Mike McKenna – an interview from Niphal.com

Christian web design

From the vault

This interview first appeared online at Niphal.com.
Since then, the world has changed and things have moved on. It is replicated here for historic interest including associated imagery.
Links are provided to the closest view of the site as you would have seen at the time, using my favourite internet archive site Archive.org


Mike thanks for giving us your time here at Niphal, it’s great to have you around.

Thanks for having me!

Now you’ve recently been chosen to be one of a group at Coudal, to be in a game of Photoshop Tennis. So you’ve obviously got the skills when it comes to Photoshop. How does it feel to be chosen along with so many other excellent designers?

It feels great, actually. I think I’ve got to be the least talented member of the field in terms of artistic ability, so I’m going to have to make up for my lack of raw talent with my reativity.

I got into the competition based on a pretty off the wall idea, so hopefully I can carry that with me through the tournament. By the way– I’m not sure why there has been such a delay in the tournament start, but I’m definitely ready to go.

What does the competition require a designer to be able to do?

Photoshop Tennis requires a designer to a few different things. First, you’ve got to be able to really dig deep into your creative toolbox and pull out all the stops. Especially for a guy like me, who certainly doesn’t have the experience and name recognition of a guy like Joshua Davis or Jeffrey Zeldman or Mike Cina.

Second, you’ve got to be able to think on your feet. The competition relies heavily on the particiapants’ abilities to play off one another’s volleys. The best example I ever saw of this was when Derek Powazek actually printed out the volley he got, ran outside and stapled it to a pole and took a photo of it. It was great.

And third, you have to be able to do it with speed. It’s got to be at the same time fast and brilliant.

What do you think brought you to this point? How did you end up, one of the chosen few?

As far as being one of the chosen few for the tournament, well, I guess that was just me getting a good idea just at the right time. But in terms of being one of Christ’s people, I’ve been blessed to have been raised in a great Christian family.

I’ve had my ups and downs like all Christians, but for most of my life I’ve walked with the Lord. And now, I’ve been blessed again to be surrounded by a great group of 15-20 twentysomethings at our church. We worship at church together, we have a bible study on Sunday nights, we meet on Mondays just to talk, it’s great.

We’re in the process of trying to put a website together that sort of puts us our lives, struggles, interests and so on out there for people to see. So, I guess the short answer is that I have always been one of the chosen few, but God has always blessed me with strong influences in my life.

What do you hope to be the outcome of the website you’re putting together? Is this for more internal church means or for a wider community impact?

We’re definitely looking for this to have a wider impact. The truth is, there are a lot of people out there who live in both worlds. They may be active members of their church, read their Bibles regularly, and really work at their relationship with Christ. But at the same time, they’re out there in the world at the same time. They have to go to their jobs and expose themselves to things that aren’t necessarily related to their walk with God. They have to make everyday decisions about what to watch on TV, what movies to go to, what CD’s to listen to.

These are real problems that lots of Christians go through every day. Our goal is to show these people that they’re not the only ones going through these decisions and struggles, and that by talking about these things they can help themselves and each other through them. We want to show them this by discussing our own issues.

Did you find much Christian influence when it came to learning the discipline of design?

Not so much in terms of being influenced by other Christians in the way I design. What I learned when I was growing as a designer was to pray–a lot. I started my own web design company at the worst possible time from a national economy standpoint. Plus, I had a newborn baby. And my the stuff I was designing was junk.

I had a desk in our bedroom in our apartment, and many nights, I would stay up literally all night just studying great work, trying to understand what made things great. I spent a fortune on New Riders books. I just absorbed as much as I could, trying to get my skill level up to a point where I could actually sell my services.

Needless to say, there were a lot of frustrating nights and times where I thought I’d have to give up. So in that sense, there was a lot of Christian influence in my learning the discipline of design– Phillipians 4 comes to mind…

Obviously you learned quite a lot from that experience, how would you have done it differently if you could go back?

The one thing I’d change if I could go back would be to praise and thank the Lord more for the blessings he bestowed on my wife and I during that time. He really took care of us.

I was given a remarkably generous severance package from my previous employer, which helped us bridge the gap between the time I started m2 newmedia and the time I sold out to Novidian (ed: Mike has since parted from Novidian and has started again at Shotgunflat) . It got shaky near the end of the deal, and I wasn’t sure if it would work out at all, but it did.

It’s so easy to ask God for things, but it’s even easier sometimes to take for granted the prayers he answers for us. That’s something I still need to work at.

People are always asking me, “how can I incorporate their faith into my design work?”, they find it quite hard to express themselves and their beliefs. What do you suggest people do if they are looking for a way of expressing their love for Jesus?

To be honest, it’s not always appropriate–or even possible– to put forth a covert testament of one’s faith while designing for a client in a professional setting. But the things we can do include being great examples–sticking to what is ethical in our business practices, in the way we treat our co-workers and collegues, in the kind of work we accept, and so on.

People at the office should know that everything we do and all our decisions are made within the context of our beliefs as Christians. I think that approach is often the best and most practical way to incorporate our faith in design work.