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Conversations with Andrew Couldwell

Today we’d like to introduce you to Andrew Couldwell.

Hi Andrew, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
I’m a long way from home! I was born and raised in Yorkshire in the North of England. I flew the coop in my mid-20s and I’ve more or less been on the move ever since — living and working in Europe, London, and in 2014, I emigrated to the United States. I landed in New York City, where I met my wife. We spent three years living it up in Manhattan and Brooklyn, tied the knot in 2018 in Winter Park, Florida, and moved to Los Angeles in 2019. We lived in Silver Lake and Los Feliz and loved exploring all of LA while we could… And in 2020, our twins were born a few short weeks before the pandemic hit! Fast-forward a couple of years and we’ve just bought our first house in Riverside, where we plan to build the home office of our dreams and enjoy all that Los Angeles and California has to offer with our kids!

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
Professionally, things got off to a slow start. I had to really grind out a career for the first several years.

I designed and built my first website when I was 18. I was a part-time bartender while I studied art at college. One night, someone offered to pay me money to make them a website (literally over the bar while I was serving them!). I didn’t know how to build a website, but I figured it out, and I’ve been doing that ever since!

The tech industry has changed a lot since I started out (in 2004). Back then, websites were table-based and/or Flash movies (if you know you know). The internet, technology, and the devices we design for have come an incredibly long way throughout my career, and I’ve had to evolve my skill set significantly along the way.

The ceiling for earnings has also changed a lot; it used to be radically lower than it is today! It amuses me now how kids step straight out of school into 6 figure jobs at tech giants in SF and NYC. I spent the first few years of my career in a dead-end job making a laughable amount of money. I held a part-time job in a clothes store on weekends, in addition to my full-time web design job. It very nearly led to me quitting a career in design. But I persevered, worked really hard — be it on personal projects or paid client work — and eventually, things started to happen for me.

My first big break came in 2010, about 6-7 years into my career. Out of nowhere, a website design project for NASA landed in my inbox! A creative director at a prestigious agency had seen and liked a personal project of mine and decided to take a chance on me. Within weeks I was working on projects for The Discovery Channel, Samsung, Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, Nike, Foursquare, MTV, and more! This work set me on a new trajectory as a freelancer, which fared me well for years, although I had to work some pretty grim hours! Like, 12-20 hour days, seven days a week. Looking back, I was far too focused on success and career, in the unhealthiest sense, but it set me up for long-term success.

In 2011, everything changed when I lost my Dad to a very short battle with cancer. Professionally, I somehow managed to maintain a freelance career. But personally, it took me a few years to really get back on the rails. The most important professional lesson I learned was to find a work/life balance. I started to do work that made me happy, not to impress others. The brand name didn’t matter anymore, but the work and the value I provided did. Over the next few years, I worked on several projects for charities and even worked at a startup building white label fundraising tools for charities.

My freelance success led to a new chapter of in-house full-time work in New York City working with tech giants, leading products, and managing teams. For the most part, I spent three years doing things I wasn’t built for, and I was never really happy, so I returned to freelance as soon as I could (aka, when I legally could because I got a green card!).

Since returning to freelance in 2018, I’ve been much happier professionally. I wrote and published a book about design systems and product design (designsystemfoundations.com) and I’ve been taking on projects I want to do and working with people that interest me. Work pays the bills now. I love what I do, I have fun doing it, and I always give my best, but it’s no longer my primary focus in life.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I’m a freelance web/product designer and front-end web developer. Because I design and build, I’m kind of a one-stop-shop for businesses and startups to go to for web and product design. My work ranges from designing and building small websites for artists and startups to leading huge design systems and product design projects for big businesses. I love a challenge, but I also love to work on smaller, more personally rewarding projects. For example, in the past year, I’ve worked on a huge digital brand project for Burger King, a gaming industry product for a startup in Los Angeles, and a portfolio website for a famous Disney artist (ericrobisonart.com).

I’m probably most well-known now for my book, Laying the Foundations that I published in 2019 (designsystemfoundations.com). Before that, I was most well-known for a personal project, Club of the Waves (clubofthewaves.com), which is an international showcase of artists and photographers whose work focuses on surfing and surf culture. I founded the website back in 2006 and have curated and written its content and features ever since. It’s been the backbone of my career for a long time! I also designed the first version and oversaw the launch of an Adobe product called Adobe Portfolio, which is a portfolio website builder offered for free to all Adobe Creative Cloud members. If you browse a lot of creative portfolio websites, you’ve probably seen a good few websites created with the product I designed.

If you had to, what characteristic of yours would you give the most credit to?
I come from a hard-working background and culture. The North of England is known for its working-class and unpretentious people, who also have each other’s backs and know how to have a good time! I think more than anything, it’s a culture of respect. Work hard, play hard, and mind your manners. I would say I embody these characteristics, and they’ve certainly given me an edge in a competitive industry. It’s helped me to be curious, to keep learning, and get better and faster at what I do. I also hold myself to a very high standard — I don’t have it in me to willingly do bad work, which is a huge part of the reason why I’m a freelancer and not ‘working for the man’, so to speak. I live by the saying ‘if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well’. I think that’s the main reason why I keep getting more work! That, or businesses in the US like my English accent! Haha

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