Here at The Industry, we’re all about discovering and showcasing new talent, as well as celebrating existing talent. Whilst I’d hardly call Oli Lisher “new talent” (He’s been at this design thing for 7 years now), I think he’s something more exciting – He’s one of those designers who, it would appear, is constantly on the up and up – This year, he’s working with some very exciting startups, and speaking at his first conference. 2013 is going to be a very good year for Oli – Watch this space!
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Oli to talk a little about success, designing his own personal website, and regrets.
Hey Oli, thanks so much for joining us on The Industry. Tell us a bit about yourself and the work you’re doing.
Hi Conor, thanks for having me. I’m a graphic / web designer, and front-end developer working from Chichester in the UK. For the past 7 years or so I’ve worked for design agencies and as a freelancer, and now I work mainly for San Francisco based startups, like Coderwall and Pitchbox.
I’ve just finished designing the new desktop app for Mixture.io, which is an awesome front-end development tool for Mac and Windows. I’m currently working with US-based Pitchbox on their marketing site, as well as the design and front-end for their career matchmaking service, which is turning out to be really rewarding process. Anyone interested in finding a new opportunity should check it out.
How did you get into design?
I’ve always been interested in art and design, at school they were the only subjects I really did well in. I’ve also always been interested in music, and I did a music production degree after college. During the course there was module on the much-maligned (at the time Macromedia) Flash, where we were asked to produce a personal website to promote our music making and production skills. From there I started using Flash to make websites and animations, and learnt some basic HTML and CSS.
When I finished the course I was actually far more interested in web design than the music side of things, and started doing small freelance projects, I then got my first job at a small local design agency.
If you could change one thing about your career to date, what would it be?
I’m not sure I’d change anything in particular, I think most things can be used as a learning experience. There have been a couple of situations I look back at and think I could have handled differently, but again it all feeds into your experience.
Something I’m trying to do for the future is to make time to learn, be it a new technology or a new design technique etc. I recently had the opportunity to set up Jekyll, and learn about templating with Liquid, which lead onto using Mixture.io for front-end development. I think this sort of thing can be really useful, keeping you up to date with new developments as well as keeping you enthused.
If you hadn’t become a designer, what do you reckon you’d be doing now?
As I studied music production, maybe something to do with that. Working in a recording studio somewhere, or something in the music industry perhaps.
To me, your style seems to be based on the “retro” aesthetic, but with a strong geometric twist. Did you try and build a style for yourself, or was is simply something that evolved? How important is it, do you feel, for designers – or even web designers in particular – to have a defining style?
I don’t know if I would say my style is purposely “retro”, I think that particular look worked for some of the projects in my portfolio. Thinking about it now, it might also be a bit of an unconscious reaction to the trends that we see coming and going. I think in general it’s better not to follow trends if possible and try to produce work that stands out on it’s own. The key thing is that the design of each project works for it’s own purpose and the client’s goals.
I think style in general does naturally evolve based on what stimulates you as a designer, and what you find most interesting as a source of inspiration. When I get the opportunity to have free reign visually on a project I always try to make something that is visually impactful and hopefully memorable. But it should go without saying that the design, whether for print, web, app, or whatever, has to fulfill its function, but that doesn’t mean you have to compromise visually.
I suppose it does help as a designer if you have a style that runs through your portfolio, it might be something that makes you stand out from the crowd, but I don’t think you necessarily have to think about that when designing.
So, you recently redesigned your site. Now, your previous site was the kind of site that got featured in every web design gallery out there – Did you feel any pressure to, I suppose, live up to your previous design with this new one? Which was harder, the initial design or the redesign, and why?
Only the pressure I would normally feel on any project to produce something I’m proud of. I think most designers have a hard time designing their own site, it’s quite a personal thing.
I was lucky to have the last version of my site feature on quite a few design galleries and blogs, it was really nice to see it popping up around the web. At the time I didn’t have much client work I was able to show for various reasons, so I made sure it was designed in a style that represented the type of work I wanted to do more of.
I wouldn’t say one was harder to do over the other particularly, the main goal of this new iteration was to display the work I’ve been doing. I think there is a danger of over complicating things, making it difficult to navigate through the work. If I put myself in the position of a potential client, I’d want to see the work over anything else, so that’s why on my new site the homepage is the portfolio. Hopefully the new site does a good job of showcasing my work and information, I’ve had some nice positive feedback so far.
Where do you see yourself in, say, 5 or 10 years?
Hopefully working on interesting projects with a bigger portfolio of work behind me. I still very much see myself in the early part of my career, still with loads to learn, and challenges ahead to solve.
Working closely with startups like Coderwall and Pitchbox has shown me what it is like to really be part of a product or service as it grows, which is really exciting. So, hopefully I will still be working with those guys, or maybe I will have my own product by then. Whatever happens I will be doing something to do with visual design.
How would you define success? Do you think you’ve found it yet?
Personally I think there are different levels of professional ‘success’, and of course this will be different for everyone. I have to say I feel incredibly lucky to be in the position I am. I am able to design and create things for the web, for great clients and companies all over the world and get paid for it. In our industry we are on the cutting edge of technology, our clients are happy for us to work remotely, communicate via Skype and work flexible hours.
I am always striving to learn and improve, I want the next piece of design I do to be better than the last. I think that’s a feeling designers in general have, it’s what keeps me going. It’s almost a feeling of anxiety, the want to get up in the morning knowing you can design or create something today and you want it to be better than the last thing you did yesterday.
That’s a fun aspect of working with startups, the ‘agile’ approach of shipping lots of updates or building out an idea to test it is really exciting, knowing you can get something in front of people and have them interact with it quickly.
And finally, for those looking to get started in the big bad world of design, what tips or advice would you give?
I would say firstly, it’s an amazing space to be working in, but secondly, be aware that you have to put in the hours. Not just literally the amount of hours you might spend on a project, but the time it takes to practice and learn about design, I think that only really comes with experience.
A great piece of advice I was given is to “do the type of work you want to do more of”, so if you really want to do responsive web design, for example, make sure that your portfolio reflects that.