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The fifth in the Silhouette series, highlighting some of the unsung heroes of the industry, takes a look at Vas Sloutchevsky …

'Born and Bred

Vas Sloutchevsky

In my very limited and humble opinion (a line that usually and ironically ends with some haughty and pompous generalization) there is a distinct mark of success for a professional in this volatile yet exciting interactive industry.

The mark I speak of is to have attained a unique level of deep understanding and personal comfort within the fast paced and ever changing medium we all work in and the ability to execute just as comfortably on a consistent basis.

In any line of work, successful people are perfectly at ease with the pace, the challenges, and the pressures specific to their industry and thrive in their environment.

Ours is no different except for the fact that it moves at even more lightning speeds, requires tremendous natural talent and a multitude of learned design and technical abilities, a sharp understanding of a worldwide network and its various nuances and intricacies, oh and by the way even those things change, always!

Our medium is difficult to describe. It is evolving every day. It is a total convergence of anything "interactive" and that "anything" is always changing. It is almost as if the web itself is alive and trying to outdo those who create for it by offering up challenges to overcome, on a constant basis.

A Master of the new Craft

In our industry a professional who can grasp the expansiveness and the limitations of code and fathom the fundamentals of design and the infinite possibilities within the unification of the two is truly a master of this new craft. Very few people know, instinctively where these two worlds meet and feel completely comfortable living on that thin border. And they live on that border on their terms.

I know of one of these people. Vassily Sloutchevsky.

Imported from Moscow and working out of New York City since 1998, the offspring of a furniture designer (the ultimate in human interface design) and an illustrator (the very fundamentals of art itself), Vas was practically bred for this industry.

Educated and graduating with honors at the Stroganoff Institute, contributor to one of the most influential books of our industry, award winning creative director and a co-founder of well known interactive agency Firstborn Multimedia, Vas has already earned immortal status as an early legend of our field.

He has been the hero of designers and developers in the interactive industry for over a decade. Vas's early experimental work was a clinic in how to execute "interactive" design. Vas taught many of us how to properly design for a web that was constantly demanding more interactive elements, more intuitive concepts, more motion and most importantly much more emotion.

New Masters of Flash

He first became widely known when he was heralded as one of the “New Masters” of Flash in 2002, in a book that swept the industry and exposed many young aspiring designers and developers to Firstborn's multi-award winning Yigal-Azrouel site. (little known fact; site/interface was designed by Sarah McLaughlin and then Vas took it and came up with the Y-A you mention)

His dedicated chapter, aptly called “Slide”, detailed how he constructed the very sexy Y-A mouse-driven image scroller, and opened up the minds of a generation as to how to properly approach this very new and exciting medium.

What happened in that book wasn't just an explanation on technique but was a critical foundation in design philosophy, laid down for an industry that hadn't yet fully defined itself. What Vas helped us all do was to think outside of the limitations of early HTML and completely free ourselves to design for people, not for screens.

Hide but keep it accessible

It must have been early 1998 when Vas had conceived and started to master the very powerful and lasting concept known as "Hide but keep it accessible". At this time Vas was beginning to put out work that was gaining a lot of notice from the fashion, music and advertising industries.

Vas didn't just develop projects, he created examples that would illustrate to the industry exactly how to properly execute work that would tell a story, and prove to the post dot com world why this new medium was so damn powerful.

Vas broke new ground again and again with unforgettable design and motion executions for Calvin Klein, Madonna, The Beatles, Target, Victoria's Secret, and the much talked about KPF.

Vas helped define an industry in terms of what it actually does. I myself still have problems explaining to family members what it is I actually do for a living. Vas is the walking embodiment of what we all do, he does it naturally.

I once read a quote from Vas that still resonates very strongly within me and one I try to share with every team and agency I work with, and that is:

"Usability guidelines have to be in tune with the reality of today's trends". On the surface this quote may not be that deep but when you meditate on it for a while its depth quickly reveals itself.

Trends of the Hour

Every designer and developer wants particular guidelines, rules that are set in stone, a handbook on doing things right. What Vas is saying is that there is nothing other than the trends of the hour, the minute and the second that dictate those rules and if you're not plugged into "today's trends" then you're not understanding what the needs are in terms of usability guidelines.

In other words, the guidelines are not set in stone, they are shifting and moving and you must adapt to properly follow them.

The word reality is the key in that phrase. It is both harsh and delightful, and it forces us to think and strategize -- not to simply cut and paste what we think works, but to really understand the reality of the moment. To design accordingly and to really capture what is needed for the exact audience targeted in that moment.

In Tune

The second most important part of the phrase is "in tune". In saying this Vas denotes a harmony, a living sense of completeness and wholeness and not a square peg jammed into a circular hole.

To realize the brand, the campaign, the colors, the images, the motion and the entire execution, and to make sure it is in sync with the 0bjectives and goals of the client and the project. Vas approaches everything he designs by being "in tune" with the reality that presents itself. It is a very honest approach and one that I have always personally admired.

Vas is not about measuring a project’s relevance by applying common standards. He is about recreating those standards for each and every project. Vas is constantly pushing his designs based on technological advances. He allows the advancements to carry his work and to keep it fresh. Rather than trying to force technology into his design, he designs around the latest technology.

When I first started working with Vas I quickly learned, simply by observing, that Vas has the uncanny ability to create successful projects time and time again based on his ability to simplify things. He communicates superbly through his designs because of his ability to minimize the complexity of the interface, while keeping it fresh and interesting. Vas creates experiences where the message is instantly recognized.

Vas once told me, "The more you can think of ways to minimize ‘work’ for the user by unifying certain actions into one, the more usable your interface will be. People tend to choose the path of less resistance."

This quote should hang on the walls of every shop that designs and develops anything with human interface, it succinctly summarizes the approach to design by understanding its audience.

A Pivotal Juncture

We are all standing at a very pivotal juncture in our industry. Digital agencies now play a major role in most ad campaigns and we are creating most of the professional online content. In terms of technology, Flash has become as standard as Photoshop and once again the big idea and the execution is now the central focus of any project.

Vas is now challenged to answer the needs of an even more complex industry that has created a slew of new problems to solve.

Vas will once again have the spotlight shining on his work, and likely they’ll become new examples for how interactivity and user experience are defined in the "reality" of "today's trends". It is exciting to know that Vas will blaze new trails for the industry and set the bar for quality and innovation as he did in the late 90s and early 00s.

The best site is yet to be designed

Most will benefit from his experience and wisdom by experiencing his work, and a lucky few, will get the chance to benefit by working side-by-side with him on new projects of the future. Vas said in an interview right here on the FWA "The best site is yet to be designed" perhaps he will be the one to fulfill those prophetic words.


About the Editor, Craig Elimeliah
Senior Executive Producer, Freedom + Partners

Craig Elimeliah has taken the leap from the advertising world at Firstborn, where he has produced many award winning projects for top agencies, to the academic world where he plans on applying his experience to set a new standard in education and student experiences. Craig masterminded the Silhouette series for FWA in March 2008.


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