Miro Hristov is a true multi-hyphenate. A designer, developer, UXer and much more, he is based out of Alexandria, VA, and currently works as a freelance web developer for the upcoming portfolio platform Simpolio.
Where do you work and what is your current title?
I’m currently working as a freelance web developer and UX/UI designer in Alexandria, VA.
Since I wear many hats, I don’t have a specific title. When I’m not working on any of my client’s projects, I’m mostly focused on launching a personal project called Simpolo – an online service that creates customizable portfolios from templates (or from scratch for the advanced users). So, if you insist on a title I’d go with Web Developer at Simpolio.com
Please tell us a little bit about yourself & your background.
I’m mostly self-taught. My fascination with code and graphics began back in my hometown Ruse, Bulgaria when I was 10 years old. Dad brought a PC desktop home and at the time it didn’t have a mouse and Dos was its default operating system. While I did enjoy playing games on it, I was also curious about how they’re made. Then, my father introduced me to a programming language called QBasic (Quick Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code). Using code to draw my own graphical shapes on screen was just as satisfying as playing Dos games.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a designer?
I don’t know. I guess it gradually happened without me knowing on a conscious level. I don’t have any other skills, such as being able to paint or sing or write, so I’m using my computer skills as a way to make a living, express myself, and maybe make a tiny dent in the World. Occasionally, when the going gets tough, I reassess my life using something similar to the venn diagram below. I ask myself if that’s what I really want to do for the rest of my life and even though I’m not in a constant state of bliss I find most meaning and satisfaction in what I already do.
What was your first design job? Any interesting stories about how you broke into the field?
Animating Flash banners and intros for websites. I still remember that awesome feeling when I actually got paid real money for what I’ve created all by myself on a computer. You can take a look at my very first intro here (from 2003). Lol.
Please describe a normal day at your current job. What’s the workflow like? What are your primary responsibilities?
As someone who suffers from a mild form of nyctophilia, I stay late and wake up late. I suck at self-discipline and procrastinate more than I should. As a freelancer, my responsibilities vary greatly depending on what type of project I’m currently working on. Some days, I may focus on design and layout only, other are just coding and development. With Simplio.com, because I’m entirely working by myself , I’m doing front-end, back-end, and layout design, all at the same time. When I’m working on a client’s website from scratch, I start with a flow chart of the content to have a rough idea of the scope of the project. Then, my usual workflow would look like this: Wireframes > Static Screenshots > Live HTML/CSS preview. The images below are a timeline and flowchart from a real project:
Are there any memorable war stories, client interactions or close calls that have taught you something important about how things work?
I don’t know if the following story has anything to do with workflow or the industry but on a personal level, it definitely taught me something very important.
Illozoo.com is an illustration agency – it was originally running on an online portfolio service. My job was to recreate it on WordPress for easier updating and maintenance. Recreating the design and functionality was piece of cake compared to what it took to transfer the existing content. Since I hate doing manual conveyer-type work on a computer, downloading and uploading each artist’s image gallery, name, and categories individually was a no-no for me. I tried various WordPress automation plugins, macros scripts that record your browser activity and mouse and keyboard, online services, etc. Nothing could clone the content from a static HTML website to the WordPress database.
Finally, I decided to take on the task myself and wrote a custom HTML scraper script that extracted the existing data into a single file (.json). I then wrote another custom script which used that file to import the data back into WordPress. ( I’ve written a blog post with code and details about this here) I had no prior knowledge of how to do neither the scraping nor the importing – I’m really proud of this personal achievement because it stretched me and taught me to not be afraid to improvise and trust myself more. In digital, everything is possible if you break the problem down into small enough solvable problems.
What’s a common mistake you often see entry level designers make? What are some tips to avoid or overcome it?
Ignoring fundamentals and overcomplicating things. As beginners, we often want to reinvent the wheel and show off all of our acquired skills and techniques. You don’t have to use a gradient and a bevel and a drop shadow and 4 different fonts. Try and make a stylish graphic using only black & white, 2 fonts and straight lines. Learn which fonts go together well. Learn typography. Never use the default CSS justified text. Learn the fundamentals of 2D and 3D design. Pay attention to details. Don’t be afraid of white space. Simple is better than cluttered and busy. Create an outstanding portfolio – less is more: if you only have 3 great works, use just that. Don’t fill it up with fluff that you’re not proud of. Although I somewhat still suffer from that “complexify everything” mentality, I’ve gotten much better over the years. I get inspired by this Einstein quote: “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.”
Any industry sites or blogs you read on a regular basis, or anything else you read for inspiration?
With my latest project, I’ve turned into a code-junkie so I’ll start with the one I spent the most time on:
StackOverflow – perfect for asking technical questions after you’ve tried everything else.
TheFWA – great for inspiration and ideas. I’ve been visiting this site ever since it’s theme colors were burgundy + yellow and its domain favoritewebsiteawards.com.
CSSZenGarden – demonstrates the power and beauty of simple CSS. Great to learn from. (Notice that only the stylesheet changes when you select a new design – the HTML and content remains the same.)
OnePageLove – If you love one-pagers and/or need inspiration that’s the place.
Here are some folks on YouTube who produce excellent content, that I like and follow:
Mike Locke – he has some great answers for UX/UI designers or people who consider working in the web industry in general.
FunFunFunction – Great for learning coding/best practices/life-hacks (for intermediate to advanced users)
DevTips – useful tips for web developers – JS/jQuery/CSS etc.
LearnCode.academy – My favorites list is filled with their tutorials. (beginner to advanced users)
There’s something new and amazing coming out every day. What’s something awesome you’ve seen recently that you’re dying to share, or something you’re excited about?
Oh, where should I start from? You must have noticed that the internet of things is already creeping in. As someone who experiments with Arduino and Raspberry Pi I can’t hide my excitement about the release of yet another single-board computer: The Tinker Board by Asus which was announced just a few days ago. It’s basically a credit card sized computer just like Raspberry Pi but even more powerful.
Any bleeding-edge technology fires me up and fills me with hope. But especially the technologies that directly interact with the human body. I find brain-computer or nerve-computer interfaces which enable amputees to walk again, using just thoughts to control bionics, to be pretty mind blowing. Also exciting is this idea that we’re now living in the early stages of a 4th industrial revolution.
Lastly, the future of the psychedelic experience is yet another “technology” I’m keenly keeping my eyes on. Who knows what it could do to our modernized worlds if there wasn’t such a social stigma around it and it wasn’t nearly impossible to legally research it or experiment with it in this country.
What advice would you give to someone trying to break into the industry?
Commit to becoming great. Do not fear failure. Have a plan and stick to it. Don’t panic and don’t give up. Understand it may take years before you begin to turn in work that you like.
There’s a great speech by Ira Glass about beginners, creativity, and good work. He talks about storytelling but the same applies to all creative fields.
What do you think is the future of your industry?
It really depends on how far into the future you want to dive in.
Short term, as both desktops and mobile devices become more powerful, I believe we’ll see more of WebGL and 3D – it’s like Flash is being reinvented but without the need of a plugin, it works on mobile, and is open-source. What’s not to like about that.
Recently, I read this interesting article which compares the evolution of web design and development to that of architecture. In addition to what it has to say, I believe that unlike architecture, in digital we can fast-forward the process of web evolution and start experimenting with what may be about to come. I for one, as an ex-flasher, already have nostalgia for websites that had an atmosphere and a short intro. If I told you, you’re about to watch an awesome movie you’d want that movie to be at least an hour long, be thought-provoking, have twists, leave you wondering, challenge/change your worldview a little bit. If a website was designed the same way, most people would close it. We (web creators) should be careful not to race to the bottom of attention. It is true that the user is becoming more and more impatient but we should try to bring the art and atmosphere back into the ordinary website in some way.
Long term, I’m excited about where Virtual Reality; Augmented Reality; Mixed Reality might take us. We may have to shift from designing for a flat, entirely digital world (the computer screen or mobile device) to designing for the real 3d world and live human interactions. This could change the game pretty entirely. Then, a more direct interaction with the brain will come. I don’t know if that means brain implants that will require an invasive surgery or sensors sensitive enough that can understand brainwaves from outside the skull. So far, we are able to barely move a cursor on screen or close a prosthetic hand with thoughts and reading the human mind requires MRI scanners. In the future, it may even look something very similar to that movie show H+: The Digital Series. I don’t know… but it’s undoubtedly a most exciting time that we live in.