Today WebM.ag is speaking with Grace Smith, Grace is A freelance web designer from Northern Ireland where she runs her own successful design studio. Grace has been talked about as one of the most influential female designers in the world and a role model for new designers.
WebM.ag: So Grace, Tell our readers a little about yourself and what you do?
GS: Sure, I am a 26 year old web designer and owner of a small but perfectly formed design studio called Postscript5 based in Northern Ireland. I work with individuals and companies based mainly in the UK and USA, on a diverse range of projects from branding and blog design to application UI’s. I am also involved in several personal projects including CSS Loaf (cssloaf.com) and The Freelance Feed (thefreelancefeed.com) as well as writing on my design focused blog at gracesmith.co.uk.
WebM.ag: What would you say where the best and worse experiences of your career?
GS: The best experience has been working with some of my web heroes such as Leo Babauta, Glen Stansberry, Jay White and Muhammad Saleem on a range of varied and exciting projects. Of course I cant forget my other lovely clients as well!
The worst experience is something I am sure most freelancers can relate to – the non-paying client. It was at the beginning of my freelance career before I had a contract in place and fortunately it was only a relatively small amount. Needless to say it was a mistake I quickly learned from.
WebM.ag: When you first started in the industry, what challenges did you face?
GS: Gaining a foothold within the industry as a new designer is difficult and an uphill battle at first, as you are essentially competing against hundreds of thousands of other designers.
So distinguishing myself from the crowd to establish my name and brand was perhaps the hardest challenge I faced.
WebM.ag: What social media sites do you use to socialize and market your projects?
GS: Honestly I only use Twitter on a regular basis as I find it gives the biggest return on investment of time. It’s been a huge part of branding myself and in growing my blog and reach online.
Twitter also has the ‘fun factor’, it’s a fantastic way to interact and get to know other talented people from around the world. For social interaction with others in your industry i don’t think any other site can match it.
I’ve also gained several clients through Twitter, with people who are following me contacting me to work on projects together.
WebM.ag: Your name has been mentioned a number of times, and referred to you as an Inspirational female designer, how does that make you feel?
GS: Being thought of as inspirational to people within the design industry is something you could only dream of as a designer.
It’s a huge honour and very humbling to think others may be learning from my work or writing and that I inspire my peers or those just beginning their journey in the industry.
WebM.ag: Your typical working day, can you walk us through it?
GS: I usually plan my tasks each evening (using TaskPaper) for the next day, this enables me to evaluate exactly what i need to accomplish and means i have a clear picture of how my day will look. I find it helps keep me focused and efficient. A typical day means having breakfast and a read through my RSS Feeds (in Google Reader) and morning news at 8am. I also use this time to go through my emails so I’m ready to start work around 9. I work through my prioritised tasks until around 10.30 when i have a morning break (at least one cup of tea is involved in this!) I also use this time to return phone calls or contact clients. I work through to 1pm when i stop for lunch and then finish at 4.30pm. I usually leave the office for lunch and meet with friends/family as i feel it helps re-fuel my creative energy for the afternoon. I finish earlier than most because i like to take 20/30 minutes to plan my next day, prepare invoices and generally tie up any loose ends from the day’s work.
My work throughout the day is usually a combination of design and development work (in Photoshop/Coda/Mamp etc) mixed with communications, for example in Skype and Basecamp. This is a typical day but of course every day is different, as I do consulting work I may be out of the office for most of the day or there may be client meetings scheduled throughout the day but it serves as general overview of my day to day routine.
In the evening I would spend time on my own blog, writing posts and brainstorming for future posts/series. Of course, I would also be on Twitter as it’s an amazing resource for creatives and I have some great tweeps who I chat with.
I try to keep both the evenings and weekends free of any work related activities and use my time on personal projects instead as I find it’s important to set work boundaries and keep a good work/life balance.
WebM.ag: What is the first website you visit when your computer and why?
GS: It would be Popurls as I like to start the morning with an overview of the latest web news, articles and trends.
WebM.ag: Its well documented that you like Apple, whats your top 3 most used apps?
GS: Tough question, I would say; Photoshop, Coda and Tweetie.
WebM.ag: When you start a new project and you have a mental block and no idea where to start, what do you do?
GS: It doesn’t happen often but when the dreaded ‘designers block’ strikes I find the best thing to do is leave the office and free myself creatively even for a short period of time. I usually like to get my beloved Canon 350D out and spend 10 or 15 minutes taking and setting up shots, as I find Photography is hugely inspiring.
After the break I usually go straight for my Moleskine and jot down some ideas and have a short brainstorming session which is enough to give me that spark of inspiration to start work.
WebM.ag: What advice would you give to a newbie starting out in design?
GS: For designers just beginning their career, having a solid portfolio is essential. Either work on a reduced fee basis with local charities or businesses to build your portfolio or create your own briefs to show what your capable of to potential clients. The next step is to become involved in the local business and creative community, attend networking events, making sure you have business cards of course! Immerse yourself in the online community through sites such as twitter, industry blogs (for example freelanceswitch.com) and forums. Focus on creating a reputable and accessible brand.
Don’t forget to constantly improve your skills and knowledge and keep reaching out to meet new people and build your brand and client base.
WebM.ag: Tell us something about you that you haven’t mentioned in an interview before?
GS: I actually used to be quite shy when I was younger and it’s something I have to fight with occasionally even now. Although I’ve found freelancing has been a great way to build my confidence, force me to step outside of my comfort zone and push myself to become composed and confident when communicating with others. Now I actually teach IT & Design classes in a local development centre so it’s certainly paid off!
WebM.ag: So what can we expect from you going into 2010 and beyond?
GS: I have quite a few side projects which have been put on the back-burner this year, so I hope by this time next year at least 2 of these will have successfully launched. I will also be focusing on writing and blogging more, with perhaps an e-book in the works early next year.
I would also like to take this chance to say thanks to WebM.ag for inviting me to be interviewed.