I walk my dog and listen to podcasts. Every morning before work and every evening when I get home. I mostly listen to funny people talking to each other, it de-stresses me and that helps me keep a clear head and be more productive.
Please give us a brief bio of yourself.35 year old English creative director from the West Country. Moved to Amsterdam in 2001 to join a start-up: met a girl, bought a dog, had a kid, never went back. Currently running the creative department at Blast Radius Amsterdam.
What do you do for inspiration?I walk my dog and listen to podcasts. Every morning before work and every evening when I get home. I mostly listen to funny people talking to each other, it de-stresses me and that helps me keep a clear head and be more productive.
Please list 3 of your favourite sites.I used to go music shopping every Sunday and buy five or six new albums every time but a few years ago I digitized my whole collection and stopped buying hard copies. Pitchfork keeps me abreast of what’s happening and in touch with ‘the kidz’.
Being British, I believe everything the BBC tells me. They keep me up to date on worldly goings on and the Rugby/Footy/Cricket results.
Recently I was looking at a bunch of awesome old Flash sites from 5 years ago and a colleague was muttering about how the iPad killed web design - it’s an interesting point as we have devolved in some ways, but I do love the enforced focus on simplicity, navigation and information that we get with HTML5, today. A great example is the site of Joint London - I love it’s simple and tactile UX and approach to arranging information.
What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?
Making it around the world in one piece aged 18.
If you weren't working on the internet what would you be doing?
Having worked in this industry for more than a decade I’ve amassed a pretty long list of things that at various times I’d rather be doing... Property developer, kids book illustrator, luxury yacht deliverer, stray dogs saver, multi-instrumentalist, Ray Mears’ intern, movie director, sneaker designer, furniture maker... But then I realise that if I were actually doing any of those things I’d probably yearn for what I am actually doing right now. The grass is always greener and all that.
What's the longest you've ever stayed up working on a project?Surely there is no one in this industry who hasn’t ‘pulled an all-nighter’? One of my first jobs involved concepting for 24 hours on a last-minute mobile phone pitch, driving across London to an edit suite with the ideas in my back pocket to spend a further 12 hours making them into a sell-in film and then cabbing it to the airport to fly the tapes (yes, it was that long ago), to New York for the next morning’s presentation. I was freelancing at the time though, so I billed every minute.
If there are any pivotal experiences/decisions you could point to that helped shape your career, what would they be?
At the start of my career I turned down two good offers in London to join a start-up in Amsterdam. I moved over on a gut feeling and am still here eleven years later. That turned out to be a pretty pivotal decision and gave me confidence in my instinct. In terms of particular experiences, I think that the ones that have shaped my career most have been the negative ones. You learn a lot more during the hard times.
How many projects does your company juggle at any one time?Too many to count. I’m sure the project managers know, but I have no idea. We have multiple clients and each client has numerous initiatives, each with various tracks. So there is a lot of juggling going on.
In terms of software, is there anything new you have been playing with lately or that has impressed you?I’m not really a software buff myself. I watch people around me doing amazing things and I am in awe, but what excites me most is the degree of lateral thinking in action. From Ikea hacking to device modding and doing practically anything with a couple of XBox Kinects, everything is converging and anything is a new media.
The innovation in the app market is also astounding; I think it’s easy to overlook the excellence of a lot of the utilities we use every day. Take Instagram for example, so simple and such a pleasure to use - it’s genius.
Has winning FWA awards helped you in any way?Being recognized by the FWA is a good sign that you’re doing something right. It’s ‘insider’ so you know it represents appreciation from the right people.
When dealing with major clients, how difficult is it to meet the needs of such wide target audiences?
Very difficult. And it is made more complicated with international work where the audience differs from region to region and country to country. The mistake it’s often easy to make is to try too hard to cater to everyone, whereas carefully targeting a very precise minority may pay dividends. Getting a few people very excited will spread work a lot further than getting a lot of people lightly agitated.
Have you written any books, if not do you plan to?No books. I have a pretty short attention span and take my hat off to anyone who can toil at a novel for years without losing the plot. Having said that, I love writing. I have a vague idea for a book of exceedingly short stories that may see the light one day if I find the right illustrator to bring it to life.
Are there things you do OUTSIDE of work to ensure that you are in the right mindset to be creative and/or successful in whatever you are doing?Like I mentioned earlier, keeping the stress levels down helps me be more productive and puts me in the frame of mind to be inspired. I try to be pretty strict with myself about work time and family time – having a young child is a good reminder of what the most important projects are. But it’s definitely getting harder to switch off these days – what’s with in-flight wifi?! The last bastion of enforced relaxation is about to be blown to smithereens.
What was the last digital effort you saw (or were a part of) that used social media in a way that really made sense. Why?Sometimes it is the least flashy, most under-the-radar projects that really leverage social best. One of our oldest clients at Blast Radius is Starbucks. We have created numerous social campaigns for them based on incredibly simple hooks - be it a free pastry with every coffee, or an augmented reality experience triggered by a cup - which have resonated powerfully and quickly with the huge social following the brand has amassed. It’s not rocket science, and it’s not always sexy, but it works!
I also loved an initiative that Dutch Airline KLM started this year, called Meet & Seat. It allows ticket-holders to upload details from their Facebook or LinkedIn profiles and use the data to choose seatmates. Whether I would use it myself, I’m not sure, but I love the principle.
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?Absolutely. Not many briefs I see garner responses that are exclusively digital. Our job is about reaching people. Understanding how we can use digital to do that puts us at an advantage, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider other media.
Looking 10 years in to the future, how far can websites go?I think websites, as we think of them today, will gradually converge into great, amorphous, personalized spaces (probably run by Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google). The concept of ‘visiting’ a site will disappear because the content will visit you.
Of all the websites you/your company have produced, which one are you most proud of?
We are currently working on a new brand site for one of our clients and I think it’s going to be amazing. At a time when the role of brand sites is a bit unclear, it has been very refreshing to take our time and think about what this one should be, from the ground up.
How difficult do you find employing the right people in a world where everyone calls themselves a web designer?
Finding the right people is an incredibly difficult task. There are some amazing specialists out there but the tougher challenge seems to be finding people who are great at the basics: writing, typography, presenting an idea.
When your company was just getting started, what did you find was most effective for getting new clients?
Blast Radius was 13 years old when I joined. The back catalogue of work here is so strong that it can be incredibly persuasive for potential clients. The other thing that is often overlooked is going after the right partners in the first place. The right client will share your ambition and get excited about the same things you do. If you’re not on the same page from the outset, you’re better off without each other.
How do you keep your finger on the pulse of the latest web trends?
I try to make time to keep up to date on a few blogs. I talk to people who know more than me. And I read magazines on flights.
What country excites you the most in terms of innovation?I don’t think you can really look at it from that perspective. There are lots of exciting companies doing incredibly innovative work in all fields, but the talent behind that innovation invariably comes from all over the world.
There must be a project that you have always dreamed of doing, what is it?There are lots. When I was a student I had an idea for a kitchen timer combined with an odour detector that would alert you when it was safe to enter a recently-used bathroom. Still think that has a place on the market (anyone reading this and fancies a slice of the action, let me know). I want to make a film about a love affair between a commuter and a toll-booth attendant, and another one about the underground world of extreme hide-n-seek. I’d also love to make an elaborate interactive music project in collaboration with Kieran Hebdon AKA Four Tet – one of the most innovative musicians I know (give me a bell if you're reading, Kieran).
What does the future hold for your company, or you as a person?Progress, learning and more success.
What are you excited about learning next and is there a long term challenge you are considering tackling?
I really want to find the time to learn how to design using 3D software. I’d also like to learn to play a new instrument, although I find it hard to decide between the piano, the banjo and, most recently the tuba.
What is the most expensive thing you have bought in the last week?
An emergency passport - I just lost mine.
Any parting shots or pearls of wisdom?
Get a dog and walk it.