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Chatting With Jackie Ellse

There is a pervasive impression that quality web design and development can only be found in the US, Canada and some European centers. Who would have stopped to consider, say, South Africa? Jackie Ellse tries to break this misconception by churning out elegant, functional designs for pleased clients all over the world.

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Hi Jackie! Please tell us something about yourself – age, design background, hobbies.
I’m 31 years old – I studied Graphic design for 3 years at AAA School of Advertising after I finished high school. Straight after that I knew I wanted to be a web designer, so I started persuing careers at web agencies rather than design agencies. I’m very lucky to have worked at some of the top agencies in Cape Town, South Africa – eg. Ogilvy Interactive, Mnemonic, Stonewall+, etc. I’ve been a designer for 10 years and a year ago I decided to leave the 9-5 job and pursued a fulltime freelance gig.

Why did you choose design as a career?
I’ve always been very creative – At school I wasn’t interested in the content in my projects, I was more worried about how they were decorated (if only I could get marks for how good my projects looked) I didn’t even realise there was a career for just that – I walked past my Guidance teacher’s class the one day and she had a poster for a design competition on her door, it immediately grabbed my eye – I couldn’t get it out of my mind and made numerous entries into the competition. I ended up winning 2nd place in the competition and the college that held it immediately accepted me into a 3 year course, even though I had never studied art at school.

How is it being a web designer based in South Africa? Have you experienced any work-related bias in the past?


It’s really great being a designer in South Africa – The exchange rate is quite low, so a lot of countries look to outsource the work to designers in SA, because they get to maintain a very high standard of design, but at a lower rate than having it designed in the US/UK.

How is the design scene different in South Africa compared to the ones in Europe and America?
The design scene in South Africa is thriving! Design is cutting edge and breaking boundaries in South Africa – Cape Town hosts a design conference called Design Indaba once a year, which attracts visitors from all over the world. We live in a beautiful country that has the most amazing beaches, wine estates, mountains and I think our beautiful surroundings truly inspire anyone that lives in this country.

What is you design process? That is, how do you develop a website from scratch?
Once the client has approved the quote, I’ll start wireframing the various pages in the website. Once the client has approved the wireframe, I’ll then move onto designing 2 options for the homepage – it’s best not to progress onto the internal pages until the design direction has been approved for the homepage. Once the design is signed off for the homepage – I then start designing the layouts for the internal pages. Once all the design layouts have been approved by the client, they then get sliced into XHTML/CSS.

What are your favorite color palettes?
I don’t have a favourite color or pallette that I generally stick to – every project requires a different pallette, that best suits the brief. I use Kuler to sometimes help mix a preferred color pallete.

What are your top five favorite apps?
Keeping track of all my invoices, I use an application called Pulse App.
I’ve been using this application for many years to send out emailers/newsletter campaigns – great interface as well: Campaign Monitor.
If you need to do an onscreen video capture – Jing is brilliant and it’s free.
Dropbox is a valuable freelance tool to share files.
This isn’t really an app but it has really come in handy a couple of times – it allows you to upload a jpg of the font and then it lets you know the font name.
Another useful website to download free fonts is Dafont.

What software do you use to design?
Adobe Photoshop

Any tips for noobs?
When starting a design career you need to realise that with the good, comes the bad. Learn to take criticism well, let it help you grow as a designer!


  1. By Victoria Blount posted on January 6, 2010 at 9:13 am
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    Excellent and insightful interview about Jackie’s path into design and also the transition from 9-5 to freelance .

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