Originally this post was not going to include an interview. I had every intention of doing thorough research on the topic of “what it takes to become an elite web designer” and then provide some clear guidelines and best practices that anyone can follow.
However, as I began to do the research what I found was that there are many articles out there with general advice for designers, so instead I decided to tap one of the industry’s most requested digital designers for his take on things.
Who is Jeremy Merrell Williams?
Jeremy Merrell Williams is the cool, funny, and intelligent guy who stays outside the box while we all have parties and drink cocktails inside the box. He grew up in the small town in Westlake,Louisiana where his imagination ran wild thanks to watching repeat plays of Little Monsters, The Goonies, Robocop, WWE, X-Men and nearly every film about kings and queens.
His super long (natural) dreadlocks and calm nature maybe deceiving and even intimidating to many at first, but a 5 minute conversation would blow your mind and leave you thinking about many things that you never thought of before.
With an addiction to tech, design, and all things creative; Jeremy has worked his way through the long and hard road of the entertainment industry to the more rewarding yet private world of tech underground stardom.
With a long catalog of apps and websites under his belt, Jeremy has begun to make a name for himself in many circles ranging from celebrity to corporate.
His #1 client; Luxottica, (an Italian eyewear company. Based in Milan, Italy, whom just happens to be the world’s largest eyewear company) has given him a major boost of acclaim and recognition within the realm of highly requested digital designers & web developers.
Interview with Jeremy Merrell Williams
The following interview was conducted via email. Due to some scheduling constraints, there wasn’t time for a big back and forth session, so I tried to ask every relevant question I could think of right up front.
Q: Currently you are Chief Architect at Vyudu Inc and CEO of a yet to be announce Tech startup. I imagine that when the average web designer or someone who wants to become a web designer sees a byline like that it feels completely unattainable. Did you imagine when you began designing that you would be where you are today?
The truth is that all though I’ve come far, there’s so much left to do and become. I originally wanted to be a big time music producer or record exec, so design and tech was more of a natural mutation versus a goal. I don’t care who you were, no one could have told me that I wasn’t going to be a major music exec at that time. It was a childhood dream and passion.
I was able to work with and at many music agencies and labels like Atlantic Records, Warner Bros, and others but I never reached my goals in that industry. It was a fun ride while it lasted though.
I may be an inspiration to a handful of people in the design & development field today but there are so many more people out there who I aspire to match or surpass when the time comes. This industry produces new talent every day. I’m getting hot now but the nature of the beast is that a new talent is destined to rise out of the shadows. I will keep learning and keeping up with the trends until my time is up but I will make sure that doesn’t happen for at least another 10 years 🙂
Q: When (and where) did you begin designing?
I can quite pinpoint when exactly but it was likely around 2005 or 2006 in New Brunswick, NJ. I had just purchased my first computers/laptops ever. It’s crazy that I was in my early 20’s before I owned my first computer(s). From there, I started working with photoshop by altering and manipulating photos for myself and some music friends as an attempt to design some album artwork.
I didn’t become skilled at it until around 2008-2009 though. That’s when I started to learn about balance and how not to go crazy with ideas.
Here is what I considered my first professional design back in 2008 for a New Jersey DJ.
Q: What was your very first web design job & how did it go?
My first paid job was for a startup fashion brand called Herds of The Fathers. I designed their site in Joomla (an award-winning content management system (CMS), which enables you to build Web sites and powerful online applications.)
I did a decent job, but I could have done much better. I was still new at things and had not found the balance of proper communication and translating a client’s vision into a technical manifestation. I avoided a refund but to this day, I wish I tried harder. The were two young guys based in New Brunswick with dreams beyond the continent. I believe they are doing pretty good all these years later. They manufacture and sell beautiful leather bags, boots, and accessories.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced in your early years as a designer and How did you overcome it?
Communication and client management was very hard in the beginning. As a freelancer, you must manage all aspects of the business from sales to project management, and the design process. Oh and don’t forget tech support. The practice that I got in the early 2000’s certainly made me tough and knowledgeable. I trained myself in everything I know today and fine tuned myself over the years. I’m now very clear, concise, and honest with my clients and would never agree to be a yes man. Some clients hated my honesty and straight talk in the early years and to be honest a few still do, but they know that they are working with one of the most honest people that they will ever meet in their life and they know that they will get a quality product in the end.
I now have a process that involves agreements, invoices, a design phase, a build phase, and review phase. This means that the project as a whole is now protected from absolute failure by either party. Billing was also a very difficult thing to manage because you never want to be a nuisance but thanks to quickbooks and a few customer management tools, that’s all a piece of cake now.
Q: What kind of skills should designers focus on developing today?
I think designers should develop their skills step by step. Sometimes we tend to focus too much on the process, while other times we focus too much on the finale.
Capturing the client’s vision may be the most important thing to do before anything because If you know where they want to go, you can jump in and help them design their road map before you start working and reworking over and over again. Understanding the vision and mocking up that vision first, then having the client sign off on it will save you hours and days of repeat work. Next step would be to find all the CSS3 and/or js effects/transitions that you can find so you can share your animation related ideas with the client before hand or you can save that and just surprise them in your first demos. That’s what I like to do.
Q: Is there a particular skill or attribute that you feel has made the most difference in your own career?
My hunger to learn and experiment has been the driving force of my growth through the years. If not for that, I don’t know where I would be. I constantly read many related and unrelated topics to keep my mode of thought outside of the box. I also pay close attention to the art world from a visual standpoint more than academic. This keeps my understanding of artistic beauty in-check before I start sampling and losing myself over the many js libraries out there lol. I’ve learned that in this industry, less is more and many times, more is less.
Q: During the course of your career so far, have you had any design mentors?
A designer in Spain was the first person that I worked with that opened my eyes to beautiful minimal design. To this day, I regard his as the greatest designer that I have ever had the pleasure to know and work with. We worked together for 3 years and I learned more than I would have learned in a college course or bootcamp.
Q: You began Vyudu Inc 2011. What was it like transitioning from a freelance to running your own design company?
I worked for other companies at the same time as ramping up my Vyudu Inc. company and actually had to pause for a year or so before refocusing and paying more attention to growing the business from a few projects per quarter to a few projects per week. It was tough at first because of the multiple hats that you have to wear to make things work effectively. Billing was tough and my contracts were too simple. The development part was also tough to manage all on my own so I brought on strategic partners to help me with the dirty work that one would consider more boring so that I could focus on the design and the the cool feature functionality. Now it’s all very easy because I have many of sales and marketing needs automated so I can focus on the fun stuff and better communicate with my clients. I also have my team of code ninjas to help me on the large projects.
Q: Finally, if you were to give just one piece of advice to someone starting out today who has the goal of one day becoming a great web designer, what would it be?
Learn through strategic partners and study design and art outside of the web design world. Beauty goes beyond the confinement of tech and you can basically allow yourself absorb elements from many different worlds, cultures, and industries. This will help you grow your color and thought pallete when it’s time to design. Also, don’t trust yourself with colors based on your imagination. Read up on color theory.
Jeremy Merrell Williams and his company Vyudu Inc. has been producing quality websites and apps for a few years now, with the best happening over the past year and a half. He teaches us that you can come from just about any background and master a new skill if you put your mind to it and allow your mind to fly outside of the box. He has many top name clients but plans on growing his client base far beyond where he is today. Strategic partnerships seem to be his main focus these days. This would allow him to work with more clients faster and more effectively through other project managers which frees him up from having to double as a project manager himself.
The web design industry is huge with new stars appearing every night. Lets see how long his star continues to rise before the industry changes again as it always has since its inception.