When it came to finding an expert for web design I didn’t have to look far; in fact, he sits in my eye line on the other side of the office. Neil Burgess is the Senior Graphic Designer here at Hotcourses. The brains behind the design of the site for nine years, Neil and his design team can turn the smallest paint job into a polished page on the site. No redesign is too big or small and HTML and CSS codes can be created in a heartbeat. After many chats in the kitchen and at company drinks, I decided it was time to find out more about his route into web design, so begged an interview with the very busy Neil who was more than happy to chat and share his expertise with those hoping to follow in his footsteps.
First things first Neil, how did you get to where you are today?
I did a Higher National Diploma in graphic design way back in the nineties. When I think back, the world, and especially technology, has changed a lot since those days; the internet was only just in its early days and I really don’t know if people considered the impact it would have on day-to-day life. The course gave me some good foundations especially in typography and layout and I went on to work as a publishing designer for many years, which, despite the madness of some publishing deadlines, I found really enjoyable.
How did you move into the online world?
Well over time I started to take on small online projects and started to enjoy the different challenges these presented. I began reading up on web design more and more and things took off from there really.
Did you undertake any formal training in web design?
I did a short course for a couple of days to pick up an understanding of HTML and CSS which was very useful to get started with, but other than that I’m fairly self taught other than the HND I took. I have had to find a lot of online resources to increase my knowledge as in this field things can change quite quickly, so there’s a need to keep up to date with the latest developments.
What is the best part of your job?
I would say the best part of my job is the feeling and excitement that you get when you have created something.
What would you say is the hardest part?
The hardest part of being a graphic designer is the need to have a pretty thick skin – it’s one of the few jobs where you find that people have a very strong opinion on the work that you produce, either in a positive or negative way. Obviously it’s never particularly nice having your work criticised, but if you totally hate the idea of it, this probably isn’t the right career for you. A good designer will take constructive feedback on board and have good communication skills to be able to explain the choices they have made.
After working on both print and online publications, how different are the two to design for?
There are many differences between web and print. One of the biggest differences is how people read. On the web, users often skim over so much of the content while looking for the information they are searching for, there’s a whole level of interactivity in web design that doesn’t exist in print. Another key difference between the two is that a website can be accessed on many different devices and screen sizes, mobile phones, tablets, laptops, desktop computers – so your design needs to work and be usable on all, whereas in print you have a firm idea of the final size of the finished product.
Print design tends to have hard deadlines and once a job is printed you’re not able to make any changes before you’re onto the next job. With online work the possibility is always there to iterate and try to make improvements with things you are not happy with.
Do you ever feel like the job is done or as web designer are you always revisiting and changing things?
Well the possibility is always there to go in and change things if you need to, so in a way it’s the kind of job where your work is never done.
I completely agree and think this applies a lot to the difference in editorial between the two mediums. How difficult would you say it is to strike a balance between creativity and the rules of functionality, usability and SEO when designing a website?
All these aspects need to be taken into account; the web has been around for some time now, so users expect a site to follow similar patterns to other sites they might use. One of the big changes in the web’s evolution has been a standardisation of patterns between websites, so a user doesn’t need to learn a totally new interface from one site to the next.
What advice would you give to those wanting to follow in your footsteps and get a career in web design?
I would advise to try as many of your own projects as you can, or failing that try to work with others to create something. Even just copying a site you like in HTML of CSS or redesigning the layout of a site in Photoshop can be a very useful way of learning things.
Can you ever visit a website without noticing little things?
I have to say I do notice the small things. Generally, I think when someone visits a website they usually have a set task in mind (finding information, booking or buying products) the frustration happens if they find it difficult to find what they need to complete that task. I tend to notice things that impede this quite a lot.
Apart from Hotcourses what are the most well designed websites you have come across?
Oh that’s a hard question to answer! A couple of sites I have bookmarked and look at all the time are smashingmagazine.com and dribble.com.
And with that he was gone, back to his never ending to do list of tweaks and changes to the site. If Neil has inspired you to learn more about web design, it is never too late to start again and take a course. With plenty of options available whatever you hope to learn, who knows where you might end up.