The Dan Pitts Interview
Dan Pitts – like many of us – works a 9 to 5 and does freelance on the side. He’s a great guy and does some equally great work. His freelance gig flys under the name of e210 Design.
One thing I love about Dan is his passion towards design. On his bio he says, “Design is more than making something that looks great or sells, it’s a way to encourage and serve the client.”
There are many designers out there whom are creating with no purpose or passion behind their work. Dan on the other hand is really seeking to enhance his own art, and bring something quality and worthwhile to the design community.
I had the chance to ask him some questions about the work he does and (of course) the Mac he does it on. Enjoy.
- SHAWN BLANC: Hey Dan. Tell me about what you do that your bio page doesn’t say.
- DANN PITTS: Currently I’m working a full time job that I have had for 9 years now. At my 9-5 we focus on catalogs and gift books with some book covers. After my first son was born I found that my creativity (and my wallet) needed a boost so I went out to find some different kinds of work. So for the past four years I’ve built up a network of clients and other designers and have gotten to the point where I have steady work coming in. I am limited to how much and what kind of work I can do since I usually have to work at night. I have chosen to focus on book cover and web design. I’ve found that variety really brings a joy to designing and a boost to creativity.
- SHAWN: When you first stepped into freelance design work on the side what was the biggest challenge you faced?
- DAN: The quick answer is finding work. The details of that answer is that I had to set up a website portfolio that I could point people to. Problem was I didn’t have much work (and no book covers) to post. At the time I didn’t put anything from my 9-5 on there and all I had were a couple logo’s I had done for friends and a website I had worked on for our church. So I had to create my website (which has been the hardest client I’ve worked for) and then create these covers that were going to show what I could do. I kept running into a wall where I felt they just weren’t good enough or could be improved but eventually I just had to get the site posted and some covers up to start the process. Looking back they were pretty weak but you have to start somewhere. Thankfully for me the first batch of emails I sent out looking for work produced a client I really enjoy working for and they have sent me many projects so now I can post actual work.
- SHAWN: Why Book Covers?
- DAN: First, I was already doing it at my 9-5 job so I had some experience in it. Second, from a business standpoint it’s really a great niche, if you can get in with a publisher and they like your stuff they will probably give you repeat work. Most important for me is that it’s a single piece of art and it’s goal is to catch your attention and lead you into the book. So each book is a new challenge with new solutions and is inspired by the work someone else has done so it kind of has that team aspect to it. I also like the finality of being able to see a project that is printed (as opposed to the web work I do).
- SHAWN: Why Web Design?
- DAN: Well web design is obviously the future, if the future isn’t here already. The ability to communicate information on the web is so amazing, I wonder if we don’t take it for granted already (and I’m still amazed when I run across companies that don’t have a site or they have a bad one and it’s not a priority for them). It’s relatively inexpensive and can be so current you can do things you could never do with print; podcasts, video podcasts, pdf documents you can download, it’s all so amazing. Then to think that the only thing that changes between the fortune 500 company and a church website or a small business of 4 employees is the content, that makes the design that much more important. I’m comparing it to print where a major company might print something out on a huge press run with high weight, glossy paper, special inks, embossed and a church is making black and white copies in there office. Not with the web, each site is viewed on the same computer with the same browser.
- SHAWN: If web design is the future, what do you think that will mean for print?
- DAN: Well there are people with a lot more experience and knowledge that I would look to for that answer but here’s my take. I’ve seen it effect some areas of print already. My 9-5 job, one of their main clients is a catalog company and the web has effected their business dramatically. I don’t know if print will ever go away but I think it will serve more and more as a way to lead people to websites. Print can never keep up with the web when it comes to current content, but there is something to be said for the ability to hand someone a business card rather than sending an email. For books, I have a hard time imagining the day when a 200-400 page book is sold in an electronic format and tens of thousands of people buy it. I know some of the reference books I have worked on come with a cd that has the information in pdf format also but that is an extra aid, not the main product. Even writing this though I have that feeling that if I see this in 15 years I will look back and laugh. Who knows, I guess that’s why I try and have my feet in both.
- SHAWN: That’s a great answer. I think the concept of using print to point to web is excellent. This allows for more focus on design with printed material, allowing the content to be primarily web-based. Changing topics a little bit. Let’s talk about your workflow. For starters what does your Mac setup consist of?
- DAN: Right now I’m nearing the end of a good run with my G4 20 inch imac, 160gb hard drive with 1gig memory. I’m in need of upgrading the programs and computer but here’s a screenshot of what I’m using now.
- SHAWN: What other Apple gear have you used?
- DAN: I remember my dad getting one of the first macintosh computers for christmas when I was younger. In high school that’s all I used and in college being a fine arts major I didn’t have to use the computer a whole lot so I always found the mac lab, just happened to pick the right profession I guess. I started freelancing on the first generation imac, went to a G3 powerbook with a seperate monitor (the 21 inch apple crt’s which weighed about 200 pounds). Then got a hand me down G4 titanium powerbook from my dad before the imac. The imac has been with me the longest.
- SHAWN: I have always loved the titanium PowerBooks. I remember when they first came out. That was actually my first time in an Apple store. They will always be a classic to me. So when you do a freelance project for print, like a book cover, what does your workflow look like?
- DAN: Right now it’s usually make client calls on my way home from work. Then after being a father and husband for a while I start working around 9 or 10. I’ll start by sketching out stuff on paper and trying to ask, what problem am I trying to solve. Then I’ll look at websites or books, try to gather information, scans or images I might want to use, nice fonts, anything. Then if possible I like to let that kind of soak in and have a direction before I start working on the computer. Usually that direction will then move into other ideas but I found that if I don’t have a place to start and focus I can go anywhere and waste a lot of time on ideas that don’t work. An important part of my workflow seems to be the time that elapses between sending the first round out and then getting the corrections back. I like having that time to detach from the project and come back with fresh eyes, and usually the art director will narrow it down to what comp they want to work on. I have to refine and keep polishing it. I hope time and experience will change that a bit and I can provide great stuff first round, but I have a ways to go still.
- SHAWN: So if you work a 9-5, and do freelance work starting around 9 or 10, how much sleep do you normally get?
- DAN: Sleep? Usually if work is moderately busy I’ll get 5 hours a night. If it’s really busy maybe around 4. I’m not one of those guys that can pull an all nighter (not even when I was in college). At a certain point my eyes just stop working and I have found that I’m not really productive anyways. No matter how much Mountain Dew I drink. I could handle it better when we just had our son but now I have twin girls (a year and a half old) and it’s been much harder. Every now and then I need to go to bed at 10:30.
- SHAWN: I bet that’s something we can all relate to.