An Interview with Kevin Kinnersley: Skyweb Studios and Beyond

I recently had the chance to chat with Kevin Kinnersley, a dear friend of mine who runs and owns a number of businesses aimed at improving websites online for a wide variety of customers.  I was intrigued to hear why and how he had started his main business and where his work was now leading him.  Now, more then ever, businesses are using the internet to advertise their goods but a key part of this is the site of the businesses themselves.  Kevin has worked for a number of years designing websites for a wide variety of businesses and individuals and I was keen to see how, or if, his views have changed on his approach and use of the internet as a main business tool.

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Don’t Bend, Ascend: Hi Kevin, welcome to Don’t Bend, Ascend! When did you realise you had the interest and passion to start the website and designing websites for other web users and businesses?

Kevin Kinnersley: I first realised I wanted to do something in design when I was a child, I used to sit and constantly try to draw and I failed every time. I often wondered why everyone in my family could draw except myself. I knew I could do it and I kept trying, one day I got so frustrated at trying I said to myself “I Wish I could draw!!”…from that day I then could. Coincidence or all that hard work finally paid off?  You decide.

Not long after that I started to use the Internet, I was fascinated with computers ever since I can remember. At the age of 11 all I used to do in my spare time was play Final Fantasy games or attempt to make websites. I remember those days so well, it feels like it was yesterday and I don’t think I will ever forget these days of my life.

I would come home and attempt to make a website in Microsoft Word *laughs*. I’m not sure how much you know about websites but let me explain that Word by default is very annoying, if you have ever tried to put an image on the page with some text, you might of noticed how the text suddenly jumps to somewhere else? – Well trying to make a website in word takes this to a whole new level. When you do a website in word, it might look perfect in normal view but then when you view it as a web page, it’s like someone has just flung things on the page – It does not look how you expect at all.

After playing about with Word I eventually found out why this happened, websites need to be written in code, and by doing it in code you can put anything anywhere you want and it will actually display correctly.  By using Word it’s what is know as a “What you see, is what you get” editor and this is never the case, you never get what you see! As I mentioned earlier it looks fine when you are designing it in word, but the moment you look at it as a web page it’s all wrong.

This is when my journey into building websites really started and from there my whole life began.

DBA: What did you hope to achieve and have you reached that goal?

Kevin: At first I just wanted to achieve making a successful website, making it look exactly as I wanted and talking to the world. I used to think by having a website everyone in the world would see my website.  This was not the case, it wasn’t until I was around 17 that I really started to understand websites and how big they are. It’s not just about making the website function and look nice – you have to do a lot more just so people can find you on the internet. Getting a website online for me, is easy now, getting online is just the start. After this you have to market it and try to get to the top of the search engines.

I’ve achieved my original goals, and a lot more. Around 2007 I was really into Myspace, but not in the way the world was. Everyone used that to chat and hang out online, it was the cool place to be but I liked it because you could customise your own page and I always made my page unique. This was actually harder to learn than websites as myspace only gave you so much control with what code you could insert and often their coding used old methods. From time to time they would update their website and then anything you had previously created could instantly stop working and you would have to fix it…time and time again.

mmyspaceee

Bands were using Myspace and at the time I had no idea if they would pay to have me design their page but I really wanted to give it a shot. My friend who I was in business with back then was hesitant, he thought bands would never pay for this and they would expect it for free or for next to nothing. Still that didn’t stop me, I wanted to do it, regardless of the money – the money was just a bonus, more than anything in life I just like to design and help people who can’t do it. Helping people is the best feeling in the world, mix that with my passion – designing and there is nothing better.

DBA: What was the competition like when you started and how has this changed with the rise of many new and exciting websites (ie what is your unique selling point).

Kevin: The competition was tough, we had a few big competitors and one massive competitor called bandspaces. These guys had been doing Myspace Designs for quite some time and they had already built up a massive client
base, not just that they had worked for celebrities and where even recommended by Myspace. Still we kept going and persisted. Even though they were a massive competitor we still had a lot of clients wanting Myspace work.  Quite often we got praised on our design skills and at how good our prices where.

Things have changed now due to Myspace no longer being popular, my friend and I decided to go our own way. He now has his own business and I have kept running Skyweb Studios myself. Things have slowed down a lot and for
some reason Facebook doesn’t seem to have the same effect with design as Myspace did. Bands are either using a free app to get music on their page or not doing much at all. Facebook does not give you the best customisation,
Myspace let you make your page feel like your page but with Facebook it’s not quite the same feeling – this could be why there isn’t as much need for a designer on Facebook.

skywebbbb

There could be a whole lot more to this but from what I have seen, more business owners want their own Facebook Page compared to bands. I’ve had to change the way I do business and things are a bit quiet at the moment due to this.  I’m in a huge transition phase however it’s funny you have asked me to do this interview as the other week I had a massive realization and I have decided to not worry so much about the business and not drive it so hard. I was wearing myself out by doing too much work and focusing on the business too much. I am now taking a laid back approach and just been a freelance designer. I will work whenever the opportunity arises but I am no longer making this my life.

This is now possible due to getting a part time job at a supermarket, this brings enough money in to pay the bills and allow me to do work on Skyweb in my spare time. Before I was trying so hard to make Skyweb my main source of income but now I realise that’s not entirely what I want, sure I would love it if it could but the reality is at this current moment It’s just not happening. I’m not giving up and I will keep aiming towards making more money but I’m no longer letting it rule my life. Before I was living in a state of emergency, not spending any money I make, living with parents, constantly saving all my money for the future and worrying whenever I do not work. I could never relax!

DBA: Are there any particular sites or businesses website designs that you are most proud of? If so why do you feel that satisfaction, is it knowing that a job has been done well or that the customer is happy with your hard work?

Kevin: I often find it hard to be proud of anything I do, but I am also trying to change that. From 2011 I have started a transformation and have been trying to improve in areas where I consider myself weak. For instance I never credit
myself for a good job, I never think highly of anything I do and I should. Since late 2012 I have really changed and I am now able to do this, it’s still hard to but some things I am proud of. I’m very proud of my new website aimed at
business owners, Skyweb Studios.

This website had taken me a long time to make, if I had to count up all the hours I would say it had taken me a good 5 – 6 months to get it where it is today…and like all websites it’s still not finished. I’m still not satisfied with it
but I was satisfied enough to get it online as it’s working and looking nice and clean. I do need to work on a bit more content for it. It had taken me so long to make because as I was working on it I constantly made changes and as I was
developing it I kept learning new things as I went, in the end I started the website from scratch three times. This happened as I decided to use the latest technologies and code making this website ready for the future.

In the long run it saved me time, rather than cost as this website will adapt to any screen size. Look at it on your desktop computer and it will work, look at it on a tablet or a mobile phone…and it will work. You will be able to see
the content without having to scroll or zoom and this is thanks to the new things I learnt. It’s also HTML5 ready which is the latest version of HTML. HTML5 and Responsive web design (how it looks on many devices and screen sizes.) is really going to take off over the next few years, and I am ready for it now!

Another website I am really proud of, maybe even more than my new skyweb studios site is my latest website GameCatchup. This website is more of a personal website and I work on it in my spare time. It was however another test. I have taken what I know a step further and decided to code it differently. Instead of coding every single website I make manually I now use a feature in WordPress which saves me a lot of time. Instead of taking weeks to get a website online I can now do it in a few days – this is all thanks to WordPress and the skills I have learnt. The thing I like most about Game Catchup is the content, it’s honest opinions on games that I love, playing games and writing about them is my other passion. Mix that with web design and you have Game Catchup!

gamcatchup

With a website with content this big and personal it takes a lot of time to do, more than actually developing the website but the end result is worth it. I hope to make this website a nice place to be for gamers looking for honest reviews on games. In time, I hope to get the site bigger and have several writers making reviews about their favourite games – I don’t want it to just be my reviews, I would like everyone to get involved, and anyone is welcome!

So these are my two recent websites I am proud of. In terms of older designs from Myspace I am proud of a few profiles I did for clients such as Kara Mann and Shez420. See, I am starting to be proud of a few things, I am trying!

DBA: Where do you see your business in a few years time, do you have any further hopes to develop it?

Kevin: Honestly, I don’t know – is that bad? – As mentioned in my answer to question 3 I have transitioned and I now see myself as a freelance designer – as such I will be trying to do nothing but design. I want to try and eliminate any programming from my day to day tasks if possible. I enjoy design, I feel calm and happy when I design and I get lost in it. Time just disappears and I know this is what I want to do, this is what I was meant to do. I’ve been practicing it since I was 11!

Don’t get me wrong, I will still do other work and if I have to code a website for someone I will but now I am returning to my main passion which is designing. I am looking to start designing business websites and logos. I did not mention above but in 2012 I decided I will give logo design a go and I have learnt a lot since then. I used to think I could not do logos but that was far from the truth, I just needed to practice and believe I could. I’ve had nothing but good comments on any Logo I have created and my partner says I have a talent for these things. She says I just understand when it comes to logos. Where to place things, how to do the text etc. Sometimes I underestimate myself as I just quickly do something as a sketch and she says it’s great and I am usually thinking “what? it’s just a sketch, I hardly did anything”. She makes me realise that what I have I often take for granted and forget that not everyone can see how to put things together which comes naturally to me in the design parts of things.

I know one thing for certain, so long as I am breathing Skyweb Studios will remain! I’ve often said to my friends and partner that my business is my passion. I don’t want the business to expand very much and I will never want to sell it for millions. It’s a lifestyle business for me and that’s what I like about it. I could not imagine my life without Skyweb Studios and I hope it remains in my life for a very long time. It’s my life, Skyweb Studios and Kevin Kinnersley are one and the same!

DBA: Awesome! Cheers for the interview and good luck for the future!

Kevin Kinnersley’s websites:

  • Skyweb Studios, his main website building business page.
  • Skyweb Studios design portfolio.
  • GamesCatchup, a site dedicated to Kevin’s passion for computer games across all formats.  Guest reviews and entries are also welcome.
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