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Q&A with James Stiff

UI/UX designer and copywriting from Manchester

I’m James Stiff. I’m originally from Cornwall but now live in Manchester with my wife, two kids and two cats. I work at Mediaburst where I’m responsible for design of a range of products including Textburst and Clockwork. My primary focus is UI/UX but I also do the occasional bit of copywriting and design for print.

My spare time is divided between designing websites for friends/family and attempting to make music. I’m also getting back to my roots, working on a range of T-shirts which I hope to launch sometime next year.

What inspired you to become a designer?

As a child, I spent a lot of time drawing and painting. Following A-levels, I took a foundation course at Falmouth School of Art. Whilst I was there, a visiting lecturer by the name of Steve Hardstaff did an excellent job of recruiting me onto a Graphic Design Degree course at Liverpool John Moores University. It was my ticket out of Cornwall and my first, tentative step into the wonderful world of design.

What design software (or tools) do you use?

Quite often I’ll alternate between analogue and digital tools throughout the design process. I’ve been using Photoshop and Illustrator for around 20 years but nothing beats the freedom of pencil and paper when getting ideas down.

Recently, I’ve been trying to design more in the browser and I’ve been experimenting with frameworks such as Bootstrap and Foundation.

What is your ideal work environment?

Lots of natural light is a bonus. My home office is just about big enough for a desk and a bookshelf. The Mediaburst office is an architect-designed, open plan loft space in a converted warehouse in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. As long as I have headphones and coffee, I’m fairly happy.

Where does your design inspiration come from?

Here’s the thing: I do appreciate good design but I find that absorbing too much of it can be over stimulating and lead to creative paralysis. Inspiration usually comes from sources other than design. Everyday experiences, spending time with family and friends, listening to music, watching films.

Tricky problems provide inspiration too. Designers’ brains are wired to find solutions.

One design book I thoroughly recommend is Mike Monteiro’s, “Design is a Job”. It’s one of those that I wish was around when I was starting out in design.

Who is the person you admire most?

This will probably sound cheesy but I admire my wife the most. She gave birth to two beautiful children and still manages to tolerate me on a daily basis. She’s my rock and the critic whose opinion matters most. The alternative would be to name some celebrity designer with an already over-inflated ego. Unless I pick a dead designer. In which case Saul Bass.