Chas-Shaw-cardiff-web-design400I’ve always been attracted to creative people such as artists and musicians but never found the thing that I was good at until now.

I always felt that I had a talent, but just couldn’t find out what it was.

In school I studied computing and when I left I did a stint in Cardiff Itec, which was a training centre for people on government work schemes. I learned databases using Dbase 2, for spreadsheets we had Visicalc on the Atari 800 and the most popular word processor was Wordstar (Ctrl K + D, if you used it, you will remember) on the BBC B. After spending a year killing time at the centre, I decided I didn’t want to spend my life sat by a desk, staring at a computer screen … I wanted to get out and see the world.

A succession of office jobs followed, until too many years later I found myself working in a call centre for a bank. Sat behind 2 screens and keyboards, wearing a headset, taking calls all day and having to account for how long I went to the toilet … I kind of knew I had taken a wrong turning somewhere.

When I worked in the call centre, everyone seemed to be watched and had to account for every second of their time, except for the mysterious pair of techies, who kept the systems running. No one, except for them were allowed in the computer room downstairs. They alone knew what went on in that room. It seemed to me that they were the only people there who had some measure of control and freedom.

I used to feel trapped, I would wake up thinking, ‘not again’, every morning but I had to pay the bills and had built up quite an amount of debt over the years, spending just that little bit more than I earned, every month.

I used to walk through the parks in the morning before going to work and I clearly remember one morning, wishing with all my heart that I could just walk through the park any time of the day that I wanted … thinking about it now, I should have wished for more.

Chatting to one of the I.T staff, he told me he had a HND in Computing, I was in awe of him. I had left school at 16, I didn’t remember being offered to stay to do A levels, I thought you had to be really intelligent to do that. I had left with a handful of O levels to face the world of work, not aware that I had any other option.

I never fitted in at the call centre, I’m too free thinking, but I took the role of grunt in the longest job of my life at 7. 63 years (it said something like that on my leaving paperwork). I believe partly to get some type of control, as I had no hope of joining the management team, I became the union rep for the centre. This allowed me to help people and in my own small way make a difference to people’s lives.

In my spare time I took a series of night courses and over a period of years gained myself A levels in Psychology, Sociology and Politics, which I took for no other reason than my desire to learn something about the world that I saw out of the office window.

My time at the call centre ended when I managed to negotiate a redundancy package for myself, following the housing/mortgage crash of 2008.

I thought back to that moment in the park, when I wished so hard to have some control of my time and wanted some type of trade or skill that I could create something with and be able to do anywhere in the world. I wasn’t built to be a builder or plumber and we were in the aftermath of the housing crash so I felt that time had passed.

I thought, why not be a web designer, as long as I have an internet connection I could work my own hours and be anywhere in the world. Wandering through Cardiff town centre, there was a stand for UWIC university, so I picked a brochure and took a chance and rang up. As a mature student with a clutch of unrelated A levels, it turned out I could get myself onto a course, so I signed up for a HND in computing. Two years later, I graduated and got myself a HND, just like the techie I used to work with, in the call centre.

During the first year in UWIC, my friend Paul Lyons who was a local legend as a DJ and producer was setting up a youth music project in the Butetown Pavillion Youth Centre. The project enabled local youths, instead of spending their time on the street, doing the things that people with no work and no clear future get up to, to record their own music, and Paul needed someone to build a website for the project and for each artist and to run their social networking. Paul asked me if I could do it and of course I said yes, I had been taught how to do a basic webpage in Uni.
Another friend Shaun, suggested I use a CMS called Joomla to build them with, so in the absence of a better idea, I learned the system quickly and spent the next year or so working almost exclusively in Joomla, until I started the switch to WordPress and other CMS systems.

While at the Pavillion centre I met a series of local performers which formed relationships that would last years including Sian Evans, of Kosheen, who Paul had asked to provide vocal coaching for the youths. The project was only to last for a few months of funding but we all kept working for a year or so afterwards, in our own time, not wanting the project to end.
Flushed with my success at gaining a HND, I found I could take a further year and top this up to gain a Degree, so I did and a year later, gained a Distinction in BSc Computer Science. Feeling that even though I had the certificates, I didn’t have enough knowledge.

I signed up for a master’s course in mobile computing in Glamorgan University and was shocked at the lack of local interest as smart phones and tablets were now becoming ubiquitous. I joined in the 2nd year that they had run the course I was only the 2nd local Welsh student, the other students were from far away places such as India, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.  As well as learning skills such as Java and Android programming, I got a chance to work with people from cultures very different to myself and in particular I gained a respect for other religions in particular Muslims who treated me as a brother.

While I was on the course I designed a Taxi app, which later was built and released, by a different company, thereby teaching me one of my first hard lessons in business.

In order to fund the course I had to show an income so I registered self employed and continued to make websites, my first client was Rachel Dax who was a local filmmaker and when we made the site together, other filmmakers approached me. I have also worked with Tamas Tatai , Ben Jenkins, Leyla Pope , Soraya Radford and John Richards, all from the film industry and I felt that they helped me to both bring a bit of show business to my web design but also taught me how important the detail in the design of the site is, most film makers being perfectionists.

I earned my money as the filmakers were quite demanding for the design. They could see how they wanted it to look in their minds, which you do not find so much with non creative businesses. I feel I owe much of my person style to these first few clients as they were all creative people themselves and had a vision of what they wanted before they started.

After finishing Uni and gaining a Merit this time, MSc mobile computing, I carried on my self employed business trading under my own name Chas Shaw. At the time and even more so now, there were thousands of web designers in Cardiff so I thought I wouldn’t even try to compete for search engine business. instead I thought I would rely on referrals and social networking to bring the clients in, which it did, but being artists, musicians and film makers, we were looking for perfection on a shoestring. Reasoning that most artists die poor and other people make money off them, I needed to widen my client base?

At the same time as finishing the Masters, Sian Evans was writing a few songs with DJ Fresh, while in between the project and Kosheen. The first time I heard the track ‘Louder’ over Sian’s house, I immediately had goose bumps. For some reason, early in 2010, I Googled the song and found that it had been leaked over the net. All four versions were available on hundreds of pages of Google, months before it was due to be released.

I texted Sian, who was in Russia on tour at the time, she texted me to ‘get on it’ so myself and a friend from Uni, Aamir Usmani hastily put together a website for her and social networking, which I ran for several months. The song was destined to go to number 1 anyway, but I feel I helped Sian retain her branding on the song and helped field a few opportunities for her during the buzz that was around it. One of my proudest moment that no one knows about (until now) was that Radio 1 tweeted both DJ Fresh’s account and @SianEvansLouder when the song hit number one, which I was tweeting from, on her behalf, at the time.

Looking at the competition, web designers were really boring, all suits and Javascript. They all talked in their own tech speak to the clients, who I felt really didn’t care if was CSS, PHP or whatever. To quote Alan Sugar when talking about his Amstrad wordprocesser of decades ago … ‘they don’t care if it’s a rubber band that drives the thing as long as it works’. I made a decision to talk to people about why we are building the website, rather than how, in a language they could understand.

I wanted to put some of my personality into the websites, being majorly influenced by David Thorne (the guy that did the spider email) … I wanted to inject some humour into an otherwise boring product. So I didn’t even try to compete, I felt there were enough people out there that were like me and not like them(the suits) to keep me in work.

I quickly had some success with local businesses, convincing my friend Shane to call his business Cardiff Heating to get better search engine results, paid off surprisingly quickly with a website top of Google. This trick also worked with a friend of Shane’s, Simon , whose driving instructor business we re-branded for the internet into Caerphilly Driving Lessons, which also quickly went first page…

If I could do it for them, then maybe I could do it for me, so I bought a domain name cardiff-web-design.co.uk , which was the best I could get at the time and put up a website in Drupal, and some social networking under the name Cardiff Web Design. I worked with a few friends mainly, Ed Buchan, Kath Cross, and we collectively worked together to jointly promote Cardiff Web Design. By the way the Drupal site was a ploy to tempt a friend to work with me … the ploy didn’t work.

I wanted to be a different type of web design agency and I wanted it to be a collective where we all worked equally together, but like most collectives, there tends to be one person that leads and does most of the work and that person was me, as the others had their own businesses and interests.

We started off on page 37 of Google for the search term and over a period of a few months got to page one but we still were not getting the quantity and quality of enquiry we should. The SEO ‘experts’ emailed and telephoned me in droves offering to help me get to page 1 – after they had found me on page 1. This had the effect of making me lose respect for SEO experts who seemed to not get the irony of them contacting me. The website had a makeover and switched to WordPress and then the business started coming in.

In late 2013 I registered Cardiff Web Design Ltd and put everything through the company, which I am sole Director of and the work has been increasing ever since.

At present Cardiff Web Design also has the help of Colin Ricketts, a trained journalist who writes excellent SEO content with that all important humour and personality, when appropriate, occasional work from Ed Buchan who is also an expert in SEO content writing and has built some very successful affiliate marketing websites, as well as a few people who have come and gone, and may well return.
The future is looking extremely bright with a lot of work now coming in from clients in London and internationally in places as far away as Dubai and Australia. We may well need to setup a ‘Anywhere but Cardiff Web Design Ltd’ soon.

If you’re a client and or / co worker and you’ve not been mentioned so far,  there is probably a reason for it, you may find yourself in the next blog post … to quote that web design cliche …

“Coming Soon …”
Chas 16th September 2015