Blog Entry

Interview with Dan Ritzenthaler

Dan is a co-founder and partner of 30 Second Rule. He’s a CJO of Jitsu.com like James and runs a blog about the best books ever.

How did you get started as a web designer?
I left high school a math nerd and had plans to be an engineer of some kind. After looking high and low, I realized this was something I wouldn’t love doing. I probably wouldn’t even like it. So I chose the art school and jumped in hoping I would figure something out before I was too far into the degree.

I was all print for a while… Thankfully there were some required web classes that really got me interested. The artsy side of design I was really starting to enjoy was coming together with the nerdy side I already had when I was writing the code.

There’s something very satisfying about figuring out how something should look and work, then actually make it. I couldn’t do one without the other.

How long have you been working as a web designer?
I did a lot of freelance during school, then had a job at a web company for a little under 2 years, and have been with my own company for just over 2 years. What’s funny is that I’m just starting to feel like I’m becoming a web designer. Even if I’m only 2% of the way there, I’m starting to understand how sizes, shapes, and colors effect people and how to use them to get the right reactions and emotions going. To me that’s a designer – it’s sooo much more than making things pretty.

What part of your job do you like the most?
The most exciting, and by far the hardest, part of designing for the web is understanding the client and representing them correctly. As bad as it is to judge and stereotype, the way we look and act has a lot to do with how we’re perceived. That perception of the client needs to be as clear as possible.

When a client says that it feels like them or captures their personality is when I feel like I’ve done my job. That’s almost better than a paycheck.

What was the first website you ever built?
Wow (shivers run down spine). I remember the first official job I had was to rework and clean up some code for a smaller government related site. I don’t think it’s up anymore – which makes the internet a much better place!

I do remember the first little web site I was proud of making. This has to be three to four years old and still going strong. 2 Cats Consulting LLC

What’s the biggest mistake or hardest lesson you’ve learned as a web designer?
There are no “industry standards” and whenever that phrase is brought up you should do the exact opposite. Be careful when someone’s reason for doing something is “because it’s expected”, or what “most of the industry is doing”. That solution might be right, but take it with a grain of salt and come to your own conclusions.

It’s especially sad to see something fail when it’s caused by people with faulty assumptions. I’ve seen it done by others and myself too many times.

What’s the most helpful thing you’ve learned?
Hmmm. See last question… I guess the failures are where you learn the most. When you win, it’s hard to actually pinpoint why. You can imagine and assume, but never confidently know. It’s much easier with failures. Usually with enough studying, you can bring it down to a few things and realize what could have been done differently.

So the most helpful thing I’ve learned is to not see failures as a reason for quitting or not trying something new. It’s just a miscalculation of execution and expectations. Don’t stop trying.

What is a typical work day like for you?
The first thing has to be giving Bruce Lee one of those knuckle pound things. For the people who don’t have enough time for a real hand shake… I don’t know what those are called. Anyways…

I usually try to get through my emails and RSS feeds first thing so I can plan out the day properly. Then I set up all the things I think need to get done before I go to bed and pick one I’m either the most interested in or can get done the quickest and go.

That’s really about it. There’s meetings and presentations here and there that get me out of the office a few times a week, but that’s my typical day.

What are some sites that you visit daily or regularly?
I like poking around 9rules on a pretty regular basis. Jitsu is definitely a multiple times a day visit.

There’s about 20 blogs on my newsreader that slowly change from week to week. I don’t let myself get over 20 – when I add one I have to delete one. That way I actually read them and can be constantly cleaning house.

Some of the ones that have lasted a while:

Any other words of advice for new web designers?
If you’re in Phoenix, go to Refresh Phoenix. If you’re in any other city, go to that Refresh. Now that I think of it… Refresh doesn’t even matter. Just make sure you get involved with as many people that inspire you as possible. Wherever you can get it, get it!

Thanks for the interview Dan!

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