The best part of my job is working with my colleagues. They are brilliant, incredible people.

The hardest part of the job is figuring out how to disagree with someone constructively, and convincingly.

question Please give us a brief bio of yourself.

I’m a copywriter and producer at Google Creative Lab in San Francisco. I’ve worked at Google since 2008, focused mostly on creating Chrome Experiments (chromeexperiments.com), which are interactive films, digital art pieces, data visualizations, and games that utilize new features in HTML5 and the Chrome browser.

Before Google, I was a copywriter at TBWA in New Zealand and later, Wieden+Kennedy in Oregon.

What do you do for inspiration?

I read science fiction.

Please list 3 of your favourite sites.

Google Maps


New York Times

What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?

Releasing This Exquisite Forest simultaneously as a website and a physical exhibit at Tate Modern in London.

How do you relax or unwind?

I like to hang out at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. It’s got everything: hiking, museums, bike paths, the ocean.

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

Working overseas, somehow, somewhere.

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 best part of my job is working with my colleagues. They are brilliant, incredible people.

The hardest part of the job is figuring out how to disagree with someone constructively, and convincingly.

When I’m stuck, I go for a walk.

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

In 2005, I stayed up for 40 hours concepting and shooting an advertising campaign from scratch as part of an Apprentice-style reality TV show. There was a camera filming everything we did, and said. That was a fun experience, but not one I’d care to repeat.

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

After college, I spent two years in Beijing, then a year in New York, then two years in Auckland, New Zealand. Traveling helped me figure what I wanted to become. In New Zealand, I found work as an advertising writer, thanks in part to three generous people: Andy Blood, Zayed Siddique and Paul Catmur. That experience, and the help of many other friends and mentors, led me to the career I have now.

What software could you not live without?

Google Chrome, Photoshop, ScreenFlow, Skitch and Adium are programs I use constantly. I also enjoy Sublime Text 2 and Git for updating website copy… it’s enormously satisfying as a copywriter to contribute copy directly to a code repo, instead of updating a doc and begging a developer to make the changes for you.

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

Our team has four or five going at a time.

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

In 2013, it would be WebRTC, a web technology that allows real-time communication in your browser without a plug-in. For example, it lets you embed video chat directly into your website. We demoed this several months ago in a game called Cube Slam (cubeslam.com).

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

Google, Apple, and Path.

Who is your target audience?

We seek to inspire creative coders – people who think like designers but implement like engineers.

What area of web design lacks the most?

In the advertising world, I’d say it’s a dedication to iterative improvement. Agencies are incentivized to launch and move onto the next brief, rather than keep building and making things better.

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

I think Reddit has done a remarkable job curating online conversations that are massive but meaningful. The New York Times' interactive infographic team is incredible as well.

Has winning FWA awards helped you in any way?

Absolutely. Not just the recognition, but in helping surface great work from other agencies.

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

I co-wrote a couple chapters with Aaron Koblin in two books published by O’Reilly – Beautiful Visualization and Beautiful Data. We also wrote a piece in this year’s Cannes 60th anniversary book, Game Changers.

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’ve found that having a happy family life is what puts you in a mindset to succeed at work. A happy home life is job one.

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?

In my opinion, the best is still Wieden+Kennedy’s Old Spice real time response campaign on Twitter, YouTube and Reddit. That was shockingly well executed.

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?

That’s the great thing about the web browser now -- it's getting all sorts of new form factors. You can hook it up to a motion capture device and control the web with your hands. You can project it on a wall and control it with your phone. You can install it on a pair of glasses, in your car, or on a wristwatch. Eventually, the browser, as a gateway and interface to the web, may become an enhancement to every medium. This is something that many of my colleagues and I are excited about.

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

Hopefully they’ll become more and more human. Eventually you should be able to visit a website, like Google or Amazon, and just have a conversation with it about what you want. I think this is the future of programming too... you should be able to tell the IDE verbally what you want to accomplish, then watch it code your project for you, tweaking it as you speak.

I’m also excited about the prospects of online education. The primer in Neal Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age” is fun to contemplate. Some combination of Wikipedia, DIY.org, and Khan Academy could have a huge impact on the world.

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

It’s a toss up for me between This Exquisite Forest and 100,000 Stars. The former is a massive crowd-evolved series of animations that just finished a year-long exhibit at Tate Modern in London. The latter was built by a developer on our team named Michael Chang in just a couple months; it’s not just a technology demonstration, but also inspirational and educational.

Do you think Flash is here to stay?

We build everything on our team in HTML5 and JavaScript.

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

I think school is a great place to learn design and programming in a forgiving environment. But it’s absolutely not necessary. What matters is your portfolio, your character, and your courage.

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

Make it easy to understand and instantly engaging. If someone spent only a few seconds on your website, would they be intrigued? Would they be rewarded? And cut out the distractions. Everything you add has a visual cost.

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

Hiring is difficult. We rely a lot on our team’s network outside of Google.

What would be your ultimate vehicle to travel in?

A General Contact Unit (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship_types_of_the_Culture).

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

To me, the most important trend to follow is what new technologies are coming to the web browser. For example, earlier this year my team saw that the Web Speech API was coming to Chrome, so we created a project called The Peanut Gallery (peanutgalleryfilms.com) to demo it. For a look into the latest tech in Chrome, check out www.chromestatus.com

What country excites you the most in terms of innovation?

The US holds the edge, in my opinion. It’s where almost all of the websites I use on a daily basis are developed. In terms of web design, though, Swedish agencies always seems near the forefront. My team has often wished that Sweden and San Francisco shared a timezone.

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

I’d like to create an online dictionary that explains the meaning of words by providing example passages from selectable genres and eras of literature. In my experience, what a word means isn’t as important as how it’s used in specific contexts.

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

Google has many inspiring projects. Some of them we’ve become accustomed to like Street View, Google Books, and Voice Search. Others, like Loon, Fiber, Glass, and the driverless car, provide a glimpse into the future. I hope we keep going, and that more people get to be a part of it.

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

I bought my first car last week. It’s like having a Zipcar waiting outside and available at all times. I don’t know why I waited so long.

Any parting shots or pearls of wisdom?

Read a few of these: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Award_for_Best_Short_Story

It has been a privilege, thanks very much

Thanks, Rob. My pleasure!

Valdean Klump, Google Creative Lab. Photo by Nik Daum.
Valdean Klump, Google Creative Lab. Photo by Nik Daum.

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