3D gesture motion and interaction will be fun tools of the future.

question Please give us a brief bio of yourselves.

James Safechuck: I am a Senior Engineering Lead at AvatarLabs.  I have been working in the digital industry for over 9 years.  I think of myself as a technical/creative person.  I love spending time with my family and learning new things that I can apply to my work.

Nicole Karon: I am a Producer at AvatarLabs and have worked in digital/interactive marketing for over 7 years. Not surprisingly, I like strategy and structure, but I like it best in a creative outlet. On the side I’m doing my best to test out every cookbook I can get my hands on.

Branislav Cirkovic: I am a Senior Art Director at AvatarLabs. I was born and raised in Belgrade, Serbia and moved to southern California at the age of 23. I have been in the industry for over 11 years as a designer, thinker, developer and animator. I like to think of myself as maker of digital things and thoughts. Also lover of LA, photography, food and art.

Anette Hughes: Born and raised in Sweden (on Meatballs and Lingonberries). I lived in New York for about 5 years before heading west to Los Angeles. I worked in print (branding, packaging etc.) when I first started out in the creative field, but moved into the interactive space around 1998. I work as a Creative Director at AvatarLabs.

What do you do for inspiration?

Branislav Cirkovic: Anything outdoors, walking, taking pictures… but I also love to get lost on the Internet or in a bookstore.

Anette Hughes: Traveling – seeing new places inspires me, meeting new people and changing my perspective, getting out of my comfort zone, listening to music and reading.

Please list 3 of your favourite sites.

Branislav Cirkovic: freundevonfreunden.com, google.com, gorevolver.com

Anette Hughes: Changes all the time. http://www.notcot.org/, http://www.fastcocreate.com/ http://www.youtube.com/

What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?

James Safechuck: Besides my family, I think getting paid for something I find fun is a big achievement.

Branislav Cirkovic: Moving to America.

Anette Hughes: My son Lukas.

How many hours do you work each week?

James Safechuck: It depends on the project I’m on.  It can range from 40 to 60 hours.

Branislav Cirkovic:  I try to keep it well-balanced around 40, but I would also like to quote Picasso “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working”. So in that sense I don’t think I ever stop working.

Anette Hughes: It varies, maybe 40 – 50 hours. It depends what you consider work. I often do project related research and writing at home, late at night. I’m a night person.

How do you relax or unwind?

James Safechuck: I like to see live bands, watch football or go to the movies.

Nicole Karon: I’m either experimenting in the kitchen or have my nose in a book.

Branislav Cirkovic: Hang out with my best friend, my wife.

Anette Hughes: Spend time with my family, hiking, going to the beach, reading, having a nice dinner, seeing friends or falling asleep to some old movie or a trashy TV show.

If you weren't working on the internet what would you be doing?

James Safechuck: Let’s not go there.

Nicole Karon: Honestly, I can’t even imagine it. The Internet is an integral part of my life.

Branislav Cirkovic: Architect or photographer.

Anette Hughes: Work in a field that would enable me to travel and explore new places and situations. I might be sourcing interesting products all over the world.

What's your favourite part of your job? What's the hardest part of your job? What do you do when you get stuck?

James Safechuck: I am usually having fun when I’m doing something new.  The hardest part of the job can be when the timeline gets drastically cut and the amount of work stays the same.  When I get stuck on a problem I try to relax and let my subconscious work it out.  The solution or an idea will usually present itself in a few days, probably at 4am.  Hopefully I have a few days to spare.

Nicole Karon: Working on a cutting-edge project is always exhilarating, but more often than not, what makes me happiest is being surrounded by smart people and the camaraderie that comes with great teamwork. As far as difficulties go, keeping a consistent workload balance for all team members is always a challenge. 

Branislav Cirkovic: My favorite part would be the evolution of the industry and platforms, there is always something new to try, explore and utilize. Hardest part would be capturing the essence of the aesthetics as well as the narrative and keeping it cohesive as the project evolves - because when changes happen they happen quickly. When a problem arises I don’t always face it directly, solutions always present themselves when I’m not working or thinking about the problem.

Anette Hughes: My favorite part is the concepting phase – kicking off a new project, before you start considering all the limitations anything is possible. Learning new things is also a favorite part of my job; our field is always evolving so there is always something new to learn. Least favorite: really short deadlines.

What's the longest you've ever stayed up working on a project?

Nicole Karon: You don’t want to know.

Branislav Cirkovic: Waaaay tooo long.

Anette Hughes: Probably when I worked in print. In the beginning of my career I did a lot of late nights and weekends.

If there are any pivotal experiences/decisions you could point to that helped shape your career, what would they be?

Branislav Cirkovic: I would say not being afraid to step out of my confront zone into the unknown helped me grow and learn many new things.

Anette Hughes: When I was going to college and one of my friends asked me why I only talked about my design and photography elective classes and never talked about any classes in my major (my plan was to work in sports medicine and physical therapy).  That’s when I realized I needed to change major and commit to a career in design.

What software could you not live without?

James Safechuck: A browser.

Nicole Karon: Ditto.

Branislav Cirkovic: Photoshop and Skype.

Anette Hughes: All of the above.

In terms of software, is there anything new you have been playing with lately or that has impressed you?

Branislav Cirkovic: 3D gesture motion and interaction will be fun tools of the future.

Who do you rate as being the top 3 design companies?

Branislav Cirkovic: FI, Hello Monday, North Kingdom

Anette Hughes: B-Reel, Fi, North Kingdom

What area of web design lacks the most?

James Safechuck:  Typography.  I often see really cool designs with not much time spent on the type.  Also, I love responsive web design, but I don’t like it when it just looks like a grid.

Nicole Karon:  Too often I see sites that didn’t put enough effort into UI and UX.

Anette Hughes: Good and interesting typography, great and relevant relevant sound design and originality.

Are there any websites that have shone through as being pioneering in the last 5 years or so?

James Safechuck:  I like the re-design of USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/ It’s a step in the right direction.

Branislav Cirkovic: Been loving second screen experiences such as http://www.chrome.com/supersyncsports/

Anette Hughes: Wilderness Downtown Project is one that really stood out to me when it first launched.

Has winning FWA awards helped you in any way?

James Safechuck: We’ll see at my next annual review.  It’s always been a personal goal, so that part feels good.

Anette Hughes: It’s very flattering for the agency and the team to win a FWA award.

When dealing with major clients, how difficult is it to meet the needs of such wide target audiences?

Nicole Karon:  No matter who the target audience is, you must cater to their specific needs. Catering toward different target audiences is what keeps things interesting.

What did your very first site look like? Is it still online?

Branislav Cirkovic: It was for a tire export-import company where my mom worked, I still like to blame her for getting me into web design. Fortunately the site it is not online anymore.

Anette Hughes: I think it was a site for the Rosie O’Donnell show in 1998 – lots of flash rollovers and bright colors.

Have you written any books, if not do you plan to?

Branislav Cirkovic: I’m sure this desire will present itself later in life.

Anette Hughes: No, but I would love to do a children’s book with lots of fun illustrations and doodles.

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?

James Safechuck: When you do something you enjoy it becomes part of your daily life.  Outside of work I am usually either reading a programming book, looking through source code, or coding something.  I also enjoy design and UX so I include that as part of my daily consumption.

Branislav Cirkovic: I’m always seeking for ideas and inspiration by experimenting and exploring the new and unknown. Whether that may be a small art or photography project it always benefits me in the long run.

Anette Hughes: I go to Euro Trash Night most Friday nights. It’s kind of a secret thing so I can’t go into detail, but it puts me in the right mindset for anything.

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?

Anette Hughes: I think political campaigns use social media very effectively in a variety of ways.

Have you been a part of a campaign that was rooted in digital and THEN reached over into other consumer touchpoints? Did this happen organically or was it a part of the plan from the beginning?

Anette Hughes: Yes, animations that were done for web and then reused in trailers and TV spots. Also web designs that influenced the look of print. This usually happened organically on the projects that I have been part of.

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?

James Safechuck: At AvatarLabs our first priority is a good idea, it doesn’t have to be in the digital medium.  As long as it’s interesting and engaging we will pitch it to the client.

Nicole Karon: Although AvatarLabs is a digital agency, we rarely limit ourselves to thinking about digital alone. Sometimes using other mediums is precisely the thing that takes a digital idea to another level.

Branislav Cirkovic: Seeing the big picture and grand result is what matters, regardless of technology and execution.

Anette Hughes: I like that digital is constantly evolving. Having options to use different mediums to communicate with audiences is a plus.

Looking 10 years in to the future, how far can websites go?

James Safechuck:  That’s a tough question.  I’m really not sure where it’s going but what I do look forward to is the blending of great design with really useful applications…  things that are visually and technically beautiful.

Branislav Cirkovic: Outside of the flat screen.

Anette Hughes: I don’t know what websites will look like in 10 years – I think digital content, applications and sites will be more integrated into our environment, into wearable items such as Google Glass, bracelets, clothing, bags, sneakers and beyond.

Of all the websites you/your company have produced, which one are you most proud of?

James Safechuck: I am most proud of this FWA win - the Pacific Rim Pan Pacific Defense Corps website.  Not just because the final product is great, but because of how the team worked together.  It was a fun collaborative effort.

Nicole Karon: This is the website I am also most proud of – the entire process was nothing but fun and I think you can actually see how much we enjoyed working together in the end result.

Branislav Cirkovic: The PPDC was a blast!

Do you think Flash is here to stay?

James Safechuck: Is it still here?

Branislav Cirkovic: Yes, as a tool.

Anette Hughes: Not much is here to stay.

There is perhaps a shift in web use these days. We are seeing a decline in the purely experiential sites in flash with huge production efforts, to a relationship with clients based on tools and services, that many times have simples interfaces. How do you see that trend developing? Will Flash suffer?

Anette Hughes: Yes I think Flash will suffer, but I hope that experimental sites that surprise us, touch us emotionally and inspire us will continue to be part of the mix.

What are your views on design/graphic school. Do you think someone can get into the field without educational experience in a school environment?

James Safechuck:  I think it depends on the person.

Branislav Cirkovic: Being self-taught I would say that a design education can help set the base. It is you that decides how far you want to go. Interest and commitment are what sets you apart and helps you succeed.

Anette Hughes: Yes it’s possible. If you don’t go to a design school you need to surround yourself with really good mentors.

If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring FWA award submitter, what advice would you give them?

Branislav Cirkovic: Never take no for an answer, you are your own limit.

Anette Hughes: Be original, push yourself, find good mentors and care about what you do.

How difficult do you find employing the right people in a world where everyone calls themselves a web designer?

James Safechuck:  It’s really difficult to find good people on the creative and technical side.  It’s hard to tell if someone is a good fit until you’ve worked with them for a bit.

Anette Hughes: It’s difficult. You do have a portfolio to look at, but some designers show work that they had very little to do with so you still need to ask a lot of questions to figure out their skill level and if they are passionate about design and pushing themselves to do really good work.

What would be your ultimate vehicle to travel in?

James Safechuck: The Super Star Destroyer Executor

Branislav Cirkovic: Time machine. Not sure how LA traffic proof that is…

Anette Hughes: Not sure, maybe a Jet Pack? I don’t love driving, but I think I would like piloting a Jet Pack.

When your company was just getting started, what did you find was most effective for getting new clients?

James Safechuck: Doing the best work we could with the clients we currently had helped attract new clients and new work.

How do you keep your finger on the pulse of the latest web trends?

James Safecuck: Reading and co-workers.  Cool things spread fast.

Anette Hughes: Endlessly surfing the web, reading, looking at sites like FWA and TED, and hearing from friends and co-workers. I do think it’s dangerous to get too wrapped up and influenced by what other people are doing; it can hinder you from creating something unique and fresh. You need to take inspiration from places other than just the web.

What country excites you the most in terms of innovation?

Anette Hughes: US, England, Brazil, Sweden. 

There must be a project that you have always dreamed of doing, what is it?

Anette Hughes: So many – including some sort of great digital experience for travelers and a project for IKEA.

What does the future hold for your company, or you as a person?

James Safechuck: Babies and work.

Anette Hughes: Learning and evolving.

What is the most expensive thing you have bought in the last week?

James Safechuck: Dinner.

Branislav Cirkovic: A candle.

Anette Hughes:  Something for my son – a used surfboard.


Anette - Creative Director
Anette - Creative Director

James – Senior Engineering Lead
James – Senior Engineering Lead

Branislav – Senior Art Director
Branislav – Senior Art Director

Nicole - Producer
Nicole - Producer

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