Adam Hartwig on building an experimental space

Adam Hartwig is one of 10 nominees for Best Online Portfolio in the 2014 net Awards (opens in new tab) for his personal site that uses illustration and animation to present information about his skills and experience. He is based in Cambridge, UK, and most recently worked on this animated site for a voiceover artist. We quizzed him to find out more.

Give us a summary of your career so far.

I graduated in 2008 from the University of Sunderland with a first class honours degree in Design: Multimedia and Graphics. My goal through that experience was to ditch the notion that we are seen as either designers or developers, and instead try to focus on blending the two by following a multidisciplinary path - to bring design to life with code, and to create design with code that would otherwise be difficult to achieve by hand.

After graduation, I quickly landed my first post-university job with Omobono, a digital agency based in the heart of Cambridge, where I’ve had the opportunity to work with global brands, and also been lucky enough to work with a great set of talented colleagues and friends. I was quickly recognised for my multidisciplinary attitude to my work, and I built up a lot of trust in my ability while finding my feet in the creative industry. As our team grew, so did I, and I’ve now been with them for nearly six years.

Adam used illustrations and hover effects to tell his story

Adam used illustrations and hover effects to tell his story

Engaging in extra curricular activity has always been a big part of my ethos, but it can be difficult to make space to do more of the things you love to do, especially when working to a specification that’s not your own. I came to the conclusion that it’s worth it; you’re much happier for it, you learn more, and are fulfilled by doing it.

With that idea in mind, I turned my attention outside of office hours to working on other projects, not just for their own sake, but also to be able to bring new concepts, skills and ideas back into my work. After launching my portfolio site I was met with a huge amount of appreciation for my work, which blew me away. I realised that I needed to make more time for doing things like that - it was tough, and it’s hard to find that time, but it’s a totally worthwhile experience and I’d recommend doing it to anybody.

Soon after, I took a hard look at what I should do next, and decided it was time to rebalance. Working on exciting, external, self-initiated or experimental projects while holding a full time job certainly wasn’t easy, so I reduced my days at Omobono to allow more time and opportunity to grow externally and pursue those ideas. And that’s where I am now!

Tell us about the process of designing your portfolio site.

My portfolio site was born out of the need to find a space to express myself, a playground for my ideas. I didn’t see it as a portfolio as such, more just an experimental space, a totally 'blue sky' project where I was the client (which in hindsight was probably a really bad idea when the worst client is yourself!). The general concept was for the site just to act as a platform for those ideas, while telling the ‘story of me' at the same time - the things I love, my thoughts, and my abilities.

Because of the personal nature of the site, I wanted it to feel quite abstract and unformed so after a number of experiments it took on quite a hand-drawn nature (I’ve still got reams of hand drawn bits, a lot unused, in my drawer!). By the time I'd finished the site, I won't lie, I was quite sick of looking at it, especially because I'd been working on it from both a design and development angle on test and repeat. I definitely had to learn to love it again afterwards. Ultimately though, it was one of the most satisfying itches I've ever scratched and I'd happily do it all over again.

Each planet in this animated solar system represents a design or coding skill

Each planet in this animated solar system represents a design or coding skill

Who and what influences and inspires your work?

It’s quite difficult to pull out specific influences; from day to day I find it can change quite a lot. I might see something I love and be inspired by it, work on something for a bit, then see something else I'm really inspired by and just want to start all over again! The trick is to stick with an idea and give it a chance to form itself. With so much eye candy out there I also think it’s quite a minefield; it’s all too easy to get drawn into a particular trend or way of thinking, especially when you’re feeling a little unconfident or uncertain. For that reason I usually I try to stay clear of hunting for inspiration when I’m in the middle of the ideas stage and simply just work off the ideas I already have; there's surely a little gem in there somewhere!?

Name an 'unsung hero', someone you admire who deserves more recognition for their work.

Rich Davies for his stunning digital art, and Andy Jörder for some really great typographic work.

Vote in the net Awards!

Celebrating the best in web design and development, the 15th net Awards (opens in new tab) is open for public voting until 24 March. With a record breaking number of nominations this year, it's set to be the biggest and best yet. Have your say by casting your votes here (opens in new tab).

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