Early this year I interviewed Mike Lane, Senior UX Designer near Minneapolis, MN with 15 years experience in creative Web and Graphic Design. Seems a long time ago. But thanks to him, my CSS and HTML knowledge is off the hook!
Have fun reading. You can follow him on twitter here.
Can we meet you? Who is Mike Lane?
Hi, my name is Mike Lane and I’m a Senior User Experience Designer. I work both part-time freelance and full-time for a company in the professional Audio/Visual industry. It’s a pleasure to speak with you and your readers today!
How did you get into web design? How long have you been into web development?
I’ve been working in commercial web design and development for about 15 years now. I was originally going to film school back in the early 1990’s when I first discovered the Internet and desktop publishing. I got heavily into print design after that, which naturally progressed into CD-ROM and multimedia development. But when I first saw the early web, I immediately recognized the potential of design in this global medium and although it took a while for the technology to overcome previous limitations and support the creative capabilities we have today, it finally did happen and it’s an extremely exciting field to be in today.
How do you think web design fares in the world right now?
I think the world of web design is faring quite well these days. We have so many creative options now that we simply did not have just a few years ago. Just about any interface to information imaginable can be developed using open standards now and requiring nothing more from a user than a simple web browser without proprietary technologies. HTML5 and CSS3 give us a new means to translate ideas and inspiration into usable experiences. And with social media and a smaller information gap, designers are able share resources with their peers and clients in real-time and gain immediate feedback. It’s a very exciting time to be in web design with capabilities like nothing we’ve ever had before.
On the downside, there are a lot of web designers these days and not all may be doing enough to differentiate themselves. Trends are coming and going faster each day. At a time when innovation should be more ripe than ever, I worry about the same old ideas being rehashed again and again. I hope that designers embrace new standards and technologies and we see a new era of innovation in design that takes advantage of new methodologies.
Where do you think web design will be in the next five years?
Now that the browser has broken out of the computer, there will be far more emphasis on creating new interfaces for various devices. From mobile phones and to internet-connected televisions, cars and other devices. Along these lines, Augmented Reality will become far more popular and useful and will require a whole new set of design challenges to be met. Websites and applications will certainly almost all contain a social component. And I believe alternative clients and custom UI’s to everyday sites and services, but created by third-parties, will also play a huge role in the coming years.
What would you say to people who want to leave their regular nine-five jobs to become ‘freelance?’
Although I still freelance, my situation is kind of the opposite as after doing freelance-only for a dozen years, I finally settled down to dedicate more of my time and resources on a single brand. Freelancing offers incredible freedom and success, but it is not an easy road for everyone. You truly need to be dedicated to what you do and have a level of commitment and discipline far beyond what most people have in their nine-to-five jobs. But if you absolutely love what you do and are truly passionate about it – if you would be doing this kind of work even if you weren’t getting paid for it – then you will be successful, at least on many levels.
‘Social networking’. What does it mean to you?
To me, social networking is an incredible new opportunity to collaborate that has changed the world completely, especially when coupled with the real-time web and services such as Twitter. That real-time component is really what makes it so valuable. For designers, it allows us to share resources in ways that weren’t possible before. It lets us bounce ideas and designs off of our colleagues and get immediate feedback on our work. It enables new partnerships and collaborations. It takes client communication and customer service to a whole new level and all in all brings the whole design world closer together.
Do you believe that social networking actually helps?
Absolutely I do, indeed. The ability to instantly connect with people from all over the world, to share resources, feedback and techniques in real-time, truly empowers us all as designers. Connecting with clients and finding new work and jobs has opened up countless new opportunities that may not have ever existed with social media. And it’s a great way to connect with the industry, your fellow designers and friends. The friends I have made through social media is by far the greatest value I have taken from it.
Have many jobs/contracts have you gotten thru social networking?
Through social networking specifically, I have gotten several dozen contracting gigs. But I personally don’t primarily focus on social media for gaining design work. It just happens to come in as a side effect of using this collaborative channel, but it is a very welcome thing and various new opportunities present themselves daily.
Would you describe yourself as a freelancer?
Definitely. Although I do less of it these days, I will always be a freelancer, as I have too many ideas and too much desire to keep working on different brands and types of projects to limit myself. I will likely always be working freelance in some capacity or another.
Why is your website still ‘under construction’? We want to experience your designs!
Yeah, it’s gotten rather comical, I know. All I can say is the redesign is not a major priority for me, as I have been too busy and focused on everyone else’s projects to complete my own. It’s a shame, as there will be a lot of good stuff included in it and I really want to get it done. But I don’t want to launch something incomplete, so I am trying to take the time to have everything finished before I push it out. In retrospect, I should not have taken my old site down. Now its become like a thing 😛
There are people who aspire to be web designers. What would you say to them?
If you love it, soak it up. Learn everything you can about the industry and the techniques and dive right in. It may be different for everyone, but I believe the best way to learn is to simply do. Through trial and error, you can give yourself a tremendous education on what works and what does not. Don’t be afraid to fail. It will make you a better designer every time.
But on the flip side of things, also be prepared for stiff competition. There is no lack of work in the web design world, but it’s an extremely crowded field right now and it can be a fierce battle getting started. Yet if you’re truly dedicated to this medium, then I have to believe you’ll find success with it.
What’s your major challenge as a web designer?
Balance. Balancing user needs and publisher’s goals with the creation of an appealing visual interface. I work primarily on user experience for web applications these days and this becomes even more challenging in this area. As a UX designer, things are a little different than standard web design, but the same principles apply. The key to success is knowing in advance that no one is 100% right in the client, user, designer trinity and compromise is everything. Getting everyone on the same page can be a challenge, but it’s also very rewarding when successful.
What software do you use in developing websites?
I use Adobe CS4 master collection, Coda, Maya, 3DS Max and dozens of third-party frameworks, web services and applications for all aspects from mock-ups and wire framing, layout and UI design, user testing and analytics, code development and publishing.
Do you think a web designer should code as well?
Ah yes. This has become a hot debate as of late. My take is this – If you are able to do your job and provide the experience you envision in a collaborative environment working with a third-party to build it, then you don’t need to code at all. You can successfully build your front end experience as a member of a team. If you’re more independent, and have the desire and ability to branch out beyond design or development into the other side of things, then by all means do so. But each side of coding or design needs to at least recognize the challenges and restrictions associated with the other. That doesn’t mean you have to do it, but you do have to be familiar enough with the basics to understand what you can or cannot do. Whether you choose to code your designs yourself or work with someone else to code them doesn’t impact your experience as long as your designs work for users in a production environment. If you can achieve that goal of meeting your user and publisher’s needs, everybody wins either way.
What other things do you do?
Beyond UX and standard design, I do a lot of work in animation and 3d visualization, mobile application development, as well as web strategy and social media consulting for organizations.
Do you have a blog? We want to connect!
I’m one of the strange designers who does not have a blog these days, though I most certainly recognize the inherent value in it. I’m admittedly not a great writer, but I am working on this with my new website and will provide commentary on community resources as well as my own ideas. But more importantly than starting my own blog, I’m hoping to soon contribute to other industry blogs and add value to the design community as a whole.
How do you think web designers can make additional cash?
Selling pre-built templates or stock imagery can generate additional income. Training and consulting has always been beneficial to me. If you’re a blogger, you can of course get paid to write and contribute articles and tutorials to various industry publications. In web design itself, there are great opportunities in focusing on a specific market or niche and specializing in design just for that. Also try to offer your clients maintenance contracts and enhanced customer service, if they should need them. There is always a wealth of non-web related design work out there as well.
Any advice for young people out there desiring to be like you? 😀
Keep at it. Learn every aspect of design, piece by piece. If you’d like to focus on a specific area, such as UI design, then soak up every resource about user interface you can find. Learn everything about it. Don’t just create a nav, but create the best possible navigation you can build. Use every tutorial out there and learn the basics. See the numerous galleries of navigation design to get ideas and inspiration. Check out the current trends and then temper that with the best practices. Don’t just design for now, but see where things are going. Ask yourself how you can make it better. Put your own unique style on everything and identify yourself through your designs in a way that really makes them your own.
Be passionate about what you do, regardless of what it is. Whether you’re a specialist in one area or a jack-of-all-trades, focus on what inspires you. Don’t be afraid to fail, as that’s how we learn. Just keep at it. If you truly love your work, everything will fall into place for you.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on some web-based visual product configuration tools for the pro AV industry. An interesting web application which allows users to configure their own custom product solutions using hundreds of pieces of equipment and piece them together in real-time using only a standard browser. No Flash or anything proprietary like that. It’s very dynamic and challenging to build, but I’m very excited about it. It will be launching this spring and I’ll keep everyone posted on it.
I’m also working on mobile application development for the iPad, iPhone, Android and various other platforms. It’s an entirely different set of design problems than regular website development and I love the challenges new mediums provide.
Thanks very much for giving me the opportunity to speak with you and your readers here. Please follow me on Twitter or just search Mike Lane, and I’ll keep everyone posted on the latest design resources and news with me. I look forward to speaking with you again and wish you all of the luck in the world with your business which seems to be going great! Congratulations to you on your success!