#PeopleStories: Purr-fecting Their Craft

Web designers Munirah and Ross share the highs and lows of freelancing.
Ross and Munirah
Front End Web Developer and Lead Web Designer at Kucing Kelabu Designs
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Working as a web designer is not just about creating website graphics. It requires you to be competent in different areas like programming, multimedia, web hosting, design, database technologies and much more. 
 
Despite these challenges, it has proven to be a very rewarding career path for those who are determined and passionate enough. 

At university

Munirah: I majored in media innovation and management, but subjects were mostly management-related. I chose this course because I was interested in understanding the work processes of the business world. My course also covered the creative side, enabling me to understand the media industry as well. Although it did not prepare me much for this career, I believe the exposure that I gained at university helps me manage myself and my business better.
 
Ross: I studied information technology, majoring in data communications. This course taught me the intricate details of how data transmission works. In other words, this course focuses on the very DNA of the technology that makes the Internet possible.
The course did not prepare me for this career directly. However, it did spark my interest to look 'beneath the hood' of the computing world, and motivated my hunger for information. Most of the skills I have today are self-taught through lots of reading and research, and not forgetting trial and error, of course. 

Choosing this career

Munirah: I would like to think that this career chose me! It started out with a friend asking me to design a website for her. From that single website, projects started coming in by word of mouth.
Prior to working as a freelance web designer, I interned as a salesperson for half a year. I did really well and the confidence I gained from that experience taught me how to deal with customers, and eventually helped me conclude that I can be good at freelancing.
Choosing a freelance job was a venture into uncharted territory for me. I dealt with the challenges by asking other businesspeople and entrepreneurs about their experiences. You shouldn't feel shy to ask others. it's a great way to learn.
 
Ross: Internet technologies have always interested me. My perfectionist nature and desire to solve people's needs is what led me to this business. The motivation was to use my skills to solve people's problems.
I have a pretty mixed work background. I worked as a Unix support engineer in Hewlett-Packard, and rose to a managerial role within a short time. However, I decided to go freelance full-time because I discovered that I derive better work satisfaction and a sense of purpose from problem solving, and not just merely managing a team.

Day-to-day

Ross and Munirah: Our primary function lies in designing websites. Our job requires us to meet clients to discuss their initial ideas and to understand their expectations. From there, we would create a design and when the client is satisfied with it, we would code it into a workable website, just like those you use on a daily basis.

Why did you choose the name Kucing Kelabu Designs?

Munirah: it's primarily because we like cats. We also wanted to portray that we're unafraid to be fun and different. 

Why did you choose to run your own business as opposed to being on someone else's payroll?

Ross: We realised that there's one problem with the Internet at the moment − there are many websites providing good information but which are poorly designed. So we thought of using our skills and abilities for a good cause. To motivate ourselves further, we decided to market it as a service, so Kucing Kelabu Designs was born. 
On the flip side, finding a job would be the simpler option, but we realise that if you're working as an employee, your motivation will only last for a while. There's no real striving for achievement in the same degree as when you're running your own business.

What do you like most about your job and what are the worst bits? What keeps you motivated? 

Munirah: What I like most is being able to choose when to work and what projects to pursue − wherever we can afford to choose, of course. Worst bits are when the project drags on for too long and you're left in the dark. it's also very challenging when your clients are fickle-minded.  
What keeps me motivated? Knowing that there are many more designers out there producing outstanding work, and striving to be in their league. 
 
Ross: What I like most about my job is that I am able to turn an idea into a functional product. What keeps me motivated is that for every single project that we handle, there are always new challenges and new areas to explore to find the right way to solve a client's needs. Worst bits − it's hard when clients are unable to explain exactly what they are looking for. Clients who micro-manage are another challenge. 

What's your biggest achievement so far?

Munirah: I'm proud to have been involved in revamping a major website called YouthSays. This project provided me with an exceptional opportunity to learn and grow. I learned ways to work better; I had to learn how to use an unfamiliar software but managed to produce what was needed. I also had to juggle a lot of other responsibilities while working on YouthSays. It is especially memorable as it helped me discover many amazing people who inspired me on various levels.
 
Ross: I am honoured to have been given the chance to collaborate with so many reputable individuals, several start-ups and technopreneurs. They always seem have new ideas and brilliant solutions to problems.

What should graduates should be prepared for? 

Munirah: Unexpectedly heavy workloads, very long working hours, and lulls between projects. Never-ending learning.
 
Ross: Do not expect normal holidays like other nine-to-five working people. You're a freelancer, you choose when you want to work and when you don't want to. High stress and long working hours can be expected as projects approach deadlines. Be prepared for major last-minute changes requested by clients. Deadlines can be tight in most cases.

What's your advice to students who wish to have the same job like you? 

Ross: In this line of work, paper qualifications are least important. What matters more is your portfolio. Showcase your current work and skills as samples. This speaks much louder than an outstanding bachelor's degree. Experience certainly helps.
I would suggest to students to not only learn, but to find ways to put what they've learned into practice. Elective subjects or courses do not matter that much, but if you have the privilege, pick those that suit your interests. Do not succumb to peer or parental pressure.
 
Munirah: Soft skills are a great asset. You have to be willing to learn, and be disciplined and hardworking. All careers demand that of you, but when you're freelancing, the degree of responsibility is definitely heavier. 
I would advise students to get involved in extra-curricular activities as much as possible, as that is where you get the most chances to learn how to manage things and deal with the different personalities brought forth by job assignments. All exciting stuff!