After posting about “How to destroy the web2.0 look” I had the pleasure to speak Elliot Jay Stocks, the guy who told us about “Destroy the web2.o look” at the Future of Web Design event held in NY. Elliot answered some questions about the controversial topic. He also told us how he avoids clichés and where his inspiration comes from, among other interesting matters. One thing is for sure: a big part of his success comes from the fact he’s always in the quest for inspiration out of the monitor and has great attitude to learn and collaborate.
*Rec sign blinking*
mao: Hi Elliot it is quite an honor to have you here for the interview. I must say thanks for the opportunity. I am a big fan of your work :).
elliot: Thanks very much, Mao. It’s a pleasure to be here!
mao:Please introduce yourself
elliot:Well, I’m a 26 year old guy from just outside London, England. I work as the Senior Designer at Carsonified and I also do a fair bit of public speaking, as well as writing about web design for a few different publications. I live down by the River Thames in southwest London with my girlfriend, and when I get the time, I try my hand at writing and recording music under the name Sourhaze. I like having lots of projects!
mao: On last post on this blog, I presented your proposal “Destroy web2.0 Look” and tried to transmit your original idea, which I think is not anti the web2.0-look, just an invitation to avoid cliches and to try and adapt trends using your very own design view. This post caused lots of controversy and at some point the discussion lost the focus. What do you have to say about that?
elliot: First of all, thanks for drawing attention to it – your post went into great detail and got lots of people talking about the presentation. I think it’s inevitable that people wander off-topic; the only frustrating thing for me was that a lot of people missed the point. I mean, that’s inevitable too, because without my commentary to accompany the slides, I think the meaning was lost a bit. It was actually meant to be quite light-hearted! But anyway, your interpretation was correct: I’m not trying to say that gradients are bad, or curved corners are bad, or whatever; just that these things need to be used in moderation and that we should think twice before using the same old elements on every website we design.
mao: What do you recommend to avoid cliches? How do you avoid them?
elliot: Well, I’m still guilty of using the occasional cliche! In fact, I used to be pretty bad. At one stage in my first job (at EMI), I kept using 1 pixel diagonal lines on everything – it was horrible! These days I’d like to think I do more original stuff, but the main thing is just to think about why you’re using every single element. Like, should this corner be rounded? If so, why? What will it achieve, and does that fit into what I’m trying to achieve with this design as a whole?
mao: What do you mean when you say on your presentation “Misunderstanding arrives because of the removal from the ‘doing’ process”?
elliot: Basically I was referring to management-level employees who just manage projects without actually doing the work; specifically those who never did do the work and hence have a poor understanding of the creative process. I’m not criticising these people – because we have our job and they have theirs – I’m just suggesting that the distance between them and the actual nitty-gritty of a project’s design and / or development can mean they don’t understand what’s really going on. Hence the term “Web 2.0” being banded about with little thought about its true meaning.
The same goes for marketers and the recruitment industry: people who love throwing these buzz words around without knowing what they mean; again, because they’re removed from the creative process itself.
mao: You know it is hard to educate our clients. What do you do if a client asks you for a “web 2.0 bold look site?
elliot: Slap them around the face with a cold fish! ;) Luckily I haven’t been asked for one recently, but what I would suggest as an answer to anybody who does get asked that question is to ask the client: why? Are they aware that the design they’re after is highly unoriginal and already showing the signs of old age? Fine, if that’s what they want, but wouldn’t they rather be more inventive?
mao: You encourage us to learn from the best. which guys do you recommend to learn from? And what point should we give more attention to?
elliot: There’s a group of people who always come up – Andy Clarke, Khoi Vinh, the Happy Cog guys – but I think there’s a good reason for that: you’ll rarely find these people conforming to cliches and they have their own personalities apparent in their designs. There’s not enough room to name everybody but I would urge designers to be influenced by those who create beautiful work that stands out from the thousands of clones. But I would also urge people to find inspiration away from web design.
mao: What are the biggest challenges you face as a designer and how do you do to overcome them? What do you recommend to the s2o readers?
elliot: I think avoiding cliches is actually one of the biggest challenges. Convincing clients to go with a certain direction is hard, but it’s even harder to convince yourself. The reason we use cliches is because they’re popular and therefore ‘proven’ to work, so the real challenge is forcing yourself to not always choose these easy options. How do I achieve that? Well, I’m not sure I always manage to! But when I do it’s when I’ve been asking myself “why?” the whole way through the process.
mao: Elliot you have quite an impressive portfolio. How did you achieve that?
elliot: Thanks very much! I owe a lot of it to being employed at EMI, where the project turnaround time was incredibly quick and I usually had 5 or 6 projects on the go at any one time. Also, because EMI have so many world famous artists, getting my work associated with them was also a big help.
Outside of work (and also before I started out ‘professionally’), I did a lot of freelancing, which kept my portfolio diverse. In fact, I’d recommend it to anyone who works in one particular market (like the music industry) who wants to keep their sanity! Even if I did music sites for freelance work, it was extremely refreshing to work with an unsigned Doom Metal band after slogging away all day on Joss Stone’s site!
mao: What is your design process? Any recommendations?
elliot: I guess it goes something along the lines of: make rough sketches in my notebook for layouts, create a few wireframes and layout grids in Photoshop for approval, move on to a more ‘finished’ mockup, refine the idea over a few stages until it’s approved, start writing the XHTML and CSS, and then continue to tweak… pretty much the same as most peoples, I’d imagine.
Something I’ve stopped doing is trying to plan every last detail in Photoshop. I just find there’s no point anymore, especially when it comes to typography, which is handled so differently by browsers to Photoshop. So I guess that’s my recommendation. Something I’m really bad at is not spending long enough on wireframes. I often jump right into a full mockup and the Carsonified guys try and reel me back to the wireframe stage!
mao: (this a typical question but I cant help doing it) How do you get inspired? and how do you overcome designers block?
elliot: Ooh, it’s a tough one, and I’m not sure I have a real answer. I spend a lot of time on ‘gallery’ sites like CSS Beauty, but I try not to focus too much on the web. These days I’m very interested in print design and I see so many great examples that could easily be translated to the web but rarely are. More than anything else, I’m a big fan of the countryside and the outdoors, and I think the ‘textural’ side of my work comes from that fascination. It’s ‘real world’ aesthetics that interest me, which is why a lot of my inspiration has nothing to do with the web.
mao: Any final thoughts?
elliot: I’m often guilty of using cliches at times so I don’t want people to think I see myself as exempt, but I’d still urge everyone to keep pushing the boundaries where possible. It’s often extremely tough in an industry where clients want projects turned around yesterday, but ultimately we – as designers – have the chance to influence trends. Why become a designer if you’re just going to use other people’s ideas?
One final thing: Check out this year’s 24ways.org – it’s the web design industry’s ‘advent calendar’ of tips and tricks, written by some of the biggest names in the business. And this year there’s an article by me! :)
mao: Thanks, Elliot, for giving this interview (^ ^)/~
elliot: You’re very welcome, Mao – thanks for having me! And thanks to everyone eslse for reading!
*Turn off the recorder*