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Interview with Design Bump’s John Campbell

by Grant Friedman

on August 13, 2009

in Interviews

This week I had the opportunity to interview Design Bump’s John Campbell. John Campbell is the Maryland-based entrepreneur and developer who is responsible for Design Bump, a Digg-like website that allows the design community to share content in one convenient and easy-to-find place. Design Bump has been around for a while but it just received a major upgrade and facelift. In this interview we spoke about the upgrade process, the technology that powers the site, and some simple tips for getting an article onto the front page. If you’re interested in learning a bit more about how to promote your content, learn more about design, or start your own design site, this interview is definitely a good read.

Grant: John, thanks for participating in this interview. Can you begin by telling us a little about your background? Who are you? Where are you from? How did you get your start as a designer?

John: Thanks for having me! My name is John Campbell, I am the 26 year old entrepreneur and self taught web developer that runs DesignBump.com. I started building websites about 6 years ago and have been working as a freelance web developer specializing in Drupal for the last 2. I just moved from Florida to the DC/Maryland area where I am finishing my degrees in engineering. While I am no designer right now, I started being interested in (and trying to learn) design when I first got a hold of Photoshop and realized all the wonderful things it could do.

Grant: Tell us a little about your website, Design Bump; what is it all about and why did you create it?

John: Like I said, I am no designer. I started Design Bump as a way for me to save and share the kind of links I was using to learn new skills. At the time Design Float was the only real site doing anything similar, but having worked with Pligg (the software powering Design Float) in the past, I knew its flaws and limitations. I decided to create something that had more potential. I wanted Design Bump to not only be a place to share great content but also a place to connect with like minded people and showcase work as well.

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Grant: One of the great things about the design community is its diversity. Everybody brings something different to the table. Some of us are amazing web designers, others are fantastic illustrators. Since you seem to shy away from being labeled a designer, would you say that you are more of a code monkey? If so, which languages are you most comfortable with?

John: I wouldn’t say I shy away from being called a designer but I think it would be unfair to group myself with the talent currently in the community right now. I primarily work with XHTML, CSS, PHP, MySQL, and JavaScript/jQuery/MooTools. The things that you can accomplish on the web right now with those tools alone still blows my mind.

Grant: I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes I’m absolutely amazed by some of the talented work that I’ve seen by some in the community. There are times when I see some of their work and wonder how I can call myself a designer too. In the end, I realized that everyone has a place and that I should be focusing on my strengths, not my weaknesses.

I noticed that Design Bump got an overhaul several months ago and then was redesigned again within the last several weeks. The new design looks great! Can you tell us a little about why the site changed its appearance so many times within such a short period of time?

John: The very first design was a retro style look I tried out for fun. As the site grew I decided I had to change the main layout from 3 columns to 2 columns in order to simplify the site and implement some usability suggestions I had received from the community. In doing so I also changed the overall design in hopes of adding to the brandability of the site.

It wasn’t long after the second revision that visitors really started to increase and I realized if I wanted to have a site aimed towards designers it should probably look a little more professional. I knew I needed help. So, after looking around within the community, I contacted Chris Spooner of blog.spoongraphics.co.uk to help me out. I basically said, “Help me make a site you would want to visit” and I couldn’t be happier with the results. I don’t plan on changing the appearance again anytime soon.

Grant: Good choice using Chris! Chris is an excellent designer and really did a fantastic job. Did he do the CSS/XHTML as well? Or was that where you came in? I always do my best work when I collaborate with designers who compliment my skill sets. Did you find that you worked better with some one like Chris at your side?

John: Chris was a great designer to work with and I can’t recommend him enough. A great thing about Chris is he knows his way around CSS/XHTML, which I think gives him an edge when he is thinking about the end design and how it might be coded. I enjoy working on my own sites as much as possible though, so I did the CSS/XHTML myself. I prefer to know exactly how the site is laid out and what makes it tick without looking through someone else’s work. On top of that, navigating around multiple Drupal pages/templates can be tough and time consuming if you haven’t done it a lot, especially if you have a lot of custom PHP calls in the site that require styling like I do.

Grant: Earlier, you mentioned that Design Float was developed with Pligg and that it suffered from some limitations as a result. What kind of limitations does Pligg have and how has developing Design Bump with Drupal made your site better?

John: As anyone that visits Design Float regularly has seen, Pligg has some serious security flaws that allow spammers almost unrestrained access to the site. Drupal, while not perfect, has a community large enough to quickly and reliably patch any problems that may arise. The other huge difference for me was the large number of open source contributed modules for Drupal that allow for the site to do almost anything without having to write a ton of custom code. If down the road I want to add enough functionality to make Design Bump a full fledged social networking site like Facebook (not that I will or want to) I can easily do so.

Grant: Since you unveiled the latest version of Design Bump several weeks ago you have been busily adding new features. What recent changes have you made to the site and what changes can we expect to see rolled out in the future?

John: Aside from the obvious design and layout changes, Design Bump now has a blog, better user profiles, and external voting buttons for bloggers to add to their sites. Recently I have been spending most my time fixing all the little bugs that pop up and improving the sites performance. In the future I was considering adding more ways for the community to interact through the site. Maybe a forum, private messaging, or a buddy list. A lot of it depends on what the users ask for.

Grant: Voting sites like Digg and your own are sometime criticized for being either rigged or too difficult to get your articles onto the front page. I will be the first person to say that I routinely ask for Diggs, Bumps, Moos, or Stumbles for my content. How does the voting system for Design Bump work? How many votes does it take to get to the front page? Are there any other factors at play? Why do links drop off the front page? Do you feel that it is unfair for users to ask for votes via Twitter or some other service?

John: The voting system at DB currently is set to allow any story, whose URL hasn’t been flagged as spam, to reach the front page with 6 votes. I have also been working on a system that gives votes from proven users more weight, so sometimes stories with less votes will also make the front page. Stories very rarely drop off the front page unless they have been flagged as spam. As for asking for votes, I think that is what people should do. The community as a whole decides what content is best so the more people voting the better!

Grant: That’s very interesting. I’m glad I’m not the only one who believes asking for votes is ok to do. Before I wrap things up can you name 3 people in the design community that you have a lot of respect for and would like to see interviewed on this website?

John: I have been interacting with a lot of different people within the design community recently so it is hard to narrow it down. When I first got started in web design I probably looked up to Collis Ta’eed more than anyone else. He has continued to do some amazing things and you have to wonder if he ever sleeps. Chris Spooner and Jacob Gube are two others that I have enormous respect for. The both are incredibly well rounded and talented on multiple fronts. They are also really nice down to earth guys.

Grant: How can my readers connect with you? Are you on Twitter? What’s your screen name?

John: I’m on Twitter @designbumped and you can subscribe to Design Bump through Twitter as well @DesignBumpRSS. Other than that I can always be reached through my site’s contact form! Thanks for interviewing me Grant!

About Grant Friedman

Grant Friedman is a graphic design, blogger, and author. In addition to being the founder of this website, Grant is also the editor of Psdtuts, one of the world's most popular tutorial websites.