With over 10 years of experience in web design, Rich Quick knows a lot about the internet and is an expert on all things technological. After founding Klowd Ltd and managing many successful sites, he is currently head web developer at Arnold Clark. For anyone interested in this ever-important but constantly growing field, he cannot be missed.
In this interview, Rich shares his biggest challenges and his secrets to success, including the unique sources from where he finds inspiration. We also uncover a bit about his life outside work, some of which may surprise you.
What prompted you to work in web design? Have you always wanted to work in this field?
In 1991 when the Web was invented, I was still doing my GCSEs (16 years old school leaving exams in the UK), so I couldn’t have! I had always been interested in computers but at the time I wanted to be an aerospace engineer, and ideally go and work for NASA. In the end, I did maths at University and considered being a teacher, which is the job that both my parents did.
I had played around with the Internet and did a site about the Conic Sections when I was doing a University project on them. My mum then asked me to do a site for her school (this was in the late 1990s). I did it and was quite pleased with the results; though looking back it was terrible. It even had a dancing “Hello Kitty” on the contact page. I showed a few people the site online. One of them offered me £300 to design a site for his business, which to a poor student was a fortune (I used to live off £3000/year!) and the rest was history!
What are the challenges of working in your current position? What is the most difficult aspect of your role?
I don’t have any challenges, I’m perfect at it! ;o)
No, only kidding obviously. I think I probably have similar challenges to a lot of other people. By now I’m quite good at getting listened to, but it doesn’t always happen and that can be frustrating. I think the challenge I’ve always had is managing people’s expectations. There are always a hundred projects that need doing and everyone wants theirs done today. Learning how to say “sorry, but that just can’t be done” is the hardest thing and people don’t always want to hear it. I guess I’m not alone in that.
How do you think web design will evolve in the future?
I think it’s pretty clear that mobile is the big area for growth over the next 10 years. I’d imagine the desktop will become second-fiddle to mobile pretty soon and other devices like TVs will get a look in too. I wouldn’t be surprised to see voice-only website access within 5-10 years. I think this will be interesting because we’ll move from designing fixed pages in Photoshop to designing user flows and experiences, which could be viewed on any device or even listened to! Web design isn’t like designing a PDF any more; your design could be viewed on a 27-inch iMac, an Android Smartphone or a TV, and so you’re really designing a set of experiences, not just one.
On the other hand, I can’t predict the future so there’s probably something totally unexpected just around the corner I haven’t even imagined yet!
How do you think the smartphone has changed people’s lives? How has it changed your life? What new technologies are most important to you in your life?
Sometimes when I’m using my iPhone I double-take and think “am I actually living in the future?” I think smartphones and social networks have totally changed the way people use computers. They’re not for geeks any more. Teenage girls carry a fully-functioning computer in their handbags. It’s more powerful than the computers that put Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon. It’s incredible when you think about it.
The thing with smartphones is that they become so integral to our lives that we can’t imagine life before them. When I am in a foreign country where I can’t get a connection, it means I can’t get maps. That’s scary! I’m not used to it. Smartphones are just the beginning though, that’s what you’ve got to remember. Even 6 years ago, if you said that people would be carrying 4-inch touch-screen computers within 2 years and tablets within 4 you’d have been skeptical. Yet now, I can sit on a plane from the UK to Slovakia and watch a full-length movie in HD, read a book, play games, check emails, and browse the web. It’s exciting to think what’s next, because I can guarantee smartphones aren’t the end of it.
The speed it’s all evolving at is mind-blowing. It used to take 1000 generations to advance from stone tools to bronze. Yet in the space of 4 or 5 generations we’ve come from letters, to telegraphs, to the phone, the fax, the web and now I can carry a fully-functioning computer in my back pocket. I really feel privileged to be working in this field at this moment in history.
As a freelancer, you must sometimes have encountered difficulty finding work. How did you manage this?
Luckily, I’m not a freelancer any more. I’ve got a steady job working for a big chain of car showrooms. When I was freelancing, I did lots of networking and put a lot of time into my site and SEO. I got a lot of work through that and word of mouth, as well as contacts in the industry.
What did you do when you were struggling to find work?
Stress out! I think the most important thing is to find some regular clients or recurring income that keeps you going through the tough times.
I was always quite lucky, I freelanced for 6 years and I never really struggled to find clients. But I put A LOT of work into it. My problem was always balancing the work and making sure I didn’t make promises that I couldn’t deliver on. I’m not going to pretend I was great at that side of things, because I wasn’t.
I think when you’re finding work it’s important not to wait till you’re quiet; you need to put your sales pipeline at the top of your to-do list at all times.
How do you manage your work life balance?
Now I’m lucky. Having a salaried job means I can work 9 – 5.30 (well 9-7!), but when I’m finished, I’m finished. I spend the weekends with my girlfriend and evenings online, learning and doing social stuff like going out, meeting friends, cinema, etc. When I was freelancing, I didn’t have a great work life balance to be honest; I don’t know many freelancers who do. That’s one reason I decided to stop freelancing and go back into the workforce.
Despite this did you prefer working as a freelancer? What are the advantages of doing freelance work?
The advantage was the flexibility; being able to choose when to work. Also, as a freelancer nobody can ever sack you and you can work from anywhere in the world.
I once coded up a website for the MTV European Music Awards from a hotel room in Kuala Lumpur. That’s a pretty damn cool job! I was being a tourist in the day then working on the site and emailing updates back to the UK at night.
Being truthful though, I am happier now I’ve gone back into salaried work. I can just concentrate on doing my job well, learning new technologies and getting inspiration on designs. I can leave chasing up invoices, filing accounts and paying salaries to someone else.
Tell me more about yourself. If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Loud. Ambitious. Funny-ish.
I’m obsessed by films and I love music; though I don’t have any talent for it. I watch every film you can imagine from chick-flicks to horror to obscure foreign language films. I’ve always found films therapeutic; for a few hours you can forget who you are and go time travelling, fall in love or become a mythic hero. Music-wise I love pop (Katy Perry, Rihanna, The Saturdays) and urban music (TI, Aaliyah, Jay Z). I also love reading, mainly popular science, history and travel, which is why it’s great to be invited out to conferences like this! My dream holiday would be sitting on a beach somewhere sunny, reading about evolution or the history of the American West and catching a film in an art-deco cinema once the sun was going down.
What is the most exciting project/client that you have worked on? Which is your least favorite area?
I know it sounds corny, but I’m really enjoying my current job. I’ve learned loads of new technology over the last year including lots about servers and Ruby on Rails. I also love the fact that our site gets seen by over 6 million people a year, so the work we do actually matters and affects people’s lives. If we screw up (I should probably say WHEN we screw up!) it makes some ordinary person’s day that little bit harder, and when we do a good job we help make the company more money and make people’s day a tiny bit easier. That’s pretty cool and I’d much rather work on a project like that than some website only 300 people are ever going to visit!
My least favorite area is clients saying “I like it…but”, although I’m getting a lot better at handling that side of things. I’m not going to pretend that bit is easy though; it isn’t. And anyone who tells you different is probably lying!
Where do you find your inspiration? For example, what websites, podcasts or blogs do you regularly tune into?
Inspiration should come from anywhere but the web. If you only look to the web for inspiration, you copy people and your work will be sheepish. I like going to galleries, museums, historical monuments, looking at other creative industries such as wallpaper making, magazine design, packaging, and books. And also nature: I get color palettes from walks in the Scottish countryside, on the beach, or from walking down graffiti-lined streets in the center of Glasgow.
I learn a lot from blogs and Twitter, obviously. But I think it’s important to mix it up with influences from outside the web, otherwise your influences are identical to everyone else’s, and then what is there to make your work unique?
Read this post for more tips on how to generate interesting and original ideas for blog content.