An interview with Paul Neave
Paul Neave is an independent Web Designer and the owner of Neave Interactive, a digital playground of interactive tools, toys, apps and art. He is the creator of Webcam Toy, a photo-taking and photo-sharing website, and Planetarium, an interactive sky map for exploring the stars and planets. Here he talks about his path to becoming a Web Designer and the best advice he's ever received.
What do you do?
I'm a web designer. I've called myself many things over the years, "Flash developer", "interaction designer", "NeaveDroid 2000", but for now I'm sticking to "web designer". When people ask what you do for a living, it's a relief to give them a job description they've actually heard of. However I would never, ever call myself a "creative technologist". Those people need to stop it. Stop it now.
Today I'm an independent web designer at Neave Interactive, making a living through my own websites and apps. My most successful project to date is Webcam Toy, a photo-taking and photo-sharing website, built in two versions of HTML5 and Flash.
What was your earliest formative experience of the Internet?
Flash was the eye-opener for me. Before Flash, the internet was slow, dull, static. People give Flash a bad rep nowadays, and somewhat rightly so, but I think people have forgotten just how ahead of its time Flash was and what amazing life it breathed into the web.
As well as Flash, the one thing that has always inspired me about the web is its immediate reach. You can create a file, upload it and have anyone with Internet access view that file immediately. We take that ability for granted, but I still find it tremendously exciting to be able to create something and have almost anyone anywhere in the world see it, use it, interact with it and have a whole new experience completely independent of me. It blows my mind when I think about it.
Who taught you how to design and code?
I taught myself to code by trial and error, curiosity and persistence. And every day I'm still learning.
I've been programming computers for far too long. I first started when I was a small boy with big blonde hair, programming BASIC on my dad's Amstrad CPC464 in the late '80s and early '90s.
I've never learnt for learning's sake. I don't care about learning the latest cool language or framework. I've never used Three.js or Node.js, Unity or others, but they're on my wishlist. The reason is because I haven't had a use for it yet. I'm not intimidated by learning – to quote Eddie Izzard I have "techno-joy"! I love to take things apart and tackle a new project. But I don't like filling my brain with coding knowledge in the hope that one day it will be useful. It's not a fun way to learn.
An example: In the early 2000s I made some Flash clones of famous retro arcade games such as Pac-Man and Space Invaders. They were born out of frustration as most of the remakes available online at the time were utter crap. I thought to myself, "I can do better than that!" and proceeded to learn ActionScript and then make the Flash games. I enjoyed the process so much more than if I were to merely read some API documentation then sit on the knowledge. I learn by having fun, by experimenting and by rote, and I'm sure that's how most people learn too.
"I still find it tremendously exciting to be able to create something and have almost anyone anywhere in the world see it, use it and interact with it."
How did you know that you wanted to be a Designer and Developer?
I didn't wake up one morning and see my career path laid before me. I ended up being an interaction designer/developer simply because I wanted to make stuff with computers. My career and job title are a product of what I wanted to do with my life. I've been lucky in that I've known what it is I wanted to do from an early age, and lucky that I've had the opportunity to set out and achieve it.
I've always wanted to make stuff with computers. I liked figuring out how computers worked, how the natural world works and how people work. Put those together and you've got human-computer interaction and interaction design.
I also found any other means of creation slow and limiting. Drawing, painting, clay modelling and animation all interested me but they all took forever to do! Computers expedite the creative process and allow you to create so much more so much quicker than could have been possible otherwise. The creative potential is what drew me in.
What's it like running your own company, Neave Interactive?
I love it! But running your own company isn't made for everyone. For one, I'm an only child so I don't mind spending time by myself. In fact I find working in shared offices a distraction: people are great fun, but not when I'm trying to work! If I'm collaborating or working with clients, I like to set aside periods of uninterrupted working time so I can get into my flow. I also don't really like being told what to do! Perhaps I'm a bit of a control freak, but at least I'm happy this way.
What's the best advice you've received?
For work: Go freelance. I was told this many times when I was working full time, and now I feel able to tell others the same. If you're scared of going freelance or setting up your own small limited company, don't be. The worst that can happen is that it doesn't work out and you have to get a full time job again. The best that can happen is that you are your own boss, you get paid a lot more, you become a lot happier, you work a lot less and you can choose when and how you work. I'm baffled as to why anyone works full time, personally!
For life: Don't take life too seriously. It's a quote I found written on the back of a Ministry of Sound CD in the mid '90s and it's been my mantra ever since.
What was your first job as a Web Designer?
My first and only full time job was at magneticNorth in Manchester. I had great fun there, met some amazing friends and it was a huge influence on how I approach my work today.
"I learn by having fun, by experimenting and by rote, and I'm sure that's how most people learn too."
If you hired an apprentice, what would you be looking for?
Someone who's better at the job than I am. There's no point hiring someone who can do something you can do but slightly worse. I'd hire people who are amazing at what they do, say illustration or coding in a language I don't know or haven't used yet. Hopefully they would inspire me through their talents, and vice versa.
If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?
If I was born into a world where computers did not exist, I'd still be creating but in another format or technology. Perhaps photography or film.
What makes you get out of bed every day?
Kate, my soon-to-be wife. She's not a morning person, so I'm the one who has to get up and make the coffee!