An Interview with Jeff Starr

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An Interview with Jeff Starr

Hey Jeff, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions here on MyInkBlog! Please speak a little bit about yourself, and your background? How did you get started in web development?

I’m basically just a creative guy who is completely addicted to web design and the creative process. I’ve been developing websites and writing tutorials for about six years. My background includes a lot of drawing, print and graphic design. I have been exploring art and creativity most of my life. Iíve worked quite a bit with desktop publishing and audio/video mixing. In college, I studied biochemistry, psychology, and math in an attempt to get into medical school. After that fell through, I dove wholeheartedly into web and graphic design, and have been here ever since. I initially got into web design and development as a career move, and now pursue it as more of a lifestyle.

Your book “Digging Into WordPress” that you co-wrote with Chis Coyier has already been a big success. What separates this book from the host of other WordPress books that are available?

Digging Into WordPress

I think mostly because we did it 100% our own way. At first we looked into going with an established publisher, but after really thinking about it, decided to “roll our own” and go the self-publishing/DIY route. The one thing we didn’t want to do was just another book about WordPress. It had to be 100% genuine, with “real-life” code and authentic dialogue. Plus, we include stuff like free themes and free lifetime updates, which is something I’ve never seen for other WordPress books. I see Digging into WordPress as a living, breathing project as opposed to a typical, static tech book. We’re both right down there in the trenches working with WordPress every day. It’s the real deal.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while putting together a project of this magnitude?

Overall, I think the biggest challenge is doing everything ourselves. When you go with an established publisher, you’ve got other people doing all of the design, editing, testing, printing, distribution, accounting, and so on. We’re doing all of this ourselves, so there is much more work involved throughout the entire process. The upside is that we maintain full control over every detail of the project. For myself, that’s a beneficial equation, and overall itís been an incredible experience. Working with Chris Coyier is just plain awesome :)

In addition to the book and Perishable Press you also find the time to manage Monzilla Media, jQuery Mix, MindFeed amongst others. I have no idea how you do it! What sort of time management skills can you share?

Monzilla Media

Balance is key. I try to avoid spending too much time on any one project. I also try to maximize my time, always thinking of better and more efficient ways of doing things. I’ve been refining my practice for many years. I’m now at the point where I can do some pretty serious multitasking. With a family of four, full-time offline job, part-time web-design business, ongoing book project, and seven production sites, time-management is critical, but I actually spend very little time thinking about it. Instead I just get things done as spontaneously and efficiently as possible, running on intuition while focusing on the present moment. It’s all by the grace of God, really — I only work with what I am given.

I find many of your blog posts on Perishable Press refreshingly honest. Your recent post “A Few Steps Back” really caught my attention. Can you briefly speak about some of the negative trends you’ve been observing lately in the design community.

I think it feels good to be honest and cut loose once in awhile, but it’s not always met with enthusiasm. Getting tons of stuff done means that you don’t often get the chance to step back and ponder the deeper things in life, like where you’re at, what you’re doing, and where you’re going. That’s important stuff, but sadly not enough of us are taking the time to actually live our lives offline, in the “real” world. This is having a detrimental effect throughout the community, I think, as designers get hung up in the game, trolling for followers, and focused only on short-term self-promotion, monetization and opportunism. As a result, everything is getting way too impersonal, shallow, and insincere. Everyone is so concerned with cranking out content, designs, and tutorials that they’re missing all the incredible stuff that other people are doing. There is so much amazing work out there, but unfortunately the trend seems to be in the direction of everyone being their own producer, publisher, and audience.

What new technologies and design trends interest you the most right now?

I’m stoked about the increasing use of CSS3 and HTML5. I love clean, well-formatted code, and CSS3/HTML5 enable designers to create better, even more amazing sites than ever before. I’m also hooked on Ajax and jQuery, and how they can transform the ordinary web page into a highly interactive user experience. I also enjoy working with the Twitter and Facebook APIs, and think it would be fun to develop an app or two for the iPhone. Certainly, with all the amazing new technologies it can be difficult to stay focused. And then there’s the Web itself, which seems to be evolving into this omniscient, all-defying presence. What will the Web look like in another 10 years? 50? Will it remain free and open, or will some political force try locking it down? There’s sort of a mystical energy to working online that keeps everything very exciting and inspiring.

What are some of your favorite blogs that you read?

I read a wide variety of topics in a futile attempt to stay current. I read everything from mainstream design/development sites to some great “in-the-trenches”-type personal sites. I also subscribe to various niche sites on different programming languages, hacking, security, networking, and software/apps. I also enjoy reading a few key SEO sites, WordPress sites, and plenty of non-tech-related stuff. Needless to say, I spend waay too much time in Google Reader! But I’m working on it ;)

What tools do you use daily to help you develop your websites? Software, apps, hardware, books or otherwise?

When it comes to software, apps, and other tools, I like to keep things simple. I love working with Notepad on the PC, and TextEdit on the Mac. Likewise, I use either Dreamweaver or Coda for file synchronization, syntax highlighting, and FTP. Other essentials include Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Firefox, and Thunderbird. Nothing too glamorous, but they’re all great programs that continue to serve me well. I also use a ton of online apps like Google Reader, Google Docs, Gmail, Dropbox, smush.it, plus all sorts of validators, code compressors and the like. There’s a million of ‘em!

Mac or PC, why?

I’ve been a PC guy from the start, but have been using a MacBook Pro on the side for several years now. It used to feel like cheating, but not anymore. My next machine is going to be a Mac. I have my glass eye on a new Mac Pro, but plan on waiting until they roll out with the 2010 updates, hopefully any day now. ;)

Thanks a bunch for doing this interview. In closing, what sort of advice would you give someone who is just getting started in web development?

One word: search. Possessing strong search skills is fundamental to success. Beyond that, just give it everything you’ve got. Practice like mad, learn ’til it hurts, and never say die. You are only limited by yourself!

That’s A Wrap

Thanks again to Jeff for agreeing to this interview. Please feel free to drop Jeff a line using the comment form below.

About the Author

Andrew is a primary contributer for MyInkBlog. He is a full time web developer for Niagara University. When he's not working there, he's a blogger, twitter'er, wordpress'er, silverstripe advocate, blessed father and husband.

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  • http://perishablepress.com/ Jeff Starr

    Thanks for the interview, Andrew! I love the header graphic :)

    • http://www.myinkblog.com Andrew Houle

      Your welcome, thanks a bunch for taking the time! Glad you liked the graphic, it was fun to work with your sick logo mark ;)

  • Alicia

    “You are only limited by yourself”-Excellent advice, it’s going down on a Post-it note so I remember. :)

    I’d love to know what Jeff meant by “search skills” though. I’m only a beginner in studying web design so a lot of things go over my head. :(

    • http://perishablepress.com/ Jeff Starr

      I just think it’s important to be able to find what you’re looking for quickly and easily. As designers/developers, we need to work with a wide variety of languages and techniques — far too much knowledge to memorize or organize.

      In my experience, solid search skills give you access to anything you need just as soon as you can find it. There’s no way I could do even half as much without solid search skills. It’s just so fundamental to the process.

    • http://www.myinkblog.com Andrew Houle

      I totally agree. I’m constantly on Google, sifting through documentation, or scouring my own code and notes. Good search skills are imperative to what I do every day.

    • Alicia

      Ah, now I understand, I think my searching skills are what I end up practicing the most, the necessary information never seems to end. Despite my love for a good informative book, I don’t know where I would be without Google.

  • http://www.SohTanaka.com Soh Tanaka

    Great interview :-) Jeff, your blog has been one of my favs for a while now. I’ve learned a ton of things from there. Thank you for all the resources you have shared. Keep up the great work!

  • http://css-plus.com Jamy

    I don’t know how you manage to do so many things at once (I know you mentioned time management, but it still blows my mind) – I will definitely have to learn that ;)

    Great interview!

  • http://www.onextrapixel.com Aidan

    A great interview with a great person. I like what Jeff have said, -We are only limited by ourselves. It’s all about breaking limits ourselves, no one will break it for you.

    Thanks Andrew for this awesome interview!

  • http://inzoneinternet.com/ Tini | SEO and Blogging

    I’m really into web design stuff but I am afraid I don’t have what it takes yet to actually create my own design.

  • http://www.pandu.ch Claudio Rimann

    Thanks for this interview. Digging into WordPress kickstarted my theme-development. I agree that searching skills are key, especially today, where nearly every information is accessible to everyone at any time. You only have to find it!