In 2003, I inadvertently discovered web standards. The site was Dan Rubin’s Superfluous Banter and there was a beautiful light green menu bar with block hovers on the links. I loved it so much I told myself that no matter what I was going to decipher the crazy Javascript that made it work. I viewed the source and all I saw was a plain HTML unordered list. What was this black magic?

You see, years prior I had given up on web design because it seemed that to do anything “interactive” one had to learn mountains of Javascript. Viewing and trying to decipher the source of websites in 2000 was like reading Ulysses backwards. This clean presentation of markup in front of me was counter-intuitive to say the least, yet it felt so “right.” I was baffled.

Finally, I figured out that everything was being controlled by CSS and that this new approach was called standards-based design. I was hooked. I knew immediately this is what I wanted to do for a career. I was going to be a web designer. But not just a web deigner, I was going to run my own business as a full-time, freelance web designer. Nearly all the bloggers I followed freelanced on their own and I aspired to do the same.

In 2010, I was finally able to freelance full-time. In the two and a half years since, I’ve experienced about everything people say you will — feast and famine, huge checks and having to use up your personal savings account to stay afloat, fun projects and the ones that help you make payroll. All in all it’s been a good ride and I’ve learned much. Now I’m starting a new phase.

At the beginning of the year I was intending to tackle it in much the same format as years prior. Business was stronger than ever and I was booked in full until the end of April. This fortunate scenario allowed me to take it easy in May and gave me space to think a little. Here’s what I thought about:

  • I realized I could raise my rates and work fewer hours, or lower them and work more hours, but in the end it was more or less the same total. Of course the way around this is a value-based pricing model where the project cost is not tied to the total number of hours; or to hire employees to increase the available number of hours in a day. (Or the third power choice: a combination of both.) Though there’s much to be said about each approach, I’ll just summarize by saying not everyone can be Picasso in the park and not everyone can manage a business full of people.

  • I love building web/mobile products but it’s very hard to do this as a one-man show. Technology today gives you the greatest advantage as a single craftsman than ever in history — The Cloud™, open source software, zero-investement delivery infrastructure (i.e. app stores) and so forth. But the same rules of the market apply — you have to have a product/market fit, the product has to be good, building and shipping have to be somewhat timely and you need an audience (or a budget to buy one).

  • Bubble or no bubble there are a lot of job opportunities for designers in all sorts of companies. As Wilson Miner tweeted: “We asked for a seat at the table for design. There are more seats waiting for us than ever before. What are we going to do with them?” As one who is remarkably bad at predicting the future now seems like as good as ever a time to be part of a smart team in a design role.

I thought about other things, connected dots here and there, had some good food and coffee, but these were the major themes.

All of this converged to a decision of transitioning from a full-time freelancer to a full-time product designer with a startup or company. Long story short, a couple weeks ago I accepted a job with a startup in San Mateo, CA, called American Efficient.

I was attracted to the company because of the serious problem they are tackling and I really liked the team when I went out to visit and interview on-site. Basically the company mission is to affect energy efficiency on a large scale via individual consumer and business owner decisions. My first day on the job was this past Monday and I will be moving to the Bay Area as soon as we sell our house.

I am sad to leave Louisville as this has been my home for 11 years. Our friends are here and the majority of our family is within a two-hour drive; and only the people who have been here know how seriously good the coffee and food is.

That said I’m looking forward to experiencing a completely different part of the country and career-wise I’m very excited to start this next phase with American Efficient.

Now, would anyone like to purchase a house?