Russ should be familiar to everyone on TAZ - he's an Administrator here and him and Steve are the co-founders of PixelExit and are responsible for designing and maintaining TAZ's custom style. They do a great job and we're lucky to have them here!
Russ is insanely busy these days but he managed to carve out enough time to participate in an interview with us. Thanks Russ!
What is your educational background?
As it stands I'm about half way through my associates degree for Computer Science. I need to put my butt in gear and get it done!
What is your full time occupation?
I run Pixel Exit full time currently however I also keep busy with being a full time dad too
How did you get into designing? How long have you been at it?
Designing websites intrigued me about 17 years ago, at the time I was extremely young and had a group of friends that we played games together. I always thought it would be a great idea to have a website so I made it happen. I think I started on a Geocities website with some matrix theme to it, oh the days. I was never quite happy with any site I had to be honest, I would always re-code and re-design quite often liking it more and more each time. The site itself was never anything big back then, it was more simple posts and that's it.
I got into larger websites in about 2003 where I ran a rather popular resource website for Battle.net (powers all of Blizzards games). Regarding forum design itself I started on phpBB originally matching designs for free templates the site I was staff on (clantemplates.com). I'd occasionally take on custom jobs but nothing serious by any means.
What are your particular areas of expertise?
I'd like to say I specialize in styling of XenForo. I'm an extremely fast and resourceful coder when it comes to getting XenForo to look how I want it to look.
What does your daily schedule look like?
Get up, get the kid off to school then depending on the day go running or to the gym, or both depending on the mood. My runs are nothing crazy, mixture of running and walking for about 4.4 miles (2.2 mile laps where I go). Since I sit down all day it's a nice way to get the day started. When I get back, I spend my initial work day responding to emails, conversations, support tickets and general questions. After that I get to work on the main project of the day. Depending on the work load or if I'm stuck on something I'll bounce around to working on improving on our framework or our next pre-made style. I usually try to "stop working" around 6 or so, I say it like that because I'm still on my phone and near the computer so if an email comes in I'll still respond to it as fast as I can. Late last year, I decided it would be healthy if I did have a solid cut off time like a normal work person but I can't seem to resist .
Can you describe the creative process of developing a style? Where does your inspiration come from? Do designs "appear" all at once or is it more of a process?
It's definitely a long process. When a client approaches us for a custom style we try to collect as much information as possible then just roll with it. Usually, I can see something in my head as to a direction I want to go with. We're never perfect though, nor would we ever claim to be either , we've literally completed an entire style just to completely scratch it and design it all over again.
How long does it generally take to create a new style?
This depends on so many factors, we've built custom styles in under a few days while others can take weeks. The last thing we want to do is deliver a product we're not happy with and so we occasionally hit road blocks on clients. Regarding our pre-made styles they can vary, Archon has been in the making for over a year , this isn't me working on it solid for a year but simply me picking at little details when I have time to pick at those details. On the other hand Flat Awesome was built in a single night, and my IPBee style took me about 20 minutes (this was lost in the "great hard drive crash of 2014").
Where did the name Pixel Exit come from and what does it mean?
It's nothing too fancy, I pictured a website that would be your go-to place for XenForo styles. Typically when you want to get somewhere on the freeway, you'll take that exit. 'Graphic Exit', 'Style Exit' sounded strange, Pixel Exit seemed to flow. We're terrible with names.
Tell us about the Pixel Exit Team.
Pixel Exit was originally started by Steve and myself, we've been running it together since day one. I work on it full time while Steve runs another business during the day time, however he never sleeps so he gets about the same amount of hours as myself. Recently we brought NixFifty on board who specializes in add-ons and he has been doing some fantastic work already. He's recently released beta versions of a Ticket System and also an add-on to enable TeamSpeak integration, check them out!
Describe your current XenBase framework. What makes it different from other styles, and what makes it a "framework"?
I'll start with how it is a framework and how it came about. When we first started coding styles for XenForo we found ourselves coding the same functions and features over and over. A framework is just a set of options and CSS that allows us to quickly enable those options. We decided quickly a framework would be the best option for our custom work and our pre-made styles. While we don't claim the framework is perfect or bug free by any means, we strongly believe in what we've built. The amount of work we can get done in a short period of time with our framework is rather mind boggling.
I don't keep up with details of our competitors' frameworks, I think there's about 4-5 out there now but some of the main highlights of ours that stands out for me:
- We have multiple page/node/message setups. This allows you to have an extremely distinguished look that you can toggle.
- We keep our code as clean as possible so it will work with almost every add-on out there. We know of a single add-on that doesn't work but we've posted a resource on our site to make it compatible with it.
- Global border colors, font size and font families allows for easy change across the entire style.
- I feel like our support of the framework and style is next to none, we try to post code fixes asap while we push out patches USUALLY in a timely manner.
- Ton of other options, too many to name.
Can you show us some examples of your custom work?
http://www.lethalitygaming.com/ (PSD -> XF)
Just to name a few of them... (y)
How did you become involved with the XenForo community?
I first heard of XenForo from John (smacklan) on Talk Free Lance, although I used vBulletin in the past I wasn't aware of the developers nor did I participate in any official forums. I primarily lurked around an old site called clantemplates.com, it was a nice active community at one point but was at it's slowest point when XenForo opened their doors. That was a big thing because I obviously had to spend my time on some kind of forum , so I started interacting with the XenForo software and community and just had a blast from day one. I'm member #296, not bad out of 79,000+! I think I've logged on almost every day on XenForo since it has opened, kind of sad, should go in the failure part of my interview.
Fast forward to the sale for early customers I bought it within minutes of the sales doors opening up (in fact went out for a break while at work and purchased it on my phone ). I previously styled quite a few themes for phpBB and knew I really wanted to try out XenForo's styling system. I wasn't involved in any of my own personal projects at the time, so I dug into styling and had an absolute blast with it. Took it day by day since then.
What's your favorite part of creating styles for the XenForo community?
I really enjoy browsing the internet and coming to a site that has our style on it, it's just an awesome feeling knowing your work is being put to use.
What's your least favorite part of creating styles for the XenForo community?
Importing styles, I might as well watch a movie while updating the demo board, it's such a loooooooooooooooooooong process.
How do you expect XenForo 2.0 to affect your styles?
To be completely honest we're expecting (and kind of hoping) for them to be completely incompatible. Now... let me explain , the styling system hasn't really changed/improved since the release of XenForo (for the most part), part of the reason I feel is because if they do change something major it could cause headaches for all users which isn't smart for the company itself. Sure you have outdated templates and potential properties to fix but I'm talking more on a global scale. See my suggestion specific for 2.0 here, this is something that would be next to impossible to implement this late in the 1.x series, even a year or two ago. But... if they did this for the 2.0 series and more larger scale items like this we'd have to recode everything anyways.
I should say as well... just because the system hasn't gone through major changes doesn't mean it's a negative thing, we absolutely love the XenForo styling system. We are however excited about the mention of XenForo 2.0 using LESS and have been reading up as much as we can on it.
What do you consider as your best accomplishments up to this point?
An accomplishment I'm really proud of is Pixel Exit as a whole. Originally I worked in banking for about 7-8 years and after a little technicality I had to be let go. Initially, I wasn't sure if I wanted to get back into banking somewhere else. The reason for my previous departure was nothing to be ashamed of and I wasn't worried about finding a new banking job. I looked for a job for a couple of months and during this time I started to get into selling XenForo styles. The day I got a voice mail from a new bank saying they wanted to hire, I wasn't as excited as I should of been. I came to the realization that I did NOT want to back into banking at all and was enjoying my time of styling on XenForo more than ever.
It took awhile for the sales and custom work to come in but I signed on every single day into XenForo, learning and helping out my customers and the general XenForo community. So far I think it has paid off.
Any failures you'd like to tell us about?
I'm a pretty positive person overall and don't really measure failures to any extent. I learn from my mistakes but nothing that stands out worth talking about.
Any interesting projects in the works?
I have a health and fitness forum with no name on my localhost that I've been working on the side customizing it. It's in the early stages but in the past year I've taken on a new life style in regards to my health so I figured it would be an interesting project. For all I know I'll finish an awesome style on it and never touch it again . But I do want to go in depth with some unique plugins, customizing things further than I normally would.
On top of that we have a complete re-design of our main site for Pixel Exit in the works and it's coming out great. Too soon to show anything yet though.
What advice do you have for people just starting out as designers?
Just keep at it and don't be afraid to fail.
What's the significance of your avatar?
It was a random weekend and I took my son to Toys R' Us to buy him something, he went for the Hulk mask. This was him doing his best 'Hulk smash' pose, of course he couldn't wait until we got home to open it.
What are your favorite books? Movies? TV shows? Music? Games? Foods? Beverages?
Currently reading The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy and to be honest this has been the first book in years that I've read so I'll say this is my favorite for now.
Guardians of the Galaxy, but I'm also a big fan of any sort of historical eras as well
TV Shows: Definitely Walking Dead
Games: I mainly play H1Z1, Rocket League, Counter-Strike and the occasional Starcraft II.
Beverages: Water or green tea is about all I'm currently drinking, so it's my favorite.
Which websites do you visit regularly?
Very few sites these days, the visiting order is usually: Pixel Exit, XenForo, The Admin Zone and Reddit. About 3 months ago I was not fond of Reddit at all, I was so use to a traditional forum layout so the posts were a little confusing but now I think I'm addicted.
Tell us about your own websites.
Currently the only site I'm actively running is Pixel Exit. We have another personal project coming up but we've been a little too swamped to even work on it at all.
What do you do for fun and relaxation?
For fun I like to run, go to the gym, bike and travel. Travelling wise, we don't go far but we enjoy a weekend trip to Six Flags or San Francisco. For relaxation, nothing better than camping with absolutely no electronics, I'm looking forward to our camping season coming up because it's been far too long since I've been.
What do you know now that you wish you'd known 10 years ago?
How fast those cheeseburgers can catch up on you.
What does the future hold for Russ?
Finish my degree, support my girlfriend with her nursing school in any way possible (only 1 year left!), and continue raising my awesome son.
Business wise the plan is to continue to grow and adapt in regards to Pixel Exit. We're looking forward for XenForo 2.0 to dive straight in and get coding on that. I'm also trying to learn the add-on side of things out of my own curiosity. In regards to other forum platforms we're always open to ideas but so far nothing is as appealing as XenForo (in my opinion).