Clément Grellier, Freelancer & Judge at CSSDesignAwards

Clément Grellier by Williams Geran

An alum from the Parisian school Gobelins, graduating from L’école de L’Image in 2013, Clément is a freelance front-end developer who has worked for many agencies including Kitchen in Prague and Maecia in Paris. It was his eye for design and passion for user experiences that landed him a unique opportunity: to be a judge at CSS Design Awards, an online platform aiming to showcase today’s best websites.

As a self-taught web developer, you created your first website back in high school and later decided to study at Les Gobelins. Why not just enter the workplace right away?

After high school, I was already thinking about working professionally as I knew I wanted to build websites for a living. I also knew that studying for 5 years or more wasn’t for me — I wanted to start working as soon as possible. That’s why I took a 2-year course in Laval and chose to do the second year as an apprenticeship. This was my first real look at what creating and building websites in a company would be like. I loved it.

The combination of classes and work suited me well, so I decided to look for another 2-year program in Paris. My teachers recommended that I apply to Les Gobelins as they thought it would be the right fit for my expectations. The program they offered was perfect for me: it was quite short (2 years), free, had a strong focus on design and interaction, and you got to work in a company that pays you.

During this program I was able to keep learning about development, user experience, web design, and working in a digital agency. I really learned a lot in a small amount of time because the program is based on school projects and you can also apply what you learn on real projects in the agency. I think that’s the best way to improve your skills and get to know what you are best at. I loved working on the graduation project. We chose to create a brand new streaming music platform called Broadn. It was challenging and definitely taught me how to be autonomous.

Finding opportunities as a freelancer can be challenging. How do people find you?

It gets easier to find opportunities in time. The more you work, the more you make connections, the more you get recommended. You have to be patient. When I decided to become a freelancer back in 2014, I knew that it would be challenging as there are already tons of agencies, studios and freelance developers in Paris.

I believe the best way to start is to create a portfolio with a selection of works, then share it with your networks to let everyone know that you are now working as an independent and to showcase the projects you are most proud of. That’s how I got my first project. Then it becomes mainly word of mouth I think. If the people you work for are satisfied with the work you did, they might recommend you or ask you to work on another project. I really try to work on different projects, big and small ones, simple and complex, in various domains and with different people.

From a platform for Paris-based record label called Fake Music to a very simple one-pager for an aspiring singer-songwriter yarynlikekaren, to a campaign for an international solidarity movement like Emmaüs.

For those who would like to go freelance, what would be your main advice?

My main advice would be to believe in your skills and to focus on what you love doing. To keep learning and trying new things.

I remember that I was a bit afraid of not being able to work on bigger projects at first, as I thought it would be too difficult for me to handle as an independent. For instance, I usually said “no” to challenging opportunities (like a contract abroad which required skills I didn’t have at the time), or projects that would require a week or two to build a proof of concept — stuff like that. I now know that, in the end, it’s these projects that you are the most proud of and where you learn the most. You just have to trust that you have the skills to do it or can learn them if needed, like learning a new Javascript framework if needed (Vue.js for instance) or trying some 3D with Threejs. That’s okay.

Let’s talk about the CSS Design Awards, who you started with a couple months ago. When you receive an application, what do you usually look for?

Being a judge for CSS Design Awards is really cool as you get to keep yourself updated with the latest trends each month. Judging a website can be quite subjective, but I usually look for cool or innovative interactions. That’s what I usually focus on: how everything is connected, and so web design is also very important. To sum up, it’s the look & feel.

I check for hover effects, transitions between pages, cool css animations, etc. To win an award, a website has to stand out and be unique. I remember seeing Waaark studio’s website and immediately thinking “this is awesome and unique and fresh and smooth”. The animations are creative, and everything seems effortless. I think that was one of the best websites from 2016.

The CSS Design Awards receives a lot of submissions. If a project doesn’t get accepted, what would be your main feedback to the author(s)?

When you apply for an award and don’t get featured or don’t get accepted it can be disappointing, because it would get your project a lot of exposure. But take it as a way to improve yourself. I remember applying a few times before getting my first “honorable mention” or “site of the day”. It’s all about patience as well.

I think it depends on the opportunities you get. A way to improve a site’s interactions and animations is to share your work and get more feedback before submitting a project. Focus on the small details, improve the site’s effects, think about how the final user is going to navigate, and find a way to make the project unique and special. Getting feedback on your work is the best way to improve it and it might even give you a few more ideas to make it better.

Winning awards doesn’t have to be the main purpose when you work on a project, but it’s always nice to get some recognition for your work.

Who should we interview next?

My friend Maxime Chillemi. He is a great graphic designer and photographer. I’ve worked on a few projects with him. I’d also say Javier Dunn, who’s a singer/songwriter and musician.

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