.

I blame Steve Jobs. At that time the uni had just taken delivery of 10 new Apple Macintosh Centris 650s. You know that feeling when someone you’ve never seen before walks around the corner, and their luminescent beauty leaves you dumbfounded, and right there and then you know that your life has just changed forever? That was me the day I walked in to find the first Mac being unboxed. All I wanted to know was how it worked, what we could do, and where we would go together.


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

My name is James. ‘Jamie’ to my family. ‘Twatface’ to my sister. ‘James’ to everyone else. Please don’t ever call me ‘Jim’.

I flit between a couple of handles these days; mostly it’s jameshiltonesq, but sometimes madeinakqa.

My first ever one was in 1996 for the avatar-based chat room The Palace http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Palace_(computer_program), which was ‘FaLLen’ – suitably Goth and cybery. Look, it seemed cool at the time ok?

Anyway, FaLLen’s avatar was the image of Sickboy from Trainspotting, and so everyone just called me Sicky. Which only goes to prove it’s not what you say but what they see.

I loved The Palace. It was for a very long time my social life, and as I was at AKQA for about 18 hours a day, it was the only way I could have one anyway.


Your first web encounter, year etc.

My first experience of digital was the BBC Model B computer at primary school, where I learnt Basic and spent my days in the time-honoured tradition of going into Dixons and quickly inputting ‘10 print “cock”; 20 goto 10’ on all their computers.

A flashing ‘James is skill’ also formed part of my repertoire. Endless fun. Right up until the man from Dixons came to my school. Lesson learnt: if you’re going to write cock, don’t do it in school uniform.

My web cherry, however, was taken by a man called Hillary. True story.

I didn’t go to uni so much as use their facilities. A mixture of bad luck, good luck, laziness and the wondrous benefits of living at my parents (car, laundry, cooking, TV, no bills) led me to Southampton. I’d applied to Central St Martins and failed. Not even Salisbury College of Art wanted me. That sucked quite a lot, I can tell you. Salisbury!?

I was enrolled on a Graphic Design HND. I say enrolled, as my actual participation in the actual briefs was, at best, cavalier.

I blame Steve Jobs. At that time the uni had just taken delivery of 10 new Apple Macintosh Centris 650s. You know that feeling when someone you’ve never seen before walks around the corner, and their luminescent beauty leaves you dumbfounded, and right there and then you know that your life has just changed forever? That was me the day I walked in to find the first Mac being unboxed. All I wanted to know was how it worked, what we could do, and where we would go together.

Southampton, it turned out, while not being where I wanted to be, was exactly where I needed to be.

One year later: Photoshop without layers and one undo, Director Lingo, Aldus PageMaker, 33MB SyQuest drives, The Cure.

I’d heard about this internet thing before. Two days before, in fact, when I’d asked a lecturer of mine, Hillary (cherry-taker and liker of clogs/Rohan trousers combos), about its possibilities.

Hillary’s response didn’t exactly fill me with confidence: ‘Don’t be silly. It’s just for academic papers.’ Arse.

Skip forward two days and I’m sitting with Paul Carry, one of the Computer Room assistants and general design hero (to me anyway), drinking instant coffee and smoking. He tells me they’ve just had the internet installed. ‘Have you been on it yet?’ I ask. ‘Not yet. Shall we download something?’ ‘Absofuckinglutely.’

Paul had bought a computer magazine that week, which had the addresses of user groups in it. For our first ever venture on to the Information Superhighway (one of the most important inventions in human history), we selected alt.binaries.girls.

As we sat there for the next half hour watching in wonder as the two-bit, 50kb image of a Page 3 girl downloaded line by excruciatingly long line, my love affair with this new technology was solidified. And not in a dirty way. Well, not right then, anyway.

Your digital journey since, and what are you up to now?

Zip forward 20 exhilarating, nervous breakdown-inducing, fucking knackering but insanely brilliant years, and here I am, writing about myself for an article called ‘Pioneers’. I find that hilarious and terrifying in equal measure.

Those 20 years have changed me though in ways I could never have imagined, and taken AKQA and myself to places I wouldn’t have thought possible.

I’ve learnt an extraordinary amount – not simply about our work, but far more importantly, about myself and how to deal with whatever life throws at me. I suppose I know who I am now. It’s like the last two decades have been training for what comes next, and I’ve never been more excited or hungry.

Right this second though, having recently finished the first round of judging for an awards show, I’m contemplating that excitement and hunger, and the cruel truth that boredom can’t actually kill you.

I’m surprised that they asked me to do it at all. Word gets around, you see, and the last time I was on a jury I was accused of being bullying and pugnacious. Which was fine by me – mainly because I hadn’t the faintest idea what ‘pugnacious’ meant. Not until someone told me anyway. I’d like to say I’d never been so insulted in my entire life, but that wouldn’t be even remotely true.

Judging awards is a lot like war (just replace the senseless killing with senseless strategies and you’re there): hours of monotony punctuated with moments of excitement and surprise. That’s not being rude; it’s simply a reflection of what (apparently) most of the world passes off as ‘good work’.

Being on an awards jury is the looking-glass view into a petri dish-sized slice of the industry – you see it all as a microcosm. And much of it isn’t pretty. It does make me wonder though how many jurors go into some kind of creative septic shock after seeing it all, and simply run away to start a new life doing something more meaningful.

Of course, you can also look upon this cornucopia of tat and see the opportunity that lies within: to change how this world works, to make things that have meaning and worth for the people who have this shit inflicted upon them day in, day out. Namely us, the people of planet Earth.

Clearly I, AKQA, and our clients, are very much on the side of opportunity. This was the very reason we began. Ajaz once (overly generously) said of me that I had ‘done more to rid the world of multi-mediocrity than anyone else he knew’. He’s a gent, but I think he’s done far more than me in that respect.

Be that as it may, the message is appropriate to any individual or company that desires a better world. A world in which brands and their agencies strive to produce products and services that enhance and improve people’s lives, bringing them authentic benefit, reducing marketing interruption and pollution, and thereby creating a world where the relationship between brands, agencies and audiences is symbiotic and mutually gratifying, rather than parasitic and self-serving. Sounds pretty good to me.


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James Hilton... Then (1996)
James Hilton... Then (1996)

James Hilton... Then (1998)
James Hilton... Then (1998)

James Hilton... Now
James Hilton... Now



AKQA Ideas: Vol 1 (2004)
AKQA Ideas: Vol 1 (2004)

AKQA Ideas: Vol 1 (2004)
AKQA Ideas: Vol 1 (2004)



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