Interview with DesignIsHistory.com's Dom Flask - Heart Internet Blog - Focusing on all aspects of the web

This month we interviewed Dom Flask, freelancer, creator of DesignIsHistory.com and DangerDom.com, and all round lovely guy. Here’s what he had to say about designing in different mediums, dealing with difficult clients and the limitations of social media for freelancers.

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

Certainly! I started emphatically studying design in 2004, but have had an interest in computers since a very early age. I can still remember studying a book on a very early version of DOS (I’m not sure which version exactly, maybe 4 or 5 or something around there) and spending hours just changing file and directory names from the command line. That turned into some classes on Photoshop and Pagemaker during High School and eventually a passion to study graphic design. I have not been in the professional industry for that long. I have done some level of design freelancing since 2006 and had several jobs that included some level of design since 2001, but I didn’t get a job where my official title had the word design in it until the summer of 2007.

Since then I have had several unique working experiences in a variety of different positions that run the gamut from international ad agencies to local design boutiques. At the same time I have been actively pursuing a masters degree in fine arts with an emphasis in graphic design at Fort Hays State University. The program of study is somewhat open-ended and they allow their students to be explorative during much of their education. However, they strongly encourage creating some sort of an interactive teaching tool for introductory design students. I took that advice and coupled it with a desire to have some sort of structure to educate myself about design history and began creating www.designishistory.com.

While actual production of the site didn’t begin until May of 2010, I have been refining the concept of the site and researching material since the summer of 2009. Since its format provides only brief overviews of a lot of subjects it is definitely more directly targeted at the education of the younger generation of designers. However, I hope that it will be of some use as a reference tool for the seasoned veterans out there and that everyone who views the site will either find something new or be reminded of something that they may have forgotten while they are perusing the timeline.

What are your plans for the future development of Design Is History – in what direction do you see the site heading?

Early on in my research for the project I had to whittle down the amount of topics to cover so I could have something tangible to grasp too that seemed possible for one person to create. Realizing the vast amount of information that was out there, I designed and built the site so that it could expand easily as I learned more. I have already increased the amount of content on the site and given it a bit of a facelift since its inception, putting updated information at the forefront so that it is easy to follow the evolution of the site. There has been a good amount of participation from users already and I have received many suggestions about additions to the site, all of which I have tried to accommodate in one way or another. While I do not want it to grow overwhelmingly large, In the near future I can certainly see doubling the amount of content the site has on it.

Design Is History covers design from pre-1450 to the present – which period do you find the most inspirational?

That’s a tough question to answer. There are, of course, some designers whose work I am partial too; Rick Valicenti, Massimo Vignelli, Herb Lubalin and Louise Fili, just to name a few of the modern ones, but really I enjoy every aspect of graphic design and its history. Where I really get my kicks is in observing (and participating in) the communication between human beings. And that’s what graphic design has always been about. From the birth of typesetting to digital open-type font features every integral moment of design history is inspirational in its own right.

What are the main differences between designing for print and designing for the web?

There are many technical aspects that separate print from web design, but I try to approach any project simply as a design problem. You just have to ask yourself what the goals of the project are and who is involved. Who has something to say and who might listen? Once those parameters are defined you can explore the best possible way to facilitate that communication. The logistics of the end result are really a minute detail, and they should be, when setting out to solve a problem. If you ask yourself the “why” first, the “how”” and “what” will follow.

As a freelancer, what are your top tips for dealing with demanding or unrealistic clients?

I have been pretty lucky with most of my clients. There have been a few that were somewhat, shall we say exhausting? But, overall I have found that if you are passionate about what you are doing and are, in general, a friendly person that your clients will both like and respect you enough to trust your opinion and judgement.

You dabble in a wide variety of formats – web design, video, posters, packaging and photography – to name a few! What’s your favourite medium and why?

During my first internship in the advertising world the director of the design department told me that when hiring a designer they looked for people who had grown horizontally as a designer rather than vertically. Now that doesn’t mean they were actively seeking short, fat people. He was simply describing someone who was well-rounded and could approach design problems from many different angles. This is something that I have always taken to heart and I have tried to explore as many facets, niches and mediums of design as I could find a reason too. Of course the one thing that traverses throughout almost all mediums of design is typography, and I always find joy in the use of type.

How important is typography to a design?

Very. One of my instructors early on in school once told me that if you KNOW typography, really understand it, you can design anything. I truly believe that. Typography has been one of the basic tools of communication for thousands of years and will always be an integral part of design, on any level or in any medium.

What advice would you give to freelancers just starting out?

Don’t be scared. Go balls-out and jump on every single opportunity that you can get your hands on. There will be time for sleeping when you’re dead. Every single experience that you have will give you something that you can add to your design toolbox. As you move forward into the next project and start digging around in that toolbox you’ll find that the more tools you have the better your chances of finding the right one for the job.

How useful do you think social media is for getting your name out there and increasing the number of visitors to your sites?

While it certainly has its uses, and if you don’t use it you’re at an immediate disadvantage, I find that most opportunities still come the old fashioned way. In the end, people are always more willing to work with someone that they’ve had the experience of working with before. While you can certainly find work via social networking, every real opportunity I’ve come across has been through someone that I have known or worked with in the past. To summarize, use it, use it a lot, but don’t expect social media to be the reason for your success.

Which web resources would you recommend for beginners and advanced designers?

There are so many, I actually included links to a few relevant to DesignIsHistory when I last updated it. Designers should be furiously curious, constantly collecting as much information as possible. And not just about design. Put down the copy of Print and pick up a copy of Scientific American. Don’t just read design oriented blogs but find sources of inspiration from other fields as well.

BibliOdyssey is a great example of a wealth of visual information that isn’t directly related to graphic design. However, there are certainly a few that are extremely valuable as design-oriented resources. Every online entity that has come from the doors of UnderConsideration (SpeakUp, Quipsologies, ForPrintOnly, BrandNew, etc) has grown the design community by leaps and bounds.

The SVA Masters program podcasts are an endless wealth of information, as are the archives of Design Matters and Read Between the Leading. As a designer who has taught himself enough HTML and CSS to get around, W3Schools is a necessity.

For typographic enlightenment there is none better than the network of sites surrounding ilovetypography, but you can’t forget FontFeed, Typotheque and Typophile either.

For motion graphics, Squeezeme.tv, Motionographer, GreyScaleGorilla and MoGraph.net get the job done.

For packaging design it’s TheDieline and for logos there’s LogoLounge.

The others that come to mind immediately are DesignChat, HumblePied, ThinkingForALiving, 24Ways, AisleOne, TheGridSystem, ThisIsDisplay, Threadless, DesignSponge, TUAW, ISO50, everything from Von Glitschka, JasonSantaMaria, and Grain Edit.

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