10 Questions for Rob Hawkes

New Rawkes Thumb

rawkes_bioRob Hawkes is an experienced web designer and developer based in Surrey, United Kingdom. He is currently studying at Interactive Media Production at Bournemouth University (South England) and specialises in usability and standards compliance.

If you are interested in getting in touch with Rob Hawkes, you can visit his website or follow him on Twitter.

Tell the readers about Rawkes, how it came to fruition and where you want it to go in the future.

Way back in 2007 I decided it was time to take my freelancing to a more professional level. As a result of this I needed a presence on the web and after much deliberation over names, Rawkes was born. The first version of the website was, honestly, horrible. There was no design direction and no vision for the website and myself as a whole. When you top it off with the tacky wooden background then all in all it was pretty shocking. However, it was my first stab at a proper freelance website for myself and although it was basic, it did the job. Fast forward a year and the Rawkes we know and love today was born. In short, this version of the website derived from my ever-expanding skillset and a want for blogging. The previous version was horribly restrictive in both senses and to put it bluntly, a complete and utter redevelopment was needed.

Deciding on a theme for the new Rawkes was surprisingly simple (I doodled a rocket and fell in love with it) and once space was set in stone the rest literally fell into place. A lot of work went into the current website, 3 months to be exact, particularly because I was learning how to develop in WordPress at the time, partly because I was determined to make my personal website a success this time, but mainly because I’m a perfectionist and I couldn’t stop fiddling. In the end I cut myself free from the website and released it to the public in May 2008. Since then I’ve been constantly surprised with the reception Rawkes has received. The design is featured on countless CSS galleries and is also lucky enough to be included in a Smashing Magazine post on how to make a good portfolio website.

Version 3 of Rawkes is nearing completion and is going to be a big shift in focus for both myself and the website as a whole. As a result of my university commitments I will no longer be using the website to advertise my freelance services, instead all focus will be on my learning and writing via the blog. Other areas in the future will include a repository of experimental and personal projects I work on, coupled with open-source releases of those projects. Recently I’ve come to embrace the open-source and relaxed copyright movement so I’m hoping to utilise this on Rawkes, give something back to the community you could say. All in all the new website is going to be much more personal, interactive, and, I’m hoping, successful. Time will tell.

What inspired you to become a designer and what inspires you to stay a designer?

Although I started building websites 11 years ago my interest in design was sparked at a much earlier age, mainly because I enjoyed drawing so much. One moment that vividly stands out in my mind is when my uncle gave me a technical drawing pad and some pens. I must’ve only been about 8 or so but I was fascinated with the coolness of this pad with its graph paper pages. It wasn’t long before I was drawing anything that came to mind; crazy inventions–I’m still certain I invented the water powered car, new designs for existing products, cars and tanks, pretty standard things for a child. What I find most interesting about that part of my life is that it is a single moment in time that I can tie down to when I caught the creativity bug, the itching to get ideas out of my head and onto paper.

Since then I took a variety of design related courses at school and college, ultimately ending up studying Industrial Design and Technology at a respected university in London. Needless to say my interest in that area of design has since wained, but my passion for the subject as a whole is stronger than ever. In short, I left that university after a year and took up my hobby for web design as a career. Today I utilise design in all areas of my work, both in visual work and programming. Admittedly my focus today is aimed more towards programming but it surprises me how much of that itching to get things out of my head and onto paper translates to code.

I would say that the fluid nature of design and the industry as a whole is the driving factor behind my inspiration and passion. Even if I get bored of web design one day I’m sure that I’d utilise the same skills and ideas in another area, the whole subject is pretty useful for anyone to know.

Give one piece of advice to newcomers to design and those who are starting up their own companies.

It’s a bit cliche but my main piece of advice is not to give up, my overriding failure while starting out was that I shut down when things got complicated. What I found is that if you have the passion and drive then take a step back to overview the problem and attack it again, perhaps from a different angle. You’d be surprised how much help a little break and some perspective can be.

Do you have any upcoming projects that we should be excited about?

Plenty. At no point in my life have I been working on so many and such exciting projects. Unfortunately I can’t talk about most of them but needless to say that they are exploring technologies that I believe are going to be pretty big in the near-future, Arduino for example.

Apart from the new Rawkes I’m working on a few other personal projects, some relating to Twitter, and also spending a lot of time with work on my course at university. Currently I’m building a media asset management system that I hope to release as a set of tutorials and/or open-source when it’s complete. Basically it is a mixture of Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo. A kind of Deviant Art with a massive focus towards community and integration of already existing media.

Which upcoming designers do you think we should watch out for in the future?

One designer who has really stood out to me over the last year is John O’Nolan of Lyrical Media fame. His explorative work on the Lyrical Media website and his general comments and work with web design as a whole have really caught me attention. What’s even better is that he’s a nice guy to boot! But seriously, I think John has a bright and interesting career in the industry ahead of him.

Although not strictly a visual designer John Broughton, of Excaping the Word Cage fame, is going to go far as well. He is a copywriter who is taking a particularly interesting tact in the war between design and content. Where most people stand head to head arguing over the fairly equal stances, John has decided to create a blog and educate designers and anyone who wants to listen about copywriting and why it’s important. I have John to blame for my basic but newfound understanding of copywriting and its importance within the development of any website or project. Definitely keep an eye on him.

What applications and hardware do you swear by?

Coincidentally(?) most of my most trusted hardware is produced by the fruity company that everyone loves. My powerful desktop computer is a 24” iMac, my portable uni computer is a 15” unibody MacBook Pro, and my even portable-er computer is an iPhone 3G. Needless to say I appreciate the quality of Apple products and thoroughly enjoy using its operating system more than I did with Microsoft.

Some specific applications I swear by are Coda–for web development, Postbox–for email, The Hit List–task management, Socialite–for my twitter addiction, and LittleSnapper–for storing inspiration. However, the most valued application on all my computers is Dropbox, which makes file synchronisation a breeze over all my machines.

Any hardware or software on your wishlist for 2010?

The most notable piece of hardware I’ll be buying next year will be a new phone, considering my contract expires in January. Originally I was looking at getting the iPhone 3GS but I’ve since been enticed by the HTC Hero and other Android phones. Then again, I should probably wait until the next iPhone release before I decide anything.

I’ll also be interested in seeing what the Adobe CS5 suite brings to the table, although I don’t actually know when that is being released.

Name a few of your favourite website designs of 2009.

Lyrical Media is definitely one of my favourite designs of 2009 if not simply because of the innovative approach to its layout. What I love about the website is that John experimented with how a website looks if you base it on tested magazine design principles. Pretty interesting to be honest!

The redesign of 45Royale is also another website I particularly like. It’s nothing incredibly special but I enjoy the attention to detail and evolution from the previous incarnation. I suppose this is a website I enjoy particularly for the visual elements.

What’s your view on HTML5, will you be using it and if not, when?

In a nutshell, I love HTML 5! What excites me the most about the new standard is that it gives much more refined control for web designers to make their content semantic. There are many arguments that HTML 5 doesn’t go far enough and that XHTML 2 would have provided more flexibility but I believe that HTML 5 coupled with CSS 3 is going to provide us with a whole host of exciting new possibilities in the future. One such feature is the <canvas> tag which provides drawing functionality right in the browser. The great thing about <canvas> is that you can animate it with simple JavaScript, which is interesting when that means it can replicate basic Flash functionality.

Currently I’m using HTML 5 on the new version of Rawkes, partly because I decided to drop support for IE6, partly because I’ve been itching to get down and dirty with the new tags. I also used it during the summer while working with the <canvas> tag. Needless to see I’ll definitely be using it in the future, no doubt about it!

And finally, á la Inside the Actors Studio, what turns you on?

One of the major things I get a kick out of is helping others with web design and programming. I’m quite fortunate that I have many years of experience under my belt now and have amassed a fair amount of knowledge. How much of that knowledge is useful I couldn’t tell you, but I’ve already been involved in teaching PHP to colleagues at university on a regular basis and they seemed to go down well.

Ultimately I could see myself in a consultancy role or even on up on the stage teaching others and sharing what I’ve learnt about the industry. In the meantime I’ll settle for helping out friends and blogging. Baby steps.

About the Author

Untitled-4Luke Jones is a freelance website designer and SEO from the United Kingdom. He has been working for himself for over a year and specialises in site usability and accessability standards. If you enjoyed this post, then you could follow him on Twitter (@traxor) or visit his website (Traxor Designs).

If you have any comments for the author, please use the contact page on this site and write ‘FAO Luke Jones’.

About The Author: Luke Jones

About The Author
Luke Jones is a freelance website designer based in the United Kingdom, he is a guest writer for Inspirebit and runs a personal blog on his own website, which is located here: http://www.traxor-designs.com.

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