If I had two wishes, it would be that (a) all generations don't forget that speaking face-to-face and doing non digital things are important and (b) we don't limit our perspective as consumers of information and products through over-tailoring the user experience in line with each individual's profile.
Please give us a brief bio of yourself.
Lava was established in 2001 by lifelong friends, Stuart Gonsal (Director) and Brett Stewart (Development Manager). Based in Melbourne (Australia), Lava specialises in highly custom web solutions. This encompasses everything from websites, mobile, social, Flash games, and entirely online Dot Com businesses.
What do you do for inspiration?
We obviously keep a keen eye on case studies, such as The FWA and local awards such as the AIMIA and CREATE Awards. But much inspiration comes from less obvious sources. For example, we love outdoor artists such as www.jr-art.net who does amazing outdoor displays, light-writing by groups such as www.lichtfaktor.com, and pop-culture inspired animations by Korea's Stick Monster Lab.
Please list 3 of your favourite sites.
What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?
Winning an FWA is honestly right up there, along with our recent http://www.aimia.com.au/ and http://www.createawards.com.au/. We're also very proud generally of being in business for 11 years, and crucially (somehow) managing to balance the commercial aspect of projects with the desire to be truly creative and ambitions. It's always a juggle, but we try to retain a healthy sense of imagination!
How many hours do you work each week?
Ahhhh... we'll get killed for this answer, but we almost always manage to keep it to 5 days and within business hours! That involve a lot of sprinting during the day, and discipline to leave on time. But, we made this commitment early on and it's probably a big factor why we're still here and really enthusiastic about Lava. We really do believe in having a life outside work, for hanging with family, and plenty of playtime!
How do you relax or unwind?
Playing with our young kids while they're at that magical age, lots of sport and music , then heading out for food/ drinks and entertainment. We love living in Melbourne (weather aside) and there's always heaps of great food and sports. Brett, one of the Lava Directors is a keen sailor, and Stuart (co-Director) is a huge music fan. In a past life, he did some live interviews for the www.inthemix.com.au site, speaking to the likes of the Plump DJ's and even Moby. It was a real blast!
If you weren't working on the internet what would you be doing?
That's a tough question. Currently, we're working with a fascinating client called Leonard Joel. They run one of Australia's leading auction houses. Ever week has different things, from collectibles to furniture, jewellery, etc. It's awesome and I'd have to say that'd be a great business work to in. But, we'd probably spend more than we earned... e.g. on an original James Dean East of Eden poster!
What's your favourite part of your job? What's the hardest part of your job? What do you do when you get stuck?
Favourite part is the initial face-to-face discovery phase with clients... while you still love each other (a joke!) and anything's possible. This is always a buzz plus then going away and immersing ourselves in starting the visual design.
The hardest part is probably the typical scope crawl, and the need to balance business with creativity. Especially when the visual aspect is so subjective.
What software could you not live without?
Adobe Creative Suite.
How many projects does your company juggle at any one time?
Typically, we have anywhere from 4 > 8 live projects. It depends on the nature... size and scope can vary quite a bit so some take 3 months and others 12.
In terms of software, is there anything new you have been playing with lately or that has impressed you?
We like JumpChart for site map planning and content collation.
The whole Google Docs setup is great for ongoing clients handling.
Also, Dropbox for file sharing. Again, primarily with existing clients.
Who is your target audience?
Clients with 15 + staff (up to thousands).
Typically, ones that want something special rather than an off-the-rack solution
Our main contact is the Marketing/ Comm's team, and sometimes the CEO/ MD
What area of web design lacks the most?
I think site architecture planning can still be lacking. Having content upfront would help this process greatly, but that's rarely the case as we start first.
Developing to suit all the monitor resolutions is becoming a challenge.
The Apple phone and tablets blocking Flash. HTML5 and CSS still aren't a suitable and rounded replacement unfortunately. We love them, and do use them. And they will be great. But we still have a real passion for Flash animation.
Has winning FWA awards helped you in any way?
It's too early to tell but we sure hope so!
Winning previous awards has helped. Most of Lava's new work comes from friendly in-bound referrals. We always have a lot on, so we can be a bit selective and we want people to come to us for the right reason. So, the awards are a nice peer acknowledgement and help to get us in front of the right people who genuinely want the type of solution that Lava specialises in (highly custom).
When dealing with major clients, how difficult is it to meet the needs of such wide target audiences?
It's generally quite achievable.
Even in the case of a site having both a B2B and B2C focus.
It just comes down to some extra effort in planning and interface design.
What did your very first site look like? Is it still online?
It's complete rubbish. Not just because technology has moved on. Honestly, Lava was very embryonic and our work lacked quality. I read a case study recently when it was suggested that creative agencies should use their Facebook Fanpage to show off their old work. I.e. as an honest insight into where they have come from. I loved this idea, came back to the office, and dug out our first site. I was mortified...beyond public consumption! Thankfully, it's not live in 2012.
Have you written any books, if not do you plan to?
No books as such, but Stuart (Director) has been a regular contributor to Australia's premier design magazine, Desktop Mag. This involves contributing 2 page editorial spreads and occasionally, real life case studies. It's been a nice outlet, not only to enhance Lava's profile, but also to push some things we're particular passionate about. For example, looking outside the typical talent/ skill pool to achieve great websites. We love to use freehand artists, light writing, original music composition, etc. Writing for Desktop has been a real privilege.
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 find running helps minimise stress and keep energy levels up. Also, making websites involves a lot of sitting down, so having a run in the morning makes this more bearable. Also, listening to music is a big part... we're fanatical music fans... all genre's and anything from say 1970's > to present. We love both the music research and hunt, combined with chilling out and listening after hours.
Looking 10 years in to the future, how far can websites go?
The obvious answer is multi-platform, with a highly tailored experience and with a very 2-way social aspect. I'm sure it will go miles beyond out imagination and anticipation. If I had two wishes, it would be that (a) all generations don't forget that speaking face-to-face and doing non digital things are important and (b) we don't limit our perspective as consumers of information and products through over-tailoring the user experience in line with each individual's profile. What I mean by this is that sometimes it's nice to see the other side of the story... like a political opinion or a different product in a shot. I feel that let's not rid the room of argument, because it's what gives us an open mind even if we disagree.
Of all the websites you/your company have produced, which one are you most proud of?
The Reflections Museum which has won this FWA Award http://www.rdnsreflections.com.au/
Visually, another recent favourite is http://licensing.halleonard.com.au/
A showcase of photographer Travis de Clifford http://www.declifford.com/
We're also quite fond of our own small but fun site http://www.lava.com.au/
Do you think Flash is here to stay?
I'm not sure. Let's hope so...it's beautiful & a very flexible way to show websites.
If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring FWA award submitter, what advice would you give them?
Be ambitious and don't let the grind of the day-to-day work damage our perspective. Web design is a great field on the whole. Also, when a client gives feedback, feel free to discuss with them when you feel their feedback is incorrect. Clients can and often should see you as an authority on design, so pick your battles, be firm but also give them the respect they deserve.