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Interviews

Exclusive Interview with Liz Andrade (CMD+Shift Design)

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Trained in design, and a self-proclaimed “web geek,” Liz Andrade has been working in the design field for several years. With experience working as the principal web designer at a Seattle boutique-style firm, she took a knowledge and passion for web to her own one-woman design studio, located in Seattle’s Lower Queen Anne neighborhood.

Today, we'll interview Liz to find out more about her studio, CMD+Shift Design. She'll even walk us through a few of her projects to show us a little bit more about how she approaches different design challenges. Let's dig in!


The Interview


QTell us about your decision to run your own studio vs. working at another studio.

No matter how much you love your job, no matter how cool your boss is — you're still executing the vision of someone else. The way you interact with clients, the way work is presented, the philosophy and attitude of a small business comes from the owner. I had my own ideas of how I wanted to do things, present things, the philosophies and attitudes… so I had to start my own thing.


QHow do you feel Illustration, Graphic Design and Web Design relate to each other - how do you go about incorporating one with the others?

I see these are all different mediums under the larger umbrella of design. Some projects call for a marriage of illustration with web design... and some some projects are more focused on one medium — it's all about using the right solution for each specific project/client.


QWhat are your best methods for finding clients?

Most of my clients come to me by referral — and then there is a group that randomly find me through my website. My greatest marketing effort is just to deliver good service to my clients — when they're happy they tend to want to talk about the experience with others.


QWhere do you look for inspiration?

I get inspired a lot by my clients. My favorite person to work with is someone who is really passionate about their business and what they do. When you're around someone like that you just can't help but get excited about it yourself!


QTo you, what are the most important skills for a web designer to have / develop?

Observation and listening. I feel like the best work I do is when I am able to take a step back in the early stages and focus on listening to the goals of the project and really studying the needs of the clients community. Jumping too quick into a solution when you don't fully understand the problem is probably one of the #1 mistakes designer make.


QYou design a lot of projects on the WordPress platform, Can you explain what you like about WP?

My first experience with Wordpress was from using it on my own blog (cmdshiftdesign.com/blog.) Originally I used a pre-made theme and then modified it to fit the design I had in mind. I really learned Wordpress by just jumping into it feet first! I'd change things and see what happened, I'd break things and figure out what I did wrong, I'd pick apart other themes and figure out what was good practice and bad practice.

When I started to see how versatile the software really was, I started selling my clients on it. It's not JUST for blogs — and while it isn't the right solution for all projects, it can do a lot of cool things! I love that is is so easy for my clients to use, it's great to give them the power to control their brands message. It's great that they can do that and feel totally comfortable.


QIf you were to pick a web design superpower, what would it be?

Some sort of web-user mind reading maybe? To be able to look at a website and hear the thought process of the people using it. This could be a great time saver for the design process (no need to schedule any usability testing!) and possibly just entertaining!


The Case Studies


My Green Lake

My Green Lake

I worked with the owner and editor of MyGreenLake.com to do a redesign on this blog that features daily news for the Seattle neighborhood of Green Lake. Amy was using a prepackaged theme that was cluttered and she had a laundry list of features her users where in need of that she wanted to integrate into the site without just adding to the clutter.

How did you approach the start of the project?

We took into consideration the needs of her users and advertisers — restructured the information on the site and gave the whole look a polish that has made it easier for her readers to interact with.

Were there any interesting challenges (either with the project or with client management)?

It was important to me with this project to not only stream line the design for the end-user, but also simplify the backend for Amy — so that maintaining her website could be stress free. She was updating all of her advertisements by editing page templates and having to fuss with updating files via FTP which she was not comfortable with. By allowing her to now manage all of her ads within Wordpress she feels like she has better control over her website (which is better for her, her readers and advertisers!)


Undead Labs

Undead Labs

Undead Labs came to me as a start-up game development studio. They had a set date for when they would be announcing the company and it's mission to create a console based MMORPG of a Zombie apocalypse. They had a branding system and needed a blog, it was a really rushed turnaround — but ended up being a ton of fun and I'm really excited to be involved in such a cool project.

How did you approach the start of the project?

I totally landed this job by being a nerd. The client called me up after seeing my website and told me about his start up studio. He said “We're going to be creating a console based MMORPG, which — do you know anything about what that is?”

Me: A Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game.

Him: Oh.. you do. Awesome… what do you know about Zombies?

Me: Oh My God! Are you Making a Zombie Apocalypse MMORPG!?!? THAT'S SO COOL!

It was apparent — we were going to work just perfect together.

It was a fast-paced gig (i chronicled the process of doing a rushed project in a video diary - http://cmdshiftdesign.com/blog/tag/rush-project-video-diary) design done within 2 or 3 days and then development of the Wordpress site in bout 3 more. It was a lot of long days and communication with Undead Labs. When you're working on a rushed schedule, there is no room to go off on the wrong path!

Were there any interesting challenges (either with the project or with client management)?

It was a roller coaster, we did an initial round of design on the first day and then I started day 2 finding out that the branding had been changed — so we almost had to start all over again — but it was worth it, the end result ended up being 100% better!


Pioneer Squares

Pioneer Squares

A couple months after finishing the Undead Labs project, the studios owner called me up to tell me about the Christmas gift he wanted to give to his wife… A new blog. Annie had a blog set up on Blogger where she wrote about her kids, family trips and the neighborhood that they live in and love so much — Seattle's Pioneer Square. I agreed to the project and Jeff set up a meeting with me and his wife to get started on her present.

How did you approach the start of the project? Were there any interesting challenges (either with the project or with client management)?

Annie's blog is purely personal — she is not growing a business or marketing to any market. So this project was a little different from many of my others, it was all about tapping into her style and translating that into this 2 dimensional space. At first, I was a little lost on how to do this — then, in the archives of her posts I found photographs of the condo Annie shares with her family in Pioneer square. It's an absolutely beautiful space! Sparsely filled with simple modern furnishings. The walls adorned with russian propaganda poster art. ….I suddenly felt like I understood her, and understood that to her — her blog was an extension of her home… a way to invite her extended friend and family network into her families life — so I set about designing something that felt like you were going to visit Annie, Jeff and the kids in Pioneer Square.


Jodan Duvall

Jordan Duvall

Jordan Duvall is a fashion photographer in LA and I worked with her on creating her logo and identity system. We then applied that to various print and digital marketing pieces for her — including her online portfolio, which was set up with Dripbook.

How did you approach the start of the project?

Many commercial photographers use template portfolio services, Livebooks is probably the most widely known — but there is a lot of them out there — Dripbook, ShowIt, A-Photofolio. The challenge of working with these is trying to work within the limited customizing options and still getting something that presents the clients work and is branded. I find it's best to keep in mind that - it's the photographic work that should be the focal point here — not the design.


Conclusion

Thanks to Liz for making herself available for this interview!

I think it's interesting to hear other designers talk about their projects, their lifestyle, and their workflow. We'll be doing a couple of these interviews with other web designers, developers and projects managers every month, so if you have any additional questions that you want to see become part of the standard set, let me know in the comments!

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