AMA: Sarah Parmenter

over 8 years ago from , Founder, You Know Who

Hey everyone! I'm Sarah Parmenter, official geek since 2003. I started my small design agency aged 19 (I'm 31 now) I'm self taught and I've been lucky enough to speak and teach all over the world. I've worked with lots of lovely companies such as Blackberry, Ellen, News International and The National Breast Cancer Foundation.

I had a mad moment in 2013 where I wanted to combine our industry with something entirely different, so I started a blow dry bar; intrigued at what the crossroads of the design industry and the hair industry (which at the time I knew nothing about) would bring. (http://www.theblushbar.co.uk)

My thing is design. I love solving complex user interface problems and re-building apps from the ground up.

I'm currently having another mad moment and writing a book about my experiences with building a small business from scratch-in the social media driven world we now live in.

I'd love to answer any questions you may have. My online stuff is having a bit of a re-vamp at the moment (the shoemakers children go shoeless and all that) - so you might not find that much up to date information, but I'd love to answer any burning questions you may have.

I'll be answering from 9am BST on Monday 20th July.

Talk to you then :)


  • Martin Wright, over 8 years ago

    I found a lot in your post http://www.sazzy.co.uk/putting-yourself-in-the-frame/ resonated with me, the internet can feel like a lonely hostile place, and once you're in that frame of mind it can be hard to find reasons to participate – Now you're 'back', can you talk a bit about what's different now, and what your experience with social media has been like since?

    10 points
    • Sarah Parmenter, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

      Thank you for your question, Martin!

      I still don't feel entirely "back" - I struggle with a lot of elements of social media, mainly Facebook to be honest. It's a cliché but the trick is to remember you truly are seeing the highlight reel someone has carefully curated. I try to only skim-read Facebook and have many so-called "friends" on mute.

      I'm much better at putting myself online again now, previously I had convinced myself I was uninteresting to the web industry because I had started a salon that was exceptionally female orientated. I've got over that now, but I still struggle with the balance between putting myself out there, and people thinking I'm conceited for doing so. I'm sure one day soon I'll make peace with that.

      I still prefer Twitter to Facebook - I like that Twitter still feels like our industry being exceptionally open and honest about a variety of experiences, on a daily basis. It's the geek water cooler of the world.

      1 point
  • Kevin RabinovichKevin Rabinovich, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

    Hello Sarah,

    Thank you for taking time to do this, and for introducing me (and many others) to so many creative and interesting people through Happy Monday back when it was still running.

    • Will Happy Monday ever be returning?
    • How did you start out in this industry?
    • What advice do you have for students?
    6 points
    • Artiom DashinskyArtiom Dashinsky, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

      +10 for Happy Monday question (can't believe already a year passed since the last episode!!

      1 point
    • Sarah Parmenter, over 8 years ago

      Thanks for your questions, Kevin. So glad you enjoyed Happy Monday–watch this space on that one.

      I started out in the industry by forming my own studio in 2003 when I was 19. I taught myself how to code when I was 14 (basic HTML/CSS) and then I started working with local businesses and clients I found on ebay, to build up my clientele. It was a horrible time actually, I was doing logo designs for £50 with unlimited revisions; so I'm sure you can guess the types of clients i was attracting. I made a lot of mistakes, a lot - mainly to do with getting deposits and trusting far too much. I'm still here, still kicking, and still loving this industry just as much as I did when I started.

      Advice for students - whatever you choose to do, share your knowledge, don't be afraid to put yourself out there for making mistakes either, blog, ask questions to the right people, don't be afraid to look stupid and most of all, consistency counts for so much; whatever you choose to do, be consistent and choose your path, give back to the community when you can. Oh and don't steal or copy other people's work, the internet is big but trust me, it's not that big.

      1 point
  • James MejiaJames Mejia, over 8 years ago

    What made you want to start the Blush Bar? Biggest challenges and lessons learned?

    I've always wanted to get into other stuff outside of design, but I'm worried about balancing the two.

    4 points
    • Jonathan ShariatJonathan Shariat, over 8 years ago

      To piggy back on this...

      One my goals is to start a business. I also think that design mixes well with entrepreneurship.

      What are some of the challenges and barriers you had to get through to start your business


      How did design help you with your business?

      4 points
      • Oz ChenOz Chen, over 8 years ago

        Great question - I'm in the same boat and want to hear more about designers' unique approaches (and struggles) with entrepreneurship

        3 points
    • Sarah Parmenter, over 8 years ago

      Thanks for the question, James.

      My Mum had just passed away and I was desperately looking for a project that would allow me to flex some feminine graphic design skills. All my projects, aside from the one for the National Breast Cancer Foundation, had been either gender agnostic or very male orientated, for years.

      I found a perfect building, and I had always been interested in American concepts that could be tweaked for the British market, so I decided it was time to take the plunge and put everything I had learned from our industry, into practice in a physical business. It's been a fascinating journey.

      Biggest challenges were budgeting and staff. Staff probably being the biggest challenge. I had always presumed that if you gave people trust and an umbrella of "we don't care how you get your work done, as long as it gets done within these boundaries" they would fly and appreciate you giving them autonomy. Unfortunately, the hair industry is not like our industry where many people are self-taught and self-motivated–many of the people who have worked for me have ultimately ended up abusing this trust, which has been a challenge.

      Worth mentioning, I came up with the concept for Blushbar in April 2013, we opened the doors on the 17th August 2013, all while I was also balancing a client project for half of each day. It is absolutely possible to balance two things you love; one gives you momentum to do the other and vice versa.

      2 points
  • Tom WoodTom Wood, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

    Sarah, firstly you are an inspiration - Happy Monday was just an incredible gateway into the world of design, and really opened a lot of avenues for us all to explore.

    I've always been so impressed with how you handle being a woman in this male-dominated industry, in particular an exchange over twitter/email not so long ago where you owned a very nasty dude.

    How much has being a woman in the design world changed over the last 12 years?

    3 points
    • Sarah Parmenter, over 8 years ago

      Thanks, Thomas. Hmmm, tricky question. I always find this so hard because for every bad, there are 100+ people who show support to me; like yourself.

      I've had a particularly hard time with trolls, for whatever reason. Through that, I've gained a thick skin, quickly. We're still not quite there yet, I have seen things first hand in Silicon Valley and through working at a startup in LA that made my blood boil; I actually walked out of my job (only to be woo'd back - silly me) due to sexist comments and behaviour from upper management. It has changed, it's certainly changed but until we get rid of the stigma of "oooo it's unusual to be a female coder/working in guy jobs" we're going to have issues forever more.

      I still continue to have problems, but I find the tolerance levels of people around me are actually much lower than mine now, so things get sorted quickly.

      1 point
  • Neil Berry, over 8 years ago

    Hey Sarah, I'm a big Sketch fan and I see you've made the switch from Photoshop to Sketch, how are you finding it? Any regrets? Do you know many designers who've made the change as well?

    2 points
    • Sarah Parmenter, over 8 years ago

      I love Sketch. I made the switch some time ago and I haven't looked back. I was a Photoshop advocate for my entire working life until Sketch came along, and within a week, I was a total convert.

      No regrets whatsoever. I know lots of designers who've made the switch, but actually a lot of the designers I speak at conferences with, are still 50% Photoshop and 50% Sketch – that'll change, they'll see the light soon!

      I'm going to be doing a Sketch course for designers looking to make the move from Photoshop to Sketch. Keep an eye out for that if you're interested.

      2 points
  • Kultar Ruprai, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

    Hello Sarah. First up welcome back to the blog world.

    Question i have is not a design one but a social one. Even before your little break from social media, back to the point where i first came across who you were, I noticed that you did in fact put your self out there a lot - or as you put it 'unapologetically all of me, or nothing.'

    What I wanted to know is where do you draw the line?

    Do you have a favourite social channel or Is there one you won't join?

    How do you decide what post goes live and where?

    Will you be speaking anytime soon in the UK?

    Will you be pursuing any other business endeavours in the future after blush bar?

    And on another note, how does it feel to tell the trolls on the interwebs your age (you do not look anything near the thirties btw;).

    Gratitude, @KSRuprai

    2 points
    • Sarah Parmenter, over 8 years ago

      Hey Kultar,

      Did I put myself out there a lot? I feel like I would go waves of sometimes blogging a lot and updating my social channels, to long periods of silence. This was, and probably still is, more reflective of some of what I've been dealing with the last few years, than anything else.

      I draw the line sharply with anything too personal. I don't talk about my struggles with anxiety or depression a lot on social media, because it still feels like a weakness to admit it openly. I'm trying to change this, and I will get there with being a bit more open around it. I'm still trying to find that balance of "how much before you start putting off people who might want to work with you?" - there is a line to be drawn there, but there's also this thing called "just being human". It's a tough balance to deal with online.

      As for social channels, I won't join anything that allows people to ask you questions anonymously, that's about it.

      RE: Posts - all of my posts live on my blog (http://www.sazzy.co.uk) however I sometimes post the same posts to Medium if I feel they would benefit a wider audience than just the web industry.

      I'm not speaking in the UK anytime soon, I have turned down a lot as I was already speaking at many of the An Event Apart conferences this year.

      Business endeavours after Blushbar? Absolutely. They are already in the works.

      Telling trolls on the interwebs my age? Why not? It's nothing to be ashamed of.

      0 points
      • Kultar Ruprai, over 8 years ago

        Thanks for replying. I totally agree, it's a fine line especially when you consider possible future work.

        Seeing as you are a beacon of inspiration for most, (design, women in design, speak out etc.) perhaps addressing and putting out these struggles can perhaps help you (help others) too.

        It's a shame you won't be speaking in the UK anytime soon, was hoping to attend another workshop and meet again. Looking forward to the new endeavours and all the best.

        1 point
  • Dave H, over 8 years ago

    Hi Sarah,

    I was wondering if you have any advice on how to deal with design requests that you feel are unethical? I'm thinking things you couldn't have predicted when taking on the job, like a checkbox dark pattern specified by the stakeholder. Do you educate, but do it anyway or consider downing tools?

    Thanks Dave

    1 point
    • Sarah Parmenter, over 8 years ago

      I've downed tools for the following reasons before:

      • It was something I wouldn't feel comfortable putting my name to. • It encouraged something in an industry I personally feel anger towards, like animal cruelty. • It would set a bad example going forward for our industry as a whole. i.e. doing a website for £50 with a promise of new work in the future, or contributing to spec work, no matter what the "prize".

      In general, people who wish to implement dark patterns onto their sites, and I, do not blend well together. I'm the type of person to call it out and tell them, rather than just delete the email request or pretend it didn't happen. I've said goodbye to thousands of pounds over the years, simply because I couldn't stand by what they were trying to do. Other people will not have the same morals as you though; trying not to feel hurt by this is the key.

      I always educate though. Always. The same as I always educate on spec work. We need to. We're a relatively small industry - we're all doing each other a favour by educating someone, even if it's just a sentence.

      1 point
      • Dave H, over 8 years ago

        Some great advice – I think "..something I wouldn't feel comfortable putting my name to." really sums it up.

        I actually work in-house which adds to the complication as my advice could be overruled and downing tools may mean just leaving. However what you've suggested is generally how I choose to approach this subject. It's very difficult in this situation if you appear to be the one that "always has an issue" with something.

        Thanks again

        1 point
  • Dustin Henrich, over 8 years ago

    Hi Sarah!

    First, thank you so much for taking the time to answer people's questions.

    In the States, I see many job openings for UI and/or UX designers.

    When I go to websites that need some work, every fiber of my being wants to make it better and easier to use. But I don't know how or where to start.

    When I search for what to learn to become a UI Designer, I am overwhelmed how much there is to learn.

    Do you have a suggestion of where to start? I don't expect to get this down in one night, but some guidance on what to learn first would be helpful.

    Thank you! You're so inspiring!

    1 point
    • Sarah Parmenter, over 8 years ago

      You're very kind to say I'm inspiring. That's always so nice to hear. I had some inspiring mentors when I started in this industry, it's nice to know have that flame for a little bit.

      It's great that you want to make things better and easier to use. The starting place for all of this is always data.

      It's why I'm not a great fan of unsolicited re-designs of popular networks. Some things yes, are just poorly designed or poor user experiences, others have damn good cases as to why they are designed a certain way, the mistake some people make is simply thinking "but I wouldn't have done it like that" or "I wouldn't use it this way". You may not be 90% of their user base who does.

      There is a lot to learn with UI design, but picking a speciality will always help. The "flat" (still makes me feel a bit sick in my stomach using that term) design trend has actually made things a whole lot easier, as it's more like moving blocks of colour and content rather than these very design-heavy websites we once had "back in my day".

      I'd start with deciding whether you want to specialise in a platform like Android or iOS, or whether you want to stick with the web to begin with and expand outwards.

      Personally, I love reading case studies on other studio websites. I love reading the "why" behind a design rather than the design itself. Everyone can make things look pretty nowadays, few can tell you why. Make that your thing.

      1 point
  • Tim Kennedy, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )


    As someone who is fairly new to web design and development and currently finishing up a degree in web design from a University. I have spent a lot of time learning HTML and CSS and all the front end stuff. However, as I spend more time prototyping and sketching wireframes I am becoming very interested in the design of web sites. Do you have any advice as to how I can become a better UI designer for web and mobile apps as well.

    I spend a lot of time working through Treehouse tutorials but wanted to see if you had a particular book or tutorial I might want to work through a few times. I love your work and enjoy following you on Twitter.... Thanks!

    1 point
    • Sarah Parmenter, over 8 years ago

      Unfortunately, this is one of those things that you just have to keep doing. There is no shortcut. Your design eye needs to be trained and this can only happen with time and lots of genuine interest in the world around you. Notice typography on everything, notice composition. It all translates.

      It's why us designers look back on our work from last year or the year before and cringe at various parts. Your design eye is constantly evolving and you can only train it by doing design work over and over again, in many different genres and platforms.

      Well done on doing everything off your own back though. Treehouse is a great resource for these things.

      I have a course coming out on how to use Sketch for UI design, you might like that? Tutorial wise, I love the stuff Meng is doing on designcode.io.

      1 point
  • Suleiman Leadbitter, over 8 years ago

    Just curious, but what is the biggest professional mistake you ever made (funnier the better)? :)

    1 point
    • Sarah Parmenter, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

      I have a few. The one that springs to mind was not being honest with a client about the fact my office was in my house. In the initial meeting I had to upsell myself against a couple of local agencies who had fancy premises. I knew they were the types of clients who needed to be woo'd by this, so I talked about my office with my head held high (I had just moved out of my actual office–working with mainly USA clients made my expensive office obsolete).

      I remember working and then hearing a large car pull up on the driveway. I was feeling particularly poorly that day and suddenly saw it was the aforementioned client and his son. I jumped under my desk, neatly pulling my chair in, giving myself an inch of room. I could see through the cracks that they were pushing their hands up against the lounge window and talking to each other, very confused about my "office".

      They eventually pulled away after dropping the cheque for the deposit through my letterbox.

      Suffice to say, I didn't lie about my "home office" situation after that. It didn't crop up again though, as my office in my new house is one I would happily (and have) invited clients to.

      My other mistake, although not really my mistake, was not educating a client that websites didn't automatically translate themselves depending on where you were in the world. The client rang me up (steaming angry) from France, asking why, when she accessed her website from the hotel computer, her website was in English.

      That was one of my favourite (but absolutely bizarre) telephone calls, ever.

      2 points
  • Emanuel S.Emanuel S., over 8 years ago

    Hey Sarah,

    Love your hair color in the Twitter picture. Do you find inspiration in the fashion industry when researching for a design? Nail design, clothes, hairstyles?

    1 point
    • Sarah Parmenter, over 8 years ago

      I don't actually. I find inspiration in random things I see on Pinterest or just out walking my dog. I love the fashion industry but actually, there's only one store that I really get my clothes from and that's Free People. It entirely "fits" with who I am, and everything is so feminine but comfortable.

      Their website is a great place of inspiration but mainly because they're in a passive sales environment. Their imagery is fantastic and the frequency of updates inspire me to get down to work. Everything they produce is just beautiful.

      So in answer to your question, I guess, yes - a bit, but I only tend to look at one brand in that arena because they interest me. As for hair, nail etc. I tend to use those inspiration pots for my hair businesses.

      1 point
  • Scott Reuber, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

    Hi Sarah,

    Remember seeing you speak at AEA Chicago in 2012 and it was one of my favorite talks from that event! Super informative.

    My question is regarding constructing a body of work for a portfolio, but NOT as a recent graduate, as most of this advice I find is geared towards. I've been working as a web/UI designer for quite some time, at least a decade, but you wouldn't know it looking at my portfolio. Much of my work has been under NDA and it's been nigh impossible to showcase anything that isn't protected or otherwise outdated. Ideally I could point to live sites I've done for employers, but there are instances where the live product has changed after the fact (usually without my knowledge…a product specialist wants "another graphic here to 'freshen things up' or whatever) and it makes managing an online presence with work I'm proud of--"only my best!"--difficult.

    I know a lot of people aren't fans of the unsolicited redesign angle, which seemed to be a pretty good source for this kind of work and getting noticed, but it seems most other advice given falls on "Freelance" or "Scratch your own itch/design your own product". I've had minimal luck with freelancing (short of giving my work away for free, clients want to see my body-of-work too), but I've done the latter, though only as far as conceptual level; I don't have the funds to hire developers to help implement my idea, and going that route becomes an all-encompassing time investment of its own. At that point I'm no longer sprucing up my portfolio but becoming an entrepreneur, which frankly isn't my cup of tea.

    Would you have some advice or thoughts on this? (also is it me or does the whole portfolio maintenance thing bring a significant level of burnout on its own? Seems to come with the territory)

    0 points
  • aroon Sharmaaroon Sharma, over 8 years ago

    Hey Sarah, Thanks for the time Nice to see you here, What is your advice to designers who want to start their own startups Can designers be a good Managers :)

    0 points
  • Ben Lockett, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

    Hey Sarah,

    First off a big thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.

    To support my question i thought it may be helpful to give you a little bit of my background.

    I am currently a Technical Manager/Teacher for a completely different industry. I fell in love with UI/UX design a few years back and in the past 18 months I have been constantly trying to improve my knowledge and skill. I am confident in HMTL CSS JS PHP MYSQL and more recently Apple's Swift. When I look a the Web/App design industry's now i find it is full of extremely talented and experienced people like yourself which is very daunting. My current job is well paid and has great benefits but is missing that creative involvement.

    My question is.... In your opinion is it too late to start out in the web/app design industry at 30? If you were starting out now what would you do differently in todays industry?

    Many thanks for your time Ben

    0 points
    • Sarah Parmenter, over 8 years ago

      It's never too late. Never. Well done for getting all those languages under your belt whilst holding down a job in a totally different industry.

      You'll find this industry has pockets of people who have been around and been vocal, for a very long time. Those people tend to be vocal about helping other people and giving back to the industry. I count myself as one of those people. It's less about talent, and more about visibility and history.

      At a certain level, everyone has the same skills, it's just some people may be better at teaching those skills (I consider myself in that boat) than others. Dribbble currently looks like a cookie cutter of design. To my mind, you can no longer tell one designer from another like you used to be able to.

      Back in the day, you could look at a piece of work and instantly know whether it belonged to Tim Van Damme or Elliot Jay Stocks; the web was full of much more personality in its design, than it seems to now. Now, we're much more utilitarian about the way we approach design, so the doors are wide open to anyone.

      I know it can seem daunting, but just put yourself out there. Blog your experiences, ask questions to the right people, encourage newbies. In my experience, there's nothing the web industry likes more than helping people who are genuinely interested in the betterment of this profession, and you Ben, sound like one of such individuals.

      Bravo Sir, bravo.

      1 point