How I Became The Swiss Army Knife of Design & Still Use Themify – Rees Kenyon

How I Became The Swiss Army Knife of Design & Still Use Themify – Rees Kenyon

This month’s Customer Story series features the interesting Rees Kenyon – a lover and achiever of everything under the sun of design. He shares how he got his start working for big publishing houses and international design agencies, to a reputable design consultant service of his own. Read on for more on this veteran web/graphic/logo/branding/print/product designer!

About Me

I’m Rees Kenyon, a bloke who designs all manner of things. They include graphic design, branding, web design, web development, marketing, and eCommerce projects (some of which are large accounts).

As of 2018 I have been in the industry for 28 years, starting my own consultancy in 1999. Although I trained as a graphic designer, my interests have led me to a variety of skills in many different industries. Oh, and I really love my job!

Back To The Start

I first studied computer graphics between 1984 and 1986 in my home city, and then embarked on a four year ‘Graphic Information Design’ degree in London. I had been loaned a Mac Plus and had bought a 20MB hard drive for it. Yes you heard it correctly, 20MB - and I got to design all kinds of things on it.

Subsequently my work experience term came around and I went to work for a big publishing house in Soho, London. It was all very glamorous and exciting, and I had the chance to produce graphics for a wide range of magazines.

After graduation I managed to get some well paid steady work. Soon after I received a call from a chap saying I had been recommended to him, and asked if I would come in for a chat. Long story short, I landed a job at an international design agency - small and compact but with massive clients like Rolls Royce, Philip Morris, BP, Lloyds Register, and the list goes on. What I didn’t know is that I would be working 60 to 70 hours per week.

Three years roll on and I’m headhunted again. I change jobs and start work in security printing, developing anti-forgery technology. Five years later the company was taken over and a big restructure began, including a company move to the other side of London. It meant relocating from a flat I bought with my wife in Kent, or accepting a very good severance package. I took the cash and ran.

On My Own

In 1999, I set up my own one-man consultancy. I grabbed some decent sized clients in a short time and began learning how to design websites along with continuing to be a professional graphic designer. Fast forward 19 years and nothing much has changed. Yes, technology has moved on as it always does. But good quality design and communication is still paramount, regardless of the platform.

I work either very long hours or a relatively short day. It just depends on what’s in the “shop” at the time. I have great freedom and do value working on my own. I can spend time at home because I work out of one of my studios - one of which is built on a very rural plot of land with a view out of my window I absolutely love.

Every day is different which keeps things fresh. I’m either working on eCommerce, web design, web development, or some graphics project or other. Yes, there is a lot of “bread and butter” work but there are also many exciting projects.

Before Themify

I began with hand coding, and moved from one thing to another, including visual editors, custom CMS, Interactive Tools Article Manager, and Movable Type. Then finally came WordPress. WordPress changed my business dramatically. The only problem was I just didn’t have the time or project budgets to design custom themes. So, I spent my time shopping around on Themeforest to find something I could truly customize.

Then Came Themify

Composite Decking Screenshot
Project: Composite Decking
Base Theme: Ultra

A few years ago I was introduced to Themify. At first I found it to be a little basic, but I liked it enough to use it on a couple of sites. Soon after, Composite Decking was commissioned by my client to promote their brand globally. I wanted the site to be contemporary as well as media rich. Layouts were very important - they had to be structured and easy to view with common branding throughout the site. At this point, I didn’t even look at any other themes - I already knew Ultra was the top pick for this project.

The Early Days With Ultra

I had worked with various Themify themes many times before and knew they were stable, well supported, and powerful. I chose Ultra which I had once used but only scratched the surface of its power.

Now, this project wasn’t without its issues. Ultra proved to be a bit tricky in places and quite a lot of support was required (it didn’t always do what it was supposed to). However, this was all eventually dealt with.

I find that bigger themes like Ultra suffer from the “two steps forward, one back” issues. It is so powerful that when new features are committed things can be affected elsewhere. That said, fixes came through pretty quickly. I’m also the kind of designer/developer that finds things that don’t work as they should, unintentionally breaking things while discovering various issues.

My Themify Review

Themify’s Builder is great, with it’s strongest suit being its sheer power and adaptability, especially for media rich content and creative layouts. What I really like is the feature where you can make a row full-width whilst other rows are the target page size – it’s very nice.

Builder Pro plugins also open up a whole new world of design and layout! Themify really have worked hard to provide excellent extensions to their themes. Keep in mind that you might have a steeper learning curve than usual due to their framework’s power.

My main shortcoming with Themify themes is that you can’t add menu descriptions - you know the sub text a lot of themes are able to add below a main menu navigation label. These are great for extra SEO and customer hand-holding. This needs to be addressed in my humble opinion.

I’m a tinkerer with design - I never leave a theme alone and always child theme when designing. I tend to end up with hundreds of lines of CSS and many extra functions. My designer’s eye picks up things that aren’t well thought through or appear to be quickly implemented. No theme is perfect! But I was able to work on top of Ultra and 99% of their CSS is easy to adapt. Being able to add custom classes in Builder is excellent, so it’s an absolute pleasure to be able to design with power using a theme like Ultra!

Out of the box, Ultra is highly responsive and gets many things right. Would I use Ultra again? Yes, most definitely. In fact, I just recently used it again on a site. We also have it earmarked for a pending project. Ultra helps bridge that gap between a basic theme and a complete custom theme, as you can cut costs for clients and time for yourself.

In brief, I tend to use Themify on a lot of projects now. I can do mostly anything I like with it. It cuts off massive corners of development time and gives me a greater scope for design. Thank you Themify team!

Our Work

  • JSSF screenshot
    Project: Jonathan Speirs Scholarship Fund
    Base Theme: Ultra
  • Marian Boswall screenshot
    Project: Marian Boswall Landscape Architects
    Base Theme: Ultra
  • Squirrel Design screenshot
    Project: Squirrel Design
    Base Theme: Ultra
  • Hux Shard
    Project: Hux Shard
    Base Theme: Ultra
  • The Post Inn Traditional Pubb
    Project: The Post Inn Traditional Pubb
    Base Theme: Ultra
  • Woodfellas Carpentry
    Project: Woodfellas Carpentry
    Base Theme: Ultra
  • Concierge South West
    Project: Concierge South West
    Base Theme: Ultra

Advice For The Future

After working many years in London then making the switch to running my own consultancy and raising a family in the countryside, I would not have it any other way. I look forward to giving my clients excellent design, excellent value, and first class customer service, all the while enjoying the creative space of the country.

My philosophies are simple. They are to communicate well, to be creative, and passionate. When you ensure you always listen to your client, I’m sure you can achieve a career twice as long as my almost 30 years. Be honest, friendly, easy to work with and effective. No ego, no “the big I am”, just professional, jargon free, collaborative and open. And enjoy yourself – you’re doing what you love!

- Rees Kenyon

Share Your Story Now! How have you used Themify for your site? Whether it's for your business site, personal blog or portfolio, we'd love to hear your story and share it with other people! Please contact us.

One Comment

  1. ivan sanchez
    Aug 22, 2018 @ 23:42

    Good skills Rees, I’m going to take some design reference :)



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