Recently we did a short write-up about Treehouse. After writing the aritcle I was able to get in touch with designer, Nick Pettit. He agreed to sit down and answer some questions we had for him via email. Anyone that is interested in Treehouse, design, or getting started in the tech industry take a look at what Nick has to say!
HH: “What are some of the design challenges you face with a project such as Treehouse?”
Nick: “Treehouse is our major reimagining of Think Vitamin Membership, and we’ve created a fresh new design with many exciting new features like quizzes, code challenges, unlockable badges, and more. We’re even including some narrative elements that slowly reveal the story of Treehouse Island, so we’re definitely taking some bold creative risks. The biggest challenge for me, as a teacher, is figuring out the best way to guide a completely new student through the domain of web design, taking them all the way up to expert levels of skill. In Treehouse, a big focus for us has been including more guidance, rather than just tossing the user into a huge library of videos. When we started this wasn’t really an issue, but now we have well over 500 videos, so it can be a bit overwhelming! Everyone on the team has been working insanely hard and we’re testing and polishing everything before our big November 7th launch at FOWD NYC. Can’t wait!”
HH: “What made you guys want to offer educational services?
Nick: “Carsonified has always educated web designers and developers with their events, but the revenue from these events can be wildly unpredictable. Sometime you do really well, sometimes you struggle to break even.
A membership service provides us with more stable recurring revenue, which allows us to plan with more confidence and offer fun stuff for our customers.”
HH: “What features of Treehouse are you personally excited about?”
Nick: “I’m personally excited about telling the story of Treehouse Island through our reward videos. After a student unlocks a badge, they’ll be given access to a fun reward video that advances the Treehouse story.
Online video outlets, even outside of education, are continuously pushing towards more elaborate motion graphics. While we definitely still have a need for motion graphics, mostly for traditional lower thirds, bumpers, and title cards, we decided to take production in the direction of practical effects. We’re not quite ready to spill the beans on this yet, but if you head over to our http://teamtreehouse.com holding page before November 7th, you can see a preview of what we’re working on.”
HH: “We noticed on your Linkedin profile that you are located in Orlando (we are both originally from Florida, so thanks for putting the state on the map for something outside of hot weather and tourism). Do you think taking the unconventional approach of not being in Silicon Valley or Manhattan gives you an advantage? Disadvantage?”
Nick: It has a minor pro’s and con’s, but in general, location doesn’t matter as much in business as it used to thanks to the Internet.
HH: “Why the change from Think Vitamin to Treehouse? How did you guys come up with the name Treehouse?”
Nick: “First, just to be clear, the Think Vitamin blog isn’t going to change names. It’s only Think Vitamin Membership that’s transitioning to the name Treehouse.
Originally, we were trying to leverage the popularity of the blog, but now that we’ve grown, it really needs to be it’s own brand. Also, Treehouse gives us a much shorter URL than http://membership.thinkvitamin.com and “Treehouse” is a name you can actually fit into a tweet. By the time you’ve typed out “Think Vitamin Membership” you’ve burned a good chunk of those 140 characters!”
HH: “Tell us a little about your background? Where did you grow up and what made you want to pursue web design?”
Nick: “I grew up in Clearwater, Florida, but I think that has very little to do with my career path. I have a passion for traditional art and cutting edge technology, and when I started thinking about careers, I searched for a way to combine the two. I almost went into visual effects for film, which is why I’m so excited about the ways we’re pushing online video with Treehouse. However, I ultimately landed on web design, because it’s something I’ve been doing a long time, I enjoy it, and it’s very similar to the construction industry in that there will probably always be a steady demand. Every business (and even individual) needs one or more websites. Basically, it made sense for me personally and financially.”
HH: “When looking for inspiration for projects, where do you turn to?”
Nick: “Art history. Web design is really amazing right now and there are tons of talented designers, but I don’t think other websites are always the best place to draw inspiration, especially if that’s your only source. It can really trap your mind in a bubble.
I think many web designers have forgotten about the elements and principles of art, along with art history, so it’s something I try to promote through Twitter, blog posts, and talking to people at conferences. There’s thousands of years worth of art to look through, and I find most of it to be very inspiring.”
HH: “Do you have a programming language of choice? If so, why?”
Nick: “Not really. Whatever works best for the job.”
HH: “What are three components you focus on while working on a design project?”
Nick: “A lot of designers put 100% of their focus on the user, following a path of no compromise. While user centered design is critical, I think it’s also important to balance this with what’s practical. If your developer tells you that something is going to be very difficult or expensive, try to find other ways to accomplish the same goal. A website isn’t the same as fine art, so while it can be very beautiful, it must be functional. If something can’t be done well, then find another way to do it, or just cut it all together.
That was probably like 3 things, right? ”
HH: “Do you have any advice for people starting out that may want to follow a path similar to yours?”
Nick: “Take initiative and be confident. When you start a podcast, an event, a blog, or whatever it may be, you share your knowledge and passion with others. This quickly opens up new opportunities, because when people already know about you, it’s much easier to talk to them.
Stay positive. Nobody likes the guy that complains about every little thing on Twitter.
Also, keep pushing yourself outside your comfort zone and never stop learning. No matter what your skill level, there’s always more to learn.”
HH: “Do you listen to music while working? If so, what is your current selection?”
Nick: “Yep. Right now I’m really enjoying the radio stations on Grooveshark. It’s a fun way to discover new music.”
HH: “Favorite breakfast food?”
Nick: “Cinnamon Toast Crunch, donuts, etc… You know, sugary junk. That’s my favorite at least, but I try to limit myself. Usually I’ll have a bagel or a fruit bar.”
HH: “iOS or Android? Mac or PC?”
Nick: “iOS and Mac for everyday stuff. I use a PC for gaming. I haven’t been impressed with Android, mostly because of the fragmented hardware and software ecosystems.”
HH: “Who is your idol and/or inspiration?”
Nick: “I really admire the work of other educators in the public eye, like Carl Sagan or Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I often find myself trying to emulate their style of delivery.”
HH: “What made you decide to pursue a degree at UCF as opposed to going somewhere else?”
Nick: “The film program at UCF is what originally attracted me, but then I transitioned into the Digital Media program to further my web skills. The degree I earned there was beneficial overall, but I think most traditional universities are struggling to keep up with a rapidly changing industry like the web. Furthermore, most of what’s learned about the web at a university in your first year is no longer relevant by the time you graduate. This is a major motivation behind Treehouse.”
HH: “Jedi or Sith?”
We would like to thank Nick for taking the time to sit down and do this interview with us! We are really looking forward to seeing Treehouse and what they have to offer, everyone point your browsers to www.teamtreehouse.com.