Emma is a valuable member of the Unified team and has worked for the company for a little under 5 years. I took some time to chat with Emma to find out more about how she became a web designer and all that her job entails.
Emma, can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?
Sure - I'm 35 years old, and I'm originally from New Zealand. I've been living in the UK since 2012 on an Ancestry Visa, and hope to get residency soon. In my spare time I like to game and write modern fantasy fiction. I live my life by Tim Gunn's mantric advice (make it work!) and my favourite cooking show is My Kitchen Rules Australia. I also love cats. Like, really love them.
How did you get into web design?
I've always been artistic, ever since I was a kid I've been drawing and designing things. My dad's an engineer, though, and I think being exposed to his work and way of approaching problems has given me a real sense of practicality and logic, and a love of tangible results that really work. For example, when I was little I played with Barbies and spent ages dressing them up, doing their hair and everything you would expect, but thanks to him I was also building them elevators on pulley systems using empty boxes or meccano and string wound around doorknobs and other furniture. When I was about 15 years old I discovered the internet and Photoshop and started to teach myself how to use both of those things. At University I actually started an Interior Design degree before realising that my digital hobbies were what I was really interested in so made the switch across to web design. I'll still tell you whether or not your curtains look any good, though!
What does your typical day consist of?
I've worked from home for a while now so my day doesn't involve much of a commute! We start every day with a catch up within the Professional Services team where we let each other know what we're working on and discuss any new work or things we need help with, which is a great way to touch base with each other when we aren't necessarily just a short walk away. After that it really depends what sort of work we have on, and at what stage. If I'm working on a project either in the Prototyping or Implementation phase then I will be working on that pretty much full time, with some time spared to catch any customer support issues that might need my expertise as well. When in between projects I could be doing anything from writing blogs to internal work on our own website or marketing material.
When it comes to designing websites, what is a common mistake that many clients make?
I think one of the most common traps that clients can fall into is relying on their own preferences when it comes to the design of their site, as well as the devices it is viewed on. For example, a customer might not want a button in a particular place or colour because of their own likes or dislikes when in reality it would perform really well with their users in that position, or is proven to be effective when treated in a particular way. Also certain things become ubiquitous over time, such as the hamburger menu, which has been polarising in the past but is ultimately as recognisable now as a standard mobile menu device. Using a different symbol which you might think looks better may actually end up putting a site at a disadvantage if people don't know what it means.
Another one is making assumptions as to the devices used to access a website, and referring to the 'fold' in reference to their own desktop monitor. It's a great idea to check your website analytics before starting a new project and identifying what your users actually use to access your site and make sure that it looks great on all of those as a priority over anything else, and realise that in this day and age that designing for above the fold in digital is pretty much the stuff of history.
What has been your biggest web design challenge?
Without getting specific I think the most challenging thing for a visual person is designing for sites with a lot of information. I really like white space and minimalist designs so when I get a client with a lot of pages and text content it can be a little bit alarming and I really have to turn my brain into overdrive to make everything work while still being visually appealing as well as easy to digest. Sites with huge information architecture as well - think menus with a lot of links on them, or multiple menus, can also be really tricky to get right from a usability perspective.
What has been your favourite project to work on and why?
I enjoy working on anything which lets me try out new things and incorporate modern web design trends so my favourite here would be Bespoke London, which is a pretty unique showcase of high end brands put on by the folks behind the London Boat Show. The site is really contemporary and classy looking, and though I didn't do the actual design on this one I did get to build the templates which were really fun to create.
Can you share some thoughts as to how you see web design changing in the next few year - especially with voice recognition etc.
I'm not totally sure that voice recognition will change all that much in the next couple of years in terms of web design. It's been around for a while now and most devices with dictation enabled will allow you to use it while searching on just about any website already. Personally I find it a little weird to be talking out loud without anyone else around so I've been pretty slow on the uptake - I don't even have Siri activated on my phone! I'm not sure if I'm just shy to talk to an AI or if that's a sentiment shared by lots of people! In general though I think that we're just going to have to be more and more responsive and flexible as the sizes of devices continue to grow (and shrink, in some cases) and things like pixel density and HD displays get more and more beautiful to look at.
We're going to have to be really conscious of our imagery and photography and make sure that we can implement solutions to keep everything looking slick on the most modern tech - this has historically been a bit of a pain when working with a CMS too. Ultimately we'll need to be making flexible designs using technologies such as Flexbox and CSS Grid - and whatever comes next - which can easily stretch, grow or shrink to whatever is looking at it without compromising content or anything like that so perhaps we'll finally get to drop that old faithful two column layout!