I think the hardest part of the job sometimes can be coming up with fresh ideas on a limited budget that are disruptive and generate awareness. You may have an amazing idea that is too expensive or see something really similar that has already been done.
Please give us a brief bio of yourself.
I'm currently an associate creative director at Beam Interactive in Boston where I lead interactive projects for clients like Saucony, Pabst and Boost Mobile. I've lived in the US for over 4 years now, having moved here from London to work for Isobar. In my time back in the UK I was a senior designer at de-construct from 2004-2007, who are unfortunately no longer around. I also worked for Zentropy Partners and Less Rain. In my free time I'm a photographer, focusing mainly on portraiture and landscapes.
What do you do for inspiration?
As cliched as it may sound, inspiration for me can come from anywhere. However, I tend to use the web and books in a more focused manner when I am starting a new project. If I'm doing a site and get an idea for a UI, I'll see if I can find examples of similar types and then figure out what's working and what isn't. When I'm doing photography I look in fashion magazines, books and on fashion blogs. Sometimes a random wall I'm walking past will spark something though, it really depends. I think it is important to be inspired from different disciplines, it adds more dimension to ideas.
Please list 3 of your favourite sites.
The three sites I visit religiously are:
www.twitter.com - because I follow some pretty cool people and there are always interesting links to explore. One of my preferred channels for news because it is so quick and concise.
www.bbc.co.uk/news - the BBC is one of the things that makes me proud to be British - quality journalism that keeps me up-to-date with what's going on in the world.
www.pintrest.com - great site for inspiration, and for compiling visual reference for projects. I always look at this when I'm eating lunch at my desk - 20 minutes on this could mean discovering a whole new visual style for a project.
What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?
I think leaving behind family and friends to move over to the US in search of new opportunities was initially a difficult experience, but ultimately has become very rewarding and one of my major life achievments to date. Getting more personal I'd say my wife agreeing to marry me. She's just awesome :)
How many hours do you work each week?
Luckily I don't work insane hours anymore, but my job is my passion so I sometimes will be at home noodling something on the computer, or planning a personal project so I guess I work 'officially' between 45-50 hrs a week - but more if I'm engrossed in something or if there's a pitch obviously.
How do you relax or unwind?
I don't! Haha. Seriously I need to learn to 'do nothing' - but I actually find that stressful. I think whilst I am young enough I should be doing as much as I can. Of course I love to go out to bars and concerts - I'm a big music fan. I also love the ocean - living in New England during the summer is amazing. There are many beautiful beaches within an hours drive from Boston and plenty of opportunities for beer and seafood.
If you weren't working on the internet what would you be doing?
I think I'd be a photographer.
What's your favourite part of your job? What's the hardest part of your job? What do you do when you get stuck?
I love the design process. I also like working with my team and with clients, it keeps you on your toes and helps you value what you are doing. I think the hardest part of the job sometimes can be coming up with fresh ideas on a limited budget that are disruptive and generate awareness. You may have an amazing idea that is too expensive or see something really similar that has already been done. I don't really ever 'get stuck' because there's always another way. Part of being a good designer is knowing how to go in a different direction and keep moving.
What's the longest you've ever stayed up working on a project?
Hmm... I think about 5am or so? After that sort of time I become useless so it's not even worth it. I've definitely done weeks where I practically lived by my desk, which is so unhealthy.
If there are any pivotal experiences/decisions you could point to that helped shape your career, what would they be?
Oh wow. There are so many. Initially when I graduated from college I was going to move to New Zealand for a year, but I got a couple of job offers in London and decided to start working there straight away. That was obviously huge. I think when I started working at de-construct it really helped me understand what it means to be a good interactive designer. I worked with some of the best people I've ever met there.
What software could you not live without?
Photoshop. I'm going to be buried with a copy of it. Hopefully they're going to call it something other than version 'CS85' or something. There isn't a day that goes by when I don't use it. Also Illustrator and Lightroom. Oh and I love Wunderlist for keeping my tasks organized. I highly recommend it!
How many projects does your company juggle at any one time?
We have a lot going on - some clients more than others. I'm not sure exactly but I'm currently juggling 3 right now.
Who do you rate as being the top 3 design companies?
I can't really answer that - there are too many factors involved. Every company is different and has different clients.
Who is your target audience?
For Saucony our target audience are runners, about equal men and women. Primarily the dedicated runner who is literally addicted to running, will run races and marathons. Then the fitness runner (someone like myself who finds it incredible painful to get out there but knows they need to do something to balance the beer intake) and also the scholastic runner, high school kids who run as part of sport training. For Pabst our target audience are a wide range of beer drinking folk. From young hipsters to 50 year old truckers, you name it, a lot of people drink PBR. Having such a wide net means anything goes really.
What area of web design lacks the most?
I think we need more cat videos.
Are there any websites that have shone through as being pioneering in the last 5 years or so?
Hmmm. Facebook is pretty much taking over the internet. Their like buttons and commenting widgets are everywhere. I think Nike Better World started the parallax scrolling HTML site trend. So many sites rip that one off poorly. It's so funny to me that we still go through these UI trends. Google are always innovating and creating smart products.
Has winning FWA awards helped you in any way?
Of course. They generate awareness for the project, provide recognition for our teams and please clients.
What did your very first site look like? Is it still online?
Oh man. My first commercial site was an educational Flash game aimed at 11-14 year olds for Channel 4. It was a lot of fun, I was straight out of college and I got to work late with an eclectic crew of smart interesting people, making isometric game graphics. Needless to say, smart guides in Illustrator became my greatest ally on that project.
Have you written any books, if not do you plan to?
No, I sometimes contribute to magazines. I really want my Dad to write a book on his life, even if it is just to keep in the family. He was a professional musician in the 60's and lived all over Scandinavia amongst other places. He opened for the Beatles once and has some pretty awesome stories. Imagine being a musician in the 60's? My life pales in comparison.
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?
As I mentioned previously, I do a lot of photography in my spare time. It allows me creative freedom to explore ideas I have, encourages me to research and learn, and to work with interesting people. It also comes in handy when I need to direct shoots as I know a little bit more than I used to.
Of all the websites you/your company have produced, which one are you most proud of?
We've got a couple of big ones coming out soon which I am super excited about. Watch this space :)
What was the toughest thing you ever did with Flash? How long did you spend on it? Is it still online?
I think the toughest thing I ever did with Flash was a site for adidas back in 2004 that had interactive transparent video clips which required shooting on a green screen and keying out, then compressing. Took hours and hours. Was it worth it? Probably not.
Do you think Flash is here to stay?
I think Flash when used for most websites is a perfectly satisfactory technology for desktop computers but just doesn't cut it on portable devices which are exploding in popularity right now. Therefore it doesn't make sense to develop two versions of a site when you can do one design and make it responsive to different screen sizes. However, it really depends on what you are doing. If you are making interactive cartoon animation stuff for kids like Sesame Street, Flash is perfect. I don't think the average user cares about which technology they are using as long as it works - our industry has been up in arms about it because a lot of designers have grown up on Flash and have gotten used to some of the amazing things it can do. Flash may end up being used primarily for online games as it really has come on leaps and bounds in that area. From a 3D graphics perspective it is amazing.
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?
I think brands have realized that whilst being beautiful and immersive, primarily experiential sites that take a long time to load and don't work well on mobile devices are costly and don't provide a strong ROI. However, good design rules apply to any and all briefs, and you can still create something beautiful and immersive that is functional too. As I said earlier, Flash is moving more towards a specialized area of content creation like games, interactive cartoons and educational stuff.
What are your views on design/graphic school. Do you think someone can get into the field without educational experience in a school environment?
Absolutely, you don't need to go to any 'official' learning establishment to be a designer. The collaborative nature of school's undoubtedly help prepare you for agency life though.
If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring FWA award submitter, what advice would you give them?
Hah - students these days are probably way more equipped than I was when I entered the industry so I'd just tell them to go with their gut and do what they are totally passionate about. If they are good and work hard they can do anything, our industry has so much to offer.
How difficult do you find employing the right people in a world where everyone calls themselves a web designer?
I don't really get that anymore. That was more the case back in 2001 when so many people jumped on the dotcom bubble and thought they could get rich by using Dreamweaver. Nowadays it is pretty easy to see who is going to fit with your company and if they know what they are talking about. It is hard to find good people who have the total package to work at a smaller agency. You can't hide behind big teams and everyone counts.
What would be your ultimate vehicle to travel in?
I love boats. In fact, my dream is one day to be retired living in Hawaii with my own boat. My wife is from there incidentally so it makes it a more realistic goal :)
How do you keep your finger on the pulse of the latest web trends?
Well, I'm on the web about 12 hours a day. So it would be impossible for me to avoid it.
There must be a project that you have always dreamed of doing, what is it?
I would love to do something for one of the big high-end fashion labels. Something involving amazing studio setups and lots of camera technology, merging interactive with physical spaces.
What does the future hold for your company, or you as a person?
Hopefully I get to keep doing what I love, and always learning.
What are you excited about learning next and is there a long term challenge you are considering tackling?
I really want to learn more lighting techniques in photography and recently I've been dabbling in some more advanced front-end web development. I have a couple of big photo projects I want to start but need to find time.
What is the most expensive thing you have bought in the last week?
I just bought the 35mm f/1.4L Canon lens, which I am in love with.
What type of overcoat do you wear when Flashing, basically are you a labels man?
Yes I'm a bit of a label junkie, but only certain key items. I think every man should have a good pair of shoes, jeans and a blazer.
Any parting shots or pearls of wisdom?
Do what you love, and have fun.
It has been a privilege, thanks very much
I am hono(u)red. Thank you.