The Common Characteristic of Design Industry Leaders


Interlink may have changed my life.

For those who don’t know, Interlink is a boutiquey sort of web design conference: small, focused, and a lot of fun. It’s held in Vancouver, and it hosts amazing panels of speakers every year. This year’s conference was tied to the idea of “craft”, and a collection of hugely talented and popular design industry leaders shared their thoughts, beliefs, and processes on their craft. Post-conference and workshops, many a conversation was had between myself and some friends, dissecting these talks by the likes of Jessica Hische, Cameron Moll, Paul Boag and the like – conversations which made me realize that these industry leaders in the web design world share some common characteristics.

design industry leaders

Doesn’t seem like too much of a revelation at first. I mean, people in the same industry having similar characteristics and appreciations? Stop the Obvious Train, conductor. But I’m not talking about our mutual love for craft beer, proper kerning, cool t-shirts and all that stuff. There is one main characteristic that I kept coming back to that all these leaders share – one thing that they all do – that has played a role in their success and notoriety. That thing they all do?

They make original content for themselves and share it.

I know what you’re thinking. Why the hell am I subscribed to this blog? I know this already. I blog and stuff. But it’s different – it’s more than that, and that key characteristic is one you can apply and benefit from. Let’s look into a few specific examples of industry leaders that were at Interlink and how they’ve done it.


Jessica Hische

Jessica is pretty much a non-stop, hilariously foul-mouthed locomotive of awesomeness, skill and creativity. Her talk was likely my favorite at Interlink, and she made a lot inspiring points I wish all of you could have heard (I’ll link to a video if it gets posted). But Jessica’s success and notoriety was springboarded not only by her skill at her craft, but by the fact she routinely makes original content for herself and puts it out there.

Examples? Daily Drop Cap. Jessica will tell you herself, as she told the audience at Interlink, that this personal project played a huge role in getting her name out there. She made that for herself – for the love of design and illustration. Oh, and don’t forget about Should I Work for Free? This enormous infographic serves as a one-stop answer for a question she was getting asked a million times. Instead of saving a draft email, she made it into a fun project that people share (because it’s awesome, and it helps them). These are just two of her personal projects – see her side projects page to see approximately one million others.


Cameron Moll

Cameron is almost an unfairly creative guy. He’s a well-known designer, speaker, and author; he’s also the creator of Authentic Jobs. But what other original content has Cameron created for himself and put out there? Well, just for Interlink, he created a gorgeous video about the city of Vancouver. This video has been all over Twitter. What else? Oh, right, there’s his beautifully crafted, letterpressed architectural/ typographic poster series that took him over 250 hours per poster. It’s original (amazing) content that he’s made and put out there. People share it because it is inspiring.


Chris Coyier

If you work in the web, you likely know who Chris Coyier is: he’s the guy behind CSS Tricks as well as Digging into WP. The original content Chris puts out there is, at first glance, following upon a more standard blog format. But dig a little deeper and you’ll see Chris pushes the web forward and tries out new things. He’s not just rounding up posts by other authors: he’s creating CSS3 button makers (one of the first); he’s writing awesome, useful jQuery plugins and sharing them with the community; he’s creating handy bookmarklets to print websites better, and so on.


Paul Boag

Paul is another guy you’re likely familiar with if you’re in the web industry. What original content does he create and put out there? Well, Boagworld is the home base for all this stuff, and it includes his podcast (free & super useful); his books; his talks; and his free fact sheets and agenda builder. Some of his original content is free; some is paid; all of it is out there, available, and helpful.

The Reasons to Create for Yourself

So Jessica has Daily Drop Cap amongst a million other things; Cameron has amazing posters; Chris has a bunch of tutorials and jQuery plugins amongst a ton of other stuff; Paul has a million different ways that he shares his knowledge. These industry leaders – whom are just a small sample size, for the sake of not writing a novel – are all creating things for themselves and putting them out there in the world. Why? Well, I know that the few things we’ve created for ourselves and put out there – like the Color Theory poster, or the Elements of Design poster – do the following:

  • They keep the love of design alive
  • They help others, either directly or via inspiration
  • They spread your profile in the design industry
  • They indirectly help your career/business
  • They make you a better designer.

If you make something awesome that you want to make, and share it, you will remember why you chose design as a career. Sometimes, that spark can get lost in the deluge of client projects and looming deadlines. Reigniting it is a wonderful thing.

If you make something awesome that you want to make, and share it, you will help others out there. That might mean helping them complete their first web design project; it might mean inspiring them to get out there and make something for themselves. Either way, helping people is a good feeling.

If you make something awesome that you want to make, and share it, your profile in the design industry will grow. More and bigger doors will open. Maybe you will land that dream client you want to work with, like Jessica did with Wes Anderson and Moonrise Kingdom. Maybe you will be asked to speak at a conference. Either way, your profile will grow, your skills will improve, and your career will benefit because of those things.

If those aren’t reasons enough to make something original for yourself and put it out there, I don’t know what is. I know that every talk and workshop at Interlink left me more inspired to get out there and make time to create something that I really want to create.

So that’s my challenge to you: go make something for yourself. Then tell us about it.

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