posted by Matt Ward on Dec 8, 2009.
Featured Designer: In this article, I have the privilege of interviewing friend and fellow designer, Steven Snell, founder of Vandelay Design and DesignM.ag. We discuss everything from design, to social media, to where Steven came up with his memorable company name
If you read a lot of design blogs, or if you’re an active participant in the design community, chances are you’ve had some connection with Steven Snell and/or one of his websites. He is the founder and owner of both Vandelay Design, DesignM.ag, and a variety of different gallery sites, such as CartFrenzy, FolioFocus and TYPEinspire, all featured below.
Recently, I’ve had a bit of communication with Steven, and he was able to help me out on a large-scale project that I have been working on over the past several weeks. I also had the chance to ask Steven some questions about his experience as a freelance designer, 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.
1.Hi Steven! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. Why don’t we start with the basics. Tell us a little bit about yourself and Vandelay Design. I’m interested in how you came up with the name!
I’m a designer and blogger from New Jersey. Well actually I’m from Pennsylvania but I have been living in New Jersey for a few years.
I always struggle with naming things, so when I started Vandelay Design I didn’t really have any ideas. I’m a big fan of Seinfeld and several Seinfeld episodes mentioned Vandelay Industries, which was a made up company. Since I had no better ideas I decided to run with the inspiration from Seinfeld. Looking back I wish I would have put more thought into it, but many people have told me that it makes it easier to remember and stands out, so I guess it’s ok.
Echo Note: I’d actually wondered if there was a connection between Steven’s Vandelay and the infamous Vandelay Industries from Seinfeld.
2.There are many roads that lead people into design. How did you get into the game?
My senior year of college I took an elective course on web design. I was a business major so I was pretty interested in learning web design because of all the opportunities it could bring, but I never really imagined that I would be a full-time web worker. It was a really basic course and by the end I could design a basic table-based site, but that was about it. Following that I did some reading and studying on my own to learn more, especially CSS, and that’s what got me really interested in pursuing it even more. I started to do some small sites for family and friends and then I started Vandelay Design as a way to market my services on a bigger scale. At that time I had a full-time job and designing was more of a hobby than a job.
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?
Five years ago I was working as an internal auditor for a leasing company, and doing a little bit of design on the side. During my time as an auditor I thought that was the career path that I wanted, but I got really sick of being an employee so I dedicated myself to growing Vandelay Design to the point that I could quit the job and work for myself full-time.
4. Looking the other way, where do you see yourself five years from now? It doesn’t have to be specific, just a general
That’s the one thing about my work that kind of scares me a little bit is that I have no idea what I want to be doing in five years. I change my mind at least every few months. I think I’ll probably be doing a lot of the same stuff that I’m doing now, managing my own sites and some client work as well. I’m more of an entrepreneur than a designer, so I don’t want to be dependent on client work, but I do like to mix it in with my own projects.
5.Tell us a little bit about your typical day at the “office”. Any gear (hardware or software) that is absolutely essential for you?
My days vary depending on what I have going on at that particular time. My work involves writing blog posts for my own sites, some freelance writing for other blogs (not much of that anymore), updating my gallery sites, and designing for clients. The one constant is the need to produce new content for my blogs. I take client work on a limited basis and do freelance blogging when I have time, but keeping my blogs up-to-date with new content requires that I spend at least a few days each week on blog posts. Some of my everyday tools include: WordPress, Photoshop, Blog Desk, Twitter and TweetDeck, Fanurio, and probably some other stuff that I am forgetting.
6. As a full time freelancer, what is most rewarding for you? What is the most challenging?
The most rewarding is seeing growth. Whether it is my own sites growing in terms of traffic and income or the growth and development of a client’s site. The biggest challenge for me is managing my time and focusing on getting things done before running off and taking on something new that I don’t have time for.
In terms of working with clients, one of my biggest challenges is starting projects properly. Most of the sites I work on are small businesses or organizations, so in many cases they underestimate the importance of planning and preparing the project. Getting to fully understand their situation and the customers/visitors is a challenge if they just want to get a site designed and developed without much involvement on their part.
7.How do you typically go about finding new clients to work with?
Typically I don’t go about finding new clients. I get a lot of inquiries through my site and I’m only able to work with a small portion of those people, so I don’t pursue work actively since I really can’t take on any more.
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!
One thing that I have always noticed about the design industry is how helpful people are. I think most designers see their fellow designers as friends or colleagues rather than competition. I like the fact that the industry has so many learning resources available. I’ve benefited a lot from books and online tutorials, and really anyone that wants to learn more about web design can do so very inexpensively because of all of the resources that are available.
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 really don’t use much social media anymore. I visit niche sites like Design Bump, DZone and Design Moo a few times a week and I’ll vote on stuff here and there with StumbleUpon and Digg, but it’s really a very small part of my day. When the Vandelay Design blog was pretty new I was much more active with social media and it played a big role in the blog’s growth.
I think social media and social networking are here to stay, but I’m sure it will evolve pretty rapidly. Two years ago I was using StumbleUpon a lot to share articles that I found here and there, now I use Twitter a lot more. The concept of users interacting and sharing I’m sure will stick around, but I think the sites and resources that are popular will change with time.
10.I know you’re spending a lot of time on your own network of websites recently, but your portfolio shows that you’ve done a lot of work for churches and other non-profit ministries. Why did you decided to specialize in this area and how (if at all) do you find it different than working with other clients?
I started to focus on church and non-profit sites because I have an interest in their cause and it feels good to work on a project that gives you a sense of satisfaction. And because traditionally their websites haven’t been the best.
The biggest difference and challenge in working with these organizations is that it can be harder to nail down the business. In a lot of situations there is no real decision maker, so the contact person has to get all of the information, then go before a board or committee, and this process can take a while. The same situation comes up in some cases when trying to get information about the organization for the site.
11.When you’re not designing or working on DesignM.ag or your network of design galleries, what do you do to stay inspired, or to blow off a little steam?
I like to watch football, mostly college. I used to play a lot of sports and go to the gym just about every day, but that’s a lot less frequent now because I don’t have much time. I also really like to just hang out with my wife. It could be staying at home and watching a movie or traveling somewhere.
12.Right off the top of your head, fire off the names of three other designers that you really dig/respect.
- Chris Spooner
- Jonathan Snook
- Henry Jones
13.How about three websites that you visit the most?
- MiamiHerald.com (University of Miami football news)
- Smashing Magazine
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?
My advice for aspiring designers is to focus on your own improvement and development. One thing about the design industry (either good or bad, depending on how you look at it) is that it’s really easy to get started. As a result there is a huge range of abilities and experience from one designer to the next. It’s easy to look at someone who is amazingly talented and feel bad about your own abilities, but there is really no need to compare yourself to that person. Learn what you can from the work of others and always try to improve your own skills. If you’re always improving you’re on the right track.
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 Steven’s answers? Please feel free to ask any questions of your own, too!Post A Comment
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