Interview with designerstalk.com’s Oliver Dale - Heart Internet Blog - Focusing on all aspects of the web

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We had a chat with Oliver Dale, creator of web designer forum designerstalk.com.

Could you provide a bit of information about yourself and designerstalk.com?

I’m a self taught web designer; I began working freelance for small clients before I gained my first job in web design working for an ISP on internal projects. I was eventually made redundant and then went on to work for a large design agency where I worked with clients such as Microsoft, Siemens and Bacardi. After a number of years there I started out on my own again but now focus on running my own online communities and web applications.

Designers Talk was started during my first stint as a freelancer; as I worked at home I missed the interaction with work colleagues. At the time I was a member of a now-dead forum for the web design magazine Cre@te Online. When the forum shut its doors I started Designers Talk and a lot of the members moved to using it instead. Today the site is used by a mix of professionals, students and people running their own design agencies.

Was there one ‘eureka moment’ which kick started the site’s success?

At the start, I put it a lot of work trying to get the name out there and gaining links from other more established websites like PixelSurgeon, Newstoday and k10k. One kick-start moment was on our fourth (and current) redesign when we reached the front page of digg.com – this sent thousands of visitors and we gained quite a bit of exposure from that.

What are the challenges in running a popular, high traffic website?

The number one problem for us is the amount of spammers and spam-bots we get. As a thread on Designers Talk will often be placed high up in Google just a few hours after being posted its quite the incentive for them to try and sneak promotional links on there.

To turn to web design,  what  trends are cropping up across websites?

A trend that I like and think improves the user experience is the use of client-side code such as JavaScript and Ajax to make changes to the page without the need for a new page load. Design-wise there are all sorts of trends that come and go – you shouldn’t really pay attention to trends though as they can date a website quite quickly.

Which web design/ illustration software do you use yourself (and why)?

I use Photoshop for creating site mock-ups, and I use the excellent TopStyle Pro for coding the html and CSS.

What do you see as the most common mistakes people make when the first start out designing websites?

They over-design it, using lots of effects like drop shadows/gradients etc – the best designs are simple and make use of a grid layout, whitespace and great typography.

Going freelance is a daunting prospect, what advice would you give to anyone thinking of going down this route?

If possible, build up your client base while working employed for someone else – use networking events to meet potential clients and build up good relationships with your first set of clients and hopefully they will refer you to other people they know requiring your services. It’s a slow process but if you stick to it and produce high quality work you should be ok. During bad economic times such as at the moment, approaching other design agencies and offering your service may work as they can’t afford extra full-time staff but would like to pay someone on a per-job basis as this lessens the risk for them.

What are the questions you would recommend asking a client before designing their website?

The most important question is what are they looking to get out of having this website – is it promotional, to gain extra customers, for existing customers etc. Once you know their goals, then you can start going into content and design requirements.

Starting with a blank piece of paper can be hard, how do you find inspiration to design a new site?

I will start with the client’s corporate identity, what colours are required etc. I will have a browse at their competitor’s sites and identify how we can be better than them.

Once you know what content will be in the site and the aim of the site you can start sketching some ideas out on paper.

Inspiration doesn’t always have to come from online – you can go for a walk and see lots  of great design in the world around – sometimes that can be a great inspiration to you.

Are there any resources on the internet you use that you would recommend for beginners and advanced designers?

www.designerstalk.com of course! Other sites I visit regularly are www.smashingmagazine.com, www.freelanceswitch.com, www.designmeltdown.com and www.thinkvitamin.com.

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