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Sharing some fudge with Franz Jeitz

It has been a while since I've had a chat conversation with another designer/developer (it was with Chris Coyier). But for the last couple of weeks, I've had a great chat/interview with Franz Jeitz, which you may know from his blog: fudgegraphics - freebies, tutorials and inspiration for design lovers.

Franz Jeitz Chat

Let's sit down, take a cup of tea together with this tea-lover from London, and read this chat conversation with this creative man behind the scenes of fudgegraphics. Did you know the fudge-part of the name doesn't have anything to do with the food? Wonder what it does mean? I promise you, you'll find his answer surprising.

Sharing some fudge with Franz Jeitz

Hi Franz! First of all, I want to thank you for taking the time to chat with me. Most of the readers will already know you from fudgegraphics, but for those that don't, could you please introduce yourself? Where do you live, what do you do and what do you love to eat?

Marco Kuiper

Hi Marco, thanks for asking me to do this interview. It's a pleasure and I feel honoured.

I'm Franz Jeitz, 24-year old freelance designer and blogger. I'm from Luxembourg (tiny country in the heart of Europe), but now live and work in London. I originally came to the UK to study. Immediately I fell in love with London, the people, the music scene and everything about it so I decided to stay when I graduated last September.

Contrary to many designers I do not have an academic background in it, I never actually liked arts classes to be honest. The first contact with digital design was back in Luxembourg when I was 17. I was playing in a band at the time and decided to take charge of all the graphical aspects such as t-shirt designs and myspace customization. Slowly, but gradually, I learned the ins and outs of Adobe's Creative Suite and fell in love with design.

Reading more and more design blogs to find inspiration, freebies and expand my knowledge via tutorials I decided one day to start my own. I wanted to be a part of the community and give back to it. That's how Fudgegraphics was born. Basically I wanted to see whether I could pull it off.

When it comes to food I'm not fussy at all. I love all kinds of food. Though I can't live without coffee, tea and chocolate cereals. I love vegetables too. Oh, and my mum's the best cook ever!

Franz Jeitz

Sounds like you came a long way, from someone with almost no academic background to a person who created a stable blog in the design niche. I did expect to hear "fudge" from you as one of your favourite foods, because of the name of your blog. So, what's the story behind that name?

Marco Kuiper

Yes, I still can't believe how successful Fudgegraphics turned out. I think it all comes down to my passion for design and some luck. Especially in the beginning I was fortunate enough to get on some big design blogs blogroll. That helped a lot to get the word out. As for the name, first of all, I do love fudge as food, but that's not the story behind it though. I always wanted to find a name starting with "F" because of my first name. On a show called "How I met your mother" they used to replace the F*** word with the word fudge. I guess "what the fudge?" just hit a note. After googling a few variations I decided to go with Fudgegraphics. Although it was more of a impulse decision I'm still happy with it, which is great.

Franz Jeitz

Cool! Maybe the "Friends" section at the bottom of Marcofolio helped you achieve your success just that little bit more. Passion and "loving what you do" will surely help, that's what I try to do with my blog too.

So, what you're telling us, is that "Fudgegraphics" actually means "F***graphics"? Pretty funny to know that!

Do you have any milestones set for FG, like getting a X number of subscribers before a certain date, or changing the layout anytime soon? If there aren't any milestones set for FG, do you have them for your own, like learning a programming language (as a designer)?

Marco Kuiper

I'm sure I got a few new readers through your blogroll as well as all the others I'm featured in. All of these add up and make Fudgegraphics what it is right now. While social sites like StumbleUpon account for most my pageviews it's those visitors coming from other blogs that will return and actively contribute.

See I never thought about Fudgegraphics meaning F***graphics. I heard the saying, loved the word and just went for it, without any more reflection. I just hope this won't put off people now.

While I love seeing my stats improve I don't have any proper milestones set for the blog. It is still a personal site, so I'm happy with it to grow organically. If I had to chose one milestone though then it would be to reach 10k subscribers by the end of the year (FG currently has 7.5k). As a designer I always want to grow and while I use Photoshop and Illustrator on a daily basis there's still a lot I don't know yet. Funny you should mention a programming language, I'm actually trying to teach myself some jQuery and always look for new HTML/CSS techniques I had not come across yet.

I simply love anything to do with design: print, web, photography, traditional art. It's such a broad field of interest that it's hard to be good at everything.

Franz Jeitz

Franz has sent you the following item:

Calendar August

The feedcount tells you a lot about your visitors. It's way more important than hits/visits in my opinion. Feed subscribers are subscribed to come back!

You must have learned a lot about blogging and designing the last couple of years. What are the most valueable things that you learned and still use very often, both about blogging and designing?

Marco Kuiper

You're absolutely right. Subscribed readers are loyal readers. Only downside is that advertisers are only interested in pageviews and visits, not returning visitors. So in that sense it's important to have both: a large number of readers and loyal, participating readers.

When it comes to design I learned a lot during the last 2 years. I didn't really know much about it to be honest. All the techniques I use now I gathered through reading loads of tutorials and looking at many many images for inspiration. I always try to read tutorials rather than following them step by step as I believe it leaves more room for imagination and ultimately defines your own style.

Before starting the blog I had no idea about Wordpress or PHP. I knew quite a bit of HTML/CSS, but that's it. Again, through many trials and errors I slowly learned the ropes of Wordpress. Joining Twitter, about 6 months after starting fudgegraphics, was a game changer. I was finally able to interact with both fellow bloggers as well as my readers.

The most important lesson I learned is to never give up. Growth of the blog was slow, but steady. Since it all started out as a personal site, for me to learn and share, rather than a business, that didn't matter. Each comment was, and is still, valuable to me and pushes me to continue.

It's hard to pick specific things I learned, I think I've just picked up so many little tricks along the line and have slowly grown into a better blogger and designer.

Franz Jeitz

Ah yes, you're "self thought", just like myself. Looks like "trial and error" is a great way to learn new stuff.

What do you think is the most underrated webdesign/webdevelopment technique out there? The obvious following question, would be: which one is the most overrated?

Marco Kuiper

That is a really tough question. I think it's almost impossible to find an underrated technique these days. Each and every aspect of webdesign has been featured on one or rather many of the design blogs. If I had to choose though then I'd love to see more print design elements on the web and for people to mix different styles. There's not a lot of photography combined with hand drawn illustrations going on right now which, if done correctly, is extremely powerful. As with all great techniques they quickly become trends and oversaturate the web. It's important to always push the boundaries and add your own style. The most overrated technique is Flash. I really don't like it, unless it's used for video or audio. Full Flash websites might look good, but most of the time they are slow, hard to navigate and generally annoying. Using jQuery and HTML5 is the way forward, but I suppose that just as IE, Flash will never completely disappear.

It all comes down to finding the perfect balance between UX and design so it's important to know your audience. Last but not least, it all doesn't matter if the content is no good. I'd rather visit a site with average design providing quality content then the other way round.

Franz Jeitz

Franz has sent you the following item:

Philadelphia Grand Jury

HTML5 has some great features that I can't wait to explore, but (sadly) we can't fully use it yet. More users should user modern webbrowsers and the specifications for HTML5 (and CSS3) have to be finished (browsers should let got of the vendor specific CSS prefixes etc.). I can't wait to see what the future holds!

There are loads of popular bloggers in the (web)design community right now. For example, Chris Coyier, Jacob Gube and Chris Spooner. If you could pick any of those people out there, that you would be able to meet in real life, who would it be? And what would you ask him/her?

Marco Kuiper

It's a shame that these new standards are a long way off till we can use them properly. In that sense though I believe it's our duty as web designer to educate people, not just those who are interested in design and web development, but everyone of our friends and family.

There's so many great bloggers out there who inspired me to start my blog that it's difficult to make a selection. If I had to choose 3 who I'd like to meet they would be:

1) Fabio Sasso from Abduzeedo, because he seems to always publish those inspirational posts that I'm looking for and his tutorials are top notch. I'd like to ask him how he comes up with all these ideas. Furthermore I'd love to just grab a drink with him as he seems to be a genuinely nice and fun person.

2) Chris Spooner from Blog.Spoongraphics and Line25 seems to have 32 hours in a day. I love that he shares so much of his knowledge (which is enormous) and of his personal life. This connection is great and I'd love to get to know him (better). Again, he seems to be a nice guy who I could see myself hang out with.

3) Jacob Cass of JustCreativeDesign has achieved so much already at his young age. Seeing as he just moved to New York, which is a city I'd love to live in at some point, it would be great to have a chat about that. I'm sure he could also tell me a lot about his travel experiences he often blogs about.

As you can see from these choices it's all about the people behind blogs, which only goes to show how important it is for anyone in the design community to be genuine and bring in his/her personality into whatever they do.

Franz Jeitz

Yup, you're totally right! Sadly, we can't "force" people to quit using IE6, but we can show them why they should upgrade to a better browser.

Very interesting to see who you like to meet, especially because those people have made their names in the blogging community. This shows how big you can become on the net by blogging.

Every month, you release a Calendar Wallpaper on FG. I assume that you do this because you want to keep training your Photoshop skills, am I correct? What else do you do to keep learning new things every day? And how/from where do you get/stay inspired?

Marco Kuiper

Blogging is not that different to the real world. You become big by being a valuable member of a community without losing your soul. People sense if you're truly passionate about something. So it's very important to always be honest and to be yourself.

I first got the idea to do the Calendar Wallpapers after I saw them on Smashing Magazine. As you guessed this personal projects forces me grow as a designer and to focus on different designs from my client work. It's not always easy to write regular posts for a blog when you are a freelancer so this keeps me in the game by releasing new art on a monthly basis. The same goes for my recently started "FYI (for your inspiration) Monday" series. Again, it forces me to stick to a certain blogging schedule.

I'm currently subscribed to about 150 different design blogs. This is where I get most my online inspiration. At the same time I use Twitter to stay up to date on what's going on. It's important to use bookmarking services such as Delicious to save all those articles and portfolios to come back to after a while. In order to sharpen my skills I read a lot of tutorials. While I don't follow them step by step it helps to just read (and understand) how certain effects have been achieved. Later you can experiment with those newly learned skills and give them your own personal twist.

Inspiration is all around us. For instance I collect all the flyers I come across. It's nice to have physical objects to browse through. Same goes for books and magazine. Often I take pictures of interesting design I see in the wild. Building your own database of inspiration is important to stay fresh.

Franz Jeitz

Franz has sent you the following item:

July Calendar

Twitter is a great way to stay updated for the latest en freshest articles, so a great source for inspiration.

As a designer, I assume you use Adobe Photoshop software. Photoshop has some amazing features - CS3 introduced smart filter and vanishing point, CS4 came with Content Aware Scaling and 3D improvement. Photoshop CS5 took that (again) to a whole other level. As with all software programs, at what points do you think the application could be improved? What do you "miss" in the current version, but would love to see in the next?

Marco Kuiper

Your assumption is right. I'm currently using the Adobe Creative Suite 4. My favourite and most-used programs are Photoshop and Illustrator by far. It's hard to find something that I'm missing as Adobe always seems to get out new features you didn't even know you need while at the same time improving the work flow and speed of the software. Given that I'd love to learn more about 3D design it would be great to expand on those features. As with all software these are just tools. It takes good designers to get the creative results. It's the same with everything. Owning a fancy camera doesn't make you good photographer. Right now I'm still happy with CS4 and there's loads of features I haven't even started to explore so really there's nothing on my wish list at the moment.

Franz Jeitz

Franz has sent you the following item:

Calendar May

The 3D features in CS5 are indeed improved a lot. I do wonder what the next versions of the Creative Suit will bring us to expand our design arsenal.

From the top of your head, answer these questions:

- Give us a visual of your work area. What are your tools of the trade?

- Could you share a neat little Photoshop trick that you use a lot?

- Could you share us one of your pieces of work where you are most proud of? And why is it that one?

Marco Kuiper

My work area is very minimal really: iMac, printer/scanner, external hard drive for backups, pen and paper. It's easy to keep it neat, but at the same time it's very easy to clutter it with post-it notes, coffee mugs etc. Whenever an idea pops up into my head I write it down, often accompanied by a sketch to remind me of the visual context. As for programs, these are the ones I use daily: Photoshop CS4, Illustrator CS4, Firefox (Gmail, Facebook, Google Reader), Tweetdeck, iTunes and VLC.

There a few actually. One is to click and hold "Z" to toggle the zoom tool (use Z+Alt to zoom out). Release it and you go back to the last tool you used.
Then there's Cmd/Ctrl + J to make a copy of the selected layer.
My favourite shortcut though is Cmd (Ctrl) + Alt + Shift + S to enter the "Save for web" mode. It also is the only 4-key shortcut that I know.
Last but not least, a trick I only discovered very late, is to set guides to 50% horizontally and vertically to get them perfectly centred without the need of calculating.

I'm most proud of my work I've done (and am still doing) for the London-based record label Communion. I did everything from the logo design to the myspace as well as being the creative supervisor for all of their records. I feel very strongly about the company, the people, and the work I've done for them. It's always a pleasure and privilege to work on new projects and with new bands / artists. Check out their MySpace.

Franz Jeitz

Franz has sent you the following item:

Workspace

Franz has sent you the following item:

Communion

Thanks a lot for sharing that piece of useful information! It's always great to hear what other designers think or do. The Communion label example is very inspirational.

Franz, I want to thank you a lot for this inspirational chat conversation where you shared some great information with me (and my readers). Are there are last words that you want to share?

Marco Kuiper

Thanks for asking me to participate. This was a great interview and I thoroughly enjoyed it. As a last piece of advice I would say that you should always follow your heart. Find that one thing that you're passionate about, whether it's design or something different and stick with it. It takes a lot of discipline and dedication to build something from scratch, but if you love what you're doing then it doesn't feel like work. Don't let others get you down. Just because they don't share your passion doesn't mean it's not a viable path for you.

Franz Jeitz

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