I like building things that are designed to be flexible and scale, because it requires me to think in abstract and interesting ways
My dad was my main entry point into the creative world. He teaches CDT (technology and graphic design) and was my teacher through high school. At home as a kid, I had his work tools as my toys - I was coding on computers, playing with electrical components, and using CAD packages from a relatively young age. When I wasn't doing one of those, I was playing with lego or making something from something. My parents always encouraged this.
When I graduated from University with a music degree, I started working as a freelance software developer to pay the bills. This grew into Katana, my app development company today.
"Estimates for how long a piece of software will take to build can be like asking someone how long it will take them to solve a book of riddles"
What does your dream project look like?
My dream project would be to create a scalable online platform that solves a new problem, or that solves a problem in a novel way. I like building things that are designed to be flexible and scale because it requires me to project into the future, and think in abstract and interesting ways - and I really love getting my hands dirty with a new problem.
So far, one of my favourite projects was a gamified location-based app for consumers.
The app would allow consumers to gain special offers for the stores and cafes around them, and it would learn about consumer interests and preferences - which is very valuable for local businesses. At the time, it was a really ground-breaking idea. I liked this project because there were so many new problems to solve, and as a team, we had to come up with an overall strategy for how to solve them and in what order.
What is something that makes you feel stressed in your job?
All software developers suck at estimating how long a piece of work will take; this is just a fact of the industry. Some developers will admit that their estimates are regularly out by 2x, or more. A lot of people perceive software development to be a very systematic and logical activity, but there's also a great deal of problem-solving and design that goes into good software, and those are always difficult to predict for.
Estimates for how long a piece of software will take to build can be like asking someone how long it will take them to solve a book of riddles.
However, our clients need to be able to plan their project and forecast. And to do this, they need to know how much time and money to allocate to a project. To give a reliable estimate, we really need to build the whole thing in our heads, conceptually. So we have to put a lot of work into asking as many deep-probing questions before we start working, and some clients really find this process uncomfortable.
Where do you look for inspiration?
In terms of new design ideas, I really like UI Patterns. It's great to see the interesting new ideas people are coming up with all of the time. In terms of UX, I really enjoy the work by people like Nir Eyal (author of Hooked) and the scientific approach taken by the guys at Good UI. They put a lot of great work into scientifically optimising design for conversions.
From a programming perspective, one of my programming heroes right now is Sandi Metz. Her work mostly focusses on how to write code that is more flexible and resilient to changes.
"People working in creative industries will have to try harder to convince clients that it’s worth paying more for content with a lot of love and effort put into it"
What challenges do you think the creative field will face in the next 10 years?
I see a lot of creative work these days is being commoditised. Creative content creation is either being automated or outsourced to people with lower skill who are primarily focussed with churning out as many clients as possible. Websites like Fiverr and Wix can be great resources to bootstrap, but I worry that a lot of creative content is starting to look too similar and cliché. I think this is probably going to get worse before it gets better. People working in creative industries will have to try harder to convince clients that it’s worth paying more for content with a lot of love and effort put into it.
What is your best tip for growing your business?
Be selective in how you choose your clients. All clients aren’t created equally. Some of them will demand much more of your time, but for comparatively less work and smaller invoices. Other clients will offer you lots of well-paid and recurring work, with little disruption and squabbling.
Over time you’ll learn who are the types of clients that are easiest for you to work with, and who bring in the most value to your business. Focus on those, and don’t be afraid to reject prospects or fire clients if they’re not the right fit for you.
What is something you want to learn more about?
Artificial intelligence. It’s something I’ve dabbled with in the past, but AI tools can be really
powerful for building products that better serve users over time. Imagine if more of the apps and services you use could tailor themselves to match your own habits and behaviour. This is definitely something I’d like to learn more about when I get the chance.
Do you have any tips for staying productive and motivated?
I've always had the tendency to overwork—to get too wrapped up in what I'm doing that I forget to rest, and I can spread myself too thinly. For me, a big part of keeping my productivity high is to keep strict constraints on when I work and when I rest. I've found the Pomodoro Technique to be a useful framework for that, though I use the timer as a guide and not a rule.
More recently, I try to avoid using my phone on a Sunday too. Having a day of rest from technology is great for me since I spent the rest of the week connected to multiple devices.
I've also learned that it's important to keep on top of the routine tasks as well as the big work. One of the big plusses of running your own business is being able to work how and when you want. But in our line of work, it's very tempting to bash on with the fun stuff and to neglect the mundane chores. But if you let those mundane tasks build up, they can contribute a lot of unnecessary stress and impact your performance. Having a fixed routine for those sounds dull, but it's great for productivity.
What advice would you like to give someone who is just starting out?
I think the main piece of advice I would give anyone starting out is to be prepared to learn. In a small business you have to play multiple roles, and that usually involves learning a lot of new skills. That said, there are also a lot of jobs that really are best left to other people. It’s tempting to want to do everything yourself, but it can be more cost-effective to pass a job on to someone else. To play on an old proverb: you want the determination to learn the skills for the jobs you should do, the humility to hand over the things you shouldn’t do, and wisdom to know the difference.
Finally, if you’re a service business then I would encourage you to avoid commoditising the service you offer. If a client is having to choose between a designer at X-amount per day, or one who charges less, they’ll most likely choose the designer who charges less. This happens when both services are presenting themselves as offering the same or very similar value. When you chat with clients and pitch for work, try to show them why your business will offer them a service that’s exactly what they need, and different from what others can do for them. This can be as simple as just being personable and reliable, but it also helps to be attentive and show that you really understand the client’s needs, you will take ownership of their problem, and develop a solution that’s right for them. Sell them on the fact that you offer them peace of mind and the solution to the problem they have.