Paul Boag recently talked about the ten ‘web people’ he's found most inspiring. I like the idea of calling out those members of the community that have shaped my time on the web, so here's my list.
There's an episode of the Boagworld podcast where Marcus and Paul list the ten ‘web people’ they've found most inspiring. This has in turn inspired me to publish my own list.
The web-creators community is packed with generous people willing to share their insights and experiences. Through blog posts and podcasts, conference talks and tutorials, these people have had a direct impact on my outlook and my career choices.
01: Steve Lovegrove
In my experience everyone has that one person that inspired them when they were just starting out. For some it's a teacher, or someone who gave them their first break, or a professional who mentored them. For me, it was my friend Steve.
Steve's always been miles ahead of me in intellect and ability, and most of what he tried to teach me went straight over my head. But even so, he was willing to let me spend hours peering over his shoulder while he coded. And because we would also talk through what he was working on, some of it rubbed off.
Steve taught me just enough to be dangerous; just enough to get something on the web and see how good it felt. He's long since left the web behind to do ‘real’ science, but having a patient and generous friend like Steve was probably the single biggest factor in shaping the direction my career has taken.
02: Chris Coyier and Dave Rupert
Anyone who's ever Googled a CCS question has probably benefited from Chris' sterling work on his website CSS Tricks, but it's his video tutorials (on Lynda.com and the “Lodge” section of his own website) that have impacted my world the most.
His approach of getting-it-wrong-on-camera-and-then-fixing-it-(probably) was a welcome break from other more sanitised tutorials. Not everything installs perfectly the first time, and no one is immune from typos. Seeing how professionals deal with these problems is almost as useful as the main focus of the lessons.
Chris also does sterling work in the podcast field with his partner in crime Dave Rupert. If you're not entertained by the combination of in-depth Q-and-A, stupid sound effects, and friendly banter that they put out in the Shop Talk Show, then you're probably not interested in front-end development.
As an added bonus, their mantra is probably the single most useful bit of advice any web professional can give:
Just. Build. Websites.
03: Brad Frost
I'm never more aware of (or excited by) the unique nature of designing for the web than when I listen to Brad Frost. If every colleague and every client could take the time to read his blog and watch his talks, the standard of our work and the quality of our work-lives would raise ten-fold across the board.
The idea of designing ‘paintings of websites’ (a.k.a. PSD mockups) is completely outdated; we can't just design for one ideal viewport size, or two, or ten, or a hundred. “Atomic Design” might sound like a buzz word, but the principles are applicable to all web work. The basic concept of designing components first and pages last is quite simply How It Should Be Done Now.
I love to hear people talking candidly and in-depth about fields they are experts in. It almost doesn't matter what the topic is (which is one of the reasons I love Radio 4's In Our Time so much), but when the topic is illustration I love it even more. The Adventures In Design podcast is irreverent and unhinged, but always honest and informative.
They always have good guests, but more importantly Mark, Billy and James know what to do with them. They trigger interesting and inspirational discussion, no matter who the guest is. The resulting interviews are often challenging, often controversial, and always riveting listening.
Another reason I like AID so much is that team aren't ashamed of making a living: this is a podcast about the business of design. It just so happens that the design field they work in is the super-cool one of gig posters and illustration.
05: Mike Monteiro
Anyone working in the world of design who deals with clients should watch Mike's F*ck You. Pay Me. talk. He explains why it's important to take yourself and your business seriously, and even brings his lawyer on stage.
His book, Design Is a Job, is less caustic, but just as inspiring. His book, Design Is a Job, is less caustic, but just as inspiring. Neither the book nor the talk are rants against stupid clients (well, maybe a little...). They focus instead on building productive client relationships where no-one is taken advantage of.
It's hard to admit that sometimes a problem doesn't stem from the client but from yourself. Even so, having that in the back of my mind has often saved my freelancing-bacon. Following Mike's advice has often turned tricky clients into excellent ones. For all his acetic bluster, Mike's core message is simple; be friendly and use common sense.
06: Jessica Hische
Jessica is a letterer, and all her work is stunning. Before I was aware of her, I didn't even know ‘lettering’ was an actual job that you could do. Back in the day, Jessica was a jack-of-all-trades (like many of us), but she realised that You Get The Work You Show. She filled her portfolio with self-initiated lettering work, and was soon able to specialise professionally.
Art directors (and all clients, in fact) aren't blinkered and lacking in imagination. With so much talent out there, they can find someone with exactly the right experience and demonstrable expertise. If you think lettering is your strongest skill but stack your portfolio with e-commerce websites, guess what kind of work you're more likely to be hired for?
If you want to specialise in something, you have to get off the mat and do it. Don't wait for the “dream commission” to come walking through the door; get out there and chase it down. Jessica makes her own luck, and makes me think I might be able to make my own, too.
07: Trent Walton
There are only so many ways to present seriffed text on a light background, but somehow Trent manages to make his blog look nicer than everyone else's. His art-directed posts (each with their own custom styling) are a benchmark for bloggers everywhere.
Somewhat annoyingly, what he writes about is also several orders of magnitude better than anything I could manage. I don't know if he became so respected by writing well about “big picture” subjects or whether he writes well because he's so respected, but either way, respected he is.
His posts come fairly infrequently, but when they do they're invariably beautiful and interesting.
08: Ben Schwarz
Task runners (like Grunt and Gulp) have revolutionised my workflow over the past year. Grunt trickled into my sphere of awareness over a period of months, much like SASS. SASS I adopted more by osmosis than through any deliberate choice, but I can pin-point my adoption of Grunt to one specific incident.
Ben has made a fantastic CSS-only Slider, and I bought his accompanying screencast tutorial. It might be the best £10 I’ve ever spent. The video explains his intricate SASS, but also walks through a Grunt installation and shows how useful it is.
Up to that point, I was aware of Grunt but didn’t understand it or see the point of it. To see someone as consummately professional as Ben using it and extolling its virtues sealed the deal. I’ve since switched from Grunt to Gulp, but using any task runner at all has been the real quantum leap for my workflow.
09: Sean Johnson & Liz Elcoate
Quitting a job to go freelance is a daunting proposition. Making the leap myself, I found comfort in the curious trend for freelance-web-folk-focused podcasts. There are plenty of great offerings out there, but by far the most relevant to my past situation was The Freelance Web.
Liz and Sean aren't afraid to deep-dive into the details of running a web business; both the good parts and the bad. Their advice is useful and reassuring, and the fact that they talk about specifics makes it all the more valuable.
I've since moved from freelancing to an agency position, but I still enjoy The Freelance Web. The willingness to share experiences and knowledge is one of the best characteristics of the web community. It's one I find it hard to believe any other industry could match, and Liz and Sean are true embodiments of that generous spirit.
10: Daryll Doyle
On a day-to-day basis, by far my biggest inspiration is my team mate, Daryll. He's very much from the school of thought that says “if you're not moving forwards, you're moving backwards”.
Pretty much constantly, Daryll is showing me some new tool he's discovered, technique he's mastered, or framework he's learnt. His dedication to self-improvement is nothing short of inspiring.
I know a couple of the people on this list IRL, and a couple more I'd class as ‘digital acquaintances’, but most are just web personalities who's work, public speaking, or blogging has taught me something new, steered me when my course has wandered, opened my eyes to new ways of thinking, or just been inspiring in some more ineffable manner.
People like this are what makes the web such a fantastic industry to be a part of, and I owe them all a debt of gratitude.
Podcasts for Nerds
I often bore my friends by going on and on about great podcasts I've heard lately. But doing this one-on-one was getting a little stale, so I've launched a weekly podcast-recommendations newsletter so I can bug lots of people all at once!