Veerle Pieters is a Belgian graphic, web, UX, and UI designer known for her popular blog. Since 1992, Veerle has provided professional design services through her company Duoh!, which she runs with Geert Leyseele.
Below, Veerle elaborates on her work, how clients find her, what lead to the success of her blog, how her business got its start, and how she keeps things running smoothly while maintaining a business with a significant other.
Is it common for professionals to mix web and graphic design work with home, furniture, garden, and office design as you have? Which type of design do most clients request from you?
The furniture, garden and office design is just an interest and hobby really; it is not my profession. I just share this subject on my personal blog, nothing more. My profession is graphic and web design, and also UX design. I also design the GUI of iPhone and iPad applications.
How do most clients discover you when they are not introduced via word of mouth?
A lot of clients find me through my blog or my company website. This is mostly due to the fact that I have good visibility on the Internet, and also because I’ve also build up a reputation over the many years.
What do you think made your blog particularly successful? What advice would you give to other artists and designers who would like to build their own online following?
At the time I started my blog (in 2003), there were already a lot of blogs, but blogging was still in its early stage if you compare it to now. Timing certainly played a role here, but the main reason why my blog succeeded was because of the content that I shared on it in combination with my style of writing.
I mainly shared my work experiences, by talking about the projects I worked on. Then I decided to write tutorials about HTML/CSS, for the graphic designer, making it easy to understand. I started by explaining all the steps on how to create a web page. My tutorials got picked up by a few important and well-known blogs and people in the web community. This gave my blog a first push.
My blog was also picked up in a CSS gallery. Back then there was actually only one called the CSS Vault. It was very popular. All of a sudden my blog grew from the 5 to 10 daily visitors to a few 100. In 2004, I started to also write Illustrator tutorials and Photoshop a bit later on. People really loved it. Because I put so much effort into those guides, I also spent a lot of time on the graphics in the tutorial.
I slowly grew step by step. I kept on posting stuff that people could learn from- and still do. I mixed my tutorials with other personal subjects, like music I love, or Apple-related stuff. So I’ve always kept my blog a personal site. I’ve always maintained authenticity and posted regularly. I never took a break for a couple of months, for example, like some people do. So the success of my blog is built on the continuous efforts I put into it.
The only bit of luck I had with my blog, if you can call it that, is the timing, but even still, it has only played a very small part in my blog’s overall success. My blog is the product of 10 years of hard work. People don’t always believe it or realise it and think you are ‘lucky’, but it’s not luck but hard work that gets rewarded in the end.
This is alway my advice to anyone who want to build their online following: Share what you are passionate about, stay yourself, be generous, and be persistent. Don’t give up if you don’t see the numbers grow in a short time. It takes a lot of work and your success depends, of course, on what you share. So try to find your niche, your thing.
What are your thoughts on doing freelance work as an artist or designer versus working full time for a specific company?
I am probably not the right person to answer this as I’ve never worked in a company. I can’t properly compare the two alternatives, as I can’t speak from experience. I’ve always been ‘my own boss’.
I guess the freedom is something I would never want to trade for. The downside is the risk and insecurity you have, certainly in the beginning. For me, it was a rough path. If, when starting, I were able to look into the future for about 4 to 5 years I don’t think I would have dared to take this step. I was not fully aware of the risks. In addition to being keen on getting started, I was scared that a designer looking for a job for more than a year would become unhireable- that people would start questioning my skills and talent by the fact that I ‘still’ didn’t have a job. I gave myself a deadline because of this and that was a mistake. Of course everything turned out well, but the first 5 years (pre Internet time) was a disaster really.
With regard to running a small business with a significant other, what are some practices that keep the professional and personal relationship healthy?
It is a challenge , for sure. I believe this can only work for a few people. I can’t really put my finger on what the criteria are to have a business with a significant other work.
There are however things that I know play an important role in making it work. You need to give each other enough space, and also don’t ‘boss’ each other around. You need to be able to work side by side. If you are a bit of a control freak, it will not end well. It takes some time to make it work and there will be moments when you have arguments and don’t agree with each other, but these discussions often lead to better results in the end.
We are both much alike Geert and I. For instance, we are precision freaks, like to keep our office tidy, love to listen to the same music, love the same stuff when it comes to graphic design, interior design, etc. This is a big advantage. You just need to have a very strong relationship if you want to make it work.
I think it’s also good to set a few practical rules if you work at home, like work till 8 pm and not later, stuff like that. This is advice for anyone who works at home. Just set boundaries. We used to work till late, have irregular hours, etc. The only irregularity now is when we decide to jump on the bike. Weekends and weekdays blur more as we look at the weather predictions to decide when we schedule our biking trips.