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AMA: Brian Hoff

almost 5 years ago from , Creative Director @ Brian Hoff Design, Inc.

Hey yous! I'm Brian Hoff, founder and Creative Director of Brian Hoff Design. I set out on my own in 2007-2008-ish and now operate as a boutique agency (now 4 of us) focused on web and mobile platforms and products.

We've worked with clients that range from Government sectors (AAA, CA Department of Public Health campaigns) and companies deep into funding (Outbrain, View the Space) to individuals doing awesome things (Social Triggers, TwoPlease. You can see more here: http://brianhoffdesign.com/.

I also write on occasion. Mostly on the business of design, which I feel is even more important than being "the best designer." In 2008, I started a successful blog The Design Cubicle and since have written all new articles on my site's blog and on my private newsletter.

Feel free to ask me anything design or business-related, however I also love eating and cooking great food, cycling, and bringing design into every day things. Anything goes — within reason. (:

I'll pop in from time to time today or do a bulk answering session early tonight (7pm EST). Thanks for hanging with me!

26 comments

  • Tom WoodTom Wood, almost 5 years ago

    Hey Brian, I just wanted to stop by and say until yesterday AM I didn't know who you were, or what you were about. 24 hours later I've been totally consumed by your work, your writing and your attitude.

    I think the brianhoffdesign site is beautiful. It is completely covered in gorgeous details and interactions, each one working to serve a purpose. Love what you do dude, it has made me feel completely inspired.

    In terms of using Siteleaf, do other users also update your site, and how "technical" do you need to be to update content? (thinking outloud here for a client CMS solution).

    2 points
    • Brian Hoff, almost 5 years ago

      Wow, thanks Thomas! I appreciate you sharing such kind words and even happier to hear I could add value to you :)

      I've been loving Siteleaf so far! The beauty of it lies in its simplicity. A CMS, like WordPress for example, power lies not only in its ease of use, but also plugins that make things a bit more dynamic and client-friendly to add sidebars, etc. This features also crowd up WordPress by default. Siteleaf has a focus on content. That's it. If you're looking for a CMS for yourself (or client) that makes udpating / adding / modifiying easy, Siteleaf is perfect for that. It supports multiple users. It supports markdown (I like this feature for writing and importing)

      Here's a few screenshots of the UI (with some notes point out a few things): • http://brianhoffdesign.d.pr/Gh9Qhttp://brianhoffdesign.d.pr/10ynXhttp://brianhoffdesign.d.pr/1bdSs

      Compare those screenshots to this casestudy: http://brianhoffdesign.com/#/work/rabbletv and you'll get a better feel for how we handled elements for the casestudy section. Hope that helps!

      0 points
  • Daniel De LaneyDaniel De Laney, almost 5 years ago

    Hi Brian, just wanted to mention that brianhoff.net is the reason my personal domain ends in .net—I saw your site in 2008 or so when I was 19 years old and thought it was incredible. The first version of my first personal site was, shall we say, heavily inspired by your design from that time. Good to see you’re still in the business.

    0 points
    • Brian Hoff, almost 5 years ago

      Hey Daniel! Yay to .net domains! Ha! Actually I've been trying for years to get brianhoff.com – however in the past another Brian Hoff had it, and now GoDaddy owns it and is squatting on it for a crazy amount. One day. One day! LOL.

      Glad I'm still in business as well :) I appreciate you taking the time to say hi!

      0 points
  • Duane SmithDuane Smith, almost 5 years ago

    Simple question: What roles do the 4 people play, and how many websites are the 4 of you working on in a typical month?

    0 points
    • Brian Hoff, almost 5 years ago

      2 designers and 2 developers. Depending on the size of the projects, anywhere from 2-4 projects a month. Although, we don't always work on all the same together. Sometimes I'm the only designer and the project only needs one developer for example. Very large projects call for all.

      0 points
  • Heather White, almost 5 years ago

    Hi Brian,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to do this! As a fellow "designtrepreneur" of a small and much MUCH less known company, I have a question specifically about your blog:

    In a world where social media is full of everyone's voices, we are also trying to get better about blogging and creating genuinely interesting content. However, the 2 of us find it difficult to set aside the time to write blog posts/figure out what to write about. Do you have any tips/pointers on making sure our content is not only worth reading, but is also generated often enough to keep interest? How often do you write new content and how do you keep to that schedule?

    Cheers! Heather

    0 points
    • Brian Hoff, almost 5 years ago

      I hear that, Heather! Yes, finding the time is definitely the hard part of writing. When I first started my blog, I would write 2 articles a week. Now I feel accomplished to write once a month. Haha.

      Actually I'd say that 90% of my blog posts are written because of something I was thinking about or occurred during work hours. Those are the best posts. For example, It allows you to reflect and more carefully think through whatever happened but also share those experiences that might prevent it happening to someone else. If I can't write the article soon after having that experience I'll quickly jot some notes and revisit it when I can. Hope that helps and happy writing! :)

      0 points
  • George Bartz, almost 5 years ago

    Hi Brian,

    Thanks for taking the time to do this AMA. Is there anything that you wish you knew before going out on your own? Would you have done anything differently or is it all one big learning process? I've been flirting with the idea of starting my own freelance gig but am hesitant to leave the stability of my 9-5.

    -gb

    0 points
    • Brian Hoff, almost 5 years ago

      Glad to be here :) To answer your question, yes, tons! I pretty much fumbled and dug through the early years of operation. Reading design books and those blogs I've admired helped tremendously, however, ultimately it comes down to what works best for you. Pricing was a big learning experience for me. I start with a low hourly rate. That wasn't sustainable. I tried set prices. Things got out of hand with revisions. I tried set rate with 'x' amount of versions. That sucked because I could show 50 vesrions and 20 they'd like and 20 they'd dismiss (and would always pick the worst of the 50 of course! LOL) Now I'm on a set deliverable over a defined timeframe. That seems to be the ticket. This way I can map out milestones and adhere to the price / their budget.

      That's just one of many examples. But you're right. It's one big learning process. And that's ok. Eight years into it and I'm still refining and changing my design process and business practices. Learning how to talk to clients is huge though. I feel like it's the most important element to business of design at the end of the day. Being confident, yet friendly. Stern, yet allowing. Honest and exceeding expectations. If you can manage the client, it's easier to manage the project. :)

      1 point
      • George Bartz, almost 5 years ago

        Thanks for the reply Brian. Some of those situations sound all too familiar and I think you said it best, "Learning how to talk to clients is huge though. I feel like it's the most important element to business of design at the end of the day." There is no business without clients!

        0 points
  • Aftab Ahmad, almost 5 years ago

    Hi Brian,

    I have been working as a full-time front end dev and web designer for almost 6 years now. Fortunately, job was always stable and I never got a chance to develop a portfolio or a personal showcase of my work or even a website (I know, sucks), plus most of the projects I have worked on, I can't legally showcase them publicly. Recently, I have been thinking a lot about going freelance or setting up a company like yours. Would you suggest starting some side projects (which I have started doing) to showcase and market my work or is there any other advise you would give me.

    Thanks!

    0 points
    • Brian Hoff, almost 5 years ago

      Hey Aftab. Yeah, that's a tough spot to be in. Are you sure you're unable to show any or parts of the work you did for your company (obviously with attribution of course)? Was that baked into your contract?

      If not, maybe documenting your process and yes, some side projects could at least get something to put out in the world to show physical work. Was

      0 points
  • Ryan LewisRyan Lewis, almost 5 years ago

    Hey Brian,

    In your early days, on your own, what did you do to establish a consistent influx of work.

    Thanks!

    0 points
    • Brian HoffBrian Hoff, almost 5 years ago

      Hey Ryan.

      Some luck. Some timing. Some putting in the work :) I'll explain...

      1. Blogging — I started The Design Cubicle at a time when blogging was gaining momentum. So a bit of timing helped. However, blogging has definitely helped to get my name out there. Documenting my process helped make my business more transparent and honest. A person forking over thousands of dollars having never met you or barely knowing you is a crazy thought. Building trust and confidence for them breaks that barrier a bit.

      2. Twitter — I was one of the early birds when Twitter first came on the scene. Users were more engaged and your work / blog posts / life was more engaged with. It helped to drive traffic for sure. Sadly, Twitter is just a sea of noise that no one pays attention to (often because they miss so much with overcrowding).

      3. Do good work — This one sounds pretty basic and that's because it is in theory. Good work emerges eventually. I like to think I do good work – although never satisfied :D Damn, you designer mind!

      4. Building relationships / networking: Currently I recommend other designers and studios left and right (since luckily I get my requests than I take on). Many I recommend are people doing good work, people I've met / had discussion with, and friends that I've become close with because of design / conferences / etc. These people usually come to my mind first.

      1 point
  • Chris MeeksChris Meeks, almost 5 years ago

    How has your blogging over the years helped with the growth of your design business? Do you have a sense for how many of your clients come through that channel or trust you because of it? It's a balance I'm trying to figure out for myself. I wonder if the days of a blog driving traffic and creating customer relationships are behind us.

    0 points
    • Brian Hoff, almost 5 years ago

      Thanks for the question, Chris! I replied below to Andy with a similar question. Here it is...

      Writing makes you a better designer and business person. Articulating your thoughts / ideas / etc., whether written or verbal, helps to educate clients and better convince them. Builds confidence to your voice.

      Keeps me in sight. "Out of sight out of mind" the saying goes. Writing allows me to continuously put something out there.

      Documenting my process and practices is something many clients have expressed they've enjoyed reading into. I've even had a few clients say that it was the difference between me and another designer / studio.

      I agree though, blog traffic isn't as high as it used to be, however I still find plenty of value documenting things. Keep on writing!

      2 points
  • Christopher Rowe, almost 5 years ago

    Hey Brian.

    A very generalised question as it's bound to differ for different projects, but what would your typical design process involve? Do you sketch, create moodboards, , wireframe, jump straight into PS?!

    Thanks!

    0 points
    • Brian Hoff, almost 5 years ago

      Hi Christopher. My process changes from client to client and from project to project. Some clients are further along with their needs, some not knowing what to expect. Unfortunately I don't have an XYZ approach. However there are some elements that are constant, which I documented on a blog post earlier this year, On Setting Expectations. Hopefully that helps.

      But yes, I've definitely done lite sketches, moodboards (usually every project), wireframes, etc. :)

      0 points
  • Andy LeverenzAndy Leverenz, almost 5 years ago

    Hey Brian,

    Thanks for doing this. I love your work. My question: In terms of your writing, what is your end goal with authoring/publishing content? To attract business or make passive income? Have you found any techniques that work better for getting a publication off the ground and into market? What has worked best for you in that same regard?

    Many thanks!

    0 points
    • Brian Hoff, almost 5 years ago

      Nice question, Andy! Not sure I've been asked this before, but an important one. There's a few reasons actually:

      1. Writing makes you a better designer and business person. Articulating your thoughts / ideas / etc., whether written or verbal, helps to educate clients and better convince them. Builds confidence to your voice.

      2. Keeps me in sight. "Out of sight out of mind" the saying goes. Writing allows me to continuously put something out there.

      3. Documenting my process and practices is something many clients have expressed they've enjoyed reading into. I've even had a few clients say that it was the difference between me and another designer / studio.

      2 points
  • Ryan GloverRyan Glover, almost 5 years ago

    Hey Brian! Just want to say thanks. Have always kept an eye on your work and have enjoyed the progression you've made over the years. Really neat to watch a soloist build up his business.

    On that note: what was the shift in mindset that helped you to move from a soloist/freelancer to running an agency? Anything in particular that really helped you "get it" or push things forward?

    0 points
    • Brian Hoff, almost 5 years ago

      Thanks Ryan! The "type" of work I was looking to take on really led me to the small shift. Many larger projects / more established clients are looking for more than "a simple website" I've found. Wanting to deliver more meaningful work and land projects that I saw from concept to launch become more important. However, it was important to stay small. I've wrestled with the idea of growing larger. In the end, I wanted to stay committed to the quality of work that gets me excited. Plus I love to actually design. Get my hands wet a bit. Growing too large often means being a part of more management tasks than I do now. Instead, over the years I've found a small team of really passionate, talented guys and gals gets it done and keeps me happy.And ultimately keeps the client at their happiest. In 8-9 years on my own, I've only had one sour experience. I like to think it's because I can keep the relationship more intimate while staying up with a consistent level of output.

      2 points
  • Jonathan SuhJonathan Suh, almost 5 years ago

    Hey! Super important question. What’s your favorite Korean food?

    0 points
    • Brian Hoff, almost 5 years ago

      Man, right to the deep stuff! Ha. I can't remember the places name in NYC my wife and I would visit occasionally, but they had some crazy amazing Korean Double Fried Chicken. Not sure how "authentic" that is, but I Was. In. Love! Otherwise, I do make some comforting Bibimbap every so often at home. :)

      1 point