John Ellison

Storyteller & UX Designer

Hey, my name is John. I'm a freelance UX Designer who loves to bring great stories into the light. Through crafting and executing digital strategies, I help build successful businesses online.

My Journey & Passion

Watch the short film about my journey and passion.

My Story

I was always bored in school. Since I was young I turned to life outside the classroom for my education. I built my first computer when I was 12, taught myself programming at 13, and started my first online business at 17 years old.

After my first semester in college, I decided to run my eCommerce business full-time and let the world be my classroom—life experience my education.

Everyone but my father told me what I was doing was wrong, that I should stay in school and get a degree, get a job and get a mortgage, drive a nice car and be happy…

But that just didn’t look like happiness to me.

My passions carried me to Israel to learn Hebrew, to Egypt to help start a movement, to London to raise money and to India to design and build classrooms for children with special needs.

Then my world stopped.

My passion crippled into survival. My desire — replaced by necessity.

I came back to the US humbled and confused — unsure of what to do with my life.

With a new pair of eyes I looked back at my story and tried to find meaning and purpose in all that I’d done.

I saw that the web enabled me to do what I believed in and to make the world a better place through what I loved.

I realized that with the tools of the web, I could help other people do the same…

I began teaming up with passionate people who wanted to make a difference in the world. I realized that my work is about so much more than making websites. It’s about understanding someone’s story and empowering them to be who they were born to be.

What's your story?

I'd love to see your story come to light and hear your vision for your life.

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Some of my most recent projects

Get in Touch

Send me an email or follow me on Twitter if you want to talk about working together. I'd love to hear about the project you have in mind.

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Cadmon Whitty

“As a direct result of John's expertise, I am now a top blogger, have been approached by a publisher to write a book, have more leads than ever... and I have a feeling this is just the beginning.”


This is how I help build successful businesses online

Digital Strategy

I help businesses craft digital strategies, validate hypotheses, and measure the effectiveness of their efforts. The success of any design and development work depends on strategy.

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UX Design

I design digital experiences that meet the needs of a business and its users. When a project centers around a website or web application, the user's experience becomes a key ingredient to its success.

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Web Development

I craft code to transform strategy and design into user interfaces. Using the latest technologies in front-end development, I develop websites that adapt to all device sizes.

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Digital Strategy


When I launched my first eCommerce business back when I was seventeen, I started to glimpse the importance of designing and executing strategies on the web. Countless times I had great ideas to grow my business online. Every time I tried to implement them, I ran into complications and my strategies would fall short of their goals. Executing on an idea was much more difficult then it seemed. I was throwing time and money at my online business without understanding my users and their needs.

Learning by Experience

The lessons I learned in the failures of multiple online businesses gifted me a unique skillset. By my early twenties, I had experiences and skills that offered great value to other entrepreneurs wanting to succeed on the web. I realized there were other entrepreneurs who had brilliant ideas, but ran into roadblocks when it came to execution.

I learned that for an idea to be successful, it needs to have a balance between quality and viability. A great idea has no value if it isn't executed properly.

I also learned that it is crucial to test an idea as early as possible. I learned that strategies need to be validated by real users. Testing an idea doesn't need to take formal market research and enormous amounts of time and money. Testing an idea can be quick and effective. That is part of the art and science of crating successful projects on the web.

What is the goal?

The goal of a digital strategy is not to strike massive success. The goal is to validate a solution for a group of real people with a real problem. The goal is not to try and convice a group of people that they need your product or service. The goal is to listen to people's needs and serve them in a way that improves their lives and allows them to do what they do best.

What is my role?

My digital strategy consulting centers around the process of turning ideas into reality. I help my clients create digital strategies and implement those strategies into a website or a web application.

I've learned that the best way to approach a project is through a series of iterations. Once a project is launched, it is tested. Tests are analyzed based upon key performance indicators that we identify together early in the discovery process. There are many different ways to go about defining things like key performance indicators, and one of my favorite is through a hands-on workshop.

Intensive Strategy Workshops

I hold intensive workshops at the beginning of any digital project. We gather all stakeholders and key players into one room. With sticky notes, whiteboards, and markers we flesh out all our good ideas and all the not-so-good ones. We try to declare our assumptions and create hypotheses so that we can validate or invalidate them.

How do you validate ideas?

I have performed several variations of the Google Ventures design sprint, and find it to be the best way to test hypotheses before investing in the expensive design and development of an idea.

These are my two favorite principles of doing business on the web:

  • Fail early and often
  • Build, measure, learn

While many professionals create massive formal documentation, I prefer leaner methods. I like to use lean canvas to start documenting a business model.

I've also used some different value proposition templates to help define the value and audience of a strategy's proposition.

Where do we start?

If you've got an idea for a business or an application, send me a message and we'll set up a time to talk. In my opinion, strategy is the most crucial aspect of any project. I always want to make sure there is a great foundational strategy in place before jumping into design or development.

Michael Catlin

“John understood our vision and crafted it into reality. He was the guy who took charge and made it happen. From business strategy to user needs, he was a rockstar.”

UX Design

What is UX?

There are dozens of definitions for User Experience Design. Some consider it a discipline, some consider it an umbrella for many disciplines, and others make it synomymous with user interface design. In my opinion, UX Design is so much more than crafting a usable interface.

It is about engaging and knowing your customers. It is about serving their needs as the complex humans they are. It is about empowering people to take the driver seat of their own digital experience. People are willing to speak. The question is, are we willing to listen?

Why UX?

UX Design has the potential to create delight in digital experiences—to transform the menial and mediocre into the visceral and desirable. A user's experience with a business is often a deciding force. It can determine what they think of your business and whether they are willing to entrust you with their attention—let alone their time and money. UX is a game changer.

If you know what it is like to pour your time, money, and passion into a project—you want to do everything you can to create a positive and enjoyable experience for your user at all points of contact. Now we're on the same page about the importance of your customer's experience with your business, how do we go about creating unforgettable experiences for our users?

What does a UX designer do?

The end result of a user experience design project is usually a website or a web application. Much of a UX Designer's work lives behind the interface and can include tasks such as user interviews, surveys, personas, scenarios, flow diagrams, storyboards, usability tests and heuristic evaluation.

While the UX Designer doesn't always craft the code which brings the project to life, they often work closely with the development team to ensure that every decision reflects the designed experience.

A majority of User Experience Design projects have a similar process, although practitioners might classify each stage differently.

  • Strategy
  • Research
  • Analysis
  • Design
  • Production

This image from UX Mastery shows the iterative ux process mentioned above.

user experience design process from ux mastery

How much does it cost?

While most contractors work on an hourly basis, I try to work with my clients to define a specific scope and charge based upon the value of the deliverables. That being said, value is often a very subjective topic. While one business may want to achieve X, Y, and Z in a given project and be willing to pay $20,000 for it, another business may want to achieve A through Z and only pay $2,000.

Although, it is sometimes the most appropriate option for both the business and the ux designer to agree on an hourly rate. I've done a lot of research and spoken to many other UX designers about industry standard rates. While it does vary by region and experience, between $65 and $100 is usually a standard rate for a professional UX Designer.

I do my best to work with my clients to arrive on a rate and total cost that is mutually beneficial.


Why would I hire a UX Designer?

The beautiful thing about UX as compared to web design is that it is not about what ‘looks good’ but about what helps users and businesses acheive their goals. When you craft a website or web application, you're able to use analytics tools to track specific metrics and gauge success of a given initiative.

With each initiative, you will be able to analyze concrete analytics to determine if our efforts succeeded in meeting your business goals.

As a part of any UX project, I work to define specific success metrics so we can calibrate our efforts based upon their effectiveness. It often requires several iterations to hit success metrics, but at the end of an there is a clear and objective indicator of a project's success.

Where do we start?

A project often begins with a discovery/strategy phase where I meet with stakeholders and uncover all your ideas, goals and concerns. As a UX Designer, my job is to understand the high-level concept and vision as well as the steps necessary to craft a solution. What makes UX different from other processes is the involvement of users throughout the project. To some level, we have to be in agreement on that vision. A UX designer can advise and inform about the benefits of user-centered design, but it all boils down to what you value and are willing to invest in.

Lets talk

If you have an idea for a website or web application and you have a desire to serve a specific audience—send me an email. I'd love to hear about your story and your vision for the project. Soon we'll be on our way to crafting a solution that brings your idea to life.

Cory Arcarese

John is at the top of my list of ‘go to’ people because of his experience, knowledge, and most importantly—his superior listening skills. Prepare to be impressed, John will exceed your expectations.”

Web Development

What kind of web development?

I specialize in responsive front-end web development. Before I touch a line of code, I make sure that content has either been approved or is well on its way to being approved. Prioritizing content allows me to make better decisions about how to develop the website's layout and interaction.

When developing a website, I start coding for the smallest device size. A mobile-first development approach ensures that the website provides a great experience for mobile users. It also allows the code to evolve from the simplest layout to the most complex.

What tools do you use?

I use a special set of tools that allows me to view the website I'm developing on multiple devices at the same time. Everytime I make a change, it is updated on all devices. This framework allows me to ensure that I'm developing an optimal experience across all screen sizes and operating systems.

When working on a flat-file website (just HTML, CSS, and JavaScript), I use a development framework with Zurb Foundation 5, Gulp and Jade. The framework is a fork of a Yeoman generator. I maintain my fork of the framework on Github. Feel free to check it out and give it a try if you like:

Can you do back-end web development?

I am currently enrolled in a Ruby on Rails bootcamp taught by some incredibly talented Rails developers. I am looking forward to putting my back-end skills to use on some live projects.

Also, I currently work with some talented back-end developers on my projects, so if your project requires a well-crafted back-end, we can definitely make that happen.

What about Wordpress?

Most web developers have worked with Wordpress at one point in their careers. I prefer to use the Genesis framework for most of my Wordpress projects. After trying many different themes and frameworks, I kept turning back to Genesis for its architecture, performance and reliability.

As most people know, Wordpress is the most popular content management system, but at its heart Wordpress is a blog. Whenever a website requires different types of content besides a blog, Wordpress can be unweildy.

I like to use a tool the way it was designed to be used. For every tool—a purpose—for every purpose—a tool.

So when a website needs a few static pages and a blog behind it, Wordpress is often the best choice. But for more complex content types and functionality—I often pick other technologies over Wordpress.

Can you develop an app?

In short—yes. To be specific, I can develop web applications, but I am not a mobile app developer. To clarify what you mean by ‘app’:

The word ‘app’ can be used to describe a mobile app and a web app. Here's the difference:

A mobile app is an application which runs natively on a mobile operating system (iOS, Android, Windows). It is usually downloaded from an app store and accessed within the 'applications' on that device. A web app is an application which runs on a server that is constantly connected to the web. It is accesible from any browser and from any device. There are pros and cons to each type of &lsuqo;app’, and choosing which to use for a given project is a strategic decision.

Is custom web development worth it?

In many circumstances, custom web development is not the right solution. Depending on the needs of a project, using Squarespace or Wordpress is often the right choice. But when it comes to designing and developing custom experiences from scratch, custom design and development are crucial to a projects success.

When a business model centers around a website or web app, the execution of strategy and design is a crucial element of success. Scalability and performance can be determining factors when choosing custom development over an existing solution. When your project needs to be able to evolve to meet your user's needs, custom web development is often the best option.

Lets talk

I'd love to hear about your project and learn more about you and your vision. Feel free to send me an email. I'm always happy to help guide you in the right direction, even if I'm not the best fit for the job.

Michael Roper

“If it wasn't for the amazing website John built me, I wouldn't have scored these video gigs or a bunch of the jobs I've gotten lately. John doesn't just build you a website, he builds you a business online.”

Hey John,

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