I recently had the opportunity to interview Jonathan Longnecker of FortySeven Media to get some insight into his process and his life as a designer. I think you’ll find some inspiration and helpful advice in Jonathan’s responses. In case you are not familiar with his work, Jonathan is a co-founder of FortySeven Media with his partner Nate Croft. You’ll see some examples of their work in this post, or you can visit their portfolio.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got started with design?
Sure! This is a pretty fun story, actually. Nate and I met in High School; and he was a great guitar player. I used to play guitar, but had gotten burned out on it. Needless to say, I picked it back up again and we started writing music. It was obvious even then that we worked well creatively together. So we wrote a bunch of songs, started a band and realized we needed posters, t-shirts, album art and a website to promote it. We both loved to draw and loved computers so we just sort of figured it out on our own. By the time we got to college, Graphic Design seemed a natural choice to get a degree in. After several years of print design we taught ourselves HTML, CSS and then ExpressionEngine took us to a whole other level.
What do you like about working with a partner as opposed to working on your own?
Having someone to bounce ideas and mockups off of. Even better, someone to brainstorm crazy new projects with. I think we help keep each in check as well. It’s easy to lean way too far in one direction without that sounding board.
What challenges are presented by working with a partner?
The last year it’s been hard because we’ve been about two hours apart and can’t ever seem to get video chats working. Other than that, it’s sometimes hard to find what motivates each other even though we’ve been friends for 10+ years. It’s easy to create things together, much harder to run a business together.
You started FortySeven Media part-time while you both had full-time jobs. What advice do you have for other designers/developers who want to break out on their own?
Well, some practical advice first. Don’t go into debt to start your business. Save up 4-6 months worth of what you need to live on before you go full time. You don’t need much; just a computer and some software; maybe a decent desk. We worked full time jobs and did 47m at night for almost 2 years before we made the jump. It’s very tempting to rush it, but more important to build a strong brand over time by consistently doing great work. When you find yourself too busy to finish things in your off-hours it’s probably time to look at going full time.
You guys do a lot of work with ExpressionEngine. What are some of the things that you really like about EE as compared to other content management systems?
We love that it’s only there when you need it. Unlike just about every other CMS out there we get to determine the design, layout and functionality from scratch and piece it together in EE however we want. The syntax is so easy to use that we can do it, and we’re definitely not programmers. In short, EE doesn’t screw with your design or HTML/CSS and lets you easily extend the parts you need to be dynamic.
How do your clients like managing sites that are powered by ExpressionEngine?
You can actually change the Control Panel based on your user group so we generally strip out everything the client doesn’t need. That way it’s very simple; they only have a few areas of content to manage and that’s it. Very straightforward. We usually do a quick screencast of us doing live updates on the site and showing how they’re reflected on the front end. I also have to say I’m looking forward to the deeper level of CP customization EE 2.0 will provide.
What would you recommend for designers and developers who want to get more familiar with ExpressionEngine? Are there any good learning resources that you recommend?
There are several great places to start. The video tutorials on ExpressionEngine.com would be first. You could also check out the talk I did at the FrontEndDesignConf. It goes through very basic examples of why EE is great for designers. Once you’ve been through those check out Train-ee.com. Great in depth examples to walk you through building your site. Oh, and don’t forget eeinsider.com once you’re a bit more familiar with everything. Has a great tips section, too.
Your idea bouncer service is kind of unique. Can you tell us a little bit about it and how you came about offering this service?
Idea Bouncer came about collaborating with another designer friend. We were showing each other mockups of what we were currently working on and I just thought it would be cool to do more of it. Nate and I are both big picture guys so we felt like we could genuinely help with a stalled project. Plus we thought it would be a great way to meet cool people in our industry.
What are some of your best sources for finding new clients?
We’ve honestly been very blessed in that clients seem to find us. We get a lot of leads through CSS galleries, but we’ve started noticing side projects like Design Hope are bringing in some really interesting opportunities. And we can’t go without mentioning the excellent tools that Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and our Blog have become in growing our brand and connecting with people.
Of the various services that you offer, what do you enjoy doing the most?
By far we enjoy creating the user experience the most. We love technology, but it should just be the means to an end. We use things like valid HTML/CSS, jQuery and ExpressionEngine because for us they’re the best tools to help us bring that design and experience to life. We also love having the flexibility to do new things and design for new clients and industries. It’s a blast!