This is Dan Sheerman's old website. He now works at Headscape, and has a new, shinier website.

Interviews with Dan Rubin & Keir Whitaker

I was lucky enough not only to be invited to FOWD through my recent placement at Carsonified (both of which were awesome, of course), but also to be able to hunt down both Keir and Dan for some interview questions.

On Industry:

Firstly, what’s the best way to market/get known as a newcomer to the industry?

Keir:

  • Go to local networking events outside of the web world, i.e. local business groups and become known as the local “go to” web guy/expert
  • Go to web meetups and networking events, the more you go to the more people will know you
  • Write regularly on your own site and other sites
  • Discover your niche, be it CSS3, working with clients, HTML5, WordPress and shout about it. It’s amazing how quickly people will associate that niche with you (Think Andy Clarke, Jeremy Keith etc)
  • Comment on other people’s blogs and in forums
  • Tweet interesting links
  • Put on your own free local web meetup
  • Write to people you admire and ask to meet them, it’s amazing how often it works and what you can learn

Dan: Participation in the community — people can tell the difference between selfish and selfless behavior, so contributing information and examples of high quality and value without expecting anything in return is the best way to get your name recognized for good things. The same goes for Twitter, etc.

If anything at all, what’s the one thing you would go back and change in your career?

Keir: I think I would have got involved in the “community” earlier. I started working in the web industry in 2000 when it was still pretty new and the bubble had yet to happen. The other thing would to have got to know more people in the field, other developers and designers etc. I only started doing this later on and although it didn’t always result in paid work I learnt a lot.

Dan: I would try to get a mentor on the business side of things — in fact, I’d almost appreciate a business mentor now, even after 15 years of working for myself.

What’s the best piece of information you know now, and wish you’d known when you started?

Keir: Networking, as horrible as it can be really does work. That said I think it’s about getting to know people in your industry in a genuine way. I often find people talking to me as they think they will get work or a speaking gig out of it. Some do but most don’t. That said if we hit it off and I know about their particular skill I often do get back in touch.

Dan: Your time is always worth more than you charge for it.

In your opinion, what’s the best way of charging for project time?

Keir: Don’t really feel I am the best person to answer this one. That said when I freelanced as a developer I definitely don’t think I got it right. I always used to charge by the job and build in a bit of slack for the negotiating period. Have faith in your rate and be prepared to justify the cost. Web design and development takes time and doing a good job should command a market rate.

Dan: I prefer larger chunks these days, over hourly fees. I tend to start with day-rates, and occasionally give fixed bids based on my own estimates, but I don’t work on an hourly basis anymore. There are certainly benefits to all methods, as long as you charge enough that you feel comfortable with the compensation for your time and knowledge.

How (assuming you’re more organised than me!) do you manage your time?

Keir: I don’t think I am the most or least organised person out there but I kind of have a system. I use a mixture of Google Calendar, reminders on my iphone (via Google Calendar) and a simple to-do list (Remember the milk). I find some tools (like Basecamp) too much of an overhead for my own projects but very useful when working in large groups.

Dan: Ha! Unfortunately, I’m one of the least organized people I know — but I’m becoming more comfortable with that over the last few years. I think we put ourselves through too much stress worrying about how different our particular process is from others, especially when it comes to to-do lists, productivity, organizational skills, etc., and we’re better off accepting our individual way of working, and using it to our advantage.

It’s not easy, but it’s better than berating yourself about not conforming to some theoretical “norm” :)

All that said, to try and answer your question: I use various to-do lists (I can never stick with just one), both virtual and analog (a Moleskine and a few other notebooks hold lists at any given time, and I use Things, Taskpaper, and sometimes even just Textmate to keep lists on my computer and iPhone/iPad). I might be better off using a single list, but I lack the skill to check them regularly, and tend to write things down on whatever happens to be around at the time (plus I like trying new apps, ugh).

I also use iCal and reminders *all* the time — it’s probably the most successful way I’ve found so far, though it doesn’t work for everything. Some reminders have been reset every few days for months now…

On ‘Current Trends’:

What’s your take on the ongoing IE6 kerfuffle? Should we just drop support for it already?

Keir: It’s my belief that designers should still cater for IE6 as it’s still widely in use. How they choose to do that is where I think the debate lies. Personally I don’t think sites should look the same in every version of every browser. A solution like Andy Clarke’s “Universal IE6 Stylesheet” is a great compromise. Of course if your target audience still uses IE6 (i.e. public sector) then you should definitely care. I think it’s a mixture of being pragmatic and assessing each case on it’s own merit.

Dan: I’ve spoken out about it before, but as with many of my opinions, they are all subject to change ;) I think it’s not worth complaining about it anymore, as we’ve got so many solutions and work-arounds we can use to support it in *some* way, and if we have to support it for particular clients on a 100% level, then we should just charge them more for the extra work it will take to get it there, and continue educating clients and consumers about the downsides.

To be fair, however, the improvements in experience on the web tend to come from technologies that aren’t really negated by IE6 (Flash and Javascript, especially), so until amazing experiences start to become HTML5/CSS3-centric, I don’t think our industry has enough examples to actually argue that IE6 users get a reduced experience (moves like Google dropping support are a big step, but on the same token, should a web-based calendar or email client really *require* an advanced web browser? I think that says more about trying to mimic a desktop experience on the web, which isn’t really what the web is about…)

Along the note of standards, what do you make of the recent upheavals towards Adobe Flash?

Keir: I get it but I think I am more of a pragmatist. As web designers and developers I feel we often live in an idealistic bubble. Flash has massive adoption so why avoid developing for it. That said it’s usage on the web has changed, from full sites to specific uses like video streaming and playback where it has proved it’s worth. Whilst I believe that HTML5 will win out in time I am not sure that using Flash is a bad thing – a huge % of people use it. I am also interested to see how adoption of the iPad without Flash affects sales beyond the devotees. Essentially I think it’s all down to context, if Flash is the best current tool for the job then use it.

Dan: I think it’s amusing, but useful to some extent — the general public’s awareness of web technologies and what’s going on behind the scenes has increased as a result, and an educated public is usually a better one to design and create for.

The downside is that it really shouldn’t matter: the answer should always be “use the best technology available to solve each problem” — which means arguments such as “HTML5 vs. Flash” aren’t even worth having. There should be no such thing as “vs” on the web.

What direction do you personally see the design side of the web heading in the not too distant future?

Keir: I don’t see it changing too much. If you consider how far web design has changed in the last ten years it’s hard to see visually where it might go. I think that the new platforms such as iPad and tablets will change how people develop and design but in terms of visual design I don’t think things will change too much. We have adopted visual standards (that given the opportunity we might do differently) such as button styles, where to place certain objects, UX flows etc. There’s always a danger in doing things differently as it can confuse people.

Dan: Let’s define “design” first: I consider design to be the entire process, including business logic, marketing considerations, visual design (aesthetics), interface/interaction design and usability, information architecture, development (front-end and back-end), copywriting — we’re in the business of creating virtual products, and as such we should all consider ourselves part of the product design team.

In that vein, I’d like to see the web focusing more on functionality and creating positive experiences for users, without getting distracted by misunderstanding things like user experience for “fun” (an experience can be quite enjoyable without it even bordering on “fun”).

Visually, it shouldn’t matter which direction or style is predominant in a given period of time — just look at the history of fashion, architecture, product design, graphic design, and advertising — as long as the focus continues to be on making better products that allow users to access information or complete tasks easier, faster, and with fewer roadblocks or distractions, we’re heading in the right direction.

On a personal level:

I’m a freelance, front-end designer, being something that I’m a little but not too interested in, how far should I be looking into the development element of the web?

Keir: I think having a little knowledge can go a long way. Knowing your way around say WordPress or some of the simple PHP tools can only enhance your worth to clients.

Dan: Be interested in everything, but don’t worry about spending more of your time on whatever you are *most* excited by. I try to play with everything, and be aware of what’s happening elsewhere in this industry and others, but my focus remains on the things I love doing, even if they aren’t related to the web. If you’re interested in development, dig in, but if not, try instead to understand the differences between languages, understand what some are better at than others, which servers can run which languages, etc., so you can participate in conversations about same.

I consider the web to be just a part of what I do, and not necessarily something I’ll always be involved with to the same degree — in the future, I may move more to software design for devices (iPad/iPhone/etc.), typeface design, product design (for physical products), wayfinding, packaging design, furniture design — as long as it’s design-related, and creative, I’m interested in it and could see myself focusing entirely on it in the future, and I’m always learning from those interests.

Other than HTML5 & CSS3, what would you say are the essentials to know for the industry?

Keir: Get to know the basics of jQuery and how it can enhance the interfaces you design. Also knowing how to set up and maintain your server (although not to the point of becoming a system admin) is always useful.

Dan: That would be a long list if I made it as comprehensive as I’d like ;) Rather than list everything I can think of, here’s a short list:

  • Understand how servers and browsers work and communicate with each other, including protocols, DNS, etc.
  • Learn a little about the command line, especially on OS X — most servers on the internet are unix-based, and being comfortable with digging around in that environment is important.
  • Play with Javascript — jQuery and other libraries make it easy to do, and playing is the best way to understand when a technology is appropriate.
  • Learn what you can about visual design, interaction design, information architecture, usability, copywriting and language, psychology — the things related to being a front-end designer, but that many designers ignore or think someone else will do for them. Even developers should learn about such things, as they are all integral parts of what we do.

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