The Highs and Lows of the Web Design Industry

ImageOur first guest speaker after winter break was Lily Varga, the Digital Art Director at TraffikGroup. The company is an integrated advertising agency located in downtown Toronto. They develop strong marketing strategies for clients like Diageo, Canada Dry, Xbox, and many others. Like the majority of our guest speakers, Lily is a former graduate of Sheridan’s Web Design program, and had a lot to say about what life is like after graduation. Before landing her current position, she dipped her feet into various jobs and had many horror stories to tell. Thankfully, her stories all have a happy ending.

After graduating from Sheridan College, Lily landed her first job as a Flash Developer at Lavalife where she created many flash banners that I’m pretty sure I’ve seen while surfing the net. Through Creative Niche, she got to work as a freelance designer on many web projects that used WordPress CMS. She then designed the site of her friend’s company, Skin Love, and collaborated with a developer to make interactive forms that allowed the user to create their own skin care product.

Skin Love

Lily said that the “Create Your Own” product pages were the most challenging and time-consuming forms to build because of the sheer complexity and scope of the project.

THE SHADY SIDE OF FREELANCE

Lily shared her freelance horror stories with us — stories that involved nasty clients, terrible work conditions, and simply the lack of respect for the hard work involved in designing websites. The thing I took away from her talk was this: never be too hasty in accepting a job offer without first doing research on the person or company that’s offering the position, no matter how nice they may seem at first. Chances are that you could find yourself in a dead-end job, working long hours on a table of a house without pay, and the client might treat their dog better than you (true story, just ask Lily). I’m so thankful that she shared the grittier side of this industry with us because it was like a reality check slapping us all in the face. Sometimes it’s hard to say “no” to clients, but it’s worth saying if you know you won’t be treated with the respect you deserve. It is our job to be aware of the potential consequences of working for cheap (or free), and we should dissuade others from accepting jobs like these.

A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL

In 2011, Lily started working at TraffikGroup as a Junior Art Director. The company was like a breath of fresh air from some of the freelance jobs Lily had in the past. She designed flash banners at first, in addition to information architecture and contest designs. Although there is much to be done, Lily said she is happy to work in such a tight-knit community that has a good work/life balance. Every Friday, the team goes out after work to bond over food and drinks, play pool, or have sing-alongs together. I think more companies should foster this kind of atmosphere in order to keep their employees. I’ve always said that happy designers produce good work, and TraffikGroup demonstrates this very well.

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TraffikGroup‘s portfolio includes well known brands such as Sunny D, Crown Royal, and Xbox Halo: Reach. They develop innovative design solutions through their extensive experience in experiential marketing, design and web development.

LEARNING FROM THE SOURCE CODE OF OTHERS

What I found unique is that the team at TraffikGroup proactively looks at the source code of innovative sites and tries to replicate the code. This leads to new ways of adding layers of interactivity and novelty to their future projects. I think this is a smart way to learn from other companies because nothing is a better teacher than trail and error. Another way the company stays up-to-date with the latest tech and design trends is by holding info sessions with guest speakers for their employees — kind of like what our program does. Designers and developers are also encouraged to read web-related articles on their down times.

STRIVE TO CONSTANTLY IMPROVE YOUR SKILLS

I noticed that with each new project Lily showed us, her design skills were visibly improving. It’s encouraging to know that your design skills will grow after leaving the classroom, but this growth is only possible if you keep challenging yourself with complex projects. One of the most impressive projects Lily got to work on was the redesign of Foundry Cider’s website, along with the design of a huge transit wrap for Toronto street cars and busses. The project file used 450 dpi that even her work computer could barely handle.

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It must’ve been an experience for Lily to see her design plastered on moving streetcars in Toronto. Even the inside of the vehicles had yellow Foundry Golden Cider ads that she designed. That is one thorough advertising campaign!

FUTURE PLANS

Lily is happy working at TraffikGroup, and enjoys being an Art Director because she still gets to do design work. In the future, she dreams of starting her own business, and enjoys being on the client side of things. She told us that Creative Directors don’t really design much, which is why she prefers being an Art Director. Knowing this, I think I might steer clear from such a position in the future because I’m very much of a hands-on designer. I enjoy the whole process of designing and building websites, and I think if that was taken away from me, I wouldn’t be having fun anymore.

MY THOUGHTS 

Overall, I think that Lily gave us a much-needed reality check about the highs and lows of the industry. I admire her for not losing hope after such terrible working conditions and clients in the past. She is a trooper, and she gave us great advice about moving forward even after disheartening experiences. I think it is through bad experiences that we learn a lot about ourselves. As corny and cliché as it sounds, it’s not the destination that matters, it’s the climb.

PARTING ADVICE

• Do your research before accepting any job offer.
• Don’t be afraid to look at the source code of other sites. You might learn a thing or two.
• Make user testing a prominent stage in any project.
• 
Google Docs is a great program to use for monitoring feedback and updates related to user testing.

Stay social! Follow Lily on twitter @Lilerd and check out her portfolio!

See you next time!
Abby

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