When you start your own business, of course your portfolio is quite empty. So the best way to show your skills and creativity is your own website. And we always followed the – LESS IS MORE – motto. Have a simple, clear business message.

question Please give us a brief bio of yourself.

My name is JB Grasset. In 2006, with my two partners Hélène and Olivier we founded ultranoir in Paris. Before that, I started my career as self-taught web designer in 2000 in IBM. Then I worked a little while in an American web agency called Scient. The passion for digital design came from my first computer - Commodore 64 - and Amiga. 

What do you do for inspiration?

Thinking about real life.

Please list 3 of your favourite sites.

My favorite sites are the one that wonder since I discovered the web in.. hum.. 1998..

Gabocorp (the story started here)

Get the glass


ok, two are of from North Kingdom.

What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?

ultranoir. We have very talented people here and I'm simply proud of what we have done together.

How many hours do you work each week?

I have always believed in efficiancy more than quantity. 

How do you relax or unwind?

Spend a weekend in the countryside where you have no connection.

If you weren't working on the internet what would you be doing?

My dream was to work in a zoo.

What's your favourite part of your job? What's the hardest part of your job? What do you do when you get stuck?

When I used to spend my time in front of Photoshop, my favourite part was to start a new mockup and try to reach this point of balance when everything works perfectly together. The hardest part was to maintain this point through a business process. When you’re stuck, just get a good night sleep and you will find the answer when you wake up.

Now that I rarely design things, I love to be surprised by the work of ultranoir's team. 

What's the longest you've ever stayed up working on a project?

It was in IBM and I think it was one year and a half as we were working on very big deals.

If there are any pivotal experiences/decisions you could point to that helped shape your career, what would they be?

My best experience was to work on my own website (no longer online)...
As I was a self-taught designer I was very inspired by masters like Clement Mok, Hillman Curtis, Robert Lindstrom or Arnaud Mercier. From then, I cultivated my own style.

Getting your own style is key.

What software could you not live without?

Now, mail...

How many projects does your company juggle at any one time?

Now we are working on 30 projects. And we are 20. It's probably too much ;-)

In terms of software, is there anything new you have been playing with lately or that has impressed you?

We have just received our Leap device. We did a very first test and it’s amazing!

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

Fantasy Interactive. Perfection.

Hello Monday. They design user-oriented and creative UX with elegance and style. 

and of course North Kingdom, masters in interactive storytelling.

What effect on traffic do your new designs have?

For example, we did a website for the Asian Market. The previous site was in Flash with a stronger experience but not appropriated for the average capabilities of this part of the world. What we did is not spectacular but feedbacks are very positive as people can really experience the site (vs creating an experience nobody can really see).

Who is your target audience?

The end-user, the client, ourselves. No specific order.-

What area of web design lacks the most?

Ecommerce design. I think we all dream of a new template.

Are there any websites that have shone through as being pioneering in the last 5 years or so?

Nike.com and their peripheral websites. And you can say in the last 10 years. Even the online version. It certainly shows that people now want more simplicity and efficiency.

Has winning FWA awards helped you in any way?

In term of business, of course but most of all it’s a feeling of pride for the entire agency.

When dealing with major clients, how difficult is it to meet the needs of such wide target audiences?

What is difficult is to convince that you can create a very creative UX that meets the simplicity a wide audience wants. Because it requires time, a lot of efforts and a touch of genius.

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

My very first web site was for Total. It was only 3 pages with a resolution of 800X600 and at this time, the weight of a page should not exceed 50 ko.

Hopefully it's not longer online.

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

I'd love to write a book about web design history.

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?

Having my breakfast at Angelina’s on Saturday morning and cross the street to visit (again) the Louvre. 

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 last thing was during a meeting with the Centre Pompidou Research Dept.

They are working on tools which social comments on content can create a new content. So from commentator, you become an author.  

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?

Unfortunately no. 

The web is getting out of the web. Do you find that thinking in digital solutions alone hinders you? Do you feel the urge to solve the problem using all mediums necessary?

Not really. We are for the moment in an exclusive digital world.

Looking 10 years in to the future, how far can websites go?

If you think about Fashion Cycle, we can have a revival of 90’s websites no?

Of all the websites you/your company have produced, which one are you most proud of?

Ultranoir.com. It was a real whole team process and it really pushed ultranoir into spotlights. The site is two years old now but at this period, few HTML websites offered an experience close to Flash websites.

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

We have never been Flash specialists. We did a Flash website for Jacques Tati which is still online and it took a long time to design it as it’s a hand-made website with all animations in stop-motion.

Do you think Flash is here to stay?

No. I thought the same 2 years ago. For me the main problem was not Apple but SEO.

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?

I always say I want Efficiency AND Experience.

It’s a question of balance. To be honest, I showed many times FWA sites of Month to some clients when they wanted to see the best of the web. Sometimes, comments were: “what is it about? – Where do I click? “. Flash has suffered of a creativity led by the wahou effect more than a deeper experience.

But thinking about the main objectives of the site and the end-user does not mean we can’t offer a strong, creative experience. Anyway that’s our goal and it’s quite hard to achieve.

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

As I am a self-taught webdesigner, of course it’s possible. But within a school environment you will go faster and save years.

If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring FWA award submitter, what advice would you give them?

First of all, surf on websites main galleries to see the best productions over the world.

Now to get a FWA, I have no special recipe, but I think they are two ways: you create something never shown on the web (quite hard) or you offer a good user experience with a big touch of creativity.

How difficult do you find employing the right people in a world where everyone calls themselves a web designer?

For webdesigners, not really. A lot of people have a very good level. Finding somebody with a real and unique style is another story. This world lacks the most of creative developers. 

How do you keep up with the latest capabilities of Flash or do you rely on other members of you team to do this?

Now we only use Flash to prototype HTLM UX. It does not require Flash latest capabilities.

What would be your ultimate vehicle to travel in?


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

When you start your own business, of course your portfolio is quite empty. So the best way to show your skills and creativity is your own website. And we always followed the – LESS IS MORE – motto. Have a simple, clear business message.

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

Trying to understand how great designers do. When I was a newbie I was not afraid to study and copy some of their works for myself. Also spend more time designing the content than the interface.

How do you keep your finger on the pulse of the latest web trends?

I surf every morning on more than 20 web trends websites like a press review. Now Twitter is also a good help as we follow very inspiring people.

What country excites you the most in terms of innovation?

Emerging countries. Everybody knows the world is changing fast and I hope we’ll see more and more productions from China, India or Africa…

There must be a project that you have always dreamed of doing, what is it?

A poetic project. How many websites did you see where you really feel something like emotion? 

What does the future hold for your company, or you as a person?

I want ultranoir to be recognized as one of the best web agency of the world.

Nothing more, nothing less ;-)

What are you excited about learning next and is there a long term challenge you are considering tackling?

I would like to teach what I’ve learnt on more than 300 projects… 

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

Nothing. I’m not into buying expensive things anymore since I bought a flat in Paris.

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

I like labels which have an history stronger than their products like Vespa, Fred Perry or Van’s.

Any parting shots or pearls of wisdom?

Stay humble as a person and ambitious about your work.

It has been a privilege, thanks very much

Thanks to you.

JB Grasset
JB Grasset


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