.

The changes that have occurred in digital design during my 17 year career have been fundamental and seismic shifts. It’s incredible to think that Google, Facebook, Youtube, smartphones and tablets didn’t even exist when I started out in the industry. That constant change and embracing it for the good of our clients is one of the things that still excites me every day.


Your name, plus your original "web name/handle"

Fred Flade. I didn’t really have a web name, but fairly quickly “Flicko” emerged.

Obviously with me being german this originated from a particularly cliched german character called “Herr Flick” from british comedy series “‘Allo ‘Allo!”

 

Your first web encounter, year etc.

My first encounter with the web was in the early 90s at art college. Embarrassingly I must admit I didn’t think much of it at the time. The experience was slow, clunky and above all visually rather appalling. Layouts were poor, images bad quality but what bothered me most was the lack of real typographic control.

At the time we were mainly messing around in Macromedia Director imagining ourselves creating shiny, exciting, full-screen CD-Roms.

They seemed to offer much greater visual design possibilities and more scope for animation and interactivity. My expectation for what the web should be like was then shaped by my experience of traditional design disciplines.

The web seemed to lack a visual dimension that I was looking for. This is obviously typical for this generation having grown up without digital being omnipresent.

To this day I consider myself lucky to have studied around a time when “digital” in all forms was still in its infancy which is why it was called  “New Media”. Looking back I value the fact that we were taught the basics of design (layout, grids, composition, typography, information hierarchy) before specialising on interaction design. This way we could apply the principles of “good” design to onscreen experiences. Something colleges are thankfully beginning to realise again after focusing for too long on teaching software.  

Being part of the first tentative steps of what we now know to be a massive digital revolution allowed everybody to freely experiment with new tools and ways of communicating.

We were playing with all sorts of digital interfaces from websites to CD-Roms to interactive TV.

In fact interactive TV was supposedly gonna be the next big thing. In 1997 a fellow student and I were working on a concept imagining the future of TV, which was called “Smart TV”. It made me laugh when 15 years later in 2012 Samsung launched a range of Plasma screens called exactly the same.

It had turned out a bit different to what we thought.

 

What our readers might recognise you most for, when you first hit the web.

In 1997 I joined digital agency Deepend and it was becoming clear very quickly that I would be designing web-interfaces rather than CD-Roms.

I will never forget the moment when one of the founders Gravy (aka David Streek) encouraged me to play with a new piece of software called “Macromedia Flash” and it was an instant revelation.

It solved one of the big problems I had with web-design at that point. Typography. Finally it could be fully controlled by the designer in the same way we were used to in traditional media. Additionally the overall experience was greatly enhanced with animation, sound and interactivity.

I ended up creating a number of Flash based websites (New Beetle, Hoover, Design Museum) that at the time received industry recognition across multiple award shows including D&AD, Art directors Club New York and here on The FWA. I think some of the hype was helped of course by a substantial portion of novelty value.

Looking back, these projects are really typical of that particular period of a fast moving digital industry, which was about to get shaken up by the implosion of the first dot-com bubble in 2001. Projects were extremely playful,quite conceptual even self-indulgent at times. Clients were brave and less worried about best practice and accountability. I think it would be quite difficult to sell some of these concepts today.

 

Your digital journey since.

When Deepend London liquidated in September 2001 I co-founded a new agency called de-construct with 6 former Deepend colleagues.

We set the agency up within 24 hours. Originally I had registered the name “de-construct” and url (www.de-construct.com) as a destination for Deepend’s R&D projects. We literally continued working the next day after we lost our jobs.

Some clients wanted to finish off their projects and they became founding clients. Amongst them Panasonic Europe which gave us significant starting advantage.

We were 7 partners with diverse skills instantly becoming a fully functioning agency. Within 3 months we had our own office back in Shoreditch. Incidentally, to date I only ever have worked in Shoreditch in my 17 year career. It feels like home to me!

After the 2001 crash the way clients and agencies would work on projects had changed significantly. Client briefs were increasingly driven by business objectives and focused on delivering a return on investment. A development which I think improved the quality of work but made it harder to be experimental and playful. A sign of the industry growing up perhaps? It had to.

We made a deliberate decision at de-construct to always work with small clients as well as bigger ones for obvious reasons. Often we would use talks as an opportunity to do some experimental work.

One of those smaller projects was a collaboration with Vince Frost. Still, one of my favorite projects, bringing together a number of my passions; great design work, a typographic approach and experimental interaction design. The process of working with Vince was really lovely as well.

One of the bigger clients at de-construct was Panasonic. We ended up working with Panasonic for 8 years developing product specific digital campaigns and microsites as well as creating their european web-guidelines. Over the years we built up mutual trust and respect which always produces the best results for everybody.

When things change so rapidly all the time it’s almost a small miracle that the website for the Barbican Centre in London which we launched in 2005 is still live today. It is looking a bit small today and it obviously doesn’t work on mobile, but then 9 years ago people didn’t browse the internet on their mobile.

I know the Barbican are in the process of re-designing it as we speak. I’m gonna be sad to see it go.

In 2005 we sold de-construct to Aegis and with that we became part of the Isobar network of agencies which gave us instant access to bigger clients such as Adidas and SCA but ultimately changed the culture within de-construct significantly.

I decided to take a sabbatical in 2009 which didn’t really happen because within a few weeks I got a call from Nick Farnhill, one of the founders of digital agency Poke, asking if I wanted to work on a pitch to do digital work for Virgin’s new Formula 1 team.

Firstly I love Formula 1 and secondly I had worked with most of the founders years earlier at deepend. The decision to join Poke was a no-brainer as I always respected their work hugely. We managed to win the pitch and helped Marussia Virgin Racing to build confidence through branding on the long difficult journey up the F1 pecking order.

Looking back at all the projects I have been lucky to work on, the changing role of digital communication becomes clear when analysing the project briefs over the years.

The work for Mulberry (www.mulberry.com) encapsulates the growing up of our industry really well. The importance of the site to the business is critical from a sales but also from a brand experience perspective. The way it has to effortlessly integrate with all aspects of the brand and cater for very specific, diverse user behaviours is typical of current projects.

 

What are you up to now?

I always wanted to set up another agency. It just doesn’t let you go once you had your own business. For that to happen many things have to align perfectly.

You need the right people, the right circumstance and a client to start with.

Last year all those things came together, which enabled me to co-found an agency called SOON_ with two amazing guys I met at Poke, Greg Reed and Alex Light. The three of us bring an interesting mix of skills to the party; Strategy, Design, Technology.

We have been messing around with digital things for quite a while so we use our combined experience to help brands navigate an ever more complex digital landscape. What brands do in digital channels has become the dominant way how people form their opinions about them. Especially this generation that has grown up with digital technology from an early age and expects services and narratives to be connected and seamless. There simply is nowhere to hide and many brands surprisingly have a lot of catching up to do .

We have just launched our first project helping online electronic music magazine Resident Advisor (www.residentadvisor.net) bring their amazing content to life by totally re-designing the site and overall identity. And we have a few more irons in the fire that will be public soon.

The changes that have occurred in digital design during my 17 year career have been fundamental and seismic shifts. It’s incredible to think that Google, Facebook, Youtube, smartphones and tablets didn’t even exist when I started out in the industry. That constant change and embracing it for the good of our clients is one of the things that still excites me every day.

And finally. Rob thank you so much for inviting me to write this article, am very flattered and my mum is super proud.


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Fred Flade, Then and Now
Fred Flade, Then and Now

New Beetle / Deepend / 1998

Website for designer Vince Frost / De-construct / 2002

Barbican Centre London / de-construct / 2005
Barbican Centre London / de-construct / 2005

Experimental project “When computers dream” / De-construct / 2005

Panasonic Lumix Microsite / De-construct / 2006

Marussia Virgin Racing brand and website / Poke / 2011
Marussia Virgin Racing brand and website / Poke / 2011

Mulberry.com / Poke / 2013
Mulberry.com / Poke / 2013

Online music magazine Resident Advisor / SOON_ / 2014
Online music magazine Resident Advisor / SOON_ / 2014

Resident Advisor identity / SOON_ / 2014
Resident Advisor identity / SOON_ / 2014

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