“I love new problems. They’re my favorite thing in the Universe.”
Jenn de la Fuente was gracious enough to be our first interviewee. Her multi-faceted skill set lands her in unique positions that this series seeks to explore. She’s a strong hearted, cheerfully spirited teacher, writer, designer and web-developer.
Jenn became a sportswriter just out of college. She figured out the Internet while it was young, during the 10 years she worked in journalism. She’s now a teacher at General Assembly and runs her own design, development and consulting business, Rosebud Designs. I sat down with Jenn at a Santa Monica coffee shop near her office.
First of all, how’s everything going?
Everything’s good, it’s been crazy, very crazy.
That’s sort of what this is about, it’s crazy, but you’re doing it because you like it, right?
Exactly, I always have to remind myself of that. I really do enjoy what I do despite the fact I bitch about certain things all the time. Nothing is ever perfect and I would not trade it for anything in the world.
Fantastic, so for the first question… Which were you first, a graphic designer or a web designer, or… not that simple?
It’s not, and I’ve always prided myself on having worked both sides of the line, I was a print designer first, but I was never formally trained as a graphic designer, which, many people find kind of interesting and weird. But, I’ve always had an eye for design. I always respected the design somebody presented me. I consider myself the designer’s developer. I understand why your design is designed the way it is, and my job is to make it so, and make it work on the internet.
What would you consider your most developed aspect of web design? (UX, UI, Graphics, front end development, device testing, marketing?)
It’s kind of this weird mishmash of everything, however, I’m mostly a front end developer, working a lot of html and css, making things look amazing and function, and I’m a WordPress developer, that is my specialty. I build you WordPress from the ground up.
Do you think its necessary or helpful to know code as a web designer?
I don’t think you necessarily need to know how to code. It’s fine to me, obviously, people have all kinds of opinions about that. To me, you should at least be familiar with the terminology, be comfortable talking to a developer, and know what to ask, not only of a developer, but of your client. The other thing I always tell people, befriend a developer, a really nice developer. Find yourself a really nice person who will explain things to you. For me personally, that’s what I really love to do. I always tell people advice is free! You can come and email me. I don’t care if we’re old friends or I just met you yesterday.
Being it a fairly new practice, what strategies have you taken when encountering a new problem?
I love new problems. They’re my favorite thing in the Universe. It sounds sort of, not conceited, but, a forward statement, that I have never met a site I could not WordPress. I want people to keep throwing the kitchen sink at me, I would like to keep pushing the bounds of what I know, and what the platform can do. I read a lot, many things I know how to do, I know how to do because somebody asked me if it’s possible.
So, it’s almost most like, your strategy for handling new problems is to just get them a lot.
Absolutely and I get them a lot, I am sort of the developer of last resort for a lot of people.
So, what do you do, when it’s something that you can’t relate to something else, when it’s completely new?
I think what’s really helpful here is knowing a lot of people who are smarter than you, I do have a lot of amazing mentors and friends who taught me a lot of things along the way. When I’m completely lost, these people I can email and call. I’ve waded my way, I’m a doer, I like to dive into the problem, I like to read something and try it out! For the most part, it’s because these problems get brought to me and I have to go fix them or figure out how to fix them, I’ll just dive into it, and do a lot of really good research.
What makes web design interesting to you?
It’s never the same. I think that’s really what it is, it’s a field that is ever evolving, things change, day to day, something becomes outdated a week sometimes. There’s always something new to learn. It can be both overwhelming and awesome at the same time. I think it’s how you choose to approach it, a lot of people have this misconception that they have to know everything, and, you don’t, that’s the first thing I’ll tell you, you don’t have to know everything. I didn’t know everything when I started, what I didn’t know I looked up, just like anybody else.
Where does design end and developing begin? Does it end and begin somewhere?
I definitely don’t think it ends and begins anywhere. That line is a moving target, one cannot exist without the other. You could have the most amazing app that you programmed, an amazing piece of programming, but if nobody can figure out how to use it or it looks like crap, it’s not going to go anywhere. Same thing on the front end, you build a website, you design it, and at some point you’re going to need some sort of the logic to make it do something, at some point you’re going to need data. And you’re going to need someone on the back end to do it, one cannot exist without the other, both are equally important. Nobody should have the attitude that developers are more prized than designers, because it’s not true.
What are your thoughts on the future of web? Are websites here to stay? Are mobile apps going to take over?
I think it’s interesting because the future can go in so many different ways. We don’t even know what it’s going to look like in three months. I think that the overriding principle is going to be building smart, I don’t think it’ll necessarily be a website versus app war. It’s funny, I have this conversation with people a lot, who think, “oh my goodness I need to have an app,” and then we talk about what their needs are and what their thought process is, and they don’t actually need an app, they just need their website to work perfectly fine on a phone. This applies to design all the time. People think they need certain things, but they don’t until you really talk to them and figure out what they need. They think that because their competition has something, they need it do, and it’s really not the case, I would say, 70% of the time. The trend is going to be around building smart. When responsive web came around, it was revelations all around, and things like that are going to limit the need to build straight up apps. I don’t think one thing is going to rule the other, there will always be room for just a plain ol’ website.
What are your favorite and least favorite web hosts?
I refuse to do any business with Godaddy, whatsoever.
What about MediaTemple? Godaddy bought them.
I was really sad that MediaTemple was bought by Godaddy because I love MediaTemple. They have saved my bacon, many times. I’m going to wait and see. They’re still good, until Godaddy ruins them but that could be years down the line. I definitely will not do any business with Godaddy, for very many reasons. I don’t like their nickle and diming of services, that’s number one, and two, their UI sucks, it’s just hard to find stuff. I don’t like 1&1 either, their UI sucks too.
So, who’s good?
I definitely use MediaTemple a lot. I’ve had clients who are on FatCow. They’re pretty good. I personally use iPower. I still recommend BlueHost to people, but they’ve had a couple of major outages. I’ve used DreamHost before, too. They can be sort of… iffy as well, but if you’re a non profit they give you free hosting. Nice tip there. If you’re a non profit, call up DreamHost!
I have one last question… What are your favorite resources, websites, books, whatever?
The whole A Book Apart series is amazing, and it’s not just about websites. Mike Monteiro has a book in that series called Design is a Job, which is a must read for anyone who is in school and wants to be a designer. I think there’s a huge gap where we don’t get taught the business of design. That’s why I feel very passionate about the AIGA Blueprint series which I co-produce. I didn’t know anything about this stuff when I decided to be my own business and I wish I had known more. It’s empowering. Tt shouldn’t be scary. I met with some students at Art Center who were starting their own business club, and I remember them saying the phrase, “business is not a dirty word in design.” It’s not. It’s our jobs to make sure it’s not a dirty word. A List Apart, which is the original web magazine. Definitely. Anything Chris Coyer does. Love that guy. I use CSS Tricks everyday probably. Of course Google and Stack Overflow. All of my question get answered in some fashion in one of those two. If you’re trying to learn just bare bones html and css, there’s a book called Bullet Proof Web Design. It’s old now, written a while ago, but it’s a really great book. It basically talks about the transition of going from tables, oh god so long ago, to the basis of the web standards we have today, the div, and floating containers. There’s a series called the Idea Index. It’s three volumes now. I have the first two. It’s for looking at layouts and what people have done. It’s even indexed by color. Another book I would recommend is not necessarily web centric, but it’s just a really great book, which is Making Ideas Happen, written by Scott Belsky, the guy who started Behance. It was definitely a game changer for me. It’s about taking action on your ideas, which I think everybody should do.
Are you like Jenn or becoming like her? Or maybe you’re an app designer? Drupal freak? Let’s talk, there’s a good chance I want to interview you for this series. Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clay Cooper is a brand, web, and application designer for fanignite.com