Building Websites for a Living
London-based web designer and smarterwork Expert Rafaelle Malanga thinks designing websites is a bit like building houses. He talks to smarterwork about his artistic credo and what it takes to succeed as a web designer.
Name: Rafaelle Malanga
Occupation: Web designer
Based in: London, UK
Freelance since: 1999
smarterwork: How did you get started as a freelance web designer?
Rafaelle Malanga: I started designing websites while attending a part-time MA in Communication Design at the Central Saint Martins College in London. My experience in graphic design began much earlier with illustrations and multimedia projects. My background is in architecture, so I always had to deal with graphics in the broadest sense. I actually find my architectural training very useful when designing for the Internet, because I tend to start from a structure and build all the rest around it. At the moment my work is varied, ranging from small Web sites made of four or five pages, to some huge and complex projects with lots of integrated functions.
SW: Is it true that London is something of a web designer's 'mecca'?
RM: Working in London is extremely stimulating. It can be stressful at times, because of the competition. Here you get to know new graphic styles and trends on the streets, in clubs and shops. It is exciting and also helpful in developing your own graphic style, which has to be good and innovative enough to stand out among the others.
SW: Do you feel that web designers are in an international price war - with Indian developers for example, charging a tenth of US/UK developer prices?
RM: I can understand that due to the 'global village' concept, aided by the Internet, any client could have the job done by someone on the other side of the planet for much less in terms of cost. I think we can do nothing but accept the situation. On the other hand, the market is desperate for good designers and developers at the moment, so there should be enough for everyone.
SW: Tell us about your favourite sites and projects you have worked on?
RM: I really enjoyed putting together a website for an art magazine called Loop. The client didn’t have a precise idea about the look and structure she was after, and left that to my initiative. Considering that it is a very unusual magazine, for example in its book size and its publication times (only twice a year), I thought that also the website should have been unusual. So a friend and I came up with this idea of having the Web pages different from each other and with no logo or ‘corporate’ feel. Every page has been designed with the aim of providing the needed information, but completely free from schemes and templates. It is so unusual that the client didn’t even put it on a proper server under a proper URL, so now it sits on one of the many free servers geocities.com.
SW: Do you rely on authoring softwares or do you write html? How important do you think it is for a designer to have an understanding of raw code?
RM: I've been taught to do web design writing raw HTML codes in Notepad or Simple Text. With the years I got used to get some help from HTML editors, such as HomeSite, and eventually I got into Dreamweaver. But more often than not I still need to go back into the HTML codes to sort things out. I believe that having an in-depth understanding of the codes really helps.
SW: Could you tell us a few words about some of the projects you worked on at smarterwork?
RM: My first project with smarterwork has been a Flash animation for a music website. The site had already a style, so I tried to design something consistent with it. I really enjoyed working with the Client.
Another project for smarterwork has been the redesign of an existing site for a law firm. Again, the Client wanted his site to be totally different from the corporate ones. He gave me the chance to come up with something very simple in terms of structure but very strong in terms of graphic style, considering the nature of the company.
SW: What kind of sites do you prefer to work on?
RM: I think that the dream of most web designers is to work with no restrictions and style templates, to unleash the creativity and experiment new things. I'm very happy to work with open-minded clients, who haven't got a predetermined idea of a project. In my experience, clients usually are worried about putting too much technology into their project, although they'd like to have smart and multi-functional sites. My approach is 'low-tech': of course in order to achieve what the client and I want, I need to use the technology but I try not to let it show too much. I prefer to work on the kind of sites that allows me to do so, where graphic quality comes first.
SW: Can you tell us about the kind of websites you prefer to e-work on and why? (ie: articstic, e-commerce etc.)
RM: Because of my training history and my background I tend to prefer the artistic side. After all, if we consider the Web as a media in its own right, I think it is reasonable to make a distinction between graphic people and developers. Saying that, it is also true that the design and the development levels overlap quite frequently. So if we consider developing as 'putting together a web page' - different from embedding and integrating highly sophisticated functionalities, i.e. e-commerce features - then I think a web designer should be able to develop. In fact, I tend to do both design and development, which I often refer to as production.
SW: How do you think the Internet is affecting people's working habits?
RM: Enormously. It is sufficient to see how often in ad campaigns and marketing activities, companies want their URL to appear in bold types. It helps businesses, and helps people too to be more informed about virtually everything. It has the potential to radically change working relationships too, as companies like smarterwork clearly show.
SW: What are your plans for the future?
RM: It is difficult to have plans that do not take into serious consideration the sector's evolution. Software become obsolete so quickly and there is constantly the need to keep up with new technology. So professional development should always be on the top of priorities for the future. I'll also have to finish my final project for the MA in Communication Design, which I hope will involve a lot of fun.
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