Interview with Stephen McMahon 

Questions asked by Shai Cramer-Hussey


This might sound weird, but I am posting some interview questions Shai Cramer-Hussey decided to ask me. Shai is a student at Humber College in the Multimedia program, and thoughtfully asked me to be a part of his assignment “interview someone in the field you are interested in, which is web design and development.”

Usually it’s the interviewer posting an article about their interview, but in this case it’s the interviewee posting an article… so deal with it, and let’s get started.

How did you get this job, and what is your official title?

My official title at Redtag.ca is Web Designer. I got this job by applying online, simply enough. I didn’t have any connections to anyone within the company, but I did have some great references from previous employers and clients.


What jobs or experiences lead you to your current job?

Well, I had a bit of a wild ride leading up to my current job. Coming out of school I was pretty persistent on becoming an Editorial Designer, so I landed a job with a small magazine that provided ad space for all sorts of business owners. This was a great experience for me, it was very face-paced, and I learned so much about print and software such as InDesign and Illustrator, but like most designers, I wanted to grow and move on.

That lead me to my next job which was being an Industrial Designer… I know, what? I had no previous job experience or education in industrial design or architecture. It was kind of a lucky chance that I landed this junior position, although I am very good with math and measurements. I was very persistent in the job interview and really showcased what I had to offer in the industrial field, because I was really determined to now change my focus on industrial design. For this position I was mostly designing acrylic brochure holders using Illustrator, which I am very familiar with. It was a very technical job, I had to create line drawing for the CNC machines that had to be 100% precise. It was another valuable experience and what I expected being an Industrial Designer entails, but I took some time to think if I wanted to go in this direction long-term. I knew there were so many fields in design and I had the knowledge to dabble in all kinds.

I made up my mind, I decided I wanted to be a part of the internet, I wanted to contribute my knowledge of code and web design to the world. Coding and designing for web was my favorite part in school and I really needed to settle in a field. I landed a great position with Redtag.ca and haven’t looked back for my 2 years being with them.


What experiences, either paid or unpaid, would you recommend to someone?

Pretty much all the experiences I recommend are all unpaid unfortunately. My most valuable experiences I got as a Web Designer is going to conferences and workshops. You get to experience firsthand the knowledge from other professionals in your field. It also takes you away from your niche, which can be great sometimes! It feels like an adventure, or like the first day of school when you’re a sponge ready to soak up all that knowledge. Other than that I also recommend to be up to date in the most common practices, and practice, practice, practice! Research, read, and practice! Make up fun little projects for yourself or for a friend. There is very little limit when it comes to creativity on the web. Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!


What skills do you believe best contribute succeeding in this field?

Like any field, the most important is communication, but that should go without saying. Discussing projects often and sharing ideas can go a long way to the success of a big project. The most valuable technical skills for a Web Designer currently is HTML5, CSS3, jQuery and PhotoShop CS6. But more importantly, creating clean and efficient code, and nicely organized PhotoShop files is what sets apart good web designers from great web designers.


On average, how many hours a week would you say that you spend on work or work related projects, including any freelancing that you may do?

I say about 40 hours per week. That includes the research for projects.


How important do you think it is that developers can look at problems from a designer’s point of view, and vice versa?

I think it’s very important that a developer can understand a designers problem and vice versa. As a designer I try to take some time out of the week to understand JavaScript, PHP, and MySQL just a little more. I also expect the same for a developer to understand media queries, CSS3, or pretty much how a designer typically works through a project. On top of that I’d like to add that I think it is vital for a company to have the designers and developers to be sitting side by side while on a project together. This allows for constant communication between them, and always being on the same page.


Besides working at Redtag.ca, do you have any side projects or other companies that you work at?

I do have a couple other web design projects that I am working on for small companies. In my spare time I also like to make responsive web templates to share and for future use. Also, I actually have some print projects that I am doing for friends and family… yes, print is not dead.


On average, what percentage of time would you say is spent working with your co-workers, and what percentage is spent doing working independently, only taking into account work done at the office?

I say about 90% of time is spent with co-workers, and 10% independently. I am pretty much always on a project with one other or a couple other co-workers, and I like it that way. I believe that’s how most modern companies should operate. The 10% of independent time is only the research and practice that I do in the office.


What are your primary responsibilities as a Web Designer?

My primary responsibilities at Redtag.ca are updating the website’s content that is given to me by the product team. This might be a promotion from a tour operator such as Sunquest or Hola Sun and it is up to me and my team to come up with the creative and layout for the advertisement campaign. The promotion might require a large banner for the main page of Redtag.ca, Google Ads, or even its own dedicated page. Another big part of being a Web Designer for Redtag.ca is creating and deploying the newsletter that goes out four times a week. We do use a template for the newsletter, but there are occasions for a certain promotion we will create a new template to catch the eye of the receiver.


What are some conferences/meet-ups that you attend or have attended in the past that you feel offered a lot in terms of new ideas or helped broaden your skill set?

The latest conference I attended was the jQuery conference. Myself and a developer from Redtag.ca attended this conference. Most of the information that was being discussed went way over my head, because the event was mostly catered for developers and software engineers. But I did find it to be very helpful to understand my fellow developer in the ways he works and what is most popular in his field. Another conference that I found very informative was the FITC, it has speakers and workstops for both designers and developers. The speakers were all a lot of fun to listen to and to learn from. You’d be surprised how much more inspired you get by listening to a well known designer live rather than looking at his or her work on their website. As for meet-ups, I like to attend small art shows from painters, digital artists, or designers. I enjoy the quiet, peaceful environments to get inspiration from ones work. It also gives a better opportunity the speak with the artist which could lead to a valuable connection.


Where else do you look for inspiration/new ideas to use in your work? (blogs, twitter feeds, etc.)

The website that I most frequent is Designer News: https://news.layervault.com/stories

Another good one that’s good for discussions is on Reddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/web_design

I enjoy more of the sites that have more of a discussion rather than just you looking at work. I do still enjoy looking at work for design inspiration. Some great sites for that are:

http://society6.com , http://designtaxi.com , http://mydesignstories.com


Well, that’s it. Thanks for your consideration, Shai! It was good times being a part of your interview. Thanks to anyone else who read this. Cheers.