I want to thank Liam McKay of Function for taking the time to let me interview him during this exciting but very busy time in his career. Currently he works from home in a city called Coventry, situated in the west Midlands, England. Liam says, “It’s a city which gets a lot of stick from many other cities in the UK, but I quite like it here“.
Without further ado, today July 2, 2008 Liam is launching his site so I figured it was a good day to publish his interview!
Tell us a little about wefunction.com & how you came up with the name:
The name Function came about when I was thinking of what I wanted to achieve from the company. I felt that it was just as important these days to have a website which would work (function) as well as it looked. I’d seen far too many sites which looked great, but didn’t have the functionality to make it a usable site. So our goal if you like is to blend the two, functionality and great design.
I chose to have the site a Blog rather than just a showcase of work, I felt that we could capture the imagination of a wider audience if we used a blog system. That way we could post our thoughts and inspirations and share various resources and ideas, plus I love to get feedback and ideas from a community, so for me it was very obvious that the site would have to be a blog rather than a portfolio. I initially began coding the site for Mambo, but soon realized that I’d need something simpler and more powerful, so I took in some help and got the site set up in WordPress, and I couldn’t be happier.
You have been quite busy working on some eye candy, please tell us a little bit about your free icons & new themes:
I wanted to open with a bang, I wanted to reward those loyal enough to stick with us during our “coming soon” period. So I felt it was important to get working on some free icons and some free themes. There will also be premium themes. The icons are my first ever icon set. I’ve played around with various graphics & icons before, and while I know this set isn’t perfect I’m hoping that it will be able to help many people improve the visuals of their sites & applications. Plus everyone loves a free set of icons to add to their collection.
The free theme I’ve been working on called free*dirt is another way of rewarding people who stayed loyal to us, and also a way of promoting our company and our design skills. The theme is a little different to usual themes, the main image shows next to the content, with an area for author details and social media sharing links. I think it works to make things easier to read as the main content isn’t pushed down by the image.
I’m also working on a theme which will be a reward for donators. The basic concept is anyone who donates to the site, for whatever reason will receive the theme. The donation will be completely up to the donator, be it $5 or $500 they’ll receive the theme. The incentive here is for us to create content and resources which people feel deserve donating to, that way readers get better content and also a reward for their feedback.
We’ve also been working closely with wordpress-designers.com to revamp their website and start a new relationship creating various premium themes which we hope will shake up the Premium theme’s market. I’ve had some great feedback from people on the theme’s I’ve designed so far, so this seems like a great chance for me to release some creativity and really have some fun on these projects, as I’ve been given quite a lot of creative freedom.
I’ve always had Photoshop from since I can remember using a computer, its something I used to see as a toy, I used to play around like we all did, messing with Photo’s exploring filters and effects etc. It wasn’t until I was about 14 / 15 I realized that I really enjoyed doing this, I’d gotten comfortable using the program and I wanted to learn more and push myself.
A few hundred hours, and lord knows how many tutorial sites later It was time for me to decide what I wanted to do in life… I was near the end of school and really couldn’t see myself following the path of my friends into further education and university so I took on a College course in Multimedia.
Although I learned all aspects of Multimedia, from Video & 3D to typography and Art I felt that my strong point was with Web Design & Interfaces. So this is when I really began my passion and started freelancing on the side, which still studying.
Please tell us more about your art and design background and what made you become an artist and designer?
I think I’ve always been creatively minded, even at a young age I would much prefer to sketch and draw rather than watch TV for example. And as I got older I thought I wanted to be an artist (in the traditional sense.) I took art at school and found I concentrated better when I was doing something creative, so art was my favorite subject at school.
I also see myself as quite a perfectionist, I like to see things polished up nicely, so with my art I wasn’t always satisfied, I didn’t know enough to make the final product look like I wanted it to in my head, in some ways this is why I’m glad I had the chance to brush up on my Photoshop skills, because more often than not I knew enough techniques to make Photoshop produce work that looked as good on the screen as it did in my head.
So this enjoyment of art and creative tasks is what lay the path for me to become a Web Designer.
What is the best part about being a freelancer?
At the moment, I would have to say you get a lot more creative freedom than working for another company, and you can inject a lot more personality into your work. I recently had a job as a Junior Web Designer in another firm and (I’m not sure why) I felt it was harder to get my own personality across in my work, a lot of what I made wasn’t really me. This is why I took the decision to go freelance and completely revamp my style.
I love the fact that working from home allows me to take some time to inspire myself and try some new things and see how they look. I usually allow myself some extra time for finding inspiration & experimenting, something which you don’t always have the luxury of doing in an office or company without having to explain to someone that you’re not just browsing the net mindlessly.
What do you feel are the most important skills for a designer to have/develop?
Dealing with clients is something which you will never be taught. Although some might try, we had an exercise in college where we were presented with “fake clients” and no matter how hard anyone tries it’s just not the same. I think its important to get as much experience with clients as soon as possible, before you take the big leap into the freelance world.
And on a more design based view, I think attention to detail is something which can make you stand out as a designer. If you have good polishing skills you can turn something which looks quite ordinary into something quite unique and appealing. It’s something which all great designers have in my opinion.
What are your best methods for finding/attracting web design clients?
This is something I’m far from mastering, and something which I’m hoping to experiment with. In the past I’ve just relied on my work alone to get me work, but with a blog, I think it brings a whole new dimension to potential clients, they’d be able to get more of a feel for the kind of person I am, as well as the kind of work I do. And hopefully this combination will lead to more clients.
Where do you go for design inspiration?
I’ve been working on a rather large which displays a wide variety of things which inspire me. Recently I’ve found it more useful to look places other than just CSS galleries. Although I do love them I find that sometimes it helps to look at things other than web designs. This could be in the form of anything, videos & motion graphics, typography, graphic design posters, 3D art etc. If you take a look at the post you can see the kinds of things I’m talking about. Basically I tend to look for anything which could appeal to my creative mind, and I usually find that looking at designs which aren’t in the form of a website can lead to you being more experimental and give you more of an open mind when it comes to ideas on layout and so on.
How do you typically start a new project?
I don’t really have a set routine; it varies from project to project. It could be in the form of sketches and brainstorming, or it could be me just going straight into Photoshop and bashing out some concepts. Probably not very conventional or recommended, but it seems to work for me, as long as I have an idea in my head of what I’m aiming to achieve it doesn’t really matter to me what method I use to get the project started, as long as the outcome is the same it shouldn’t really matter, you should just be doing what you feel more comfortable doing.
I usually start with a bare design, and build up detail and features as I go, and finish it off with as much polishing as I feel it needs, without overdoing it. I think it’s important to recognize when you’ve done enough on a design to stop without spoiling it.
Do you have any favorite websites for interacting with others in the design community?
Flickr has to be one of the best websites around, a great source of inspiration and a great way of keeping up with work of people you like. I really do think flickr is a great way of showcasing your work and finding other great stuff.
I’m also quite fond of twitter, I know it’s down a lot of the time and not everyone is a fan, but having used it quite a bit recently I find it a great way of keeping up with bloggers & designers I like.
Digg & Stumbleupon are sites which I try to use as often as I can, I tend to dig/stumble sites that I find of good use, or even if I just appreciate the effort someone has took to create a post. Sometimes a nice comment, or a digg etc can really help a blogger, so I try to reward those who I feel deserve it.
What does your typical day look like?
I get up around 8:30, breakfast and watch some TV. Then it’s up to my desk to whiz through any emails, usually followed by some random stumbling. Then I’ll check out my RSS feeds see if there’s anything new to read or look at. Once I’ve settled down and woken up I tend to get stuck into my to-do list, or make some changes to something which I thought was a good idea the night before, its amazing how different things look when you’re actually awake. I’ll get in a good few solid hours work and make sure that I get what I wanted to get done that day done, and then I’ll have a mix of relaxing and working. Just adding little tweaks, or fixing things here and there, then playing some games or watching TV, browsing the net or reading blogs and so on.
What are you 5 favorite sites online?
Well, this changes so often, but for right now it’d have to be.
As I’ve already mentioned I just love this site.
I’m a huge fan of the content and resources posted here
A big inspiration for me to take the leap and start freelancing full time
4. Smashing Magazine
They really go out their way to provide some excellent resources & links
5. Positive Space Blog
This guy’s very clued up and I love hearing his opinions.
Who, in the online world, would you say has had the biggest influence on you?
The two people who I think played a big part in me deciding I wanted to start up my own design firm and blog would have to be DannyOutlaw from Outlaw Design Blog, and Jacob Cass from JustCreativeDesign. I’ve followed both blogs quite a bit over the past few months, and they both talk so much sense. They’ve given some great resources and wrote some very inspirational pieces that just fill me with confidence and passion, so much so that I decided that it was time for me to take the leap and do what I really wanted to do in life and work for myself.
What are the tools you couldn’t live without?
I’ve not really got that many tools or apps that I use online, I’ve read up on a few and it’s something which I need to explore a little further, there are a few tools/sites that I use on quite a regular basis and find them a great help.
Netvibes, essentially is a great way to display all of your RSS feeds at once, but there’s so many other tools you can add to your page, I really like the “webnote” function which allows you to easily edit and save notes, website urls and various thoughts and ideas. Another feature allows you to save URL’s and it will take a screenshot of the website and save it along with the link to the site. It’s a great help when getting ideas and sources for blogging.
Another tool I’ve been using recently is Concept Share. It’s a really great tool for collaborating with other designers or getting feedback on your designs. You can easily add notes to designs, draw shapes and leave comments. I find it really easy to use considering its such a powerful tool, and I’d recommend it to anyone.
Thanks for taking the time to interview me at what really is an exciting time for me, it really means a lot for people like yourself to show an interest in the work I’ve done so far, and it really is a great confidence boost at such a vital time in my career.