Think + Do » an exploration of mission-driven marketing and design
Since I assemble project teams depending on a client’s unique needs, I have the good fortune of working with a wide variety of talented people. This is the first in a series of interviews with collaborators I have enjoyed working with over the years.
John Visser is an experienced web developer known for being a reliable, approachable professional, and a tenacious problem solver. He has a keen interest in how people use web technologies, and has created digital solutions for small and mid-sized businesses, and nonprofit organizations.
John bridges the gap between thinking like a designer, a developer, and a client, which makes him a pleasure to work with. I hope you enjoy our conversation.
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You graduated college with a degree in Developmental Psychology. How did you end up building websites?
I’ve had a life-long interest in computers, starting back to when I was 10 and attended programming classes at the local Radio Shack in Seattle. I took a break as a teenager when I discovered music and girls, but then while at college I started hearing about this “World Wide Web” and something stirred inside me. This was 1994, so it was very much in its infancy, but I saw the potential. While finishing college I taught myself HTML, Perl, Photoshop, and other tools of the trade, making several websites just as a hobby.
Do you remember any of your earliest websites?
My “15 minutes of fame” came when I created the very first website about British author C. S. Lewis, which gained quite a following, won several of those early web awards, and drew the attention of HarperCollins Publishers— who gave me my very first paid project as a web developer in 1995.
Does any of your psychology education apply to the work you’re doing today?
Any time you work with people, you’re dealing with human behavior. Whether you’re building trust with a new client, discussing the details of a project, or resolving client concerns, the ability to recognize a personality type is helpful when preparing an approach.
How long have you been working independently?
I’ve been self-employed since 2000. My employer wanted me to move to Utah, which simply wasn’t an option, so they let me go. After discussing it with my family, it was decided that we’d take our child out of daycare and I’d be a stay-at-home dad. I took on projects to work on at night, slowly learning the ropes of being a business owner and building a reputation.
Side note: the 4 years I spent as a stay-at-home dad were some of the best years of my life.
As you know, working “independently” means working collaboratively. What makes for a good website-building team?
Communication. I’ve worked with all sorts of folks of varying skill levels and personalities, and without clear communication of objectives, scope, and timeline, a project can go pear-shaped very quickly. A sense of humor helps quite a bit as well.
From a client’s perspective, what is the most valuable thing you bring to the table?
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I guess you can say that I have a knack for breaking down concepts into digestible pieces, and am able to explain technical things in a way that others can understand. I don’t like leaving clients in the dark — I’m all about educating them and presenting solutions in a way that empowers them so they’re feeling confident during the decision-making process.
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What is the least understood or least appreciated part of your job?
It’s sometimes difficult for folks to understand exactly what I do, since so much of the work is quietly hiding behind a website’s design. And honestly, that’s okay. The design presents the message, and people aren’t really supposed to consider the rest of it — a website should just work. The pages should load quickly, the links should all go where intended, it should look good on all devices, and you shouldn’t get an error when filling out the contact form or making a purchase. It’s only when that isn’t the case that you’re left contemplating whose fault it is.
Do you only work in WordPress? What is it you like about that platform?
WordPress is the only content management system I work with, but I also can build websites without a CMS. I like WordPress because it’s search-engine friendly, adaptable, customizable, and takes a sizable bite out of the nitty gritty when needing robust features like e-commerce. It also makes it really easy for a client to update the content on their website without needing to know any code.
How has the pandemic changed you – or what you do for a living?
As work slowed down a bit for me, it provided an opportunity for me to focus a little more on putting together a WordPress maintenance package for my clients. It’s been well-received, too, since it takes a lot of the daily/weekly/monthly headaches away from them as I take care of all the routine backups, software updates, and optimizations.
What is something you miss that surprises you?
I miss the in-person interactions with clients and collaborators. I used to do a lot of one-on-one networking at local coffee shops. The first year I moved to Minnesota I met with over 120 people in order to get my name out. Not too shabby for an introvert.
I know you love music, play the ukulele, and sing. Do you find any similarities between what you enjoy about music and developing websites?
No, I find them almost polar opposites. Web development doesn’t really allow for a creative outlet, and music is all about expression. Music is free-flowing, which I find relaxing, as opposed to having to mind the strict syntax of code, which can really wind you up tight sometimes if you don’t have some kind of “yin to the yang,” so to speak.