Interview with Ryan Downie

ryanToday we are interviewing Web Designer, Ryan Downie who currently lives in Lancaster, England. Ryan is very talented and loves working with ExpressionEngine. He works full time at BFInternet.

What does your typical day look like?

My typical day is I get up at 06:30 and do the rounds as I call it (facebook, timesonline, skysports, twitter and google reader). I then get a shower and set of to work. I work 09:15 till 17:15 and can consist of working on e-commerce sites, html, cms, design work or just minor edits to our client base. I get home around 18:00 and get some food and then get working on some projects or read some interesting RSS feeds before relaxing around 23:00 and watching a tv show like 24, house or heros before bed.

Do you have any favorite websites for interacting with others in the design community?

I use twitter more then I should. 

What are your 5 favorite sites online?

twitter, facebook, google reader, skysports and timesonline

What are the tools you couldn’t live without? 

Sketch book, pen, Photoshop, Coda (when on mac), Illustrator and firebug.

Are you currently freelancing?

Not a the moment, I am contracted to the design agency BFinternet full time.

Best part of freelancing?

Having freelanced before and now that I am working for an agency I can see benefits to doing aspects of both. When I was freelancing I liked picking my own projects that came in, the hours that I worked and also being able to take twenty minutes or so to go cook something for dinner. As a agency worker I like being around people who are in the same field everyday and the fact that everyone has a different way of doing things. I also like not having to do the admin side of things and looking to bring work in, oh and getting paid at the end of the week even when we are not busy.

What are your best methods for finding/attracting clients?

When I was freelancing I was lucky as a lot of people found me. Mostly due to my version one of my website going across all the design galleries real fast and getting featured in some creative posts such as the Webdesigner Wall’s trends of 2008 and Steven Snells Vandelay Design creative navigation posts respectively. Nowadays if I do take on any freelance work it is via word of mouth and it is mostly my own projects or for friends (that I have met online) as my time is limited.

Please tell us more about your art and design background and what made you become an artist and designer?

As only a few people who read this will know me, might not realize that I have only been designing for around sixteen months. I fell in to design by accident. I lost my job and decided I wanted to do something worth while (and I did do multimedia design for a few months in college before dropping out). So I started playing around with photoshop and got some books on design and css and went to work so to say. My first full layout was my first version of my site, and I have to give credit due to Elliot Jay Stocks as he was really helpful in this period as he gave me some great feedback through the process. I then won the Boagworld podcast to go down and spend some time with Andy Budd and some like minded people on his CSS Mastery workshop just over twelve months ago now.

When you first began your career in design, what were some unique challenges you faced? 

When I started out I didn’t have ideas or expectations on what to expect, I just went with the flow and if it didn’t work out it was not to be. Some unique challenges I faced was trying to get the design that I could see in my mind in to photoshop and then on to a page. But with experience this has come. Another challenge that I faced was the design’s that I was creating where not based on the clients needs. I just ran with a design and put the content in second. Thats why a few of my designs were getting rejected. Again this comes with experience and good and proper research. I can not stress that research needs to done before even thinking of the design.

What was your very first job or the first paid project you performed as a designer? 

My first job as a graphic designer was working freelance for a client in America creating banners. I really started to hate this towards the end of this as I was just pixel pushing and not creating layouts like I wanted to. I think I landed the project via some website like the sitepoint marketplace but not sure.

What do you feel are the most important skills for a web designer to have/develop?

As a webdesigner the most important skill to me is to be able to code clean sematic HTML and CSS. It really annoys me when people call themselves a webdesigner and they dont code. Its kind of like working at McDonalds and calling yourself a chef! Also the web is mostly typography so learning about grids, layout and design fundamentals is a must. You must be able to get the balance of a appealing design and still make the design useable for the target audience.

Where do you go for design inspiration?

I get my design ideas from from mainly galleries such as cssmania, patterntap etc to get that sudden spark. However I am now looking at a lot of print material and getting ideas from that. Weatherspoon’s and bar menus are starting to get some really good designs. My friends catch me now and again putting menus in my pocket (not a good sign!). 

How do you typically start a new project?

I typically start a new project by having a brief chat with the client if I have not been given the creative brief and then go and load google up and spend a couple of hours researching competitors and similar sites. I then draw down a wireframe in a sketch book and if it is required I will then move to illustrator and wireframe that up to send to the client. Then it is on to photoshop.

Regarding starting a development project (HTML/CSS E-Commerce, Expression Engine or BFInternets in-house CMS)   I start off with a base file that I have created outlying the meta, css (big fan of YUI fonts, reset and base) and basic areas set out. h1 with an id of logo, wrapper, main-content etc.

Who, in the online world, would you say has had the biggest influence on you? 

I would have to say a few people if thats ok. first off would have to go to Elliot Jay Stocks as without his encouraging feedback when I was starting out, I would probably have not realized the potential that I had and wouldn’t be where I am today. Secondly would have to be Chris my project manager for giving me time to progress at BFinternet and continually giving me feedback on all aspects of my work. Lastly Andy Clarke as he has inspired me on many occasions to use use progressive enhancement in now all my webdesigns. If it wasn’t for him continually pushing and blogging about it I wouldn’t use microforms, css3 and now HTML5 in my work.


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