Features - Interviews
by Genevieve (Gini) Decooman
When Genevieve (Gini) Decooman visited Dana's website (AKA Jaguarwoman) for the first time, she immediately recognized the sensuality emanating from Dana's graphics. Gini sensed that Dana not only had classy taste, but also was a slight rebel for using a range of colors far beyond the web browser's safe palette <grin>. Gini felt that harmony seemed to be really important to Dana. When Gini admires someone's work, she always tries to get a feeling for the person behind the scene.
Gini: What is your computer background/education?
Dana: I have no formal computer education. My formal education is in History, Languages and Counseling Psychology. I learned computers hands on, usually while sweating bullets. I was first introduced to computers performing word processing for temporary clerical agencies (waaay long ago!). I worked as a research associate and grant writer while studying Counseling Psychology in graduate school. More word processing. Eventually I got a computer just for writing. That’s it. That was my background in computers until my stepson suggested that I make something called a “web page”. I got a book entitled “Write HTML in a Week”. I followed one chapter per day for a week and then I had a truly ugly web page.
Gini: What was your first encounter with the Internet?
Dana: My first encounter with the Internet was with AOL, cursed be their name. I think it was in 1993. I quickly realized that AOL was not the Internet and I went to a regular internet service provider.
Gini: What prompted you to start your business?
Dana: Originally, I just wanted to put my Singles Advice online as “The Authoritative Matchmaker”. I had no intention of being a web designer. In fact, at that time I had no idea what a web designer was.
I created “The Authoritative Matchmaker” (www.authoritativematchmaker.com). I scoured the Internet for ideas about how to present my advice column and build traffic for my affiliate dating programs (Businesses such as Match and One and only). I quickly developed a following for my advice column. I subsequently became a content developer for other singles websites and sold my advice articles. Some of my website visitors asked me to design their business sites. Hard to imagine, everything I did then seems so primitive to me now that I want to cringe! From that point on I focused on website development. In 1996 I became “Jaguarwoman Web Design”.
Gini: What do you wish you had known at the beginning or what have you learned the hard way?
Dana: The primary thing anyone needs to know about web design, and all other life endeavors, is that it is composed of many tiny learning curves which cannot be avoided. And learning occurs in time and space; that also cannot be avoided. You can’t know what you know until you have walked through the experience.
Since almost every success I experience is based on the fact that I aggressively assault all learning curves, I can’t wish those learning curves away. I knew at the beginning what I know now: plugging away at those unending learning curves brings increased skill, pure and simple. I don’t spend very much time wishing. I tend to identify what I want, the specific actions I have to take to achieve it and then start walking. I’m…uh…ruthless that way. If I wished for anything, it would be to become more ruthless and relentless in my learning.
Gini: Do you feel equally comfortable with design and its technical aspects and if so, how did you become that way?
Dana: No, I don't feel as comfortable with the technical aspects of design. There are only 24 hours in the day and I have to judiciously pick and choose my learning curves and think about what will bring me the greatest gratification. I’m happy to simply use the tools provided by people with more technical expertise.
Gini: Which is your favorite font? Where have you used it and where did you find it?
Dana: No favorite fonts, although I do like historic fonts. I use what works for the design.
Gini: Where, and how, does a design begin?
Dana: If I’m working on a commercial project for a client, I’ll begin with the primary emotional impact that they want to make on their site visitor. I think about the emotional impact and work from there.
My designs frequently begin with some sensory impression, usually visual, usually focused on color. I take all my design ideas directly from my daily life: seasons, fabrics, light effects, animals, and water. Most often I begin with simply a texture or a color in my head and build some structure out of that.
I also sometimes begin projects by focusing on a new skill, tool or technique that I want to acquire. I want each project to count. I want to advance my skills in some way. For example, if I want to master some Photoshop technique or a DHTML drop down menu, I’ll do a series of interfaces using that technique in order to gain mastery of that technique. Those are the chief ways my designs are driven.
Gina: What steps have you taken to keep work from devouring all of your time?
Dana: Since I’m not balanced by nature, I pay a lot of attention to it. I use the simple pleasures of life more than anything else. I pay attention to the lives of animals.
I hang out with my husband, a great companion with whom I enjoy watching the universe fly by. I do as much pleasant physical activity as possible. Weekdays I really try to balance input with output, internal reflection with action. I keep my work tasks very discretely organized into specific objectives that I can accomplish in a specific period of time. I have a regular schedule, although I do work at home.
As an example, I have an appointment with myself to write every afternoon. Breathing and movement help me avoid burnout and totally fallow periods. I take my dog for daily 30 to 40 minutes at noon, no matter what the weather. I read daily, alternating an hour at the keyboard with an hour in my loveseat by the window. I take short naps every afternoon, do yoga at 4.00 pm daily and lift light weights 3-4 times weekly. Then I also just sit and glaze at the TV.
Very few people are likely to want to regiment themselves to the extent that I do. I’m really disciplined at driving myself along specific paths toward outcomes I have already decided on.
Gini: What is your favorite book, design or otherwise, and how has it influenced your life?
Dana: With ten years of university education and 55 years of autodidactic pursuits across many domains, I have hundreds of favorites of everything. I’m honestly the most widely read person I’ve ever met and I still spend 3-4 hours per day studying history and literature.
I will say this much. I studied “A Course in Miracles” very intensely, even fanatically, for 10 years. It had a very strong influence on how I view reality (or the lack of it), although I eventually rejected its metaphysical orthodoxy.
The strongest influences on me at the moment are based on Evolutionary Psychology, including many different writers and thinkers in that area. If absolutely forced to pick some favorites, they would be biologists Edmund Wilson and Richard Dawkins and/or the quasi philosopher Ken Wilber. Historically, I would pick Benjamin Franklin.
Gini: This is a completely open question. What would you still like to do or learn?
Dana: At the moment I want to become a better figure skater. I also want to answer for myself some specific historical questions about political power, violence and gender relations.
I really want to know what in the hell we have to do to continue as a species on this planet. I’m really interested in avoiding species suicide. I’m really aroused about the problem of world shattering violence, and have been since I was in graduate school way back in 1971 during the Viet Nam war. I want to understand how the world can be saved from the destructive impulses of human beings. That is the purpose of the speculation in my novel, “Empire of Widows” (www.jaguarwoman.com/book/index.html). That’s the focus of my historical interests and my interest in Evolutionary Psychology right now and for several decades.
Of course, I would also like to become a better digital designer, specifically mastering Flash techniques in order to become a better multimedia designer. But my continuing interest is in human history.
Gini: What would you like to be doing five years from now?
Dana: In five years, I would like to see my novel published and be researching another one.
Gini: Whose brain would you like to pick?
Dana: Benjamin Franklin.
Gini: Are you having fun yet?
Dana: Yes, my life is pretty much all fun. I rarely do anything that I don’t really want to do. Walking my dog is fun. Skating is fun. I expect a lot of pleasure in my life and at this point in my life I have almost no drudgery. Honestly, I consider myself an incredibly lucky person and I’m blissfully happy about 98% of the time--unless I’m worried about bio-terrorism.
Gini: Thank you, Dana, for your time and the interview!
Copyright 2002, Gini Decooman, All Rights Reserved