Mike Creuzer has it going on! You know him better as Audentio, the owner of the company Audentio - creator of the insanely popular UI.X framework. At the tender age of 22 he's got a wife, a baby on the way, and a successful business. If you spend any time talking to him you'll see he has the confidence and maturity of a man in his 30's - at least. Thanks to Mike for taking the time to write up a very detailed and thoroughly awesome interview!


Can you give us a brief biography?
My name is Mike Creuzer, I'm from Chicago, IL and currently live in Rockford, IL. I'm 22 years old. I am married and am expecting soon! I would say I am most known for MyBB and XenForo skins, as well as custom interface development. Been around the forum scene for about 10 years.

What is your educational background?
I went to the University of Illinois at Chicago for two years. Computer Science was my major. I left early in 2012 to open an office locally and settle down as they say.

That said, I was already quite fluent in front-end development languages, design standards, and had plenty of experience in the market thanks to my work on forums. Not to mention a portfolio larger than most design firms, so I felt comfortable in my decision to leave school. I am for the most part entirely self-taught in web development.

What is your full time occupation?
Web development for my company, Audentio Design, is my full-time occupation. We are one of the very few full-time web development companies in the forum market.

How did you get into designing? How long have you been at it?
Many many years ago, when I was just a bookworm in middle school, I joined a few forums for discussion on books. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Inheritance Trilogy, and the like were my favorites. After some time, a few of my forum friends got together and decided to start our own forum. I think we ran vBulletin and then moved to IP.Board back then for our main site, but for all the other forums I was a part of we mainly used IPB 1.3, which is the software and version used by the ever popular InvisionFree.

We wanted a design but were quoted at a few grand. The site was for Harry Potter, and the only one we thought was decent was one of John's, the then-owner of vbskinworks.com, but it was overused so we wanted to go custom. Didn't have the money, and we were competing with some people, so I decided to dive into what must've been late 2 or early 3 vBulletin and give it a go myself. I know eventually we were on 3 and I absolutely loved how easy it was. You only had to change a few things and you got a custom theme. These days, you have to spend weeks in my opinion at least to get a decent theme. But anyways, I just kept toying around with it, getting feedback from people, improving. Had a great group of people working with me back then who are still good friends of mine to this day. I credit them a great deal for why I continued with forums and interface design. I didn't call it interface design back then, I called it changing something and seeing what broke what. :p

What are your particular areas of expertise?
If I had to say, I like to think I am an expert in user experience. I like to think I have an eye for what looks good. Typography, colors, dimensions of elements, subtle effects, and the combination of all these things together. Not everyone likes the style I work in, but I also like to think I can capture the idea of what people want for their site. I truly listen to what they want and when I design I take on each project as if it were my own and how I feel I would want things to work from a designer's perspective.

What does your daily schedule look like?
For the most part, I am in at around 9:00 - 10:00 am. I have 2 people who work with me, so I generally start the day making sure they have things to do. Go over any concerns with them. Then its straight to tickets and emails 'til lunch time most days. After that, I work on the next project in the queue until generally anywhere from 7:00pm to 9:00pm. The rest of the day is spent with my wife. Hopefully I'll be able to come home sooner like at 5:00, that is the goal.

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?
When designing for a client, for example, as I mentioned I like to internalize their project as my own. But I also look at competitors of theirs to gauge roughly what I need to beat. Then my goal is to not only make the design more impressive, easy to use, and modern as the competitors, but also make sure whomever I am working for is ecstatic with the final job and have their expectations surpassed. That is my main goal. It is their site after all, they should get it how they want and perhaps even better if I can pull it off.

How long does it generally take to create a new style?
Naturally it all comes down to time, detail, skills/tools required, etc. But often times the framework/software has a huge impact on the time. I can design for XenForo faster than probably any other platform due to its amazing style property system, template conditionals, and one of the best organizational systems and CSS selector conventions out there. Everything has an easy to select class for styling in CSS or JavaScript. Compared to something like vBulletin which is a bit haphazard and takes around 4-5 times longer if I had to guess just because it isn't as well organized and I often times am fighting to do the simplest of tasks. I am known for being able to work with any platform just fine, but each have their nuances that affect time.

I'm sure you've explained it before, but where did the name Audentio Design come from and what does it mean?
At the time I was coming up with names, I had only two goals in mind:
  1. Find a unique name that returns 0 results in Google.
  2. Have some kind of cool meaning
Audentio was one of the first ones I came up with. It essentially means bold and courageous in latin. On the original Audentio.com site we even had some lions and such for symbolism, but I got rid of that pretty quickly. Give me a break I think I was 13 and my design skills were quite lacking. I like to think of the name as just meaning 'Bold and innovative design,' or something like that.

Tell us about the Audentio Team.
Originally, as I mentioned, we offered free theme products and free customization services. That was many years ago before I had refined my design skills. Back then we often took anyone's job and had many people on our team willing to do the work. It was great practice, and some of our team members eventually ended up being really taking their design capabilities to the next level.

Since then, we have done all sorts of things with the team and had so many great people come to work for Audentio Design. These days we have about six or seven people total who are available for design work, but I personally do around 90%. Recently I've hired 2 people to work with me, trained them for the last year, and they have been able to help me quite a bit. Anything designed or coded always goes through me first for my approval, but I am so happy to have the great help that I do. I have a great team.

There is our lead developer Marston -- he keeps our website running smoothly, Tyler who has worked with me on UI.X and our products as well as many custom XenForo and MyBB jobs, Sarah who handles a lot of our SEO work and local work mainly with Wordpress, Tushar who rebuilt the AD Styler and sometimes handles some javascript development, and then there is Jorge and Annika who are sometimes available but are quite busy with school. Erik, the designer of Flexile, is not on our team even though many think he is. We asked him to join years ago, he accepted, but then as any user of Flexile understands he disappeared. I get messages all the time about upgrading Flexile. I would happily do it if I had the rights to do so.

We are always interested in taking applications. We love what we do and are entirely open to training and helping others.

Describe your current UI.X framework. What makes it different from other styles, and what makes it a "framework"?
The idea behind UI.X was simple: Strip out everything from the default skin that makes the skin look like, well, XenForo. I was seeing a lot of themes that just looked too close to the default. People were keeping the same fonts, font sizes, the same borders and border-radius', etc. and my least favorite of all: the gradient images. So all I did at first was go through the entire style property system and replace all the fonts, border-radius', spacing in between elements, images, everything and stored them in variables or just stripped them out. By storing many property values in variables, you can then be able to literally change anything you want simply and quickly in one area rather than going through all the CSS and all the style properties.

I then continued to build other unique things that I hadn't seen elsewhere. Rounded avatars, a fixed navigation, different navigation positions and styles, the ability to move the sidebar from the default position right to the left, toggleable sidebar and node categories, and more. One of the main features it became known for was the side-by-side nodes. The credit for the idea goes to someone who used to be on my design team, and would still be if he wasn't in school. The side-by-side nodes was in one of our original products, Quark. We eventually recoded Quark from scratch when XenForo 1.2 was released and took the idea for side-by-side nodes and placed it into the framework so that you can make any theme of ours have this functionality. We are even adding side-by-side categories in the next version now and continue to add more features whenever we can. We also pride ourselves on optimizing the code using XenForo's conditional system so no extra code is ever being loaded if you aren't using the feature.

UI.X is a framework and should be treated as such for these reasons. It allows the webmaster to have the design look how he or she wants it to look without a huge amount of advanced CSS experience. All UI.X does it take advantage of what XenForo has built in, and there are no plugins required for using it. It is a well organized, easy to edit, modern system and we like to think that absolutely any design can be ported to it with only a few changes to the style properties (and perhaps some extra CSS as well). It also serves as a great way to make sure your design is easily upgraded. Let us handle the upgrade of UI.X for you, your sub-skin should have very little, if anything at all, to manually upgrade.

I could talk all day about UI.X; we really put our heart and souls into the project. We have been working on it for the best of 6 months if not more. Almost every day as well. If we aren't working on custom work, we are working on UI.X, that much is pretty much a constant.

How many forums are using the UI.X framework?
For the most part, anyone who comes to us uses UI.X now. I always make sure to explain reasons why it is a good product and welcome any questions. I also am entirely open to live demos for potential customers.

We use UI.X for custom jobs as well, but I always give people the option if they so choose to not, but so far no one has wanted that option. UI.X helps expedite the design process a vastly significant amount of time. I don't have a number of how many forums exactly, as we don't really keep track of how many are actively being used, but just by viewing thread views and requests in our inbox and such at XenForo I think its safe to say that, in the few months it has been around, I think it is currently the most popular. Plus all our products except Drift use it. We may convert Drift to it some day, was a mistake not doing it in the first place.

Do you do custom work? Can you show us some examples?
Yes, we are always interested in taking on custom work. With respect to this interview, these are the most recent:

http://www.avforums.com/forums/ (mainly the UI and sticky/animated header I take credit for)

We try to update people of our latest custom work on our facebook page.

How did you become involved with the XenForo community?
Well, I was one of the first people to hear about it so I followed it for a while, eventually joined up, and am actually credited with one of the first advanced skins for XenForo. It was called xenForce, and I think I stayed up all night to get it released. Kier even wrote a post on the thread, highlight of my career. ;)

What's your favorite part of creating styles for the XenForo community?
One of the unique things about the XenForo community is the level of intelligence and experience from it's members. Many of the members here have been there and done that and are generally always willing to help. The staff here are always helpful, I get responses to my threads almost instantly, sometimes before I am finished writing the original post :p. And the community members always are willing to help find bugs, point out areas of improvement, and in general offer a high level of critical thinking and constructive criticism. I've come a long way since XenForce and have the community to thank for that.

What's your least favorite part of creating styles for the XenForo community?
I don't understand the question :D. Seriously though I don't think there is anything at all worth talking about. Every now and again I find bugs in the XenForo default skin, or perhaps ways things could be improved on, but they are so small that I wouldn't feel right even bothering the developers with a ticket. They are doing such a great job and have better and more important things to do than fix every little minor thing. In the grand scheme of things, what I would be calling a bug wouldn't even be something possible with other platforms, so I am happy to learn the nuances. But I suppose that is more with XenForo and not the community itself.

What do you consider as your best accomplishments up to this point?
Professionally, it is UI.X.

< !-- <cheesy data-level="9000">Otherwise, it is doing whatever I did to make my wife want to marry me.</cheesy> //-->

Any failures you'd like to tell us about?
Well, leaving school could be seen as a failure. Especially when I only have a year and a half left to finish. I've failed many times, but I just keep trying my best so that I don't have to worry about them as much.

Any interesting projects in the works?
After this next release of UI.X, we will be going into skin-creation mode. Churning out $5 and $10 themes for people to use along side our framework. Once that is done, we are hoping to get involved in some way with a new CMS system for XenForo.

We also want to branch out into Wordpress themes.

What's your opinion on the current state of affairs in forum software in general and specifically for phpBB, vBulletin, Invision Power Board, and XenForo?
Well, I'm not sure if I've missed out on anything significant, and I don't follow phpBB at all really any more. But both phpBB and MyBB need to make some modern improvements. I know MyBB 1.8 Alpha was just released and am quite excited for it. The team works really hard with the resources they have.

As for vBulletin, I haven't followed much with v5 either. Ever since 4, I lost interest in the software. I've always thought that, as a forum development team, your goal needs to be to make the programmers and designers happy just as much if not more so than your regular customers. Because if you make your programmers and designers happy, and by that I mean with nice, clean, easy to create plugins and themes as well as solid documentation, these programmers and designers will be more interested in creating resources and thus attract more clients. This is something I personally feel vBulletin failed in doing. I found the system difficult and messy, not to mention time-wasting. And the way they handled the lawsuit was, well, I chose a side. Quite distasteful.

In regards to XenForo and IP.Board, I think both platforms are doing great jobs. I have been enjoying what I see with IPB 4 and I think it will be a huge success. XenForo regrettably lost out on a lot of development time because of the lawsuit, even though the 1.2 release was absolutely amazing and a huge success, and I'm sure they too have big things planned for future versions of XenForo. To me, these are the 2 forum software of utmost importance.

What advice do you have for people just starting out as designers?
I always recommend sharing your work with people and taking whatever criticism you get respectfully. Ignore the trolls of course, but the community will always give you great insight and help you improve. I always recommend finding some designer or design team to follow so you keep up to date with standards. Practice a lot. My company used to be one of the larger free skin sites. That was how I was able to practice. I provided free skins at the best quality I could offer, gave back to the community, and learned a lot from doing that.

What are your favorite books? Movies? TV shows? Music? Games? Foods? Beverages?
I don't get to read as much any more, but I love fantasy genre books. Currently my wife and I are watching Dexter, its quite interesting. I listen to music all day every day. I love all genres, but while I'm working it is generally Indie, Hip-hop/Gangster Rap, and Oldies. 2pac, Bone thugs, Arctic monkeys/Alex Turner, Bright Eyes, love the 60s specifically too. I eat and drink anything, nothing interesting there..

Which websites do you visit regularly?
I don't really follow anything too much as I'm often working quite a bit. Try to google around to stay current with various trends and ongoings of the web. I'm constantly visiting client websites to make sure everything is running smoothly, mainly.

Tell us about your own websites.
I actually do not own any other websites besides Audentio Design. No side projects, I work too much! I do have a food blog I run with my wife, but I rarely have time to write up the reviews.

What do you do for fun and relaxation?
Lately I've been going to the gym, ping-pong, and soccer. Sometimes the occasional computer game. I love Call of Duty 2 and AoEII, I'm old school :D

What do you know now that you wish you'd known 10 years ago?
I suppose I wish I had a jump start on what I know now. Things have changed so much since back in the day, so many things you have to stay on top of to be considered a competent interface designer.

Tell us something about yourself that most people don't already know.
Well, I don't think I have much of a following, so I could probably answer with anything. But I think one thing people might not know about my company is that there is a lot in what my company does that isn't overly apparent. We probably take in the most custom work than any other forum design company online (maybe that's not true), we have quite a few products and a relatively large framework, we are well established in 2 forum markets (XenForo and MyBB), and we also try to offer the highest level of support including personalized messages, phone calls, Skype, and relatively quick responses on tickets and threads. Sometimes we cannot get to everyone right away and when we do not we get torn apart by angry people. We do our very best and work on average 10 hours a day, but some times we just do not have enough hands on the keyboard. So if you create a ticket and do not get an answer right away, sometimes a friendly bump does wonders. It is unusual for us to miss a message through one of the dozens of communication lines we try to make ourselves available through. We are a very small team, but we will do our best to get to you as soon as we can as we realize you have deadlines for your projects as well.

Oh, and also our website is actually completely custom, save for using CodeIgniter for a framework. We've been working on it for years.

What does the future hold for Mike Creuzer?
I feel as though my life will change a lot when my baby is born. Very excited to meet her though. I'm a bit worried about work. Being self-employed is tough, especially in the forum design market, and I'm hoping to be able to not have to work as much when she is born. I want to make great products and innovative interfaces, as well, so that is something I want to do. Perhaps my own Bootstrap equivalent.