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A Dozen Questions for Mr Stocks

Holding Page [Detail]

Elliot Jay Stocks is a designer, author, public speaker, musician and Belgian beer geek based in Chester.

A regular public speaker at international design conferences, Stocks has been invited to share his experience at events worldwide including: An Event Apart, Chicago; The Future of Web Design, London; Twiist, Leuven; and Web Directions South, Sydney.

Stocks has an enviable portfolio of clients that includes: Automattic, The Beatles, Blue Flavor, Twiistup, EMI Records and Carsonified (where he worked as a Senior Designer before embarking on a freelance career). His work has also been featured in a number of publications, both online and offline, and is regularly showcased on ‘inspiration’ web sites.

His recent book Sexy Web Design, published by Sitepoint, is an excellent overview of the conceptual aspects of developing beautiful web interfaces and, rarely for a web design book, focuses on the importance of research, sketching and ideas.

We asked Mr Stocks a dozen questions.

Elliot Jay Stocks Version 4.0 [Detail]

Where did you learn your craft?

I’m largely self-taught. I got into art and design at a very early age because my dad is in the industry. I picked up some stuff from my time at university, but actually my degree - in Contemporary Media Practice at the University of Westminster, London - was very vague and we were left to make our own discoveries most of the time.

In terms of what I do from day to day, I picked up the majority of those skills from freelancing while I was at university, and then from my first job (as a web designer at EMI Records). I’m always learning, though; I don’t think I could ever pin it down to one particular place, institution, or period.

Who inspires you?

People who aren’t afraid to try something new. In web design, that’s people like Miguel Ripoll, Tim Van Damme, Jason Santa Maria, Shaun Inman, Ian Coyle, Matthew Smith and Mike Kus.

But I’m inspired by a lot beyond the web, and I’m generally more excited by design that blends the boundaries of art and design. Work like: Alfons Mucha (from the Art Nouveau movement 1); Dave McKean (in particular his early mixed-media Sandman covers 2); Scott Hansen (a contemporary designer-musician hybrid in the guise of either ISO50 or Tycho), and lots and lots of comic book illustrators.

What are your influences?

All of the above, and more!

Blue Flavor Poster [Detail]

You’ve been freelancing for about a year since leaving Carsonified, what are the upsides and downsides of being your own boss?

Upsides: Almost everything! I love being able to choose how, where, when, and on what to work.

Downsides: The sole responsibility for a bad project, handling money, and the occasional evil client. But I really have very few complaints.

Being my own boss is actually even better than I thought it would be.

Your portfolio includes work for Automattic, The Beatles, Blue Flavor, Twiistup, EMI Records and Carsonified. If you had to pick one design from your portfolio, which would it be and why?

That’s so tough because I might pick something I’m very proud of but wouldn’t be indicative of my work in general…

For instance, I’d pick the poster illustrations I did for Blue Flavor 3, 4, 5 as one of my favourite projects, but that would mean excluding all of my web work, which is the majority of what I do.

Perhaps I’d pick the site I did for Massive Attack as one of my best projects, but again, it’s not representative of what I do these days, since it’s an all-Flash site.

I don’t think I can pick one, really!

You’re about to launch a redesign of your personal portfolio site. As a freelance designer, how important is a portfolio site?

Very, very important. It’s where you tell people what work you’ve done, who you did it for, and how you did it. Your status essentially rests on the work you’ve done, so giving that work a public face is of the utmost importance.

However, it’s not the be-all-and-end-all; I’d place a similar level of importance on being active in the community: blogging about issues and leading the discussion.

Massive Attack 'Collected' [Detail]

Type on the web has been a hot topic of late. What’s your prediction?

Indeed, not least as result of the recent Typekit announcement.

I think Typekit’s definitely a step in the right direction, but until it actually comes out, we can only speculate about what service it will actually offer. I certainly have some concerns that would need addressing for me to use it in my web design tool set, but - like I said - I think it’s generally a good bit of progress.

Ultimately I’m sure we’ll eventually achieve typographic enlightenment in the standards-based world, but whether that will be soon or in the distant future is anybody’s guess. I imagine the latter.

You just published a book, Sexy Web Design, tell us all about it….

It’s a book about designing in the nude! It’s very liberating, especially with all this hot weather we’ve been having recently…

No, not really. It’s a book dedicated to the creative process of web design. There’s almost no mention of code in there at all because it covers everything right up to the point where you’d actually start building. So things like getting a brief, responding to that brief, conducting research, planning sitemaps, sketching wireframes, working with graphics tools, presenting mock-ups to the client, and getting ready to export the finished files for the actual build.

As the title suggests, the main crux of the book focuses on aesthetics, and there’s a fair bit of design theory in there about what makes a great design. I tried to include absolutely loads of screenshots of inspiring sites as well, so even once you’ve read it, you should be able to look through it as a source of inspiration for some time to come.

You list ‘Belgian Beer Geek’ amongst your many talents at your Twitter bio. If you had to recommend one Belgian brew which would it be?

Again, I have a hard time pinning things down to just one item, but for argument’s sake, I’d say Grimbergen Dubbel 6, 7 would be my favourite all-round brew.

Hugs - A one-off, limited edition range of MacBook Pro sleeves and iPhone cosies from Carsonified.

What’s your favourite typeface?

You like doing this, don’t you? ;) Right now, I’m a big fan of FS Clerkenwell from Fontsmith.

What’s your favourite plain text editor?

This one is easy: TextMate.

What’s your favourite tea?

Twinings Chai, with a splash of milk and a generous helping of honey, please!

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