Next in the Wholegrain hot seat is Gaurav, one of our talented designers. Gaurav joined us about a year ago, and he’s already a valuable member of our London hub and has been involved in some challenging and fascinating projects.
Make yourself a cuppa, pull up a chair and join us as we discuss his interesting route into web design, the importance of problem solving in design work, and look at some of his most interesting projects to date…
Can you share a little about your background and how you got into web design?
I actually have a computer science background, which probably isn’t what you expect to hear from a designer! I studied networking at college and university, and almost became a network engineer.
However, I’d been playing with Photoshop since secondary school. In IT, I remember creating a logo – which of course was just my name in a cool font – along with some other stuff. I even remember designing the MS DOS interface in my IT GCSE exam to get my point across – and probably to kill time, as I finished the exam pretty quickly!
I was a member of an art community called deviantART, which helped to incubate my passion for digital art and photography. And my love for digital art soon morphed into design.
When I graduated I had a choice: either follow my course of study, do what was expected of me and become a network engineer, or do what I really loved – design.
Before I knew it, I’d graduated out of university and started freelancing in design and photography. I soon discovered that not only could I design, but I could also do the photography that went into my designs.
I saw there was a demand for web designers, so I honed my skills and sharpened them on my belt to become a web designer. Luckily, everything I could do was pretty transferable, so it was an easy transition from making beautiful art to making beautiful websites.
How long have you worked with Wholegrain, and what first enticed you to join our merry band of WordPress experts?
At the time of writing, I’ve been at Wholegrain for about a year! Really? That time has flown past!
As a designer, it’s only natural to judge a book by its front cover! Luckily for me, Wholegrain’s website not only appealed to me as a designer, but their traits and virtues stuck out from a mile away.
A lot of businesses talk about how great they and their team are, but few talk about doing business for good. And this really appealed to me.
For you, what does success look like in a design project?
I like to think of designing as problem solving.
There’s always a problem to solve, whether it’s business objectives, user objectives, or other requirements that go into a design. As a result, the brief often screams at you to do 5 million things on one page!
Once you think you’re in the clear, then you have to speak to the developer about your ideas, and you often hit another problem.
To me, success is solving as many problems as you can. Oh yeah, looking great is nice too! But that’s subjective, so who really knows about that?
What’s the coolest project you’ve ever worked on and why?
We recently went live with a website called rights4children, aimed at educating children to know what their rights are. This is something we all take for granted, but, as children, they’re much more vulnerable.
The entire process involved children, to the extent that I had to show and explain the wireframes and designs to children who are vulnerable, and take their feedback on board.
Having a direct connection with a child in difficulty is by far one of the most rewarding projects I’ve been involved with. Knowing that you’ve made a difference to their lives because of a website is huge.
And what’s the most challenging website you’ve contributed to? And how did you overcome the challenges?
Well, rights4children may also have been one of the more difficult projects I’ve worked on.
When you start a project, there’s usually some kind of branding or existing website to use as a foundation or inspiration for the new piece of work. But rights4children was a complete clean sheet.
However, we had a laser-focused objective, which was to get information to vulnerable children as quickly as possible. This helped me on our journey to the website you see today.
With this objective in mind, we also had to consider that the majority of users would be children between 13 and 18 who will mostly be accessing the website through their phones. We had to consider:
- Extremely fast loading times
- Accessing content quickly on poor mobile network speeds
- How to make long-form text engaging
- The adult carers who will also access the site.
All of this helped me to pinpoint the design direction, as I knew the easiest thing to do was to limit the number of externals and the total number of assets being called.
This led to a very simple design. All assets are heavily optimised SVGs, which allowed the content to be at the forefront and meant there is less design baggage to deal with.
This allowed many of the project requirements to be met, because we had much stricter guidelines and we didn’t allow any of them to be dissolved or get in the way of our laser-focused objective.
What are the most important values you like to see reflected in your projects?
This is the very thing that drew me to work with Wholegrain: to make websites for good.
The majority of projects I’ve worked on have been to benefit humans in some way, shape or form. I don’t know how you can beat that.
Where do you look for design inspiration?
A mixture of everyday life, internet sources such as Dribbble and Pinterest, and even things or products I use every day, such as my phone, Spotify and Google Chrome. You can find inspiration in everything.
If I’m unable to solve a problem, or a design just isn’t progressing in the way I want, I take a break. Sometime I work on something else that might inspire me for another problem, go outdoors, speak to people, or just spend a few minutes catching up on news. These actions can all help to break up a problem and see it from a different angle or simply make it more manageable.
Do you have any favourite designers who consistently put out amazing work or that you simply think are awesome people?
To be honest, I don’t have any favourite designers. I don’t like to single designers out and focus on their specific trends. I’ve never been particularly interested in being too closely attached to what specific people or companies are doing, as I feel I may become biased and that will show in what I do.
I’d rather look at how people solve problems, see how that’s translated in UX, and admire the beauty of simplicity in complex products.
What do you think separates good design from great design?
I’m a firm believer in having transparent design. That is, design that just allows the function or content to be the driver, rather than the design driving the action.
The user should instinctively know what to do, and it should feel playful.
Do you have any tips for finding the balance between functional and beautiful design?
I try to solve problems in design, rather than just simply design a UI. If you’re solving problems, you’ll automatically strike a balance between function and design because you’re not over-exercising design and you are not over-engineering function. The two should be balanced from the outset.
I find the best way to see if I’m in check with the above is to refer back to the project requirements and objectively ask (i.e. use other people to validate) if what I’m doing is in line with the project goals.
Can you share any words of wisdom for young designers just getting started on their creative journey?
When I was young and (not) wild, I never thought I’d be where I am today. I graduated from university and went down a dark, rough path of doing what I loved. I eventually found a break, worked hard at it, and now I’m doing what I love every day.
My advice is just keep doing what you’re doing, and keep walking the path. It will eventually pay off.
And finally, do you have a good work-like balance and what do you love doing when you’re not working?
The opportunity to work with Wholegrain has allowed me to have a completely different work–life balance to what I had before.
I’m a newly married man, so spending time with my wife and family is a priority for me and for our new life together. My spare time generally revolves around family, as our family is quite large so there’s always someone to see or something to do for someone.
Outside of family, I spend a lot of time seeing friends, the odd gym visit, lots of restaurants and eating, going on holiday, and just generally enjoying life.
Thanks for the chat, Gaurav. It’s been great getting to know you better, and I think your words of wisdom – about persevering with what you love, and taking a break when you’re stuck on a problem – are so valuable for all creatives.
Wholegrain Digital is growing! If you’d love to become part of our merry band of WordPress experts and join our mission to design a better world, check out our latest vacancies.