Josh Porter at Refresh Boston

Posted on: June 26, 2009

I just relocated to the Boston area, and in order to get myself acquainted with the local design community, I decided to attend Refresh Boston.

I am so glad that I went because Josh Porter gave a GREAT talk called “Designing in Recession”, where he went over tips and tricks for succeeding in the current economy. This blog post is a recap of the talk.

Your skills are not self-evident
Most people out there do not know what you do, so you need to be very clear about your skills set. Also, design skills are very conceptual, and we need to surface them. The best way to do this is to create a portfolio which outlines your process, deliverables, and project contributions. Josh does not recommend just having a screen shot that links to a live web page. It is not likely that you were responsible for the entire site, and so should be clear about which parts were your contribution. Also, the design of you portfolio should in some ways reflect your focus. If you are a visual designer your portfolio might be more visual catching than an information architect. Josh specifically keeps his website visually simple because those are not his strengths and he wants to market himself as a strategists versus a visual designer. If you don’t have a portfolio that you are happy with, or are just getting into the field and don’t have a portfolio yet, take an existing site and redesign it. Josh specifically mentioned Dustin Curtis who redesigned the American Airlines website (he was not working for AA) and even got a response from the AA team!

Find Your Focus
Although this may seem counter-intuitive, having a focus that differentiates you from other designers will help bring in business. It is tempting to think that a shop that can do it all is what clients are looking for, but its difficult to compete on those terms especially with so much competition from “chop shops” that can covers PSD to HTML in a manner of days. Also, having a focus will bring in business that truly interests you and speaks to your focus. Your focus should be some kind of niche, so coding to web standards is too general a focus as all designers aspire to comply with standards. SEO for drupal sites is an example of a great focus. Josh mentioned a guy who has a 50+ person company doing nothing but SEO for drupal sites! That guy really found his niche, what is yours?

Publish Your Thoughts
The way Josh gets much of his business is through the popularity of his blog. He recommends each designer find a channel that works for him/her. The point is to get your name out there and show people that you have something to say. He mentioned that many people have a hard time starting a blog because they think they don’t have anything to say. You have to remember though that some things that are easy for you are difficult to other people. Also, you can check out discussion lists and see where people are having problems and try to address them in your blog. Another option is to comment about someone else’s post on your blog. The key here is to be positive in your tone, even if you disagree. A lot of negativity will turn people off, and you might lose business, so even if you disagree with someone, embrace their ideas and then extend them. For example, say something to the effect of “Bob did a great job explaining X, here are some situations where X might not work…”

Be On Time
This is just a basic professional courtesy. Here the subject veered a bit towards not wasting your own time. Josh does not recommend working with clients that ask for spec work. Spec work is when a client says, “Show us what you are thinking and to help us making a decision about going forward”. This is basically a company trying to get you to do work for them for FREE. You are not getting paid to do the spec work, and have potentially wasted your time, especially if you are competing against other designers. Spec work is not the same thing as a competition, where all the work from the participants is public. Spec work is held privately within the company and may never see the light of day, additionally, the company may use your ideas in the future without proper compensation. Josh also stays away from creating 3 different comps for clients, he concentrates on creating one comp. The reason for this is that a comp (or wireframe in Josh’s case), takes into account a very specific prioritization and organizational scheme. This means there is one strategic organizational scheme, not 3.

Don’t Eat Alone
Go out and network, have one-on-one lunches with fellow colleagues to find out the secret and cool projects they are working on. You will always learn something new and valuable from others. As an addition to this, always celebrate your colleagues’ victories (even if you are secretly jealous!). This will spread good will and also help you make better design decisions in the future. Josh really loves how Tumblr engages new users, and secretly wishes he could have come up with that design. However, he did learn from it and uses similar concepts to help clients. Also, its important to become a good referrer. If you are not able to take a project, refer clients to a colleague (its helpful if the person has portfolio!). Its beneficial for all parties.

During the Q/A there were questions regarding dealing with clients. Josh says that is existing clients are much more valuable then potential ones. Don’t do a rush job for existing client, but rather try to do your best work because you already have their business and could get more work by keeping them happy. Also, don’t shy away from small projects because they often lead to larger ones. The small projects are sometimes the way that clients give you a “test” run before giving you a big project. This comes around to the issue of trust. It is important to gain a client’s trust early on. Josh recommends getting a win early in the project so there will be less second-guessing later. However, it is important to have a rational for your design so that you can justify your choices.

Overall it was a great session, and I am really happy I got to meet Josh!

1 Response to "Josh Porter at Refresh Boston"

Thanks for the sharing, Alla. I wasn’t able to attend but your post “brought me” there (virtually speaking). It never ceases to amaze me how much I personally need to work on. Lots of room for improvement.

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Alla Zollers

I design products and services that just. make. sense.

When products make sense, customers are happy.

If customer are happy, they sign-up, stay on site, engage, share, and buy your product or service.

Happy customers allow companies to profit in both senses of the word.

I provide the following services:

• Heuristic Evaluations
• Discovery Research
• Strategy and Vision Development
• Information Architecture
• User Experience Design
• Usability Testing

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