Rich Brown: "Sometimes an idea is just so simple and perfect why try to be clever about it."June 17, 2010, Category: Web design
Rich, please tell us a bit about your background. How did you get into web design? How long have you been in it? Did you get any design education?
I got into design around 1998, later than I would have liked and therefore missed the opportunity of an education or at least a degree, though it certainly hasn't held me back. After college, I started an Amiga software distribution company which was working out really well but for those of you who can remember the Commodore Amiga, it just wasn't happening after the mid 90's. During this time I was hand coding websites and designing CDRom covers so it was something I was interested in, but didn't think of it as a career path. It was only when Commodore sold out to Gateway that my business ceased and I realised I had a strong interest in design.
What projects were the most important in your career?
During my time as a junior designer I was given the opportunity to design a site, flash game and e-cards for an FMCG brand called Enjoy Organics. It was such a responsibility and a lot of pressure to deliver something at the level required, I didn't even believe in myself at that time, I just had great guidance from the team and my senior.
You've worked for a number of studios. Was it a useful experience? What made you want to work for yourself?
Vital! This is a must for all designers or developers, no matter which studio you work for you will learn and you will learn a lot. I once worked for a studio which was possibly the worst place I have ever worked, getting out of there was like being resuscitated from drowning, but I still took positives from it. Even if all you learn is how to treat customers and fellow peers, you've learnt something vital.
You've partnered up with another designer Susannah White and yet you don't have a common website. How is this partnership helping you?
Susannah is my partner in life and business, so we work together on a lot of projects. Having the luxury of working alongside another designer whilst working for yourself is extremely beneficial for bouncing ideas off each other, you're constantly learning whilst working alongside a respected peer. We're still a young collaboration which is why we don't have a common website yet, we just haven't got round to working on it. There will be a ‘Brown & White' website eventually so watch this space.
Please explain the color scheme of your portfolio. Was it dictated by your last names?
Of course! We toyed with the idea of being less literal, but it's such a gift identity it would have been a real shame not to use it. Sometimes an idea is just so simple and perfect why try to be clever about it.
Your skills include graphic and interface design, front-end development, illustration. What kinds of projects do you prefer - those centering around one of these skills or those that span all of them? Why?
I'm actually moving away from front-end development, design is my passion so that's the area I wish to concentrate on. I'm now in my 12 year as a professional, over the years It's been a necessity to have an adequate level of multiple skills to get by but I've found the higher the level you work at, the more you need to concentrate and put all your focus into one thing, otherwise you're in danger of being labelled a ‘jack of all trades'.
How would you describe the style of your designs?
I try not to let personal style overtake a design and always approach each project differently, however if I had to define my own style I would say simple yet striking and timeless. I love timeless design classics, give me an Anglepoise Lamp, a Miles Van Der Rohe Barcelona Chair or a Charles Eames Coffee Table any day. I love to keep things simple yet striking, I absolutely adore good typography, favouring classic typefaces such as Helvetica, Din, Bodoni, Avante Garde, Clarendon etc. I try to avoid trends, web trends are a bit like shopping at Top Man or Ikea or listening to chart music, they have no depth, durability, originality or style... style is important!
Is it hard to find clients these days?
Direct clients yes, but mainly due to limited budgets and not for the lack of enquiries. We mostly work with other studios, this way we don't have to rely on finding our own clients and working with other studios allows us to maintain a certain level of quality because we tend not be as restricted by budgets.
How much time do you spend working each day? What does a typical day look like?
A typical work day could be around 10-12 hours, 6-7 days a week. I tend to start the day browsing my google reader feeds and answering any enquiries for around an hour with a cup of tea but once I start a project it's hard work right though the day until late evening breaking for lunch, walking the dog and dinner.
I had this notion that working for myself would consist of working around 3-4 day weeks allowing plenty of time to myself, but I don't think I've ever worked so hard in my life. I try to keep up with my blog and twitter updates when I get a chance but finding time to work on my own projects is almost impossible.
Is it easy to generate ideas? Where do you find inspiration?
I find the ideas stage is often the hardest, but it's the most rewarding of the stages. I like to allow plenty of time for putting together moodboards and wireframes. The moodboards consist of things I like the feel of for the project at hand, it could come from anything from product packaging, typography, colour schemes, magazine layouts, photography, posters, shop fronts... anything really.
When you were a beginning designer, who did you admire and try to follow?
I don't think I tried to follow anyone, digital design was still very early when I started. When I got into design professionally, as a junior I certainly took a lot of inspiration from David Carson, I loved his unorthodox approach, breaking pretty much every design rule but his work was phenomenal. I remember trying to emulate his print design on screen and failing miserably. Like myself he didn't study design at university so he was a real inspiration to me. I used to read magazines such as Creative Review for creative ideas, old Habitat catalogues and Wallpaper magazine for layout ideas. 10 years ago, (as I remember) Coolhomepages was the biggest and most popular online gallery at the time, if not the only digital online gallery. I remember looking at these amazing designs on Coolhomepages and thinking one day I would love to have a site featured on here.
What would you recommend to beginning designers now?
Get as much experience working in studios as possible, don't even think about working for yourself without a good 6-10 years of experience behind you. You can only really learn and improve by working with people better than you. I've been designing professionally for around 12 years now, I don't particularly think of myself as a good designer, I just know I can do a good job. I still have so much to learn, I want to be better and that will happen with time and effort.
Rich, thank you for the great interview.
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