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Today we have the pleasure of interviewing Christian "Kriesi", a top author at ThemeForest who consistently racks up five figures a month from WordPress themes, HTML templates, and various custom scripts and plugins. If you've ever considered designing and selling your own templates (or if you already are), this is an interview you won't want to miss!
Introducing Christian Kriesi:
Christian Kriesi is a 27 year old web designer from Vienna, Austria. Most notable among his numerous successes has been his remarkable record of successful products at ThemeForest. His net sales total is in the range of $500,000 from just a couple years as a template author. He'll soon break the 20,000 sales mark, a feat that few can even imagine in their wildest dreams.
Kriesi has been a pioneer in the world of web-template design and he has developed a style and methodology that has helped force all template designers to change, adapt, and innovate their own work to keep up.
QPlease tell us a bit more about yourself and how you got started in the field of web design - what is your specialty?
First of all thanks for having me! :)
For me it all started in high school were we had a bunch of computers that had flash installed on them. I was immediately fascinated and got hooked on computers in general and flash based web designs in particular. Fast forward a few years later I was studying computer sciences at the technical university of Vienna, but came to the conclusion that this was far too boring to do it for the rest of my live, since although interesting it somehow lacked a creative component. So I switched to SAE Vienna, a private college teaching web design & development.
During college I somehow lost interest in Flash, probably due to the fact that I didn't really get a grasp on action script at that time, and focused on html/css and later php. I started to run a WordPress Blog at kriesi.at and somehow it grew to be my digital home during the last years.
As I finished college I got hired by a small agency where I had to manage most of the web related stuff that emerged and therefore were confronted with a diversified task list which made me a good all rounder.
I tend to believe that my specialty is that I don't really have one. Over the past years I have meet a lot of people that are really experts in specific areas. They design better than I do, code faster, deliver better speeches (or interviews for that matter :) ) or market better, but I managed to get a little knowledge in all of these fields and somehow it worked out quite well for me :)
QHow did you get started with website templates?
During my time at the agency I amassed a lot of designs that didn't make the cut, so when Themeforest first opened its doors I thought I could just give it a try and release a few themes. Well, theme number one flopped and earned me a staggering $30 during the first week, which converts to the marvelous payment of 50 cents per hour :)
So I decided to never upload anything again. NEVER. EVER.
Exactly one month later my second theme was ready. To tell the truth, I am still wondering why I created another one, I simply cant tell if it was boredom, ambition, or the chance to fortune and fame :) Anyways, although it wasn't selling good it wasn't that bad either. Plus it somehow pushed sales of the first theme a little as well. So I got curious if I could continue to create better themes and generate more sales with every project. That's how I got hooked on Themeforest :)
Just a peek at Christian's workspace.
QWhat tips do you have for other aspiring template-designers?
And only after months of improving it started to really pay off for me.
Next, be sure to analyze your themes as well as other authors themes. Try to understand what people want and what they don't want. Listen to reviewers and fellow authors. Ask for help on your designs. Especially ask for design help! If your themes design is bad, the best framework and feature set in the world wont push it into the popular item list.
QDo you still freelance at all? Explain.
No :) Themeforest gave me the opportunity to work on whatever I want besides theme designing, so I have started several personal projects, that consume most of my time nowadays. One of them has launched just yet and it already gains momentum since its a gift search engine called Givester, which naturally has its peak during the next 2 months, just before Christmas. Its unfortunately a German project so not that interesting for most of yor readers, however the other 2 projects, AviaThemes and ThemeMonitor are already under development and will both probably launch during the next 3 months (and as names and top level domains suggest, they hopefully will be interessting for your audience :)
The cool thing with those side project is that the work is so different to my bread and butter theme design work. That's something I really need from time to time :)
QWhere do you look for inspiration?
Dribbble. I used to check CSS galleries but since Dribbble started to grow I check it on a daily base, and I always find new and inspiring work there. Since you only get to see a small extract, there is quite a lot of room for your own imagination, something that isn't the case if you are looking at CSS-gallery showcased websites. Also you see how other people iterate over their designs and you get feedback by the top designers of the world! Highly educational, entertaining and beneficial at the same time :)
QTo you, what are the most important skills for a web designer to have / develop?
To my mind its the inability to be satisfied with your own work for very long. If you are finished with a project and you love it, thats fine. If you look at it 3 months and 4 projects later and you think its still your best work ever, then there is something wrong :)
If satisfaction wears off after you have finished a piece of work you will try to do it better next time, therefore you will keep improving and learn new techniques along the way.
QHow have your products grown from when you started making templates to right now?
I tend to believe they have grown in every aspect. My designs are better now since I have learned a lot about spacing, typography and alignment.
Its the same with my WordPress Code. I started to code very procedural and ineffective with repeating code-blocks all over my themes. Nowadays its all very slick, class based and object oriented :)
QIf you were to pick a web design superpower to acquire in a horrible radiation accident, what would it be?
It would be the ability to overcome "designers block" whenever I need it :). I can't count the hours I sat in front of a blank canvas not being able to start something I like . A little superhuman strength to punish those who steal the designs of others wouldn't be that bad either. What super hero would I be If I couldn't somehow protect my fellow web designers ;D
A Few Projects:
Short Description: Display is a very minimal and clean Business Theme that uses the famous cu3er as a main slideshow.
Approach: Creating display was one of the most enjoyable design tasks I have ever had. I was working on a different theme at that time and then stumbled upon the cu3er slideshow in another themeforest template. Inspiration struck me and within one evening I had the whole design with subpages ready.
Html conversion was equally fast, and since it sold well instantly I thought I should put more effort than usual into my WordPress backend. That was basically the beginning of my very own theme framework.
Interesting Challenges: Since I haven't worked with flash for half a decade the biggest challenge for me was to implement the slider into my WordPress theme and also build a backend to control it. Luckily the documentation was very good and it turned out that manipulating xml files to change the slideshow behavior wasn't all that hard as well.
Short Description: Avisio is a theme intended to use for small companies. I think to this day its the most flexible theme I have ever built, thanks to the multiple layout features in the backend.
Approach: My other templates usually come with a predefined set of different skins. In Avisios case I wanted the put the user in a position to create an unlimited number of skin with just a few options to change. I am a fan of easy solutions when it comes to user interfaces, therefore I decided to offer only a few options (Base design, Background image/color, font face, layout)
These few options are enough to create a totally different layout with just 5 clicks. So if you want to create a personal wedding home page instead of a business page you just change a few options and get this instead of the default.
Interesting Challenges: The front end style-switcher was probably the most interesting challenge. It was necessary to display all those options to visitors and I couldn't use a script or plugin since they all work in a way that doesn't really fit my framework, so I had to write one from scratch.
Short Description: A Magazine theme with multiple sidebar options and a rather unique set of image slideshows to choose from.
Interesting Challenges: After the success of "display" many people asked for a blog or magazine theme with a similar style. Since its not really a good idea to release 2 themes with the same style in a row it was probably the most interesting challenge to create something that looks similar but is different enough to attract both existing and new customers.
Approach: Since the goal was to complement Display I first choose the elements that should be similar and then built a design around those elements. As you can see the header and footer are such elements, as well as the font choices and dimensions. They build the design backbone of both themes :) All I had to do then was to plan for different sized entries (full and half-sized) as well as for different sized sidebars.
Thanks for your time Kriesi, any final words?
Well, the last 2 years were probably the best of my entire career and I hope that everything continues to work out that well, but even if that wont happen: I have already met a bunch of great people because of the fantastic envato community, which I am glad to be considered a part of, so I want to thank everyone who purchased one of my themes and therefore made all of this possible!
Hopefully my future endeavors will enable me to work with even more great people within our community.