I imagine that I'm the owner of the project I'm working on, and it's my money and money is no issue. I have all the time and all the resources I need. I think pie in the sky.
Please give us a brief bio of yourself.
I was born in Chicago in 1970. I was raised in the suburbs with my younger sister and brother.
I grew up rooting for Walter Payton, Michael Jordan, visiting Picasso’s The Old Guitar Player and Van Gogh’s Bedroom at Arles and Modigliani’s Jacques and Berthe Lipchitz at the Art Institute of Chicago, and eating enough hot dogs, deep dish pizza, Italian beef sandwiches, ribs and steak that I now have cholesterol levels approaching 300.
As a kid, I was always interested in creative projects. Around the time I was 20 I decided I would earn a living in advertising world. I took classes towards my BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago at night, and I worked during the day.
I started out in print production, moved into account services, and got my first job in the interactive field in 1996. I became an Account Supervisor for a company called Echo 3 New Media which operated out of a strip mall in Wheeling, Illinois.
I knew within a week that I had found my calling, especially as I began working with a super-talented Russian designer named Vas Sloutchevsky. Within a few months, I convinced Vas to join me and my cousin in New York City.
We founded a company called Firstborn Multimedia in 1997. In 2002 I left Firstborn to start Freedom Interactive Design.
What do you do for inspiration?
Try and get my kids to react to me, make them laugh. I look at the competition. I doodle. I daydream all kinds of scenarios.
I imagine that I’m the owner of the project I’m working on, and it’s my money and money is no issue. I have all the time and all the resources I need. I think pie in the sky.
Under these circumstances, what can I do? What can I make happen?
I also take long walks back to the office after meetings, 40-50 blocks watching people and looking at architecture.
One sure-fire source of inspiration is listening to “Alone in the Ring”, “Final Bell” and “Rocky’s Reward”, the last 3 tracks of the “Rocky: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” very loud with headphones.
Please list 3 (7) of your favourite sites?
espn.com... this is my favorite site, hands down and has been for close to 10 years.
It’s hard to imagine life and work without google.com...
and I look at thefwa.com and the Adobe Site of the Day several times a week.
What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?
I feel successful. I’m proud of my work. For nearly 10 years as a business owner, I have operated based solely on revenue, and I have never come dangerously close to missing a payroll.
I’ve worked with a lot of clients and a lot of employees and I think nearly all of them would say nice things about me. We have a great team currently at Freedom, we’re growing, and we’re excited about coming to work.
What software couldn't you live without?
Outlook. Photoshop. Any serviceable browser. Even though I never personally use it, my life would be completely different without Flash.
What projects do you have in the pipeline?
We’re doing new work for long-time clients Godiva, L’Oreal, Matrix and Ralph Lauren Fragrances … a mix of CD-ROM and website projects …
Other than that, a website for a high-end department store, and a few exciting potential things that we’re keeping our fingers crossed about.
Of course we’re always pounding the pavement for challenging opportunities, so while I have the floor I’d like to send a shameless shout out to brand managers, major ad agencies and movie studios … CHECK OUT FREEDOM!
Who do you rate as being the top 3 design companies?
I’m becoming more and more impressed with Big Spaceship.
WDDG has stood the test of time, stayed true to their interests and consistently delivered high-quality stuff. I admire them.
I follow R/GA because I like a lot of their work and I admire the way Bob Greenberg thinks and the things that he has done over the course of his evolving career.
Freedom Interactive is a team to be reckoned with and we think you’ll be seeing a lot more high-profile and ambitious work coming out of our shop in the very near future.
What area of web design lacks the most?
Design itself has been lacking on the web since day one. It has started to turn the corner in the last 18-24 months.
It’s not quite a needle in a haystack to come across a thoroughly well-designed interface anymore.
Unfortunately it’s only improved to something like searching for a horse shoe instead – still time consuming and tough.
I’m looking to forward to the time when it’s more like searching for the thoroughbred itself. You can’t miss it.
But for now lack of design is still ubiquitous. Look up anylawfirm.com or anyrealestatecompany.com and you’ll instantly see what I mean.
Another pet peeve is the text-heavy ‘portal’ looks of Yahoo! and Amazon, which have always turned me off.
E-commerce is totally lacking in design. Shopping carts and checkout processes are heinously ugly and generally ignored. Scrolling irks me.
What did your very first site look like? Is it still online?
I have made 1 website in my life. It was a Dreamweaver attempt in 1998 - was it called Dreamweaver then? (I think so) - I created a website for my fantasy basketball league.
After the 3rd week or so I gave up because the work to update the statistics was more than it was worth.
Have you written any books, if not do you plan to?
I feel like I’ve written a book in this interview.
I would like to write a book someday. I’ve been fortunate enough to be in New York City from the early days of the dot-com hype, through the bubble bursting, to today’s Web 2.0 and I plan on being around for at least the next 30-40 years.
I’ll have ample war stories to choose from by then. If not a book, I plan on painting at least one masterpiece.
Do you think Flash is here to stay?
Nothing is here to stay.
What are your views on design/graphic school. Do you think someone can get into the field without educational experience in a school environment?
Design school is meaningless if someone has interest, motivation and talent – and an impressive portfolio, even if it includes ‘made up’ projects.
I would hire an 18 year old kid in a heartbeat if he or she showed me solid work and a positive attitude.
When your company was just getting started, what did you find was most effective for getting new clients?
The most effective thing then and now is developing and maintaining a strong portfolio one project at a time while consistently selling and marketing your services.
My high school basketball coach used to say, “The secret is there is no secret”.
You have to get in front of the people that make decisions about the types of projects you covet and convince them you will do a superior job. And then you have to back it up every time.
What type of overcoat do you wear when Flashing, basically are you a labels man?
For client meetings I’ve got 3 suits in rotation these days – one navy Dolce and Gabbana which I wore at my wedding, close to 5 years ago, I’ve probably worn the thing 400 times.
Next I’ve got a sweet brown with subtle purple pinstripes that I got at Linus in Soho, it’s a German retail shop.
Last, I’ve got a basic black Hugo Boss suit that’s a bit small on me, but which I still bust out from time to time.
I mix and match these with an array of dashing shirts and ties.
If I don’t have a meeting I’m wearing cargo pants. I need some new clothes. Check back with me soon and I’ll be a labels man. Certainly once I turn 40 I’ll grow up and be dapper.
Any parting shots or pearls of wisdom?
I don’t have anything original, but when you’re down and out, I recommend leaning on fifteen words organized by the prophet Bob Dylan…
“The first one now will later be last, cause the times they are a changing.”
In other words, there is no permanence. Every dog has his day. Don’t give up. Hang in there.
“Do your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”
Those last dozen from the great Coach John Wooden.
It's been a privilege, Mark, thanks very much.
Thank you for allowing me to do this. It’s been great for my ego, a lot of fun, and I sincerely consider it a privilege. Long live the FWA and long live Freedom Interactive!