John O'Nolan Interview

First of all can I just say thanks for having me here! I got started playing with html at a very young age but I didn’t really start building websites until about six years ago when I started making sites for bands at the university which I was attending. After a couple of years working at agencies and in-house for start-up companies, I decided to make the jump into self employment. In the last 18 months I’ve been running my own web design business, serving clients such as Ubisoft and Virgin Atlantic Airways. I also contribute to open-source projects as a member of the Core WordPress UI Team, and I do a bit of writing and photography too.

Where do you look for sources of inspiration?

Well if you’d asked me this a few years ago I probably would’ve given the standard answer of “CSS Galleries” and similar resources on the web, however these days I try to stay well clear of them. The problem with finding inspiration on the web is that it’s very hard not to make whatever you’re doing look exactly like whatever it is you’re being “inspired” by. These days I spend a lot of time looking at print and packaging design in particular, with a few bits of product design thrown in for good measure. I find it much more interesting to try to take a really good idea from outside your own industry and try to adapt it and apply it to the web.

What is your favourite aspect of web design?

I think my favourite part would have to be when you have that great idea for a small change which is really going to make the whole site, and it all just comes together. At the start of this year I was building the new blog for vtravelled, Virgin’s new travel website, and we went through quite a few design iterations that were getting closer and closer to the end product. At one meeting I spontaneously came up with the idea to run a live twitter feed up the left hand side of the blog using some beautiful icons which they had already created for the main site. This was really one of those moments, and I think the scrolling feed and colourful icons are now what makes that site most memorable.

What are your top 5 favourite websites?

This is pretty much impossible for me to answer I’m afraid, I don’t think I could even pick one? Let’s go with Twitter, because Twitter leads me to all other websites!

Who do you look up to in your field?

Oh so many: Cameron Moll, Jason Santa Maria and Mark Boulton for their unprecedented understanding of design that just leaves all of the rest of us rolling around in the gutter wondering which way is up. Ryan Carson and Andy Budd for founding amazing agencies and conferences. Tim Van Damme for his attention to detail, and Adii Pienaar for his raw business acumen.

How has using Twitter helped the popularity of your online brand?

Twitter has pretty much been the cornerstone of everything for me. Without it, I would be nowhere. Every big client I’ve ever had, every opportunity and every break has come through Twitter. If they started charging $100 a month just to use it – I would probably do it. It’s connected me with thousands of new people and I couldn’t live without it now.

What do you think are the main benefits for offering free advice online? (Whether it’s a tutorial, quick snippet of code, advanced tutorial)

I think the main benefit has got to be that it establishes you as someone who knows what they’re talking about. Building up that sort of reputation is hugely beneficial because (if you do it right) then people will think of your name first when they need xxx bit of work done, so it all comes back. Like karma.

What inspires you to create and maintain a blog?

I’m not sure if there’s anything that inspires me as such. I like the idea that by publishing my own mistakes (which is what makes up 80% of my posts), other people can learn from them and not fall into the same holes. It’s also partially for myself, I like being able to look back at where I was and compare it to where I am now and just how much has changed.

What would be your perfect dream project?

It would comprise of several factors: The client would give me free reign, have no revisions, pay immediately (like within an hour of being invoiced), and the project itself would be something significant. I’ve experienced all of these individually, but so far I’ve never had them all together in a single client.

What advice would you give to someone looking to specialize in web design?

From a business point of view I would say focus on branding. There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of really really bad web designers out there who make a very healthy income purely because they’ve made a name for themselves. If you can make a name for yourself and you’re actually a good designer… well then that’s all you need really.

From a design point of view you just have to keep on pushing. Never allow yourself to settle for average, to just repeat the same old tired full width header that you used on your last ten designs. This is probably the hardest thing you’ll ever do, and if you’re a good designer, you’ll never be happy or satisfied with any of your work.

Looking into a crystal ball, what do you think will be the next design trend?

Honestly? Whatever Elliot Jay Stocks does next. That guy has an uncanny knack for doing new and awesome things, but I think he’s also probably one of the most influential designers in the world because no matter what he does: a week after it launches the CSS Galleries are full of sites using whatever his latest style is.

What can we expect from John O’Nolan in the upcoming year?

Loads. I’ve pretty much been feeling my way along since leaving full time employment and in the next year I really want to go places now. I have huge ambitions to do great things and I won’t stop until I get there.

In the immediate future, I’m writing a book, editing another book, working on a startup… and I’ll be making one other big move in the next couple of weeks that I can’t talk about yet, so watch this space!

Want more John?