We are here again with a CMS expert talking about his career, life, ideas and insights. This time, the man of the day is Richard Muscat.
Where do we start with an introduction for Richard?
– He’s an aspiring sailor.
– He’s a modest piano virtuoso.
– Occasionaly he’s a scuba diver.
– He’s an increadible designer.
– He loves WordPress.
– He’s a growth engineer at Automattic.
And that’s just scratching the surface. Richard is a witty interviewee who has shared lots of helpful thoughts for you to learn and grow. In keeping with that ethos, we proudly present our interview with one of the brightest talents in the sphere of tech, CMS, and (naturally) WordPress. Enjoy reading. 😉
Thanks for joining us today, Richard. Please, tell us a bit more about your background, how long have you been working with design, WordPress and about your current ventures.
While at university studying computer science (in 2000!) I got a part-time job as a graphic designer in an advertising agency. When I graduated I found that my academic background with programming added to my work experience in visual design was a perfect fit for web design — which at the time was still in its infancy — and that led to WordPress very quickly. After freelancing for a few years I moved away from WordPress to work more specifically in UX and CRO at different software companies which eventually led to my current position of working in growth and marketing at Automattic.
When was the first time that you really got excited about WordPress and at what point did you decide to make it your career?
As clients increased their requirements a CMS became a standard prerequisite for any website and after dabbling with building my own for a while I quickly realised that WordPress was a superior option: free, customisable, and supported by a fantastic global community. However, it only became my career two years ago when I joined Automattic full-time.
Have you ever faced the problem of website migration? If so, how did you manage to resolve it: by converting your website data manually or via an automated tool?
I have only done two major website migration projects. I would strongly recommend finding ways of automating the process whenever possible, even if it means writing some custom scripts and cleaning up afterwards. The moment you are dealing with sites that are large (ie hundreds of pages or more) doing anything manual becomes a daunting, expensive, and disheartening task.
Where do you go first to get web WordPress news, insights, and updates?
Mostly wptavern.com and poststatus.com.
What design tips would you give to beginners (as related to WordPress CMS)?
Although the world of web design has changed dramatically every year for the last 20 years one guiding principle remains unchanged: put your users first. Visitors, customers, and readers of a website usually have a goal, a job they want to achieve, and very often they don’t really care about your technology, theme, or infrastructure as long as they can get what they want. So don’t start a design project thinking about technical underpinnings or the latest visual trends; start instead by identifying real-life user and if possible talk to them in person to find out about what problem they’re really trying to solve.
It is interesting that you’ve been working for Uniblue Systems Ltd, Smarter Start, Redgate Software, and then you moved your focus on growth engineering for Automattic. What was the decision influenced by? Why did you choose to switch directions?
I don’t think of my work as having switched directions as much as it being a progression. Although at Uniblue and Redgate I focused much more on the UX and UI aspects of software I was always interested in the marketing, advertising, and conversion optimisation side of things. Being given the opportunity work on growth at Automattic was a way to shift my focus completely onto something I was increasingly enjoying.
What’s the coolest design project you’ve ever worked on?
Definitely Jetpack and the recent redesign of WordPress.com
What do you think is the biggest challenge for web design agencies to face in 2016?
One thing we are seeing more of in the last few years is the availability of huge amounts of rich and detailed data about user behaviour and correspondingly a new crop of analytics tools. The trick however still lies in how you interpret the data and not forgetting that behind the numbers lie real people who you should still take the time to talk to, in person, to help you understand what the data means.
If you could change one thing about WordPress today, what would it be? What CMS is the best to design on? What new features would you like to see in upcoming versions of WordPress?
WordPress is by far the best CMS to design on — the freedom provided by the open-source nature of the product couple with thousands of people and themes means you can stand on the shoulders of giants from day one. To be honest, in future versions of WordPress I would like to mostly see some simplifications and improvements around designing your site. Things like making the customizer and theme options both simpler and more powerful.
If you were interviewing a web designer for a job, what question would you ask first and why?
I would most want to know about the designer’s process in coming to the end result. Unless you were involved in the project itself it is almost impossible to evaluate the success of a design project purely based on a screenshot of the final design. It is however possible to evaluate the designer’s process and determine whether it is repeatable and robust.
And the last question. Could you shoot us a picture of your desk? 🙂
We want to thank Richard for finding time to share his memories and awesome insights with our readers. We wish you the best of joy and inspiration. 🙂