The hardest part of my job is when my design direction gets killed by the client. When you put your heart and soul into your design, it’s never easy to give up your direction.
Please give us a brief bio of yourself.
This is my second interview with FWA, so I’ll keep my bio short. I was born and raised in Korea, and I worked as a designer there for several years until I moved to NYC at age 24 to explore other opportunities. I was lucky—my first job in the states was as Art Director at Firstborn. I’ve kind of grown with the company these past 6 years, and I was recently promoted to CCO. When I started, Firstborn had 15 employees. We are now a 60+ person shop run by three principals: Founder Michael Ferdman, President Dan LaCivita and myself.
What do you do for inspiration?
I eat good food and enjoy my life with my wife and newborn baby. I try to get away from the computer as much as I can, when possible.
What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?
Professional: the passion I have for the work that I get to do every day.
How many hours do you work each week?
I guess I’ve never actually counted the exact number of hours I work in a week, but I won’t lie—we work really hard. I’ve never thought of a design shop as a 9-6 kind of job. Some people may disagree, but it takes a lot of time to maintain the quality of work that makes the entire team proud. And it’s not solo work anymore—the projects and the teams for each have really grown over the years—one project needs a Creative Director, Executive Producer, Senior Producer, Art Director, Designer, 3D Artist, Front and Backend Developers, Sound Designers, Live Action Department, Strategists, Copywriters, etc, all working together. Each role is vital to a successful launch, so if one piece falls short, the overall quality of the project is compromised. Every individual team member must bring 110% to the table.
If you weren't working on the internet what would you be doing?
I’m very interested in art forms that combine different components to create a comprehensive experience. The visuals, the sounds, the narrative and how the audience interacts with the story are all important elements embedded in the work I do at Firstborn. So if I had to choose another profession, I’d probably say a short film director, because that would still allow me to explore my creativity in an experience-driven and comprehensive art form.
What's your favorite part of your job? What's the hardest part of your job? What do you do when you get stuck?
My favorite part is coming up with the idea—concepting into starting a design. Design is my passion and I could never see myself not working on a design. I like to take the rough idea and start laying out the design and then finish the idea while I’m designing. I see design as a big puzzle with all of the elements that I’ve gathered. When two different pieces are put together, new forms and ideas are created. It always fascinates me that I can discover new ideas while designing.
What's the longest you've ever stayed up working on a project?
When it’s crunch time, rendering the CG is always tough. We have a big render farm in our office but debugging the 3D files is always time consuming, and there is no way around it. So I’m up really late any time we have a big 3D project. In fact, it is not unusual for me to see two consecutive sunrises without sleep in between.
I have to say when I learned to take chances. Designers should never fall into a comfort zone. If you are afraid of taking chances with your design, ideas or career, you’ll never exceed or truly find out what you are capable of creating. It was a tough decision for me to come and work in a different country. On top of design, I had to think about the language barrier, cultural differences and learning nearly everything from scratch. It was tough, but it was also one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.
Have you written any books, if not do you plan to?
I still have a lot of reading to do. I recently bought a pile of books and I haven’t had time to start any of them—so I need to finish that first.
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 try to use my spare time to work on some of my personal projects. I enjoy the process, and I draw inspiration from it. Personal projects are always tough, because there are no deadlines and no clients to approve the work. I used to see myself as extremely ambitious at the starting point, but always felt like I wasn’t really getting anything done. Now I try to keep it small and enjoy what I’m doing while I’m doing it.
Of all the websites you/your company have produced, which one are you most proud of?
I have to say I am proud of every project that I’ve produced at Firstborn but if I really have to pick one, Microsoft Zune Journey is still my favorite. I designed and concepted the initial idea and was very fortunate to work with Mathieu Badimon, who is one of our extremely talented Senior Developers. It was also great to work with my buddies from Korea, who did some sick key frame animations in Flash for the project. The site is pretty old but I think it’s still cool. Check out the website here.
What are your views on design/graphic school. Do you think someone can get into the field without educational experience in a school environment?
Educational experience is important but not mandatory for designing—I didn’t go to school for design. I began my career right after graduating high school so I had ZERO knowledge of design when I started. It’s funny—I didn’t even know about Helvetica at that time. Arial was my favorite font.
How do you keep up with the latest capabilities of Flash or do you rely on other members of you team to do this?
Designers who can actually code are ideal candidates for concepting original ideas using Flash, but obviously that is a rare combination. I try to keep up with the latest technology by talking with internal team members and various other sources. But honestly, nothing is better than actually playing with the code yourself. Knowing the capabilities of Flash is the easy part. The hard part is figuring out how you can take that knowledge to the next level and in an innovative way.
When your company was just getting started, what did you find was most effective for getting new clients?
We put our heads down and worked hard to produce the best work we could. We knew the work would speak for itself and that would ultimately attract new clients as well as talented potential employees. It’s as simple as that.
What are you excited about learning next and is there a long term challenge you are considering tackling?
My new position is my next challenge. I’m learning with every step. I’m grateful to be working with so many talented people around me, and I’m very excited to see where Firstborn will be the next 10 years.
It has been a privilege, thanks very much
Thank you, FWA!