DesignInterview

Profile: Brian Hoff

He’s the Brooklyn-based creative who went from working in an Apple shop to using the iPhone to gather inspiration for his design business. Tom May finds out how he made the switch

This article first appeared in issue 219 of .net magazine - the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

.net: How did you get to where you are today?
Brian Hoff: Passion, timing, risk, curiosity ... Four years ago this coming October, I found myself growing tired of working in Apple retail as a ‘creative’ (aka a software/hardware trainer), and wanted to focus on what I thought about all day: design. At that time, I was reading loads of great design blogs and felt inspired to start my own, The Design Cubicle. A few months after writing my first article, I was receiving more traffic than I’d ever imagined and getting an increasing number of job requests. I spent a year debating and eventually took a risk, quit my job and haven’t looked back.

.net: Why do you call yourself a graphic designer and not a web designer?
BH: I’m a bit of a dabbler. Although 80 per cent of my work is in web and interaction design, I occasionally take on an exciting logo project or two. I enjoy both, plus I often find myself restless if I stick to one area for too long. Restricting my title to ‘web designer’ gives off the impression of limitations in my work.

.net: How would you describe your style?
BH: I have an obsession with typography, so I like to think that shines through in my work. My personal motto is to employ all the right detail in all the right places while leaving anything unnecessary behind, and I hope that it adds to the overall experience for the user.

.net: Which designers do you admire most?
BH: The first person that comes to mind is Frank Chimero – his ability to not only create great work but also observe, analyse and document his thoughts on design. Jason Santa Maria is also commendable. His work breathes a great sense of timelessness, with disciplined typography.

.net: What are the main challenges of freelancing?
BH: I’m struggling with expansion issues and risks. My business has grown much faster than I could have imagined in the past few years, and now I’m trying to figure out where to take it. I would like to hire a full-time developer so I can focus on the visual and interaction end 100 per cent of the time, but there are risks involved. What if business slows down and I have an extra salary to pay? What if the level of quality goes down? It’s something I’ve been giving a lot of thought to recently, and I’m still on the fence as to what I should do. When I first set out, educating clients and conveying our industry’s big-picture value was challenging.

.net: How do you attract your clients?
BH: I’m extremely grateful for never having to attract clients in the typical sense. My web involvement brings in about 95 per cent of my work. My blog ranks quite well in terms of SEO, so many clients discover my services through a bit of Google searching. Dribbble has also been great. It seems to be evolving into a centralised designer search. Moving to Brooklyn, New York, has also been beneficial. There are so many companies and startups here, and yet everyone seems to know each other. Networking comes easy when everyone seems to be interconnected.

.net: How did you end up with so much UI work?
BH: There’s something exciting about designing projects thousands of people will hopefully interact with. With each new task I start, I always try to rethink the way I approached a similiar UI problem in the past. Since I interact with many apps and interactivity-driven websites, both personally and professionally, I tend to document what I like and dislike about them. This helps improve my work and UI decisions. Interactive design requires right- and left-brain decision-making. I like that.

.net: What are you working on at the moment?
BH: I’m in the final stages of a site focused around talent-searching and buying engagements, called Maestro Market; a site promoting a new iPad app for restaurants, called Breadcrumb; and a logo for a new social analytics site. My wife and I are expecting our first child this August, so I’m winding down my schedule to free up some time to spend with them. I’ll be using this client downtime to focus on a few personal projects and ideas that are itching to get out. Both ideas centre around food, but I’ll leave the full details for later.

.net: Where do you look for inspiration?
BH: I document everything around me. We have the only tool we need in our pockets at all times: the iPhone. I use a collection of apps that range from note-taking of random ideas to taking a picture of architectural detail. Inspiration is never really there when you look for it, so it’s best to draw on past experiences. For online inspiration I use LittleSnapper, which houses a reserve of UI elements, colour palettes, websites, application screenshots, and anything else that inspires me.

.net: What’s the oddest client request you’ve had?
BH: It drives me a little nuts when I read an email that starts, “I just need a simple website; how much?” I dig deeper to find out that simple means 35 pages with a multitude of complex planning.

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