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Steven Snell is a web designer and blogger widely known across the design community from his blogs at Vandelay Design, DesignM.ag and Traffikd as well as his range of quality articles published on some high profiles design blogs. I invited Steven to discuss some of his ideas and techniques behind his blogging, and to find out more about his daily lifestyle.
Hi Steven, thanks for taking the time to participate on Line25, let’s start with an introduction. What is your background and what do you do?
I’m a web designer and blogger from New Jersey (US). I run Vandelay Website Design as well as DesignM.ag and Traffikd. I kind of have an identity crisis right now because I’m not a full-time designer and I’m not a full-time blogger. My work and my income is a combination of managing my own sites, design work for clients, and freelance blogging for sites like Smashing Magazine, Webdesigner Depot and others.
My background is not in design. I have bachelor’s degrees in Business Administration and Bible. I took one course in web design in my final year of college and started working on some sites for family and friends. I wound up spending a lot of time to learn more on my own, through the help of books and online tutorials, and a few years later I quit my job as an internal auditor to work full-time doing whatever it is that I do.
As well as offering web design services through Vandelay Design, you have also established a good web presence from blogging from the Vandelay Design Blog, DesignM.ag and Traffikd, how did the decisions to establish these sites come about?
Well, Vandelay Design is my primary site where I get most of my design clients. I started that site a few years ago with the purpose of finding more design work and within a few months I was spending a lot of time on the blog to gain some exposure. As the blog took off, it kind of developed a life of its own outside of my client work. I wound up putting some ads on the blog which allowed me to dedicate more time to it and put a little less emphasis on client work.
Traffikd was my second blog and was started so I could write about social media, blogging, and all of the things I was learning through the growth of the Vandelay Design blog. The first six months or so of blogging at Vandelay I covered these topics on the blog, but later I decided to keep the content focused on web design and that’s really what led me to start Traffikd.
DesignM.ag is my most recent personal project (launched in July of 2008) and it was started so that I could explore some new things that I didn’t feel were appropriate at Vandelay Design. Since Vandelay is ultimately my portfolio site (even though the blog gets much more attention than the portfolio), I didn’t feel that adding some things like a gallery, job board, or a community news section would be the best fit. I decided to launch DesignM.ag with the intent of making it a great resource for the design community without being attached to the services of a particular designer.
I notice you’ve recently started appearing on a wealth of high profile websites through your freelance writing, has blogging started taking a more prominent role in your working day?
Yes and no. I’ve been doing freelance blogging for about a year and a half, but within the past 6 months I’ve been more active on higher profile blogs. Smashing Magazine has without a doubt brought me the best exposure of any of my freelance blogging gigs. I used to spend time writing a lot of shorter articles for smaller blogs. Now when I do freelance posts they are longer, more detailed posts that bring in more money than the shorter posts, so it all works out about the same. I’ve actually slowed down a little bit with freelance writing within the past month or two as I’m still trying to decide how I want to allocate my time.
Your roundup posts of inspirational websites and high quality resources are packed full of useful information, what techniques do you use to save and manage your findings for inclusion in such articles?
Delicious is a great resource for me. One of my most basic techniques though is just to keep a file in Blog Desk with a big list of sites to use in inspirational posts. As I come across sites that I want to feature, I’ll open up the file and paste a link under a section such as “minimal designs”. I may have 15 or so different categories in that file and then whenever one gets around 25 sites listed I’ll put together a post. I also surf through design galleries for the purpose of finding these sites, but I try to focus on a few different topics at one time. So I may be browsing through galleries looking for minimal websites, dark websites, e-commerce websites, etc. all at the same time. I’ve found that to help me in terms of productivity. I essentially do the same thing with Photoshop tutorials.
Vandelay Design Blog and DesignM.ag are great sources of design inspiration, are there any blogs that you draw your own inspirations from?
I subscribe to most of the well-known design blogs, but I don’t have as much time for reading them as I would like. Some of my favorite design blogs include Smashing Magazine, Six Revisions, Noupe, CSS Tricks, Blog.SpoonGraphics, Webdesigner Depot, and I’m sure there are a few others that I’m forgetting. I tend to especially follow blogs of friends that I have had the privilege of getting to know.
Constantly pumping out new content can be hard work, where do your ideas for new blog and article content come from?
Yeah, that’s definitely the hardest part about blogging in my opinion. My best method is to keep a huge on-going list of ideas that I keep adding to. Whenever I have an idea I write it down, even if it’s not a very good idea. Sometimes the bad ideas will lead to better ones. I have a really big list of ideas, with certain ones highlighted that I want to pursue immediately or in the near future. Brainstorming sessions are key for me, although many ideas will also come sporadically.
What benefits have you seen from being part of the design community through your sites and via social networks?
When I first started blogging I didn’t really understand the community nature of it or how powerful of a tool a blog would be for online networking. That’s probably been the biggest surprise for me, how easy it is to get connected with influential people by having a blog.
Networking has been one of the biggest factors in any success that I’ve had with my blogs. To me, the benefits of networking are hard to quantify, but they certainly exist. It’s really nice to have a number of talented contacts that I can reach out to when I have a question or when I’m looking for some advice. Being well connected is also great for link building. You don’t even usually have to ask for links, people just tend to link to those that they like.
I’ve really seen the power of networking and community through the life of DesignM.ag to this point. When I launched the site I already had an existing audience at Vandelay Design and a number of friends in the design blogging niche. Because of these factors I was able to get traffic and subscribers right away and I found DesignM.ag drawing links from a lot of different blogs. This helped me to basically skip the first six months of work that I had with the Vandelay Design blog.
You have produced some fantastic work on commercial projects, what would you say is your main source of new clients?
I really only have two sources of new clients at this point. I do some work for people that I know (friends or family) and some referrals come in this way as well. But the biggest source of clients and leads for me is definitely my website. Over the life of the site the number of inquiries has increased. I don’t use my blog to explicitly promote my services, but it does lead to new work, especially through search traffic.
I’m currently in the middle of establishing an emphasis on church website design. I’ll be working on a few client sites to see how things go and to learn from the experience, and from there I may work on developing some new sources of church clients. I have a few ideas, including writing some guest posts on blogs that target churches and pastors, possibly some advertising, but at this point I’m still in the early stages.
Do you have any plans for any new websites or blogs, or any exciting ideas you’re looking to implement into any of your existing sites?
I have one project that I’m working on for a site that is outside of the design industry. I’ve been wanting to branch out a little bit, but I’ve been struggling to find the time to get it launched. I’ve also talked with one of my blogging friends about collaborating on a project in the future. There’s no timeline here and no solid ideas at this point, but it would be something within the design niche.