Five Questions with Trent Walton
Published by Chris Coyier
Trent is an easy guy to admire. He works at a cool design agency (they have a triforce for a logo and pull it off). He's got a cool blog that shows off his clean design style with art directed posts and custom headers. Jason Santa Maria calls him on the phone to work on cool projects with fancy new web technologies. I thought I'd try and snag an interview with him to see if some of that cool could rub off on me.
*Chris: A lot of designers, once they have matured, gotten pretty good at what they do, and have made a bit of a name for themselves tend to leave the agency thing behind and do their own thing. Is that what is in store for you as well? From what I can tell, you're pretty happy at Paravel.
Trent: I can see the appeal behind striking out on one's own because, for me, Paravel is exactly that, except it's our own thing- a business I've built with Dave Rupert and Reagan Ray. We've known each other since high school and have been collaborating for years, even before we formed Paravel full time. There's something to be said for teams that stick together, perfecting their craft as well as their working relationships. That's what we're aiming for because we believe that we do our best work when we're together, challenging each other.
*Chris: That's cool that you kind of "work on how you work," which is certainly an important thing to hone and easy to skip. I enjoy how your business website is an up-to-date and well presented portfolio of projects you've done. Is that a part of the process you always make time for? I've definitely worked at places before where the business website always came last priority wise when there was client work to be done. Is it a big part of attracting new quality clients?
Trent: While we do make time to keep our portfolio current, the main catalyst there is pure excitement. We love what we do and enjoy sharing with clients and friends. I've always been impressed with the way Andy Clarke strives to do good work and then talk about it. He'll write about the process, decisions made along the way, and which current HTML/CSS technologies he implemented and why. Going through an evaluative process like that makes the work valuable beyond the sum of its parts. I've certainly learned from reading about another team's process & experiences, and hopefully the stuff we talk about on the Paravel site and my blog will be helpful to others.
As far as priorities go, being right at the top is making sure that every hour in our workday isn't blocked out for client work, and that benefits everyone. We get to work on side projects, experiment with CSS, and design & build things that challenge us to improve our skill-sets. It's fun for us, and I believe that clients appreciate that we're ready to go when billable hours start.
*Chris: Speaking of clients, cross-browser compatibility is often a new concept for them. Do you have an approach worked out for explaining that to them? I've heard some agencies doing things like charging extra for IE 6 support. Does Paravel have any general policies regarding browser support?
Trent: No specific policies for browser support in any one particular browser - just a project phase with an estimated chunk of time for pre-launch items like testing and revisions. We're probably fairly predictable here, building for the best browser and making sensible judgements along the way to cover the rest. Each client & project is unique, so we evaluate compatibility needs on a case-by-case basis and then bring clients in if they need to make a call on where they'd like our testing hours to go.
I must say that I do believe that CSS3 pays off. In most cases, it isn't sensible to spend billable hours doing things like slicing up images and faking rounded corners when you can CSS them with border-radius instead.
Chris: That's a good thing to remember about using CSS3: not only does it allow us to do neat things and help keep our markup clean, but it can make us more time-efficient as well.
*Chris: Server side technology has lots of options. A web developer might get sick of PHP and switch to Ruby. They might decide to try a schema-free database instead of MySQL. Client side designer folks don't really have any options. There really isn't any alternative to CSS. So I guess the question becomes: are we cool with that? Is CSS's slow march forward good enough for the forseeable future?
Trent: I've honestly never imagined or wanted for a CSS alternative. Convention may evolve slower than we'd like it to, but to me that's OK. A long time ago, I built websites in Flash and had virtually no constraints. It didn't make the end product any better; instead it yielded lots of one-off type UI elements that made sites less usable and accessible.
Whether code is static, or if PHP or Ruby is spitting it out, at the end of the day it's HTML & CSS and I believe that is when the web is at its best.
*Chris:Where is the web at its best these days? Do you have any sites you've been particularly impressed with lately that really embrace the medium?
mikekus.com & kylemeyer.com
I like both of these sites for their sheer browse-ability. Coupled with the admitted smidge of designer-envy I experience, I love the bareness of the UI. No extensive overlays or nav/sub-nav elements - just attractive content and simple scrolling.
I really enjoyed watching the evolution of this design on Dribbble, and think the further enhancements made with media queries serve as a great example of a site that represents the creator & pushes the medium forward.
I have a penchant for playing with any new CSS property I can get my hands on, and it’s obvious that Luke is the same way. Hovering that main nav is inspiring. It makes me want to be an astronaut.
What a unique layout and color palette. I also like that it serves less content in the mobile version. I’m starting to think that mobile versions of sites that just stack everything in a single narrow column can be overwhelming to the user.
simurai.com, neography.com, simonfosterdesign.com, chris-armstrong.com, and playground.deaxon.com
I love to see sites like these and many others that have sandbox sections for CSS experimentation. You’ve got to appreciate those who are willing to sacrifice time for hashing out new properties and furthering the web community.