The web spinners

Designers are the key to creating effective and attractive websites. Darryl Nelson meets half a dozen of the best.

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Cornel Wilczek : Working on: Icon.inc (iconinc.com.au)

Education: BA in media arts with an advanced diploma in interactive design from RMIT (graduated 2000)

Best work: www.chunkymove.com.au

Design research/influences: Surfing the web; online newsgroups ("There's no particular source I've found helpful - it's about piecing ideas together.")

Cornel Wilczek is probably better known as Qua, the alias he uses in his other life as an electronic music artist. With one album released and the second due for international release next month, Qua is a regular on the Melbourne music scene. Playing a range of instruments, he describes his music as "experimental pop".

"It's a combination of real instrumentation and computer manipulation, but I don't sing," he says.

In his day job, Wilczek, 29, is interactive design manager at communications company Icon.inc in Melbourne. He believes improvements in technology and bandwidth mean the web is starting to deliver what it always promised, with design bringing more sound and movement. "Flash is now pretty much a part of every site we do," he explains.

He does feel, however, that the industry is more standardised now. "The visual language - ideas of layout and structure - used to be more of an open field. Standards have been set in place, and certain genres are very ingrained now in web design."

The tools are also very standard, with Flash, Director, HTML, Javascript and PHP all being part of every job, he says.

Wilczek feels the biggest change has been in the designers themselves: "Cross- discipline skills (ability in both front and back-end design and coding) have never been more important. Design can actually be programmed now, using modules that come together when the site is live."

He says the Chunky Move dance-company's site is one of the simplest he's done, but it captures what good web design is about. "It really gets their info across precisely, but still looks attractive," he says. "It's kind of Bauhaus philosophy."

Bronwyn Bebee Working on: dorja, a web development business

Education: BA in communications, and a design minor, from Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University, US (graduated 1996)

Best Work: deucedesign.com.au (interior designers)

Design research/influences: australianinfront.com.au; Communication Art magazine; Semi Permanent conference; dorja newsgroup.

Bronwyn Bebee runs her design business, dorja, from the Sydney home she shares with her husband and their three-year-old daughter.

A self-confessed design junkie, Bebee, 28, does Bikram yoga three times a week, plays guitar (she's currently looking for a drummer who can sing, to form a band with) and is a part-time actor.

Starting in 1999, she worked for Village Roadshow's interactive division as online content manager, before going on maternity leave.

She soon found her work following her: "All my old clients came directly to me, after Village online decentralised."

Skilled as a "Flash expert", she works with designers and other contractors to produce jobs.

"I'm still using the same software programs as five years ago: Photoshop, Illustrator and Flash," she says, "and a lot of the time WordPad for HTML."

Bebee notes how far web design has come since the early text-only university sites.

"It's more context based now. Sites have become more relevant to the business itself," she says.

She also finds that designing for multiple browser versions is less of an issue now, and that the lines between web and print design have converged more: "Clients realise there's a lot of crossover now to maintain brand value."

She is working with a former Mambo clothing art director to produce a "design-less" website template for small independent clothing labels.

"They come out with a different clothing range two or four times a year but can't pay for a new site design each time," she explains.

"We're trying to give them a clean slate to upload their images so they won't go out of date."

Dorja is also about to move into a new loft office, sharing with a clothing label client and a recording publisher.

"As of 2001 (when the dotcom boom went bust), everyone became a contractor - now we all want to move out of our homes," Bebee says.

Lara Cameron

Working on: freelance (laracameron.com)

Education: BA in multimedia from Swinburne University of Technology (graduated 2003)

Best work: www.wmcq.com.au (Whitefield McQueen architects and interior designers)

Design research/influences: www.australianinfront.com.au; surfing the web.

Lara Cameron lives in Melbourne. She speaks German, is a trained pianist and likes screen-printing and designing her own clothes. Following her degree, which included a year's full-time internship at multimedia agency Acumentum, Cameron, 22, has worked for herself, providing visual design services for website and print projects.

Working mainly with Illustrator, Photoshop and Flash - tools she considers "fantastic" - she believes good web design to be technically advanced (database driven at least), visually sleek and cohesive and "probably built with Flash", she laughs.

She likes the Whitefield McQueen site as her best work to date because of its Flash core in both the front and back ends. "It's got a content management system behind built in Flash as well, which looks just like the front end," she explains. Cameron looked after all the Flash design, while another programmer did the PHP and XML coding.

Currently working on an illustration job for a book, and with a new website project starting soon, Cameron says she's enjoying freelance contracting and having no trouble finding work.

It also means she has plenty of time to indulge her passions for textiles and Ceroc, a dancing style she describes as French Latin modern jive. "I go twice a week. It's a bit showy, with lots of spins and leaps in the air."

Nyree Corby

Working on: The Topia Project

Education: BA in business communications & art from Bond University (graduated 2000).

Best work: tyrrells.com.au

Design research/influences: Creative magazine; australianinfront.com.au; surfing the web; flashkit.com; favouritewebsiteawards.com

Nyree Corby loves yoga, practising both the Astanga and Bikram styles. "I go about twice a week. It's a great way to unwind, or sometimes I start the day with it." She also designs her own clothes and jewellery, which provides an outlet for her creative side. "I really enjoy that because I don't get to design (sites) much any more," she explains.

Corby, 24, runs her own small company in Sydney with four employees. She worked in the interactive division of the Singleton advertising agency for 18 months after graduating, but left to set up on her own with a partner. "I left for more creative control, and you end up being a suit anyway," she laughs.

True to her background, she believes the web works best for businesses when integrated with advertising strategies and focuses on its intended final purpose. "It's a very specialist area now, and you really have to understand the medium," she says. "For a web designer, there's so many rules. If you can take all those into consideration and still produce a beautiful piece of work, that's good design."

She likes the Tyrell's Wines site as structurally sound, with vast content supported by a complex content management system. "We also strategised the function and format of the website to increase traffic," she says.

Corby says Flash has become more important since it became possible to interface with back-end databases, but finds its animation handling laborious. She believes site-building programs will never replace HTML.

"Hardcore programmers will never stop using Notepad, and we tend to steer clear of programs like Dreamweaver. It speeds things up but you still have to clean (the HTML) up afterwards."

The biggest changes, she feels, have been in the development of Actionscript ("Tools can now do so much more than before") and the growth of broadband and public infrastructure in general.

"It's there now to support online business. The penetration of the Flash Player is growing and designers feel less restricted," she says.

Oliver Freeman

Working on: Crank Media e-learning and multimedia development (crankmedia.com.au)

Education: BA in graphic design from Monash University (graduated 1996); a graduate diploma in internet software development from Swinburne (2000)

Best work: www.netalert.net.au

Design research/influences: surfing the web; IDN magazine; Flash conferences.

Oliver Freeman is the father of nine-month-old twins, enjoys windsurfing and is renovating a house in Hobart for his young family to move into. In his spare time, he's also a senior designer with Crank Media.

After working for a couple of years in Melbourne and a year in London, Freeman moved to Hobart in 2001 and worked freelance for two years before joining Crank. He loves the Tasmanian lifestyle, where work in the city centre is just a 15-minute "stroll along the waterfront" from home.

Freeman, 29, is another who has seen the web grow up, for both clients and designers. "Sites are designed now for very specific purposes, and you have to be far more competent," he says. "Designers need to have basic coding language skills in both HTML and Flash, and to understand (things like) Javascript. It eases the load on programmers."

He finds the emphasis now is much more on functional design and that designers have less licence to be indulgent: "A lot of the sites now have a large investment in the back end, so you can't really take the risk of turning customers off (with the front-end design)." This functional approach is evident in the NetAlert site, he says.

As well as designing with the holy trinity (Flash, Illustrator and Photoshop) and HTML, he regularly works with Adobe Image Ready. He would like to see a 3D component in Flash.

Eric Warner

Working on: partnership in web designers Epimedia

Education: MA in electronic arts from ANU Australian Centre for Arts & Technology (graduated 2001)

Best work: makingcontact.net.au

Design research/influences: The Museum of Contemporary Art and other art galleries; Art Bite magazine ("I don't look at other sites very much - the networks that are established just don't do anything, and conferences are so wanky.")

Eric Warner, 30, describes himself as a chronic workaholic, averaging 12-hour days. "I do love what I do," he says. "Web design is something where anything can be fixed, unlike life." He admits, however, to feelings of panic, and that deadlines drive him.

To "escape", he loves fleeing on his bike, watching films, and says he's an excellent baker. He also creates multimedia installations and expects to have something on show in Canberra within the next four months.

Warner and a colleague left their jobs with the University of NSW, where they helped develop the first BSc degree delivered fully online in Australia, to form Epimedia in February 2002. Specialising in e-learning sites, the business works out of Sydney and Canberra.

Flash, Illustrator and Photoshop are again common tools, and on the back end of sites he uses PHP and MySQL for scripting. He also uses Director to develop online games for sites.

Warner thinks one of the biggest changes in the industry is that WYSIWYG editors in programs such as Dreamweaver have enabled more people to build good websites. Clients, too, are now more empowered: "They really want after-launch support and training on maintaining the site - two years ago no one used to ask." He also stresses that Epimedia outsources as necessary, especially for code testing.

Website designers expect clients to put money where the mouse is

The cost of having a website designed and built has come a long way since Bronwyn Bebee was paid by a steakhouse with meal coupons in 1995. "They paid me in Bogen's Bucks, worth about $US200 ($A270)," she says. (Her original site is still live, at bogens.com).

Lara Cameron's freelance rate averages $50 per hour. "It's about standard for a person who's only been around for a year or so," she says.

Eric Warner says sites can cost anything from $1500 to tens of thousands in total, but adds that Epimedia's rate averages $85 per hour - which he describes as low. "It's not uncommon to pay $150 per hour," he adds.

Nyree Corby says it depends on whether a site is static or dynamic: "A static site can cost between $5000-$12,000, while a dynamic, full-scale back end with a content management system will cost $20,000 minimum or as much as $250,000."

It is possible to spend as much as you want on a website, but rates most likely are not as inflated as they were during the height of the dotcom frenzy.

Cornel Wilczek believes prices have fallen since the crash, particularly because the work is now done properly. "It's definitely a lot less than it used to be. (After the shakeout), those left were very committed to the industry and the average skill level is much higher now," he argues. "My main role for a long time was fixing other people's work - there was a lot of very bad coding."

March 23, 2004




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