Interview: Andrea Garza

Andrea, thanks for the interview—Let me start by asking you what your perfect design job would be.

What an honor to be selected, I’m excited that you contacted me. The perfect design job would be those few occasions you get to actually work on the kind of design you really love, it pays well, and everything falls into place throughout the process, and in the end, your client has a big happy smile on their face! I love cute .. but I’m still waiting on one of those ideal cute jobs to come along.

Let’s back up—So you’re a designer who loves cute? Maybe I should start by asking you to give us a brief description of yourself and the services you offer.

Well, I am a web designer. I love Jesus, my husband, my two sons, my weenie dog, pens, pencils, Moleskines, social media, photography, and cooking. I specialize in Concrete5 & WordPress and offer almost any design service related to web sites and designs for online marketing. I will work directly with clients or provide outsource work for a design company. I love a new challenge and working with people.

Sounds like we have a lot in common, but when you say web designer—would you say more of a designer or developer?

I am more of a web designer than a developer. I love creating designs and code all of my own html, css, and CMS integrations. Anything beyond that I typically hire out.Same here, I leave the deep coding of all my work to those who are best trusted with those kinds of things. Personally, my eyes glaze over when the code becomes more about the administration and security than the design itself.

So, what inspired you to become a designer?

Oddly enough, when I just had my youngest son, many years ago, and left my job, my husband decided to volunteer me to make a website for our Home Owner’s Association. I had no idea what to do, but he informed me we had a program called Front Page on our computer and he was pretty sure it was for making websites. After banging his head with the cast iron skillet a few times, I figured it out and actually loved doing it. I still laugh about using Front Page back in the day, but I’ve come a long way, all because my husband just “knew I’d be good at it”. Where would we all be without those to give us that nudge, and I’m sure we’ve all had our hands on Front Page at some point and time—even though many of us may not want to admit it.

You’ve mentioned your husband, but was there any person in particular who you have looked up to as a designer over the years?

Mostly I have looked up to illustrators, but no one in particular really.

Fair enough, that leads me to my next question—Are you self taught or do you have a formal degree in design, and do you have any arguments for or against a formal design education?

I am 100% self taught. Everything from Photoshop, Illustrator, HTML, CSS, and more. During those years, Barnes & Noble spent a lot of time wading around in my bank account.

If wishes were fishes. I started designing late in the game and with young children it just didn’t make sense for me to go back to school for something I was only planning on doing part time from my home. I say, if you have the time and money, I am a big advocate of a formal education. Basics are the things that lend to creativity and understanding of the big picture. You just can’t beat a good solid foundation, I regret now, not having that experience in this field.

So, how many years have you been in the field?

Formally 8 years, informally 11 years. I live in a rural area in the Texas Hill Country, so I guess you could also say I’ve been in the field for 41 years if you really wanted to get technical about it.

Awesome, maybe I should rephrase that question in the future. So I’m curious, what was your first design job?

My first paid job was designing a website, logo, and basic print collateral for my dentist. I wish I could say we bartered for service, but no free dental work was included. I wouldn’t trade the deal for anything, they were so supportive and they knew they were my first “real client”. That job gave me the confidence I needed to keep going because they were such an enthusiastic group of women who really built me up. Thanks again for that, ladies!

Have you ever been published?

Not in this field of work, but you may have heard me on the television when it goes “beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!!!!  If this were an actual emergency … blah blah blah”. That is about as close to fame as I’ve ever gotten.Awesome.

As a freelancer or owner of your own business, do you have any one piece of advice for others looking to do the same?

Learn how to market yourself.  Learn what your strengths are and use them to help your potential customers know how your specific skill set can be used to help them solve their marketing problems. Also, learn more than one style and more than one kind of design. If you can offer other services, you can use your creativity to work on a broader range of design, not to mention more money in your pocket.

You mention the word “learn” a lot in that last answer. What is something you know now, that you wish you had learned before getting into design?

I wish I’d had a much stronger understanding of color as it relates to emotion and action or non-action. I also wish I knew I should have been networking with designers, code guru’s, and developers. I could have been cranking out a much higher caliber of work if I’d had a network of support around me. Never underestimate the power of a solid network of people that can support your work and help you grow.

So what is the most important thing you have learned?

I have learned how to “make a sale” by really knowing what I have to offer and how those skills and traits can help my clients’ business grow and solve their problems. Without the ability to sell yourself and your work, you just can’t make it as a freelancer. I’ve learned its never how great I am and what I can do, its all about them and how I can solve their problems. Once they see I am listening to their needs and not just giving them a list of how great I am, they begin to trust me. Almost all my first designs get approved because I help my clients understand why and how it will work for them as I hold their hand through the design process. This process has saved me from spending countless hours of work and heartache on unnecessary redesigns, not to mention it has gotten me a great number of referrals. So much so, that I don’t advertise at all and almost strictly work off of referrals.I think you’ve got something there. As designers, we need to remember that our goal should be to fulfill the needs of the client as much as it is to provide a high-quality design. After all, a design is really only successful if it’s appreciated by more than the designer.

I gotta ask, Are you a pressure person or would you rather design with plenty of time?

I can work either way, but I tend to get stressed out fairly easily so prefer plenty of time to work whenever possible.

What is your strength when it comes to design?

If you need a warm design that is full of detail and elements, I’m your girl. I work mostly with corporate design so I’ve got that look and feel down pretty well, however; if you gave me a choice, I would choose something fun since I love illustrations and typography and I would smile during the entire process.

What designs are you sick and tired of seeing?

I hate to say this out loud, but just about any design that looks like it came from Theme Forest … they all look the same anymore and the web is getting overrun with cookie cutter sites that have come from those themes. While a great deal of the design is good, it is very limited in creativity and it seems fewer and fewer designers are thinking outside the box … and has created a trend that I’m ready to see disappear!

Where do you go for design inspiration?

Recently I’ve been spending a great deal of time on Dribbble, but I also check links from Twitter daily, and I like CSS Mania, Abduzeedo, and Smashing Magazine. Offline, a walk around the area I live always inspires me.Yeah, Dribbble has been a recent source for myself, but I never quite can beat just being out in the world. So much of what inspires the great designers out there never reaches commercial design.

So, everyone asks this—what’s your web development or design software of choice?

I use a fairly “unknown” editor. I hand code my designs using Blumentals WeBuilder 2010 for all CSS, HTML, Javascript and PHP. I just love it and can’t say enough nice things about it. I prefer it far more than Dreamweaver.I’ll admit that I’ve not heard of WeBuilder, but you bet I’ll be checking it out after this interview.

What are some of the critical tools you use in your designs on a daily basis?

For design I almost strictly use Photoshop and Illustrator.  I rarely use any other tools to develop any type of design, other than my trusty Moleskine and Sharpie Pen (in black, of course). I’d say probably 90% of the stock photos I use come from iStockphoto.

What do you feel are the most important skills for a designer to have or develop?

Every designer should strive to have a strong foundation in typography and color theory, along with some real marketing savvy. It isn’t enough for it to just look good, after all, a good design isn’t great unless it is effective.

What has been the greatest challenge in your quest to become a better designer?

I tend to sit and compile information, and sift through pages and pages of inspiration. Sometimes I just need to quit looking and start DOING. I sometimes limit my creativity on my web designs because I am not sure how to code something complex, but recently I’ve partnered with a few developers and that has really helped unleash new possibilities for me.

Some more personal questions, are you an introvert or extrovert?

When I’m around a group of close friends you can’t shut me up, not even with duct tape. If I’m around people I don’t know, you might not even know I’m there.

Planner or a doer?

People who know me would laugh out loud at that question. I think my middle name is “planner”, or at least it should have been. I’m a list making fool, always coming up with new ideas, and planning every last detail. I’m a planner, unless it is for a client, then I’m a DOER!

What are the top 5 sites you’d recommend to fellow designers?

Behance Network, Smashing Magazine, A List Apart, Font Squirrel, Envato’s Tuts + family of tutorial sites.

What are the top 10 applications you use on your smartphone?

You’re kidding right? I’m not sure I have anything on there other than Angry Birds and Facebook! Well, I know they are on there, but they don’t get much attention since Angry Birds came into my life. Aside from that I’d have to say Gmail, Calendar, Evernote, Kindle, Quotes from C.S. Lewis, HootSuite, MailChimp, and Amazon.

What was your favorite cartoon growing up (or now) ?

Scooby-Doo (until that annoying little Scrappy came along). Now, I love Spongebob Squarepants. I secretly wish I had square underwear and a starfish for a best friend.

What are you currently reading?

The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren

Thanks for the interview, any final thoughts or information you’d like to share?

I believe if you are going to work as a freelancer, you have to learn to get up, get it done and then QUIT for the day and weekend. Just because you work from home, doesn’t mean you should work all day, all night, and all weekend. Your designs will suffer from it, right along with your social relationships. Get out, get some exercise, take a break, and when its 5:00 its time to stop working and spend quality time with your family and friends or just watch some TV and be a couch potato. Nose to the grindstone only creates burnout and lifeless, uninspired designs. The world around you should be your best source of creativity, get out and enjoy it, the job will be there tomorrow.

Andrea W. Garza is a web designer living in New Braunfels, TX. She’s the owner of Cinchsite, LLC. which can be found online at www.cinchsite.com You can check out her personal  website at www.andreagarza.com or look her up on LinkedIn. She’s also a regular on Dribbble, LoveDsgn and Forrst—not to mention Twitter and Flickr.

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