Rebecca Selah is a freelance designer based in Pittsburgh. She spoke with us about design, city living, and her ambivalence towards sleep.
Could you summarize your business for us?
I design websites and identities for small businesses, startups and nonprofits.
Where are you from?
I’m from Bucks County, a suburb outside of Philly. I moved here for college and liked it so much I decided to stay. I love all the cultural attractions Pittsburgh has to offer—we have our own ballet, our own orchestra. I also like how laid back everybody is here versus the east coast.
How did you get into web design?
I was working with a bunch of startups at Innovation Works and AlphaLab, consulting on online marketing. But I was looking for something else. The people I admired in the startups were the designers. It was intimidating at first, but after working for a startup, I had the startup mentality…which is whatever you want to do, you can do. So I started moonlighting in design and I did a three-month program in Chicago called the Starter League taught by the guys from 37Signals. They taught me about user experience and visual design. I came back to Pittsburgh and decided I might as well try this. I don’t have a mortgage or kids. This was the time to figure out if I could be successful in this.
Walk us through your typical workday?
I come in around 10, drink my coffee and put on my headphones. I make sure there are no pressing emails from my clients before I start working on the hard problems. Then I’ll have lunch and answer more emails. Maybe have a client meeting in the afternoon. I go home and usually work on stuff at night, staying up until around 2am. My boyfriend works at a startup too so we’re both on the same crazy schedule.
What is your favorite thing about your business?
The freedom to make my own schedule. When I want to take a vacation, I can just take a vacation. The bad thing is there are no sick days.
What is a favorite project you’ve worked on and why?
One of the projects I recently completed was a website redesign for Surgicorps International. They’re a local nonprofit that provides free medical and surgical care to disadvantaged individuals around the world. Often these individuals have a cleft lip or palate, something that in the US is taken care of immediately. Over there, families may not have enough money or adequate medical care to fix a birth deformity like that, and unfortunately these individuals can become outcasts in their communities.
It feels great to help an organization that makes such a huge impact in people’s lives.
What’s the biggest difference between freelance and working for a company?
The ability to work on things you want to work on. To create your own path and not just have clients handed down to you. You’re in control of where your company will be in a year and you can change that direction anytime.
What’s one bit of advice you can give a client about developing a website?
Writing for the web is different from traditional writing. People on the web don’t read, they scan. The general rule when writing for the web is to take all the content you have and cut it in half. Then cut it in half again. Sometimes clients want everything on their website, but their messages usually get muddled that way.
What makes Pittsburgh a good place for design?
We live in such a visual society. It’s a good and bad thing living in Pittsburgh. The branding is not as slick as in New York. But it’s a lot more organic and authentic. Which is where the industry is moving. It’s branding geared towards Millennials who love hand drawn chalkboard menus and Etsy. (I should probably mention that I’m a millennial, and love that stuff too.)
What motivates or inspires you?
Constantly learning new things. My background is in online marketing so I’m always thinking about whether the stuff I’m working on will help promote them. And how things I’ve learned in a different field can apply to this field. I’m always thinking about calls to action and getting people to click the button you want them to click on.
If you could improve on one thing, what would it be?
I don’t want to need as much sleep. More hours in the day!
What do you do in your free time?
I like going to cultural events. There’s a national storytelling event called the Moth. I would never do it, I would be petrified, but I have so much respect for people who do. There’s a similar event here called WordPlay. You can read your story and they have a DJ on stage playing a live soundtrack behind you. I also like live music, gallery crawls. Basically seeking out new experiences in the city.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I can’t imagine where I’ll be in another two years. I’ve considered going into an agency, but I don’t think I could learn this much in-house and I’d miss the face-to-face client interactions. I definitely see myself staying in the design field though. There’s a lot to learn and I’ve only just begun.
You can contact Becca at http://rebeccaselah.com.