Jeff Archibald represents modern design aesthetic to a T, but that isn’t to call his work mundane or common. His — dare I say it — “hip” art work pops in ways that would make most Mad Men drown their sorrows in a well mixed Old Fashioned. His work demonstrates how contemporary design elements ought to function together. In doing so, Jeff’s work disproves any pre-conceived notion that today’s design is all glitter and no substance. Not simply a feast for the eyes, Jeff produces work that is both intelligent and entertaining. All bias aside, up-and-coming designers should consider themselves fortunate to have a mentor like Jeff on the scene. What advice does he have for such pioneers of the design of next year?
How many years have you been doing web design? How has the field changed during that time?
I’m relatively new to the field; only 2.5 years for me. In that short time, I’ve seen a big shift on the technical end to HTML5/CSS3 and away from older standards like Flash. As well, responsive design has made a big push in the last year.
What are your best methods for finding/attracting web design clients?
We don’t really make a marked effort to attract clients. We just do the best work we can, write blog articles on interesting & useful design-related topics, and are active both online (social media etc) and offline (conferences, meetups, etc). I’m of the mindset that if you focus on continually putting out better & better work, and combine that with being social/likeable/easy to find, the work will come.
Pertaining to web design, what are 3 rules you always follow to maximize results?
Three rules: one, set goals for the project. For example, does the client want to increase traffic to page X? How many pageviews do they want, and is that realistic? This is just one example, but goals help justify design decisions and make for a website that works for your client’s business, not one that just ‘looks nice’.
Two, try something new on each build if possible. It can be big (building a responsive site) or small (using the HTML5 doctype for the first time). I find this helps me keep progressing and keeps me on top of the ever-shifting world of web design, while keeping me out of design/development ruts. Of course, whatever the “new” thing is you’re trying – make sure it’s the right solution for the project. Don’t just force it in there.
Three, test in all browsers. Yes, not exactly a groundbreaking rule, but one that absolutely has to be adhered to. As web designers, our view of how people interact with the web – and by proxy, which browser they’re using to do so – can be muddled since we work in the field every day. Unfortunately, a lot of people still use older browsers and we need to make sure that their experience on our client sites is a good one too.
Have you ever had to make sure a website worked on a mobile device, or designed a website specifically for a mobile device? Can you describe the difference in the process and any key factors relating to usability?
We make sure all of our sites work on mobile, since it’s gradually taking up more & more of everyone’s browser stats. Realistically, any properly built site these days will ‘work’ in the mobile browsers of today – but maximizing that experience is a different ballgame. That’s where responsive design comes in to play.
Optimizing the mobile experience starts with determining the differences between how users will be interacting & using a mobile site versus a desktop site. From there, it’s worthwhile to set specific goals and develop the site so as to maximize those goals. This likely means reducing (removing content) if you’re building from a desktop-first standpoint.
Your web design portfolio is outstanding, each site 100% unique from one to another – although each is clean in design, how do you work with in so many different styles?
Thanks for the compliment. I think it’s important to balance your own design style with what the needs of your client’s business are – how they wish to be visually represented, what will elicit the proper response from their clientele/visitors, etc. Again, it starts with understanding the client: their goals, their customers, their business history etc. Those points are the homebase we return to to make sure each design project is on the right track.
Why did you decide to create Paper Leaf Design with your wife? What advantages have you experienced since the inception of the business? Are there any disadvantages?
My wife had been freelancing design for a number of years before Paper Leaf, while I was an instructional designer for another company. I was unsatisfied with my career, so I quit and went to design school. The original intent was for me to try & find a job at an existing design company in our city, but as we neared the end of my schooling we realized we likely had enough clients to join forces and start a firm of our own. So we did.
Advantages: you can choose the clients you work with, and the type of work you want to do. You can wear t-shirts and jeans every day, like I do. You can pick your own hours. You don’t answer to anyone, save your clients.
Disadvantages: you work longer & harder hours. You end up spending a lot of time doing “business” work, and less time actually creating things. Sometimes there’s the feast-and-famine thing, but generally a bigger disadvantage these days seems to be having too much work and trying to figure out how to balance each project and give them the individual time they deserve.
Let it be known that all those disadvantages I listed above are generally things I enjoy – the business & strategy end, balancing multiple projects etc.
Do you ever do any research before starting with a new web design project? What type of research do you conduct before starting? How does this help you achieve better results?
Yes, research is a huge part of the process. We research prior to an initial client meeting to learn about their business, their history and their industry. Post meeting, we delve into more specific design and user experience research: what’s out there? What’s good? What’s bad? How can we take what we’ve seen and turn it into an original look and experience that’s well-suited to the client’s needs?
I’m of the mind that you need to see what’s out there and learn from other’s successes and failures if you’re to create the best solution you can. If you willfully ignore past experiences, you leave the door open to make the same mistakes others have already made.
What do you feel are the most important skills for a designer to have/develop?
Communication, bar none. You need to be able to communicate clearly. Why should the client choose you? Why is a responsive design better, in this case, than a fixed design? Why did you put that button there? Why does the client need to get you the content before you can start on this section? If you can’t communicate clearly, you’re going to be driving both yourself and your clients nuts.
Akin to that, people skills are huge. Clients generally don’t know the difference between good and great design, like I don’t know the difference between a good roofer and an okay/subpar one. However, if you’re a likeable person who hits deadlines, you will have returning clients and repeating work.
No, I didn’t mention anything technical like illustration etc. I do feel that those skills are important, but I think the above two are actually more important.
What opportunities do you see for young people who are interested in a career involving web design?
There are opportunities everywhere. More and more people are interacting with the web in different ways, using different devices and so forth. I think we’ll see more opportunities for specialization: UX designers, UI designers, web application designers and so on. It’s a great field to be in.
Do you have any final advice for our readers?
Get motivated! Get out there and try something new, learn from your experience, and try again. And have fun doing it.