When CEO of Ethiopian Trips Eskinder Senbeta decided his website was in need of a major refresh, he approached CareerFoundry for talented graduates who could get the job done. With the help of career specialist Danielle, she nominated web development graduate Bruno, and UX design graduate Nim for the job. The result? An awesome, responsive website designed and built by a CareerFoundry graduate dream team!
Hi Bruno and Nim, thanks for joining us! Could you give us a quick background on the programs you enrolled in, and what you’re currently up to?
Bruno: I did the Web Development Program and finished up in 2018. Since wrapping up the course, I’ve been dipping my toes into the web development field as a freelancer—building out some websites and portfolios for friends. Right now, I’m on parental leave, and I’ll go back to applying for jobs at the end of the summer.
Nim: I did the UX Design Program, but I already had a UI design background. I finished up around October 2019. Since then, I’ve been freelancing for the past 12 years, so I kept it going after graduating—working with both old and new clients in London and Berlin. I’ve been toying with the idea of finding a new role, but I feel fortunate that I’m in a position to choose. For now, I’m enjoying freelancing.
How did this project come to you?
Nim: It was career specialist Danielle who brought it to my attention on the Slack channel. She reached out to us both individually, and it sounded like a fantastic opportunity.
Bruno: Danielle arranged a meeting with Eskinder in the CareerFoundry office to talk more about it—I remember it clearly because it was my birthday! Eskinder had this super old-school travel website for tours in his native Ethiopia that needed a lot of updating. It wasn’t mobile-friendly, and it desperately needed to become more user friendly. It also contained way too much information, and the content needed to be reorganized.
Nim: Eskinder had the old school approach of putting as much information into the website as possible, with navigation being something of an afterthought. He used to get over 1,000 hits on the site, which is a lot of traffic—but not one of those hits turned into a conversion. Bruno and I put our heads together and thought, what’s the first thing you want to see when you visit a travel website? It’s the beautiful images of the country. So as a jumping-off point, that was our focus: cutting the information down to the bare minimum, and focusing more on the imagery.
What were your initial impressions of the project, and how did you approach it?
Nim: Eskinder’s initial focus was on PDF brochures, and we had to convince him that the content needed to be on the site rather than requiring people to download brochures in PDF form. That was one of our first decisions. From the design side of things, I had to put myself in the users’ shoes. I was always asking myself, what would I want to see on the website if I wanted to visit Ethiopia? We had to encourage Eskinder to become user-centric and remind him that he’s not his own client. I also spoke to some of my well-traveled friends to gauge as much information about what they wanted from the tourism industry, and what made them opt for some companies over others.
Bruno: From my side, it was mostly about optimizing the layout. I’d get sent the layout, and then it was a matter of finding the best tools to bring the PDF’s to life. I had to rethink and adapt the design to fit various screens, so it involved a lot of reconfiguration. The old website was built on WordPress, which I did consider using—but WordPress demands constant updates, so it wasn’t the ideal solution. After doing some research on which hosting platform would be the best for this website, we decided to host the new website on Webflow, which worked out great.
What were the steps and stages involved in the project?
Nim: After Eskinder and his family flew in from Belgium to meet us at CareerFoundry HQ, the first order of business was making sure that the three of us (myself, Eskinder, and Bruno) were all singing from the same hymn sheet, so to speak. We kicked off with branding, which involved designing a new logo for the site. I really wanted to incorporate as many elements of Ethiopia into the branding, the colors, the culture, and so on. He wasn’t particularly keen on that, so it took some work to get on the same page. We then talked about what the most important factors that he wanted to include on the website were. We worked together to break down the content so that we weren’t just having these big blocks of content; it needed to be clear for users and feature small pieces of relevant information in the right places.
Working with Eskinder was a constant back and forth, and we went through so many different phases. Working directly with the CEO of the company rather than a project manager meant we were able to streamline the process and make decisions faster. It became clear quite early on that there was a culture clash; he wanted things to be a lot more old school, whereas we wanted to bring the website into the modern world. Now he’s getting used to the new way of doing things. He’s even gotten to grips with Webflow so that he can make some of the updates himself.
Tell us about the handoff from design to development.
Nim: Initially, I sent Bruno the PDF, and he used that layout as a jumping-off point to build the website. All the images and logos were sent over in stages, but I think it was a good few weeks before we were ready to show Eskinder.
Bruno: It was really straightforward. Like so many projects, there were some hurdles—and there were occasional moments where we weren’t sure if the project was still going on. There was a lot of back and forth, but once it was properly greenlit by Eskinder, it all went fairly quickly. There was one moment when he wanted the logo to be piercing the frame of the page to create this cool effect. At first, I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, but I finally worked it out. Most of the things he wanted, I somehow managed to build—which is a great feeling. I think the biggest thing I underestimated was how long it was going to take me to convert all the huge files. I must’ve spent at least three working days on converting files alone.
What was it like to work with a remote client?
Bruno: Actually, it wasn’t too bad. I was already used to working with quite a lot of Brazilian clients, so it wasn’t a particularly new experience for me.
Nim: Yeah, I’ve also had a lot of experience with remote clients in various different time zones. Luckily, Ethiopia is only an hour ahead. So it was fine!
What was your favorite part of the project?
Nim: Finally, getting a “yes” to one of my design ideas was always a fantastic feeling! As we went along, he started to understand my vision a lot more. Seeing him happy with how the project was taking shape was really cool.
Bruno: Every time there was a challenge, I saw it as an opportunity. I managed to remain faithful to Eskinder’s vision while still creating something out of the box. There’s a lot of personality on the site, and I’m really happy with it!
What were your biggest takeaways from working on the project?
Bruno: The biggest takeaway from the project was that I could actually do this kind of work. It was one of the first projects I’d been heavily involved in from scratch. I’d never worked with tool websites, so that was a great experience. It was also my first time collaborating with a designer as a developer, which was a challenge. I didn’t have to think about the design, but I still had to make the design work. The whole experience definitely brought me one step further into the web development field.
Nim: Once I’d completed the UX Design Program, I wanted to use as many of the methods and frameworks I’d learned as possible. I really got to flex my new knowledge on this project, and I had a lot of new terms that I was bringing into my everyday vocabulary. I was able to refer back to the curriculum for anything I was feeling unsure about, which was so helpful. Working with Bruno was also really cool; I’ve worked with a lot of developers, but Bruno was spot on. It helped that we were in the same city, but the fact that we’d both studied with CareerFoundry meant we were on the same page with our communication style.
What advice would you give to other alumni that are new to freelancing?
Nim: If you’re freelancing with a corporation, you’re a small cog in a big machine. It’s so different from working directly with the client. With an individual, you can be a lot more assertive with your own ideas. Through this project, I’ve learned the importance of people skills. People trust people. You could be the most talented designer on the planet, but if you don’t have any people skills, you won’t get very far in the freelancing game. Most of my clients have come from face-to-face networking, so it’s so important to nail those interpersonal skills.
Bruno: I agree, social skills are essential. Freelancing opportunities come from social interactions, so making those connections are vital. It’s good to keep the channels open—the next opportunity could come from somewhere you least expect!
Thanks so much to you both for chatting with us! To round off, let’s hear from Eskinder on working with this dynamic duo:
I found that Nim and Bruno were both well informed on the subject. They’re both experts on the UX and UI aspects of my site, which were initially quite complex matters for me. It was a seamless team effort between them, and in the end they delivered a professional and brilliant website. I’m still in touch with them whenever I need their support—they’re always there for me! Thank you Nim and Bruno!