Janna is a 21 year old student and founder of http://www.studentguidewebdesign.com/ she is an award winning web designer from Canada, I caught up with her to find out more about her experiences and why she has a “passion for the web”.
Oliver: Your blog says you have a “passion for the web”, tell me more?
Janna: I love what I do! I really can’t imagine doing anything else at this point. I love that right now I have the freedom to work with awesome clients and that I’ve had the opportunity to build some relationships with amazing designers in the industry.
Oliver: You have written some guest articles on some top design sites! How did you approach these sites and how important do you think they are to build an authority in web design for yourself?
Janna: I never approached these websites – they approached me. Having a personal blog has helped me greatly. I found that contributing to these design blogs really helped me build relationships with other designers and, furthermore, got me more writing opportunities at other blogs. This was a great way for me to give myself a little bit of credibility throughout the industry. Writing definitely helps give you authority in the industry.
Oliver: You have started your website because you felt that you were not being taught a lot of the skills really needed for web-design/development I thought this was bad enough at high-school but at UNI!!! In your experience what would your advice be to yourself before going to uni to learn design?
Janna: I think it’s important for young designers to learn that to be successful as a designer, you need to educate yourself. Your college/uni experience won’t teach you everything you need to know. Seeking knowledge outside the classroom will prove to be extremely beneficial to all students. Be active in online communities, proactively make projects to add to your portfolio and be nice to others. If you start this process early, you’ll find a lot more opportunities open up to you before you even leave school.
Oliver: What is responsive web design?
Janna: Responsive web design is becoming a crucial part of every designer creative process. Designing for the iPhone and iPad shouldn’t be an option, but really a necessity. I actually wrote an article on my blog about responsive web design for absolute beginners (I’m still a beginner myself, since I don’t code very often): http://www.jannahagan.com/2012/05/responsive-web-design-resources-for-absolute-beginners/
Oliver: What do you use to design your websites? How long do they normally take you? Could I come to you and ask you anything and you could design it? How flexible do you think you are as a designer and how long did it take you to build up the necessary skills to offer to clients?
Janna: I always use Photoshop to create my designs – this is what I feel most comfortable using, but it may not work for everyone. It really depends on how many PSD documents the client needs, but on average, it usually takes me 1 week – 2 weeks to complete a fully fleshed design.
I think being flexible, as a designer, should be used cautiously. Being “flexible” isn’t really a good thing when dealing with clients. It’s important to let clients know that you work a certain way and how a project will be carried out. You’re the expert and they are investing in your services – they should adhere to how you work, not the other way around. I don’t think you need to build up skills to a certain point where you can offer your services to clients. In the beginning, your going to make mistakes, but every client should be a learning process. You should gradually be improving over time.
Oliver: You said that you started coding before you did design, has any of that knowledge helped you in your web development?
Janna: Yes! Although I’m more of a designer (I rarely do coding work), learning how to code has proven invaluable for my design work. Without some knowledge of coding, you won’t know the limitations of what you can produce in your designs. Although I enjoy coding from time to time, I prefer designing because it’s what I love to do and what I find my strength to be in.
Oliver: You said “Your Diploma may not get you a job”, how do you think students can combat this?
Janna: Again, seeking knowledge outside the classroom will prove to be beneficial to you as a student. Since your diploma won’t guarantee you a job, you need to become proactive about your education and teach yourself the many things that college leaves out.
Oliver: Can you tell me a bit about your website http://www.studentguidewebdesign.com/, what is it all about?
Janna: A Student’s Guide to Web Design stemmed from my personal college experience. I started to discover that there was disconnect between what I was learning in the classroom and what was being required by the industry. I also found that there weren’t a lot of places for students to go to readily get this information in one place. I started thinking of ideas of how I can help, and naturally I started thinking of starting a blog because of my passion for writing.
The site has received a lot of attention for only being live for a few months (we launched in March 2012). I think it has a lot of potential to grow to the size of a large design blog. I also just released an eBook (http://www.studentguidewebdesign.com/a-students-guide-to-web-design-portfolios-ebook/) through the site on portfolios – with the intention of releasing many more on clients, networking, getting jobs, etc.
Oliver: You are a freelance web designer, what do you to do keep ahead of all the other web designers?
Janna: I don’t worry about other designers. Someone else’s success as a freelancer won’t hinder your success or prevent you from getting jobs. There are tons of jobs and projects available – I have to turn down almost 70% of the work requests I get because I don’t have the time to take on so many projects at once. Also, since I’m a student, it’s more about the quality of projects I can produce for my portfolio, since I don’t necessarily need a steady income right now. Worry about your work, your clients and less on other designers.
Oliver: How important do you think marketing knowledge is to a web designer?
Janna: So important! I’m currently studying marketing at college and everything I’ve been learning in terms of marketing principles can directly be applied to design. Marketing can be detrimental to your business, especially as a freelancer. No marketing = no clients = no money. Having a basic knowledge of business will prove to be extremely valuable later in your career.
Oliver: You were named Young designer of the Year by Net magazine, that is amazing!! How did that come about?
Janna: To be ho nest, I didn’t really do anything. Net magazine was accepting nominations for the award, and my name got nominated. From there, I was voted into the top 10, later the top 3 and finally picked as the winner by a panel of industry leaders. It was really humbling for me that the industry experts saw something in me that stood out from the others – must mean I’m doing something right!
Oliver: You said that you get more inspiration getting off computers on younggunsshow, how important do you think this is to web developers?
Janna: I think it’s really important – especially combating creative block. Something as a freelancer or designer, the daily grind can put you in a “bleh” state of mind. It’s important to designers to step away from the computer every once and a while to refresh their creativity.
Oliver: Do you think that social media is important for a web designer/developer to market their services?
Janna: Twitter has helped me immensely when it comes to marketing myself as a designer. The combination of my Dribbble account, my portfolio and my Twitter account has proved to produce a large amount of work enquiries. Twitter is also great for building relationships with other designers/design agencies – you never know where your next job might come from! The design industry is very much a referral business, so marketing play a major role in this industry.
Oliver: You are on LOADS of lists like, 10 Web Developers Worth Following on Twitter, how has this helped and how do you get listed on these?
Janna: Honestly, getting on these types of lists is nice, but it really doesn’t affect my work. It’s nice that people find my work inspirational, but the attention isn’t really necessary for me to do my job. I don’t receive much traffic from them, so I don’t really receive any work from being placed on these lists. There’s no secret “trick” to getting placed on these lists besides doing good work and providing value to others (on Twitter).
Oliver: How important do you think a personal blog/portfolio is to a web developer/designer?
Janna: Many designers are divided on this subject, but my blog has proved to be a great asset for my portfolio. It’s helped me land other writing gigs for other more established design blogs, further increasing the traffic to my portfolio. Having a blog is also a great way to show potential clients or employers that you are passionate about what you do and stay on top of what’s going on in the industry.
Oliver: Where do you get your freelance work from?
Janna: My freelance work comes from a combination of my Dribbble account, Twitter and my portfolio. It takes time and patience to build up a significant following, but once you have this in place, you’ll find that clients start coming to you, rather than you having to scramble to find work. This is nice because it allows you to pick and choose projects you are more passionate about.
Oliver: What is your experience in working whilst still studying at UNI, would you recommend it?
Janna: I’d recommend trying to find a couple clients during your college experience. Most of the time, you’ll have a lot of free time outside of the classroom to work on extra projects that will help build up your portfolio before you find college. Don’t do spec work, though. This is doing work for free for companies who will exploit your status as a student. It’s important that you still value your work as a student.
Oliver: Where do you see yourself in 3 years time? Still designing websites?
Janna: Yes! After college, I definitely need some more agency experience. I’d love to one-day work for myself or start my own agency.
Oliver: Where do you see web design in 3 years time?
Janna: Responsive web design will no longer be an “option,” but rather, a necessity. I think there will be a great advancement in grid systems for designing in Photoshop, etc. Basically, I see web design becoming more and more advanced to help make our job easier (which is good, and bad). I’m excited to see where the industry is in 3 years.
Oliver: Would you say that you would prefer to work for yourself then working for someone else? Is this something that you are working towards?
Janna: I’m definitely not really a 9-5 person, but starting out, you have to do start somewhere. Like I said before, I would love to get some more agency experience before possibly working for myself.
Oliver: Do you think that employers prefer someone that has a degree over someone that does not in web development?
Janna: No. Your portfolio, potential and personality will be the determining factor in whether you get hired or not – regardless of whether you have a degree or not. Some are even arguing that the resume is becoming “dead,” because some agencies don’t even look at them anymore. They want to see what you can do in the flesh – real projects in your portfolio.
Oliver: What tips would you give to anyone designing a website?
Janna: Always put the user first. When you’re first starting out, it can be difficult to think this way. As designer, we are problem solvers. We solve design problems for our clients – we aren’t designing these websites for ourselves. If you put the user first when designing your website, you’ll see a vast improvement with the performance of your designs.
Oliver; Thanks so much for your time Janna, look forward to seeing your work in the future!
In summary to what Janna was saying about .net magazine, work hard and you shall be rewarded! But you do need to put yourself out for the grabbing on sites like Dribble, Twitter etc.. otherwise people won’t know who you are!
Don’t forget to check out Jannas ebook and website http://www.jannahagan.com, http://www.studentguidewebdesign.com.