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Web Design On the Go: An Interview With Jose Caballer

This Week in Web Design defies easy categorization: it’s more structured than your typical video podcast, but still maintains a DIY aesthetic and whimsical attitude. Host Jose Caballer and guests offer professional advice on a range of topics of interest to web designers, including industry best-practices and freelance business tips. Caballer is founder of The Groop, a boutique digital agency in Los Angeles that works with diverse clients including UCLA, Virgin Atlantic and Nike. Frequent co-host Aure Gimon is an experienced interface designer who has worked with JCPenney, Panda Express and Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. The show is broadcast live every Thursday afternoon on web television network ThisWeekIn.

Caballer took some out of his busy schedule to talk about the show’s history and the difficulties of keeping a web design show lively and fun. His answers have been edited for clarity and space.

How did This Week in Web Design develop?

I pitched the idea [to ThisWeekIn co-founder Jason Calacanis] and in November of 2010 we taped the pilot—which got approved. We started airing on January 2011. The first year was really about figuring out the format and the voice of the show. We experimented with many approaches, lengths, formats, etc. It has developed organically but with one goal in mind: to help accelerate people’s web design careers and projects. I love doing This Week in Web Design. It is the best part of my week.

This Week in Web Design isn’t quite a podcast. How would you describe it?

I would say it’s a “Web TV Show.” I am not a fan of podcasts. My ADD is too strong, I need something structured and fun. And it’s *not* a tutorial show. There are tons of those on YouTube. We want to build a deep relationship with our audience and want them to watch because we’re experts and the show is fun. Not “wham, bam! Thank you for the tutorial!”

That said, we listen to our viewers’ comments and pacing and content delivery is, for sure, something that the audience cares about. So we’re going to try out some new things next year. The goal is to have it be a hybrid between The Daily Show and, but for the business [world]. Go learn the tools you need, like HTML and Adobe Photoshop. Then come to us when you’re ready to figure out what to do with those tools.

This is an obvious question but where do you get your ideas for shows? Are the topics entirely viewer generated or do you look elsewhere for inspiration?

A lot of places. First, from my pains running The Groop, the agency I founded and ran for ten years. Everything I teach comes from my experiences and how I “hacked” my projects to work better.

The single largest source of ideas is our viewers. We have a “back channel” where we talk to them and members. Also: Facebook and Twitter. I ask, frequently, for people to choose from options or to suggest ideas based on their needs.

Web design is a field with a steep learning curve. What do you think is the best way to teach someone the basics?

I think those things are taught best in the context of projects and trying to design and build things. That makes it the most interesting and that is how I see “kids” do it. They try to build a site and spend hours looking on YouTube first and then sites like for the specific tactical task they need to learn—like CSS, let’s say. But once they get that they say “Yay!” and don’t look at the rest of the course. This is awesome for the person because it gets them satisfied but it gives them very fragmented skills.

Only time and different situations force them to continue. The best thing you can do for yourself is to learn the context first, the framework—like [Caballer’s web business education project] The Skool OS for example—and then try the different roles on a project. Do you enjoy the visual design? The strategy? Front end code? Back end code? Marketing?

What are some common mistakes made by inexperienced designers?

The biggest mistake I have seen people make is that they think web design is only about building a page. They try to learn code, hate it and shun away from the whole field. I can’t tell you how many times I have talked to design students who say “I don’t do web design because I don’t like the code part.” It makes me angry when I hear this and it reflects on the ignorance of the schools they’re going to. Some schools are more technical and teach them code, but don’t prepare them well in other areas.

What methods do you use to keep things from becoming too dry?

At the end you have to be quick on your feet as a host and authentically connect with people. One secret is to really know who your audience is. By name – really get to know them and what their needs are. Make every episode, every tweet, every blog post for someone specific. If you are authentically helping just that one person because you know their exact goal and exact need? Bam! The rest is magic.

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