Second in our series of interviews in which we get to know our FOWD speakers better is this mini-conversation with illustrator-extraordinaire and uber web geek, Cindy Li.
Cindy is the Director of Content at Scrapblog and has been a member of the CSS working group. She has worked on freelance and corporate projects including the 1996 Atlanta Olympics monument wall, AOL.com, and more recently Ficlets.
Q. What are you into right now on the web?
A. I’ve been into flickr for ages and I think I’m an addict but that’s probably because I continue to buy more Canon lenses. Is there a support group?
Q. Which other designers inspire you?
A. Jon Hicks, Veerle Pieters, Elsa Kawai Siew, Denis Radenkovic and Nguyet Vuong. All of these designers are humble and confident.
Jon and Veerle for their consistency and constant polish on their designs no matter what they work on – plus they can code too. Elsa for her designs, photography and paintings. She’s an inspiring person to be around. Denis’ logo concepts are brilliant. Nguyet is an amazing painter that started out doing print and has moved into web designs that have the detail touches her paintings exhibit.
Q. You have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design, and your speciality is illustration, but you build and design web sites too. How important do you think formal training is to being a really good visual designer for the web?
A. It does make a difference. There are always a few exceptions but for the vast majority of portfolios I have seen, well, you can spot those that have had the training. They are just more polished when it comes to things like typography, hierarchy, color palettes and concepts. One asset of a good designer, that can’t be taught, is a good attitude to work and others. My professor from the University of Florida, Brian Slawson, asked me to speak to design students about the reality of being a designer and this is the point I was stressing most to them. A coworker, whether it be a designer or developer, should have the eagerness to learn and be passionate about their work. Without this type of attitude I find teams just don’t gel, more so there is a lack of chemistry. Be confident but do not think you are god’s gift to the world.
Q. Your talk is about illustration – what qualities do you feel illustration brings to the web page?
A. Illustration, used in the right way, adds character and body to a web page. It’s simple to add colors to a page, but it is illustration which brings those colors to life. It’s like the icing on the cake and is a great way to convey an idea – just like photography. Illustration just like everything else needs to stay within the target audience, internationalization of illustrations. Keep in mind colors and symbols have different meanings in many countries.
Q. What do you feel about much of the design on the web right now, is it in a good place, or is there too much homogeneity, or plain bad design? Do you see any differences in designers from different cultures?
A. Since web 2.0 has hit the main stream there has been a lot of reflective designs and “glassy bubbles”. That look has become commonplace so there is a lot of homogeneity but now people are starting to move away from that as it’s kind of jumped the shark.
To be fair, there is a burst of creativity if you look at different parts of the world (which I encourage you to do). Brazil, for instance, is bursting with bright colors and fluid designs attached to figures. Asia, I’ve found, also uses bright color palettes but with their cute characters selling everything from medicine to game systems.
Having said all this, as a designer I feel we still need to consider the end user and how they access the web. The majority of attendees at conferences are on broadband and aren’t concerned about download time but what about Mom back at home? You have to know your audience and no matter how great your illustrations are, if they take too long to download they won’t be seen so are no use to anyone. This is something which concerns me about some of the mainstream website designs I see. Sometimes less is better.
Q. You’re clearly passionate about being part of the web community, and going to conferences is a major part of that. What do you get out of events, and why do you think they’re important for people in the industry to go to?
A. I think working in a bubble is great if you are concentrating on a particular task but for the majority it’s best to see what is going on in the community either by reading blog posts, attending conferences or just hanging out with some fellow geeks. Meet-ups like a local Refresh (mine was Refresh DC) or BarCamps are great places to meet fellow enthusiasts and can help bring fresh light to a project. Volunteer to help organize! They are also places where you meet some great people who may not be able to afford conference fees. Even if some of the material discussed is over my head (you know I don’t actually know how to implement Ruby on Rails, LOL) I think it is important to know about it, or at least have an awareness it exists. This way you know what people you may work with on projects are doing or have to do – and actually understand some of the words they use.
Q. Any tips for first time conferencees?!
- Take photos of people with their badges (it’s always hard to remember names and business cards after about three people)
- Attend the parties.
- Don’t be afraid of talking to other people, get to know them – and if you can’t think of anything to say, ask them what they do on the web – or cough on them (that’s another story).
- Blog, flickr, and share what you heard, saw and learned – oh and discuss it with your coworkers when you return and hopefully it will inspire someone else.
Thanks very much to Cindy for taking time out to talk to us.
Next up – Jonathan Snook…