Chris Coyier is a web designer and developer who not only builds websites, but also helps other people make their websites better. He’s the founder of CSS-Tricks and co-author of the famous book “Digging Into WordPress”. Chris is also involved in a few other projects, such as CodePen and ShopTalk Show.
1. Please introduce yourself to our readers.
2. How did you get into design in the first place?
Essentially, I was a nerd in middle school and high school. Amongst other nerdy things I liked computers. As I got older, I got more into art. I think of design as the perfect compromise between art and computer nerdery.
3. What is your professional experience in the field of web-design?
I worked at a small design agency in Madison, Wisconsin called Chatman Design for a few years. Then I worked for Wufoo, a web app for building web forms for a year. Then Wufoo got bought by SurveyMonkey so I worked there (on both apps) for another year. Now I’m off on my own trying to make that work. For example, I’m doing a Kickstarter for some fun stuff on CSS-Tricks.
4. Why did you start building things (CSS-tricks, ShopTalk, Digging Into WordPress, Quotes on Design) on top of your web design work? I mean, really, where do you get the motivation to get all this done?
It’s fun. I also get a lot of encouragement from the community on all the things I do. That gets addictive. I’m sure you know. Being addicted to (fairly) healthy things are good addictions to have.
5. How do you juggle your web design work + a bunch of web projects + speaking engagements? What is your secret to successfully managing all these projects at the same time?
Enjoying the work is the first part. It doesn’t seem like work when you love doing it. I’m sitting here right now at 6pm on a Monday night doing this interview while many people are driving home from work, exhausted from their day of work. I feel great, happy to be doing it, looking forward to the rest of the things I’m going to tinker with tonight.
That said, when you start adding in travel and life situations, it gets to be a bit much. I was getting to the point where something had to break. Thus, leaving the job and the Kickstarter and all that. I’m having a great time being off on my own. I just need to make sure I can stay financially secure while doing it.
6. What does your daily routine and work process look like? Maybe you can share some productivity tips and tricks with our readers?
No secrets. I just wake up in the morning and do stuff all day. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: It’s amazing how much you can get done in a day if you just sit and you do it.
Again with a caveat: I’m single. No kids. I don’t have a sick aunt to take care of. I’m in a place in life right now I can stay heads down in work for long periods and it’s OK.
7. What effect did the success of your web projects have on your web design career (did it make it easier for you get clients, etc.)? Would you say that doing web projects on the side is a good way to accelerate your web design career?
It did open some doors for me. After I had worked on CSS-Tricks for a few years, it was big enough that it had somewhat of an audience, beyond my friends and social circle. One of those readers was Dan Denney who runs the Front End Design Conference. He invited me to speak at it. Also speaking was Kevin Hale from Wufoo, and the other founders were there too. We met. Less then a year later I was working for Wufoo.
Back when I worked for an agency though, I can’t say we got any new clients directly from anything I did. That kind of work I think is 90% referrals. Even the “famous” web designers I know say that.
8. There are quite a few web designers who would like to start something on their own, but they either don’t know what that could be or think that they don’t have anything valuable to offer to people. How can they come up with an idea of what they can create that would be valuable to others?
I don’t think anyone is totally lacking for ideas. It’s more likely that you doubt your own ideas. Stop doing that and build something. Even if it doesn’t take off, what you learn from it will inform the next thing. If you are really straining for an idea, stop thinking specifically about the web. Do you like something? Really like it, like more than any of your friends? What can you build around that? Maybe a blog about it? Maybe something to help other people who like it too?
9 . What would be your advice for all the young web designers out there who are only starting out, but have big dreams?
Keep them dreams big and just build websites.
Questions from 1WD readers
Tobias Dokken (@tebie_ ) asks:
“What are your thoughts about http://csstricks.com? Do you wish that you had chosen another domain name because of them?”
Nah. I like my dash. It’s proof to me that there is little value in them. People try and sell me domains like css3tricks.com or js-tricks.com and I’m like, sorry, not interested. If I was, I’d register css3tricks.net or jstricks.com or something else not taken and it would be fine.
I do think the name “CSS-Tricks” is a bit hokey, but hey, its way too late to change it. And for someone arriving for the first time, I think it does what it needs to do as a brand.
Here’s one more question from Tobias:
“How important is site speed vs. great design (detailed, colorful graphics)? What’s the recipe of a perfect CSS-trick?”
Speed is more important.
The perfect CSS trick is one that solves the issue you are having right that second.
Lena (@photosheep_me) asks:
“.. teaching young people to become web designers?! methods, strategies, approaches, do’s and don’ts, myths and reality?”
Starting with fundamentals is key, but you’ll have to mix it with building real things. It’s like practicing an instrument. You know you need to learn scales but it’s no fun unless you also learn to play a song you like. So I’d cover things like color, shape, texture, balance, hierarchy, etc, but show them power of creation as well. At it’s most basic, HTML and CSS is super easy.
Here’s one more question from Lena:
“What does it take to become a good teacher, lecturer, conference speaker, workshop leader?”
1) You have to be reasonably intelligent and likable. I’m neither of those things so I have to work extra hard.
2) Practice. Tons of it.
3) Confidence, which comes from knowing your material and #1.
4) Read this.
Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us, Chris!
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Agota is a digital nomad who makes a living writing. She has a hard time staying in one place and loves slow travel. As a result, over the last five years, she has lived in United Kingdom, Spain, and Greece, where she's currently staying for the summer. Agota believes that travel is a great way to learn more about yourself and about the world, and that pretty much anyone can afford it if they set their mind to it.