Professional Design Solutions on a steady incline


There is a small graphic on Jeremy D. Thomson’s name card that says a lot about him: two light bulbs inspired by Thomas Edison, who in failing hundreds of times chose to see the experience as having learned hundreds of ways not to make a light bulb.

Jeremy looks so different from the first time we met that he is unrecognizable. “When we bumped into one another in that juice bar, I was out training. But when I’m working, usually I wear a suit. Suits make me feel confident, give me a sense of dressing for success.”

Jeremy — a Canadian who declares that he intends to be able to retire from having to work by age 38 — is a freelance Web and graphic designer with his own company, Professional Design Solutions. He has two major clients right now, but can always handle more. “I’m very goal-orientated. That’s the way I am, the way I’ve always been.”

Raised in East York, Ontario, by his writer mother and grandparents (“Dad left when I was almost too small to remember”), life was secure on one level but tough on another. Picked for inclusion in a program for the educationally gifted, and always sitting on the front row of any class, he was bullied right through school. “Because I was geeky rather than sporty, with two left feet, I was constantly being picked on.”

While he describes his relationship with his mother as close — “she’s my sibling, my mother, my best friend” — he remembers that they lived very much on the poverty line. “Money became a big issue for me. It was only as I grew older and the burdens of life lessened that I realized the importance of being satisfied and happy. Working 9 to 5 in a company office was not the way I wanted to go.”

In 1994, Jeremy’s high school offered an introductory course to Japan. The following year, he applied to go to Fukuoka as an exchange student, all expenses paid. “I was one of eight selected to go from Canada.”

Staying in a dorm with other students from abroad enabled him to make his first real unconditional friends. “Funny, that. There I was in Japan, but I got to know few Japanese other than my home-stay family. At that time all my friends were foreign.” Still, the experience planted a deeper seed of interest in Japan. “I’d always known I wanted to be a successful businessman. Now I wanted to work in Asia.”

He chose a double major in Japanese and Asian studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, in part because UBC also had a unique exchange program with Kyoto’s Ritsumeikan University campus. He spent years living in a dormitory for exchange students from Ritsumeikan and UBC.

“I believe the years I spent there were monumental in making me who I am,” says Jeremy with feeling. “In the exchange residence, I learned a lot from my Japanese friends, many of whom I’m still friends with today.”

Having graduated from UBC, he returned here again in 2001. “In my last year at uni, I’d applied for a JET program coordinator for international relations position, working in Japanese local government. I was accepted but my top three requests for placements weren’t. They wanted to place me too far away — 30 km from Kochi city in Shikoku.”

Weighing the pros and cons (good for learning Japanese, terrible for contacts and being where it’s at), he decided to go instead to Tokyo and teach for Aeon East Japan. “Some people teach because they want to, others because they think they have to. Choosing to do the best I could, I actually had a really interesting time. I taught a lot of businesspeople, also tax collectors out at Wakoshi in Saitama.”

He made contacts. Saved money. Started doing Web design.

“I’ve loved computers since age 10. I had a PET computer, was a complete computer geek. I never formally studied computers, just learned as I went along.”

His first client in Japan was Amusement Marketing International, which at that time was No. 3 in the market for creating arcade games. “Before I went back to Canada to see my mom, they offered me a full-time job. But while I was there they mailed and said sorry, we’re so busy, doing so well, that we have no one free to train you. It never seemed to cross their minds that they could afford more Japanese staff.”

His current private clients are Fusion Network Services, a subsidiary of Big Globe that is busy launching a business template service, and IFG Asia, a subsidiary of IFG Group PLC, based in Ireland, offering financial advice to expats.

“IFG is my most challenging client to date. Designing any Web site depends on the complexity of the client’s requirements. I have to take so many elements into account: navigation, site maps, feedback forms, animation, dynamic content for updating through databases, just how interactive a site needs to be.”

Jeremy personally designs, codes and enables search engine optimization so a client gains the highest possible position in any online search.

Working with IFG’s supervisor is great, Jeremy says, “because he wants top-quality work and knows what he likes.” Of course that means it can be tricky matching what is known and expected in combination with Jeremy’s own opinions as a Web designer. “Modifying images take time. But basically, OK is not good enough. I’m not satisfied until the client is satisfied.”

There have been many hard lessons along the way, he acknowledges, but that’s life. “I network, work hard at making and keeping connections. Looking back eight years ago, I was fooling myself into thinking I was a good Web designer . . . but I got very good at faking it. Now I can say without any false modesty that I’m experienced and professional.”

What makes a good site? Clear navigation. Stirring visuals. Readable text. A message that’s 100 percent clear from the very beginning. An aesthetic that conveys that message. “It’s another form of branding. An established product can be given a whole new image. A new product creates impact from that very first click.”

Settled into a 1DK in Nishi Gotanda that acts as home cum office, Jeremy schedules his time with precision. “I work out. Run. Work. Play. I’ll be living like this for the next five years, traveling between Japan, Canada and other parts of the world. Everything’s been kicking in for the last eight months. Now instead of being on a roller-coaster, I’m on a slow steady incline. It’s a great feeling.”