50Pros Shares Q&A Interview with Max Karren, President of Chuckwalla Design

As featured in: Expert to know: Max Karren (Q&A Interview)

How did you get into the industry of graphic & web design?

After studying rhetoric, website design, marketing, and coding languages at the University of Utah, I left with a broad skill set. This enabled me to start helping clients with website creation and branding right away.

When you first got started, how did you get clients?

I was able to connect with my first client by posting an ad to a site similar to Craigslist. I posted the work I did for them to Twitter, someone saw it, then hired me. I also got work from referrals and before long, people were finding me online as well.

…and how do you get clients today?

Nowadays, I have rockstar clients that keep coming back for repeat business. These are the types of relationships I’m always looking to establish from the get-go. If someone were interested in playing the long game and creating a partnership that leads to ongoing success, I’d love to get in touch.

What do you wish more people knew about web design?

The web is constantly evolving at an unbelievably fast rate and you absolutely need to consult with experts if you plan on launching a business, product, or service of any kind. I see a lot of folks cheap out and throw something together with drag and drop editors then wonder why their website is ineffective. If your website isn’t easy to use and understand or usable by people with different abilities, you are missing the mark.

What do you like most about your industry?

I’ve been able to play a part in making a difference for underdogs on a global level! I’ve accomplished this by supporting nonprofits, political advocacies, and small businesses through great design, sophisticated tech integration, and excellent client care.

What do you dislike most?

Many of the stakeholders I work with have serious gaps in knowledge about how good web design and development works. Unfortunately, this means they have been susceptible to bad advice and web solutions that just aren’t effective. Building trust and re-educating top decision makers at organizations is one of the greatest challenges in my day-to-day job, but it’s also the most rewarding when I can transform beliefs and behaviors for the better.

If you could make 3 changes in this field, what would they be?

I think there is room for growth in all web strategies, but each and every client faces its own unique challenges. That being said, there are some general changes that can be made to any website that will improve the user experience. These are: 1) Improve website speed. 2) Make the website mobile-friendly. 3) Simplify navigation. 4) Improve content readability. 5) Add social proof (e.g. customer reviews, ratings, testimonials, etc.)

What’s the biggest issue that your firm, or firms like yours, face?

When you’re running an agency, there are a number of areas that potential conflicts can stem from. Meeting client expectations can be tough, keeping up with design trends, balancing creativity and business objectives, managing project timelines and budgets, hiring and retaining talent, etc. The list goes on and on! Having done this for 9 years now, I have had to confront many, if not all of these issues. I take pride in the fact that I have taken hundreds of projects to completion, while only backing out of one for ethical reasons. I understand that clients are taking a risk by hiring someone, so I remove that risk by offering a 100% money-back guarantee. Nobody has ever used it.

What changes have you seen since you got started?

Since I got my start in 2014, there have been several significant changes and advancements in web development. The majority of people are now viewing websites from mobile devices, web standards have evolved, existing frameworks have updated or disappeared, and new technologies have emerged. I am constantly learning new things and doing my best to stay up-to-date on the latest trends so I can serve clients better. The world is changing at a rapid pace! If your web strategy is outdated, you could be left behind. Work with us and we won’t let that happen.

What changes do you foresee happening in the future?

We’re starting to see artificial intelligence get used in web development and I see its adoption rapidly increasing from here. Right now, I see a big opportunity to get a leg up on the competition by using AI effectively and making your website “smarter”. I’m also anticipating that website performance and security will become even more crucial than it is now.

Who do you see having a competitive edge in the future?

In a crowded market, companies that lead with innovation and creativity will have the competitive edge going forward. Still, it’s easy to become overly distracted by new technologies and forget about the reason behind why we design websites in the first place! At the end of the day, it’s to make people’s lives better. That’s why, I think companies who focus on the user experience, and fully understand their audience, will thrive the most in the future.

What should a company know or do before they approach hiring a firm like yours?

I love this question! I would like teams to first ask, what is our goal for the website? Is it to increase brand awareness? Drive traffic? Generate leads? Increase sales? All of the above? From there, it’s important to identify your target audience, key messages, and establish brand guidelines that support these areas. Once your team has reached consensus there, it’s time to gather content requirements, set a budget and timeline, then determine who is responsible for managing communication with the web developer.

…and how should they approach you?

I like to start by gathering introductions in a Zoom call, getting to know each other a bit, and receiving a brief overview of the project. From here, I would suggest preparing a detailed project brief that outlines the scope, timeline, and any specific requirements. This will help me understand your needs and provide an accurate quote.

If someone were thinking about starting their own web design firm, what advice would you give them?

I grew up watching and reading The Magic School Bus. Remember what Miss Frizzle always said? “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy.” It’s the best way to learn! In order to gain experience and build a portfolio, you’ll need to attract and work with a bunch of clients. This can be hard at first, but if you stick with it and stay principled, you’ll establish credibility in no time. Be prepared for challenges, don’t let them get you down, and focus on building strong client relationships.

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