Defining Success as a Designer

My good friend Nathan tagged me a few days ago to write about my success as a “designer”. After reading his post again and then the excellent entry of my co-tagee Small Potato, memories are flashing back and I’m eager to write..

1. How did you get started in the business?

Like Small Potato, I got started not in design, but rather development. It all started with.. Microsoft Word back in.. *thinks for a moment*.. 1999. I was 12 years old. While playing around with Word, I discovered that you could “hyperlink” documents. Adding a hyperlink to one document let you click on the link and it would bring up a new document. I was thrilled..

A few days later, I discovered Frontpage Express. I immediately began development on my first website and before long, I had put together an “Age of Empires” fansite for my grand parents, which I promptly put on a floppy diskette and mailed to them.

A few weeks after, I began work on an idea for a website online. I came up with this concept for “ePals” and began developing a community for young people like me to be able to connect and make new friends online. All was going well. I designed some nice buttons (I don’t remember how I did it), wrote the content, designed the layout, and was ready to go.

Then.. hosting.

How was I to get this little website online? Microsoft provided some advice on one of their sites, but their information wasn’t making that much sense to my 12 year old mind. I finally found a host and put my site online. Then, to my horror, I discovered that my image links were all broken. I couldn’t figure it out.. They pointed to the correct location on my harddrive but they weren’t showing up online. I was temporarily discouraged and let that little project go.

But it wasn’t long before I was back again. At 13 years old, I was introduced to the world of “pirated software”. Something hadn’t click in my mind that it might be wrong to steal. I became frustrated that all the good sites I’d try to go to to find software were full of pornography and other junk. So, I began development on a clean and friendly “warez” site. Within a few months, I had thousands of visitors on a regular basis and was meeting people all over the world. I kept working on this off and on until about 16 when my interest in running a community was usurped by a temporary (thankfully) interest in gaming.

At 17 years old, I was enrolled in an R.O.P. class and learned, for the first time, that Photoshop just wasn’t for editing photos. Man, I got excited. I went online and found some tutorials and began merging everything together that I was learning. 13 hours of solid work later and 3 days into discovering the power of Photoshop, I finished my first painting. I was hooked.

The next several years I advanced off and on in the world of web design and development. I started “SandStorm Studios” with my best friend Sterling Evans. I wrote an article in the local newspaper on keeping your computer virus free, which led to one of our first big design/development projects. We both became hooked. Then, life pulled us our separate ways and SandStorm was set aside.

In 2005, I began taking web design and development more seriously. Another best friend and business partner, Matt Geri, started work with me on Blue Flame Design Group. We learned a lot and finished a handful of small projects and then moved on to other ventures as our lives changed.

Also in 2005, I was introduced to CSS and WordPress. A client of mine wanted a blog built and, not knowing CSS or WordPress but, thankfully, having just been introduced to them some friends, I determined to learn and make the website work. From that experience, I wrote my first tutorial.

Then things went quiet for awhile as my life took some rather dramatic turns until the Winter of 2006 and Spring of 2007 when I started life as a freelance web developer.

Everything from my first website at 12 all the way to this year began adding up and after purchasing several excellent books and working on more projects than I had fingers and toes to count, I began developing and designing full time, which has led me up to today.

2. What kept you going in those early years?

Hard to say.. Entrepreneurialism is something that’s been in my mind since I was 10 years old and selling home-baked banana breads door-to-door. Having the ability to take an idea and make it into a virtual reality went hand and hand in my mind with the many business ideas that would come and go. On top of that, although it would often cause lack of sleep and serious red-eye, I was always up for a good challenge. CSS definitely presented that challenge and I eventually became determined to achieve a mastery of it. That striving for mastery, which has become an integral part of my faith, is a part of what kept me going back then and is completely what keeps me going now.

3a. Did you ever feel like you weren’t good enough or you would never make it in this industry?

The feeling I would get when I’d see excellent work done a peer of mine or someone with ability far beyond mine was an overwhelmingly strong desire to raise the bar on my abilities. Sometimes it would be crippling as I’d take on far more than I could chew and would become overwhelmed. But, the other times, it would help encourage me to keep learning so that I could put even better thought and energy into my work.

3b. How did you work through that?

I rarely, if ever, felt that I wasn’t good enough or ever doubted that I would make it, but there were definitely times when I’d be intimidated by my lack of understanding and, now and then, it would discourage me. But the reason I’m still here and, I’m sure, the reason many of my peers are still in this industry, is that we took those tough times as valuable lessons and kept moving on.

4. Do you look at others today and think “Wow, I wish I were that good”?

Hmm.. When I see excellent work done by my peers or people with talent and ability above what I currently have, it brings a smile to my face, a faster beat to my heart, and inspires me to raise my standards higher. There have been the times, as I mentioned, where it would be discouraging. But I’ve learned to take that and, instead, be encouraged by the fact that I have new things to learn and even higher standards to raise the quality of my work too.

5. How do you measure success?

There was a time when I measured it by the satisfaction of my clients. That worked well for awhile and still plays an important role, but I’ve learned that it’s deeper than that. I measure success in knowing that whether I was paid well or not, whether my client appreciates the quality of the work or not, I put my absolute best into the work. As it relates to my faith, I measure success in knowing that even if nobody else ever took any notice, my Father in Heaven has taken notice and at the end of the day, when I close my eyes to sleep, I can know that He’s said, “Well done.”

6. By your standard, do you think you are successful?

I’ve been blessed with success far beyond anything I deserve. I’ve been able to meet many wonderful people and form lifelong friendships and I’ve been blessed with an industry that “pays the bills”. If I never had another potential client ask me for work, with the experiences I’ve been blessed so far and the people I’ve met, I’d still be completely happy. Though some of the lessons along the way have been long and painful, I will continue to strive for mastery and put my best into the work. If it were just my standard, I would have probably given up long ago. But as I’ve been influenced by the high standards of my peers and, above all, by God’s standards, I’ve continued to go forward and to that I owe my success.

-Jonathan Wold

P.S. I’m tagging Matt Geri, Joshua Mitchener, two good old friends of mine, and a new friend of mine, Mike Jolley. Looking forward to reading each of your entries guys! :)