There are few people in the design world who are as good at speaking and writing as they are at actually designing – Elliot Jay Stocks is one of those people. You might know Elliot from his magazine 8 Faces, in which he poses a simple question to eight great designers each issue: If you could only use eight typefaces for the rest of your life, what would they be? Or perhaps you know Elliot from his book Sexy Web Design. Or his company Viewport Industries. Or his WordPress theme framework Starkers. Or his many fascinating talks in conferences across the globe. And that’s just the beginning – if you don’t know who Elliot is yet, keep reading and you’ll quickly learn.
Elliot is also, you’ll be pleased to hear, a charming person, and a delight to talk to. He was happy to answer a few of my questions, and provided some excellent insights into his life and work by doing so.
Image courtesy of Ayşe Kongur
Hey Elliot, thanks so much for joining us on The Industry. Tell us a bit about yourself and the work you’re doing.
Thanks for having me! I’m a designer, speaker, and author. Although most of my stuff is on the web, right now I’m focusing on two big print projects: the latest issue of my typography magazine 8 Faces and Insites: The Book — the first product to come out of my new company, Viewport Industries, which I formed last year with Keir Whitaker.
How did you get into the design industry?
I’ve always been designing, ever since I was a kid, although my early designs were more about illustration. I used to do a lot of things like designing brochures for school plays and what not. Professionally, though, my first job out of university was as a Junior Web Designer for EMI Records. That was in 2004 and it all went from there.
If you hadn’t become a designer, what do you think you’d be doing now?
Possibly a comic book illustrator. That was what I wanted to do for a long time, and if I’d continued down that path, I would hopefully have ended up being decent enough at it. Sadly, I don’t get to draw very much these days, so I’d probably make quite a poor job of it if I had to do it now!
What does a typical day in the life of Elliot Jay Stocks look like?
I get up with my fiancée Sam at 7.30 and we see to our dog, Ozzy. After getting ready and having breakfast and Sam taking Ozzy for a walk and all that stuff, I start work in my home office around 9 or 9.30. With occasional interruptions from the dog I’ll try and work until about 1, then make some lunch and take him for a long walk around the fields for an hour or so. Then I’ll usually get back to work around 2.30 and work until Sam gets home at around 6.30. I often get dinner started while she walks the dog (again — maybe we’re too good to him!) and then once we’ve eaten I’ll usually attempt a bit more work, although it’s usually just trying to chip away at the email mountain. We’ll try and settle down at 9 and watch some TV or a film. That sounds like I work until quite late, but when I say ‘work’, it could be anything, including stuff for side projects, design for friends, blogging, anything. I’m pretty happy mixing work with play because I feel that the boundaries are pretty blurred. I feel very fortunate in that respect.
You use your blog to experiment with all kinds of new advancements in web technologies, from responsive background images to OpenType ligatures. At the risk of asking a clichéd question, where do you see the web going in the next, say, 5 years?
Judging purely on the way the web is going right now, I think we’re going to see more dispersion. So, less thinking in terms of, ‘this is the desktop and this is mobile,’ and more thinking about the web being on any device in any situation. We might be designing user interfaces for Google Glass! if there’s one prediction I’m sure of, it’s that we’ll stop using the word ‘mobile’. It will just be the web.
Not only do you design awesome things, but you speak and write regularly on design. If, in a hypothetical universe we all hope doesn’t exist, you could only do one of these things, which would it be?
Thanks! That’s very kind of you to say. Well, I’d have to pick design. I write about design and I speak about design, so those things would be pretty hopeless if I didn’t actually do design!
With 8 Faces, you have a great type-based question. Here’s my own, slightly more abstract, type-based question – If you could characterise yourself as a typeface, what would it be?
Oh, that’s a really good question. And a tough one! Well, I like to think that I’m not as bland as Helvetica, but I’m too scruffy to be a serif. I guess I could be a slab serif. I’m partial to slab serifs, as it is, but it’d have to be something unusual. Maybe FS Clerkenwell? It’s not too sensible; it’s got some funny bits. ‘Traditional with a contemporary twist’, Fontsmith say in their description. Well, I’ll go with that!
What does your workspace look like? Are there any design tools that you simply couldn’t live without?
It’s messier than I’d like, most of the time! You know, in terms of my computer-based tools, I don’t have anything particularly exciting to rave about. I use the Adobe Creative Suite apps the same as everyone else. In terms of other apps that allow me to do my day-to-day work, there are things like FontExplorer for font management, Sublime Text for coding, GitHub for source control. I think my favourite apps are the ones that live in the menu bar: Dropbox (possibly the best app ever), TextExpander for getting through email quicker, CloudApp for quick uploading, Bowtie for last.fm integration, CrashPlan for backup. The things I really couldn’t live without in my office are my books. I don’t look through them as much as I’d like to, but they’re there, surrounding me, and that makes me feel comfortable.
And finally, for those looking to get started in the big bad world of design, what tips or advice would you give?
I feel like I should say something really profound here. Hmmm. Well, I’ll say the same thing I say when people ask me about going freelance or starting a company: it’s not as scary as you think. And design certainly never killed anyone. I think the main thing when you’re a designer is to never rest on your laurels; to always push yourself to do something new; to always seek inspiration from others, and outside of your field, too. Great design only happens when boundaries are pushed. I mean, you don’t need to go crazy, but design is all about challenges.