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Interviews

An Interview With Matthew Cowan: A Downtown Web Designer

I met Matt through MO Dough. Who is Matt and what is MO Dough? You are about to find out!

Matt, what is it exactly that you do?
I design and develop websites. A lot of agencies split web work into two categories: front-end design and development, which controls the look and feel of a website and involves HTML, CSS, and Javascript, and back-end development, which involves using server-side languages like PHP to put together web pages using data and templates. I like to do both. (Don’t worry if you didn’t catch that part, we are done with the specialized lingo) 

Matt doing his magic at work. We don't need to know how he does it, all that matters are the wonderful results of his work.

What are the current projects you are working on?
I am excited to be part of a new program, MO Dough Coupons. MO Dough Coupons was created by Marketing Management Group of Washington to help local merchants connect with the people in the community. We’re doing a direct mail piece every two months that is filled with deals on local merchants, and we’ve created an online directory of coupons and information about local businesses in the program. We’re also  connecting with the community through social media, and we’re partnering with local businesses to use their resources to help everyone in the program: for example, we’ll be running the day’s featured coupon on an electronic billboard.
We had the opportunity to do something unique with MO Dough. As our copyrighter Walt Jaschek said, “the problem that keeps our merchants have issues isn’t that they have a lack of advertising choices. The problem that keeps them up at night is getting people in the door.” We are giving the community incentives to shop local, and we want people to feel proud about supporting local businesses. As Walt wrote, “by using local coupons, we put our money where our homes are, where our lives are, and here our families are.” That’s what we’re all about at MO Dough.

Mo Dough: a wonderful new project with focus on the downtown businesses. Doesn't Matt do great work?

Additionally, I do web development for Discover Outdoors of Washington and Ideaman, Inc. of Union, which are both owned by Ted Swoboda. For Discover Outdoors, our goal is to be the top store to buy unique wildlife gifts on the internet. We want to be the business that defines the wildlife gift category, and we want people to know that if they or someone they love likes animals, wildlife, and the outdoors, they can find the perfect gift at our store.
I love working with Ted and the people at Ideaman. The company makes a brand of wildlife gifts called American Expedition, and I consider the American Expedition website to be my finest work, especially the pages for the individual animals in the line. American Expedition has a wonderful artist in Doug Weber and a terrific creative director in Rick Stokes, and I was able to draw on over 10 years of their experience when creating the site. Ted, Rick, and Doug have given me wonderful guidance on the project and I will be forever grateful to them. Ideaman is also the last manufacturer of molded rubber refrigerator magnets in the United States, and I’m constantly amazed by the art Doug produces for the magnets.

Another one of Matt's projects. When I first opened Discover Outdoor's website, I was quite impressed!

What’s involved in building a website?
The hardest part isn’t coding, it’s figuring out what the client needs. I ask a lot of questions and keep an open line of communication with the client to ensure I give them a website that can help their business grow.
Once I figure out what they need, I use my knowledge and skills to create it.

"Professionals are expensive. Amateurs cost even more." I stole this from Matt's Facebook page, but I think his work speaks for itself.

What do you love about your job?
I never get bored. Every day brings unique challenges and opportunities.
What is the most challenging project that you have worked on?
When I was a student at East Central College, I took an independent study where I made a 6 level Flash video game about a fish in a hot air balloon (it is available to play at mnc4.com/game).
At the beginning of the project, I was just modifying functions I read in books. As the project got more complex, I ran into challenges where I couldn’t find the answers. I learned to solve problems on my own, and in the end I was writing  functions from scratch to control the game play. That is the project where I learned to program without having to look in a book or online for every answer.

Matt has some really cool gadgets, like this graphics board. He can write or draw whatever he wants on it, and it will appear on the screen.

What is your dream job in the future?
I’m blessed that I’m already working at my dream job. I have clients that I love and a lot of great opportunities. I would like to make some more video games for phones and tablets, and I have a love of typography and would like to design some typefaces. I am working on the early stages of both of those goals.
 

Are you excited to get the new MO Dough Mailer pretty soon? The mailer has dozens of free, local coupons with great deals: grocery coupons, restaurant coupons, hardware coupons, plumbing coupons, entertainment coupons, haircut coupons, store coupons, pizza coupons, garden coupons, car repair coupons. And much, much MO. I am really excited, since one of my photos in on the cover 😉

Why downtown Washington?
The town has a rich history, but the best days are still to come. There is a good mix of innovative new businesses and established institutions, and I think this town is ready to bloom.

There are some awesome coupons on MO Dough. Check them out! 🙂

 
How did you start doing what you do?
After high school, I went to Mizzou to major in Linguistics and Philosophy. After 2.5 years, I didn’t know what I was going to do with those degrees, so I dropped out and worked odd jobs for a few years. I delivered pizza, painted houses, and got a job waiting tables at the Lake Of The Ozarks.
I became close friends with a manager at the Lake who drowned one night in a boating accident. The night he died I couldn’t do anything but sit on the dock and stare at the lake. In the morning, the restaurant’s owner saw me and called me into the restaurant. We had coffee, and he tried to talk about how I felt. The owner said “when things like this happen, people resolve to change their lives, live it to the fullest, but usually that lasts for about a week before they lose their resolve and go back to normal.” I hate cynicism more than anything, so I packed and left, determined to prove him wrong.
I moved back to the area and got a job working for my friend Greg at CertaPro Painters in St. Louis. I earned a supervisor’s position, saved money, and I started going to East Central College to pursue a degree in Graphic Design. Greg gave me my first paying graphic design job: I designed a 16 page “client manual” he uses during estimates that provides customers with information about his company and showcases work the company has done.
The summer before I graduated, I tried to figure out how I would get a job with my degree. I looked at my classmates and realized there weren’t too many people focusing on web design – and no one was learning the powerful server-side languages which really power the web, like PHP. I decided that instead of taking an internship, I would lock myself in a room 12 hours a day and learn to code. I learned the fundamentals of programming and studied as many languages as I could.
When it came time to have my portfolio review, I was lucky that Ben Ziglin of Ziglin Signs was one of the reviewers. He hired me to re-design his website, which was my first paying web design job. Ben also gave me a lot of guidance, he realized I would never be happy as an employee and convinced me that I had the ability to go into business for myself. I’ll always be grateful to Ben for his advice, without him I’d probably be doing something I hated.

Matt at the Marketing Management Group Office.

Do you hate computers by now?
Ha, no. To use a construction analogy, the computer is my toolbox and the programs are my hammers, paintbrushes, and screwdrivers. Whenever something goes wrong, I see it as an opportunity to learn something new and become a better craftsman.

While demonstrating what the graphic board can do, Matt wrote my name. I quite like the pretty "S" 🙂

 

About Slava

I am a twenty-something Bulgarian girl in the USA, re-discovering the world through the lens.

Discussion

6 Responses to “An Interview With Matthew Cowan: A Downtown Web Designer”

  1. I had wondered what happened to Matt! Too cool to see a WHS grad back and doing something so positive for the town/community!

    Posted by Michelle Turner | February 29, 2012, 12:32 pm
  2. Great article, Slava!

    Posted by Teresa Haire | February 29, 2012, 1:29 pm
  3. Matt is a talented guy and it’s great to have him on the MO Dough project.

    Posted by Cynthia Seibert | March 21, 2012, 11:03 am
  4. Awesome fella and a great part of downtown on more ways than one!

    Posted by Bridgette Epple | December 4, 2013, 7:21 am

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  1. Pingback: Live, Work & Play Downtown: Matt Cowan | Re-Discover Washington - March 3, 2014

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