Do You Think You Know Jon Phillips?

While the name “Jon Phillips” may not be instantly recognizable to you, if you attempt to keep your thumb on a general pulse of the web design community, chances are you’ve come across him already, or at least his online magazine Spyre Studios.

I recall the day that the idea of interviewing him came up. Selene M. Bowlby and I were talking and I went to my twitter list to see who I could interview next. Jon’s profile showed up and to me, approaching him felt like aiming for the stars. I mentioned the idea to Selene and she was for it 100%, She suggested to mention herself in my introduction email since her and Jon had conversed a lot in the past. Thankfully, Jon agreed to participate and here we are, about to get to know Jon Phillips.

On top of being a designer, you are also a musician in your spare time. Have you been privileged to work with other musicians and help them with their branding and marketing?

Jon Phillips: Actually I haven’t. I try to keep design and music separate as much as possible. I’m usually too involved with the music to be able to design something with an outside perspective. I did design my band’s blog, but it was a one shot thing and it felt like designing my own site – and we know designers often have trouble designing their own sites 😉

The smartphone market is hotter than really really really hot things. Which smartphone are you? Has anyone approached you about designing for any apps?

Jon: I doubt the smartphone market can be hotter than my apartment right now but once I get a new air conditioner I’m sure it will be considered hot again. I’ve never designed any apps and to be honest it’s not something I’m particularly interested in. For some reason the whole ‘apps’ market gives me a weird feeling of deja-vu – remember when CDs were all the rage?

If you put a gun to my head and gave me a choice, I’d go for the iPhone (well I’d go with the iPhone even without the gun part).

Would you be interested in joining a harmonica/kazoo/cowbell/wawa pedal experimental music group? We’re looking for new members.

Jon: Totally! That’s exactly what I’ve been looking for for years! Just tell me when and where and I’ll be there! (if you provide the cowbell I’ll explore the studio space like there’s no tomorrow!)

WordPress 3.0 was released in late June, with a plethora of new features. What elements are still not part of a WordPress default install that you’d love to see made default?

Jon: I’m very happy with all the new features in WP 3.0, but there are definitely some things I would’ve liked to see. Things like a built-in spam flagging system and a stats package that offers more than the WordPress one would have been nice. You can do so many thing with WordPress with custom templates, functions and plug-ins, but those two things should really be in the WP core in my opinion.

Pretend for a moment that you were asked to gather, from your twitter list, a team for a record label’s web and marketing department. Who would you tap on the shoulder for the task?

Jon: I think the first person I would ask is Marc Davison (), not only cause he’s a cool and professional guy but also because he knows a ton about the music business and he’s got years of experience in the music and web fields. I would also ask Tean Schultz () for similar reasons, of course we’re in the same band, but he’s also a sick producer and songwriter.

I know I would also post something on my Twitter feed asking for recommendations. That’s the beauty of a service like Twitter.

What are some of the best and worst uses of typography you have seen by musicians?

Jon: There’s a lot of extremely unreadable logotypes in the metal scene, especially in the more obscure branches of metal. I can’t just pick one cause that wouldn’t be fair, but just to give you a taste of how unreadable it can get sometimes, have a look around the Brutal Death Metal Logos blog.

As for great uses of typography, I really like John Mayer’s website, I think the typography there is pretty sweet. There’s also Jamie Cullum’s site, nice typography and a great minimalist layout with good color contrast. In case you didn’t know, I like simplicity and minimalism 🙂

Rumor on the street is that you failed art class in the 4th grade. Did the teacher give you low grades due to you claiming all of your doodles were you playing with wingdings/webdings?

Jon: Haha, well I failed my art class mostly because I didn’t care too much about drawing and painting and all that artsy stuff when I was that age. I didn’t get into design until I was much older. I got into music at around 12, and then years later started getting interested in design.

Have you devised any digital “Subscribe to me” pullout cards to replace the ones from print magazines?

Jon: I have not, but it’s a great idea! Can I use it and give you credit?

What are some challenges in running a digital magazine that people may not expect compared to a print magazine? Advantages?

Jon: I can’t really compare the two because I’ve never run a print magazine but I’m guessing that some advantages would be the very low start-up, operating and maintenance costs of an online magazine compared to a print one. Of course running an online magazine will incur some costs (in both time and money) such as hosting, paying writers, maintenance, marketing and promotion, but at the end of the day it’s cheaper, easier to get up and running and reaching a large audience may happen sooner.

Have you experienced an 80s heavy metal hair phase yet? If so, did you use bad client stories to poof up your hair instead of Aqua Net ? If not, you now have an idea to achieve the effect.

Jon: I have! I kept the long hair for about 7 or 8 years and about 3 years ago I decided that phase was over (a bit tired of head banging to heavy bands). As for Aqua Net, to be honest I had to Google it to find out it was hair spray cause I had no idea what it was. Then I found out there’s also a band called Aquanet – that really really made my day!

What is your position on the whole music piracy topic, being a musician yourself? Is it personally a benefit for your band The Gods of Now or more a harm? Have you given any considerations to less restrictive licenses like Creative Commons?

Jon: Of course being a musician, making money from CD sales is great, but I believe music should be free. The whole music industry is not even about the music anymore anyway! That’s probably why a lot of the major labels are going belly up and you see more and more independent labels pop up everywhere. A lot of bands and artists these days make more selling t-shirts and stickers at shows and live events than selling CDs.

I still believe it’s wrong to steal music though. If an artist chooses to sell his or her music, don’t steal it, buy the album instead. I simply believe more artists should follow Radiohead’s and Trent Reznor’s steps and give the music away for free and find other means of making money.

Where can we find online, both your designer half as well as your musician half? Also, any last thoughts?

Jon: You can find my designer’s half on SpyreStudios and my musician’s half on the TGON website

Borrowing this wording from a very popular topic. Team Pirates or Team Ninjas?

Jon: Definitely Pirates. Ninjas don’t drink Whiskey, Pirates do.

What is the most inventive way you have mashed up your two trades, design and music?

Jon: Well I haven’t tried to mash the two together (like I said I like to keep them separate). It could be interesting though.

What trends in design would you love to see fade away, never to return?

Jon: The glossy and mirrored Web 2.0 logos. Oh, and designers calling themselves rockstars, ninjas or gurus (pirates are ok). What about Pornstar Designer? That would be cool. (Editor’s note: said like a true rockstar)


Like with all of my interviews, I’d like to thank Jon for agreeing to participate and hope that he had fun answering the hairbrained questions I managed to come up with. 🙂

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