequently used fonts from 2008?
Soho and Soho Gothic from Monotype are just gorgeous and versatile families. And even though it’s becoming too much of a go-to, I use Gotham often when in a pinch for a simple sans serif.
What have been a few of your favorite sources of design inspiration, online or off, throughout the past year?
I’ve really gotten into FFFFOUND! this year. I subscribe to their update feed and love seeing all the random photos and bits of design that come down the tubes. Beyond that, getting away from my computer and taking photos always serves as a good source of inspiration for me.
What have been some of your favorite sources of design inspiration, online or off, during the past year?
When I look online, I mostly browse Flickr or FFFFOUND! or del.icious. One of the best offline inspirations is a book called Geometric, by Kapitza, which I recently bought. It really is a beautiful source of inspiration if you are looking for geometric patterns.
Do you have any design competitions planned for 2009 (like the “What is Graphic Design?” competition from 2008)?
Yes, I am planning on doing another one but haven’t decided on a date yet because it takes much planning up front. This one will be the only one that I will be doing because I believe in quality over quantity.
Are there any design-related products, software or accessories on your wish list for 2009?
I’m looking forward to the release of ExpressionEngine 2.0. According to the previews, the way it handles themes should make production easier for us front-end designers. There’s also a pretty major control panel overhaul, which should make it an easier sell to novice clients.
I’m also excited about the official release of FontCase. Over the years, I’ve used some pretty hacky methods of organizing and labeling key fonts, but FontCase beta has solved a lot of those problems already.
What have been your favorite sources of design inspiration, online or off, during the past year?
Mainly books. The first was Michael Beirut’s 79 Short Essays on Design, which looks at design in the broadest sense, rather than getting specific about techniques or trends. I liked the big-picture perspective on how design impacts our lives in ways we don’t realize. The writing itself is really entertaining.
The second is Book One, by Chip Kidd, a huge anthology of his famous book covers. He has a way of marrying strange imagery and playing with your expectations, something commercial Web design doesn’t always allow for. Studying his work is great when you’re stumped for ideas.
Can you tell us something that you’d like to improve on as a designer in 2009?
I want to be more humble and to concentrate on my own faults rather than judging others. When you’re overly concerned about your view of colleagues and acquaintances, you lose focus and productivity. I’m far from perfect, so it’s important to look closer to home.
Are there any designers in particular who you’ve enjoyed following in 2008?
Eric Karjaluoto, through his blog, ideasonideas. Eric doesn’t publish blog articles very often, but when he does, they’re a sincere, insightful, personal look at the bigger picture, and I believe he’s a great asset to the design community.
Nick La of N. Design Studio, Web Designer Wall and Best Web Gallery
Do you have any favorite designers whose work you enjoyed following in 2008?
I particularly like the tnvacation.com series of websites (fall, spring, summer, and winter) designed by designsensory.com.
What has been your favorite design trend or style from 2008?
My favorite design style is the collage and scrapbooking effect (see 2008 Design Trends at Web Designer Wall).
Chris Coyier of CSS-Tricks
What is your favorite CSS technique that you learned in 2008?
Who are some of your favorite designers to follow on Twitter?
I love being able to follow all these incredible designers whose work I greatly admire: @jasonsantamaria, @mezzoblue, @collis, @vpieters, @snookca, @chrisspooner, @jessebc, @elliotjaystocks.
But even more, I like following my actual friends and people I enjoy conversing with. I am an equal opportunity follower. If you Tweet interesting things, I want to follow you!
Can you tell us a business lesson you learned from starting full-time freelancing in 2008?
One of the things that has surprised me the most is the obscure range of situations that project leads are generated from. When I look back at how my clients found me, I’m presented with a huge range of sources, which include the usual search engine phrases of “graphic designer + location,” but also some more generic and unusual terms that often bring up a related tutorial or article from my blog. Other sources of inquiry have been through seeing an example of my work on Web design galleries, discovering me through an online interview on another design blog and sometimes the subscribers of my blog themselves.
The lesson here is to consider every possibility of exposure and make the most of it. You never know what might come as a result of it.
Is there a particular product, software or accessory that is on your wish list for 2009?
I’d quite like to join the Apple fan club and swap all my computing kit for Mac products. An iMac, Macbook Pro and iPhone would look pretty nice sitting on my office desk! Unfortunately, I went and bought my Windows-specific Adobe software not so long ago, based on the idea that I already had a powerful computer setup. While Windows does the job without too many problems, I remember the overall niceness of OS X when I used to use an iMac at a previous job.
My girlfriend and I are looking to move home in the near future, so I think that would be the perfect opportunity to kit out a brand new office area with a shiny new kit, along with Adobe’s new CS4. I better get saving.
Alen Grakalic of CSS Globe and Templatica
What were a few of your favorite website designs from 2008?
There were many beautifully sites this year. Not actually sure if all were designed this year, but that’s when I first saw them. To name a few:
What were some of your favorite design trends or styles from the past year?
I love the vintage and retro look. The illustration style and color schemes are really appealing to me.
Do you have any new year’s resolutions for your business in 2009?
I’m not a big one on new year’s resolutions, but my continuing overriding goals are always to exceed client expectations, and to be one of the top developers of custom WordPress themes.
Jon Phillips of Spyre Studios, and founder of Freelance Folder
What are a few of your favorite tools or resources for freelancers that you used in 2008?
I used different tools in 2008 (and in previous years), but If I had to choose, I’d pick three: WordPress, because of its simplicity, ease of use, flexibility and great support from the community; Freshbooks Invoicing because they make it so damn easy to keep track of everything, and I also find the iPod Touch app to be very useful; and last but not least, I’d pick Adobe FireWorks, simply because most of what I do doesn’t always require that I open Photoshop. Of course, I used many more tools, but those are the ones I used almost every single day in 2008.
What has been your favorite music to listen to while designing during the past year?
Being a musician myself, I could say I’ve been listening to my band (and I have), but usually when I work on clients’ projects and designs I’ll listen to artists like Fiona Apple, John Mayer, Radiohead, Muse, Guthrie Govan, Tori Amos, and when I need something a bit “stronger,” I’ll listen to Slipknot, Tool, 36 Crazy Fists, Avenged Sevenfold, Meshuggah, Soilwork, etc. It really depends on my mood and what I’m currently working on. Let’s just say I like the sound of an acoustic guitar as much as distortion.
Jacob Cass of Just Creative Design
What was your favorite design course that you took in 2008?
I took eight design-related courses in 2008 while studying Visual Communication at Newcastle University, Australia. These were: Visual Communication Technology II, Animation and Multimedia, Advertising for Design, Graphic Design, Media Production, Visual Communication Imaging, Typography and New Media. My favorite and most hated course would have to be Typography. It was the most challenging and eye-opening course I have done on design, and since taking it I have realized that so much of design and communication is purely based on typography. I actually wish to do another course in advanced typography, however my uni does not offer it (yet).
What aspects of your work would you like to improve on in 2009?
Glad you asked me this. It may lead to some new year’s resolutions. I would like to learn more about complex illustration in Illustrator, and I also want to learn some new techniques in Photoshop. I am also trying to improve my typography and further my skills in logo design. But in saying all this, this does not mean I will not try to improve on any other aspect of design. As a designer, you have to continually improve and learn new things to keep up to date in the industry.
Can you tell us something that you learned that helped you improve your business in 2008?
The one thing I learned this year is how powerful a community can be. In October, I decided to take Revolution and open-source it, and I was amazed at how many supportive users there were. More importantly, users have generously given their time on the support forum to help others. Building a product that people believe in can go a long way.
Are there any products, software apps or accessories on your wish list for 2009?
Truthfully, the only thing I want is a 3G iPhone, as my current one runs just fine, so need to go out and buy another one!
Can you share with us a business lesson you learned from going out on your own in 2008?
Great question! There are two main things: the first is that I massively underestimated the time it would take to do admin stuff when I first started out. I don’t have too much paperwork to do, but things like reshuffling the calendar to fit in projects, liaising with clients, keeping track of expenses, etc., all that stuff takes a lot of time, and I was totally unprepared for it to begin with.
The second thing is that you should only take on projects you care deeply about and that are going to keep you interested. I did a couple of projects in 2008 that I really didn’t enjoy by the time they came to a close, because I’d lost interest in them. And that only happened because, deep down, I was never really interested in them in the first place. Turning away work like that because of a personal point of view can be a financial risk, but it’s something I’ve started to do, because the only way I’m ever going to produce decent work is to have a passion for the projects I’m involved with.
Do you have any upcoming projects for 2009 that you’re especially looking forward to?
I have quite a few, actually! In January I’m going to take a break from client work and pick up recording of my new album (which I meant to do in December, before deadlines got shifted). So that’ll be great fun to do, and I’m really excited about releasing it. It’ll also be nice to have a complete break from designing and writing for a while so that I can come back refreshed.
The second thing is the next version of my personal website. I’ve been working on the redesign on and off for a few months now, but it hasn’t really gone anywhere. I’m hoping that I can dedicate a couple of weeks of solid work in early 2009 to get that nailed.
I’m also really looking forward to a huge number of speaking events and the traveling that goes with them. I’ve got lots lined up for next year, including a few I’ve yet to announce. In January, I’m going to announce a very big one that I’m doing later in the year!
Jay Hilgert of Bittbox
Are there any new graphic design techniques that you learned or developed in 2008 that stand out to you as being especially useful?
I’ve by no means mastered it yet, but I enjoyed learning about the gradient mesh tool technique in Illustrator. It immediately struck me as being useful in many ways, like for creating photo-realistic icons in 100% vector format, for example.
Fabio Sasso of Abduzeedo
What have been some of your favorite products, software and accessories you have used in your work in the past year?
My new MacBook Pro and my iPhone 3G are definitely my favorite products. But in terms of software, I think the new Pixelmator was a great surprise.
What are your favorite design trends or styles from 2008?
For me, one of the coolest design trends in 2008 was mixing modern lighting effects with an ’80s style.
Noura Yehia of Noupe and DevSnippets
What were some of your favorite design-related online resources that you came across in 2008?
I read and skim a lot of design and graphics blogs, but there’s only one blog I read on an almost daily basis and that’s Smashing Magazine, which I do because I think every single post is a piece of work. Besides that, I also often check in to Web Designer Wall, NETTUTS, Six Revisions and DesignM.ag.
What has been your favorite online design community during 2008?
There are so many great design communities out there to keep any designer in a creative mood to work. I would definitely start with DeviantArt, having such a huge collection of well-crafted artwork all in one place. I also quite like checking Behance Network, Computerlove, Design Float and the Popular Bookmarks on Delicious, which send me to more places
Steve Smith of Ordered List
What have been some of your favorite sources of design inspiration, online or off, throughout the past year?
Online, I find a lot of my design inspiration these days from screenshots posted to Flickr by my friends. Patrick Haney posted a set on Design Inspiration that’s a great look-through if you need a couple ideas for layout or colors.
Offline, I’m drawing a lot of inspiration from architecture. Architects have to think in multiple dimensions, something we Web designers don’t have to worry about. But I think the metaphor is valid, in that we need to think not just of the design aesthetics, but of the dimensions of usability, and accessibility as well. The website needs to look good from every angle.
Are there any current design trends that you would like to go away in 2009?
I’d have to say that one of the things I think is becoming a little cliché is the hand-written note, or the post-it note, or the paper-clipped scrap-paper effect. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure this effect has its place. I think it just happens a lot more than it needs to these days. That said, a website should meet the needs of the project, not be designed to current fads in a vacuum.