Today, we are joined by Andrew Couldwell, he is a Digital Designer . You can view his portfolio here.
Who are some of your biggest influences in web design?
There are no specific designers I look to (regularly), I like to take in as wider range of influence as possible. Behance.net is a great website for this. I don’t follow many people on there, but those that I do, I obviously like their work, but I also find it valuable to see and be inspired by what inspires them, which I can view in my activity stream. I do similar on Medium.com, which I’ve found to be a great platform for learning from other designers’ thoughts on things.
What are some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on?
The project I’ve always enjoyed working on the most, is my own personal project, Club Of The Waves. In brief, it’s an international surfing, surf art, photography and culture website. It’s a labour of love, a hobby that got a little of hand, let’s say! It’s a very rewarding thing to do, and I’m proud of how it’s helped it’s community of (surfing) creatives over the years.
I always look to work on projects that mean something to me, or that interest me. I’ve recently been designing a skateboarding (iOS) app, which I’ve really enjoyed doing. I can’t disclose the brand it’s for, but as an extreme sports fan it’s been an awesome project to work on and creatively direct. I’ve always liked fashion projects too, so last year it was cool to work on the first ever mobile website for Harvey Nichols department store in the UK — I enjoy the challenge/pressure of working on large scale projects like this. A few years ago I relished the opportunity of coming up with creative/explorative ideas for live projects and pitch work for brands like Nike, MTV, Facebook and NASA, while working with a U.S. based agency — the boundless creativity you can inject into projects like that is something I strive for. I’ve also always enjoyed data visualization and analytical projects — it’s the geek in me I think, but sadly I can’t share much of the work I’ve done in that field.
In recent years I’ve done loads of charity work. I lost my Dad to Cancer three years ago, which was obviously a major turning point in my life, in many ways. Within only months of his death I worked on a couple of projects for LIVE STRONG, which was incredibly difficult (personally), but very rewarding. Over the past couple of years I’ve been a ‘Digital Rep’ at an environmental/surfing charity in the UK called Surfers Against Sewage (P.S. for an American audience, I suppose you could think of them as the Surf rider Foundation of the UK!). I genuinely believe in and support the great work that they do, so I very much enjoy working with them on various digital campaigns and their online presence. And finally, over the past year I’ve been working with a startup called Believe.in as a Product Designer creating tools to help charities, worldwide, with their fundraising and connecting with their supporters. It’s good to be able to work on creative projects that actually make a difference.
What advice would you give to other web designers?
Love what you do! Seek out projects that challenge you and that you enjoy doing. Surround yourself and be inspired by other creatives, even if just socially. Soak up some inspiration on the various design inspiration websites out there. Don’t stick it out at a design agency if you don’t like the work, there are thousands of agencies out there, you have no excuse! Get lots of experience under your belt before you go freelance, it’s really important, and you’ll learn a lot working with other creatives… And then later, if you’re good enough… are you serious, you still work at an agency… have you any idea how much more you earn as a freelancer?! 😉
Work hard, but not too hard! Seriously. There was a point a few years ago when I was pulling 12-20 hour days, every day, for about a year. I was working on some incredible projects at the time, and in the long run, the hard work I put in then, greatly benefited my career. Losing my Dad more or less put an end to that way of working/living. I learned a few valuable lessons about work/life balance (that I won’t bore you with). But my point being that there is a time and a stage in your career when you need to put the time in (if you want to get ahead), as it’s a very competitive industry, but live your life too and don’t neglect the people around you! Now I appreciate that, I can work hard, within sensible hours and still produce good work… and have a life! The temptation in our industry is to work, work, work… you don’t have to!
Can you give us a summary of your process?
It kind of depends on the time frame of the project. Sometimes I get projects where I can take my time, but often projects span hours/days and you simply have to get it done! No matter the deadline, I always start with a sketchbook. Simply a pencil and paper. I think it’s important to work through an idea in this easily editable environment, before getting tied down and led astray by colors, fonts, size, layers, folders etc… Plus, I just enjoy the‘hands on’ approach, it makes me feel like I’m designing something, not just moving pixels around a screen. I used to love drawing, this probably explains this too!
If it’s a tight deadline, I’ll try to sketch out the full user interface, or enough of it to get going, then get it down and refined in Photoshop (and then build it if applicable), as quickly as possible!
If I have a more relaxed/reasonable deadline then I like to start out by trying to understand the business or subject I’m designing for, by dissecting what they have already (if anything) and what their competition are doing. It’s important to understand the subject (and users/audience). A lot of the time, good design or user experience is about simplifying something complicated, you can’t do that unless you have a good handle on the data, subject and end user/audience!
For a digital project it’s usually a good idea to figure out a sitemap! How big is this thing? Do we really need all these sections? Does it need sections at all? How are we labeling these elements? What’s the best approach likely to be to navigate all of this? …A sitemap is a good reference point to start from, but also to evolve and improve upon as the ideas develop.
A new project is always a great excuse to peruse my various favorite inspiration sources online too. I actually rarely take influence from competing brands/businesses (of the client I’m designing for) — it’s good to see what the others are doing, and learn from them, but the aim isn’t to match what the competition are doing (why do that?!), you should always strive to improve on what the others are doing! So it’s good to absorb recent best practices and trends of other great websites/apps. You never know where inspiration can come from, even just for elements, like an idea for a search field, a form, visual tone, navigation etc… Little ‘that might work well here’ moments that get the creative juices flowing and lead onto other, bigger ideas.
While I’m doing this I tend to sketch and brainstorm words, thoughts and preliminary user interface/experience elements as they come to me. I did the same while revising for exams in my college days… The process of sketching and writing things down helps me to understand/unravel the subject better. After a while the little sketches tend to evolve into fuller user interfaces, until a point where I feel confident I have a solid idea, or range of ideas, to start getting them down, digitally.
I like to wire frame ideas. I tend to produce a document of detailed, annotated wire frames (‘basic’ page layouts), which explore the user interface and various user experience elements. This helps to communicate the idea to the client and solidifies the idea. It also works well as a reference document for developers and other team members further down the line! I use either Illustrator or Omnigraffle to produce wire frames. Because the wire frames are vector, they can be easily and quickly modified, which is great at this point in the project, as there will likely be edits and different versions produced before you ‘sign off’ on one idea, with the client.
Once the wire frames are ‘signed off’, I design it in Photoshop, which is where further decisions about color, typography and general creative/art direction take place. If I’m building it, I’ll design enough to be getting on with the build (code). But if it’s being built elsewhere, depending on time, I’ll design up a GUI, documenting various elements, states, sizes, spacings etc… to give the developers no excuses! 😉
How do you differentiate between UI design & UX design?
UI (user interface) I think refers to the layout, the whole project as a navigable interface made up of various elements and how they all tie together. UX (user experience), I believe, is more about how humans interact (engage) with the UI, and the ‘user journey’ of how they navigate a website, which is a central part of the whole process. Some people think of UX as doing a wire frame, or creating a user flow. But I think UX is an integral part of the whole project, for example, in the build stage, thinking about nice interactions that make the interface more enjoyable and slick to use.
Can crappy design still provide excellent UX?
I think bad design can negatively impact on the general user experience, in terms of your enjoyment of actually exploring it. But I don’t think it always impacts so heavily on the engagement, which in many ways, is the user experience!
Every user is different, some will be frustrated by poor design (and/or user experience), but others won’t even notice it, or appreciate the difference, in any small way. For example, I know several people who have their screen resolutions set horribly wrong on their computers, it very noticeably stretches and distorts everything they look at, but they don’t notice it, and won’t even let me fix it when I offer to. Would these people say their user experience was affected by what some would consider bad design?
Of course, bad design can equal a bad user experience, it depends if we’re talking purely aesthetically here, or just bad web design. There’s a big difference between (graphic) design and web (interactive) design. A website is not something you just look at, you have to interact with it, and there’s usually an end goal/conversion, like a sale, sign up, or ‘contact us’. The design (user interface and experience) have to work together well enough to guide the user to that end point, and nowadays, importantly, like it enough to share it too! A lot of print based designers design poor websites because they focus on it looking good, with little to no consideration for how it works or how you navigate it. The bad design in this essence is the barriers it creates to using it, which is a bad user experience, and will result in people leaving the site, maybe forever.
As for engagement, or sales turnover, some people simply don’t care about ‘good design’. I don’t want to call out websites by name as being badly designed (aesthetically), but the number of referrals (for a website I run) I get from one particular forum/message based community site is sometimes unbelievable. This site is one of the worst looking websites I’ve seen, but the volume of activity and engagement it gets speaks for itself. It’s dedicated/fanatical users don’t care that it’s a visual disaster, and frankly breaks pretty much every rule of what most of the industry would consider to be good practices, or user experience! And the same goes for some leading e-commerce (buy and sell) websites, they’re not what I’d consider good design, the user experience frustrates the hell out of me, but I’ve still used them, and they turn over millions! So…
What are some of your thoughts on the importance of web standards?
I think we’ve seen an important and valuable shift in the way we design and build websites in recent years, where we consider accessibility, screen sizes, devices, disabilities, search engines, load times, browser versions and just the quality of our code, generally. Quality is as important as design, which I think was a problem for a long while digitally, I think we now strike a better balance between quality design and good practices. Putting the content and the user first.
Web design changes so quickly, how do you keep up?
You just have to be interested in what you’re doing, really. Design is an industry you kind of need to live and breathe to succeed in, for all, or at least a good portion of your career. The best designers will always be keen to keep abreast of other designers’ work, to be inspired. Everyone has their own preferences of how to do this though. I suppose I like to surround myself with other creatives, read (online) and peruse inspiration galleries. It’s important to keep up with tech’ developments too, including hardware/devices and code — the things you can do with a few lines of code now is awesome! If you don’t know about these things, you can’t integrate them into your designs, UX and thinking! I’m signed up to various email digests from techy websites that link to interesting articles, and as a developer I dabble with new bits of code/functionality that interest me too, to learn how it works.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you see facing the web design industry today?
Continuing to keep up with evolving technology and device screen sizes. I think a lot of web designers (and in particular print designers who’ve tried to be web designers), will be eased out of the industry as responsive design takes over and further evolves. There are many daft names associated with our profession (e.g. ‘Creative Technologists’ and ‘User Experience Architects’)… I lose track of them all, but the point being that you need to understand the technology and devices that you’re designing for nowadays, it’s no longer a case of designing something and it being the developers problem to make it work. I’m speaking as a designer and a developer here — I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked to build a “responsive website” and then been sent a desktop design over 1,200+ pixels wide! My obvious response is: “So how exactly is this responsive?”… I haven’t heard, or been shown designs for, a reasonable answer to that question yet.
What can we expect to see from you in the future?
Right now I have no idea! I’ve only recently moved to London and I’m enjoying the new big city life, which is quite a change for me, after about 5 years living in Cornwall and Spain (working remotely internationally). Over the past year I’ve been splitting my time between freelance and working within a team at a start up, enjoying the best of both worlds, so to speak. I’ve been approached a few times about jobs in the United States in the past year or so, that might be interesting, but not a simple decision by any means. I’d love to do more with my Club Of The Waves project, it’s grown a pretty scarily large following on Facebook, as well as the site, so it’d be nice to find time to do a responsive makeover of that (it’s sadly fallen behind times), and I’ve been thinking a lot about curating a surf art & photography exhibit here in London, for something different, and a challenge to myself. But right now I’m enjoying trying to find my way in London, and hopefully continue to enjoy creating, and working on cool projects with inspiring, creative people and brands.