Sian, the designer behind some of the most inspiring ebook designs you will find these days, shares her insights on freelance life, graphic design and living like a boss.
Who is Sian ?
I’m a Graphic Designer and Wanderer, originally from New Zealand, currently living it up in Canada. I studied a Bachelor of Media Arts, majoring in Graphic Design, in NZ, from 2007-2009. From there I got a job across the ditch in Sydney, so I moved over for that, and after about two years in the 9-5 game I decided there had to be a better way.
At the time I started blogging and getting online a bit more, and I started connecting with some really cool people who were out there living their dreams… Since my day job wasn’t really fulfilling, being friends with people who got me, although they might have been on the other side of the world, was amazing and game-changing for me. These people inspired me hugely, and as I started to blog more and build up an online presence, my blog readers noticed that I was a designer, and started hiring me for work. From there I built up a good client base, and was able to quit my 9-5 to start my own Graphic Design biz! That was in Feb 2012, and I haven’t looked back since.
How did you get your first clients?
Mostly just as I mentioned above, through my blog! I was always connecting with people on Twitter and other social media platforms too, and the spiderweb of the internet is a crazy thing… One person links to you, and another, and it goes on and on. So I just focused (and still do) on doing good work for good people, and even to this day I get pretty much 100% of my work via word of mouth.
Where do you take your inspiration for your designs? What websites or books do you recommend for web design inspiration?
I don’t really refer to any Graphic Design websites or books for inspiration. I try to look completely outside my own industry for inspiration, and I also draw a lot of inspiration from my clients and their whole vibe + outlook on life. That way, my designs aren’t really focused on trends, or what the rest of the design world considers to be ‘cool’ at the time, and it’s actually focused on what’s best for the client and their project.
What are the most important features of a well-designed website?
For me, in everything I do, high quality photography and typography is always at the top of my list. They’re so so easily overlooked, but they’re super important and can make or break a design.
What are the biggest mistake to avoid when planning and designing a website?
The biggest design mistake of all : trying to emulate what other people are doing! I see this a lot, across the board in all kinds of Graphic Design projects. Someone else is more successful, so people think that by having an identical website or brand to this amazing, ‘successful’ person, it’s automatically going to skyrocket their business to the top too. Which in reality, the opposite can happen. You’ll never ever reach your full potential until you embrace your own personality and values, and bring THOSE to the table, 100%.
What platform would you recommend for a website/blog and why?
I’m absolutely in love with Squarespace, mostly because it’s so easy to use, and you can tell that it’s been made by creatives, who care about effective design. I always recommend it to people who want to quickly and easily set up a website that they can continue to maintain themselves, just because it’s so straightforward. If you’re planning on having a very big website that’s blog or eCommerce based, then Wordpress is a pretty sturdy option too. All of my client websites are developed with WordPress, just because of it’s scalability, and because pretty much all developers know how to work with it.
What are your favorite online tools and apps that help you plan and design a website?
For wireframing I’ve been using a new tool called wireframe.cc, which is pretty awesome. For designing, I use Photoshop. And for reviewing the designs and getting feedback from my clients, I use Conjure.
With so many social media platform available these days is a website still relevant, or can somebody just rely on Facebook Pages, Instagram, Tumblr etc? Why?
Oh hell yes, websites are still 100% relevant. I think it’s important to have a combination of a website, and a social media presence, to have a really solid brand. Social media just shares ‘snippets’ of your life and business, but they’ll never be able to completely replicate a full website.
A website creates an entire experience for your audience… You can custom design every single element of it, unlike social media platforms. You (or should I say, your designer) choose the fonts, the photos, the effects, the layout, everything, down to the finest details. You can decide how you want people to feel when they land on your site, and what kind of experience they have when they interact with it, which is a really important part of creating a memorable brand.
What designer and what business person inspire you the most?
To be honest I don’t have any specific ‘designers’ that I look up to, but a couple of people and brands that I really love include…
Free People – I’m obsessed with these guys. I love everything they do, but I love how they’re always making really minor updates to their website (i.e. they slightly adjust the logo and background pattern every time they launch a new catalog – at the start of each month), but they always stay true to their branding + values.
Red Bull – I’m super fascinated by the community these guys have created. They’re not really even selling an energy drink – they’re selling a lifestyle… And that’s what you buy into. I love following all of their events and stuff to try and decipher how they’re so successful.
Travis Rice – He’s a snowboarder, and although I don’t know shit about snowboarding, I think he’s awesome. He very big on doing his own thing and not feeling he has to conform to what everyone else is doing or talking about, and I love that. He created one of my fave movies of all time – The Art of Flight, and even though it is a snowboarding movie, it’s more about adventure and just getting after life than anything.
What does it mean for you to “Live Like a Boss”?
To me, it means to always do shit you love, even when it gets tough and you encounter resistance — you keep going, because you know there’s more out there to be learned. It means to throw away what you’ve been told, ignore the hype and discover things for yourself. It means to be your own boss — whether you’re self-employed or not… Do what you want to do, and be fucking great at it.
SIAN IMAGES AND FONT RESOURCES
Death to the Stock Photo – A free service that sends out badass, non-cheesy stock photos every month.
Stocksy – My absolute favorite resource for purchasing extremely high-quality stock photos.
MyFonts – Fonts galore!
Kris Sowersby – A kiwi typographer. In love with all of his typefaces.
BLOGS TO FOLLOW
The Fresh Exchange – Megan and Mike are awesome. They always keep it real, and they know how to tell good stories.
Paul Jarvis – I always dig hearing what Paul has to say… He tells it how it is.
In Spaces Between – Rach is a friend of mine that I’ve known for a few years, and have had the pleasure of working with a few times. There’s something about the way she writes that draws you in. Her photos and everything she does is always top notch.
And one print magazine (although you can get it online too) that I absolutely love is Renegade Collective, out of Australia. I think it’s a total game-changer in the print magazine world… Lots of stories and features from people around the world living their dreams and doing awesome shit.