My first site was my personal portfolio site during my college years. I spent an entire summer reading Actionscript and Javascript books, hacking my way through it all. Like everyone else at the time, I was inspired by Eric Jordan from 2 Advanced and all the flash games going on over at New Grounds. I remember wearing 2 Advanced t-shirts for crying out loud. I even made some original music for the “intro”.

Oh the good ole days.

question Please give us a brief bio of yourself.

My name is Jeff Toll and I'm the Creative Director for an independent digital agency named BKWLD, also known by some as Bukwild. I graduated from Sacramento State University in 2004 with a BS in Graphic Design. I work from of our Sacramento, California office with some amazingly talented and hard working people. I've been with the company for 8 years and have worn a variety of "hats" in that time. It's been quite an incredible ride.

 What do you do for inspiration?

In order for me to be inspired, it’s required that I have a healthy work-life balance.

It’s a huge challenge for me, but if that isn’t balanced I’m not happy nor inspired. I have a wife and 2 kids who simply inspire me far more than anything.

In addition to my family, my inspiration comes from believing in and being young at heart. I try not to take myself too seriously and I’m always inspired by young people. I’m inspired by ideas that are uninfluenced and genuine, that of a child’s creativity. It may not make sense to everyone, but I believe true creativity can be seen in kids art. Raw ideas executed with limited skills inspire me like no other. I’m inspired and challenged by the idea of being uninfluenced when it comes to imagination and creativity.

Another part of me needs to express myself with creative freedom. I firmly believe that side/pet projects are the key to avoiding burnout and staying refreshed. A personal goal, dream and vision to strive towards.

Please list 3 of your favourite sites.

1. http://www.netmagazine.com/ - By far the best web industry resource out there.

2. http://odopod.com/ - The site’s been around a while, but I’ve always respected their work and culture.

3. http://www.blacknegative.com/ - Changed the HTML5 game for me.

What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?

My biggest achievement was joining the BKWLD team 8 years ago. I could not be more fortunate and honored to work with so many talented and sincere human beings throughout the years. I’ve learned something unique from each and every one of them.

On a side note, last year I spoke at Sacramento State University to a classroom full of Graphic Design students. After my presentation, I continued chatting with the students when one approached me asking “for my autograph” on my business card. It was priceless, I’ll never forget that moment, I was so honored.

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

I always painted this picture in my head with a vision of being a vegetable or fruit farmer. It’s a retirement sorta pipe dream, having land, an orchard or something -- who knows if it will ever come true. It’s something fun to think about, but in reality I’d be doing something creative offline. I’ve tried to fool myself into believing I could do something outside of using my imagination. 
I know that might sound vague or cliche, but it’s really all I know. “Every man has a talent, I’ve found my talent” - Barrington Levy. Yeah, I just quoted a dancehall legend there, but it’s a little internal mantra that has always comforted me. Using my imagination, it’s all I have.

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

The people, the energy, the passion and the enthusiasm of creating great work from start to finish. Not everyone gets to walk into a work environment each morning and be surrounded by a unified front of people who want nothing more than to create and explore as a team. And I cannot emphasis “team” enough. I’ve been called a “believer” on numerous occasions, and that’s really what I hold dear and try to pass onto others. Making believers in creativity ranging from young designers to seasoned industry veterans is definitely the favorite part of my job. Getting a client to “believe” in an idea is great, but getting a team to believe in an idea is far greater. It’s funny, at times when things are going smooth I feel my job is easy and then at other times I feel completely overwhelmed with the challenges of my job. Technology, trends, ideas, client personalities, restraints, the lack of restraints, budgets, deadlines, etc etc etc. We are all aware of these, but the hardest part is living up to both personal and peer expectations. 

Personal expectations are high; the bar is raised after each and every project. The expectation to beat your personal best, over and over again can be daunting. Someone mentioned I wasn’t “competitive” once, and I was so taken back by the comment, it left me speechless. It may not always be obvious that I’m competing with “someone”, but I’m always completing with myself when it comes to my work. 

When I’m stuck, I start over completely. Put it aside and forget about it. This may sound simple, but it’s a harder discipline than one would initially think. Falling in love with an idea is equally as hard as falling out of love with one. I’ve found myself polishing many turds in the past, in fear of just flushing. Not the classiest metaphor but it’s it drives home the point. I’ve convinced myself that starting over from scratch, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but rather quite liberating and positive.

Another big part of getting unstuck is to simply take my “work hat” off. It’s really all or nothing with me. My wife and kids ground me, allows me to switch gears and take that work hat off. Sometimes the hat sticks a bit, but I’m getting much better at it. Making blanket tents and playing hide-and-go-seek with my wife and kids always does the trick.

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

The best experience/decision I’ve made in my career has been reaching out and giving my time to lecturing and critiquing at local universities. Being refueled by the energy of a classroom filled with aspiring students is incredible. I was once a student too, so I feel like I’m giving something back, and that feels right.

What software could you not live without?

Photoshop. I’ve explored my options over the years, but Photoshop rules my world. It sorta scares me how much I rely on Adobe software.

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

I’ve just started previewing http://html.adobe.com/edge/reflow/ and it has really opened my eyes. It’s going to be very interesting to see how software like this will change our overall workflow. There are some huge possibilities to come from this, especially when it comes to the designer and front end developer relationship.

Who is your target audience?

Millennials for sure. Since day one that has been the target. I’ve worked with so many different music labels, action sport brands, clothing labels and lifestyle brands. There has always been a natural understanding of this audience. Like I said earlier, I strive to stay young at heart.

What area of web design lacks the most?

Original content creation and its strategy. There has been so much emphasis on front-end design lately, but we need to equally focus on original content creation and overall strategy. Though it’s gotten much better over the years, it’s still a challenge with clients. I think it’s just simply because it’s an area in which we have the least amount of control at times. Authentic social media content could also use some love. The days of aggregating or pushing to a branded Facebook, Twitter or Instagram will soon not be good enough. I’m excited to see how unique social media content continuously evolves. 

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

In a nutshell I think the HTML5 browser showcase websites have opened so many doors. All the stuff Google Labs has been doing along with even the IE demonstration sites. They all have helped introduced awareness to the possibilities out there. A lot of the functionality has been abused and turned into quote, “a fad” such as the overuse of parallax and so on, but it’s the exploration and idea of pushing the usage of the web I enjoy seeing. Oh, and of course the talented developer community at Github and code play at http://codepen.io/

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

My first site was my personal portfolio site during my college years. I spent an entire summer reading Actionscript and Javascript books, hacking my way through it all. Like everyone else at the time, I was inspired by Eric Jordan from 2 Advanced and all the flash games going on over at New Grounds. I remember wearing 2 Advanced t-shirts for crying out loud. I even made some original music for the “intro”.

Oh the good ole days.

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?

I can’t stress it enough, I try to stay young at heart. I do love skateboarding, though I don’t get many opportunities to do it as much as I’d like. I built a mini ramp in my backyard a few summers ago, so I could actually get some skating in. It was my childhood dream, but I tore it down not too long ago since I’m moving. I’m planning on buying my son his first real skateboard for his birthday. I still remember my Dad taking me down to the local skate shop to set up my first custom complete, a Lance Mountain future primitive. Lance changed my life in more ways than one. Anyhow, maybe another ramp will appear in my backyard again soon. Regardless, there are a lot of similarities to design and skateboarding. People who skateboard see the physical world differently much like designers -- we see the world through a different lens so to speak. Both are expressive, involve style, take years of dedication and are quite gratifying, there are so many parallels between the two.

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 work we did for Drexel University, getgoingtoday.org really made sense to me. It capitalized on an extremely popular social media asset, “inspirational quotes”. Our messaging was authentic and true, and was matched with raw imagery that evolved into telling a story leveraging video and sound. We as a team believed in that project, and I feel it ultimately shows.

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

The site that will always hold a special place in my heart and I’ve always been quite proud of was a flash microsite we did for the metal band “The Disturbed”. It was a complete success but the personal stories and effort that came out of that project is really what made me proud. Basically, it was a lower budget project that we took as a creative opportunity, which required nearly everyone in the office to participate in, mainly in the form of acting. The b-roll we ended up with was both inspiring and hilarious. I built a DSLR camera head mount helmet using a hockey mask to capture a POV perspective. Our developers and producers acted as distraught orderlies, HR heads acted as rude nurses, family members acted insane while vomiting up phony blood. The stories go on and on...

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

Inspiration is everywhere now. Everyone is looking at the same stuff and creating the same stuff. I like to hire people who are inspired by their unique outside personal interests and apply that to their work. People who walk to the beat of a different drum, and I say that in the most positive way possible. Being a weirdo, is a strong plus in my book. I’ve been called a weirdo, and I take it as a complement.

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

Twitter, .Net Magazine, Awwwards and the FWA have been my pulse for quite some time. The information shared by the industry through all these sites is incredible. But, besides that, chatting all day while I work with my co-workers keeps a healthy pulse as well. I refuse to work in an enclosed office. I need to be out on an open floor listening and participating in conversation as much as I possibly can. There’s no time for isolation.

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

In my off hours I’ve started creating a mobile social game called @Nomiigame. It’s a competitive social wacky photo, video and audio sharing game. It’s a vision shared between my wife, my brother in law and myself. We have an extremely talented developer working with us and it’s scheduled to be completed by early Summer 2013. I’ve always loved video games, its a passion that I’ve sorta kept at bay in my later years, but the idea of creating a mobile gaming company is something I’m working towards and dream about everyday.

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

In regards to the future of BKWLD, I feel it holds team empowerment. We’ve been doing what we’ve been doing since the beginning. A co-worker of mine Justin Jewett, mentioned us as being “digital natives”, that really resonated with me. As for me personally, I’m going to continue to believe in what I do as a creative, strive for a work and life balance being a husband and father, and try to better live in the moment and take one day at a time.

Any parting shots or pearls of wisdom?

Do it because you love it, and make sure you never lose the love.


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