SANDRA STARKE | How a photographer and scientist became a website designer

Sandra Starke PhD talks about her creative journey.

The text message

On 9th November 2019 I got a text from an unknown number: “Hallo. Mein name ist Shaz. (Note from Shaz, that is excellent German!)  Ben Jones gave me your number. I’m interested in having a website made and was impressed by what you did for Ben. Are you available to create websites?” This was the start of a beautiful project that brought to life Shaziety.

Now, this text would make perfect sense if I was a web design agency. I am not. I am a Programme Manager for a Business School and until 2019 worked in science – building medical devices, understanding how people make decisions and how people look at things. I’ve also stuck sensors on horses to measure whether they are limping and developed an online game that teaches clinical assessment skills. So why am I suddenly making websites?

 

My journey

All my life, I’ve had a passion for the arts, music, creative things that make you feel. Since I was a kid, I have been into photography, piano, circus, film and crafted almost anything from woodwork to origami. At the same time, I was always super interested in understanding how the world works, because I wanted to make things better for the planet and society. So I had to make a decision after school: study science or arts. I had an offer for both. I chose science, specifically Biomimetics where you learn from nature to apply this to engineering. Why? Because I felt I can do creative things as a hobby, but I can’t do that with science – who has funds or space to set up a material testing rig in their bedroom after all.

Fast forward to now, and the whole thing has pretty much worked out. I learned loads of tools and thinking from science while at the same time developing my creative skills. Currently I help small businesses grow, where all my technical knowledge comes in super handy. I am meeting people who develop wind turbines and who want to revolutionise healthcare, bringing me closer and closer to my initial goal of making the world a better place. I got photography qualifications part time, joined a great club and am now entering exhibitions. And this is how I got into website design.

 

What I love about Website Design

Website Design combines a lot of different challenges that make it hugely fun and unique: you want to communicate clearly what your client is doing and what he/she wants to achieve with the website. So you have to understand what they do and break it down. You have to figure out what the visitor wants from the website and how to make that easy. Make the website powerful and fun so that it is worth people’s time looking at it. This has to tie in with visuals and a logical visitor journey across the site.

Because there are a lot of boring and messy websites out there, you need to break the norm a bit while not confusing things. You got the technical challenge of bringing to life the vision of someone who has never coded. For me, brining all this together, with a sprinkle of wisdom from psychology and composition, is a real passion and I get totally immersed. Hence I am doing more of it.

 

How Shaziety came to life

So when I got that text, yes I was available. I didn’t even have a website myself then let alone a business card. Rather, I had made a site to show off my photographs, then made one for my photo club, then made another one for my photo club, then made one for a friend from the photo club who liked it, then made one for a friend who draws amazing cartoons (that said Ben Jones), then made one for a carpet shop which I traded for a carpet and here was Shaz and I thought wow, cool project.

One of the great things about Shaziety is its positive impact on society by providing a forum to think differently. We developed it so that visitors can easily find topical posts, but also read other people’s views and follow Shaz’s journey through life. Shaz is a special person who does a lot of cool things that conventionally do not get a platform outside their ‘bubble’. I hope that Shaziety opens this up and lets people in that would normally be freaked out by things like Extinction Rebellion. We created the whole site so that it had a positive feel and message, because that is important to Shaz as he does not want to lecture. Rather, he wants to get positive ideas out there into the mainstream for people to make up their own mind, and I hope this is what we will achieve. We picked a colourful approach and snappy title, with some animated elements and easy navigation. What is left to do now is make people aware the site exists!

 

My own site – Arion Creative

Because I realised that I want to do more of this, I have now also created my own ‘website of websites’ which is called Arion Creative: www.arion-creative.co.uk. The name comes from a mythical horse, which links back to my life-long love for these creatures. Ben Jones (www.penjones.co.uk) drew the logo. My website serves as a showcase of what can be done with web design and what I can help with: unusual for a web designer, I can throw my photography, graphics and writing skills in the hat for those who need more help. For example, I made the logo for Shaziety and did all images for the carpet shop.

I actually hate charging for my work and hence try to make it as fair as possible – after all, a site like Shaziety takes around 30 hours to make. Unusually for a web designer, I include an open pricing structure, which is right at the bottom of industry rates: I decided that I want to help those with small pockets but a big vision and only take on projects that bring something positive to humanity. For non-profits and community sites, I have special rates. Because it is in my free time, I only take on a few projects each year.

So, how did a photographer and scientist become a website designer? People made me, and my skills allowed me to, and I’ve never looked back!

 

 

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