I discuss my life, work and love of airline baggage labels, in a two page interview which appears in the February 2006 issue of Web Designer Magazine.
Here is an unedited version of the article:
What influenced your career in the new media industry and what kind of academic or professional training proved most valuable?
My formal training is in engineering and apart from a couple of courses undertaken at the BBC whilst working on BBC Online projects, I am self taught in interactive design. My media experience is fairly broad having worked in tv, marketing and as a magazine photographer. I get bored easily and am not very comfortable being constrained to any singular discipline, but I see this as a positive thing. I don’t believe there is ever only one absolute creative solution to a given situation and I think gaining experience within different areas of media production adds extra resources to your creative utility belt, enabling you to consider the otherwise unconsidered.
How have your design skills improved since you first began and what would you say are the main attributes you need to be successful?
I think it is useful to have a flexible approach, and treat each project individually without limiting yourself to one particular design style.
When I first started I took inspiration from a lot of designers – the usual suspects Designers Republic, David Carson but now I try not to take too much inspiration from contemporary design, though I think its inevitable that your style is affected by trends.
I have found that with experience comes the ability to think up fresh ideas and conceptualise more quickly.
What do you enjoy most about the design work you do?
Working for such a varied selection of clients means I get to learn a lot about a number of different industries and meet people from all sorts of backgrounds and disciplines.
The challenge of taking a company’s message, distilling it down to the essence of the brand and communicating it in a direct visual form I find very rewarding. And also just having the chance to make a living from being creative and doing something I would probably be doing even if I wasn’t being paid for it, is pretty good.!
How has the general concept of web design changed during your time in the industry?
In the early days the web was populated with a myriad of sites that didn’t work effectively due largely to the fact that general principals of design taken from other media such as print and broadcasting were being clumsily applied directly to the web. The web had it’s own unique set of limitations which needed to be addressed in different ways to offline media.
With the spread of broadband and a better understanding of the delivery of rich media online, many of these limitations have been lifted and we are seeing more effective examples online of the use of the web as an effective broadcast medium for video and other media rich applications.
Internet design is, in many ways, closer to industrial design than graphic design or broadcast design – websites have users and involve interaction and are not read like magazines or passively viewed like television. With this in mind and following explorations into usability and accessibility, the web is a much saner place, though there is a danger of things swinging too far the other way, to a situation where all corporate sites start to look the same, devoid of any soul and with little to distinguish between them other than a change of logo.
Accessibility is something high on the list of requirements from many of the clients I work for and rightly so, but I always like to take an holistic approach to what I do with the aim of creating accessible sites without compromising or constraining aesthetic appeal.
Just by looking at iainclaridge.co.uk it’s apparent you like clean and functional styles. Is this something you’d like to see more of on the Web?
Clean, functional design is my own personal style but I do also enjoy the more freeform approach of designers like Juxt Interactive and where appropriate, I will break out of the restraint of minimal functionality for a more relaxed look and feel. It’s all a question of what is appropriate for the project I am working on, the client’s brand message, their product and the market they are aiming at.
At the end of the day, I think good design emphasizes the message and the brand whilst disregarding anything that will detract from it.
Would you say there’s a certain style indicative of your work? If so what would that be?
Most of my work tends to take the approach of simple, clean, functionality, stripped of superfluous decoration, letting the organization of the content itself inform the visual aesthetic. I am very attracted to the Bauhaus school and it’s emphasis on the harmony struck between the beauty of the unadorned and practical aspects of the functional.
During a typical web design project, what software tools do you favour and why?
Photoshop and Illustrator handle most of my artworking requirements. I used to use Dreamweaver for building html page templates, only really to get a grip of all the nested tables once involved in creating layouts. Now that I use mainly css to layout pages I find that hand coding is sufficient. Flash for creating image galleries, displaying video, interface applications and for adding to the ‘finish’ and user experience where appropriate.
iainclaridge.co.uk is a particularly impressive example of an online portfolio – how useful have you found it for promoting your talents online?
A website is without doubt a great tool for displaying your work to a wide audience and particularly useful in gaining work from overseas, but it needs to be used alongside offline promotion and direct personal contact.
What words of wisdom would you share with anyone looking to break into the Web design business? What are the most important lessons you’ve learned during your career?
Remember to look outside of the web for ideas.
For example, I take a lot of inspiration from product design and architecture – airports in particular with their functional but often aesthetically pleasing signage and information systems.
Airline baggage labels are a great example of an aesthetically pleasing yet purely functional piece of information design, in the way that they display a heap of information in a relatively small space and yet manage to look good without any attempt at decoration. The enlarged barcodes and abbreviated symbols look the way they do for purely functional reasons but they inform the design and almost by accident have visual appeal – well to me anyway…!
Important lessons….? Get your invoices in on time…!
Your commissions have been wide and varied. Which has been your most favourite and why?
I enjoyed working on the Solagen site because it was promoting an environmental product and environmental issues are something I am personally very interested in. The C&T site is also another favourite. But most of all I think probably the Haseltine Lake site – whilst the subject of patent attorneys is not an obviously thrilling one I think this site avoids being too dry and stuffy despite the fact that it is largely text based. The profile section with the ‘my favorite patent’ feature was included to add a human touch and to reflect the attorneys’ enthusiasm for their particular field of work. I also got to use a broad skillset on this project, everything from visual concepts, flash animation and css styling to photography for the attorney profiles.
If you could create a Web site for any company/individual who would it be and why?
Garden designer Diarmuid Gavin – because I am a huge fan of his work and because garden design is something I have an interest in and wouldn’t mind having a crack at myself one day.
What has been the proudest moment/project of your career and do you still get a buzz from the work you produce?
Having www.iainclaridge.co.uk featured in the Taschen book ‘1000 Favorite Websites’
Is there anything in particular that fuels the inspiration for your work, and are there any fellow designers or agencies who you admire or perhaps draw comparisons with?
People whose work I particulary admire would include Coudal Partners, Scholz and Volkmer and Kleber. Though I don’t get to build many full flash sites I also love the work of Group 94 and Firstborn.
In your opinion what constitutes a great Web site and what are the most common design blunders?
A great site is generally one that enables the visitor to access essential information as quickly as possible and communicates the brand effectively in a way that is appropriate to the target audience.
Good site architecture is vital and having usable pages is critical. Whilst adhering to standards and following conventions is important to a degree I don’t believe it should be at the expense of the identity or soul of the site. A lot of sites that boast about their standards compliancy are cold, uniform and indistinguishable from one another. With a creative understanding of css, however, this can be avoided.
Confusing navigation, for example hiding links beneath icons or images, or navigation bars that change their position as you move through the site are a bad idea. Having essential information like contact details buried away deep within the site is another fault commonly to be found in the sites of large organisations who really should know better.
Superfluous eye candy is a particular irritant of mine – if it doesn’t reinforce the message then leave it out.
There is sometimes a place for taking a different approach with some clients, throwing all notion of usability out of the window– take for example the Donnie Darko site designed by Hi-res. The cryptic navigation, employed on this flash based site adds to the user experience and was fully appropriate in communicating the twisted storylines of the movie.
Are you working on any exciting projects at the moment?
I am currently working on a website and re-brand for a long-established financial institution based in the City of London – The site itself is largely text based with an aesthetic built on typographical treatments of html text tightly controlled with css. A careful mix of serif and sans serif fonts will be used in this design to reflect an old organisation with a long heritage but a modern outlook.
Describe yourself in five words.
Prematurely Aged Through Sleep Deprivation