Informal Interview: Matt Ward of Echo Enduring Media

Informal Interview: Matt Ward of Echo Enduring Media

Who is Matt Ward?

If you don’t know who Matt is, then you are missing out on some really great web design articles. I highly recommend reading his blog, Echo Enduring due to the topics he writes about. Personally, I think they are more thought provoking posts than what most blogs write about. Yes, he does tutorials sometimes, but you get the sense that Matt is really passionate about what goes into a design, and loves to talk about it.

What I didn’t know, was that Matt is more than just a designer, illustrator, and writer. He is pretty handy at developing as well. I had the pleasure of looking through and using his app Survd, an easy to use survey builder, before a lot of people did. Not only does Survd have a nice looking website, but it is incredibly intuitive to use while giving you control of how you want your surveys to look. Check it out…..NOW!

The Questions

As with my previous two “Informal Interviews”, Matt was kind enough to agree to answer the following questions for me, and I get to pass it along to you. Enjoy.

Are you addicted to web development as much as the rest of us, or do you still see yourself pursuing a career in writing sometime in the future?

Matt: Totally–on both counts. I love working on the web, though I like to think of myself a bit more as a designer than a developer (even though I technically do both). I love the ever changing landscape that continuously challenges us to get better at what we do and to never stop learning.

That being said, however, I do see myself eventually making the shift from a career on the web to more of a full time writing gig, with a bit of web stuff on the side. Sort of the opposite of what I’m doing now I guess.

Being married, having kids, and the Creative Director for Highland Marketing, where do you find time for your blog, freelance and creating things like Survd?

Matt: It’s definitely a challenge, and one that I don’t always feel that I’m doing well. I always wish I had more time to spend with my wife and daughter (and the new one that’s on the way). I end up working a lot of evenings and weekends to get stuff done, but I make a conscious effort to carve out specific blocks of time that are dedicated soley to my family. After all, they are the reason that I do everything anyhow.

One trick that I do like to use is to keep myself motivated with my to-do list. I find that by breaking my tasks down into small, manageble chunks, I can do things in small tasks that I can accomplish within a few hours, and often within minutes. This way I am continuously checking things off my to-do list, and that helps me feel like I’m getting somewhere and accomplishing something.

Granted, to some degree it’s like tricking myself, but I find that those kind of personal mind games can actually be highly effective.

What led you to create Survd? Did you see a need for easy survey creation, or was this a pet project that grew into something bigger?

Matt: Like so many things that we see being released on the web today, Survd basically started as a solution I built for myself. I was in a situation where I needed a simple survey management system for a site I was working on. I wasn’t a huge fan of some of the self-hosted products that I had seen or tried, and a hosted, subscription-based model just didn’t fit what I needed.

I’m all for subscription-based apps, but this just wasn’t a situation where I felt it would be appropriate. So, I sat down one day and banged out the basic core that would become Survd over the course of between 8 and 10 hours.

Eventually, though, it was really just a matter of realizing that it was a simple and elegant solution that could be a bit more flexible than some of the other things that I tried. So then I started to think about the possibility of packaging it into a saleable app and the concept of Survd as a product was born.

How long did it take to actually create Survd, from start to the time you put it live for download? Did you start designing first or did you start writing the code for the actual app itself?

Matt: I guess I kind of answered that in the previous question. I definitely started with the code first, and actually spent the vast majority of the time with my head directly in the code. From the time I started to the time it went live was about four months, though I certainly wasn’t only working on Survd. I had other projects and commitments during that period too.

As for the design, I have to give credit to Internet Dreams on that one. Around the time that I started really building Survd, I came across their free admin template and decided to use that as a starting point, at least for the time being. Of course, I did a lot of custom work on it too, especially when it comes to many of the key interface elements that users will be working with.

I do, however, have plans to eventually build my own back end design entirely from scratch. What I’m using now is great, but there are a few things I don’t like as much and I think I could tighten the whole product experience once I was to do the design and code myself.

What is next for Survd? Do you have a lot you still want to add to it, or are you onto some other project?

Matt: Well Survd 1.1 just came out recently. I had been working on that for several weeks, bringing some added functionality that different people have requested, like the ability to add simple styles to survey, or to draw from pre-existing answer sets. I also improved overall support for a number of other languages and implemented a simple feature for allowing users to add links into their questions.

For the moment, though, Survd is kind of on a development standstill. I’ll still be troubleshooting and ironing out any bugs that may creep up. I may even add a few other, small features, but there’s nothing huge on the horizon.

Long term, though, I’m looking at trying to take the survey side of things to another level, with things like pagination and more complex survey flows and dependencies. Right now, you can hide and/or reveal subsets of questions based on user input, but I want to take things further to create a more dynamic survey experience that is actually capable of responding to user input in interesting and meaningful ways.

At the same time, however, I want to maintain the simplicity of the back-end interface. So while I have some ideas, I think that there will be a lot of planning, designing and wireframing to do before anything like that comes close to being included in an official release.

I’m also planning on creating a WordPress plugin to make integration easier. If that goes well, I may also move on to plugins and extensions for other major content management systems.

How organized are you with your blog? Do you plan ahead on the topics you are going to write about, or is it more random where a topic just pops in your head and you start writing?

Matt: I guess it’s a bit of all of the above. I try to stay organized and stick with a general posting schedule, but that doesn’t always work. Like right now for instance. I’ve been super busy with the personal side of life (my second child is due soon), so I haven’t had as much time to write and post as I might normally have liked. I have a bunch of ideas for articles, but it’s really just a matter of sitting down and actually finding the time to write them.

Add to that the fact that I am looking at starting another writing project (completely unrelated to design and development), and time starts to become even more scarce.

Recently, I’ve seen some people like Paul Boag discussing the importance of using an editorial calendar for scheduling blog posts, and what they’re saying makes a lot of sense, so I’m thinking about doing something like that myself. It probably won’t be public, so it won’t be written in stone or anything, but it should help me keep on track.

Sometimes the hardest part of blogging is just deciding which article to write next!

Any new web development tech out there that excites you?

Matt: Obviously, I’m excited about things like HTML5 and CSS3, but that’s pretty generalized I guess. So I guess I would have to say responsive design (which I’ve also heard called adaptive design). The idea of using technologies like CSS media queries to adjust the way that a site renders based on the width of the viewport is pretty revolutionary in my mind, and I really think it’s going to change the way we think about design and user experience on increasingly mobile web.

That being said, then, I would have say that I’m as much interested in this responsive concept as it relates to actual design, rather than just development. Obviously, it has huge ramifications on the development world, because at its core it’s still a code-driven technique. When it comes to design, though, I really think that it starts to change the way we think about design. Instead of just being a matter of hanging a design on a standardized grid-based layout, the responsive technique really requires more critical thinking as we work out solutions for varying veiwports.

Generally speaking, I believe that more thought will lead to stronger design, and that’s a good thing for everyone.

Any web development or design blogs that you read that we might not have heard of?

Matt: If your readers aren’t already familiar with the work of Francisco Inchauste (also known as Finch), then I definitely suggest starting there. Francisco is a both a talented UX designer who has worked on some awesome projects, and a really great writer, whose articles are always very valuable. He may go some weeks without posting, but you can always be assured that when he does post, it’s going to be good, solid content.

Alexander Charchar is much the same. I actually co-authored the first chapter of the Smashing Book 2 with Alex, and I can tell you first hand that the guy has an vast and extensive knowledge of both design and its history. He also runs a blog called Retinart, where he shares this knowledge with readers. Again, he doesn’t post all the time, but when he does post it’s worth reading.

Lastly, a friend of mine recently launched his own blog, called OakesDesign. It’s still pretty small, and Colin’s just hitting his stride, but it has a lovely design and I think that it will be pretty awesome as it continues to grow.

And totally unrelated, who is your favorite fantasy author, and what is your favorite series?

Matt: That’s a tough one, and a question that I think could be answered in a number of different ways. If we’re talking about who I think is the best fantasy author out there at the moment, it would have to be George R.R. Martin. His gritty realism, complex character and convoluted political landscape exist on a plane all of their own. However, I can’t say that I really enjoy everything about the books. I could do without most of the swearing and sex, and books themselves tend to be a bit long, with the third in the series be longer than the entire Lord of the Rings. Apparently the long awaited fifth book is due out soon, and is slated to be the longest of the series.

On a lighter note, I re-read David Eddings’ The Belgariad and The Mallorean series over this past summer. Those were the first really full-blown fantasy novels that I read as a kid, and I’m still very fond of them. There are all kinds of subtleties that I just never picked up on when I was younger but which I found interesting and meaningful as an adult.

Beyond that, Terry Brooks’ Shannara books are some of my favorites, as is Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. I’m also quite font of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, especially their work in the Dragonlance universe.

Hopefully, I’ll be joining the fantasy landscape myself before too long. That other writing project that I mentioned earlier will actually be a foray into fantasy fiction. The project is still super formulative, but you can follow me on Twitter for periodic updates!

Recommendations?

Again, a big thank you to Matt for doing this for me. I have found I really enjoy finding out what the people I have “informally interviewed” have to say. Plus, Matt likes some damn good fantasy series. Memory, Sorrow and Thorn is one of my favorites, as well as the Shannara series, and aything that Weis and Hickman write. If you are looking for an outstanding book to read in a totally original fantasy setting, go pick up The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

Hope you guys enjoyed this post, and if you have any recommendations on who I could informally interview next, let me know!

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