I’d love to design a restaurant with interactive dining surface where diners explore menus, place orders, learn about the farmers who provided the ingredients, get recommendations for wine parings, rate and write reviews, play games with each other, and send media and messages out to the world.
It was in architecture school in the early 90s that I became interested in interactive design and began collaborating with fellow Odopod founders, Tim Barber and David Bliss. Similar to architecture, interactive design appeals to my predominant traits – artistic, organized, introverted (yet social) and technical.
My first job in interactive was at Human Code (Austin). It was the heyday of CD-ROM development. We were a young, enthusiastic, hard-working bunch dedicated to creating “edutainment” products for clients like the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, Hasbro and Mattel. I loved the work, and I especially loved the people with whom I worked.
Meanwhile, Tim and David had started Circumstance Design (San Francisco) and were creating a massive digital production for James Cameron’s Titanic. In 1998, I headed west to join Circumstance and help lead subsequent titles for Fox Interactive, like a King of the Hill game.
Circumstance was acquired by Rare Medium. Tim, Dave and I left to start Odopod in late 2000. The bubble burst. We endured. In the last ten years, Odopod has grown slowly and carefully from us three to now 50-something.
Odopod combines our experience creating large-scale entertainment productions with the strategic discipline of a large agency, while executing with the agility and craft-focus of a small boutique.
As a founding Creative Director, I helped build our relationships with Nike, Macromedia/Adobe, CLIF Bar & Co, and Seattle Children's Hospital. I am now focused on Strategy. I identify and synthesize market, business and technology opportunities in order to deepen relationships with our clients and inform the work of our teams.
What do you do for inspiration?
I like to learn as much as I can about the subject of my projects. I want to know everything about the brand, audience, competition, business and organizational realities, etc. I’m most inspired by big chunky problems that need to be organized, synthesized and prioritized. When I’ve fed my brain with as much information as it can hold, I run. The Mt. Tamalpais Watershed is my backyard. I traipse through the woods, and let my brain churn.
Please list 3 of your favourite sites.
I’m not committed to any particular sites, but three that I really like: A List Apart, TED.com and Harvard Business Review (hbr.org).
What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?
Professionally-speaking, I regard Odopod’s success as my biggest achievement. And with that, having maintained a personal and professional relationship with my business partners – Tim Barber and David Bliss – for the past seventeen years.
But so far, my biggest lifetime achievement is my daughter, Ruby. There’s nothing comparable to being her mom, for real.
If you weren't working on the internet what would you be doing?
What's your favourite part of your job? What's the hardest part of your job? What do you do when you get stuck?
My best parts of being a Strategist at Odopod are constantly learning new things; untangling seemingly gnarly problems; and working alongside such brilliant, creative and kind people. The hardest part of my job is staying on top of how quickly the Internet is changing – technologies that are available to us, trends that are developing, how users are behaving, the most recent changes to Facebook alone!
When I get stuck, it’s usually because I’m overwhelmed. So, I look at how I can make the problem smaller by asking myself, “What’s one piece of it that I can tackle right now?” Even if I don’t get it right, maybe I’ll make some progress. One of my professors once advised about drawing, “just make a mark on the page.” So whether I’m designing, writing or whatever, I make a mark. Another tactic I use when I get stuck is to make a list. I just list out everything that comes to mind. That’s a good technique for identifying a simple problem that can be tackled first.
If there are any pivotal experiences/decisions you could point to that helped shape your career, what would they be?
When I was in school, I worked at an architecture firm. It was great experience with wonderful people. I found that the profession of architecture (the business of building) was very different from the school/studio environment, which was all about design, craft and theory. At the same time, I was learning computer graphics and interactive media (as it was just emerging in 1993). After graduation, I made a portfolio as a graphic/interactive designer and took a job with a direct mail marketing agency. My first assignment was to put them on the Internet, which opened the door to an entry-level Art Director position. This job gave me the opportunity to fill my portfolio with enough professional evidence of my talents to then get a job at the most exciting place in Austin at the time, Human Code.
How many projects does your company juggle at any one time?
Who do you rate as being the top 3 design companies?
Excluding Odopod, my three favorites are Code and Theory, HUGE and IDEO.
What area of web design lacks the most?
Content Strategy is often overlooked, yet is so critical to success. Many of the sites that we design and build are “publishing systems.” They are meant to be fairly agnostic to the amount or type of content that is published into them. Sites like NikeSkateboarding.com, UFC.com, and MSIChicago.org are designed by Odopod, with content that is developed and managed by the client.
Since it’s often the case that our clients are developing the site content, what is our role? As the agency, we can proactively define a Content Strategy that aims to improve search rankings, time spent on site, and viral impact. To this end, I see three important tasks: 1) keyword research, 2) metadata and creating meaningful relationships, and 3) distribution strategy (including social media).
Are there any websites that have shone through as being pioneering in the last 5 years or so?
Why yes, Twitter, Facebook, New York Times, Google Docs, last.fm – are the first to come to mind. The last five years have been pretty phenomenal for the web. From a brand marketing perspective, I’m impressed with how Nike uses digital, particularly Nike+ and the Nike.com O/S (the system that brings most of their brands together into a consistent UI and shopping process). We’ve worked with Nike since prior to this redesign, and it was a very smart strategy to create this consistency and efficiency, especially given their global reach. (It was also smart to allow flexibility for more independent brands, like Nike Skateboarding, to live outside the system.)
Has winning FWA awards helped you in any way?
Yes, we have a lot of respect for the FWA awards. It makes the team feel really great to have their work recognized. It helps us connect with other agencies that also value and produce great work.
When dealing with major clients, how difficult is it to meet the needs of such wide target audiences?
I believe that good design and interesting stories are fairly universal. YouTube, Facebook and Google are great examples of sites that work well for my 12 year old niece in Texas, my 70 year old Aunt Doris in Missouri, as well as me (a 38-year old in California) – not to mention millions of people around the world.
In my experience, designing for niche audience is just as challenging as meeting the needs of a broad market (if not more). When designing sites like NikeSkateboarding.com, ChromeBagStore.com or TeslaMotors.com, we have to nail every aspect of the design, voice and strategy – or the audience will call us on it. To be accepted by these relatively small but powerful audiences requires authenticity, confidence and mutual respect.
Are there things you do OUTSIDE of work to ensure that you are in the right mindset to be creative and/or successful in whatever you are doing?
My mind functions best when I eat well, exercise, and get adequate sleep. Three [relatively] simple things that I do: drink lots of water, eat small meals throughout the day (each including some protein), and get outside for a walk or run.
What was the last digital effort you saw (or were a part of) that used social media in a way that really made sense. Why?
The first one that comes to mind is an Odopod project. We created LadyData for DonQ Rum – the number one rum in Puerto Rico (the land of rum). But it wasn’t yet well-known in the U.S. The strategic brains at Undercurrent came to us with a plan to help the brand change that. How? By giving its audience of young men something they’re in dire need of: female perspective.
With Undercurrent, we developed this plan into a platform: LadyData. It’s powered by the opinions of a team of female insiders, lending their intuition to crucial man-topics like: style, careers, manners and, of course, sex and dating. Guys can explore the data and findings, sorting the women by region, age, relationship status, and other attributes to see how their opinions vary and what patterns emerge.
The site is an unexpected blend of data, entertainment and utility. It’s built to grow, with new opinions and ladies being added all the time. Most importantly, it’s relevant and engaging.
Have you been a part of a campaign that was rooted in digital and THEN reached over into other consumer touchpoints? Did this happen organically or was it a part of the plan from the beginning?
Yes, DonQ is an example of that too. After the success of LadyData, DonQ asked Odopod to develop a print campaign for Esquire magazine. We drafted off of the data from the site, with insights like “Are Skinny Jeans In or Out?” It makes for much more interesting advertising when you can learn something useful (like, 62% of women say Skinny Jeans are Out).
Do you think Flash is here to stay?
I think this is a really interesting topic right now. I am reluctant to proclaim that any technology is here to stay, because technology is always changing (as it must). I was glad when Apple reverted its allowance of iOS apps to be developed in Flash. I think Flash is still a great tool for making animated, dynamic interactive experiences. But, I’m personally very excited about HTML5, and the notion of a more open, extensible platform. Odopod is still doing a substantial amount of its work in Flash, but we’re also doing a lot of very interesting HTML5 sites. We’ve been experimenting with how it can rival Flash. One of our developers recently created an HTML5 version of Odosketch. This means artists can now draw using the large touch surface of an iPad, which is super satisfying.
This is certainly not my area of expertise and I defer to the technology gurus. I’ll say this: I think it’s important for everyone in our field to be adaptable and versatile. If you specialize in any one tool, you make yourself incredibly vulnerable to obsolescence.
There is perhaps a shift in web use these days. We are seeing a decline in the purely experiential sites in flash with huge production efforts, to a relationship with clients based on tools and services, that many times have simples interfaces. How do you see that trend developing? Will Flash suffer?
Yes, I think this refers back to an earlier answer describing how many of our sites are “publishing systems.” This trend started about four years ago, and I don’t see it letting up as more and more distribution platforms increase the demand for content that is portable and lightweight. At the same time, I think there are some interesting opportunities in the immediate and near-term to merge traditional production techniques with interactivity (with tablets, multi-touch displays and connected TVs). I don’t necessarily foresee it being Flash-based, but I anticipate a re-invigoration of creative and technical innovation.
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 review most of the design portfolios that come to Odopod. I very rarely look at resumes, and I almost never look at someone’s education. But yes, I recommend design school. But not to get a job, but rather to find your voice. I think it’s a really important rite of passage from youth to adulthood to indulge yourself by making things that are inspired by your own values and interests. Once you enter the professional world, you’ll be solving other people’s problems – collaborating with colleagues, following a supervisor’s direction, making clients happy, etc. In school, you may have grades and deadlines to meet, other students to impress, and parents to please, but it’s inherently focused on you, on developing yourself. So, go to school with the intention of being extremely selfish and self-indulgent. If there’s another path that leads you to same conclusion (traveling the world, freelancing, making art, etc), then pursue that path and make the most of it.
If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring FWA award submitter, what advice would you give them?
Do not use a template-based portfolio (like Cargo or Behance). Create an amazing portfolio that represents who you are as a designer and what makes you unique. Tell a very clear, succinct story about your approach, strengths and passions. Treat your portfolio like the most important design project that you’ve ever been assigned, and get feedback from people that you respect. Once you’re a rockstar designer whose work is well respected, then it’s fine to use one of the template systems.
How difficult do you find employing the right people in a world where everyone calls themselves a web designer?
I didn’t know that everyone was calling themselves a web designer. I thought it was just because I work in San Francisco! Regardless, we find it very hard to find talented people, because the combination of talents that we seek seems to be quite rare. Not only are we looking for people with great design skills, but we also need them to actively participate in generating inventive concepts and to be able to articulate and discuss ideas.
How do you keep your finger on the pulse of the latest web trends?
Mostly Twitter and my RSS Reader (ReadWriteWeb, Mashable, Silicon Valley Insider, Ars Technica, New York Times Bits, PSFK), The Big Web Show Podcast, my colleagues, and Adam (my beloved).
What country excites you the most in terms of innovation?
There must be a project that you have always dreamed of doing, what is it?
I’d love to design a restaurant with interactive dining surface where diners explore menus, place orders, learn about the farmers who provided the ingredients, get recommendations for wine parings, rate and write reviews, play games with each other, and send media and messages out to the world. My dream would be to design every aspect of the restaurant with the assistance of my incredibly talented cousin, chef Teri Rippeto. The challenge is making it tasteful and natural – and not too clever nor obtrusive.
What is the most expensive thing you have bought in the last week?
An Eames rocker
Any parting shots or pearls of wisdom?
Dance, and if you don’t dance, at least sway.
It has been a privilege, thanks very much
Thank you! I enjoyed answering your questions.