I think that great deal of “design” on the web lacks a true care and empathy for the user’s point of view. We, as an industry, tend to think of ourselves as average users too much.
[Ben] I really wanted to be Indiana Jones. I grew up skateboarding, snowboarding and making videos of those activities with my friends. That DIY ethic informs our approach at WINTR and a lot of the work that we do. I studied Cultural Anthropology and Economics.
[Matt] I started out as a music producer and engineer. My work on the web began with making websites to promote my music services. My clients began asking me to do interactive work for them too, and it snowballed from there.
[Taylor] Definitely anticipated being famous when I was growing up, maybe I still will be. With a start in fashion on the ‘client side’, I gained exposure to media by any means necessary. It was a cool experience and influenced a free-formed philosophy and approach to strategy and the tools employed to make good ideas a reality. My successes resulted in a larger ambition that I applied beyond a single industry, which keeps me engaged and in a constant state of growth.
What do you do for inspiration?
[Taylor] I like to craft with friends who as people are each incredibly inspiring. Recently I’ve created using natural materials (wool, clay, metals, wood), attended a writing workshop and made natural mineral-based skincare products. There is a lot going on with the creative scene in Seattle and many people excited about what they’re doing and sharing the inter-personal experience of it with others.
[Matt] Active time spent outdoors, and away from technology, is typically when inspiration strikes for me.
[Ben] Things unrelated to digital: Vintage motorcycles, music, good wine, architecture and design books.
Please list 3 of your favourite sites.
[Taylor] PSFK, Tumblr, Wikipedia … Amazon is a close fourth and I definitely spend the most money there.
[Matt] Github, Instapaper, Wikipedia. Github, in particular, has had the greatest impact on the work I do. After only a few years it’s already near-impossible to imagine a world without such easily accessible open-source
[Ben] New york times, Instapaper, Fast Co.
What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?
[Ben] Creating the team that we have at WINTR. It’s been a very rewarding challenge. And it pays off, I am surrounded by great people who are truly fantastic at what they do.
How many hours do you work each week?
[Ben] I try to keep a balance, and encourage others to do so as well. Going too hard without refilling the tank is bad for the product. I would say that 50 hours per week on average. I love what I do, so I’m never really not working.
How do you relax or unwind?
[Ben] Exercise. I started really training about a year ago. I’ve also recently taken up meditation and that silence and clarity provides great focus. I also enjoy film and architecture.
[Taylor] Online window shopping. Not kidding.
If you weren't working on the internet what would you be doing?
[Ben] Working as a director/producer in film or television.
[Matt] I’d be starving in the music industry.
What's your favourite part of your job? What's the hardest part of your job? What do you do when you get stuck?
[Taylor] Favorite part of the job is solving problems with simple answers that come from collaboration with great people. Hardest part is simplifying the complex. Open, constant, constructive communication is imperative to getting unstuck, together.
[Matt] People are both a favorite part of the job and the hardest part. Coincidentally (or not) the best solution I’ve found for getting stuck is also people. Talking lots, and staying collaborative throughout a project are absolutely keys to success.
If there are any pivotal experiences/decisions you could point to that helped shape your career, what would they be?
[Taylor] Minimum viable thinking. As a tool make strategic decisions quickly and improve based on feedback and response. Before adopting this mindset, I would get overwhelmed by perceived possibilities.
[Matt] The decision to focus on interactive development was pivotal for me. Prior to that decision I suffered very much from “jack of all trades, master of none”. Related to that decision was my moving from freelance to joining a team. I learned more in one year on a team than five years working by myself.
What software could you not live without?
[Taylor] Google drive and emoji keyboard (does that count?)
[Ben] Google drive, instapaper, Stamp - which is a new product that we will be releasing shortly.
[Matt] Version control (Git, in our case), is critical in supporting collaboration and working efficiently.
How many projects does your company juggle at any one time?
[Ben] Between 6 and 10, as many as 12, but we try and avoid it. This fluctuates regularly, largely based on project size. We are careful in choosing new clients and projects. We choose based on a specific set of criteria which gets sharper and sharper over time. We really look for clients that value what WINTR does. We also place value on our process and have an excellent production/project management discipline in-house, which allows for this.
In terms of software, is there anything new you have been playing with lately or that has impressed you?
[Taylor] Something called Rival IQ. The interface leaves something to be desired, but the data is great. Also Holacracy. It’s an organisational operating system and the software is Glassfrog. I’m always open to tools for rapid, reliable change.
[Matt] The in-browser performance made possible by WebGL is very interesting and something we are looking to incorporate on more and more projects.
Who is your target audience?
[Ben] We intend to provide real value for our clients and their audiences. If we can make those things line up then the person approving the budget is also our target audience.
What area of web design lacks the most?
[Matt] I think that great deal of “design” on the web lacks a true care and empathy for the user’s point of view. We, as an industry, tend to think of ourselves as average users too much.
[Ben] Actual user-centered thinking, which is at the core of technology startup thinking. Not personas or profiles, but actual real people that use the product and provide feedback. That approach doesn’t work for a lot of marketing and advertising projects. But we’ve incorporated it wherever we can.
Are there any websites that have shone through as being pioneering in the last 5 years or so?
Has winning FWA awards helped you in any way?
[Ben] We’ve been extremely focused on our clients and building our team. So much so that for the first couple of years we were in business, we sort of forgot about things like awards, marketing and engaging with the community. We’re working on getting better at that. We’re all really proud of the FWA win. It feels good. And we’ve gotten a lot of congratulations from friends and colleagues that we respect.
What did your very first site look like? Is it still online?
[Ben] Amazingly bad. No.
Have you written any books, if not do you plan to?
[Taylor] No, and yes! Fiction though. I write a lot of short stories and have one great novel in me. A coming of age story about 4 men who buy a sailboat together, written from a woman’s perspective. Think The Hangover meets Catcher in the Rye.
[Ben] Do long emails count?
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?
[Taylor] I cook. It’s catharsis and creativity that you can consume. Oh, another book I might write would be a cookbook called Anarchy Baking. My method is without the rules of a recipe and using only whatever ingredients are on hand to figure out something unexpected but comforting. It’s a good game.
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?
[Taylor] Not exactly answering the question, but I am intrigued to see how experiences are using Linkedin. I think a lot about applications of it. I also think that Foursquare lists are gravely underutilized, to the extent that a lot of people don’t know the feature exists.
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?
[Taylor] YES, super excited, but we can’t talk about it just yet. The evolution to other touchpoints was organic based on response.
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?
[Taylor] Yes, but still digitally-led. But really however a good strategy should manifest for success. Case in point, we should have a Google hangout to discuss at further length.
Looking 10 years in to the future, how far can websites go?
[Ben] Far enough to go completely away. A level of product and service integration will push the capabilities/possibilities to the point where “website” may have very little meaning other than in a historical context.
Of all the websites you/your company have produced, which one are you most proud of?
[Ben] The newest work is always the best, right? And the stuff that is in the pipeline is even better than that. We’re no different. That said, we’re proud of what MIVOR has done.
What are your views on design/graphic school. Do you think someone can get into the field without educational experience in a school environment?
[Ben] I think that there is a double-edged sword here. A lot of really talented people pick up bad habits in design school. But they also focus and hone their craft, developing a perspective. Whether that perspective is right or wrong, it’s important that a person working in our field develop one. And constantly be open to changing it. Long way of saying, it depends on the person. I don’t think formal training isn’t necessary for all.
If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring FWA award submitter, what advice would you give them?
[Ben] For students, aim to be an expert in at least two disciplines. Take business classes as well. For aspiring FWA award submitters, make rad shit! And don't forget to submit it to the FWA.
How difficult do you find employing the right people in a world where everyone calls themselves a web designer?
[Ben] It’s very difficult. We don't hire people who can only offer web design. They need to have a broader view of the world and larger tool-set. We feel that better informs the work.
[Matt] As Ben said, it’s a tough one. It is near impossible to find developers who are well-versed in programming multiple languages, have at least an understanding of design, and work well with others; but those are the people we have and and continue to seek out.
When your company was just getting started, what did you find was most effective for getting new clients?
[Taylor] Figuring out their actually challenge rather than just saying yes to whatever came across our path. That took guts with new clients, and those who took notice, trusted us and it paid off with successful projects which lead to referrals. Which is the basis of our business development.
How do you keep your finger on the pulse of the latest web trends?
[Taylor] We have an internal tool for sharing links. Also, Twitter and conferences (XOXO, Eyeo).
There must be a project that you have always dreamed of doing, what is it?
[Taylor] GAH Spotify miniplayer.
What does the future hold for your company, or you as a person?
[Ben] In the very near future, we are launching a new identity and doing a better job about telling the WINTR story. In fact, as I write this, we are preparing for a big party, celebrating that new identity. Which was a mammoth effort and we are so proud of how it has turned out. Some speaking engagements and our first owned product release. In the longer term, we are looking at an office SF, LA or NY.
What is the most expensive thing you have bought in the last week?
[Matt] Baby formula.
[Ben] Actually, a dog. Madge, she’s amazing. I’m totally in love.
It has been a privilege, thanks very much
[Matt] Thank you!
[Ben] Double that, we really appreciate it.