Did you go to school and if so did you focus on design while there?
Kandace: I stared out studying Cultural Anthropology as an undergrad and Linguistics as a graduate student. My thesis project was studying communication online versus face-to-face and so I spent a great deal of time researching how messages get dissipated on the web. I was amazing by the power of the web to get ideas and images across. I also have a degree in early childhood education. I learned to paint a lot with little kids.
Ray: Myself I did not go to school for any of this, I am essentially a high school drop-out. Luckily, I really like reading technical material, and used to spend every single afternoon hanging out at Powell’s Technical book store, so I got a pretty good education regardless.
What was your career path like? Did you start with Needmore or was there a series of other stops along the way?
K: Needmore Designs was my first web design job (I’d been a student, preschool teacher, researcher…)
R: I didn’t really do anything but make coffee for a living until Needmore. Technically I ended up in Santa Cruz working for a game company / startup for nine months, but I was in a bit over my head, and spent more time goofing off than anything else. I kind of ended up doing web design instead of the textures for the characters and scenery that I was supposed to be doing, but after that went back into coffee in Portland for another few years, at Stumptown.
How did you know that this is what you wanted to do?
K: I sort of stumbled into this. My boyfriend at the time (husband now) was an emerging web designer and I got started with the client side of things. I found rather quickly, though, that most of my stronger opinions and passions were about the design. I felt passionate about learning what message a client wanted to get across and how we could accomplish that visually. Most of our early clients were artists and musicians, so this was extremely fun.
R: Still not sure. It seemed like a natural fit, since I’ve been tinkering with the Internet forever, and the web since pretty much day one. As for the design aspect, it kind of just hit me one day, that I enjoyed it, and living in Portland has very much cultivated my design senses.
Have there been any jobs that you’ve hated?
K: As a designer, I can only say that every job (project) that I have been unhappy with had big red flags before I took on the project. Always trust your gut. It will tell you what to say no to.
R: Yeah, sure, they creep in there, but the business is a ship and so long as you’re at the wheel steering, and have your eyes open, you won’t hit the rocks. As time goes on, you get more spine, and it’s easier to push back when a client is headed the wrong way with a project.
What is your work day like?
K: Every day is different for us here. We are a small, busy studio. On the docket today: collecting deliverables, creating timelines, collecting payments, sending out invoices, checking in with programmers, a couple estimates, finishing up and sending out a second round of mockups, and finishing up a newsletter to be sent later. And maybe lunch.
R: Yeah, it’s all over the place. Sometimes we take a month off, if we need to. Sometimes we get a bug and work like crazy on an idea of our own. For the most part, we work about six hours a day each I would guess. If something really exciting has come up, we are known to work evenings or weekends, just to see an idea come together. That’s what laptops are for.
Your Needmore bio mentions your preference for clean, white space heavy design. Is there anybody or anything that first inspired you to design in that way?
K: I find that I am extremely influenced by modern art museums and architecture. I love Eames (I felt like I had really “made it” when I was able to get my lovely Eames desk). My first trip to MOMA blew me away. I visit DWR like it is a museum.
R: Life is just a messy place, and design feels more restful and more of a break from the everyday when it’s clean. It leaves you with a peaceful feeling, it clears your head, it lets you focus on what’s really important. It’s not that I think blank white spaces are pretty – far from it. But they are quite good for eliminating distractions and giving you a chance to breathe and think.
You also mention things like eating with your clients and drinking wine in your backyard with them. In what ways does this help your business?
K: Our business is all about knowing our clients and helping them to bring their personality and talents to the rest of the world via the web. The better we know them, the better we can help. But also, collaborating on design takes a fair amount of give and take. We want our clients to feel comfortable talking to us. I have no stats to back it up, but I believe that spending time with our clients is one of the reasons that so many of them work with us over and over again. Plus, we work with incredibly talented and passionate individuals – who wouldn’t want to spend time with them!
R: I agree with Kandace 100% on that. Drinking wine with our clients is a blast.
What is the most important aspect of maintaining a happy, productive relationship with a client?
K: Most clients are completely overwhelmed and confused about the internet. Our job is to make it easy for them. Use something like Basecamp and then be completely on top of it with information (milestones, to-do’s, etc). Also, give clients your best (most honest) advice and then realize that, ultimately, the project is theirs.
R: Agreed, again. Being a web designer is also being an interpreter. Clients usually have no intrinsic idea of why we make most of the decisions we make, so there’s a lot of explaining to do. An educated client is a happy client, so it’s important to talk it over with them.
If you have anything that you would like to add – advice for a new designer or word’s of wisdom if you will – I’d be more than happy to hear what you have to say.
K: My advice for you is this: get working on a real life portfolio as soon as possible. Every project you take on, give it your all and ask yourself, “would I want this in my portfolio?” If the answer is no – walk away. Your future business will be defined by the projects you take on now. Don’t be afraid to figure out what you are passionate about and say no to anything else.
R: Once again, good advice there from Kandace. I will drop a few nuggets that have been priceless to us. First, aim for the high end of a market. It’s more work but it’s more rewarding. Be more like Apple, less like Dell. Second, at least for starters, pick a niche, have a focus. Don’t just be a “web designer.” Be a designer for connoisseurs. Focus on a small piece of the market with lots of passionate people, and it will be easier to leverage your work. And third, for heaven sake be nice, be friendly, be outgoing. It doesn’t matter how many hours you sit at a computer or how skilled a designer you are: people care about other people, and that’s the end of the story.