Regardless of what company I've been with, the same rules always apply: do good work, treat clients well, turn things in on time and they'll give you more work.
Please give us a brief bio of yourself.
My name is Benjamin J. Mace, I usually go by "BJ" or "B". I was born in Virginia Beach, VA in '74 where I still reside. I grew up being told that I would be an "artist". I've always been very good at drawing and curious about how things worked which led to tearing things apart and putting them back together to see how they ticked. Legos were my favorite toy and fit within both of those characteristics.
I've been married for 11 years and have 2 awesome kids. In '97 I graduated from VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University) in Richmond, VI started out designing t-shirts and was introduced to Flash around '98. Over the years, I've had an interesting career spanning design, art direction, programming and management. I've worked for both large and small companies up and down the east coast and I'm currently the Interactive Director at Grow Interactive in Norfolk, VA.
What do you do for inspiration?
I've said this many times before, but my kids really inspire me. The things they come up with and knowing they are 100% dependent on me pushes me to do my best all the time. Most of my inspiration comes from things offline that normally have nothing to do with the digital realm.
Please list 3 of your favorite sites.
3) You know the 3rd Rob!
What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?
Can I opt not to rank personal over professional? Personally: however cheesy it may sound, staying married for so long. So many people give up when the going gets tough. We've survived buying 5 homes, 2 major relocations, 12 jobs and 2 kids. Professionally: Becoming the Interactive Director at Grow.
What software could you not live without?
What projects do you have in the pipeline?
You know that's all top secret stuff and I'd have to dispose of all your visitors if I told you! Right now we're doing a pretty cool takeover ad for a very predominant website that I'm excited about.
Who do you rate as being the top 3 design companies?
Design is a pretty broad category. In no order or specific industry:
What effect on traffic do your new designs have?
I'd like to say a significant amount. The projects we've been involved with over the last year have added a good amount of attention to the brands we're supporting.
What area of web design lacks the most?
Mobile. We, as an industry, are all getting better at it though. Newer and better devices are helping this area every day.
What did your very first site look like? Is it still online?
It was terrible. Just a bunch of image slices. I've uploaded it again just so we can all have a laugh.
Have you written any books, if not do you plan to?
Yeah, I wrote a few chapters on Flash MX for "friends of ED" years back. I don't plan on doing one again but you never know. It was a very gruelling process. It was all consuming and paid next to nothing. However, it had a huge impact on my career regarding credibility. It's was pretty cool to get listed on Amazon.com!
What was the toughest thing you ever did with Flash? How long did you spend on it? Is it still online?
Probably developing the earlier interfaces for game UIs at Electronic Arts. EA had developed their game interfaces with a proprietary tool for years, which made getting new employees up to speed very difficult and often took a month before they were fully trained and creating screens. With Flash growing more and more popular every day, hiring developers who knew it made getting them into the flow much easier.
The difficult part was that Flash didn't have a player that would run on all the consoles so EA had to develop a custom player and a converter for the SWFs which took 2D vector based art and converted it to 3D polygonal shapes. Imagine debugging a complex Flash app in AS1 with all the stuff that can get by you and all the problems Flash has inherently. Now drop that into a custom player with custom methods… when something didn't work right it took 5x as long to find the problem.
Do you think Flash is here to stay?
For sure. Especially with all the hype about CS5 boasting exporting to iPhone, more platforms are adopting it every day.
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 think that anyone can "get into the field" without it. Design school allows for a better understanding of the core values and theories about design. Someone can be talented and understand, for example, that certain colors look nice together, but an education will allow you to understand terminology and why those palettes work.
Those things allow you to communicate to clients and teams on why you are doing things the way you are, not just because it "looks good". You can, however, get into the field and learn on the job if you have a good senior crew around you. At the end of the day, that's getting an education as well. The question is how good you'll be without getting that education or on the job training.
When your company was just getting started, what did you find was most effective for getting new clients?
Regardless of what company I've been with, the same rules always apply: do good work, treat clients well, turn things in on time and they'll give you more work. They'll talk about you to friends and colleagues and basically sell your services for you. There is nothing worse than working with a talented person who is difficult, rude or untimely. Design is about process, and if you don't make the process run smoothly, don't expect your phone to keep ringing.
How have you learned so many Flash/design skills and techniques and can you offer any advice for newbies?
I'd probably say "the hard way". When I started out (in my best grandfather voice) Flash was new. There weren't books or tutorials abundantly available. It was all about community and sharing source. I'm all self taught on the programatic stuff and I've had the luxury of growing with Flash. I can't imagine dropping into right now for the first time. There are so many avenues and AS3 is so robust and unforgiving (all great things for the smart ones). Everything requires a few more lines of code in AS3 and it looks a bit daunting at first. Newbies definitely need to find an area of interest and focus there.
What is the most expensive thing you have bought in the last week?
Gas for my 4Runner.
What type of overcoat do you wear when Flashing, basically are you a labels man?
Totally! I'm a brand snob for sure.
Any parting shots or pearls of wisdom?
Make sure that you know one aspect of Flash inside and out. You have to be an expert at something to stick out of the crowd. Then learn as much outside that aspect as you can, just make sure that everything supports that one thing.
If you start learning random things that don’t work together, you can’t build upon what you know or make use of it. For example, animators should learn tweening and then dive into programmatic movement. You can then animate dynamic elements in multiple ways. Learning to load record sets from ColdFusion won’t help you become a better motion designer.
It has been a privilege, thanks very much.
The pleasure was all mine. Now where is that overcoat… I've got some Flashing to do.