About a week ago I had a chance to interview Russell Morgan who is one of the best web designers / developers running a small and agile Overbord web design studio from Oslo Norway. I don’t consider Russell to be a competitor of mine, more of an industry colleague whose designs, ideas and knowledge help and push me further in my own career, a.k.a. synergy. Enjoy this interview and check out his works (links below).
How did you get into this industry?
Back in the 90s there was a computer magazine in the UK I used to buy called PC Format, and they had a guide on how to make a simple website with HTML, so I made a page of links and of course filled it up with gifs and “best viewed in Netscape Navigator” icons as we were all prone to doing back then. I even had a .wav of “Say What You Want” by Texas playing in the background too, not quite realising how long that 40mb file would take to load over my 56k dialup modem, but it didn’t matter, I thought it was the coolest website ever.
From the moment I saw my HTML code rendering in a browser, I was hooked. Not long after I built that first website a local band asked me to build a site for them, which I was super excited to do. Of course as a teenager I thought it was incredibly cool to stuff the whole site full of Shockwave Flash, again as we were all prone to doing back then, and from there I just kept on building for people, and the jobs kept on growing.
Filip: I just wanted to tell the younger “designers”, Shockwave & Flash were nifty web animation tools originally made my Macromedia. Macromedia was later bought by Adobe.
What do people and companies in Norway look for when selecting a professional web designer?
In Norway, I think it’s fair to say that people are happy to pay a bit more and expect a higher level of quality, in all aspects of their lives. So for example most people here pay their taxes with pride, and with confidence that their government will put their money to good use, and by the same note they’re also not afraid to spend the big money on top quality skiing equipment if they know it’s going to last them. The same applies with web design – if they know they’re getting top quality, they’re not going to quibble over price. They’re also quite no-nonsense when it comes to what they’ll put their trust in, if there are too many bells and whistles they’re not really interested. “Show don’t tell” is pretty key in Norway – Norwegians aren’t big fans of boasting or gloating, but if they can see actual results presented in a matter-of-fact way, then you’ll have their interest. Social proof helps too of course, if they see that you’ve worked with a brand they’ve heard of, then that really counts for a lot here.
Filip: I really like this philosophy. In the U.S. we have too many “shiny” things that are cheaper thus more preferred at first. When folks burn their money on the cheap shiny stuff they simply never learn that quality costs! Though quality pays off too.
What tools do you use?
In terms of my physical tools, I’m quite proud that all of the equipment in the office is upcycled, recycled, or just plain salvaged. My partner and I are very concerned about the environment, and having this kind of ‘policy’ is a good way to keep our company’s carbon footprint down. The hosting provider we use run all of their servers from 100% renewable energy sources like solar and wind, and they regularly donate to Trees for Life, and organisation which plants trees in the Scottish highlands. Our hosts are called Krystal, and I highly recommend them.
In terms of software, I build with WordPress, because it’s just so versatile. I know there’s a pretty fierce debate around page builders, and there are plenty of staggeringly great developers out there who refuse to use them, usually for reasons related to bloat and speed, but personally I find that Elementor in combination with ACF is fantastic, and if you know what you’re doing you can make some really beautiful, fast websites really quickly. Of course, for the foreseeable future you’re always going to need to roll up your sleeves and shunt some CSS or JS or PHP around when you have a more advanced project, but you can easily do all that alongside Elementor, so that’s what I use 90% of the time.
What piece of advice would you give your future clients?
My advice is the same both for established and new companies: Know what your next step is before hiring. If you don’t have a clear plan in mind for the direction in which you want to take your business, you could stand to lose a lot of money going back and forth with people who perhaps don’t have the best for your business at heart. I’ve seen it happen so many times to good but naive people who absolutely didn’t deserve it.
I’ve had clients in the past, new businesses, who thought that by just having a website built for them, that a business plan would suddenly fall into their laps. It leads to a lot of misunderstanding which is never fun for anyone, so the number one best thing you can do is have a proper chat about your expectations, and get a detailed scope written down so that everyone knows where they stand.
How do you balance your busy schedule and what types of things do you like to do to relax?
My amazing business partner (who is also my fiancée) and I love to travel, and that’s really the only way that I can properly disconnect from work. I work from a home office a lot, and while the freedom that brings is fantastic, it does also feel a bit like being on-call 24/7 – it makes it hard to disconnect, and it’s even harder because I do genuinely love building websites.
In my mind there’s no better way to disconnect than to throw yourself half way around the world to some sleepy beach town, where you can just run into the sea when the power gets cut – which was literally what I was doing for ten days last year in Sri Lanka, it was amazing. My schedule was wake up, go grab a BLT from a lovely little restaurant, come back and work until mid day when the power would usually cut out, then run into the sea, float for a bit, tan and read for a bit, get some lunch and then work until sunset beers, if the power was back on. That’s how I’d like every day to be!
Filip: I lived in Hawaii for a “short” five year chapter of my life so I am not that drawn to beaches and tropics. However(!) like you, I love to disconnect and go into mountains! Iceland, Norway, Italy north, Austrian Alps, and so on.
Do you have anything you’d like to promote? Any links to include for folks to check you out and learn more about you?
Sure, you should check out treesforlife.org.uk, they’re trying to rewild the Scottish Highlands, they’ve already planted 2 million trees, and they’re doing some great work for the environment. You can also check out our website at overbord.no and if you really want you can see some of my photos at @russellmorganfoto on Instagram. Oh and if any of your readers happen to live anywhere near Barnes in the UK, my Mum runs excellent pilates classes, look her up at osopilates.com 😀
Filip: Many thanks to Russell for his time and his insights. I encourage everyone to check out his solid web design portfolio and if you’re in Norway looking for a web designer, reach out to Russell!