Interview: Selene Bowlby of iDesign Studios06 · 22 · 09
Geek Girls Network: When did you first become interested in Web Site Design?
Selene Bowlby: I was first introduced to the internet back in high school, where all I had access to were text-based freenets and bulletin board services. It wasn’t long before I created my first (terribly designed) web site which was hosted in the Geocities Paris and Soho neighborhoods.
Although I majored in graphic design in college, at this point the internet was nothing more than a hobby for me. My career goal at that time was creating designs for print, such as advertisements, corporate identity, brochures, etc.
As I dabbled more in the emerging technology of the internet, my interest in the web grew tremendously. By the time I graduated, I was 100% positive that I wanted to focus on web site design and development.
GGN: What has been your favorite / most memorable project that you have worked on?
SB: This may sound odd, but to be honest, my favorite project is my own! I certainly don’t say that to toot my own horn, or anything of the sort. It’s solely because of the learning experience that I’ve been able to make out of my own site.
I’m currently on the tenth design that my web site has had in the last fifteen years – and let me tell you, it has grown a LOT! From a tiny personal Geocities site to the full fledged business web site and blog that it is today, I have evolved a great deal as a web designer through it.
My favorite part of web design is that it is an ever evolving medium – one that you can always learn more about and expand upon. While I do try to take every new client project as a bit of a learning experience, you’re never given the complete luxury of time that you have with your own personal projects. So while I try to learn at least one new technique on each of my client sites, I’ve experienced many of my web development firsts with my own site. It’s my own pet project, so to speak, and one that I continue to tweak and learn from on a regular basis.
GGN: When did you decide and what factors were involved in making your decision to start your own business?
SB: I think I’ve always wanted to start my own business, primarily for the freedom that you have working for yourself. I started my career with a few freelance projects here and there both in college, and right after graduation, while I worked as a web/graphic designer for the same company for nine years.
Although I officially started my own company, iDesign Studios, back in 2001, it wasn’t until June 2008 that I took the freelance plunge in order to run iDesign Studios full time. I was initially satisfied with just freelancing on the side for a little extra money here and there, and for the additional creativity you have working for your own clients. It wasn’t until the last year or two that I realized it was time to take matters into my own hand, and push my business to the next level.
I finally had my ah-ha moment, though, and realized that it was all about freedom – the freedom to pick and choose exactly which projects I worked on, the freedom to spend time with my family whenever I needed or wanted to, the freedom to earn the living I knew that I deserved.
That sort of thing just couldn’t be done as an employee, so after seven years of running my business “on the side” and a very difficult six months of pushing myself beyond my limits, I built up the savings and clientele necessary for me to take the leap towards running my own business full time. And I couldn’t be happier!
GGN: Do you feel there are any pressures in this industry because you are a woman?
SB: Surprisingly, I haven’t really felt any gender related issues. Possibly because I worked for the same company for nine years straight out of college, so I didn’t have to deal with potential discrimination as far as job interviews and hiring, etc.
With my own business, I focus on gaining clients solely through the internet as opposed to trying to meet with local clients via in-person meetings. With 90% of my business done via email and the remainder done over the phone, I think any gender bias is difficult to see. I could be wrong and completely naive, but things have worked well for me so far, and I have not had to deal with any extra pressures because I’m a woman.
Of course, I’m well aware that I’m a minority in the field – but when you’re out in the design community, particularly via social media, there is such a strong female population. It’s a group that I’m very proud to be a part of… and you never want to make the mistake of underestimating the drive and determination behind a woman!
GGN: What tools / skills have you acquired that you feel are vital to your success in this field?
SB: I’ve acquired many skills over the years – from increased design abilities and new web development techniques, to learning about marketing and business – you name it! I’ve acquired and honed in on so many skills since starting my business, that it’s hard to count.
But the common thread, and the most important skill (likely for any field), is the ability to adapt. In my field in particular, the ability to adapt to new design trends and new web technologies is absolutely crucial. But even more important in my case, has been the ability to adapt from casually moonlighting on the side to becoming a full-fledged entrepreneur.
Every aspect of my business is constantly changing, so the ability to adapt is the one skill that is absolutely necessary for survival.
GGN: What has been your worst web design experience?SB: My worst web design experience was one dealing with a third party programmer for one of my oldest clients. As a web designer and front-end web developer, I take care of everything on the surface of a web site – from how it looks to the initial functionality. However, on occasion, I get projects that involve advanced programming or back-end development.
From time to time, I’ll hire a programmer to enhance the functionality of a client’s web site. Most times things go well. But I had an experience a few years ago where it seemed just about everything went wrong. Almost every time the programmer made updates for the client, I would test it out to find it was not done correctly. Worse yet, the client noticed how badly the site was working. Even after the site went live, we ran into SO many issues that it was downright embarrassing.
The worst part about this was that I was the one who hired the programmer, so I felt it reflected poorly on me. It was to the point that I was afraid of loosing this client that I’d had for so many years. Thankfully, we were eventually able to get the site back on track, and they are still a good client of mine.
This experience taught me a bit of a lesson and changed how I do business. When quoting new jobs, I am very up front with the potential new client that I don’t do back-end development, and let them know they’ll need to hire a programmer to complete anything beyond my own personal scope of front-end design / development.
Has this cost me a few jobs? Most likely, yes, because I realize that some people rather have a one stop shop. But the hassles that can be involved with project management can take the fun out of your job, especially if your reputation is on the line. Of course, I’m happy to work alongside a programmer, but I now prefer it to be someone that the client has hired themselves. We can all work together, yet independently, so that I’m no longer running the risk of tarnishing my own name and reputation if someone else drops the ball. Some clients actually prefer this as well, as it gives them more control over every aspect of their project.
GGN: What message would you give to geek girls just starting out in the web design industry?
SB: For the geek girls just starting out in the web design industry, I’d tell them that perseverance is key – both in terms of running a business, if that is your goal, to keeping up to date with the latest design trends and web technologies.
The web design industry is such a wonderful one that gives us the ability to be creative yet technical all at the same time. Regardless of what you do, if it’s something you enjoy, your job doesn’t quite feel like work anymore. Pick something that you love to do and focus on just that – I’ve found that it makes for a very enjoyable ride!
Selene M. Bowlby is a web designer and front-end web developer with over ten years of professional experience in the design industry. She is the owner of iDesign Studios, a web design and development company that specializes in creating custom web sites. Selene is also a blogger who writes on topics relating to web design, small business, freelancing and work-life balance. You can connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Named as Mashable’s 85+ of the Best Twitterers Designers Should Follow in May 2009
Her article Top 10 WordPress Plugins to Promote Your Social Media Profiles was published on Mashable June 2009