My first website was a horrible eyesore in the early Geocities environment. My good friend Jeremy Boles and I made rivaling sites called “Kung-fu Land” and “Karate World” which claimed to wage war on one another amongst a sea of cat and family vacation websites.
Please give us a brief bio of yourself.
I was born and raised in rural Ontario, Canada, and have always had a fondness for drawing, robots and Lego for as long as I can remember. I consider this to be the early foundation for my career. I started a website and branding company at age 20, and pursued a degree in Design a few years later. Once I graduated, I continued running my business, only I dabbled more in film and motion graphics. Now, more than ten years later, I’ve joined forces with two partners and am Creative Director and Partner at Secret Location, where I explore the integration of multiple disciplines and platforms to find solutions that help our clients extend their stories into the digital world in a unique and powerful way.
What do you do for inspiration?
My biggest source of inspiration is probably pure conversation with inspiring people. I’m always up for a positive brainstorm and a pint. Other than that, music, nature, conferences, old design books... no different than everyone else. For years, the FWA has also been a huge source of inspiration for me.
What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?
Winning a Gemini Award (It’s like a Canadian Emmy) for “Storming Juno” has definitely been the highlight of my career. It’s led to larger projects of that nature to come through the door, which I’m grateful to now work on.
How many hours do you work each week?
A lot. But I work with great people who are all passionate about what we do, so it’s worth it.
How do you relax or unwind?
I try to leave the city as much as possible. Fresh air does wonders for my mind and soul. As well, I love falling asleep to “made for TV” low-budget space documentaries.
If you weren't working on the internet what would you be doing?
We also do a lot of narrative-based work at Secret Location, which I enjoy, so I can only assume I would be making independent films. Although I’m also heavily drawn to the world of comedy... and because of my upbringing, agriculture has a big place in my heart. So if you put all of that together, I guess I would most likely be making films about Mennonite stand-up comedians.
What's your favourite part of your job? What's the hardest part of your job? What do you do when you get stuck?
My favourite part and the hardest part are one in the same. And that is the pursuit of any big idea, which be both incredibly rewarding and painfully demanding requiring a lot of perseverance. As far as getting unstuck goes, one of three tricks are guaranteed to work for me: seeking out random input for inspiration, using a grid, or putting it to music.
What's the longest you've ever stayed up working on a project?
Long enough to puke and get a nose bleed at the same time. In a good way. I recall it was in the ballpark of 72 hours. Totally worth it. I’m pretty sure I saw my spirit animal.
What software could you not live without?
Wow. As my team knows, I’ll take any chance I get to plug Adobe Fireworks. It’s heaven for a web designer - just a wonderful balance of pixel and vector. God, I’m a geek - but I honestly couldn’t work without it. Pixel-freaking-perfect!
How many projects does your company juggle at any one time?
We are currently at our all-time high of 18 active projects. Which is certainly a lot for a shop of our size (20 people full time.)
In terms of software, is there anything new you have been playing with lately or that has impressed you?
Lately I’ve been quite impressed with the advancements being made in the realm of 3D motion tracking to video. The fact that one can place almost any 3D object into virtually any scene and render realistic results feels like pure science fiction to me. I love it. I wish they made glasses that had that tech built into them.
Has winning FWA awards helped you in any way?
Absolutely. It’s helped to reward and motivate our team to keep working at a high level, it’s also helped bring in new clients who’ve seen our work on the FWA site and it’s helped us gain credibility in our market.
What did your very first site look like? Is it still online?
My first website was a horrible eyesore in the early Geocities environment. My good friend Jeremy Boles and I made rivaling sites called “Kung-fu Land” and “Karate World” which claimed to wage war on one another amongst a sea of cat and family vacation websites. It basically had a black background, some gif animations of our faces, and a lot of green text. I wish it was still online.
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?
Depending on what I’m trying to accomplish, staying in a positive mindset in the day-to-day grind can often be tough. I find that doing creative activities in my spare time that don’t have defined goals attached to them are the best ways for me to revitalize my mindset needed for client projects. Typically I find painting or dj-ing to have the most meditative qualities. I find the deeper I can get into “the zone” outside of work, the better my mind is prepared for work. (Fade to black). Don’t do drugs.
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?
For sure. We’ve worked on a number of these projects now, and have noticed that rooting the campaign in digital is happening more and more. My favourite example of this is from our portfolio is a project we worked on with ad agency john st. called “The Guy at Home in His Underwear” (http://portfolio.thesecretlocation.com/guyathome).
In most cases we’re finding that leading with digital is a deliberate part of the plan from the beginning. However sometimes it just happens that the agency or client we’re working with realizes the benefit in leading with digital, and then it’s simply a matter of re-jigging the messaging and roll-out plan around the different platforms to suit.
Do you think Flash is here to stay?
There’s been a lot of chatter about the longevity of products lately, with Flash being one of them. My thought is that nothing is here to stay. And perhaps, that’s the beauty of it. Competitive tool sets will only help us to create better solutions. Our industry is in a constant state of change and evolution, so enjoy the ride!
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?
We see this happening for sure. Especially when tablet and mobile sites are driving performance and creative decisions. However, we don’t feel this is because Flash as a technology is suffering, but rather, it’s a move towards what is appropriate for the audience in helping to meet both client goals and user needs. Rich interactive experiences can deliver powerful messages in an entertaining way, and there will always be a market for this, but there is also a greater need to deliver utility and value to users as well. We feel that it’s the properties with a lot of smoke and mirrors for the sake of an “exciting experience” that will become a rarity, because by nature they are over-engineered and less usable.
What are your views on design/graphic school. Do you think someone can get into the field without educational experience in a school environment?
Anyone with a passion for design can certainly find a foundation comparable to design school through a handful of books and years of practice. While the fundamentals are no doubt important to learn, nothing beats the good old “trial and error” approach. And in that respect, school is a great opportunity to push the limits, and learn from mistakes in a safe environment with very little consequence. But in the end, school isn’t what makes you a good designer - it really comes down to practice. What a formal education does offer, is a priceless chance to network and grow with peers that will later become the industry.
If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring FWA award submitter, what advice would you give them?
Find the right team of people to work with. In my case, I’ve teamed up with people who have better technical and business skills than myself, and it’s allowed my portfolio to grow exponentially. So, find others that complement your skills and make up for your weaknesses.
When your company was just getting started, what did you find was most effective for getting new clients?
As any young company has likely experienced, to compete in a new market, we needed to make a name for ourselves by delivering high value. To build up our portfolio, reputation, and repeat client base, we focused on winning projects that we could really blow out of the water technically and creatively.
We’ve since built a culture around over-delivering and being transparent with our clients and partners, which has continued to help create new opportunities for us.
There must be a project that you have always dreamed of doing, what is it?
I’ve been obsessed with the Technological Singularity forever. I’d love to work on a project would allow me to contribute to or explore this phenomenon. We live in an exciting time when it comes to artificial intelligence and the amplification of our own consciousness, and I would love to work on projects that make technology more human.