.

I'm probably a good example of the old-fashioned nerd, in the sense that I usually enjoy sci-fi books and movies, comic books, videogames, and heavy metal.

Please give us a brief bio of yourself.

My name is Zeh Fernando. I was born in 1977, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and I have been working with interface development since 1994, initially with multimedia CD-ROM applications and database management systems, and then with HTML and other technologies when the commercial exploration of the Internet started.

I've been working with Flash since version 2, and Flash/ActionScript development has been my focus for the last 6 years or so. Nowadays I work as a senior developer for Firstborn Multimedia, in New York.

What do you do for inspiration?

I'm probably a good example of the old-fashioned nerd, in the sense that I usually enjoy sci-fi books and movies, comic books, videogames, and heavy metal.

I tend to believe that's probably what drives me. And I guess there's probably some room for the old "everything around me!" answer here.

Please list 3 of your favourite sites.

I guess there are many websites I tend to use the most because they're useful for me, but that merit a mention on the RIA category...

Labuat, Pintando una Cancion - I like to think this is the reason why Flash exists in the first place.

Aviary - Not just a website, but a suite of applications that can be ran online. There's a small revolution taking place here that many people won't understand or agree with at first, but after being forced to use "online" applications on a particular environment (college) and doing so very successfully, I'm really excited about what the future holds.

The FWA - Well, I *do* check it to find about cool new websites, so... :)

What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?

In a sense I think I could say creating some open-source projects that gained more popularity than I expected - MC Tween and Tweener - because that's what people usually recognize my name for, or maybe finally being hired by Firstborn and moving from São Paulo to New York to work as a Senior Developer.

But while I'm pretty happy with that, personally, I like to think my biggest achievement was creating an ANSI Art group back in 1996 called "Maiden Brazil".

Now, this is something most people will find hard to understand, but it was basically a bunch of people creating colored text screens (the so-called ANSI screens) for dial-up BBSs - this was all the rage at the time, before the web started.

The reason why I think this is such a huge achievement is because the group was created without a lot of pretext. I wasn't trying to do much other than get my ANSI screens out of my own computer and into the ANSI art scene. It did manage to get some recognition, a few great local ANSI/ASCII artists joined the group, and it ended up being a sort of life lesson for me.

For one thing, it was an introduction to a broader community - the ANSI art scene, much like the demoscene, was pretty huge (at least in reach). It's what led me to start thinking globally, and to have friends all over the world - this may sound stupid today, but at the time, it was pretty crazy to have friends from the other side of the planet, people I used to talk to every day through IRC and BBSs networks.

And, for another, it's what made me realize that I could have some impact doing what I liked to do, and getting my work out there -- that you can do a lot by yourself. There is a sort of story here about a nerdy teenager tapping into this marvelous community of different people, different cultures and different languages, and getting his posse together. It is a long story and it probably only makes sense to about a dozen people all over the world, though, so I'll leave it at that.

What software could you not live without?

As crazy as this may sound (since I'm a Flash developer), Adobe Photoshop.

This is one of those programs whose menus and features are probably deeply engraved into my brain already after so many years of use. It has come a long way and it's still probably the only program I keep open the whole time when I'm on a computer.

What projects do you have in the pipeline?

After working remotely for Firstborn for 2 years, I'm finally working on-site on a bigger project.

The one I'm on right now Aflac's new website - an interesting mix of HTML/Ajax and Flash work. Flash is used to present content in a playful fashion, and it's something that's been quite fun to develop.

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

Overall, in the field of interactive interfaces for the web: Firstborn Multimedia, Big Spaceship, and Gringo Interactive.

But there's something that I really love about the minimalistic approach companies like Group94 and Grafikonstruct have, though, so I guess I'll be the pretentious jerk that ignores questions and make this list have a total of 5. Also because I have a big heart.

What effect on traffic do your new designs have?

Well, I don't work with SEO directly so I'm not sure I can comment a lot on that. I like to think that my job, however, is to create engaging experiences for the user - engaging in a way that it grabs the user's attention and makes him or her lose track of time when they're interacting with something I have helped create.

The effect my work can have is in increasing the time someone spends (in a positive way) on a website or an interactive piece. In that I can't really give any numbers since this is of difficult measurement, but I like to believe it's a positive impact.

Who is your target audience?

Whoever the client wants it to be. Usually, someone they want to visually impress (or so I hope).

What area of web design lacks the most?

I think it's the humane part. We talk too much about so many buzzwords that we tend to forget why we're doing this, even if at times people like to say or believe they're focusing on the user.

I see people talking about replacing technology A with technology B - say, AJAX vs Flash, Flash video with <video> - and then it’s frequent they'll end up with something that retains the same problems the original had if not presenting an entire additional set of new problems. We're too often enchanted by the promised glories of the shiniest new toy and tend to turn a blind eye to any of its problems.

We tend to forget there's a world out there who doesn't care about which esoteric set of acronyms we're using under the hood. There's something to be said about having better technology, of course, but when you're making your own job ten times harder in exchange for some imaginary sense of accomplishment, maybe just because you're against something else that already works pretty well, it's not really healthy both for you and your clients.

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

It was a GeoCities page that went online in 1996. It was a "personal web page" with pictures, list of CDs I had, a guestbook, a counter, a marquee, and all that useless 90's web trash.

It didn't have any animated GIF images of explosions, so it looked more or less fine, I guess, but it was still pretty stupid. It's still online in a sense, but there's no way I'm going to give the link out. GeoCities can't go offline soon enough - I can't wait to see that disappearing forever. :)

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

I've contributed a few chapters to the first "Flash Hacks" books by O'Reilly Media, but that's all. I don't think I'll write any book - there are too many good Flash development books out there already.

I like to believe my strengths are in actually creating something than saying how people should do it. If I ever do write a book - I love writing - it'll probably be a book of short fictional chronicles about everything/nothing, written in Brazilian Portuguese, and self-published. That's to say, probably something I'd be the only one interested in reading.

What was the toughest thing you ever did with Flash? How long did you spend on it? Is it still online?

I think it was the sticker functionality I built for the client area of "Agencia Tudo" for Gringo Interactive around a couple of years ago.

It's not the most complex code ever - basically the standard "Page Flip" functionality, but from any angle and with detachable stickers of different formats - but I ran into some problems at a point and I didn't have a lot of time to solve them.

I think in the end it's never a question of how tough something is, but rather how long it takes to solve. On this instance I had to rush it a bit so the code isn't the best ever, so I had a lot of trouble getting things done.

Do you think Flash is here to stay?

In a way, most definitely. Flash was the first software platform to allow developers to easily create rich interactive animations for the everyday user, so whatever Flash has brought and is still bringing is something other platforms are playing catch up to adopt.

But on the other hand, you can never predict what the future will be like. When I started working with interface development, Flash didn't exist and I couldn't even predict I'd be working with something like it 15 years later.

I love Flash, but after having worked with it for more than a decade and seeing it radically transformed so many times, it's as if the name doesn't matter that much anymore. I think what we call RIA development is the thing that's here to stay and that'll just become bigger with time, but the name under the hood becomes almost irrelevant. Even if it's Flash and ActionScript, it's going to be a different Flash and a different language in a few years. With similarities, but then again there are similarities between ActionScript, Java, and C#. Being attached to that kind of brand isn't very healthy I guess.

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

This is a very dear subject to me. Do I think someone can get into the field without educational experience? Absolutely. No doubt.

But, do I think having educational experience is a good thing? Absolutely. No doubt.

I have always been a strong critic of degrees as requirements for job positions, because a lot of people just assume it automatically proves there's a better person there. To the contrary, just having a degree or any other kind of certification usually means little more than the fact that the person had some patience, some time, or some money to spend.

I have myself been subject to prejudice from companies in the past due to my lack of a formal degree, even if my knowledge in a field was proven to be far more than what was expected, and I know this situation isn't too uncommon.

But at the same time, I went back to college 4 years ago - when I was 26 - to finally get a degree. It was a mix of an experience (so I could have a better basis for criticism of the system) and a desire to learn something new.

I got my Bachelor of Digital Interface Design last December, and as a result, I've changed my position somewhat. While I'm still as opposed to degrees as a requirement as ever - in our field of work, a portfolio and proven skills speak much higher - I believe there's some great experience to be had at college for those that are smart enough to use it to their advantage.

This is certainly not the norm, but I honestly believe I'm a better person, and a better professional, after having endured college for 4 years - even if I got my education so 'late'. In fact, in my case, I think it was a great decision because I was able to approach problems with a much stronger background, and to absorb so much more of the school curriculum than I normally would if I was fresh out of high school.

To sum it up, a college degree isn't all by any means. But it's a pretty good thing. And I do talk a bit more about my experience at college here.

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

I'm not sure I'm entitled to answer that, as I have never started my own company, and my dealings with prospect clients were always minimal at best.

How have you learned so many Flash/design skills and techniques and can you offer any advice for newbies?

By trying. And giving it time. My advice is to just look for whatever you want. The answer is out there. Google is my only source when I get stuck with something. The Flash development is a great community and you can find discussions and solutions on pretty much anything online. People tend to want to learn fast with crash courses and things like that but I don't think that works very well.

I guess the same goes with design, more or less. You have to walk the walk to see what works and what doesn't. There are no tutorials for that. If you give it time and focus on whatever you want to do, however, things start working by themselves.

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

I've just moved to New York and I'm still stuffing my house with furniture, so I guess it's my couch. $800 in total for a bunch of pretty modular couch pieces from Ikea. I just love refactoring both my classes and the stuff I use, I guess.

What type of overcoat do you wear when Flashing, basically are you a labels man?

Whatever makes me comfortable. When I was working at home I used to do that with the oldest and crappiest clothes I had, and no shoes. Now I'm in an office so that doesn't work very well, so probably just jeans pants and a t-shirt. Still no labels though.

Any parting shots or pearls of wisdom?

"Love is important, damnit". Recently spotted in graffitis around Sao Paulo.

It has been a privilege, thanks very much.

Thank you very much, it's been an honor!


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