Elk Street Design is a Michigan-based boutique design studio that specialises in creating unique, custom brands for small businesses. Today we sat down with Rachel Krohn, A freelance Web Designer and owner of Elk Street Design to learn more about her job.
Hi ! Thanks for meeting with us! Please tell us all about your work as a web designer?
RK: Through my boutique design studio, Elk Street Design, I work with small businesses, bloggers, and entrepreneurs to design and develop cohesive brand identities.
I create websites using Squarespace for my clients who typically need a user-friendly content management system to easily maintain and edit their content. I’ve worked with a variety of website designs ranging from photography portfolios to small online shops. Many of my clients have either never had their own website before, or they had a WordPress site that was too technical for them to manage easily.
All websites are designed first in Photoshop and presented to the client for revisions and approval before I build their site. I build client websites on the basic provided templates, but each website is 100% customised utilising the style editor, branded graphics + photos, and custom CSS when necessary.
What does your average day look like?
RK: I’m very much a night person; therefore, my workday starts around noon and ends around 6 a.m. with a break between 5-11 p.m.
My day begins with checking social media and responding to emails, followed by updating my To-Do list for the day. I work on 1-2 client projects a day when working on design-heavy projects. Other days are reserved for quick edits and revisions for as many as 6 client projects.
I make sure to present designs and send updates before the close of business hours so that my clients can provide feedback in the early evening or by the next morning. It’s convenient to work late at night because I don’t have to worry about tons of emails flowing in.
I usually work on my business related tasks (blogging, updating forms, accounting, etc.) in the early hours of the morning (3-6 a.m.).
What 3 design resources do you monitor every day?
RK: I follow many design blogs and professional websites on social media that I receive updates from on a daily basis, such as Design Seeds (colour palettes), Design Week (design-business news), and Web Design Tuts+ (website design tutorials + tricks).
Do you ever collaborate with and within various teams when building a website?
RK: Running a one-woman business, and building websites using Squarespace means that I don’t need to rely on collaborating with a team. However, I do work as an on-call freelancer, and on occasion get to work with marketing agencies and their awesome teams of creatives.
Do you believe it’s better to work within a company or to go freelance in this industry?
RK: Honestly, there are pros and cons for each. In this internet-centered world, I believe that working as a freelancer is a great path to take—you have total control over whom you work with, how much you charge, your design style, and your schedule. However, working within a company provides a great environment to be creative without having to worry about finding clients or the business side. But it’s important to keep in mind that more and more companies aren’t hiring full-time employees, but rather working regularly with freelancers (such as myself). So, for the sake of choosing a side, I’d say freelancing is the better option.
What’s your opinion on working with images on websites, and how important do you believe them to be?
RK: Images on websites are super important. I don’t necessarily believe that every website needs huge, full-screen background image, but having beautiful, crisp photos can really make a website come alive. I’ve seen too many websites that prominently feature small, out of focus images and they make the entire website look outdated and untrustworthy.
Websites exist to create connections to people, places, and products + services—therefore, it’s vital to show amazing photos that make the viewer want to be a part of whatever the website is all about. Photos are the anchor between the digital world and the real world.
What are your 5 most important design principles? (In no particular order)
RK: My 5 most important design principle would be:
1.) Simplicity—keep designs clear of unnecessary clutter, filters, and effects.
2.) Clarity—make sure all text is legible and messages are clearly delivered through the design execution.
3.) Balance—maintain a balance of white space + text, as well as using symmetry to create visually interesting layouts.
4.) Hierarchy—All designs and text should have a strong hierarchy of information and visual structure.
5.) Originality—I believe in creating unique designs that are tailored to my client’s needs. All logos + websites are researched and custom designed for each brand, so they aren’t too similar to other related brands in their industry.
What made you decide to become a web designer in the first place?
RK: Early in my career, I worked almost exclusively with printed designs. But, when I began to build my own portfolio website, I learned to appreciate and understand the art of website design. It was in this experimenting and continual revising of my own website that I discovered I loved working on websites just as much, if not more than print designs.
How old were you when you started working as a freelancer and did you always want to become a web designer?
RK: Much like my design career, I stumbled into website design. In college, I changed my major about a dozen times bouncing from anthropology, English, Marketing, and biology to finally art and design. I started freelancing while still in college. My first “client” was in my junior year and I think I was 20 at the time. The client was an author and needed a book cover designed for his most recent non-fiction publication about architecture. He was passionate about the project and didn’t leave me with much creative freedom, but I designed the cover to his exact specs and he seemed satisfied with the final product. I also worked odd design jobs here and there for local organisations.
What tools do you use to find images? Do you use photo stock or try to use unique images? If so, where do you find them?
RK: I love free stock photo sites for finding images, but I also use sources such as Creative Market for purchasing affordable photos. There are beautifully styled images on Etsy as well. The problem with using any stock photos is the potential of several other websites using the exact same images. I prefer to use unique, original photos when possible, which is why I love working with clients who are photographers because they always provide beautiful photos.
What advice would you give new web designers, who want to get engaged and noticed by large brands or media?
RK: To be a freelance web designer, you should practice your craft regularly by studying existing websites and designing mockups. Anyone can design a website these days with the DIY content management systems such as Squarespace, but to truly be a good designer, it’s important to understand the underlying structure and hierarchy of content. Learn about 12 column grids, and how they work with responsive designs.
Invest in great courses to learn everything about websites from design, coding, and beyond. Read books on website design practices and inspirational website designs. Browse sites such as AWWWards.com to see what the current design trends look like. Screenshot websites that you love and use them to study what design elements are working well. Reach out to other designers and ask good questions. Participate in Twitter chats and Facebook groups. There are so many resources available for new freelancers—it’s incredible.
The most important part of being a web designer is to create good work. Constantly improve your skills and don’t be afraid to put your work out there on portfolio sites such as Behance and Dribbble, as well as sharing on social media. Be open to constructive criticism, listen to feedback, and keep designing. Don’t worry about being the most original and innovative web designer when starting out, just get the basics down and create solid website designs that efficiently communicate information.
A big thanks to Rachel for her time!
Follow her on Twitter at: @ElkStreetDesign
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