I get a whole load of email–same as you! Like most sane people, I try to reduce the amount of time I spend in my email every day. This FAQ page is my attempt to answer some of the questions I receive.
Can you help us with our design system?
Sure can! My wonderful team and I help teams create and evolve successful design systems. If you’re wrestling with design system challenges and opportunities and would like our help, please get in touch and we’ll chat.
Can you recommend good web designers and developers?
Will you speak at my conference?
I’m extremely passionate about the web and the topics I discuss, and love speaking at high quality conferences that value diverse line-ups and provide a safe, professional environment for everyone.
I’d love to speak at every conference out there, but unfortunately there aren’t enough days in the year. Because of this, I can only accept paying speaking engagements at this time. It’s not really a money thing (well OK it is a little-it’s how I pay the bills); I really have to prioritize my time and commitments. If I’m not careful I can spend all my time away from my family living in hotels and on planes. I don’t want my family to leave/kill me, so I have to be mindful of how many speaking engagements I take on.
Will you speak at my company?
Yes, absolutely. I really love being able to talk to organizations and agencies about their unique problems, processes, and opportunities. I sincerely love helping others do better work, so please get in touch if you’d like me to do a workshop or consult with you.
Do you offer workshops or training?
I do! I offer full-day or multi-day workshops about design systems, atomic design, style guides, process & workflow, responsive design and a number of other topics. If you’d like me to come to your organization to conduct a workshop, please feel free to contact me.
Do you offer consulting services?
Will you appear on my podcast?
I love having interesting conversations with interesting people, and podcasts seem to be a great excuse to make that happen. They’re typically a whole lot of fun, but my schedule is typically pretty crazy. So color me interested, but also please don’t be offended if I can’t be a guest as I have to prioritize my business and my family. Drop me a line and schedule-permitting I’d love to be a part of your podcast.
Can I write a guest post on your site?
But please write on your own site and share you thoughts with me and others! That’s the name of the game.
Will you contribute a piece to my site/blog/magazine/etc?
Possibly. I typically try to limit the amount of external publications I write for in order to manage my time and commitments. There’s a good chance I’m unavailable, but if you shoot me an email I’ll see what I can do.
Can you check out my new site/app/project/product/service/thing?
I’d love new things, but unfortunately there are only so many hours in the day. I wish there were more because there is so much cool stuff out there. But alas, time is finite, so I’m afraid I can’t commit to reviewing your (surely amazing) new thing.
Can you blog/tweet/share my new site/app/product/service/thing?
This is a little uncomfortable for me, so I’m sorry but the answer is “no”. I appreciate that you want to get the word out about what I’m sure is a wonderful site/app/product/service/thing, but I’ll leave it up to you to market it and get the word out.
I love sharing things I find useful and cool, but I do so on my own accord rather than because someone told me to. When someone asks/tells me to share something, I’m less inclined to do so. Sorry, but it’s a bit uncomfortable to be put in that situation. Keep kicking ass and you’ll surely turn heads.
Can I use your slides/images/videos in my presentation/article/book?
Thanks for asking! Yes, you can use any of my materials in your work, provided you give proper attribution to me.
Can we get together for coffee?
As much as I’d love to unequivocally say yes, I’m afraid coffee meetings take me away from running my business and taking care of my family. That means I likely can’t get together to chat, but I’m always happy to answer questions and make connections via email.
Can I email you my reactions to your writing?
I love to hear what people think! But please don’t send me a lengthy email full of insights, data, and rebuttals. The best way to get my attention is to write a blog post with those insights, data, and rebuttals, then let me know you wrote that blog post. As much as I love learning, your thoughts deserve to be heard by all. Contribute to our collective knowledge by favoring one-to-many writing rather than one-to-one writing.
How do I get started?
The best advice about getting started in web design/development is to buy yourself a domain name and create your own website. Your own website is the ultimate playground, where you can have fun, experiment and break things. You don’t have to worry about doing things right, impressing anyone, disappointing clients, or anything. It’s the ultimate freedom.
As far as learning more about the industry, I’d recommend reading some important books (see below), following some solid resources (see below), learning the fundamentals of the web (see below), and most importantly showing an enthusiasm for the Web. For front-end developers, this diagram does a phenomenal job of outlining concepts, tools, and technologies to learn with a
What books do you recommend?
There’s a whole slew of amazing books on web design and development. I’d recommend checking out quality books by A Book Apart, Rosenfeld Media, and O’Reilly. Here are some that I feel are really valuable:
- Responsive Web Design by Ethan Marcotte
- Mobile First by Luke Wroblewski
- Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug
- Thinking In Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows
- Adaptive Web Design by Aaron Gustafson
- Content Strategy for Mobile by Karen McGrane
- Future Ethics by Cennydd Bowles
- Responsive Design Workflow by Stephen Hay
- Implementing Responsive Design by Tim Kadlec
- Designing with Web Standards by Jeffrey Zeldman
- Learning Web Design by Jen Robbins
- Responsible Responsive Design by Scott Jehl
- Atomic Design by yours truly
What resources do you recommend?
There are a ton of resources out there. I could probably list a whole load of things, but I’ll stick with ones I find consistently helpful for finding new stuff:
What podcasts do you recommend?
There are no doubt plenty of great podcasts out there, but the one I consistently listen to is Shop Talk Show.
What conferences do you recommend?
I speak at a lot of conferences, and strongly recommend attending conferences regularly to keep up to speed with new developments in our industry. Which conferences you attend will likely be influenced by location, cost, subject matter, etc, but here a few conferences I think are particularly great:
What skills should I learn?
It really depends on what you want to do. I think having a T-shaped skillset goes a long way in such a broad and rapidly-changing industry. Irrespective of focus, I think knowing the basics of HTML and CSS is a good idea.
Where can I go to learn to code?
I highly recommend Code Academy to learn the basics of Web design and development (they also have a bunch of other great courses too!). When my brother started working for me, going through their web basics class was the first thing I had him to do get familiar with the conventions of HTML and CSS. And this front-end developer roadmap diagram links out to many resources and courses to learn specific concepts, technologies, and tools for front-end development.
How do I get a job in web design/development?
I wrote a post about applying for web design jobs. Generally speaking, learn the fundamentals of your craft, show enthusiasm to learn, and demonstrate that you’ve got a good head on your shoulders.
How do you stay up to speed with such a fast-moving industry?
It’s important to stay up to speed with the industry, but the river of technology moves at a pace that even Michael Phelps would drown if he jumped in. So it’s important to take a step back and consider what you’re interested in doing, and go from there. I gave a talk about this topic, so you can check it out. Regarding where I go to stay current, I’m on Twitter quite a lot, as it’s generally where find resources and conversations about web design. I also like Sidebar for daily news If you’re looking for a good answer, I’d check out this great talk from Chris Coyier.
How did you get started in the industry? What’s your story?
I don’t think I can count making Dragonball Z Geocities websites in 1997 as the start of my web design career. I started at James Madison University as a music major to learn about recording, live sound, and management. I ended up playing in a band that taught me those things and more. One of those “and more” things was to make and manage the band’s website. Eventually, I switched out of music and into a program called Media Arts and Design, where I took a Photoshop/Illustrator class, Dreamweaver class, and a Flash class.
After graduating university I got a job designing and developing websites (in addition to doing crazy Quark, print, and tradeshow stuff) for real estate and mortgage companies in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately this was right when the real estate bubble burst. So after a year, I packed my bags and moved to New York City to be with my fiancee (now wife!).
My first job in NYC was at a small fashion e-commerce agency called Pod1. I was the fourth employee in the New York office and was the only developer. Because of the size of the shop, I had to learn how to do a lot of different things and learn how to do them fast. I see this job as my Cavern Club, often times going from kickoff to launch in less than three weeks.
After 2 years at Pod1, I got a job at R/GA in Hell’s Kitchen as a “mobile web developer”. This was in late 2009/early 2010, so the iPhone had already come out but not a lot of people were focusing on making mobile Web experiences great. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been exposed to designing and developing for mobile just before it really blew up.
After 2 and a half years at R/GA New York, I moved back to my home city of Pittsburgh. I worked remotely for R/GA until the beginning of 2013, when I went out on my own. It’s been a blur of freelance, consulting, workshops, speaking, writing, and more ever since.
What tools do you use?
Tough question, as they’re always changing and I work with many clients who almost always have already made a lot of tooling decisions. I tend to use a front-end workshop environment like Storybook or Pattern Lab every project I work on.
What’s your process?
It changes from project to project. And I think that’s a good thing. Getting too attached to a specific type of process prevents you from adapting to the ever-shifting Web landscape. Even though I’ve never made a website the same way twice, I think subscribing to a few key principles is a good idea. For me, I think openness, honesty, true collaboration, communication, and getting into the final environment as soon as possible are good ideas.
How do you get your work? How should I get work?
I write, speak, and share a lot about the web, design systems, and other topics. People seem to find my work helpful, and sometimes they’ll ask for my help with their company’s challenges and opportunities.
That’s how I get my work, but that model might not work for everyone. There are lots of ways to get work, including simply asking people/organizations you admire if they’d like to work together. It can be a surprisingly effective strategy; just don’t come across as weird/sales-y/stalker and you could find yourself collaborating with people and companies you deeply respect. Hey, ya never know until you ask.
How can I become a speaker?
I wrote a post about getting into public speaking. In short: start writing and sharing your thoughts, look to speak at local meetups, look for open calls for speakers, and ask your employer if they might know of any opportunities.
What’s the deal with your helmet avatar?
After the BDConf Nashville conference in 2011, a group of nerds gathered at a cabin to discuss the intersection of the web and mobile. The smartphone explosion was ramping up and responsive design had just come out. It was all so new and everyone was trying to figure it out. So we holed ourselves up in this cabin to discuss how the web fit into this new world. The output of that retreat was the Future Friendly manifesto.
As it happened, the cabin we rented had a closet full of toys and costumes. One of those items was a toy space helmet. We were talking about the future of the web and this whole new breed of devices, so a space helmet seemed to be an appropriate mascot for the whole thing. We all took pictures with the helmet on, and updated our Twitter avatars. For most it was a temporary switch, but I just sorta kept mine.
What life advice can you give?
My life advice used to be Work hard. Don’t be an asshole. Share what you know. While most of that holds true, I’m increasingly reevaluating the “word hard” part, as workaholism and hustle culture are incredibly damaging to our physical, mental, and spiritual selves. I’d replace it with something like “Find purpose. Find happiness. Find balance. Don’t be an asshole. Share what you know.”
What is the purpose of life?
To find purpose, happiness, and fulfillment in the things you do, and to make things better for the world and people around you.