The most important experience I had was before I even started my design studies. At the time, I had started an apprenticeship to become a “technical draughtswoman”. A profession leaving little scope for creativity. For me it became clear: if you want to be really good at what you do then you must do something you really love.
Hello! My name is Alina Schlaier and I am creative director at denkwerk. Since 1997 I have been passionately committed to my work as a visual designer for digital media.
What do you do for inspiration?
I of course seek and gain inspiration from good sites in the net. But from films, nature or everyday things I photograph too. However, the best visual ideas I have come from browsing through illustrated books and product design books. Probably because extrapolating a visual idea from one medium to another generates fresh stimulus. In the case of some projects, however, the form is derived uncompromisingly from the function. Such as in the case of the CalendarWatch app, for example.
How many hours do you work each week?
I work approx. 50 hours each week. I previously worked 60 hours and more. Today I can focus my ideas more quickly on what counts; that is the advantage experience can bring.
How do you relax or unwind?
For me the best way to relax or wind down is to laze around, whereby I always switch off my mobile and computer. I also like travelling. That’s ideal for recharging the batteries and gathering new impressions.
What's your favourite part of your job? What's the hardest part of your job? What do you do when you get stuck?
The most exciting part is bringing form and function into aesthetic harmony with one another. It is precisely here that you have the possibility of creating something great. You have to try lots of things out. And ultimately you often have a result you yourself find surprising, whereby there are always phases too in which persistence and patience are called for. Otherwise you end up with a run-of-the-mill solution. When the going gets tough, what helps me above all is interacting with my colleagues to develop new ideas and design approaches.
If there are any pivotal experiences/decisions you could point to that helped shape your career, what would they be?
The most important experience I had was before I even started my design studies. At the time, I had started an apprenticeship to become a “technical draughtswoman”. A profession leaving little scope for creativity. For me it became clear: if you want to be really good at what you do then you must do something you really love. My next move was to finish my first apprenticeship to then immediately start on my design studies.
In terms of software, is there anything new you have been playing with lately or that has impressed you?
The possibilities offered by Kinect of interlinking the digital and the real world by way of gestures I find extremely exciting. All the more so because this technology is affordable for virtually everybody and is easy to handle. We are currently experimenting a lot in the area of “tactile interfaces”. For this, Kinect is ideally suited.
Who is your target audience?
The target audience we are addressing at any given time always depends on the project concerned. We attempt to obtain feedback from genuine users at an early a stage as possible. Then what counts is to allow this to feed into the design and, at the same time, meet optimum aesthetic standards.
When dealing with major clients, how difficult is it to meet the needs of such wide target audiences?
To meet the most diverse needs is of course always a challenge. Sound analysis is just as important for this as are interviews with users and critical interaction with colleagues. We always adopt an iterative approach to design by taking small steps. In this way, we can consistently improve our results and meet users’ requirements increasingly well.
The web is getting out of the web. Do you find that thinking in digital solutions alone hinders you? Do you feel the urge to solve the problem using all mediums necessary?
No medium stands alone. Above all in the design of digital products and services, we think beyond the web. For visual design too, it is vital to know what happens prior to visiting a website and what happens afterwards. In the case of our projects, it is often a matter of designing a service not merely a website or an app. And that is precisely the approach we adopt for our projects.
Looking 10 years in to the future, how far can websites go?
Nobody can possibly know that. I already have problems with the term “website”. But in 10 years there will still be solutions that stand out from the rest and thought worthy of winning awards. The future of FWA can therefore be considered safe!
There is perhaps a shift in web use these days. We are seeing a decline in purely experimental sites in flash with huge production efforts towards a relationship with clients based on tools and services that often have simple interfaces. How do you see that trend developing? Will Flash suffer?
It always depends on the goal that is being pursued. An experimental flash site makes sense if it serves the purpose of the matter concerned. It is often the case with our projects that a service concept is the focus. In such cases, simplicity is a central design objective. But precisely visual reduction can also be highly attractive. Principally speaking, our focus is always on users. Whichever technology is then used tends to be of secondary importance.
What are your views on design/graphic school. Do you think someone can get into the field without educational experience in a school environment?
Studying design and related areas is definitely a good basis. Especially in Germany, however, design studies are often very theoretical with purely design aspects not receiving sufficient attention. Anyone unable or unwilling to study can find a wealth of information on design and related areas on the Internet. Access to this is no longer restricted to universities and colleges such that you can acquire sound skills by way of your own research and learning. Whichever path you choose: the necessary talent is an absolute essential.
How difficult do you find employing the right people in a world where everyone calls themselves a web designer?
It is at the very least not easy to find the right people. As we work in a highly interdisciplinary and team-oriented manner, it is not merely a matter of design skills. It is equally important that you get on well with the people around you. That the person concerned is open and capable of handling criticism. And that you can work well together.
When your company was just getting started, what did you find was most effective for getting new clients?
Excellent work is the best recommendation. This gets passed on quickly by word of mouth, you are recommended to others and you, of course, attract the attention of the media too.
How do you keep your finger on the pulse of the latest web trends?
At denkwerk, we have set up various ways of doing this. Firstly, we have colleagues who observe trends and report on them. Secondly, we regularly invite experts from outside to come and give talks. And, last but not least, we have created out own innovations laboratory called denkwerk thinx which does a lot of experimenting and explores new trends.
What are you excited about learning next and is there a long term challenge you are considering tackling?
It is my aim to free myself of conventions as far as possible and design in a completely intuitive way. In the very near future, this will involve me notably distancing myself even further from standard tools that lead you totally subconsciously in a direction you might not even want to go in.
It has been a privilege, thanks very much
Thank you too.