Interview with Matt Hamm

Some time last year I interviewed Matt Hamm as I was impressed with his web design and illustration skills. At the time I was writing for an online design magazine which unfortunately didn’t progress into anything so the interview was ditched along with the blog. Recently however, Matt has re-visited my questions and has updated them based on his current work. Here it is, finally, published for all to see.

Thank you for taking time out to answer some questions Matt.  Firstly please tell us what you are up to right now design wise?

Matt: Currently I’m building a website for a sheet music download website. Lately I’ve been illustrating more characters for and working on a rather sweet little project called  I have also illustrated a children’s book series recently, which I’m really excited about.

Garry: Having followed your work for a while now its clear you have a range of skills ranging from illustration (the classic Twitter bird) through to technical skills (JQuery etc), what would you say you prefer working on?

Matt: My true love is illustration, but it’s quite hard to make a decent living from that alone. When I’m commissioned to do an illustration I cannot believe that somebody is paying me to do something which is so enjoyable. I guess it’s a similar feeling that a professional musician would have.

I have to say that I find designing and building websites in HTML, CSS, PHP and jQuery extremely satisfying, especially when it’s well crafted, works across browsers and is built with web standards in mind.

Garry: You used to work for Kyan Media What made you want to make the jump and start your own studio?

Matt: I worked as a full-time freelance designer in the past for about a year or so and loved it, although it was difficult to keep disciplined. I often would miss having the energy of an office environment and just got bored working on my own.

For years I wanted to find a ‘web developer’ I could team up with to start a co-working/freelance/office-share type of thing. When I got the job at Kyan I was chuffed to bits because they really were right on my wave length and I expected to work there for quite a while. Pete Orme @ormeski was one of the lead web designers at Kyan and his design skills and work ethic just blew me away and he was a really nice chap!

Back in October 2008 I was actually doing some freelance illustration for a design company I’ve worked with in the past and the MD approached me with a proposition. Desk space for me and potentially another person and the promise of regular freelance web design and illustration work and maybe a bit of a Dragon’s Den style investment too. This really got me thinking and I saw it as the opportunity to start something for real and the first person I thought to call was Pete. I asked him “Fancy starting a business together?” and he replied, “I knew you were going to ask me that!”

By the time we decided to take the plunge and hand in our notice, the promised deskspace ‘et al’ fell through which was a bit of a knock back at the time but in hindsite it was the best thing that could have happened to us, it has given us more freedom to do exactly what we want and it was the catalyst which started Supereight Studio.

Garry: What advice would you give to anyone looking to part company with their employer and start their own agency, studio or maybe freelance?

Matt: My advise would be to burn the candle at both ends and freelance for 6 months or so while you are still at work and save up enough money to use as a cashflow cushion for when you go it alone. It’s a real leap of faith and seems crazy at the time, you really feel like your jumping in at the deep end, but things have a habit of working out and that bit of work always seems to come along at the right time, just put feelers out by contacting old employers and clients and see what’s out there. Get social on twitter and linkedin etc.

Be prepared to work longer and more ridiculous hours than you ever have done in a job, but also be prepared to enjoy the wonderful flexibility you have when you work for yourself.

There is a great article by Mark Boulton which really inspired me:

Garry: A raft of new technologies is on the horizon, namely HTML5, CSS3 etc.  Do you have your eye on anything that looks exciting to you and any plans to use any new technologies in your upcoming sites?

Matt: I’m already using CSS3 in sites that I building at the moment, just making sure that there is graceful degradation in place. I’d love to use HTML5 but waiting for the right moment, which isn’t to far off. I’m also really excited about pushing the boundaries of jQuery and doing some unique stuff. I’m also in great anticipation of what Font Deck are cooking up a web service that will deliver fonts to websites!

Garry: As we all know, the power of social networks is growing all the time and is now (at times) a necessity for growth and new business acquisition.  Any examples of recent clients where you’ve had to bump social networking up their list of priorities?

Matt: One of our clients Freestyle Festival have really jumped on the social media bandwagon, they are using Twitter, Facebook, Bebo, Myspace and to promote themselves. Their target audience are teenagers who are social media power users, so it’s really important to cover your bases and get the word out on the social street, as it were.

Garry: You noted in one of your Tweet’s that business is good, even through a tough economic time, how do you find juggling your time between client projects and any tools you use to make life easier?

Matt: Business is good for Supereight. I believe that companies still need websites, even in the recession, websites are the most important marketing tool after all. I think that companies are cutting budgets at the moment and in order to do this they shop around a bit more and find agencies which are smaller, have fewer overheads and consequently have lower day rates but still have the expertise and professionalism to do a good job.

We tend to use Google shared calendars to manage our time at the moment, in fact we are using Google Apps in a big way. All our email is managed through it, and syncs with our iPhones. I really don’t know how we managed without it.

We are also just getting to grips with Sage for our accounting, It’s got a horrible user interface, but it’s a perfect for seeing who owes you money and the state of the business at any given time, as long as you stay on top of it its really quite simple and a quite a powerful tool.

Garry: I talk to a lot of designers and often get onto the conversation Photoshop vs Fireworks for web layouts and mock ups.  Any preference?

Matt: I use Photoshop for web design and illustrator for illustration. I used to use Fireworks a few years ago and actually preferred it as a web design tool, because of the vector capabilities and the focus on RGB and slicker integrated compression tools.  So many design agencies I worked for used Photoshop that I decided to switch simply for an easy life.

Garry: Its obvious that Supereight is off to a good start, where do you see the business in 5 years and any specific plans?

Matt: The initial plan, when we started was just to be able to pay ourselves the same amount of money we were getting as salaries in our last job. It looks like we have successfully managed to do that so far. We have moved into a new office, it’s a much nicer, bigger office and we are sharing with two other freelancers; Simon Croft a print and branding designer and Beverley Reed who is a freelance web designer.

We haven’t really formulated a plan yet, but we’d like to employ a developer at some point to help out with the more technical side of things. Over the next 5 years we’d like to stay reasonably small (no more than 5/6 people) and grow as and when we really need to.

Garry: Anything else you would like to add to our readers, any pearls of wisdom?

Matt: If you are freelancing, don’t work from home. Go and find some desk space in a creative environment it’ll do wonders for your networking and creative juices, and it doesn’t have to cost the earth. Also, try and partner up with other freelancers who have complimentary or similar skills.

All the info on Matt: