Mister SuperFriendly: A Few Words With Dan Mall

From growing up with comics to stumbling into web design as a career, from origin stories to Responsive Web Design, the topics flow freely as we catch up with our favorite Philadelphia superhero, Dan Mall.

How and where did you get your start in design, web or otherwise?

Growing up constantly drawing, reading comics, and watching cartoons made me want to be a 3D animator, so I majored in Digital Media at Drexel University in Philly. I quickly learned I wasn't good enough to cut it, nor was I patient enough for all the rendering time. I did, however, really start to love Flash animation. I discovered web standards when trying to figure out how to embed those Flash animations onto an actual web page. I also accidentally discovered graphic design while flipping through the course catalog to see what else I should be doing. The rest is history. I tell the full story in my interview with The Great Discontent.

What's the origin story behind SuperFriendly?

When my wife and I decided to have kids, we also thought it'd be great for me to work from home so that I could be very present in helping to raise them. I'd never been self-employed before, so the notion of owning my own business wasn't one I wanted to start cold turkey. A year before starting SuperFriendly, we decided together that I'd work a full-time job during the day, come home and eat dinner together, and basically work a second job freelancing on nights and weekends. I had a chance to experiment with everything from contract clauses to rates, knowing that I had little risk because I had a full-time salary to fall back on.

Through trial and error, I quickly learned what I—and eventually SuperFriendly—could do for organizations that only a few others can: namely, high-level digital strategy mixed with top-notch design and development, at the cutting edge of best practices. I'm extremely blessed to be able to do great work for great clients, and still take my wife and daughters to the park on a nice day.

Tell us a great client story.

Reading Is Fundamental, one of my favorite clients ever, once politely asked me to justify why web fonts were worth both the financial and technical investment. I instinctively launched into a diatribe about the merits of great typography—as I do—which was met with dead silence. When I asked what they thought, Ernestine, the VP of Marketing, responded that I took them to church. They were silently in awe as Ernestine did this dance.

Your talk this year is about responsive design. What's the big take-away?

The spoiler is in the title of my talk: responsive design is both hard and easy. At its core, responsive design, as described by its inventor Ethan Marcotte, uses a pretty basic set of ingredients: fluid grids, flexible images, and media queries. However, this simple approach brings to light a number of more complex factors: performance collaborative workflows, build processes, resource management;, resolution-independent graphics, and much more. I want people to realize how easy it is to take the skills they already have and invent new processes and deliverables which can make it easier to create quickly and efficiently for a world where you can access the web from things you wear on your face to the screen on a building in Times Square. It's an exciting time!

Dan Mall will present his talk “Responsive Design is Still Hard/Easy! Be Afraid/Don't Worry!” at An Event Apart Boston and An Event Apart Washington DC. Don't miss your chance to hear Dan and all the inspiring, insightful speakers at these events—register today!