Josh Williams

3 comments | Posted: 2 February 06 in Interviews, by Nathan Smith

Quite some time ago, I asked Josh Williams of Firewheel Design if he wouldn’t mind fielding a few interview questions. With their latest site redesign he’s been quite a busy man, but recently found the time reply with some great answers.


First off, I consider you guys to be the 37Signals of graphic design. They became their own client with their web apps, and you guys have done the same with IconBuffet and BlinkSale. I mean, you ask any graphic designer about icons, and FireWheel is the first response. Please explain to me a bit about the vision behind your company, and how it all started.


Let’s see… Firewheel actually got its start a little over five years ago. I was fresh off of leaving a dot-com right before the bomb dropped, and early on we focused primarily on more traditional design work. Within two years it had become evident that digital was where its at though, and we pretty much dropped our print-based services to concentrate wholly on UI and web design. Of course, we were pretty snappy at icon design, and still, to this day, that is the majority of our client work.

Firewheel’s vision is to be a leader in digital interface design services and products, and IconBuffet and our client work really stems from that goal. Blinksale has been a real surprise for us. We’ve learned so much building the application, and it has matured us greatly as a company. We’ve got some extremely slick stuff coming down the pipe, so you’ll have to keep your eyes open.


Can you please explain the thought process that led up to launching BlinkSale, and describe how it has been received in terms of response and feedback?


Blinksale was born out of our frustration with billing solutions for small businesses. There are apps like Quickbooks and MYOB, and those certainly fill a need. But neither are that great at billing. And we felt like the online billing services that are out there leave something to be desired. Most of them, in my opinion, are pretty chinky.

Since launch, the response to Blinksale has been wonderful. The goodwill is remarkable. There are still a few feature omissions in Blinksale that we hear about regularly, and I can happily say that those are being dealt with almost as I type. I expect that you’ll see some great stuff from Blinksale before the spring is out.


What programs do you guys use to produce your work, and what advice would you give to fledging designers who want to follow in your footsteps?


Pretty much the usual suspects. Most of our design and illustration work (including almost all of our icon work) is created in Adobe Illustrator. We used Photoshop here and there for special needs, but Illustrator is the workhorse. Of course, all of our web work is hand coded. I’m a big fan of skEdit and CSSEdit. We also use TextMate for our Rails work.

Hmm… advice for aspiring designers… find a niche and hit it hard. Our primary niche is icon design, and we’re largely known for our bright (sometimes garish) color schemes. It’s my belief that its probably better to be excellent at a few choice niche-type design services that average at a lot of services. I’ll be the first to advocate that cross-disciplining yourself is a good thing to do, but if you’re looking to brand yourself as you get started, finding a niche is the best way to do that.


Would you mind sharing your testimony, and how you came to faith in Christ? Also what are your feelings on bands such as SwitchFoot that have shoddy DRM publishers?


Although I’d say my faith in Christ was sparked when I was about 10, the last seven years have been what has cemented my relationship with God. I haven’t exactly had what one might call an easy life, so my teenage years were filled with a lot of ups and downs and difficult paths to walk. That said, I look back at where I’ve come from and realize that if not for Jesus my life could be drastically different than what it is today.

Regarding the DRM stuff… well, I have a t-shirt that sums up my feelings. ;-) I feel for bands like Switchfoot who had their artwork misused by a corporation who was not looking out for their best interest, or the best interest of the general public. My impression of the record industry as a whole is not that great right now, and I think many share that sentiment. I believe in five years we’re going to see a dramatic change in how the industry plays out. It’s becoming easier and easier to make a living as an indie band, and the smart artists who leverage technology for good will have an upper hand on the labels who want to leverage it for evil.


Well, I guess that about wraps things up, is there anything else you would like to add before we close?


That should do it for me now as well. Thanks so much.

Discuss This Topic

  1. 1 Yannick

    ...find a niche and hit it hard.

    Thanks for the advice. :)

    How did you find Rails? Did you have any prior Ruby knowledge before starting or did you learn it from scratch?

  2. 2 Granata

    That advice struck something in me. Now I just need to choose between Video Production and moving into Web Development.

  3. 3 Robert

    Interesting read and a good interview. You are always delivering Nathan!

    I am starting to hit Ruby hard now. I have been writing a CMS in PHP and I am frusterated at the time it takes to setup the database talking between MySQL and PHP. I’m a PHP beginner, but I find Ruby on Rails to be appealing in this area because of the ease of setting up the database so I can focus more on the application.

    What took me a week and a few days in PHP, took me a couple hours in Ruby while learning it at the same time.


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