BoldLife 2.0 – Michelle Schulp – Make Your Design Look Like You Did It On Purpose


Michelle Schulp – Make Your Design Look Like You Did It On Purpose

Michelle Schulp, design expert and owner of Marktime Media joins us to share her wisdom about Web Design principals and creating great slide presentations.

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The following transcript was created automatically, please forgive us if there are any typos or grammatical errors.
Demo: 00:00 Hello and welcome to another episode of the BoldGrid BoldLife podcast. I’m your host Mike Demo, joined by my cohost. Jesse. How’s it going Jesse?

Jesse: 00:08 It’s going great. Mike, how are you doing?

Demo: 00:11 Pretty good. It’s a beautiful day up here in Minnesota. I there’s no snow anymore and it’s, the windows are open so it’s in that perfect springlike temperature that we get for like five days.

Jesse: 00:23 Yeah, I know that feeling here in Denver. We, uh, we’ll be in the nineties next week. No doubt.

Demo: 00:29 Yeah. Well we are joined by another fellow been the soda and she’s our guest today. Michelle, how are you doing Michelle?

Michelle Schulp: 00:36 I am pretty good.

Demo: 00:38 So Michelle, do you want to kind of introduce yourself on you, you’re involved in the WordPress community and what you do professionally and all that?

Michelle Schulp: 00:47 Sure, so I am an independent, uh, digital designer and front end developer. I’ve been independent since 2009 and I use WordPress personally for my own projects and I build WordPress professionally for clients, uh, both, uh, on my own as well as in collaboration with other independents or other agencies that maybe could use one of my skills. Uh, also when I’m not doing that, I, uh, travel and speak a lot at WordCamps and other various design and technology events around the country. Um, and I also build a PowerPoint presentation decks for corporate companies. So it’s kind of a, it seems like a wide span of things with, they’re all super interrelated and it’s really fun.

Demo: 01:36 Excellent. So Jesse, fun fact, Michelle and I hardly ever see each other in the state we live in, but we see each other all the time, all over at WordCamps and other events. So, uh, yeah, so my joke is we’re both on the run and we find each other on the road. So

Michelle Schulp: 01:54 that’s true.

Demo: 01:55 It is true. I’m plus, I mean, travel’s traveling’s a nice perk of the job. So excellent. So I think design is very interesting because a lot of people look at design. I feel like, you know, let’s take a website as an example, but obviously design can be used in a lot of different ways, but they are so focused on how pretty the website is. And when I do my ab testing, the duct talk, I have an area in there that says at the end of the day, your client doesn’t care if the website’s pretty or not. Like they wanted to be professional and all that. But at the end of the day, there’s a goal for that project and what’s going to make the client happy or not is if the gold needle moves in the direction that you want, let’s say increased sales or engagement or whatever it is. And I find a lot of people that make WordPress sites or even people that are looking to build a website or anything with design there. So they’re just so focused on the aesthetic and not the function can like share your thoughts

Michelle Schulp: 03:00 on that a little bit. Definitely. So you get into design because you do like pretty things, right? I mean, you don’t want to go into a job that’s very visual focused. If you’re not ready to obsess over, uh, the different kinds of ampersands, right? Like that, that’s just something that we like. But, uh, the other thing about getting into design is there’s a reason that you got into design instead of art. So art is, is very aesthetic. It’s very beautiful, but it’s also very personal. It’s very subjective. Uh, design. The difference between design and art is that design is supposed to be being used to solve a problem. So we’re taking our knowledge of aesthetic things and we’re using it, like you said, to actually meet a goal. And if, if we are just designing for the subjective part and not for the objective part, not for something that’s measurable or useful, I’d argue that we’re not really designing it all. Where does decorating a, so I believe that design is really that combination of aesthetic knowledge of knowing how to use things, individual space and problem solving.

Jesse: 04:06 So I’m curious what, what do you think are kind of like, I’m a code guy. Um, and whenever I tried to try my hand at design, um, I always end up making something that if I put in front of a real designer, they would legit scoff at. So what do you, what would you say are the most common mistakes that people make when they are creating a website? That that should be functional? It should be good looking, but there, you know, what, what would you say are the most common pitfalls?

Michelle Schulp: 04:40 I think the most common mistakes that people make that are not designers when they’re trying to come up with something is they’re trying to do too many different things. You’ll be more successful if you don’t have a design background and you have to make design decisions if you take a a few things and use them consistently. So for example, typography, you know, don’t use a billion type faces. Don’t use a billion, like pick one or two. Use them extremely consistently in size and weight and spacing across the site the same way. Uh, if you’re doing colors, don’t pick a billion colors. Don’t pick them at random. Pick some good, like a couple of good high contrast colors, right? Make sure that if you’re using them for texts or whatever, they’re actually high contrast enough to be readable. But pick, pick a couple of good high contrast colors and use them consistently throughout everything.

Michelle Schulp: 05:32 So really it’s the principles of a less is more and do things with a purpose. Uh, one of the things they taught us in design school, and I always love to share this one, I like to joke like I just, I’ve just saved you, you know, $100,000 of college is, is the biggest thing that they taught us in design school was you either have to make things exactly the same or completely different because if you make them kind of close, it looks like a mistake. So that’s with alignment, that’s what size, that’s with color, that’s what shaped was with anything you either, you have to make it look like you made the decision on purpose. Right? So I would say that’s the biggest design tip for anyone that has to make visual decisions and maybe isn’t a designer is a just making it look like you did it on purpose.

Demo: 06:18 So moving away from websites, what are other areas that businesses need to touch design? So obviously there are things like business cards, but you mentioned a presentation decks and I use this Did you, my decks and I was get commented on about how nicely they’re designed, but I’m just letting the software do that work. So do you think, what are your thoughts on presentation decks? Do people not take enough time in preparing those to share their message? Or what are the biggest mistakes you see people do when they’re working on like a PowerPoint presentation or a startup pitch deck if they’re talking to a venture capitalist firm or et Cetera?

Michelle Schulp: 06:59 Sure. I’ve, uh, I’ve had a lot of experience, both I’m giving my own presentations for speaking, but also designing several different kinds of presentations, whether for other speakers, for startups, for corporate, all sorts of different things. And the struggles are pretty much the same on every single level. Whether you’re talking about an individual like you or I giving a presentation at an event, or you’re talking about a corporate deck that people are using to give presentations to hundreds of people. Uh, the struggles really the same. Um, one is that people tend to try to win the, I have the least amount of slides award by cramming way too much information onto any given slide a note. Your slide is not your leave behind, right? If you want to make a leave behind that has lots of information on a few pages, make one of those, uh, but your deck is not your leave behind and your slides should not have 5 million piles of information on them.

Michelle Schulp: 08:00 They should be used as a visual emphasis to the words that are coming out of your mouth. Uh, so you should have as little information as necessary on each slide. And that is true, whether you’re, again, a speaker or a corporate person or a startup person or anything. You know, you do need to have information on your slides. Sometimes it doesn’t. It’s not all pretty pictures and typography. It’s sometimes it’s data, sometimes it’s charts, but the point is you focus it, you don’t cram a million things onto one slide. Um, another thing is, again, a lot of people when they’re building presentations are kind of just slapping things on there without any purpose. Uh, presentation, design and design for something like WordPress is actually really similar process. If you look at it from a template perspective, you want to have consistent layouts of information depending on how the information is so that people can follow the story through the whole.

Michelle Schulp: 08:55 So don’t be arbitrarily, you know, moving your headers around and moving stuff around her. Misaligning things are just shoving things onto a page, you know, do things purposefully aligned things. Make sure that you’re conscious about the typography that you’re picking, the colors you’re picking. It’s all the same rules. Uh, I always feel like I’m repeating, repeating myself so much, but like it, people, um, you know, people don’t necessarily think that, oh, I mean a presentation is totally different than a website. It’s really not. Um, it’s the same concept. You’re communicating something to somebody. It’s just that with the presentation you have the added bonus of being able to talk, um, during your presentation as opposed to just reading the words on the screen.

Jesse: 09:37 I come from a corporate training background, um, and um, the is very, is very interesting because I would often be asked to, um, you know, edit people’s slides and literally the only note was always take out these words. Those are the words you’re saying in your, um, in your script. Uh, don’t have these know, don’t have this word on your slide. Don’t just take it out. Um, and so yeah, that’s, that’s, I noticed that exact same tendency and it happens to me when I make my own slide decks too, is I’ll, I’ll, uh, make my first draft, I’ll be asleep on it, come back tomorrow. And I’m like, why is this slide so full of text?

Michelle Schulp: 10:22 Yeah, exactly. I mean, there are, there are certain times when it makes sense to have a lot of text on a slide. Usually if it’s like an appendix or list of resources at the end, um, that you don’t expect people to actually read. You just include that in there for them to take a picture of it, send out later. But you, but mostly like it should be one thought, one slide. It’s okay to have 70 or 80 slides for a 30 minute talk. That is fine because if you have one sentence per slide or one thought per slide or one visual per slide, you’ll be changing your slides fairly quickly. Uh, so you don’t win a prize. You know, this isn’t golf. We don’t want the lowest score. Um, you don’t win a prize for the least amount of slides.

Jesse: 11:04 Yeah, I’d never heard about that prize it till you mentioned a few minutes ago, but, uh, it, it’s a weird thing to strive for, that’s for sure.

Demo: 11:13 So let’s talk a little bit about tools. So I hear a lot of people saying, oh, well, I don’t have Photoshop, I don’t have this. And I once took a class by Disney’s fine art photography, a master photographer, the guy who that’s the part of Disney that does like the custom photo shoots, not the people that are in the parks. And he said a phrase that always stuck with me. Oh well you must be really great chef. You have a really good oven. Because people keep saying, oh well you have an expensive camera, so you photos must be great. But his point was, you can make a smart phone look great if you just know what you’re doing and get some basic principles. So do you feel that so many people agonize over not having the right tool set when they’re trying to design something, be it a theme on WordPress or, um, a deck or an infographic or a sales sheet? And what do you tell people that, you know, kind of just, you know, use the handicapped of, well, I don’t, I can’t afford x, Y, Z tool?

Michelle Schulp: 12:15 Well, yeah, actually, uh, I like to live by the principle of the best tool is the one you use, right? And, um, with a few base rules in place, it kind of doesn’t matter which tool you’re using. Uh, in terms of design, the only really things you have to think about is that if you need to build something that is a vector based, so something like a logo or an icon or something like that, you want to use a vector program and if you want to build something that is a raster based, like a photo or a complex, a graphic or something like that, you want to use a raster based program. Um, so a vector based program, the, the, the Adobe one is illustrator, right? Um, but also, uh, there’s kind of like hybrid programs like sketch that handled vectors very well, but also output to various things.

Michelle Schulp: 13:08 A raster based program, the Adobe one is Photoshop, but there’s tons of other image editing programs. So it’s, as long as you’re not creating logos or vector things in a raster program, uh, whatever tool you use is fine. And that goes for development as well. I feel like there’s infinity new tooling processes and development work flows and IDE’s and there’s like 50 new things that it feels like you have to learn just to be able to start doing your work. Um, honestly, uh, unless you’re, unless you’re collaborating with a team and the team has a specific workflow, in which case use that workflow. But if you’re, if you’re working on your own, you know, use the tools that let you get your job done. If you want to learn a new tool, cool. But the tool doesn’t make you better. The tool might provide some good shortcuts and might provide some useful, um, add ons and might provide some, some stuff that makes it a little faster, but the tool doesn’t make you better. Um, that’s all you and that’s exactly like you said, like a smartphone can look great if you know how to use composition and lighting and focus and take advantage of, of how that tool works.

Demo: 14:19 So basically tools are tools don’t be one.

Jesse: 14:22 Ha Ha. Yes. I knew you were going to throw that one in there.

Michelle Schulp: 14:27 Yeah.

Jesse: 14:28 Um, yeah, it’s a really interesting conversation. Like, so my, my main team on that I contribute to is the training team. And our mandate is to create lesson plans and presentations that people can use to teach WordPress. Um, and the, one of the big parts of the mandate was for the longest time we didn’t slide decks at all because all the slide decks relied on some kind of a tool, um, that had some kind of concern about it’s licensing or it’s, um, you know, availability to everyone in the world who we would want to teach WordPress to. Um, and Matt’s mandate to us was that we, we can’t use any third party tools. So we came up with a, uh, a slide engine I use is nothing but html and a, um, a Vanilla Java script library. Um, and creating the slides within this extremely, it’s tight a restraint, um, actually makes better slides, um, because there’s, there’s so few bells and whistles that you can even add to it. So it’s really interesting point.

Michelle Schulp: 15:36 Yeah, exactly. I mean that, that’s kind of one of the fun things about design too that I find interesting is, uh, that constraints tend to make better work.

Demo: 15:46 That’s very interesting because I remember five, six years ago, I was talking to somebody, he was one of the managers or directors that interactive accessibility, which was one of the earlier accessibility, uh, um, consultancies in the u s and he was talking to our design team about abstract ratios for like colors, like color contrast ratios. And he said something that stuck with me ever since then is that creative people get more creative in a box. So don’t look at the accessibility standards as a hindrance. Look at it as a way that you can expand your messaging, the more people, and you might be surprised on what you’re able to come up with once you have some, you know, we, not restrictions but accessibility standards in mind. So it’s very similar to what you just said.

Michelle Schulp: 16:37 100%. Um, I’ve been doing some work on revisiting some color Palettes, uh, that already exist and making them more accessible and defining more rules of how the colors can and can’t be used for, for texts or backgrounds or whatever, and maybe changing some of the colors that they are a higher contrast, uh, if we want to use them for texts and stuff like that. But the, the point of creatives getting more creative in a box. I mean, I remember when I went to design school, the first year of design school, um, like when we were starting to do projects, we were not allowed to use color and we could only use like 10 of the most classic type faces. And like, that was it. But we still had to execute on these projects. And what it does is it forces you not to lean on the obvious things, right? Like, if you can’t use color, if you can’t just do anything you want, how do you take this very limited set of tools and still solve this problem? And that really forces you to stretch your mind and to be more creative. So I think, uh, more people should not be afraid of, of restrictions because they actually make you come up with really interesting and elegant solutions.

Demo: 17:47 Excellent. So you obviously go there a lot of WordCamps and you are on the organizing team and the former lead organizer of WordCamp Minneapolis, right?

Michelle Schulp: 17:56 Yes. And Chicago let that one

Demo: 17:59 Oh, and Chicago. Yeah. Did Not, did not know that. Uh, so you learn something new every day. Um, do you want a, is Minneapolis happening again this year?

Michelle Schulp: 18:10 Uh, it is happening again this year, uh, at the end of August. Kind of coinciding with the kickoff of the state fair. So hopefully some of you can make it. We have our call for speakers and sponsors open right now. So

Demo: 18:24 the Tuesday after that camp were allies playing at the state fair grandstand. So

Michelle Schulp: 18:30 I will be there. I am super excited.

Jesse: 18:33 Oh my God. I’m gonna miss the one in Denver. He’s playing red rocks. Oh. And I’m going to be, I’m going to be, um, uh, in, in, uh, on the east coast for that. And that was really angry when I figured that out.

Michelle Schulp: 18:45 Yeah, it’s, it’s his tour where he’s doing it with like a full orchestra or whatever. I am so attached. Yeah. Yeah. I’m so excited.

Demo: 18:52 Excellent. So speaking of WordCamps, what’s your favorite word, camp story that you have?

Michelle Schulp: 18:58 Sure. So every WordCamp I would say I haven’t, I haven’t been to a bad WordCamp and every WordCamp has done something very meaningful or special to me in some way. But probably the most influential WordCamp that I went to was the first time that I went to WordCamp Milwaukee. I want to say this was in, um, it was sometime between WordCamp Chicago 2011 and WordCamp Chicago 2012. So whenever WordCamp, Milwaukee happened, uh, the reason this was very important WordCamp Chicago 2011 was the first WordCamp I ever went to a, I didn’t know anything about the WordPress community. I went, I sat in the back, I talked to no one. I was impressed. I thought it was amazing. Uh, and when I found out there was another one in Milwaukee, which was only an hour drive away, I went to that. The reason that this memory was very important is because this was the first time that I actually met and engaged with some of the people that wound up bringing me into the community and introducing me to the meetups, introducing me to speaking, introducing me to organizing. Um, so I got to the like, I felt really special and honored because like these people actually like agreed to hang out and talk with me after. And like we had conversations and answered my questions. Uh, that was like the moment that I felt like I was being welcomed into this community. I had no idea where it would go from there. And apparently here we are. Um, but that was, that was extremely influential in my WordPress journey.

Demo: 20:29 Excellent. So do you have, uh, anything else that you want to plug otherwise, how can people find you on the interwebs?

Michelle Schulp: 20:38 Sure. Uh, I’m really easy to find on the Internet. I am marktimemedia pretty much every social network. Uh, if, uh, my personal website,, I also run a, uh, health and wellness blog for independent and creative professionals called it’s a topic that’s very near and dear to my heart, hoping to speak and talk more about that in the coming years. Uh, but that’s pretty much it.

Speaker 4: 21:06 Excellent. And you can find me on Twitter @mpmike

Jesse: 21:10 I am @JesseCOwens and you can keep up with BoldGrid @boldgrid on Twitter, on Facebook. We are, you can join our growing user community at

Demo: 21:25 Please make sure to visit for updates on all of our plugins and themes as well as full show notes and a transcript from this and every episode of the BoldLife podcast. And don’t forget to also subscribe to the BoldLife podcast wherever your favorite podcasts are sold, including Spotify.

Demo: 21:46 Well, Michelle, thank you so much for spending the time with us. We really appreciate it and I’m sure I will see you in another state soon.

Michelle Schulp: 21:54 Very likely, but until then, get out and enjoy the temporarily warm Minnesota.

Jesse: 21:59 Thank you, Michelle.