.

Strive to do things you haven't done before and experiment often. We've done many experiments that were never shared, but always seem to end up in projects in one form or another.

question Please give us a brief bio of yourself.

Nick Mountford: I’m a Sydneysider, I remember when I was 5 years old, my dad brought home a Commodore Vic-20 computer. Growing up in a geeky family made working in digital a natural path. I’ve coded a bit, designed a bit, but really found a home producing.

Andy Thelander: I’m a designer-turned-developer originally from Brisbane, Australia. I moved to Los Angeles halfway through 2012 with hopes of working on bigger and better things.

Michael Anthony: I'm a developer who loves to create new things. I moved from Connecticut to LA in 2009 and, after working at a few agencies, I helped start Active Theory in August 2012.

What do you do for inspiration?

Nick: I go surfing, explore music and spend time with smart people like my brother. NPR is a great source of inspirational stories.

Please list 3 of your favourite sites.

Reddit, Dribbble, and of course The FWA.

What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?

Starting our own agency and working on challenging projects with great clients over the past year. We’re excited to be doing what we enjoy most.

How many hours do you work each week?

50-80 - usually closer to 50. During epic projects like Racer we pulled long days, but these are often passion hours.

How do you relax or unwind?

Andy: I get away from the screen and read a book or magazine

Michael: I've recently picked up playing inline hockey thanks to Andy, which has been an amazing stress reliever.

If you weren't working on the internet what would you be doing?

Making electronic music for epic dance parties in castles across Europe.

What's your favourite part of your job? What's the hardest part of your job? What do you do when you get stuck?

Our favorite part is building things, especially at the start of a project when everyones in love with the idea, you’re in the honeymoon phase and anything’s possible. Then of course after launch when you get to see the look of “flow” on peoples faces when they use the things we make.

The hardest part is near the end of the project where you’re refreshing the site a thousand times a day, hearing the same sounds, fixing bugs, pushing to make the project better.

What's the longest you've ever stayed up working on a project?

It’s fairly common for a project to require 18 hour days to get it across the line, but not all-nighters.

If there are any pivotal experiences/decisions you could point to that helped shape your career, what would they be?

Andy: Getting married and moving to the US has been a game-changer. Going from clients like banks and government to Google, car companies and entertainment has been a dream come true.

Michael: Being willing to adapt to change. I moved to Los Angeles to start a career as a Flash developer and within 6 months the iPad came out and changed all that. I was a bit panicked, but eventually decided to take what I liked most about Flash and find a way to do it in JavaScript.

What software could you not live without?

Nick: I use Chrome and Google Docs for everything.

Andy: OSX, Photoshop, Chrome, Git


Michael: GMail, Transmit, Skype, Chrome, Aptana Studio.

How many projects does your company juggle at any one time?

3-4. We're careful not to over book ourselves. Our clients’ support got us here so we want to give their projects our full attention and take care of the little details.

In terms of software, is there anything new you have been playing with lately or that has impressed you?

Nick: It's been out for a while but Codecademy is very cool, it shows the education system is due for an upgrade.

Michael: I've been learning a lot about low-level graphics programming recently, including a bit of the math behind engines like three.js. I can't wait until CSS Shaders are enabled in browsers.

Who do you rate as being the top 3 design companies?

B-Reel, Tool and North Kingdom are always an inspiration.

What effect on traffic do your new designs have?

Our traffic spikes when we tweet about project launches but because some of them are white-labeled it's hard to gauge. Our biggest traffic sources are from award sites like The FWA.

Who is your target audience?

Agencies who want bold things.

What area of web design lacks the most?

Nick: Often a design is created from a single point of view but ultimately it’s going to be used by a broad range of users. It pays to have it critiqued from multiple angles. Continuous testing is key.

Andy: Fixed width designs. With such an array of browser-enabled devices out in the world, websites need to be able to accommodate any screen size and pixel density.

Are there any websites that have shone through as being pioneering in the last 5 years or so?

Andy: The Nike Better World site nailed the parallax effect and subsequently sparked the biggest recent trend I’ve seen in HTML sites.

Michael: The Wilderness Downtown has had a lasting impact. We're in an exciting time where we have new technologies. We're only beginning to scratch the surface of discovering rich experiences across all devices.

Has winning FWA awards helped you in any way?

Absolutely! Winning FWAs has been Active Theory’s main marketing goal and it's helped put our company on the map.

When dealing with major clients, how difficult is it to meet the needs of such wide target audiences?

The trap is when the client becomes the only audience. But the more engaged they become about digital, the less that problem happens. We've been very fortunate to work with clients who are makers themselves, it's a huge benefit.

What did your very first site look like? Is it still online?

Nick: It was a site for glow sticks, all black and fluro green, fortunately it’s long gone.

Andy: A pizza ordering form exported from word as HTML. It never went live, I don’t think the internet could handle the markup.

Michael: I think it was something I made on Homestead. I don't remember what it looked like, but it was made with a drag and drop editor.

Have you written any books, if not do you plan to?

Our attention spans aren’t long enough to write a book but we’re hoping to manage the odd essay.

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?

It’s essential to exercise, play sport and get outside.

What was the last digital effort you saw (or were a part of) that used social media in a way that really made sense. Why?

There is a current trend in consumer products where the website acts as a hub for things from different social media channels. It seems to work well because it aggregates content organically and builds much greater engagement than a solely informational website.

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?

The Racer table installation was coded with deployment for desktop, mobile, and physical installation in mind. It was a great way to let folks at Google I/O get hands-on with a Chrome Experiment. The same code runs on all platforms - we’re pretty proud of that :)

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?

Thinking in digital alone can be limiting but as the web grows so does the opportunity. It’s always nice to be involved from concept to execution and we look up to companies like B-Reel who maintain a nimble structure with the ability to provide a full service.

Through these companies we’re seeing the rise of the Interactive Director who knows how to shoot for both live and interactive. It’s pretty exciting.

Looking 10 years in to the future, how far can websites go?

The web is going to become more and more prevalent, while devices like Glass and Tesla’s in-dash touchscreen open new ways for people to interact with content. We have the exciting job of creating something that brings a rich experience to each display.

Of all the websites you/your company have produced, which one are you most proud of?

We’re really proud of the work that is the most technically challenging. Racer’s multi-device connection and Clouds Over Cuba’s interface made an impact for their technical achievement and that’s a great feeling.

What was the toughest thing you ever did with Flash? How long did you spend on it? Is it still online?

Nick: A bull charging at a bullfighter. It's on a zip disk gathering dust somewhere. It sucked.

Andy: Unfortunately I did a lot of banner work for agencies back in Australia. I’d say the hardest thing I ever had to do was get a animation heavy leaderboard under 20kb.

Michael: I didn't get much time to work with Flash. While I did, I was very excited about learning Papervision.

Do you think Flash is here to stay?

It’s currently common for games but that’s only in the interim. Flash served it’s purpose and provided a rich creative platform in an era where the web was lacking. As the technologies in modern browsers get faster and span more devices, Flash is a risky technical solution for a problem which usually requires broad audience reach and longevity.

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?

Flash has already suffered, the tipping point has passed. What used to be heavy, rich experiential sites have now become useful apps. This is great and the technology doesn't mean that the experience needs to be static. We're still focussing our efforts on building dynamic interfaces with rich animation and interaction.

What are your views on design/graphic school. Do you think someone can get into the field without educational experience in a school environment?

Andy: Yes, but you need to have a goal first. I found university a great tool for working out what you want as a career and steps to get there. As you go through the first few years of study, the courses are quite broad which exposes you to a variety of different topics. This allows you to work out what comes naturally, what’s interesting and what’s worth avoiding.

Even though university didn’t teach me much of the knowledge I know today, it helped me learn to teach myself and define the type of career I wanted.

If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring FWA award submitter, what advice would you give them?

Nick: Find mentors. Seek the people who are doing the work you aspire to do, hit them up and learn from them.

Andy: Never settle. Keep thinking about what would make that project better and don’t fight feedback if it’s trying to improve the end product.

Michael: At first you'll have great ideas but your ability to execute won't match your vision. Eventually, with experience, it will all come together. When you've finished a project, whether or not you realize it you'll have learned a bunch of new things that will make the next one better.

How difficult do you find employing the right people in a world where everyone calls themselves a web designer?

People who experiment in their own time with new technologies inevitably have passion, and that’s what we look for. Finding these people is the most challenging thing in our business today, although we know they’re out there, it’s not impossible to find passionate people.

How do you keep up with the latest capabilities of Flash or do you rely on other members of you team to do this?

Nick: We use JS instead. Andy and Michael stay ahead of the curve.

Andy: Keep up to date on blogs and twitter. Michael is a constant source of the latest and greatest.

Michael: Twitter is my favorite resource for finding new things in the industry. I also listen to podcasts, watch presentations and read articles.

What would be your ultimate vehicle to travel in?

An Elon Musk meets the Jetsons spaceship that cuts intercontinental travel time in half.

When your company was just getting started, what did you find was most effective for getting new clients?

Word of mouth is essential and every connection counts. We made sure we created work we’re extremely proud of and also tried to be flexible, fast and cool people to work with. Clients were relying on us so we did our best to make that a pleasant experience. That got them hooked.

How have you learned so many Flash/design skills and techniques and can you offer any advice for newbies?

Strive to do things you haven't done before and experiment often. We've done many experiments that were never shared, but always seem to end up in projects in one form or another.

How do you keep your finger on the pulse of the latest web trends?

Nick: Twitter. Reddit. Jason Calacanis vodcasts.

Andy: Blogs like Abduzeedo and Smashing Magazine as well as award sites like FWA

Michael: Twitter and FWA.

What country excites you the most in terms of innovation?

Nick: Brazil. With the World Cup and Olympics on the horizon and a such a healthy rate of digital consumption it’s an exciting prospect.


Andy: Sweden, Stockholm specifically, has always been a source of inspiration.

Michael: The French are killing it in digital right now. Ultranoir and Sylvain Tran immediately come to mind. Also, a lot of really talented young designers and developers are coming out of Sweden.

There must be a project that you have always dreamed of doing, what is it?

An interactive project for the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 with live data viz, spectators, players, and fans from all over the world. Or a Nike project :)

What does the future hold for your company, or you as a person?

Steady growth, looking after existing clients and bringing on more people who are super passionate.

What are you excited about learning next and is there a long term challenge you are considering tackling?

We’re excited about growing the agency and having more input in creative concepting and design, expanding our skills in 3D while working hard to maintain high quality work.

What is the most expensive thing you have bought in the last week?

Andy: PS3. I’m a bit late to the party.

Michael: My honeymoon.

What type of overcoat do you wear when Flashing, basically are you a labels man?

Nick: I bought a lovely Marc Jacobs jacket in a thrift store as a feature garment for a Vegas trip. No one has been flashed.

Any parting shots or pearls of wisdom?

Nick: Listen to people around you and find new friends that inspire you. Look after your family. Do it now and then it's done.


Andy: Do what you love and work becomes easy.


Michael: Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Being able to break down and solve problems is beneficial with everything in life.

It has been a privilege, thanks very much

Doing an FWA interview has always been a goal for us. We’re extremely honored. Thanks Rob!


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