Interview with real people, knowing true stories and learning from a fellow creative, this is UCreative Spotlight.
We are delighted to have this really cool guy in our community, makes it better; he agreed to be our first guy on the spotlight. You’ve seen his site, Andysowards.com, you’ve probably read his tweets too! Let’s get to know him better and get ready to be inspired. The first part our two-fold interview (yeah, this is quite an inspiring journey) with web designer and blogger, Andy Sowards.
Part 1: Andy Sowards as a professional web designer
How did you start as a web designer?
Well, all throughout my life, I had been fascinated with technology, as many are. Growing up I played video games constantly, then when I got my first computer, I instinctively meshed with it - learning it inside and out. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life for many years - I was just having fun. I was always a quick learner when it came to computers, so when college came I took the required classes and whatever computer classes I could fit in. I was quickly bored with it - I liked some of the classes I was taking, but hated others, and the computer classes were too basic in the first year or two. I was experimenting with Photoshop during this time and the resources on the web were more than enough to get me started and work on my skills.
I worked mostly crappy jobs then - as money was not really a motivating factor at the time (college life). It wasn't until I met my wife and we got married and started having kids until I started thinking about a career. So there I was at 21 years old with a wife and a new baby - realizing that those crappy jobs were not going to be enough. I then decided to teach myself enough HTML and CSS to try to string together my Photoshop Designs into web sites to get a job doing that at a local agency.
The work paid off - within a month or so of us having our first child, I landed an interview at a local web agency after showing the owner a mock site (that was supposed to be an alternate version of their site) I built with Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and some HTML (as I did not have an actual portfolio other than just practice designs that I didn't think were very good at all at the time). I went to the interview, and got the job on the spot. The owner said the reason he hired me is because of the "custom" mockup I made just for him. He said "It showed me that you were really motivated, and that you wanted this job for sure - and it wasn't half bad". I was ecstatic - I was so excited to finally be paid to do something that I loved. And Little did I know - that agency experience would change my life forever. That is how my career got started.
Q. A lot of designers find it hard to get clients, how and where do you get yours?
When I first started building my freelance business on the side - I started my blog andysowards.com & utilized social networks very heavily. Luckily for me, when I was starting to do this, that is when twitter was exploding - and everyone was on it. It took several months to land my first real client if I remember correctly - but my social media efforts payed off as I was able to pretty quickly rise in the ranks of the design community and be recognized as an expert in the field. This recognition coupled with the popularity of twitter for business owners and professionals - lead to nearly 90% of my early work requests. I was doing work almost exclusively with people I knew on twitter.
Q. Given the tough competition, how do you market yourself as a web design professional?
The best advice I can give here is simply "Do Epic Shit". Then let it speak for itself. I personally have never placed an ad or anything like that to drum up business and market my services specifically - not that there is anything wrong with that - just from my experience the process of creating great designs & websites (for yourself or for clients), showing them off, and talking about great web design (talking about the stuff you love, PASSIONATELY) will make people think of you whenever they think "web design professional", and that has worked well enough to where I don't really have to think about marketing myself to people in hopes of it amounting to something.
Q. What is the most challenging part of being a web designer?
I would say the most challenging part is just keeping up with everything. The trends, the technology, the competition - it is all constantly changing, almost literally day to day. What you did last month might be a completely stupid way to do something this month as some new technique, trick or technology has been created to do it more efficiently. But - that is also the best part of being a web designer. You are never bored. (and if you are then you are not trying hard enough)
Q. How long have you been in this field and what would you consider your greatest achievement so far?
I have been in the web design field for about 6 years. My Greatest Achievement? Ehh that is a tough one. I am honored and humbled by little things all the time, like being mentioned on sites (like this interview) or in magazines - but my greatest achievement so far I would have to say is being able to be my own boss, make my own hours and spend time with my family - while still doing what I love every day to support all of that. Just making it all work and having the opportunity to do so is my greatest achievement.
Q. How do you deal with designer’s block?
This is a big question as it usually depends on what I am feeling. If I am burned out, from too many all-nighters usually, I will just try to get some rest and a fresh perspective. If I am just not feeling creative then I will usually go outside, get some fresh air, go for a walk, listen to some epic music, watch or read something creative or inspirational, maybe even try something new that I've been wanting to do for a while. I usually use my blog as a means for getting through a block in creativity - by taking a break from a client project I have to do, and doing something I want to do - that really helps keep on track creatively. Some great advice from one of my favorite musicians Tori Amos is "Sometimes you have to go to a different medium to understand yours better" - so doing anything really, experience life, experience something different - and it will make you understand your craft (in this case design) better.
Q. What made you try blogging and how did you start?
Well when I first set out to put up a site for myself - it was right when Wordpress was being discovered and exploding in popularity - so I used it for my site and figured "Why not use the blog part since it is already built in". So that is how it started :)
Q. What do you think are the benefits blogging has brought to your career?
Blogging is everything these days really - It benefits so much. It is the place where people come to see the real you, what you are capable of, your talents, your views, help, resources, inspiration, etc. Your blog is like your home base - It is what people use to keep up with you and your brand and connects all your social networks for people to keep up with. Not having a blog is like not having a site these days in my opinion (not required obviously, but helps). It is also really easy to get a blog these days too with Tumblr, Blogger and the like.
Q. You’ve been in the online scene for quite some time, any future plans and how are you working towards achieving them?
Yeah sure of course - There are tons of future plans lots of stuff cooking up for early next year (which you can keep an eye on my twitter @andysowards or my site andysowards.com to hear about those) but as far as long term plans I would love to work on more personal projects - I want to develop a few games for mobile devices as well as get a startup created - but those are a little further off. Right now I am working very hard to put myself in a position where I have time to work on these things :). Exciting times ahead!
Cool eh? Get to know Andy more as we get a little more personal on Part 2, exclusively here in UCreative Spotlight. Stay tuned!