Jon Hicks: designer of print and new-fangled media

jonhicks_imageWe’re very happy to have in our designer interview series; Jon Hicks, of Hicksdesign. Maker of the Firefox, Thunderbird & Mailchimp logos as well as many other great additions to the web at large.

How or where do you find inspiration?
Usually from the opposite of what I’m working on. For example, ideas for a website design might come from a piece of quality packaging design, or a logo idea from a country walk. I don’t find looking at other websites particularly useful for site ideas, although newspapers and magazines can provide direction on how to present text content.

Who is the biggest influence on your work right now?
I don’t any one person influences what I do, but there are plenty of designers that I aspire to be, such as Naz Hamid,

Where are your “design roots”? Print or Web?
Print, and more specifically, illustration. I spent 2 years of college learning Technical Illustration, followed by 3 years of wildlife illustration. My first job was a junior designer role, and since I’ve worked as a print designer for charities and publishers, before leaving it all for the freelance life in 2002. Web was something I started picking up at my last ‘job’, but it was only when I was working for myself that I could really learn (baptism of fire and all that!)

How important is it to know the history of design?
I think knowing the history gives you greater insight, but isn’t necessary to be a good designer. For example, Johnston Underground and Gill Sans are very similar typefaces. Once you dig into the history, you discover why (Gill was a student of Johnston, and they often collaborated) and the reasons for the differences. The dot of the i in Johnston Underground is a diamond shape, because he was calligrapher, whereas Gill’s i is round because he was a stone cutter. It’s good insight to have, but isn’t always directly applicable to your work.

Serif or Sans?
When I have to choose like that, I’m a sans man keeping it clean!

Do you code and design? Are you a “Hybrid”?
Certainly! I reach a point fairly early on where I do my designing in the browser, rather than spend time replicating HTML elements in a static mock up. I get a thrill from keeping my code clean.

What’s your favorite part of the creative process?
The start where I’m sketching the ideas. By the end of the process, where it’s the final polishing, I lose interest and motivation! I still get satisfaction from doing the last 20%, but the start where anything is possible excites me the most.

What makes your creative process different from everybody else?
It’s the unique combination of Gruyere, Hobgoblin Beer and meditation

What do you see as the single biggest shift in the evolution of design over the past 5 years?
Online, the biggest shift has been in type. Less text is being embedded in images and flash movies, and instead it’s being marked up in a way that makes it understandable and accessible. Typography is being considered, and for the first time, we have a choice in typefaces.

What’s the difference between User Experience and User Interface design?
Beats me. I hate all these new terms for describing the same job.

What makes one a web design professional?
Designing websites and getting paid for it! Personally, I would say someone who understands design principles and how they work online. That doesn’t mean that you know how to code, although that knowledge can help and hinder in equal measures.

What are designers/developers doing right (or wrong) in the web 2.0 world?
The move towards semantic design, and pushing HTML5 and CSS3 have been the best developments. That we’re seeing implementations of native video improve on a seemingly monthly basis is exciting. These are things that only happen when people push for them. If you always design to accommodate the lowest common denominator, it will never move forward.

What’s your favorite flavor of design or development programs/languages?
I adore CSS. There is SO much you can do with it (not across all browsers I grant you), and precious little you can’t.

What is your favorite book?
So far, it’s ‘This Thing of Darkness’ by Harry Thompson. It’s the gripping and heartbreaking true story of Fitzroy and Darwin aboard the Beagle.

What is your favorite movie?
Either the Empire Strikes Back or The Italian Job (original, not remake!), can’t decide!

Who is your favorite musical artist (or What musical artist are you listening to the most right now?)
Starflyer 59 are my all-time favourites, although sadly I’ve never seen them live. I think they’ve been on tour to the UK once! At this moment, I’m listening to a lot of Phoenix, Holly Miranda, Midlake and Memory Tapes

Jon Hicks is highly regarded web and print designer based in Oxford. Jon is most widely known for his personal website – Hicksdesign – where he regularly writes about web standards, CSS and browsers.

As well as producing a range of successful browser resources, Jon has also produced logos for Firefox and Thunderbird. Towards the end of 2008 he joined Opera Software as Senior Designer.

Be sure to follow him on twitter: @Hicksdesign.


Gene Crawford

With over a decade of experience in the industry he has overseen the design and architecture of hundreds of web sites and applications. An active member in the design community, he's the editor & producer of, the ConvergeSE, ConvergeFL, ConvergeRVA and the Breaking Development conference series.