Listen to people and learn from their experience. You don't have to reinvent the wheel every time, especially not when talking to others across the globe has become that easy.
My name is Guenther Beyer, I'm founder of the small web and app development company in Germany, called Opoloo. We also have an office in New York, lead by Mike Novak. While other similar studios are quite happy within Apple's ecosystem, we always enjoyed getting our hands a little more dirty, by diving deeper into technologies like Linux and Android. While it's true that we have quite some hackers in our team, everybody cares about beauty and modern user experiences, mobile, on the desktop and everywhere in between. A quick shout out to the rest of the family: John, Nino, Sandra and Jochen.
What do you do for inspiration?
Nothing special. Inspiration is not something that needs to be forced. I tend to walk through life with an open mind, consuming as many pieces of information as I can. Reading, gaming, and enjoying people and nature certainly helps, but it seems I never run out of ideas. There's always something new to try out, or an old idea in a new costume, that might fit. And if it happens that I get stuck, I just talk to my awesome colleagues and listen to their thoughts and eventually the next idea comes along.
What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?
Most certainly the toughest part in modern development is building a great team. Technology is changing every day, is easy to learn and even easier to deploy. But getting all the gears around running smooth and nicely can only be achieved with a great team of people who work and live together seamlessly. We're all good colleagues and good friends at the same time, even across continents and oceans. Come hell or high waters - having established such a core team makes working a pleasure every single day. While this sounds a little dramatic, we really are that proud about it.
How many hours do you work each week?
We always try to get everything done withing the basic 40 hours each week. Sure, you have to pull some nighties from time to time, or help out a lovely client over the weekend. But this fetish amongst many designers to work 16 hours, 7 days a week just does not cut it in the long run. You want to obtain clients and biuld relationships that last for years to come, and overly stressful work, just to squeeze in another client just burns out your team. Rather try to keep efficiency high with regular breaks and strong collaborations within the team.
How do you relax or unwind?
I guess the right answer here is sports. When you're working in the creative field, your brain probably never stops thinking and processing ideas. Rough sports like my favorite Capoeira demand a lot of physical force, silencing your thought processing for a while. Also a solid social balance between work, family, and friends helps a lot. Speaking of which: Mike just became a father a couple of weeks ago.
If you weren't working on the internet what would you be doing?
Well, that's an interesting question. I’ve always enjoyed doing things with my hands, so I’d probably a craftsman of some kind, like a painter or a carpenter. Getting the details right is the same in the digital or real world. It always comes down to patience, polish, communication and experience.
What's your favourite part of your job? What's the hardest part of your job? What do you do when you get stuck?
Starting a completely new project is always fun. Getting into the groove with the client, testing boundaries and experimenting just makes this field so beautiful to work in. On the other side, finishing up long and complex projects on a tough deadline is always quite stressful. But this is something you can get used to and should be prepared for at all times, right from the start. If you don't skip on the sleeping and relaxing time, and keep communication with your client rather high, you hardly get stuck.
If there are any pivotal experiences/decisions you could point to that helped shape your career, what would they be?
Accepting to take responsibility made us quit our dayjobs and start our own company. As long as we hid behind our boss and pushed mistakes to others, work was always some kind of necessity, we never really enjoyed it. Once you step up and take on responsibility for all the work your team puts out, everything became much, much harder, but also much more satisfying.
What software could you not live without?
That's simple - Linux. While there are so many pieces of software running every minute and are being used every day on every project, the Linux kernel powers them all. From the Android smartphone placing the first client call, to the Ubuntu/MacOS workstation (true, Unix, but close) writing the code, to the tablet presenting the results - there's a Linux beneath all of them.
What area of web design lacks the most?
Consistency amongst browsers. Seriously, everybody today expects a certain amount of visual polish and a decent user experience. And everybody expects this equally on his big home workstation, tablet, smartphone or office PC. And it's actually possible with recent technologies. But every web developer is running into some roadblocks from time to time, because a browser manufacturer just missed on some very basic features or standard implementations. I would at least expect all modern browsers to maintain a vivid dialogue to offer users a similar experience on the technological side of things. This is especially true for Microsoft. We're still not there.
What did your very first site look like? Is it still online?
Ha, unfortunately not. It was the homepage of our first company as students years ago, and bore the crazy name 'Imaginetion'. The developer of the site at that time was colorblind, so the site turned out to be blue, orange and pink in the end. Hilarious experiment.
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?
Well, pretty much all problems have multiple solutions. While especially cross medium solutions tend to be the most beautiful ones to work on, digital-only approaches are much more manageable, easier to build and cheaper to maintain. We always suggest to start with a web based product alone, and scale from there. If you can't reach certain audiences with a proper digital solution, you have to move across mediums, obviously. But most of the time, you can build one out of another, adding in what you have learned already.
Looking 10 years in to the future, how far can websites go?
Well, the term 'site' as in website is clearly a connection to the written book and will probably vanish similarly. But the web itself will move on to an even more connected canvas of services. We're still creating sites or pages that have their origin in magazine layouts, one site at a time. But these are somehow on the verge of their lifespan already. The next step would be a seamless, multi-medial approach, where everybody can gather information when and how they like.
Do you think Flash is here to stay?
No. While Flash made many things possible and definitely influenced how the web moved forward, it's a proprietary technology. Only open standards are here to stay, because they are able to sustain themselves in the long run, especially within an open environment like the web.
What are your views on design/graphic school. Do you think someone can get into the field without educational experience in a school environment?
Absolutely. It's easier than ever to learn new things and gather all the information you might need around a certain field. Plus, schools and universities are having quite a hard time to keep up with the speed and evolution of the digital world. There are a couple of popular and very successful designers out there without a notch of proper education. If you want to work in the field of digital communication, you have to learn new things everyday, anyway. It comes down to experience and practice, and this is earned by sticking with something for a long time.
If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring FWA award submitter, what advice would you give them?
Listen to people and learn from their experience. You don't have to reinvent the wheel every time, especially not when talking to others across the globe has become that easy. But don't overdo it. You also have to find your own way of doing things. So don't be afraid to fail. It's much more important to stand up and try again. It might be one of the oldest wisdoms of mankind, but especially in an industry moving as fast as ours, this still matters most.
How difficult do you find employing the right people in a world where everyone calls themselves a web designer?
I don't think it's too difficult, though we are a small company of six - so what do I know. All kinds of skills can be learned eventually, so it matters a lot more if people are a perfect fit to the company’s philosophy and the team’s rhythm. If two engineers match on a human level, they can get a lot of more work done together than each would have been able to individually, no matter how good they are.
What would be your ultimate vehicle to travel in?
A teleporter, if you care about reaching your destination. If you enjoy the trip itself with all the things to see and feel, I'd say a ship. There's a lot of room for people to socialize. It's slow, so you can enjoy the moment, and besides the ocean is much more interesting than the sky outside a plane.
When your company was just getting started, what did you find was most effective for getting new clients?
Obviously, the first thing we had to do was finding clients. The technological world that we are working in is moving very fast and remains quite confusing. Right from the start we tried to understand each client's problems on a human level, really getting to the core of their company’s philosophy and goals. Just asking 'what do you need?' and building that for cash doesn't help anybody in the long run. But really identifying with the problem and finding a manageable solution got us to every client coming back a second and third time.
What does the future hold for your company, or you as a person?
Hopefully we can continue similarly to how we spend the last 12 months - creating beautiful things for great clients with an awesome team. It most definitely seems that way. We're growing very, very slowly, trying not to add more than 2 people to the team each year. This makes for a kick-ass combination of characters, enjoying every day we work together.
Any parting shots or pearls of wisdom?
Thanks for having us. The only pearl of wisdom would be to always keep standing on your toes and never go down that easy route.
It has been a privilege, thanks very much
Appreciated. Keep up supporting those small studios. They are the fuel that keep the engine turning. Thanks a lot.