JournalSep 2014

Staying hungry and foolish: how I became a web designer

It all began when I was 4

One day, sitting in my grandma’s garden, I ate a caterpillar. Well, almost. I was so intrigued by it–that tiny piece of fluff weaving its way across the flagstones of the garden patio. So I grabbed it, like a cat might swipe at a ball of thread rolling across its path.

I remember how soft it was. Those little legs whirring around in mid-air before touching down on the palm of my hand. Then (and I don’t know why–maybe I have some worrying cannibalistic tendencies) I had this incredibly strong impulse to taste it. So I did. I know this is rapidly turning into a bit of a weird anecdote, and this is certainly a very odd way to go about exploring the world. I suppose I was hungry, and definitely foolish.

(I know what you’re thinking… I’m not a monster: I didn’t actually eat the thing. The weird sensation on my tongue was more than enough excitement for one day, and I spat it out pretty fast. I never quite answered that burning desire to see what that little guy would taste like.)

Fast forward about 10 years...

...and the first real interest of mine that inspired me to dig deeper and figure out how it was done, was film visual effects and opening title sequences. I was fascinated by these things, and really wanted to make my own. Coincidentally, a close friend of mine was into video editing, making his own videogame movies for online contests like those on (a Russian community of gaming video makers).

Naturally, I got hooked too, and went ever deeper into playing around with motion graphics. It started off as a hobby, but after 4-5 years of self-teaching and being a part of that community, I was able to make a living out of it by doing the same sort of work as a freelancer. I can’t brag about huge achievements, but I got to work with some cool clients and met a lot of interesting people. Most importantly, I learned a great deal and somehow, that experience led to new opportunities, and eventually to a career in a totally different field. I’m still thanking that friend of mine for giving me that boost, every time I meet him.

I knew my clients were working with someone else to build the websites that my videos ended up on, and I began to ask myself why I wasn’t learning how to do that, so that my clients wouldn’t need anybody but me.

It was quite an ambition. I knew it was a gamble, but I decided I should give it a go anyway. I learned the basics of HTML, CSS and email marketing (all of which turned out to be just as fun as the motion graphics) and since I already had a lot of experience with Photoshop and Illustrator, I slowly but surely started to win these sort of projects too.

It wasn’t long before I realised I was actually more passionate about designing and building the websites than I was about making the videos.

It wasn’t an immediate switch, but I managed to successfully make the transition over the next few years. I also dropped out of college to find more time to do what I loved. Was it worth it? Hell yes. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else, at least right now.

There are so many benefits to having experience of working in different fields of design–that’s a whole other topic to write about. Of course, you don’t want to be a jack of all trades and a master of none. But while it’s important to have a sense of where you’re looking to get to, it’s equally important not to rush there too fast, and miss out on the opportunity to learn more about different disciplines.

When you’re a young designer, I think it’s very common to think that web design is about your ability to create visually beautiful sites. And for sure, great designers do that well.

But one of the things that makes an experienced designer great at what they do, is their ability to work as part of a team and to understand the way the world, and clients, work. It’s not just about their artistic abilities or technical expertise.

So the biggest thing I’ve learned from it all, is the value of expanding your horizons, looking for new perspectives, and taking opportunities to learn new things whenever I can. You never know where it’ll lead to.

Image credit: practicalowl

Posted by
Sergei Tatarinov

With the team since 2011, Sergei is a creative technologist who bridges design and engineering at Hanno.