The hardest part of my job is often the ‘end game’…the part of the project where you have to see the project through engineering to reality. The part of the project where you have to prioritize, often cutting features, sacrificing part of the experience, aesthetic, or fidelity for one reason or another.
Please give us a brief bio of yourself.
Born and raised in the great peach state, deep south, USA. I studied graphic design, photography and art history at the Savannah College of Art & Design. I’m now a creative director within Microsoft's Office Division where I'm leading the visual and motion design teams and driving good right brain thinking into connected cloud based communication and collaboration software. Prior to that I was in J Allard's Entertainment Experiences Group. Most recently the Xbox Live Studios Design team where my role was around future thinking, incubation, and ideation in the entertainment space, as well as some Kinect gesture based applications that recently launched.
Before Xbox I was brand creative director for the KIN suite of products… a mobile brand and product within Windows Phone, which launched in May 2010. I led the visual design of the device software, as well as the conceptual, interaction and visual design for the services, or KIN Studio, which was the website experience where all the device content lived. I eventually transitioned to brand creative director to help define the brand and launch the product. It was truly an epic experience. Prior to that, I worked in the interactive web space for the first ten years of my career, two of which were at Microsoft/MSN Entertainment where I was an Art Director/UX lead.
What do you do for inspiration?
Look at great work on the web, subscribe to IDN magazine, study and collect Swiss design, hang with my family, learn from my peers, surf, ride my skateboard, see the world through my camera, close my eyes and listen to music.
Please list 3 of your favourite sites.
FWA, aisleone (superb collection of swiss design on he web), oh and zombo.com of course…classic. Has to be one of the oldest flash site out there. Design inspiration that has undoubtedly stood the test of time.
What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?
Finding a way to make a living doing something I truly love. That one can be hard for some people but it seemed to fall into place when I decided to follow my passion no matter what. I never really let a day go by without recognizing what I have.
How many hours do you work each week?
It depends on the week, and traffic, but I never turn it off. Not sure I could.
How do you relax or unwind?
Spending time with my family, cooking, traveling to sunny places with surf, and reading design, technology and architecture books.
If you weren't working on the internet what would you be doing?
Living in Costa Rica, surfing, playing guitar, and teaching art & design to kids. Maybe spinning records or doing a radio show.
What's your favourite part of your job? What's the hardest part of your job? What do you do when you get stuck?
Often times my favorite thing about my job is the people, the vibe and the cool things we get to work on. I dig it most when the team is really in sync and fired up about what we’re doing. It’s mostly in the beginning of projects when we’re riffing on ideas and making beautiful things… visuals, motion studies and such. It’s the part of a project where we really establish the essence, the vision and start to make it real.
The hardest part of my job is often the ‘end game’…the part of the project where you have to see the project through engineering to reality. The part of the project where you have to prioritize, often cutting features, sacrificing part of the experience, aesthetic, or fidelity for one reason or another. The goal is to do so without losing the soul or the essence of the product or design you envisioned, yet still ship something you're stoked about and users will want. When you have passion and drive to make things great it can be heart breaking sometimes.
This is really three questions…
I don’t really get stuck often, thankfully. If I do, it's likely that I’m working in a bubble and I need to get some feedback or help from my peers. Brainstorm, crit session, or find some inspiration. Sometimes I procrastinate, or wait for the creativity to flow then tight deadlines become the cure. I work well under those circumstances for the most part. I have also found a process of recognizing that you could be overcomplicating things and trying to simplify the problem helps… minimization process. People in the software business are often scared of simple… I'm glad it's getting more love.
What's the longest you've ever stayed up working on a project?
Several days. When I was a UX lead/Art Director for MSN Entertainment, we did this huge event called Live Earth. It was a global concert to create awareness for the climate crisis and that went on for a day or so. It was hosted by Al Gore and had a huge list of top musicians and such that played gigs in stadiums all over the planet. It was broadcast in over 100 countries and at the time was the biggest entertainment event on the web. We spent months planning, brainstorming, designing, building, testing and then watching the whole thing unfold in real time, with out fingers crossed that it would all work!
If there are any pivotal experiences/decisions you could point to that helped shape your career, what would they be?
Sure, the obvious… going to work for Microsoft. Where else can you design products that hundreds of millions of people use every day? There's also great people here in the design community that are pushing the company to be better and more design centered in terms of innovation. There's plenty to do here but I like a challenge. It's also great to have budget to enter your work in shows and such. :)
Have you written any books, if not do you plan to?
I have not but I am starting to think about it much more these days and talking to a few people that can help make it happen. I've been leading several multi-diciplined teams through a design process that is starting to get some recognition internally. We're going to be documenting the processes and the end products in some fun creative ways soon, which has me thinking about sharing it with the larger design community.
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 think like most designers, I really like seeing great design work. I spend a lot of time looking at work on the web, collecting design books, and getting inspired. I also spend a lot of time collecting and listening to records and just forcing myself to relax and unplug enough to be fresh for the next day.
Of all the websites you/your company have produced, which one are you most proud of?
Live Earth was pretty amazing for the time. We also had a fun run at 'new TV' type sites at MSN Entertainment. We partnered with several Hollywood folks to do interactive TV experiences. It was crazy fun and creative. We actually worked with Reveille Productions on a site where we took over a minor league baseball team in the outside of Chicago where we let our internet audience vote on what players should play all the different positions and such… as we filmed it all. It was a disaster but it made for good drama. It was maybe a bit before it's time. Both the marketing site for KIN and the services/cloud web experience were pretty beautiful and won several awards. That was a great project to work on.
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 know that there are some people who do well without a formal design education but I do think it limits you. I remember when I was in SF in the late nineties and so many people were 'web designers'. It was like the digital gold rush in some ways. There is a need for that I guess but I do think it's better to have a solid foundation in art and design first. I also believe in specialty focussed disciplines on a design team help to have big successes.
If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring FWA award submitter, what advice would you give them?
Follow your passion. Always give 110%. Believe in what your do and your ability to be great at it. Keep your ego in check and pay attention to the details.
How difficult do you find employing the right people in a world where everyone calls themselves a web designer?
Yeah, I mentioned that web designer thing earlier on… I hire designers. People with a solid foundation in design, a passion for it, they see the world through that lens and never turn it off. I believe you can apply those attributes to nearly any type of design medium and be pretty successful with the right mentoring and direction. It's also about vibe and surrounding yourself with the right people.
What does the future hold for your company, or you as a person?
In the last five years, we've made a lot of progress in terms of design and we are working hard to be better. There are some great people here who understand the importance of design driving the innovation of consumer and business software. There are also those who will require more convincing. ;) I can clearly see the opportunity and try to lead by example. It's about doing great design work, evangelizing it, collaborate with other teams and giving as much as you can to help inspire and educate. Getting great software experiences in the market that people will love will be the key. As for me… that’s' what I'll continue to do. It might be a long road but I believe in it.
What are you excited about learning next and is there a long term challenge you are considering tackling?
I've been really interested in audio editing applications lately. Music is a real passion of mine and I've always been a bit of a audiophile. The creation and piecing together of compositions that one might never imagine working together really blows my mind. It just seems endless and full of amazing possibilities.
What is the most expensive thing you have bought in the last week?
Tapas, a fisheye lens, and the bar tab last Saturday.
What type of overcoat do you wear when Flashing, basically are you a labels man?
Not so much labels but I do have a thing for boots… Robert Wayne right now.
Any parting shots or pearls of wisdom?
Find what you love to do, always feed that passion, have skin in the game and keep your ego in check.
It has been a privilege, thanks very much
It's my pleasure, thanks for all the inspiration.