The thing that drives me is coming up with creative solutions to other people's problems, and where possible doing this in a way which hasn't been done before. The hardest thing is not being 'hands-on' anymore.
Please give us a brief bio of yourself.
I’ve been creating ‘stuff’ for over 30 years, from punk fanzines in the late 70s to content for new media platforms now.
My interest in design started in the late ‘70s when I began producing fanzines. After failing to complete a degree in Zoology I continued to design and print self-published magazines until the mid eighties when I realised that I needed to get ‘a proper job’. In 1987, with the help of what was then called the ‘Enterprise Allowance Scheme’ I set up my own design company, imaginatively titled ‘Dom Raban Designs’. In 1991 I formed Eg.G – a small boutique agency based in Sheffield, working mainly for music, entertainment and arts industry clients. We designed our first website in 1995 then went on to develop skills in 3D and animation (mainly using Infini-D and After Effects). In 1998 we developed our first interactive kiosk game (developed in Director) called 'Design An Album Sleeve' for the National Centre for Popular Music. By the early 2000s we were producing animated title sequences for all the major UK broadcasters.
In 2007 I started Corporation Pop with my co-Director, Dan Taylor. We're a creative and digital agency based in Manchester. Our clients include Channel 4, The Cream Group, Bench and EMI. We work across all media with a focus on producing design led projects underpinned by strong technological solutions. We were early pioneers in 3D virtual environments and currently we're developing applications for connected TVs (amongst many other things).
My passion lies in the intersection between creativity and technology. As a graduate of the DIY generation I relish the opportunities that technological innovation presents and I'm inspired by the sparks that fly when left brain and right brain come together. I value experimentation and believe that failure is an important component of achieving success.
What do you do for inspiration?
Keep my eyes and ears open. I find inspiration in everything around me, whether it's graffiti on walls, accidents of light, overheard conversations, natural wonders or found objects. I find that this feeds my subconscious and tends to emerge as a formulated idea in the middle of the night. I'm at my most creative when I'm asleep - I don't know what that says about me!
What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?
It's not really an achievement but its certainly one of my career highs. Back in 1994 I did some work with my girlfriend (now wife) who ran a TV production company – we don't usually work together because we both like to be in control but on this occasion we hooked up to develop an idea for a TV series that we both wanted to make. It was in the run up to the Centenary of Cinema and I had always been a massive fan of Saul Bass. At that point nobody had chronicled his enormous contribution to 20th century design so we put a programme proposal together and faxed it off to his offices in The States. It so happened that Saul and Elaine Bass were travelling to the UK so we agreed to meet to discuss the idea. We met them at their London hotel and took them out to lunch. The 3 hours we spent with them over a lazy lunch were the aethiest's equivalent of an audience with God! With backing from Saul we went on to discuss the idea with broadcasters in the UK, New York and Paris. Sadly, and for reasons too complicated to go in to here, we never got to make the programme and Saul passed away a year later. But I did get to meet and learn from one of the greatest and most versatile designers of the 20th century.
How many hours do you work each week?
Much less than I used to. When I started out I'd frequently work 80 - 100 hour weeks. Now I'm older I'm less convinced that time in = quality out. Maybe that's a function of age but now I rarely work more than 40 hours in a week and I don't expect my team to either. The best work is produced by fresh minds.
How do you relax or unwind?
Right now I'm recovering from a Scaphoid fracture so I'm off my bike but usually I find the best form of relaxation is a blast over the hills of Lancashire or the Lake District on my mountain bike. I like to ride alone and I clear my head when I'm out in the middle of nowhere riding across the fells. Whilst I'm recovering from the injury I've taken up running (which I've never been in to before) and I'm beginning to find a similar headspace doing that.
If you weren't working on the internet what would you be doing?
I'd be organising trips for people! These days it'd be mountain bike outings, long walks or holidays to unusual places. In my distant past it was organising coach trips to clubs in the glory days of Acid House.
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 thing that drives me is coming up with creative solutions to other people's problems, and where possible doing this in a way which hasn't been done before. The hardest thing is not being 'hands-on' anymore. Some time ago I realised that if I wanted my business to grow I'd have to stop being a jobbing designer and work on managing the business so now I get involved at the conceptual and planning stage of most jobs but take a back seat when it comes to execution. That's really hard.
If there are any pivotal experiences/decisions you could point to that helped shape your career, what would they be?
Deciding to abandon my Zoology degree was a very big decision – but I was put on an unstoppable path towards a science degree from the age of 14 when I chose my 'O' Level subjects – or rather they were chosen for me by a pushy chemistry teacher who won out over my art teacher. I'm not sure what the solution is but our education system is deeply flawed in the way that career choices are determined at an age when we're too young to have our futures defined for us.
What software could you not live without?
It's not very exciting but I'd have to say Google's suite of tools. It goes without saying that the search engine is my primary research tool. But I use Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets to collaborate with my team and outside partners. I use Webmaster Tools to keep track on our websites. I use Maps to check out places that I'm visiting and we use Apps for our company mail. I have to say though that so far Google+ hasn't excited me.
How many projects does your company juggle at any one time?
Usually we'll have two or three large projects going through the studio at any one time and then any number of smaller ones. I tend to only get involved in the larger projects these days.
In terms of software, is there anything new you have been playing with lately or that has impressed you?
We're big fans of Unity3D as you can see from our Lives at War game. Unity's 'build once, deploy everywhere' capability makes it really cost effective to develop true cross-platform solutions. The recent(ish) addition of export to Flash makes it even more versatile.
What did your very first site look like? Is it still online?
Our first site, back in 1995, was a very simple little 3 pager using basic html written using BBEdit as an editor. It was to promote the embryonic National Centre for Popular Music to potential funders. Of course it's not online anymore and I can't even remember what it looked like - but I do owe a debt of gratitude to the guy who showed me how to write html. His name was Paul Griffiths ("Griff") and he worked for a software company called Fretwell Downing. He went on to set up a pioneeering SMS company called Dialogue Communications and we worked with him on many software launches during the 1990s. Sadly I found out recently that Griff died in 2007.
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?
3hundredand65 is an amazing project in aid of The Teenage Cancer Trust, conceived on New Years Eve by Dave Kirkwood. Taking place over the 365 days of 2012 the project uses Twitter in a unique exercise in storytelling. Every day a new storyteller contributes no more than 140 characters to the emerging narrative. Though the contributions are finely crafted, for the storytellers it’s an easy undertaking. Dave on the other hand has his work cut out providing daily illustrations to accompany each tweet. So far this year storytellers have included Jonathan Ross, Stephen Fry, David Baddiel, Irvine Welsh and Bill Bailey amongst many others. We’ve designed and built the website and will be designing a limited edition book, sponsored by GF Smith Papers and published early next year.
I've known Dave for nearly 20 years and first met him when I was doing some external moderating at the Design School he was lecturing at. When I told him last December that my teenage daughter had been diagnosed with cancer he was so moved that, unbeknownst to me, he set up 3hundredand65. I was gobsmacked when I found out. Obviously its a very painful, personal and sensitive subject for me but 3hundredand65 harnesses the power of social networks to create a unique collaborative work whilst raising awareness (and money) for a cause incredibly close to my heart.
There are still days available to contribute to the story so I urge everyone to visit the site, choose a day and be a part of this great project.
What are your views on design/graphic school. Do you think someone can get into the field without educational experience in a school environment?
I would be a hypocrite if I said that a design school education was an essential route in to the industry. As I said above my degree (albeit uncompleted) was in Zoology and all my design skills were self-taught. For me this had a certain benefit in that I think it enabled me to grow outside of the system, allowing me to be unconventional – breaking rules that I maybe didn't even know existed. The down side was that it took me ten years before I had enough skill and originality to confidently call myself a designer.
It's an incredibly competitive environment out there for anyone wanting to get in our industry. Although I'd happily hire the right person with or without a design degree I do take note of courses studied and qualifications gained in my first sift of job candidates. (Actually we're looking to hire now so send us your CV!)
If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring FWA award submitter, what advice would you give them?
Always strive to innovate, be inspired by others but don't copy them.
What would be your ultimate vehicle to travel in?
That's easy – the DeLorean in Back to the Future
When your company was just getting started, what did you find was most effective for getting new clients?
Then (as now) referrals and networking.
What type of overcoat do you wear when Flashing, basically are you a labels man?
I'm afraid I'm a sucker for a bit of Vivienne.
It has been a privilege, thanks very much
The pleasure is all mine!