Having Quit Skype, Eva-Lotta Lamm Embraces FreelanceSeptember 6, 2010, Category: Web design
Please tell us a bit about your background. How did you come to web design?
I originally started studying graphic design. In my first summer break from uni in 1998 I did an internship in a web agency where I learned coding HTML and working with Flash. I continued working as a freelancer for the agency and after the first half of my studies I decided to change school to focus on interactive design.
How valuable was your graphic design education for your career? Could you have done without it?
The graphic design education was and still is hugely valuable for my work every day. I don't want to miss the two years I spent drawing, creating grids, rendering type by hand, developing photos in the lab and basically learning the craft from scratch. It gave me a solid basis to build upon and the main principles of typography, form, layout, colour etc. apply no matter which medium you are working in.
Which companies have you worked for and how have those jobs contributed to your experience?
During my studies I freelanced for a variety of agencies and for my own clients. This was a great way to get real work experience and earn money for my studies at the same time. After graduating, I moved to Paris and worked for Kahn+Associates, an agency specialised in information architecture and interface design. I had the chance to work on a nice variety of projects for some big national and international clients doing everything from information architecture and interaction design to visual design and even coding HTML templates for some projects. I loved the variation in the work and it was great to practice a wide variety of skills. After moving to London, I worked in-house as an interaction designer, for Yahoo! and for Skype. Working in-house gave me the opportunity to work on a product for a longer amount of time, being able to see things through from beginning to launch. The best thing about working at Skype definitely was to work with a very talented bunch of people. I learned a lot from my wonderful colleagues in the design team. A few weeks ago I made the decision to go freelance. I am looking forward to working with different people, agencies and in-house teams. It's a great opportunity to be involved in various kinds of projects and see how other people work.
What kinds of things did you design as an in-house designer at Skype?
The main project I worked on was a complete redesign of Skype Manager, which is a web application which allows businesses to set up, manage and monitor the use of Skype in their business in one central place. I led the design process for the redesign and defined the overall user experience and interaction design. For the visual design, I had the chance to work with some great designers, mainly Pete Usborne who did a wonderful job in coming up with a simple, clean and balanced visual style for the interface. It was great to be involved in a project like that from a very early stage and to be able to see it through until the launch and beyond.
What prompted you to quit Skype and go freelance?
After working in-house since I moved to London, I wanted to see what else is out there. London has such a variety of great companies and agencies that do interesting work and I hope that freelancing will give me the opportunity to work with a lot of different people.
You've lived and worked in several European countries (Germany, France, the UK). Has this international experience influenced your design style and vision? Would you say extensive international experience is important for becoming a better designer?
Living abroad has definitely influenced my view on design (and on many other things). Living in a different country makes you realise a lot about your own culture as you are confronted with a lot of things that are different from what you know and what you were taking for granted before. I enjoy learning new things, be it about language, culture, habits or anything else and living abroad there is never a lack of new things to learn and to discover. In general, exposing yourself to different situations, environments and experiences helps you to stay curious and to grow as a person and as a designer alike.
You probably don't have to code your designs now. But did you do it in the past? Is it important for a web designer to know HTML?
I have coded my own designs in the past and I still do sometimes for small personal projects but in general I am very happy to leave the real production code to the specialists. I think as a designer working on the web, it is important to have some experience and an interest in coding though. It's important to understand the medium you are working in and it makes working with developers much easier when both sides have an understanding of each other's craft.
You specialize in user experience and Information Architecture. Where and how did you learn about these things?
I mostly learned (and am still learning) about IA and UX by practicing it on projects and by working with other UX designers. Reading books and blogs helps and attending conferences helps to stay in touch with what's going on in the industry right now. On top of that there is a quite an active UX scene in London with regular events and meet-ups which give you the opportunity to discuss and exchange ideas with other UX people.
When you were a beginning designer, who did you look up to? Are there any professionals you still look up to now?
In no particular order, for various reasons and by no means a complete list, here are a few people whose work I respect and like a lot: Pete Usborne, Wilson Miner, Dave Gray, Steve 'Buzz' Pearce, Stephen P. Anderson, Moritz Stefaner, Garrett Dimon, Jonathan Harris, Julien Vallee, Noma Bar, Kevin Cornell.
Please name a few inspiring designs you've seen recently.
There have been quite a few interesting experiments with magazine layouts on the web recently. Different people are exploring the idea of creating bespoke layouts for different articles like in traditional print magazines and to use design and layout as a tool to support an individual story. And together with the new possibilities that HTML5, CCS3 and font-embedding offer, there are a lot of great experiments out there that push what visual design can be on the web. Very exciting times! Another project I have come across recently that I really like is Schooloscope by BERG. It is a web-application that helps parents (and teachers) to see how their kids' school is doing. The site is presenting statistics provided by several Government institutions in a visual and straight-forward way by translating the raw numbers into understandable language and visual representations. It is a wonderful example how design can make existing information more accessible, understandable and usable by looking at it from a human perspective.
What social media do you use for work and play? Which one is your favorite?
I mainly use twitter (@evalottchen) and facebook. I hooked up my facebook status to my twitter account so that status updates appear on both which means that I don't really make a difference between the two in terms of what I am posting. I also use flickr to upload my sketchnotes from talks that I attended and slideshare for my presentations. I use these two in a more work / design related way and they are great tools to share some of your work and thinking and to connect to other people interested in similar topics.
Please give a few quick tips for beginning designers who are reading this interview.
Be open, be curious, practice a lot, be passionate about what you do, be nice to people you work with and chances are, you will become a really good designer.
You have been employed for most of your career. How does it feel being on your own?
It's scary and exciting at the same time. It's only been a few weeks since I started out, so it is a bit early for a conclusion, but one thing is for sure: it is definitely not boring.
Thanks, Eva-Lotta, for the wonderful interview!
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