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Featured Designer: Jon Phillips of SpyreStudios

posted by Matt Ward on Oct 29, 2009.

Featured Designer: In this article, I have the privilege of interviewing friend and fellow designer, John Phillips, founder of SpyreStudios. We discuss everything from design, to social media, to Jon’s life as the guitarist for The Gods of Now.

If you’ve been following this my posts over the past few months, chances are you’ve heard me mention Jon Phillips, founder of SpyreStudios, at least once. I’ve done some writing for his blog, and just this week Jon released Tweevil – The Dark Twitter Bird, a freebie vector pack that I designed exclusively for SpyreStudios.

I’ve really enjoyed working with Jon, and I definitely hope to collaborate on more projects with him in the future. Jon is also a strong force in the design community, remarkably generous with his time and knowledge, and above all, a very talented designer and developer.

Recently, I had the chance to ask Jon a few questions, which he was kind enough to answer. I think you’ll find that some of his responses are really interesting! Also, I’ve included several works from Jon’s portfolio for you to check out.

Jon Phillips - Founder of Spyre Studios

Jon Phillips - Founder of Spyre Studios

1. Hi Jon! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. Why don’t we start with the basics? Tell us a little bit about yourself and SpyreStudios.

It’s my pleasure, thanks for inviting me. My name’s Jon Phillips, I’m a 27 year old web-designer from Montreal, Canada. I’ve been designing for the web for many years now and have launched my design business, SpyreStudios, in 2007. SpyreStudios acts as my portfolio as well as my design blog where I also have regular contributors and guest authors.



2. There are many roads that lead people into design. How did you get into the game?

I’m a musician so I’ve always been interested in creating stuff and ever since I got my first computer I’ve been interested in the web and how it works. At some point I started building simple webpages for friends and family and I read books and tutorials and discovered blogging (almost by mistake – I was bored one evening and installed WordPress just because I’ve heard of it). I didn’t study design or programming. I’m self-taught, so I still read a lot of blogs and books about design and typography.

3. Let’s play with time a little bit. Can you tell us a bit about where you were 5 years ago, and how those years got you to where you are now?

Sure! I used to work in marketing and sales for a big telecom company here in Quebec. I hated almost everything about it, except for the fact that I met my lovely girlfriend while working there! I worked there for 5 years (isn’t it human nature to be afraid of change?) and I was doing some freelance work on the side. So, one day I simply decided to quit the day job, just like that. And I started building my freelance business and networking with other designers. The big step after quitting my day job was to launch SpyreStudios, which took me about 2-3 years before I decided I needed to expand and take this more seriously. And now I’m here, blogging, designing and making a living working from home.



4. Looking the other way, where do you see yourself five years from now? It doesn’t have to be specific, just a general

5 years is a long time hehe. I’m pretty sure I won’t be doing freelance work anymore, as I’m currently working on building more profitable websites and working on personal projects with other designers. Freelancing is great and I love every single day, but I would like to have more time to play music and focus on personal projects. So to answer your question: I hope to have some streams of passive income set up and more free time 5 years from now :)

5. Tell us a little bit about your typical day at the “office”. Any gear (hardware or software) that is absolutely essential for you?

Everyday is very different. I usually wake up, make coffee and open my Mac. Then I check on my emails, stats and Twitter messages. I try to get all the administrative work done as soon as possible so I can then start working on more creative things like wireframing or website design for clients. Then I’ll spend some time working on my own sites and blogs, brainstorming ideas for blog posts and whatnot.

Software I couldn’t live without:

  • Adobe Creative Suite (mostly Fireworks, Photoshop and Illustrator)
  • Daylite (http://www.marketcircle.com/daylite/)
  • TextMate
  • Freshbooks Invoicing (web-based), Billings 3 (desktop app)
  • Mail app
  • Safari and Firefox
  • WordPress

Hardware I couldn’t live without:

  • 15-inch Macbook Pro
  • iPod Touch


6. As a full time freelancer, what is most rewarding for you? What is the most challenging?

Waking up in the morning and being my own boss and running my own business is a hell of a reward hehe. And one thing I find especially rewarding is when I get great feedback from clients on my work. That’s priceless. As for the most challenging, I would have to say keeping track of everything. I consider myself well organized, but when it comes to accounting, invoicing and keeping track of revenues and expenses, I suck at this.

7. How do you typically go about finding new clients to work with?

I’ve never advertised my business, bought banner ads or used any other online advertising methods. Instead, I rely heavily on word of mouth and on my blog to attract clients. It’s been working great so far. Being an active Twitter user, I also get a lot of inquiries because of it.

twitterhotties (now offline)

twitterhotties (now offline)

8. Could you comment on the state of the design industry at large, at least from you perspective? It can be positive, negative, observational or all of the above!

The design community is great! I seriously have never been part of a community where there’s such a positive vibe – everybody I talk to is friendly and willing to help. I can’t say that much about other industries like the music industry where it’s almost the opposite. People in the design industry seem to have a greater understanding of the word ‘community’. The feeling I get from the design community is that people understand that in order to succeed you have to help others, if they succeed you succeed too (win-win).

9. What about social media? Like the rest of the design world, you’re on Twitter, but what else do you use? Do you think that the massively saturated social media world will be able to sustain itself?

I think you’re absolutely right, it is saturated. I think the big players will be there for a long time (Twitter, Facebook) but smaller guys will need to innovate to survive. I use Twitter and Facebook and the major social media sites like Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon. I’m also very active on design related sites like DesignFloat, DesignBump and DesignMoo.

Geek Factory

Geek Factory

10. Of course, we need to touch on music. As a guitarist for a band like The Gods of Now, how do you manage to balance both design and music? Do you ever find that one starts to crowd out the other?

Well I have time for both. Of course when I’m on tour with my band it’s a little more difficult to work on design projects, but I bring my laptop and work as much as I can (and let my clients know about it before they hire me). Of course when I’m on tour, I don’t take rush projects and can’t schedule meetings or anything, but it’s never been a problem. Besides, we’re working on our second album now so I have all the time in the world to work on my design business and I can go to the studio at night to record some tracks :)

11. Aside from tearing up the strings with TGON, what else do you do to stay inspired, or to blow off a little steam?

I really enjoy spending time with my girlfriend, go out for a drink or to a nice restaurant, or simply take a walk. This helps me regain focus and recharge the batteries a bit. I also try to go on vacation every 3-4 months so I can disconnect and not think about work for a week. This helps tremendously!

The Gods of Now Blog

The Gods of Now Blog

12. Right off the top of your head, fire off the names of three other designers that you really dig/respect.

  • Jason Santa Maria
  • Chris Spooner
  • Jonathan Snook

13. How about three websites that you visit the most?

The Game Zen

The Game Zen

14. Last, but not least, the question that every interview has to have, and which most close with – the advice. Any pearls of wisdom you’d like to share?

Never underestimate the power of friends and the connections you make! Keep networking with other like-minded people in your field, you’ll thank yourself in the long run. Also, always lend a helping hand whenever possible.

That’s it folks! Thanks so much to Jon for doing this interview! What do you guys think? Any thoughts or comments on any of Jon’s answers? Please feel free to drop a line!

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Also from Echo Enduring Media:

An Unfolding Tale

About the Author

Matt Ward is a digital artist who lances freely under the moniker of Echo Enduring Media, and specializes in graphics design, illustration and writing. He is also the Creative Director for Highland Marketing, a creative direct marketing company based out of Waterloo, Ontario. You can follow Matt on Twitter

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Oct 30, 2009

Jon Phillips says:

Thanks a lot for interviewing me Matt! Much appreciated (and it’s always a pleasure working with you) :)

Oct 30, 2009

Steven Snell says:

I always enjoy reading interviews of people that I follow. Even though I’ve known Jon for a while it’s nice to get to know more about his daily life and what motivates him.

Oct 30, 2009

Ryan Cash says:

Working with Jon right now, so this was a great read!

Oct 30, 2009

Matt Ward says:

@Steven – I feel the same. I always enjoy reading interviews with people that I either follow or have worked with (or both)

@Ryan – If you’re working with Jon, I’m sure you’ll have a great time!

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