A few months ago I was probably working around 65-75 hours a week. I've managed to trim that down to 50-60. Not a whole lot of improvement but owning a business is a labor of love.
It's been over nearly 5 years since we last interviewed you. Please update us on your bio and what you've been up to.
...I can't believe it's been this long. I'm genuinely excited at this opportunity to not sound as sophomoric as I did during my first interview.
I'm still a workhorse at Rokkan... creative directing, designing, doing production and trying to run a business at the same time.
The company and myself have gone through a tremendous amount of growth and it seems like all the hard work, months eating cheese and crackers for dinner, are starting to payoff.
Everyday I'm thankful that our day job is to be as creative as we can be. Good times!
How many hours do you work each week?
I'm afraid to say... A few months ago I was probably working around 65-75 hours a week. I've managed to trim that down to 50-60. Not a whole lot of improvement but owning a business is a labor of love.
You have to be dedicated and putting in the hours is part of the job. Everyone in the studio works hard and it's a relief to have a team of people who are the epitome of dedication.
How do you relax and unwind?
I'm a workaholic so it's really difficult for me to relax. When I do have free time I'm hard at work recording music.
The songwriting, recording and engineering process can get quite stressful at times, but it's something I really enjoy doing and it gives me a great level of relaxation.
All deadlines are self-imposed so I just get lost in the creative process. Other than that, I do normal things like bum around the city, watch the idiot box and practice my scales.
Is there a particular moment in your career that stands out?
The day I quit my 'dotcom' job is the defining moment in my career. Those were the days... sort of.
The cash flow was real good. I was literally right out of college making $80k a year just because I knew a little about the web.
Back then, big companies thought they needed web specialists so they paid big bucks just to have warm bodies around whom they thought could help their undefined web initiatives.
It was 'the thing' to do and companies were becoming 'hip' again, but those days were still wrapped in a bunch of corporate BS. 9/11 happened and the bubble burst. I quit that job and a couple of guys asked me to join a 3-man shop called Rokkan.
In terms of software, is there anything new you have been playing with lately or that has impressed you?
I'm learning 3D, switching between Maya and Cinema 4D, I’m really terrible at it and may give up very soon. I love Maya's interface and the polygon modeling is real intuitive.
For a beginner I find you get much better instant rendering results with Cinema 4D. You don't have to work as hard to produce models with realistic lighting.
In the audio world I've been getting into Native Instruments Reaktor and Absynth. Both programs offer a limitless amount of flexibility when it comes to creating sounds. Reason is still my preferred digital sampler and I put all my tracks down in Pro Tools.
How many projects does your company juggle at any one time?
We usually have between 8-15 projects varying in size.
Are there any websites that have shone through as being pioneering in the last 5 years or so?
This may be a bit cliche but certainly You Tube is the most influential site in the last 5 years.
It has fully embraced broadband and is the first site to have been accepted by a global audience as THE site for streaming video.
I think it's also the first true tv channel on the web. It's quite strange to think that allowing people to upload and share videos is such a revolutionary idea.
It goes to show that the best ideas are the simple ones, and it just takes someone to commit and execute the idea well. It was bound to happen...video on the web, that is. They were the first to do it well.
Other than the functional offerings of You Tube, their minimal design and downright hideous tabs are also benchmarks for other video sites out there. You'd be surprised at how many of our clients are asking for video upload and user-generated content as primary functions.
Has winning FWA awards helped you in any way?
Tremendously! As much as I hate to say it, awards seem to validate creativity. While 'the bottom line' in the client world is the primary indication of a successful site...winning awards makes it easier for us to pitch our ideas.
The FWA award in particular is a good indication of a particular demographic of users that are visiting the sites we create. As a credit to you, we've received many calls just from the exposure you've given us...many thanks Rob!
When dealing with major clients, how difficult is it to meet the needs of such wide target audiences?
It hasn't been too difficult, but then again our marketers and partner ad agencies understand the fickle audience pretty well.
We approach each project with a thorough understanding of the target audience, so our creative is always defined by the viewers. If we decide to do something that’s not conventional, it’s always with a calculated risk.
We never insist on a creative direction or functional component that is not in-line with the intent of the site.
We may start with hundreds of different marketing ideas, but you go through the process of weeding the ideas out and finding the best delivery approach. You set goals and metrics, execute as best you can and measure the results.
Looking 10 years in to the future, how far can websites go?
...who knows?! We always knew at some point that web would steadily replace television. More and more web is becoming the bridge between all sources of media (television, music, gaming, work, shopping...the list goes on).
It's hard to say what is going to happen in 10 years so I'll leave the answer to the creativity of the world.
In the UK, television programmes covering web are way behind what is really happening in terms of web design and development. Is it the same in your location and why do you think this is?
Honestly this isn’t something that I’ve really noticed or paid attention to here in the states. Our local New York news channel NY1 has a weekly section on innovative web content.
Much like a movie critic will review the top movies of the week, a web critic will feature a site that has caught his curiosity.
But I’m not surprised that web design and development is not covered on a larger basis. Mass population is probably not interested in web design in particular because it’s such a niche genre that only the creative class is aware of.
I would think that television media does not promote innovative web development because it has the potential to change audience viewing/listening habits. Big companies don't like change because they have to refocus their strategies and deal with new technologies.
If TV programmes promoted You Tube 2 years ago, video content would be in higher demand than it is now. Marketing budgets are finally being taken away from TV, print and radio and shifting to the online space.
If you look at web from a broad scope you can see the trend is for upstart companies to think of a great idea, promote it online (because it's cheaper and more flexible in terms of marketing creativity)...and then have big companies buy them.
This is a low risk proposition for the big companies to spend on innovative ideas. It's the sit-back-and-see-what-happens-to-them-before-we-do-it reaction. It's much easier for them to let the little guys do it and then acquire them after risk of failure is minimal.
Consider a network like MTV and how it took so long for them to make the leap to overhaul their site and focus it more towards…video no less!
They played it safe and waited until they knew kids would be hip to more video content a la You Tube. They were innovators during their time but the “big company” mentality has really watered down their relevancy as innovators if you ask me.
Sorry for the tangent. I don't know if I even answered your question, but I'm sticking with my answer, hehe.
How do you keep your finger on the pulse of the latest web trends?
Ahh...my secret is to wake up every morning and have Chung Ng, one of the founders of Rokkan, tell me what's the latest scoop on the interweb. I don't think there's one person that knows more about the web than him, seriously.
What country excites you the most in terms of innovation?
Only because I've recently returned from a trip there, I would have to say Japan.
I was in Tokyo for about 2 weeks and there's one place that shows me what urban design will be in the future. Go to the district of Roppongi (Roppongi Hills in particular) and you will see the future...one step closer to the Jetsons.
It's known for it's nightlife and foreigners (and looked down upon by locals for that reason), but if you can get past the superficial aspects of the area you will undoubtedly be amazed at the grand scale and beautiful design of this place.
It's too hard to describe...you just have to see it for yourself. And if you’re ever in Tokyo, this is by far the best map to use: http://www.superfuture.com
There must be a project that you have always dreamed of doing, what is it?
Redesigning the Rokkan website. I dream about it every night and it's quite haunting.
How difficult do you find employing the right people in a world where everyone calls themselves a web designer?
It's extremely difficult. It's not so much that everyone calls themselves a web designer because it's easy for us to sift through portfolios. It's more the fact that there's a talent shortage.
You have the basic problems where the 'rockstar' designers are too expensive and the junior designers don't have enough experience. It's very hard to find a middle ground.
I think this is mostly due to the fact that kids are graduating college with a skewed vision of web design, and improper real world training.
I wish there were more schools like Hyper Island in the states...give the older institutions a run for their money.
Lately we've been looking for people that have a good foundation, and more importantly good personalities. You can be the most uber creative designer in the world but if you don't mesh well with the team, that talent is useless to us.
How do you keep up with the latest capabilities of Flash or do you rely on other members of your team to do this?
3 letters, F-W-A.
What would be your ultimate vehicle to travel in?
Star Trek transporter. I'd just be paranoid about either being lost in transmission or rematerializing with 2 heads.
Do you have any links to photographs of your offices you could share with us?
As soon as we have them I'll send them over to you.
What does the future hold for your company?
It would be great to open additional offices. We would love to have separate studios for video, audio and 3D but for now we'll leave that to our partners and friends who do it way better than we would.
We're quite modest. Ultimately we want to continue producing good work, learn, grow, and have fun doing it.
I'm thankful each day of the people I work with. I don't have a grandiose vision of where we will be in the future. I can't ask for more than just enjoying what we do. Although I am trying to get the Rokkan team to open up a Ramen shop...but I think I'm on my own on this one.
Once again, it's been a privilege. Thank you very much indeed.
It's always a pleasure.