In 2001 we won the Interactive BAFTA in the interface design category with a product that wasn’t available to buy – we were told the judges became obsessed with it.

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

Vassilios Alexiou, Less Rain 

Your first web encounter, year etc. 

I was not into computers as a kid;

I accidentally enrolled in a Computer Engineering University course in 1986, when my uncle told me it that ‘Computers Are the Future’.

I was not that excited to begin with; I was mainly interested in music and art and I could not see how computers could help me in that pursuit, despite my nerdy colleagues raving about their Amiga’s ‘excellent’ musical capabilities. Somehow, I was not that impressed by the advent of the VGA card either. 

I was itching to flex my creative muscles, so I started publishing a fanzine with a friend, using a photocopier. After about a year, one of my co-students, a guy that later got involved into inventing Bluetooth, suggested we used computers to publish it.

I had an Amstrad 512 already, found a copy of WordPerfect and DrawPerfect and used our University’s sole Laser Printer to print it.  

By 1988, I got involved heavily into Radio. I loved the idea of publishing thoughts and music instantly on air, then interacting with people that would call in. Little did I know the Internet would do the same for me some years later. 

But the early nineties our fanzine was a proper magazine. We build a design studio where we would take on any design challenge, from nightclub posters, to branding Ski Resorts to printing packaging for fast food chains. It was all powered by DTP of course, but I still could not really see the computer as a self-expression tool, or something to create real art with. 

What I did know was that I was getting tired of the prevalent culture in Greece at the time, with creativity resembling something of a disease. I decided to look for an MA in the UK, and stumbled upon a few courses that were about ‘Interactive Media’ and ‘Multi-media’ – words I had never really heard of.

What I did gather was that these were courses where I could combine the coding skills I had acquired but had no use for, with my interest in music, film and design. I could build my own audio-visual interactive experiences, with next to no budget and no crew.  

I applied for the Design for Interactive Media Course in Middlessex University, and was introduced to the wonderful world of Macromedia Director and Lingo in September 1996. I set myself to become a Lingo Master – I was enchanted by the possibilities of what code could do, so I declared John Maeda as my hero, announced the ‘death of the author’ and set on to create emotional interactive work. 

We were assuming we would deliver all this work in the form of a CD-ROM, when one day, our Tutor, Gordon Davies, mentioned that Director could ‘shock’ the content in Shockwave format and make it accessible on the World Wide Web.

Now I knew about BBS’s and IRC, but I did not think the web could be used for anything more than text and a few images. Could we really put our work on the Web? Then we saw the first Antirom site and that was it – bingo. 

My first web project was called ‘Cyderspace’. Build in collaboration with Lars Eberle and Ines Pach, it was a working prototype for a student online community, and the brief for the 1997 student D&AD awards, set by Apple.

We knew we had to keep file sizes as low as possible, so we created this surreal monochrome world, full of enigmatic, playful interfaces and minimal sci-fi sounds. We had no real interest using the existing Apple brand, so we made up our own, dystopian, post-industrial, futuristic take. 

But the time we learned we won the award, we had spent an intense year of experimentation, cut-off from the rest of the world, not realizing we had carved off this niche for ourselves. Me and Lars teamed up officially, and Less Rain was born.  

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

Once we finished our MA, we needed to make money, so we worked half the time as subcontractors, building ambitious shockwave projects for VW and Sony Playstation, the latter being an interactive online narrative featuring a sock puppet as an agony aunt and an insecure dinosaur.  

The other half of our time, we started work on what would eventually become Walter the Fish, the first www.LessRain.com site, released mid-1998.

>> http://www.lessrain.com/web/main/shock/index.htm

The site featured a grouper called Walter that we bought in Billingsgate Market and offered five different representations of the same content; a shockwave one where all the exciting multi-media stuff was in, a rich HTML one, an HTML version featuring only standard elements (radio buttons, checkboxes etc.), an HTML version with text descriptions of what was supposed to be happening on the page and some fiction, and finally a totally blank version.

Each of the versions was visually represented by a different state of Walter, from alive to gutted, cooked, eaten and thrown in the rubbish bin. That was our humorous take on how to downgrade a rich interactive experience to match the speed of your Internet connection; a bit like a responsive site, but to your internet connection rather than your screen size.

Walter the Fish provided the structure that would house all our online experiments, art projects and select client projects between 1997 and 2000 – all in Shockwave. We started expanding the Less Rain team including photographers, architects, musicians and writers, and doing collaborative projects. The spine of Water started filling up with projects like an interactive photographic narrative with the late Craig Hutchins about his brother Al, an interactive documentary about Thamesmead Southmere - where ‘Clockwork Orange’ was shot - featuring a ‘build your own high rise’ game, a interactive lesson on how to eat oysters backed by an Operatic soundtrack and dozens others. 

Walter the fish became our calling card – it showed the rest of the world what we were capable of doing and got us peer recognition and for the first time, our own clients.  

Your digital journey since.  

It seemed annoying at the time, but some clients started complaining that people would not bother waiting to download the three or four Mb that the Shockwave plug-in often needed in order to access the work.

It was 1999 and although Flash offered a much less attractive alternative in terms of what you could do with code, it was only 500k of a download. So we slowly dropped the Shockwave projects and by 2001 we were mainly working with Flash.  

2000 saw the release of EYES ONLY, an art experiment in the from of a CD-ROM and web project that invited people to observe on screen 24 different locations and capture unusual occurrences that may or may not be UFOs.

The project was a piece of minimalist multimedia and entirely fictional, however, people seemed to respond to this kind of role-playing – even though there might be nothing happening on screen for 10 minutes. We printed 1000 copies, handed them to interesting people we met and also sent a copy to BAFTA – the British Academy of Film and Television Awards.

In 2001 we won the Interactive BAFTA in the interface design category with a product that wasn’t available to buy – we were told the judges became obsessed with it. 

The majority of our work by now was commercial – websites, games and customized interactive experiences for Red Bull, Mitsubishi, Sega, VW, NEC, Nike, Getty Images, the BBC and the Barbican. We found success doing what we really liked, and purposely kept it small and selective to make sure it stays interesting. 

For a long time, our main client was Red Bull – we build dozens of mini-sites, games like Red Bull Flightlab and Red Bull Soapbox Racer, a Flash-based Intranet with a modular, customizable interface, as well as the Red Bull Racing and www.redbull.com sites. We still do a lot of work for Red Bull but thankfully do not depend that much on them. 

We opened offices in Berlin (2002) and Japan (2005), and experienced how it feels when you are cut into too many pieces. 

At the dawn of the current decade, we found ourselves expanding our client list from agencies and brands to start-ups and publishers and continued to deliver customized, rich interactive work across platforms and technologies. We worked with Somesuch & Co and The Brooklyn Brothers to deliver ‘Being Henry’ for Land Rover, with start-up Made in Me to deliver ‘The Land of Me’, produced ‘Insanely Driven’ - an interactive film that reveals your personality - as well as mobile apps for Victorinox and Sony. 

What are you up to now?

I am still doing what I love – looking at the intersection of marketing, content and product development for innovative interactive ideas.

Technologies and design trends come and go, but what has remained constant is my passion for crafting meaningful and moving work.

Ideas are businesses nowadays, and we often get asked to solve business problems. This is very fulfilling, especially since we can measure what we do and improve.

We find ourselves working closer with clients to help them with product development – a lot of what we have been involved recently are interactive products that deliver real value. Finally, digital has proven it can be more than just another platform for advertising.

We still do a lot of self-initiated work, which we release as our own products and experiments – this is still how we learn new things.

Our Interface and UX design is much friendlier than it used to be, but part of me is missing the enigmatic and inquisitive nature of some of our earlier work. People’s attention span on the web has dropped so low, we often have to start an interactive experience with the biggest tune we have, and from the chorus.

How about having a captive audience, submitting them into several minutes of cacophony and confusion, then as the landscape clears emerge with a minimal bleep that slowly builds up to the most amazing crescendo? Free improv anyone? NO? Ok then, back to the two-minute pop song…

Vassilios Alexiou, Then and Now
Vassilios Alexiou, Then and Now

All rights reserved © 2000 - 2016 Favourite Website Awards (FWA) -  Terms & Conditions -  Privacy statement -  Cookie Policy -  Advertise -  About FWA -  Contact