I put up my website in 2005.  It was an inexpensive, but maddening experience.  I had constant difficulty reaching the person who was creating the site, and it was hard to do all the writing I needed to do.  I had to have it up before a certain event, and it came in just under the wire.

Over the years between then and now I became increasingly disillusioned with the site and with the person who had designed it.  She was often unreachable and it was increasingly impossible to update it.  I knew I needed a new one, but once I started my blog, I figured I had time.  I directed people to that as opposed to the website, and I suppose I lived in a relative state of denial that if I wasn’t looking at my website, neither was anyone else.

Yes, that is a stupid way to think.  I’ve known for quite a while that I had to create a new site, and so many things were coming together at the same time, that I started to actively search for someone to work with.  It took a while for me to find both the right person and the money to make the new site, but I have been finally rewarded.  My new site is live!

I thought I would take some time to talk about the process, since I found myself in the exact same territory as photographers find themselves, giving myself the same advice I have given to them.

My search was rewarded when I found I could work with Mike Hartley of big flannel, as he had created a business to design websites, and I had been suggesting him to photographers I came in contact with.

Every photographer needs a website, or an active blog where they showcase their work.  It needs to be kept fresh, and it needs to have a raison d’etre as to why it exists.  That can actually be the most difficult thing: determining who you are and what you want to present to potential clients and followers.

I knew I wanted my new site to reference the old one, but be fresher and cleaner.  What worked before wasn’t necessary now.  I wanted to reposition myself and so I had to determine the most important elements of what I wanted to say. Mike and I spent a lot of time talking, and his ideas were instrumental in helping to determine who I was and how I wanted people to think of me in the website context.  Once we had that figured out, Mike worked up a slew of ideas about design, fonts, columns and placement of topics.

I don’t often get a chance to work with someone on a creative project where we go back and forth with ideas.  I just love that collaboration and find it pushes and challenges me in ways that I find thrilling.

Working with Mike made everything so easy for me, and actually fun.  I left all of the technical aspects to him, and I focused on my writing (it took a bunch of tinkering to get it to where I wanted it).  All that remained was to make a decision to go live.  And so, here it is!

Because the experience was so wonderful, I wanted to ask Mike some questions about his work, and what it’s like to work with photographers.  Here ‘s what he has to say:

Give us a little background about how you came to designing websites.

As a kid, I was one of the first age groups to have computers at school. I also had a ZX81 and Dragon32 at home and wrote assembly language. That’s pretty nerdy, so it’s something I shouldn’t brag about. I left school wanting to be a photographer but studied Manufacturing Engineering and Economics at university. Then I did an MA in Applied Social Research and worked in HIV Education before turning to web design in 2000. I had described myself as a creative trapped in an engineer’s body and Tim Berners-Lee inventing the internet gave me an opportunity to work both creatively and technically making websites. It seemed like an obvious thing to do.

Tell us about your template / company

I predominantly work on my own under the name of bigflannel. I build websites from the ground up, customize existing themes and templates and sell a template of my own: bigflannel Portfolio. I’ve been building websites for photographers from the beginning. My first site was for Michael Putland, my second for ClampArt, the NYC contemporary photography gallery, and there have been many more since, including Yousuf Karsh, Eric Ogden, Ted Morrison, Mark Katzman, Janette Beckman, and aCurator–these are some of the sites I am most proud of. I took a detour to design and develop ZOOZOOM and win a Webby, but now I focus solely on bigflannel. I wanted to take my experience of working with photographers for over ten years and design, build, sell and support a well designed and affordable template for photographers. It’s called bigflannel Portfolio. Leland Bobbé, and lately Isadora Kosofsky (among others) are using it and I’ve been getting great feedback and repeat orders.

What do you hate to see on websites?

Those folding pages, making a transition on a screen look like the turning of a page. When TV was first invented, TV programs were radio shows in front of cameras. Once people understood the medium more, they changed to be more like the TV shows we know now. Folding pages, just don’t do it, are you listening Apple?

What do you like?

I like clean pages with ‘white’ space, big images, great typography, great copy and simple elegant navigation. Sites where content is valued and thoughtful structure drives effective communication.

What is the most important thing about websites?

That on arrival a visitor is clear what the purpose of the website is in a timely manner, and if inclined to do so, is able to realize the site’s purpose as simply and quickly as possible.

Do photographers pose specific problems for you?

On any single day there can be problems: photographers, and good photographers especially, have managed to make their unique way of seeing the world into a living, they have a point of view about a lot of things and pretty good trust in their instincts. That can make things complicated. But overall, it also makes things interesting.