October 28, 2011

Carrying Quality All The Way Through: Designer, Front-end Developer and Illustrator Jan Cavan

It was at Web Heroines where I discovered Jan Cavan, who runs Dawghouse Design Studio, a web-based portfolio “which also doubles as a design blog offering tutorials, freebies and inspiration to the design community.” Her Dribbble “shots” also showcase her creativity. Cavan keeps cultivating her visual playground. Here she shares her experience and perspective, from practicing multiple creative disciplines to owning a studio:

Can you please tell a little bit about yourself?
Where are you from? What do you do for a living?
I’m Jan Cavan, I’m a designer, front-end developer and illustrator based in Southern California.

What is your statement about being a designer, illustrator
and web developer?
I always give it my best every time. I want to be my worst critic, and if the work I produce is not good enough for me, then it’s not good enough for everyone else. I give a lot of attention to the big picture as with the tiny details. One of my favorite quotes from Steve Jobs which pretty much sums up my outlook on work is, “When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”

How did you get interested in the worlds of web design 
and development and become a part of it?
It actually sort of just fell on my lap. I’ve always been drawing since I was little and wanted to take up classes in animation, but accidentally enrolled in Web design and fell in love with it. I’m in a position wherein I can enjoy a nice balance between my love for art and technology.

Writer Alissa Walker wrote an article called
“Women in Industrial Design: Where My Ladies At?”
 Where are the Ladies in Design and Development At?
There’s actually more female designers out there now than there was before. I still think it’s a male-dominated industry, but more female designers are out there, speaking at conferences, writing books about design and development and getting recognized which is really great.

What tools and materials do you use to work on your ideas
and make them grow?
I always sketch my ideas out on paper and sometimes put together mood boards.

Do you have recommendations for software/web-based tools 
to use for collaboration and getting things done?
I use 2Do app for my to-do list. To quickly jot down notes, I use Simplenote app.

How does time factor into your work?
I always used to work late afternoons, up until wee hours of the morning. I always thought I was more productive that way, but ever since I started working full-time for a company, I switched to normal work hours and realized it’s actually better for me. I feel like I can do more work during day time and have some time to do personal stuff after work. I’m also always very organized by keeping a list of things I need to do.

What is the most rewarding part of being a designer, illustrator
and web developer?
Walking into Barnes & Noble in LA and seeing a magazine with my name on it felt pretty awesome, but I don’t think anything compares to receiving emails of appreciation from people. I’ve also gotten emails from younger designers, particularly students from different parts of the world, saying I inspire them and that they’d like to be like me in the near future. To me, that’s the most rewarding. Random people taking a minute out of their days just to shoot me an email of appreciation inspires me and gives me the drive to do an even better job.

How do you start making and running your own studio?
It was sort of actually unexpected for my site to grow like this. I was just focused on creating good work, and doing something I enjoyed, and my site just grew, and more and more clients came knocking on my door to the point that I could no longer manage all of it. It’s sad that you have to turn down work sometimes, but it matters that what you’re working on is something that makes you happy and a project that you truly believe in.

Was there a part of your work that was particularly trying 
and how did you deal with it?
I guess as with any designer, it used to always disappoint me if a design is moving toward a direction you’re not happy with. But I try not to take it to heart anymore. What matters is I’d given my best.

How do you stay creative? Do you draw? Or keep a journal?
I’m always doodling and I always like to observe the things around me.

What are some of your influences and sources of inspiration?
The works of Michael Heald always blow me away. He’s a designer and an amazing illustrator, too, which to me is really inspiring. There’s a lot of designers out there, but usually, one leans toward either design or illustration but this guy actually is really good at both. That’s not very common. Other designers I look up to are Jonathan Ive, Trent Walton and Frank Chimero.

What is your advice to Ladies who aspire to enter 
and engage design and the web?
Just be passionate about what you’re doing and practice a lot. You’re always going to run into difficult situations, more so, difficult people, but as long as you put your heart into what you do and work hard, nothing and nobody can bring you down.

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All photographs courtesy of Jan Cavan.

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