People can mock the old school design trends and styles but at least there was some personality. There’s too many sites out there today that just look like stylized wireframes.
My name is Shane Mielke aka Pixelranger, Coach Mielke or MilkBeast. I am a Freelance Creative Director, Designer, Front-End Developer, Flash Developer, Animator, Photographer, Author, Speaker, Coach, Crossfitter and Cyberdyne Systems Model 101.
What do you do for inspiration?
I try to get away from the computer to just zone out while doing something athletic in order to free my mind of any limitations. Physical activities help push aside all of the internal and external noise that constantly bombards us all and hinders our creativity.
Please list 3 of your favourite sites.
What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?
I think my biggest achievement is still loving my job 15 years after I started in this industry and being able to prioritize my family over potential job opportunities, projects and deadlines.
How many hours do you work each week?
I typically limit client work to 40 hours a week. My time with my family is more important than any client, project or deadline.
How do you relax or unwind?
Anytime I get stressed out or too close to a project, I always head to the gym, go for a run, walk on the treadmill, play some racquetball or head to CrossFit for a brutal workout. Being physically active is by far the fastest way to get the toxins out of your body, mind and soul and get those voices out of your head.
If you weren't working on the internet what would you be doing?
A Landscape Photographer or a CrossFit gym owner/coach.
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 favorite part of my job is meeting and working with talented people who inspire and guide me personally, creatively and professionally. This typically leads me to the 2nd favorite thing about my job which is learning new techniques, technologies, styles and philosophies from those people.
The hardest part of my job is not allowing stress or longer work hours to creep into my life. Especially on projects that do not have immediate deadlines. It's so easy to get caught up by stressing about a bug, tweaking a design or staying up late for a project.
When I get stuck I workout, switch projects or take a nap.
What's the longest you've ever stayed up working on a project?
56 Straight hours for the launch of 2Advanced V4 back in 2003. I finished up the Ford F150 project on a Wednesday afternoon and then stopped by Eric Jordan’s office to ask if there was anything I could do to help out on the site. Up until that time the 2Advanced sites had been done completely by Eric himself.
If there are any pivotal experiences/decisions you could point to that helped shape your career, what would they be?
I’ve always mentioned that the primary catalyst for my career was the moment I met my wife. Once I realized that she was "the one", I knew I had to get serious and become more financially secure for the both of us. So I transitioned my interest in graphic design and building websites into a career.
Another experience that proved pivotal in my growth as an Graphic Artist, Animator and Flash Developer was the first time I ever opened a Photoshop and a Flash file from Eric Jordan. My mind was immediately blown by the sheer amount of layers and love that had been poured into those files. I learned more about Photoshop, animation, tempo, keyframes and easing in 5 minutes than I had the previous year.
What software could you not live without?
Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Google, Instagram, Flash (Not as much these days)
How many projects does your company juggle at any one time?
I’ve always been used to juggling 3-4 medium to large sized projects at a time. Because my skillset is diverse, I’m never doing the same thing on any one project so things never get boring.
In terms of software, is there anything new you have been playing with lately or that has impressed you?
The Google Chrome web developer console is another tool that has become invaluable in my development process. Element inspection, animation benchmarks, console logs and the ability to change HTML and CSS live in the browser saves tons of time when tracking down bugs and tweaking properties.
Who do you rate as being the top 3 design companies?
It's always changing but I think that North Kingdom, B-Reel & Google Creative Lab consistently do amazing work.
Who is your target audience?
For personal work, I enjoy creating things that anyone can see beauty in. I’m not a very extreme person so I rarely do anything too eclectic that only certain people might enjoy.
For client projects, I have two main audiences. The first is obviously the end user that the site is targeting. The second is the client who is paying for the project. If either of those groups are not happy with your work there are going to be repercussions.
What area of web design lacks the most?
I think too many designers are using technology as a crutch to dictate designs.
Are there any websites that have shone through as being pioneering in the last 5 years or so?
I love immersive and emotional sites. Those are the type of projects I love working on and appreciate the most.
Has winning FWA awards helped you in any way?
Having received FWA awards is one of the most important things that lifted my career past what I would have become through my own hard work.
When dealing with major clients, how difficult is it to meet the needs of such wide target audiences?
It might sound odd but the bigger the client the less stress I usually have over meeting the needs of the target audience. Major clients usually know exactly what they want, who their target audience is and have plenty of opinions about what you’re doing.
What did your very first site look like? Is it still online?
The first version of my site was launched 11 years ago back in 2002. I’ve kept it archived for posterity as it was the site that really established me at the time and was the stepping stone to everything I’ve accomplished today.
Have you written any books, if not do you plan to?
Over the years I’ve been very fortunate to have contributed to several books. Most notable are: “The New Landscape of Mobile Learning” coming out this year, FWA’s “Guidelines to Online Success” in 2008 and “New Masters of Flash” Volume 3 in 2004.
In search of that rush, I’ve always wanted to create my own book but felt intimidated by the complete process since it wasn’t something I’ve had experience with from start to finish. In 2011 while I was on vacation in Santa Cruz, Ca. I went to a local bookstore to pick up the latest .net, Web Designer and Computer Arts magazines.
So for the past 2 years, in my free time in between projects, I’ve been writing, editing and tweaking the contents of a book I hope to make a reality this Winter.
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?
Travel! Embrace places, interests and hobbies away from the computer. Back when I worked at a studio I made a point of never being afraid to use my vacation days. They are yours to use as part of your employment and if you don’t use them you lose them.
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?
I’ve been very lucky to have designed and animated in-game graphics for 3 different video game titles. EA’s 007: From Russia with Love (2005), Warner Bros Lord of the Rings: War in the North (2011) and most recently Disney’s Epic Mickey: The Power of 2 (2012). Surprisingly, the LOTR game started out as potential website project to market the game in their early development stages.
The reality is that the Tools, skills and process of designing and animating the menus of a console video game are almost exactly the same interactive websites. Everything I ever learned designing and animating immersive experiences on the web went into the design & animation of games like Epic Mickey 2.
Looking 10 years in to the future, how far can websites go?
Websites are just places where digital information is stored. Websites used to originate from boring servers in cold sterile data centers and viewed only on desktop computers with browsers. Now we’re receiving and sending information from all sorts of devices everywhere around us.
Of all the websites you/your company have produced, which one are you most proud of?
I’m proud of every project (the good & bad) all for different reasons. Everything I’ve designed, animated, coded, photographed has a small piece of me in it. Every project had both good and bad moments. Every project taught me something new about myself and my craft. I’m proud of everything.
Do you think Flash is here to stay?
But of course things changed when mobile exploded and Apple selfishly blocked the Flash Player to protect its own goals & interests. New technologies & techniques using HTML5/Canvas/JS/CSS to do basic animations, fonts, videos and data interaction suddenly were pushed to the forefront. These are now great adaptations & solutions to old challenges in new devices and browsers. They have completely replaced Flash as the way we add these fundamental enhancements to the average website.
I still think that Flash as a development tool is still the most robust and powerful tool for creating & animating immersive content, applications, games, mobile apps, interactive websites and experiences. But sadly the Flash Player plug-in has finally jumped the shark.
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?
It’s really weird to see client’s expectations for projects getting lower and interfaces getting simpler. We spent so many years pushing the boundaries of interaction and creativity with flash.
What are your views on design/graphic school. Do you think someone can get into the field without educational experience in a school environment?
Half of my friends have a design education and the other half are self-taught like me. Do I think art schools are a good thing? YES. I often wish I had formal education in design with training in color theory and typography. I also feel that not knowing some things have helped me be more open to self-growth, experimentation and being curious to learn so many different skills.
Even art schools produce bad designers. In the end, all that matters is if your work is any good or not and how hard you’re willing to work in or out of school to learn the skills you need to survive. Some people need the structure and guidance of a formal education.
If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring FWA award submitter, what advice would you give them?
Don't blend in. Stand out.
How do you keep up with the latest capabilities of Flash or do you rely on other members of you team to do this?
With any technology the only way to stay current is to take on challenging projects and clients who want to push boundaries. Reading tutorials, help docs and forums only give you a general understanding of what is possible. Only when your back is against the wall and you’re standing there going “how the heck am I going to do this?” do you truly start exploring and understanding the capabilities of something. Search for projects that you might not immediately know how to execute.
What would be your ultimate vehicle to travel in?
I’ve worked from my home office for the past 6 years so I rarely drive anywhere other than to the gym. I don’t dream about cars like others might. I just got back from a trip to Yosemite National Park and Bass Lake in California, so right now I’d love to have my own pontoon boat and a cabin on the lake to go with it.
When your company was just getting started, what did you find was most effective for getting new clients?
Stand out by being the best at what you do. Find the style of work or niche you enjoy doing and then own it. Clients who want a part of that style of work will seek you out. Then treat your clients with respect, meet their goals, finish projects on time and on budget and it’s likely you’ll get more work.
How have you learned so many Flash/design skills and techniques and can you offer any advice for newbies?
Skills & knowledge come from hours of experimenting with your ideas, re-creating styles that might influence you, observing industry trends and learning from each success and mistakes you experience. There are really no shortcuts.
What country excites you the most in terms of innovation?
Is it me or does it seem like a lot of innovative & influential designers have come from Sweden? I’ve always wanted to travel there and drink some of their water and soak up their creativity.
There must be a project that you have always dreamed of doing, what is it?
I would love to collaborate on one of those crazy immersive HTML5/Canvas/WebGL chrome experiment projects for Google Creative Lab or do a project for Nike.
What does the future hold for your company, or you as a person?
After working for the same company for 10 years I’m really happy to be on my own and in control of my own destiny.
What is the most expensive thing you have bought in the last week?
Last year I was fortunate enough to design and animate the main menus and HUD for the Disney Epic Mickey 2 video game. Because of that I just bought a hardcover collector’s edition gamers guide that had screenshots of some of my work and 2 custom controllers for the game as mementos of the project.
What type of overcoat do you wear when Flashing, basically are you a labels man?
T-shirt & shorts is about as flashy as I get. Sometimes I’ll upgrade to jeans if I have an important meeting. I've never been one to dress up or waste money on any sort of name brand clothing.
Any parting shots or pearls of wisdom?
Picture the life you want. Constantly dream and think about who you want to be and the things you want to accomplish. Set short term goals. Be relentless in fighting to achieve them amongst all of the noise in your life. There’s always someone/something out there trying to distract you from your goals.
It has been a privilege, thanks very much
The thanks go to you for everything you do for the industry Rob. I’m not sure where a lot of us would be without having an FWA award as a goal to achieve. Your showcase has almost single handedly been responsible for the rise of many of the individuals and companies in our industry.