I was reading a fantastic post called ‘Why wireframes can hurt your project’ and was so impressed with the authors point of view we invited him to do an interview for us, thankfully he said yes.
Sacha is a very talented designer and generally nice dude, he was very kind to respond instantly to a comment I left on this post Why wireframes can hurt your project, asking if he would share more of his thoughts with us.
I really identified with Sachas comments like:
So without further adieu let us learn more about Sacha, his projects and design methodologies:
1. For those who don’t know you Sacha, can you tell us a little about yourself and background?
I’m a freelance designer from Paris, France. As a freelancer I have the freedom to travel a lot. So I’ve lived in the US, China, and I am currently staying in Kyoto, Japan for a few weeks. Although I come from a Computer Science background, I decided to focus purely on design a couple years ago. I now call myself a User Interface Designer because I specialize in designing apps (both web and mobile) rather than more traditional commercial sites.
2. What are your main skills and how did you learn them?
For my work, I mainly use Photoshop with a side of Illustrator. However I’m also familiar with HTML/CSS/jQuery, PHP, etc. which comes in handy for personal projects (like creating WordPress themes for example). But I guess my main skill would probably be “browsing”. I spend a lot of time reading articles about design, looking at other designer’s work, and signing up for random web apps just to try out their user interface.
I learned all of this by myself, because although I did take a lot of Computer Science class none of it was really applicable to the web.
3. What are some recent projects you really enjoyed working on?
One project I really enjoyed was working on Hipmunk.com. It’s a new travel site that promises to take the pain out of travel search by using a clever interface (and not having any ads!). The first version of the UI was done completely in-house, and while it was very functional it lacked a little bit of polish. So I worked with the co-founder (which also happens to be the co-founder of Reddit) to improve some key details. It’s always a great experience to work on a project that’s already live because you can know right away if users appreciate your tweaks (or if they hate them!).
4. Can you tell us about the design process you went through for http://www.locomotiveapp.org/
LocomotiveCMS is a personal project that I’m working on with a developer, and so we didn’t want to settle for anything less than ideal. The first couple versions where very different from the current site, and had a simpler aesthetic reminiscent of most open-source projects sites. But we then decided it didn’t pack enough graphical punch and then created this version, inspired by Mac apps sites like Kaleidoscope and Versions. In fact, there’s another redesign (or rather, “realign”) in the works, to accomodate for new pages (you’ll notice the current site was designed to be single-page and doesn’t have a navigation).
5. You threw out your personal portfolio design for a free wordpress theme, can you explain why?
Oh wow. Way to make me lose all credibility as a designer. And it’s only the fifth question! But seriously, I did this because I was getting paralyzed by my portfolio’s redesign process. I couldn’t come up with anything that I liked more than a couple days, and in the meantime my current portfolio looked like it had been designed by a 15 year old. I know realize that my design skills where simply not good enough for my own taste (thankfully, they were good enough for my clients or else I’d have been out of a job). So I decided to use a very simple free theme to get the design issues out of the way. I believe that only other designers care about how fancy your portfolio is. So if your main goal is to get clients, your work is what matters most. Which is why something simple like Cargo (http://cargocollective.com/) or a WordPress theme (for example my own Silverio theme: http://silverio.sachagreif.com/) is perfect for 90% of designers out there. Having said that, a redesign of my site is in the works, so stay tuned.
6. What is your personal design process?
It’s fairly simple. First I try to get the big picture from the client: what they want to accomplish, the project’s goals, etc. I also ask for existing sites that they like, because that can tell you a lot about what they’re looking for. The next step is usually picking a typeface. I think that’s probably the single factor that can have the most influence on the atmosphere of a site, more than color, texture, or other elements. At this stage I might also experiment with mood boards and color palettes if the project requires it, but it’s not always the case. This whole process is flexible, and depends on the type of the project and other factors (for example, does the client already have a graphical identity?).
After all this I usually have a good idea of what the client wants, and I jump right into Photoshop (no wireframes!) and start creating something. I only provide one concept and iterate on it, and it generally takes about 10 to 15 hours to generate the first mock-up (usually the home page for sites, or dashboard for apps).
7. What are 5 important factors to a good User Experience
User Experience is such a vague term that anything could be considered a “factor”. But to keep things simple I’ll just mention concrete things that designers can control:
- Typography: Stop using tiny fonts. 12 is the absolute minimum for body copy, but 14 or 16 is better.
- Consistency: If two things can be the same, they should probably be. That means using the same buttons, aligning to the same grid, and even things like using the same radius for your rounder corners.
- Clarity: Make it obvious what the goal of each page or step is.
- Coherence: Every design decision should have a reason behind it, and that reason should fit within the overall logic of the site.
- Awesomeness: If you can make it awesome, do it. Add some personal touches or features that make user go “wow, that’s neat!”.
8. How did it feel when your work was featured in Vector Tuts and The Web Designer’s Idea Book?
It felt great to be recognized for my work, but the truth is that on the Internet, if it happened yesterday it might as well have never happened. So you cannot rest on your laurels and assume that being featured in a book or a magazine will raise your profile or bring you new clients. Besides, the audience for that type of content consists mostly of other designers, not potential clients.
9. What should our trainees concentrate on learning when becoming professional Web Designers?
Never stop learning. Web Design is a profession with a ridiculously low barrier to entry, so we don’t have the protection of fancy diplomas to rely on. If you’re not improving every day, somebody else who is will come and eat your lunch.
10. Lastly, for fun, what websites can you not live without? What is on first thing and closed just before bed?
This one’s easy. It’s Dribbble. It’s probably done more for my design skills than any class could ever have. Seeing such a high level of talent is very inspiring and humbling, so it pushes me to make an extra effort for each project.
A Big Web Courses Thank You to Sacha!
Sacha thank you very much for taking the time to do an interview for us, our web design trainees will get a lot of inspiration I am sure. I wish you all the best with your big projects like for Le Monde and the AIDS data hub.
If you would like to know more about Sacha and his work, then head over to: http://www.sachagreif.com