I have laughed once or twice imagining a reality TV show similar to the TLC Channel's "American Chopper" and "Miami Ink" (and many other shows around the world) but centered upon revealing the personalities and daily idiosyncrasies of a Design studio like 2Advanced.
It's been nearly four and a half years since we last interviewed you. Please update us on your bio and what you've been up to.
4.5 years? Are you sure? Wow. So many incredible things have happened to me since then that I don’t know where to begin.
On a personal level my wife Jolene and I welcomed into this world our daughter Tristen Holly Mielke. I’ve smiled, laughed and cried more in the past 18 months than I did my entire life before she came into this world. It’s such a blessing as anyone who is already a parent can attest to.
My wife recently finished nursing school and will soon take her boards to become a registered nurse. I’m so proud of her hard work and the self sacrificing occupation which she’s decided to dedicate herself to.
Professionally I’m still spinning from how many amazing things have happened to me in the last 4 years. I’ve moved up at 2Advanced from Senior Designer to Creative Director.
I’ve been blessed with a lot of cool projects, great clients, speaking engagements, book contributions and new friends. I’ve picked up photography as a hobby (www.terraspirit.com) and even started my own company (www.vobbo.com).
How many hours do you work each week?
Which Job? I’m joking. I’ve got several jobs/hobbies/distractions so I’m constantly jumping from one thing to the next. My personality does not allow me to sit idle very long so on average I only get about 5-6 hours of sleep a night.
During the working hours I’m the creative director at 2Advanced Studios. Afternoons during the fall I’m in my 10th year as the Varsity Offensive Line coach for the Santa Margarita Catholic HS Football team (my alma mater).
After work I stop by the gym 4-5x a week to workout as well as train several of my former players who are either preparing for or currently playing college football. I then head home to spend time playing with my daughter and relaxing with my wife.
Around 9:30pm Jolene taps out and I usually spend the next 5-6 hours jamming on the computer (work, personal, collab), playing guitar or working on my photography.
On the surface this seems like a lot (and it is), but everything I do serves a balancing purpose in my life making sure I never get burnt out in any one area. Thru all of these activities I feel like I’m constantly growing in body, mind and soul.
Working out keeps me strong, healthy, disciplined and gets me away from the computer. My job keeps my mind creative, sharp and constantly evolving. Football gets me outside in the sun, allows me to mentor others, reminds me about hard work and satiates my competitive side.
Being with my family is my heart, soul and the reasons I work as hard as I do.
All of these interests are so diverse and I interact with so many motivated, unique and talented people in all aspects of my life that my day is constantly filled with happiness, excitement, love and challenges and I never feel like I’m working.
How do you relax or unwind?
I have a lot of things I enjoy doing outside of work. Watching reality TV shows with my wife, playing with my daughter, working out, racquetball, photography, coaching football, design, guitar, World of Warcraft, Quake, WiFi Tetris DS, road trips to Yosemite, taking naps, movies.
Probably the best way I’ve found to relax is to step out of my normal routine with a little bit of traveling.
We try and schedule several times a year where we get out of Southern California to visit friends or see places we’ve never been to along with our bi-yearly trips to Yosemite. It’s always hard breaking away but once I’m somewhere I never regret taking the time. I love bringing my laptop with me so that I’m able to jam on things as new ideas hit me.
Is there a particular moment in your career that stands out?
Realizing that Jolene was “the one” and that I was eventually going to marry her was a huge motivation for me and my career. When we met I had just graduated college, was living at home and working for a tiny company getting paid next to nothing.
Once I realized where things were going with her I knew I had to focus on my career and make more money. The only way I could see that happening was to dedicate myself to learning more, working harder and growing above my general knowledge of Photoshop and HTML at the time.
I was already a highly motivated individual by nature but she most definitely was the catalyst for anything I’ve accomplished since we met.
Another “moment” would be the day that I was laid off from the dot bomb behemoth marchFIRST back in 2001. As a result I was pushed out onto my own and was fortunate enough to be picked up by Tony and Eric before they started 2Advanced. The rest is history.
In terms of software, is there anything new you have been playing with lately or that has impressed you?
After Effects 7 is soo much easier to use than the earlier versions. I was lucky enough to meet up with several of the Adobe After Effects UI designers and developers before it launched. As they walked me thru the interface I just felt so much more at home than with previous versions.
It’s much more intuitive and I’m having a lot of fun with it. It’s definitely created a desire in me to try and make time to experiment with motion graphics outside of my web projects. I’ve been gathering all of my work of the past few months so that I can begin a feeble attempt at a demo reel.
It’s very daunting not only because I’ve got 100+ projects that I want showcased, but also because there are so many amazing motion graphics artists out there with incredible work.
It’s impossible to not get a little depressed viewing what others have already done. I recently hooked up with Bradley Grosh (aka Gmunk) after seeing his presentation at FITC Hollywood. Viewing all of his work makes me feel insignificant when compared to the web work that I do.
We’ve been talking lately and every time I view his work, I go thru this rollercoaster of emotions. At first I want to cry. Then I get jealous. Then I get competitive internally and challenge myself to grow and learn. The same thing happened with me when I first started picking up photography after seeing some of the amazing photographs friends around me were taking.
It makes me wonder if motion graphics artists or movie directors ever check out websites and go “That’s sick” just like so many of us do with sick motion graphics pieces, demo reels, 3D and movies.
How many projects does your company juggle at any one time?
On average the studio has 20-30 projects at any one time. We have experienced points in time where we’ve had 35-45 projects and it was just too many for us to handle for a long duration. Finding the right people to add to our family for those extra projects was impossible so now we limit how many projects we take on so that we’re all happier with more free time.
One reason we’re able to pull off the sheer amount of work we do is because we are all passionate, self sacrificing, hard working, multi-talented overachievers.
Some studios focus on finding individuals with one main skill and limiting their work on all projects to that skill. This definitely works for others, but we’re not like that. No one at 2Advanced has just one creative talent or outlet.
We’re a passionate group of problem solvers with diverse skill sets who enjoy the thrill of coming up with solutions to problems.
Before 2Advanced, I became bored with web because I was in an environment where I was only allowed to design. In my free time I branched out into Flash and the rest is history.
I'm definitely a Jack of all Trades type with Graphic Design, Flash Motion, ActionScript Development, Photography, After Effects and HTML under my belt. I love that I work at a place where I’m encouraged to use all of my technical and creative skills. It inspires me to experiment and branch out into as many areas as I can keeping me growing and exited.
Another reason why I think we’re successfully working thru the amount of projects we have is because of project and brand diversity.
While other studios in our industry have tried to conquer only certain business markets, we’ve had a lot of fun taking on projects of various sizes, requirements, business models, brands, goals and deadlines.
We take on clients ranging from Fortune 100 companies down to tiny companies and even individuals. This strategy fits our pre-described personalities and helps keep everything fresh, exciting and unique.
Are there any websites that have shone through as being pioneering in the last 5 years or so?
Google, Google Maps, Google Earth, and Flickr quickly jump to mind as being pioneering websites in my small nook of the world.
There are so many sites shaping the way people do things that the term “pioneering” is really relative to what you’re interested in as an individual and what has revolutionized your life.
Has winning FWA awards helped you in any way?
Working at 2Advanced there is this fascinating love or hate mentality from people regarding the work that I do. Whether you love or hate the things I’ve personally done, I do feel the quality of my work speaks for itself.
Being listed on FWA in the profiles section with 20+ awards has definitely affected the amount of respect I feel I receive from others in the interactive industry. It has legitimized my self-taught abilities and skills in the sea of super talented people in the industry and helped my work to be seen in magazines, books and even on TV.
When dealing with major clients, how difficult is it to meet the needs of such wide target audiences?
I honestly feel that meeting the needs of the target audiences is often easier with the bigger clients. More so if I’m working with an existing advertising agency like Wunderman TeamDetroit, TeamOne or Publicis.
Clients are paying these companies millions of dollars a year to do all of the thinking and research on who, what, when, why and how they should be relating to their customers. Reading thru a huge marketing document on your target demographic for a specific project makes your job easier and takes a lot of the guesswork out of a project.
By the time I get to design and build out of a site, the goals, text, message, etc. have already been deliberated and tweaked and I’m able to gather all of the information and mold everything into a website.
With the major clients you’re also not commonly working on the huge main corporate site for a company with a vast target audience. Most of the time, you’re working on an all Flash micro-site for a specific product like the ones I’ve created for Ford.
In those situations you’re not creating a site for anyone who would buy a Ford. You’re working on a focused marketing initiative for a specific car or brand underneath the Ford umbrella with its own goals and message.
Of course this isn’t always the case and you aren’t always working with an advertising agency with project management and well defined marketing strategies. It’s definitely more difficult when clients come to you with simple ideas that they need flushed out, organized and translated into major website campaigns.
With new clients it’s important to be a good listener. Before you start directing them you have to be able to admit you don’t know their goals, style or personalities.
Figure out who the decision makers are, get to know their personal preferences and then give them exactly what they want but with your own personal style mixed in.
I loathe design snobs who think they have all of the answers for clients they know nothing about. It really pays to keep your ego in check and give the client what they want and not just what you want to design for them.
Design is a business and there is a balance between maintaining your creative integrity by infusing a project with your ideas and style while also achieving your client’s goals. The worst thing you can do is force a client into doing something they have reservations about and having it come back and bite you.
Looking 10 years in to the future, how far can websites go?
I think that websites will in some ways become an obsolete term as far as they are currently defined. Lately I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved on some very high level brainstorming work with Fox Sports, TiVo and Ford Motor Vehicles.
The ideas which are being thrown out as future possibilities are exciting to say the least. In the immediate future, we will be seeing a merger between information, content, web and TV in areas outside of our computers. We’re already seeing dynamic information being pushed to our TVs while we watch commercials and TV shows.
An example of this is TiVo and giving you the option to find out more about a commercial real time while you’re watching TV or fast forwarding thru a commercial. You can also control what programs your TiVO records from your cell phone or the web. Imagine every appliance in your home having its own “website” on your home network and being accessible from anywhere in the world from a web-enabled device.
Of all the websites you/your company have produced, which one are you most proud of?
Metroid Prime Pinball, O’Neill, From Russia With Love Game UI, Ford Mustang and Ford F150 are my favorites.
In the UK, television programmes covering the 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?
Although I live in the Los Angeles Television market (2nd largest in the USA) there really isn’t any television programming that I’m aware of geared towards covering web design and development.
I’m not exactly surprised either as I still see the web development industry (especially the Flash community) as being a small, eclectic group of individuals regardless of our impact in advertising on the internet.
However, I have laughed once or twice imagining a reality TV show similar to the TLC Channel’s “American Chopper” and “Miami Ink” (and many other shows around the world) but centered upon revealing the personalities and daily idiosyncrasies of a Design studio like 2Advanced.
I’ve met and worked with a lot of quirky & unique individuals whose antics would make for some really good TV. For Example, here are several videos of 2Advanced employees doing stupid human tricks for bets or money or fun.
How do you keep your finger on the pulse of the latest web trends?
All of my friends and co-workers are involved in so many different things it keeps me up to date on a variety of topics ranging from useful to completely random.
Jonathan Moore (www.newezra.com) is on top of every technology story on the planet. The guy lives on Digg.com and any technology blog in existence. I swear he’s either seen or read every tutorial on the internet.
Elder Jerez "jR" - p1 (www.progressiveone.com) and Baz Pringle - g66 (www.bazpringle.com) are always battling each other over style/art and avidly discussing the coolest design, motion, 3D and styles on the web.
Mark Wisniowski (www.probe3.com) links me to all of the best interviews on CG Channel. David Buhler keeps me exposed to the seedy underside of the internet.
Miles Storey (http://mute.rigent.com) is my connection into the world of photography.
What country excites you the most in terms of innovation?
With the opening of the 2Advanced office in Tokyo, Japan my eyes have been opened to a completely new culture. I lived and worked in Europe after college but the Japanese culture is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.
My first trip to Tokyo a few months ago really opened my eyes to how different cultures respond to the same questions, problems and needs as a society. With all of that being said, I’d have to say that Japan is innovative from my standpoint just because the directions they are moving and the things important to them are so different than the typical West Coast American ideals I’ve grown up with.
There must be a project that you have always dreamed of doing, what is it?
The next FWA SOTY would be fun. :) This is actually the toughest question of the interview and I think I’m stumped.
I’m going to have to start thinking long and hard about what the next thing I want to accomplish is. I’ve worked on so many diverse web projects that there’s really no corner of the web I’m “dreaming” to explore.
I am in the early stages of collaborating with Bradley Grosh (aka Gmunk) on the latest version of www.gmunk.com. I’m hoping that some of his motion genius rubs off and me someday I’ll produce a demo reel that isn’t just a bunch of cuts from my web work slapped together.
I do dream about co-authoring another book. I’d love to direct and produce a TV commercial or Music Video. We’re buying a bigger house soon and I dream about decorating it with my own photography in some uber creative way that amazes family and friends who stop by.
How difficult do you find employing the right people in a world where everyone calls themselves a web designer?
Finding good people for your company is not just difficult, it’s almost impossible. Hiring new employees is very much like a science experiment mixing different chemicals and not knowing what the results will be.
Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t. Chemistry and attitude is everything because the worst thing that can happen is to hire individuals with egos, disruptive personalities or personal baggage that negatively affects everyone around them.
We’ve had a lot of success hiring people based upon existing friendships. It helps having first hand experience with a person’s passion, work ethic and attitude. Of course skill and quality of work are factors, but attitude and chemistry are even more important.
When that rare portfolio gets passed around that raises Eric’s eyebrow, the person is flown out to the studio for a few days to hang out with the team and see what the vibe is. It’s also a good time to go thru their portfolio and find out what they really did on the projects they list.
At the same time, we also like to throw people into the mix of a project or two. You’d be surprised how often the work a person has in their portfolio does not match the work they produce on-site. It’s important to find self-motivated intelligent people who can problem solve without needing to ask for questions or directions every 5 minutes.
It is a competitive field and you must be a go-getter if you want to move ahead and get noticed.
How do you keep up with the latest capabilities of Flash or do you rely on other members of you team to do this?
My diverse projects and extreme client requests are the primary catalyst for me staying up to date on the capabilities of Flash. 2006 was full of clients and projects that had me scouring the message boards, blogs and collective brainpower of my buddy list for ideas, code snippets and pathways to eventual solutions to problems.
I love the problem solving nature of Flash and the fact that you could literally solve a problem 10 different ways.
I read and research as much as I can, but my time is limited during the day and there are not as many big news items or advances as there seemed to be in the earlier days of Flash. The Flash Community was booming back then and I definitely feel that message boards and the sharing of information have slowed down.
This is partly because information reservoirs like Ultrashock already contain years’ worth of knowledge, posts, and code snippets all available through a quick search. Sites are also more commercial and simple than the earlier days that were filled with people experimenting with all sorts of new navigation ideas and concepts.
What would be your ultimate vehicle to travel in?
Honestly, I love driving my best friend’s Hummer H2. You feel indestructible driving down the road, the seats are sooo comfortable and it doesn’t have enough speed to entice you into flying down the road collecting speeding tickets.
I’d buy one myself except for the cost of gas and the fact that I’ve been told by several friends that if I bought one that they would never talk to me again. I might eventually buy one, but haven’t forced myself to pull the trigger on one yet.
Otherwise my ultimate vehicle is still Oscar (my trusty white ’97 Chevy 4x4)
Do you have any links to photographs of your offices you could share with us?
Here is a link to the old pictures of the 2Advanced offices. Most people have seen them before. I’ll try and take new pictures in the next few weeks that do it justice.
What does the future hold for your company?
In the past 5 years we’ve taken on some major projects with some insane 2-3 week deadlines that other studios have passed on.
As 2Advanced gets older, wiser and more people in the company have families and children, we’ve been changing our paradigms about how much we need to work.
We’ve been doing a good job recently with avoiding projects with unrealistic deadlines that aren’t a good match for us. It’s all about quality of life and our goals in 2007+ are to spend more time with family and play/experiment more once we leave the studio.
I feel that we no longer have the “take over the world” mentality that often plagues young designers and studios hunting for work and glory. It’s just websites after all and our happiness and quality of life is much more important.
As far as clients go, you’ll see 2Advanced continue to work on even bigger brands and projects. On one hand this is very exciting. Seeing my work advertised on TV commercials for Ford & T-Mobile has definitely been a rush.
On the other hand, I feel that there will definitely be some fun, unique and creative opportunities missed that usually happen with smaller clients who are willing to take chances. Unfortunately the bigger the brand, the more money on the line, the more those projects are scrutinized, micro-managed, and sometimes watered down or simplified.
The past few years have already seen a steady evolution for 2Advanced in terms of design style as the studio has grown from just Eric Jordan to a tight group of 5+ designers.
Early on the company was criticized for projects having similar design and motion styles on projects mostly because it was just Eric doing all of the work. I always found this funny because if you look at any company or individual (my portfolio included) you’ll always see a style in their work spanning projects done in close proximity to one another.
There will be a continued evolution of the mediums that we use in our projects as we push into new channels of creativity. Almost everyone on the team has 5+ years of experience in Web with some of us at the 10 year mark.
That experience is great for our clients but also means that we all have to be wary of becoming bored with what we do. We’re all hungry to challenge ourselves in new and exciting arenas of creativity and people are diving into more experiments with 3D, Video and Photography to keep us growing.
Once again, it's been a privilege. Thank you very much indeed.
I can’t thank you enough for honoring me again with an FWA interview. Congratulations on the steady growth and success of FWA over the past 5 years due to all of your hard work.