KevinClark

Let's get to know you first. Tell us about yourself.

Hi, my name is Kevin Clark and I'm a product designer at Shopify in Montreal. Before that I was a freelancer doing work for startups and small agencies.

I design interfaces for the screen. Sometimes these interfaces help them do things they didn't think was possible, sometimes they serve as a medium for information, but most of the time, they help people connect.

I never really planned on doing design professionally at first, for me it was just something I really loved doing in my free time. I spent countless hours reading books and going through online tutorials to learn Photoshop or the basics of HTML and CSS for fun. It's a bit later than it clicked that I could do that for a job (even though it didn't feel like one). That's around the time I dropped out of university and started focusing on my career in design.

Cool, so what's the story behind your website and its design?

They say the best way to learn something is to just get started. So that's what I did. I bought the domain name, cracked open Dreamweaver (you have to start somewhere, right?) and a couple of months later I had a website. It was a weird mashup of three sites that I loved, had only a few pages and looked terrible, but I thought it was the most amazing thing in the world.

It always amazed me that I can sit here from my kitchen table in Montreal, press a button and suddenly, people from all over the world can see what I built and interact with it.

It's gone through many revisions now, but it always had some sort of blog section where I can write about whatever I think is interesting at the time, which for the last couple of years has been the intersection of design, technology and culture.

Having my own site has always been important for me. Designing for others is fun, but there's something special to designing something for yourself. To me it's the ultimate sign of craftsmanship, a bit like an architect building his own house.

It saddens me to see so many designers writing on (should I say for?) Medium these days. When you think about it, your personal site is one of the only piece of your online identity that's not owned by a big corporation. It’s by sifting through the source code of people like Jeffrey Zeldman, Jason Santa Maria, Elliot Jay Stocks, Wilson Miner, Frank Chimero, Dan Cederholm (and many more that I'm forgetting right now) that I got started, so it just feels natural that I do the same. Is it more work to design, build and maintain your own site? Yes, but it's totally worth it if you ask me.

What part of your website is your favourite, and why?

The fun part about my website is that I can mess around with it however I like. I can break things. Try new things. Most of them end up not being a good idea, but some of them are, and that process of consistently pushing the limits of what's possible is what makes you evolve as a designer.

I'm in the process of redesigning right now, so I kind of hate everything, but I think if I got one thing right with this version is the style/tone. Tungsten and Ratio have turned out to be stunning typographic choices (I love them more and more every day), so they'll definitely be sticking around.

Is there anything you wish you knew when you first started building your website?

Oh man, so many things. But that's why we're always redesigning, right? Responsive web design was just starting to gain traction when I started designing the site so some breakpoints really need some love (especially at tablet sizes).

I also wish I knew about the benefits of having your code version controlled (using Git) even when you're working on your own. My current setup is optimized for publishing new posts, but the fact that everything is stored right in Dropbox (more on that later) makes it painful to improve the design and the content iteratively.

Technologies, languages, frameworks, or libraries?

I can get very geeky about that stuff, but if you're interested, here's the abridged version:

  • The whole website is powered by Statamic, a flat files CMS which allows me to write posts as static markdown files, drop them into a Dropbox folder and have them appear on my site (hosted on a VPS server) in seconds.

  • I also use Sass and Bourbon, a lightweight mixin library to speed up development which is automatically compiled to CSS by my server.

  • I'm also using my personal, super minimal framework of things that I find myself using over and over again. (I'll make it public soon, I promise.)

  • I'm using a bit of jQuery for the collapsible navigation on mobile, but nothing fancy.

Any upcoming changes we should look out for?

Yes! As I've been hinting throughout the interview, I'm working on a redesign, which is a more mature and refined version of the current website. It reflects a lot more where I'm at right now as a designer and as an individual. It's an evolution of the current design that builds upon a few concepts that I've already established and scales back on some things that didn't turn out to be as good an idea as I originally thought.

The new site also reflects a shift in priorities, going from freelance to having a full time job and being a lot more picky about the kind of things I want to work on in my spare time. Also expect a revamped portfolio which will serve as an archive of my work and focus more on the whole process rather than just the final product. I'll also keep posting new articles, so look out for that! You can always follow me on Twitter if you want to stay up to date with what I'm up to.

Interview date: 22 Jan 2014Permalink