As one of the driving forces behind the design-led portfolio website Fabrik, Tim Jarvis is no stranger to presenting his work in a beautiful way. He's created brand identities for the likes of The Pressery, London's first almond milk producer, as well as fashion photographers and life-science ventures. His energy is focussed on Fabrik at the moment, and we caught up with him to chat about start ups, design and creating the perfect showcase for your work...
Tell us what you do for a living and who you work for?
I’m a graphic designer who spends most of his time working on digital projects, but sometimes I work on branding projects and editorial design for print. Last year I closed down Profission; a small creative agency I ran for 10 years, to focus on enabling creatives to find better ways to get their work seen and noticed.
What does that involve?
We’re developing a platform called Fabrik for creatives to build their own portfolio websites. I’m responsible for the brand and UI of the platform, which i’m working on with two co-founders who handle the development side of the project. We launched Fabrik in May this year but we still have a lot planned for where we want Fabrik to be. We’re learning from our users what creatives want and need in a platform and they're helping us shape it’s evolution.
Was there a certain chain of events that led you to setting up Fabrik? What’s the long term vision for the company?
Yes there was. A couple of years ago my colleague and I started work on a self-initiated portfolio platform to create websites for my friends. A lot of them are filmmakers and photographers. I wanted to create sites for them that used a longer-format, more case study approach that really got behind the scenes on the projects they were working on and gave them an opportunity to explore and present their creative process.
About six months (and three portfolio sites) into the project we realised how immensely complex building a scalable, reliable platform like that was going to be for just two people. At the same time some friends of ours with a similar product already in beta stage were trying to figure out their own direction. Two of the three co-founders were becoming more involved in their own careers directing music promos and commercials. Long story short we joined forces, resuscitated that product and started working on bridging the gap between where it was, and where we all wanted it to go.
All of our energy is spent on building a portfolio platform that is effortless to use, which we’re doing by focussing on bringing in content that our users already have on other creative sites like Vimeo, Flickr etc, and making Fabrik smart enough to understand the content they create, and make decisions on how their portfolio should look and work based on what they upload to it. We’re trying to put the creative in the role of the director, rather than the developer, of their own portfolios - because that’s where their skills and passions lie.
How do you keep up to date with trends and changes in digital design? How important is it that Fabrik’s portfolio layouts reflect any changes?
For me curation is an important part of my workflow. I collect interesting visual material from around me and use Pinterest and Tumblr to form that into a stream that I can refer back to, and also use to find common ground with clients i’m working with. Constant curation helps me understand how trends are forming, and how they’re being applied.
All design goes through trends and with Fabrik I need to keep abreast of what creatives want from a portfolio site; how they want to display their work and how they want to be seen by their audience. There is such a thing as a cool portfolio and an uncool portfolio - and it isn’t all down to the work; it’s also down to the way that work is displayed.
I take a lot of inspiration from fashion and lifestyle editorial; often from print rather than digital sources. How text and imagery work together, decisions in the choices, style and tonality of graphic layout and photography, and I work out ways to reflect what i’m seeing in a digital space that changes and morphs depending on the device it’s being used on.
With Fabrik we have themes, but each theme also has several layouts. Layouts allow you to fine-tune the way your content works within a theme, so if you’ve got a project made up of portrait photos, like a fashion shoot for example, you can put that next to a video project and select layouts that reflect each type individually. This allows me to focus on the styling of a theme and the presentation of content in two levels; it allows me to see more possible outcomes - which helps make a theme relevant to more people.
Could you describe the community aspect of Fabrik? How do you envision the digital and IRL aspects of working in the creative industries mixing?
Creatives are deeply networked and the relationships they forge are very important. Creatives don’t often work alone, and creative skillets compliment each other. Most professional creative work is a collaborative effort, and most creatives get into the habit of collaborating on work even before they’re working professionally.
We want to encourage creatives to work with each other, and to inspire and encourage each other. Our skills never stop developing and evolving, and we’re lucky enough to be part of an industry that rewards disruption and new ways of thinking. With Fabrik we know our platform can only thrive if the creatives using it are creating fresh work, so we want to showcase what they’re producing as often as possible. At the moment we’re incredibly new and we only have so much capability and reach, but we plan on having our own and partnered showcase events, portfolio workshop drop-in days, mentorship and possibly even co-working spaces within Fabrik’s offline community.
What tips would you give someone looking to make the perfect portfolio?
Learn how to enjoy presenting your work. It’s what I call the presentation layer - turn curating and presenting your work into a project of it’s own. It’s the perfect excuse to tweak how your work is seen by your audience and as an exercise it allows you to infuse your own specific style into a broad body of work to make it feel really yours.
Is there any new technology getting you excited?
We’re working with adaptive technologies that can ultimately make decisions for you. Colour-sampling, EXIF information, looking at the types media you’re adding. All of these things are giving us opportunities to make Fabrik smarter at doing the stuff you don’t want to do; building a portfolio.
We’re trying to get Fabrik to the stage where it can build a portfolio for you in minutes, then make suggestions every time you log in to fine-tune it to be just a little bit more awesome - taking advantage of new functionality we’re adding, but also by looking at your own work and seeing if there are better ways to display it.
In terms of personal design work, what’s the dream project to work on?
I get the most joy out of self-initiated projects. For me it’s quite a cathartic process, and I like to work on smaller jobs that give me a little breather from ongoing, longer projects, where milestones and markers for progress are often more difficult to see. Editorial fashion stories are pretty much perfect in that respect, and probably where i’m happiest.
You’ve created identities for a range of products, from almond milk makers to fashion photographers, how do you begin the process of building an identity for a brand?
For me branding is an exercise that happens over time; it’s not just a matter of sitting down and putting together something that feels right at the particular time you’re engaged to work on something. Sure you have to start somewhere, but I get the best results out of a longer-term conceptual process.
I’m lucky enough to know most of my clients quite well before I start working on their branding with them. That gives me time to figure out where they fit in their own marketplace or community, and I think it helps to form a bit of a story. I don’t like to give options, instead the concepts sit with me until i’m ready to show it, and i’m comfortable evolving it over the weeks or months it takes from it’s first outing until it takes hold in the world as its own, recognisable thing.
Is there a piece of work you’re particularly proud of?
In recent years it’s been The Pressery. We started branding work in Spring 2014 with no budget at all, and only the simplest product to talk about. The company has been through an incredibly positive journey and 18 months later i’m so proud of what the founders have done with it. When you see your work cherished and used with such passion it makes all the effort worthwhile.
Finally, any insider tips? Any trends we should be looking out for?
There has been a lot of work in recent years on invisible design. It echoes that saying in the film industry that the best visual effects are the ones you don’t notice. We use an unprecedented array of interfaces and services every day and we’re still finding ways to create common themes in using them. For me that’s the key to any design task; to communicate a message, or an instruction, so simply and efficiently that it happens instantly, and without confusion.
Interfaces we’ve only created and worked with for a relatively short time are on the verge of leaving the flat screen and becoming part of our physical environment. Whether that be through the Internet of Things, wearable tech, or any amount of projected or backlit devices, let’s focus on making them work in harmony with our everyday lives.