Pro Talks: Interview with Andy Sowards, Web Developer and Blogger
Andy Sowards is a talented web designer, developer and blogger. We had the pleasure of talking to him about his the first web design project, competition and blogging.
Could you introduce yourself? Where are you from? What do you do?
I am a professional Web Developer, Programmer, Designer, Blogger, and Writer living in Bedford, VA (a very small town) where I have lived all my life. I do a lot of things these days. I mostly build anything on the web, whether it be web apps or websites and blogs powered by WordPress, and anything in between. I’ve built awesome stuff for celebrities, authors, entrepreneurs, small businesses, & large corporations. I also run my own websites andysowards.com and infinigeek.com where I blog and write about the things that I love (mostly geeky stuff). I also love to tinker with gadgets and play games in real life.
What’s your work motto?
Do good work. Good work gets noticed.
Are you more of a designer or developer? Or maybe you consider yourself a unicorn?
I always prided myself as being a unicorn – I can design or develop, but I find myself happiest when I am solving problems in code – however I do also enjoy polishing up the way it looks after I have come up with a killer solution.
What’s your opinion on this eternal design-code debate? Should designers learn HTML and CSS? And should developers master Photoshop?
How much time do we have? I have always wanted someone to ask me this question and I always had such a really great response; however, since that time, things have changed a bit in the web world (or maybe I am just older and wiser).
I think the roles of Designer and Developer are changing in the web – I think they are becoming more one and the same. I personally haven’t used Photoshop all that often when designing a website. If you are strictly providing a design for a client or someone else to develop, then yes you still need to know Photoshop, but if you are more or less building a website that you already have a vision for, then “designing in the browser” is definitely a thing. More often than not it is faster and more efficient (and leads to a more creative and realistic result). Not saying that no one should use Photoshop – it just doesn’t get used as much now that we have all of these fancy CSS tools and SVG icons to play with.
Now, I am a firm believer that EVERYONE (designers and developers) should do their part to know the process on both ends to keep the flow of information working between the two parties. Everyone has worked with that one clueless designer, and everyone has worked with that one clueless developer – and no one likes those scenarios. Designers should know what the developer needs, and developers should know what the designer should provide. There is no need to master either craft, but if you have interest there, you should. I think everyone should learn all that they can when given the opportunity, because knowledge truly is power. You never know when that knowledge will benefit you in some far removed capacity in the future. Being able to design something and develop it or even engineer it into a real life product yourself is powerful. Knowing all the steps is good knowledge to have, even if you aren’t a master at any one of them.
Do you remember your very first web design project? What was it?
Oh goodness do I. I would say the very first web design project I ever had was “getting a web design job” because before I could get paid to build websites, I felt the need to “redesign” the website of the small web design agency that I applied to work for. It was a barebones, static HTML site that had some “cool graphics” I had whipped up in Photoshop using some flashy special effect font logo stuff. It was pretty lame I’m sure if I saw it now, but at the time I thought it was pretty good – and it landed me that job, so it was ultimately a success! Then my first real web design project. There was a really terrible single page website that was promoting some very shady looking opt-in tele-seminar event.
What was your riskiest professional decision?
The riskiest decision by far was the one that was the most rewarding – leaving a stable job for the world of freelance and working for myself.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Tough question, I’ve heard a lot of good advice. None of it was particularly aimed at me, in person, but the wisdom on the internet and around the world is abundant. I believe the best “piece” of advice I ever watched was a video with the words of Steve Jobs. He said that this world around us was created by people no smarter than us, and it could be changed (paraphrasing, but I’m sure you can find the video in 2 seconds with a Google search). But those words were probably the truest words I have ever heard. It’s true, if we don’t like the world we live in, if we don’t like what we are doing, our jobs, our situation – it’s up to us to change it. We can change it. In fact no one but us can change it. Very motivational words – it should make everyone want to jump out of their chair and do something (or stay in the chair and do something!)
They say there’s huge competition in the design industry. What was your strategy when you started your own design studio?
I used twitter, word of mouth, social media, and it worked then – would it work now? I’m not so sure. Twitter seems to be all but dead in 2017 – while other mediums such as Dribbble, Facebook, Slack, Medium (no pun intended), and YouTube are all good tools for gaining exposure in the industry. Word of Mouth will always be the best way to promote yourself – but you have to start somewhere and make that first connection (or first few connections) before that will ever start rolling in your favor.
How hard was it to land your first customer?
It was easier than I thought, but the first customer was pretty much a dud, the first and last client that didn’t pay me.
What project you’re most excited about? Which one makes you especially proud?
I just finished up a website for Nintendo that was very exciting, but the project I’m most proud of is probably the redesign of the University of Tennessee that I completed last year. Other than that, all of my personal projects that seem to be an ongoing never ending affair bring me pride, whether they are worth the effort or not.
What question do you ask every client?
What do you need and by when?
How often should companies redesign their websites? Are you thinking of rolling out the makeover of your blog?
Every 1-2 years – and yes (in fact, I did while it took me forever to answer these questions!) – infinigeek.com and andysowards.com are newly redesigned – as well as a new addition to the blogging family, gametomatoes.com
Where do your best design ideas come from?
The world around me – internet, books, TV, movies, everything – seriously, it’s all connected in my mind and the best ideas I’ve ever had were collaborations of all the things I think about and love.
What about your blog? How do you know what’s trendy and worth writing about?
I usually write about whatever I am interested in at the time, which is a common theme in my blogging life – and my frequent blogging advice. Write about what you love, whether it is trendy or not, if you find it interesting someone else will too. Plus, if you don’t find it interesting, or love it – you won’t do it or you’ll do a terrible job. Period.
Are there any apps, devices, or software you can’t live without?
Over the years I’ve learned that apps, devices, and software come and go – there is nothing I can’t live without anymore. I use a ton of apps and devices now, but where I used to love my Macbook pro and Photoshop, I could actually care less about either of those items now. What is most important to me now are skills, and the ability to pick up anything and make it work. Code in a text editor for all I care, draw on cintiq or an android tablet, it’s all the same if you are trying to push an idea out into the world. Just do it.
What would you do if the Internet was never invented?
This question is too large to even be contemplated in this dimension. Such a history changing question – cannot be answered.
You call yourself a geek dad and family guy. How do you find the right work-life balance?
I’ll let you know when I find it.
And speaking of kids, do they already know what they want to be when they grow up? Would you like to teach them to code?
They are like me when I was a kid – they have no idea. I think that what you want to be when you grow up changes all the time – the more you learn the more your world view changes. It even happens to adults. I tell my kids this all the time and I just want them to learn everything, as much as they can so that they are later in a better place to decide what it is they want to spend their time doing. Anything is possible if they constantly test new boundaries.
What do you think is the geekiest thing about you?
That I truly enjoy and geek out on just about anything. (given I have the time to)
If you could have any superpower what would it be?
Probably the ability to answer a day’s worth of communication in 5 minutes, that would be great.
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with us, Andy!