Interview with Hugh Briss
If you’ve been on Twitter for any length of time and ever got interested in the subject of twitter backgrounds, you surely heard the name of Hugh Briss (@HughBriss), the founder of TwitterImage.com and one of the most sought after twitter background designers.
We want to thank Hugh Briss for taking the time out of his busy schedule to do an interview for Twitter Backgrounds Gallery.
Hugh, these days you certainly are one of the most famous background designers on twitter. Could you tell us about yourself, how it all began and when did you start offering custom twitter backgrounds as a service?
One of the most? Oh, I get it, you didn’t want to show favoritism.
It all began very early one morning in Antwerp, Belgium… wait, you probably didn’t want me to go back that far, did you?
My training is in art and design. I started my first graphic design firm in 1987 and have worked for many large clients including Disney and ESPN. Once the Internet came along, we eventually moved away from print design to full-time web site design. I also do some blogging and run several ecommerce web sites.
The idea for starting a business designing custom Twitter backgrounds occurred to me as it became obvious that Twitter was going to be a lot more than another MySpace and was attracting a lot of businesses and people with something to promote. I’d say the time between thinking that it was a good idea to launching the first version of TwitterImage.com was about 2 days.
What was the first custom twitter background you designed for a client?
The first Twitter background I designed was for my friend Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan). I simply sent him an email asking if he’d like to put up a custom Twitter background and he said, “show me what you have in mind”. He liked what I did and the rest is history, as they say. I’m actually in the process of designing a new background for Chris because he thought it was time for a change, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that’s noticed how Chris changes his avatar on a nearly daily basis.
How would describe your design style?
When it comes to Twitter backgrounds, the designs are often heavily influenced by the client’s web site because I think furthering their brand is an important element of the background; but as for my style, I prefer clean and professional rather than artsy, for the most part, although that obviously depends on the project. I’ve seen a lot of very artistic backgrounds, but in many cases I think they fall into the same category as the Super Bowl commercials that make you laugh but later you can’t remember what the product was.
We noticed that in 2008 you were offering free background design to people with large following base on twitter but no more. Please tell us about it.
The idea behind the free custom backgrounds was to get a lot of high-profile Twitter users using my backgrounds. They were free for them but lead to a lot of good free advertising for me, and it worked very well. As more and more work was coming in, I started raising the minimum follower limit from 2,000 to 5,000 and eventually 10,000. I always indicated that it was a limited time offer on my web site. I would still design a free background for a very high-profile Twitter user like Lance Armstrong, partly for the exposure but also because there are some people I admire and would be honored to work for gratis.
You designed twitter backgrounds for many twitter celebrities, such as @problogger, @chrisbrogan, @loic, @chrispirillo, @ScottMonty to name a few. As clients were they harder or easier to work with? Did working with them affect (positively that is) your reputation and visibility as a twitter background designer?
Well, aside from their huge egos — especially Loic’s — they weren’t too bad.
Yes, working with them had a hugely positive effect on my reputation and visibility, and I was just kidding about Loic; Scott has a much bigger ego.
How many custom twitter backgrounds have you designed to date, do you have favorite ones?
I lost count a while ago but it’s in the many hundreds. Sure I have favorites but I put as much effort into all the backgrounds I design, and, just like any design project, the favorite is often the last one we’ve done.
Can you tell us about your design process?
It’s pretty much the same as any design project and we start by communicating with the client to find out what the primary focus of the background should be and then getting as much information and input as possible. After that we design the background, show them a draft, make any edits they want and we’re done.
How did you arrive at a figure you charge per custom background?
I pulled it out of my… Okay, seriously, the price is based on an hourly rate and then multiplied by a factor of x and then… well, we’re getting into some serious algebra here and I’m not sure I even understand it, but that’s what I pay my accountants for.
How do you find new clients (or how do clients find you?)
They find me in the usual ways, including the search engines and advertisements like the one on your web site, but the vast majority come from referrals. I’ve always found that the best advertising is word-of-mouth from happy clients. I also offer a nice selection of free Twitter backgrounds and people are happy to tweet about those; and often someone will come to my web site to look for a free background, see that I also design custom backgrounds and end up paying for one.
Have you noticed any perception changes in the “twitter background marketplace”? Do clients become easier to deal with (as probably now many know better what they want) or harder to please (due to the competition popping up everywhere)?
I think more people are seeing the benefit of having a custom background but I can’t say that I’ve seen any noticeable changes. Dealing with clients that either know exactly what they want or the ones that tell you that they won’t know what they want until they see it has always been something we deal with in the design business.
The sheer number of people offering twitter background design services probably quadruples every day but let’s admit it, the vast majority of them are not designers and quality of their work is low, really low. Do you have any advice for young TALENTED designers who want to break into the field? How not to get drawn in the sea of mediocrity and get noticed?
You’re right; most of them aren’t designers, but just like when Apple made desktop publishing something anyone could do and suddenly everyone thought they were graphic designers, time will separate the chaff from the wheat… or the milk from the cream… or one of those food analogies.
As for advice, I would tell them that no matter how good they get, they need to realize that they’ll never be as good as Hugh Briss and if they remember that, we’ll get along just fine.
If you are given a choice to improve twitter by adding only one missing feature affecting backgrounds which one would it be: centering of the background image or an ability to embed hyperlinks into it? Why?
I don’t think we’ll ever see clickable links on backgrounds and I’m not sure I’d want to see that myself, but I’d have to say that centering the background would certainly make things easier and we’d be able to make better use of the right side instead of having to design knowing that there’s a good chance that depending on the viewer’s monitor resolution not everyone will see it. I’m sure the folks at Twitter realize that changing now would make most of the backgrounds out there no longer look the way they should; so I don’t think we’ll see them make a total switch from left anchored to centered but I would like to see them add it as an option.