From the Field: Joshua Porter, Social Web App Designer

Joshua PorterJoshua Porter runs a design and consulting company that focuses on designing social web applications. He left full-time employment this summer to found Bokardo Design and now works out of his home office. Josh blogs at Bokardo.

Describe your job/career

In August of this year I founded a design and consulting company called Bokardo Design. I focus exclusively on designing social web applications doing interface design, evaluation, and strategic consulting. The types of problems I help clients with are things like:

1) “we launched our web app and nobody is using it” 2) “we see the promise of social features, but don’t know where to start”. 3) “we have a great feature set but are having trouble generating interest and motivation”

So, basically, I’m a social psychologist in designer clothing. 🙂

Describe your working situation

I work in my home office. It’s on the 3rd floor of our house, with our living quarters on the 2nd floor and an apartment that we rent out on the first. Thankfully, I have the ability to get the entire floor to myself during the work day, which helps cut down on distractions. Before I moved upstairs my 20 month old would constantly want to know what’s going on, and as much as I love her curiosity and enjoy seeing her it really wasn’t good for work. So I’ll go downstairs every hour or so and play with her. No matter what is going bad in the world, she makes it instantly alright.

I’m also starting to work at the library some half-days. This helps me get more exercise (a hard problem) and breaks up the day into 2 chunks. I find that just the act of walking downtown every day helps to keep my attitude more positive, as I’m seeing lots more people and participating in the community. This seems like something that lots of independent folks deal with, the loneliness of working by yourself. But I’ve found that simply getting out regularly helps a lot.

What are the key web and desktop tools you use?

I use a Mac, and live in the old standbys: Mail, Firefox, iCal, iTunes

I’m using Twitter all the time to stay loosely connected with people like me. It’s been a really big deal now that I think about it…just to see that other people are in the same boat that I am…working indepedently and remotely. Twitterrific is my desktop Twitter client of choice.

I use Google Reader and Google Docs, of course.

I use Dreamweaver and Fireworks religiously. Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, of course.

Twitter, Skype, and Adium

Writeroom for text. I find its super simplicity as the best text editor out there.

WordPress! I’ve been using wordpress for a few years, and it’s what I publish my blog with. Indispensable.

MS Word for interop with clients (less and less all the time) who use it.

Parallels for testing interfaces on windows-based browsers

I have a Highrise account but have found that it’s not quite what I need. It’s close, but not quite. So my client relationship software is an amalgamation of all of the above.

Describe your productivity system

Well, I manage my email according to how things need to be done. If there’s stuff in my inbox, then I need to attend to it at some point. It grows during the week but hopefully I can get to email zero by the end of it. I have tried GTD and other “all or nothing” type systems, but those don’t work for me. I find that I have spurts of efficiency, creativity, and productivity, and that trying to be those things all the time just doesn’t work for me. Some days I’ll get very little done, while the next I’ll be in super-efficient form. It’s a crapshoot, really. So I’m all over the place productivity-wise.

What advice do you have for people wanting to succeed in the profession or business you’re in?

Four things:

1) Passion. You have to love what you’re doing. If you don’t love what you’re doing, stop immediately and find something that you do love. This makes all the difference in the world. I know too many people doing work that they don’t love. Sure, you can be successful at it, but success is no substitute for happiness.

2) Differentiation. The more I focus on a particular field or topic, the more success I have. When I decided to focus on social design, there were very few people talking about it. Now, with MySpace and Facebook in the news *every* day, there’s a tremendous amount of talk.

3) Build a foundation. Success doesn’t happen overnight, so don’t get discouraged by bumps in the road. Stick to what you love, and chances are there just aren’t that many others who will stick to it as long as you do. There are tons of other folks talking about my topic of interest, social design, but few of them will be there in a year. I will, and I’ll be known for it in part as a result of simply sticking around long enough and being part of the conversation.

4) Actions, not words. This one has been tough for me because I love a good debate as well as the next guy. But refrain from entering frivolous debates, unless part of your business depends on it. For example, I’m a blogger and a consultant, so it makes sense for me to join conversations and talk about design *some* of the time. But if I wasn’t actually *doing* design, my ability to talk about it coherently would soon dissolve. So make sure you’re practicing what you’re preaching, and not just being a critic.

What would you do differently if you had the chance?

I would have started out on my own much earlier, like *before* I met my wife. When you have a family to support, the window of opportunity for going out on your own feels a lot smaller because you need a steady (higher) income. When you have a steady income, the tendency to keep it and the comfort it brings is a huge deterrent to any risky move. I wrestled with this for *years*.

I’m not sure if I would have gone out on my own without the support of my wife. She knew that it was best for me in the long run…it just took a lot of time for both of us to come to that conclusion. And now that I’ve done it, I’m happier *and* just as successful.

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