I got heavily involved in the Flash community and began going to conferences, contributing to Flash books for Friends of Ed and authoring for sites like K10K and Surfstation. It was the wild west of web design. Nothing had been done yet and the community was so small that everyone saw everything. There was a feeling that this was just the beginning of something truly amazing.

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

JD Hooge, "gridplane"

Your first web encounter, year etc.

I remember fumbling around with Netscape back in 1997-ish to set up my Hotmail account!

In ’98 I was learning Macromedia Director and soon after, Flash. My college classmates and I mastered Director Lingo and began publishing shockwave files to be viewed in a browser. Bandwidth was an issue though so we started using Flash to create lighter weight experiences for the web.

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

When I finished school, I started a design company with three friends, Craig Kroeger, Erik Natzke and Ty Lettau. It was called Fourm. This was in 2000.

We also started designing and creating fonts under the name Miniml. They were pixel fonts and they were made specifically for Flash. I'm fairly sure we were the first to do it and I should give all the credit for mastering the craft to Craig.

The goal was to just have crisp type in Flash because at the time, pretty much all typography in Flash was fuzzy. Miniml fonts were widely used for several years until screen resolutions began increasing and Flash was ultimately phased out. 

Around the same time, we were doing Flash sites for clients and lots of personal, side projects to push ourselves. We were hungry to learn and to make. We contributed to things like Gabe Kean’s Born Magazine and Josh Ulm’s Remedi Project.

I got heavily involved in the Flash community and began going to conferences, contributing to Flash books for Friends of Ed and authoring for sites like K10K and Surfstation.

It was the wild west of web design. Nothing had been done yet and the community was so small that everyone saw everything. There was a feeling that this was just the beginning of something truly amazing.

Probably the most notable client work that we did—way back then—was for an agency called Creative Edge. Gmunk did an "intro" animation for the site and we designed and built a minimal, fluid interface in Flash. That site, and its success, brought us to Amsterdam to retrieve our first Flash Film Festival award, and opened up a lot of opportunity for more great work. 

Your digital journey since.

After a couple years, the four of us decided to part ways and I headed to Portland, Oregon to work at Second Story Interactive Studios. At the time, they were at the very top of my list of places to work so I jumped at the opportunity.

Second Story was known for immersive websites full of rich stories and beautiful interfaces. I spent four years there designing web experiences and interactive installations for AIGA, National Geographic, Nintendo, National Gallery of Art and the National Archives.

At Second Story I collaborated with a brilliant team of storytellers and innovators with very high expectations. I also learned a lot about the nuances of running a successful, creative business from Julie Beeler and Brad Johnson, two of the smartest, most driven people on the planet.i've ever worked with.

In 2006, I left Second Story and started a small design studio with my wife Betsy, under the name Grid/plane. The idea was to take all that I had learned working on projects for museums and cultural institutions and apply it to brands.

In a typical project at Second Story, clients would hand heaping piles of content to us and our job was to sift through it, shape it into a compelling interactive experience online and in physical spaces.

For example: a project for the National Museum of American History titled “The Price of Freedom” examined how wars have shaped US history and American society. Or another for National Geographic called “Forces of Nature” explained the science behind the earth’s most violent natural disasters.

Probably my favorite project from my time at Second Story was The original AIGA design archives website, an extensive collection of design works, meant for research and reference.

These projects required deep understanding of the subject matter. I had to become intimately involved with the content and develop a keen eye for the bits and pieces that would tell the most compelling story.

In short, I became good at making the complex, simple. Finding the best angles and weaving narratives together to make for concise, meaningful experiences.

When I started Gridplane, I realized that this skill could be applied to brands.

I realized that every company on earth is becoming or has already become a technology company, whether they like it or not. Their options for how (and where, and how often) to tell their story are vast. New media types, new channels and an overall shifting digital landscape can make for a lot of complexity.

So, simple storytelling for brands, through design and digital experiences felt like a natural shift for me, and an exciting new challenge.

Gridplane highlights

Highlights from my time at Gridplane include a Sony “HDNA” campaign microsite, the Burst Labs site for music discovery, and site for photographer and deep-sea fisherman, Corey Arnold.

Gridplane + Instrument

Sometime in 2007, I met Justin Lewis. Justin and Vince LaVecchia were running a web development company in Portland valled Instrument. They were strong engineers with an eye for design. Gridplane was a strong design company with an eye for development.

We were a good match.

In early 2011, after working closely for several years, Gridplane and Instrument merged into one company. Instrument had more history and more employees at the time so we kept their name.

The plan was to embrace both design and development equally, allowing them to inform one another. We felt that by combining these disciplines and being more collaborative, we could be more innovative and ultimately create a better product.

We had around 20 employees. 

What are you up to now?

Fast forward a little over two years...

Instrument is a digital creative agency. We have around 75 employees. We are a multidisciplinary team of strategists, designers, producers, storytellers, animators, creative coders and filmmakers.

We have the same three owners, the same core values and the same goals as before: To love our jobs and do great, innovative work. We work hard to create a culture of collaboration and curiosity and kindness.

Instrument transforms a little bit each day. I shape it and I evolve with it. What do they say? “Innovation is iteration”? I couldn’t agree more with that.

Today, my job is Partner and Executive Creative Director. I oversee all the creative output of the studio and generally help run the business. My partners and I meet every other week and make decisions together. We discuss finanace, culture, clients and staff decisions.

I work on new-business and work closely with my creative directors to ensure the work we’re creating is the best it can be. I also actively creative direct a couple of projects at a time.

Back to storytelling

After several years of executing on digital briefs from brands like Nike, Google, Facebook, XBOX, OBEY and others, we're now moving into a new phase of digital storytelling.

In the past, we were handed stories. Content and initiatives and storylines were delivered to us and our job was to "bring it to life".

We’ve got that down. My teams can, no doubt, take a client brief from beginning to end and create beautiful, sophisticated digital experiences.

But the new phase that I’m talking about is beyond execution. We’ve been steadily moving to a position of helping to define and create the content, the stories, that we are delivering through digital experiences. We’re not just creating the recipe and doing the cooking. We’re creating the ingredients as well.

We’ve arrived here in what may seem like a roundabout way, but it actually makes perfect sense.

We mastered the technology first, the core of today’s companies. We’ve become experts at visual communication, from the powerful gestures of art direction to the nuances of interface behaviors. We’ve applied strategy and analysis of tech, design, social and consumer trends to everything we do.

And now, with all these elements as a base layer of understanding, we’re crafting the content from scratch. Creating stories about enthusiast brands, products and services and how they impact people’s lives.

Instrument Labs

About a year ago, we started an internal incubator team at Instrument. The team is dedicated to exploring ideas through design, motion, filmmaking, physical media installations and the intersections between -- using tomorrow's technologies to tell today's stories.

The Build is the first big release from Instrument Labs. Learn about the interactive documentary here: http://thebuildfilm.com 

Learn more about Labs here: http://weareinstrument.com/labs

JD Hooge, Then and Now
JD Hooge, Then and Now

Miniml.com, 2000
Miniml.com, 2000

Born Magazine project: Cafe du Cafe
Born Magazine project: Cafe du Cafe

The Price of Freedom, Americans at War
The Price of Freedom, Americans at War

AIGA Design Archives
AIGA Design Archives

Sony, HDNA
Sony, HDNA

Corey Arnold, photographer
Corey Arnold, photographer

Gridplane/Instrument merger
Gridplane/Instrument merger

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