Cátia Kitahara Interview
Meet Cátia Kitahara (@catkit), co-founder of the Brazilian WordPress Community. She’s a web designer and hacker at Hacklab in São Paulo – Brazil.
How did you first get started with web design and development? Is it something you expected to find yourself doing a few years ago?
I graduated in architecture and after a few years struggling in the interior design field, I decided to change areas. Back at that time, it was 2000, web design seemed to be a promising career, so I took the chance and studied a postgraduate course in Hypermedia Design. At the same time I started working at a web agency and I’ve been working as a web designer ever since.
It’s not something I expected to find myself doing a few years ago — it’s been almost 12 years I’ve been doing this 😀 I mean, it’s been a long time! But before 2000, definitely not, my dream was to work with animation.
As an illustrator and graphic designer, do you think that you bring things you’ve learned or experimented with in those disciplines over to your work with WordPress or are they distinctly separate?
I think web design owes a lot to graphic design, therefore any work with WordPress does too, but I believe it’s a different discipline. I’d rather compare web design to architecture than to graphic design, mainly because of the relationship between architects and engineers versus designers and programmers. To design a website it’s really important to understand how it’s built, the possibilities, what can be done or not. I know that in graphic design you need to have an understanding of the printing process, colors, type of papers etc., but it’s not so much dependant on the technology behind it. About illustration, it’s something I’d like to bring more often to my designs, I don’t explore the possibilities that much, however what I’ve learned about colors and composition with illustration are reflected on my work, yes.
When did you first start working with WordPress, and what made you choose it over the other options available?
I started working with WordPress in 2007. A few years earlier I did a website for a traditional Catholic Festival in my native town, as a volunteer. It’s annual and they desperately needed to renew their website, but they had no money to pay for it. The programmer who worked with me before had disappeared and I didn’t know anyone else who would do the job as a volunteer. So I searched the internet for a solution where I could do the job all by myself and at the same time give the festival organizers the freedom to update and run their site independently. I was looking for a solution which respected web standards and that was free. When I found WordPress I thought it was fantastic, I didn’t know anything about PHP, MySQL, I didn’t know to write a line of code, but I just didn’t need to! There was great documentation and almost all of my doubts were already answered in the forums. I could do everything on my own. The other options I tried were Plone, but there was too much to learn, and Mambo (there was no Joomla yet) which generated terrible HTML. So there wasn’t a better choice than WordPress!
Tell us about a WordPress project you’ve worked on recently that made you proud. What did you enjoy and find most challenging about it?
We’ve just launched a redesign project called Catraca Livre. I did the design, HTML, and CSS. It’s a calendar for free or low cost events. It’s becoming very popular and it gets between fifty and a hundred-thousand visitors every day. Their Facebook page has been liked almost 1,500,000 times so far, too. Catraca Livre was one of Hacklab’s first clients — their website has been running on WordPress since the beginning of 2008. As it grew, its interface needed an upgrade to address mobile devices and the code needed improvements to deal with the growing audience. Besides, it needed a better search mechanism so the users could find events easier.
What I enjoyed the most was the fact the client liked the idea of a very colourful site and they gave me a lot of freedom to work as I chose. I really love bright colours and on this job I got to play with them.
The two most chalenging parts of the job from a front-end point of view were making it responsive while at the same time fitting the client’s dynamic workflow. Its homepage has a very flexible layout and its system lets its administrators choose from a set of three different types of rows of features: With one, two or three categories. Inside each row, they can choose from many different combinations of layout grids. It wasn’t easy to make it responsive, mainly because it depends on some editorial policies too.
The client’s workflow is crazy and from the beginning of the project they changed their main categories countless times. Because of this, it was difficult to make a perfect main menu. Sometimes it was best to make it horizontal, sometimes vertical. We launched it horizontal, but I believe we’ll need to rethink it soon.
From the development point of view, the most challenging part was to integrate a search server based on Solr. It allows users to find events near them by a geographical search, or filter the events by a variety of parameters. And all of this at an incredible speed.
What hard-won advice would you give to someone just starting out in life as a designer?
I read this article by Nathan Peretic at A List Apart and I couldn’t agree more with it. It’s about writing a proposal, but there’s a lot of good advice in it that I heavily recommend anyone starting out in this career to read. My favorite quote is this one:
Why should you be selected for this project? Because you’re the cheapest? The quickest? Because you promise to do more than the other guys? Maybe. Sometimes those are the reasons, but they’re also the levers you least want to rely on pulling. Website design and development are services and not, on the professional level, commodities. Providing a commodity is an exhausting, unsatisfying, deadening experience. Doing what you love, on the other hand, working as an equal partner with smart, respectful clients is invigorating.
Do you have a typical client or a particular niche you work with, or do you find that you’re working on all kinds of different projects in a given year? Would you change anything about that?
At Hacklab we like to position ourselves as a business with social concern; we believe in Free Software and we like to publish our solutions whenever we can. We also like to work with innovative projects. So though we’ve worked with different types of clients, most of them have a little bit of those values. What I’d change about it is that I’d like to work just for clients who shared those values.
Tell us about your work in the Brazilian WordPress community, and how that’s infleunced your professional or personal life?
I started the community in 2008 with Anderson Clayton, a guy from Rio de Janeiro. In the begining it consumed a lot of my time! I did a lot of everything, I translated WordPress, bbPress, BuddyPress, plugins, ran the website, moderated the forums, organized WordCamp, meetups. I had help, but I was on the front of all these activities. As I worked as a freelancer, I had plenty of time for that, but because of WordPress, more work came in and I started working with the guys at Hacklab.
So in 2010/2011 I had to let it go a little, and it was good because other people came in and started helping me out with the translations, etc. In 2012 I came back, mostly helping organize the two WordCamps we had, in Curitiba and São Paulo.
The influence on my professional and personal life was huge; since I had the idea of translating WordPress I haven’t stopped working, and what’s best, I’ve received some sort of recognition I didn’t have before. This interview, being featured in Matt’s State of the Word talk last WordCamp SF, and participating at the Community Summit are a great honor to me. I’ve met many interesting people, I’ve made great professional contacts, I’ve made good friends. There’s a feeling of fulfilment that is the best part, which is to know that with a relatively small effort I’ve helped many people and I’m part of this great thing that is WordPress :).
What can people do to get involved with localization, submitting patches, or otherwise improving WordPress, and why should they bother?
There are many channels available. I think the best way is to go to any of the make blogs and see what’s up. But if people don’t think they have the time, they should at least adopt the pratice of sharing their WordPress knowledge and experience by publishing their code under GPL. They should bother because WordPress belongs to them, they should own it and make it better everyday. Knowledge is something we should cherish and share so everyone is able to profit with it, not only a small group. That’s why WordPress is great.