How To Be A Great Web Designer With Paul Jarvis

I was absolutely sure that this Design and Marketing Podcast interview with Paul Jarvis was going to be excellent. And, I was right – don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?

I knew that Paul was great in interviews because I’d heard him on Blogcast FM interviewed by Srini Rao. And, if you are into podcasts like I am, I can only recommend you download a few there because, if you’re running your own online business, there’s nothing better to help you on your entrepreneurial journey.

Paul was originally asked to be interviewed on the high profile Blogcast FM podcast because he’d designed so many of the sites that belonged to the successful entrepreneurs on the show.

If you look at some of Paul’s work you’ll see that Paul is no ordinary web designer. He creates WordPress websites that don’t look like WordPress websites.

alexandra franzen website

Use Your Creativity

Developing a creative side helps us become happier and healthier people. This is not something that should be confined to art class at school.

Paul was always creative. Always drawing, making music, creating things. I believe the more we develop this side the more successful we become – although it may be through a circuitous route.

Paul gets bored very easily but one can never be bored whilst being creative.

(One of these days I’m going to run a survey on how many designers also play a musical instrument but that’s another story.)

Communicating with the client

We talked about the issue of client communication.

Paul spends a special amount of time getting under the client’s skin. He talks about discovering the “language” of the client and finding out how the client communicates.

Someone who wants a website created may not always tell a designer all they need to know. Actually, if I’m honest, it’s rare that they do. The designer has to tease this vital info out of them. And I think Paul is especially adept at doing this.

In his book Be Awesome At Online Business, Paul outlines some telling questions you can ask your client in order to eek out the very essence of what their business is about.

Another great idea of Paul’s is to get your client to provide Pinterest boards of typography, colors, photography or graphics that they like. The idea of using moodboards to discover a visual language of an idea has been the mainstay of creative industries for decades and decades. There’s a reason for this. They work.

This’ll help you get inside the mind of a client better than asking them “what’s your favorite color?” Genius idea.


Developing a good portfolio

Paul does seem to have a way of cutting through the fluff and honing in on the heart of the matter. This attitude has meant he has never been out of work in 15 years of web designing (during the worse recession since the World War II and without spending a penny on marketing).

If you look at his website, for example, it’s not accompanied by the usual bells and whistles that other websites are. No distracting social media buttons (just a bespoke “Tweet this”), no unnecessary imagery, no line, color, drop shadow nor footer copyright line is tolerated.

Just as his own website is minimal and easy-on-the-eye, so are those of his clients. It’s a ludicrously simple idea: only create work you’re happy with and you’ll only have work you’re happy doing coming your way.

Paul puts it in a characteristically simple way: “only do work you’ll want to put in your portfolio”. You may think that Paul can get away with this attitude because he’s an established, successful web designer. But this was his attitude when he was starting out.

paul jarvis logo

Paul, like me, designs and develops the websites he creates. But has, in the past, found himself coding other people’s designs. And this is another type of work that Paul won’t touch anymore. In order to design a website you have to know a bit about web functionality and when you have just a visual to go on there are too many unanswered questions.

At this point of the interview, being a novice interviewer and probably busy thinking of the next question, I started rambling about taking over other people’s code which was slightly off from the point he was making. But, being strict about the jobs you take on is the valuable take-away here.

You can do it

Paul obviously has talent and has worked very hard as well. But I think the main thing I got from this interview was Paul’s uncompromising attitude to his work. If we want to spend time on this planet doing something we love … then we better make sure we do something we love.

So, when you next find yourself doing joyless work ask yourself, is this really getting me where I want to be? Am I proud enough of this work to be able to put it in my portfolio? If the answer is “no” then see if you can improve the quality in a way that would be beneficial to both you and the client.

And, it’s no good thinking (as I would), “oh, it’s OK for the privileged few established web designers to be able to pick and choose like that, I’ve got to pay the bills!” Paul was like this from the get-go, and I’m sure he had bills to pay as well.

Thanks, Paul, you gave us a lot to think about.

Did this help you? If so, please share!

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  1. says

    Great interview Rob and thanks to Paul, really enjoyed it, very inspirational. Funnily, I’m a weekend bass player in two function bands, so definitely a musical/web correlation. I particularly enjoyed the bits about being an expert, taste and lifestyle, I see these as really important. Working at home full time now I take time out during the day to run, cycle and I’ve even built a home gym in the garage. And I try to eat lots of fish for concentration – brain food!! Well done.

    • says

      Thanks Martin, glad you enjoyed the interview. And I’m pleased you know important a sound mind and body are in staying creative and getting work done!

    • says

      I try to take regular exercise and eat well however I think I need to address my diet. Paul mentioned bread making him foggy. I’ve noticed recently that eating really makes me tired. I actually sit for ages working hungry because I don’t want to eat and the tiredness to come over me. I’d like to find an alternative to bread.

      Glad you liked it, Martin.

  2. says


    Somehow you managed to have one of the best interviews I’ve seen lately so , I heartily congratulate you. I only do naming and logo design personally but, have an abiding interest in the creative process. Paul’s work is great but, his ability to communicate precisely plus having an abundance of good process ideas struck a chord with me. He’s just someone you want to listen to…a real gift. Keep it up!

    • says

      Thank you, Alan, and I’m so glad you enjoyed it. And, one of the best interviews you’ve heard recently, that rocks!

      I knew Paul was going to come out with a ton of good advice, about talking with clients especially.

      I hoping the next interview’s going to be a good one as well.

  3. dayasena wickramarathna. says

    I like to join as web desingnner in ur web site.I can desinged in sri lanka things.

  4. Keith says

    I really like your web designs, they have just the right amount of color. Especially the Alexandra Franzen site. How do you keep your designer juices flowing?