Digital Abstracts Interview - 2007

1 Hello Shane, please tell us how did you get into design. Short introduction.
In the early years, I never considered myself an artist or designer. I was an integrator/developer and I worked closely with all of my friends who were designers. I took their visions and designs and made them work, function, live and breathe. After I’d seen enough designs pass in front of me, certain elements started to stand out as good or bad as my own opinions and preferences started to form. I started seeing things that were done simply for artistic reasons that served no purpose and actually impaired the function and message of the sites I was building. Likewise, I saw applications and sites that were so boring and un-artistic that they needed desperate help. I think it was those experiences that inspired me to design.

I simply aspired to create cool things like my friends but wanted to have the power to change the things I didn’t feel were right. Although I always considered myself creative, I continually felt inferior to others who went to Art School or studied art in college. In my mind, they knew what was right or wrong according to the principles of art and design while I just had untrained opinions. It wasn’t until I started calling myself a designer in my own mind that I was able to start relaxing and feel a creative flow when I worked. I reinvented myself and I was no longer just a coder who knew everything about building a site. I evolved into someone with balance as both an artist and a developer.

2 Where are you currently based? What your current position and goals for the future?
I'm currently the Creative Director at 2Advanced Studios LLC in sunny Southern California, USA. My professional goals for the future are to continue to have fun doing interactive work delivering the best possible solutions for my clients, evolve my personal design style and improve my coding proficiency. In my free time I'm developing my own art which can only be described as a surreal mixture of my photography. Outside of design, my goals for the future are to be the best husband, father, son, friend, coach, mentor and role model I can be.

3 Describe your work process, after you have offered to make a site design. How do you start?
With new clients it’s important to be a good listener. Before you start directing them you have to be able to admit you don’t know their goals, style or personalities. The design phase traditionally has two rounds before a final design is approved and signed off. I start by gathering as many assets as I can from the client, cropping out images and working from any wireframes or UI documents. It’s important at this stage to figure out who the decision makers are, get to know their personal preferences and then give them exactly what they want but with your own personal style mixed in.  You can’t just push the style that you want to give them. I loathe design snobs who think they have all of the answers for clients they know nothing about. It really pays to keep your ego in check and give the client what they want and not just what you want to design for them.

I start the buildout by saving out all of the graphical assets from the design and importing them into Flash re-creating the PSD. At this point, I create graphic and movie symbols for all of the items and organize everything on their own layers. My first goal is always to finalize the functional aspects of a site disregarding many animation centric things like intros or transitions. I’ve seen people spend a week animating an intro (which is just one part of site) and then scrambling at the last second to hack together the rest of the site and ultimately launching a buggy site. I always remind myself that a site can launch without all of the bells and whistles and still be a success.
I try to keep most of my code and class files separate from my FLA files in external .as files. This makes it easier for others to find my code and makes it easier for me to re-use my own code on later projects.

As content gets added a fully functional site is created at an early stage which can easily be tested for bugs by the client. Although there is normally very little animation at this point, it could still be launched without missing any deadlines. At this point the animation phase begins and the site comes to life developing a personality of its own through the addition of motion and music. It’s important to develop a cohesive animation, easing and keyframe style for each project. What I mean by this is making sure that all objects of similar type (navigation buttons for example) always animate across the same number of frames and with the same combinations of easing amongst those keyframes in your timeline. This spans out into the rest of the site making everything work in unison and to the same beat. From this point on, I continually go through the site adding “layers of love” all the way up to the deadline without being stressed, having to fix any bugs or modify any content.

4 What is the worst feeling in your job?
The worst feeling comes when you reach the end of a project with a very short deadline and you know that if you had more time you could have delivered a better final product. It’s definitely a hard feeling to get over, but you learn to love and embrace the sites you’ve worked on for being that best that you could give within their constraints.

5 Where do you think web design is going? How do you see web in 10 years?
10 years is a lifetime in terms of the web and technology as we’ve all seen. The concepts of how the web functions are quickly transitioning from just news and information in our computers and browsers into all other electronic aspects of our lives. Hardware and applications like TiVo are already pushing dynamic ads and information to our TVs based upon what we're watching; while also allowing you to update what you're recording from any web enabled device. Similar technologies already exist for things like home security, but they will eventually become commonplace in just about any piece of electronics you can imagine. Just as we have items like universal remote controls for our home entertainment center, I think you’ll see web enabled phones, watches and PDAs become items that potentially control every electronic item we own. With that I think we’ll see “web design” as it’s currently defined start moving away from just websites viewed on computers and grow to encompass other mediums. It really is exciting because it means a constant evolution for everyone and the opportunities to work on projects for TV, Computer, Cell phone, etc. where currently we are somewhat limited to our own little niche of the internet.

6 How do you feel when somebody copy your work?
Some people say you should be flattered when someone copies you, but I've never enjoyed it.  Some rips are so horribly executed with stolen graphics and decompiled SWFs that you just cannot help but laugh. Other sites are carbon copies of style and execution which definitely give you a bad taste in your mouth. It doesn't seem to happen as often as it used to but every time one surfaces it's a tough pill to swallow. Regardless of my emotional reaction, I send personal emails to every email address I can find in association with the offending site. That way all parties involved with a site are aware of the situation and whoever it was that knowingly made the mistake gets caught. I'm always amazed at how people react when cornered like this.

A large percentage of people realize that they have been caught, apologize and quickly take down the site. Some people go to great lengths to come up with excuses or explanations of how it was possible that the two sites might look the same. I cannot count the number of times people have responded with comments like "Wow I've never seen your site before. This is amazing that the two sites look the same". Meanwhile their heights, widths and graphics match my site pixel by pixel and even the HEX value of their solid colors are the same.

I once had email conversations with the owner of a site that had ripped one of my projects. He went to great lengths to apologize and say that the offending designer was a young kid who had been fired from the company for what he had done. The next day I received an email from his partner explaining that the company was in fact a small 2 man operation and that it was his partner who had done all of the design, Flash and ripping. He just wanted me to know that I’d been lied to. Comedy.

7 What are your thoughts about design relates portals like Digital Abstracts and others?
I respect portals like Digital Abstracts, Ventilate and Pixel Surgeon that post intelligent links, tutorials, reviews and take the time to go out and coax super busy creatives across multiple mediums to do interviews. It’s hard being a part of a design community these days because so many message boards are filled with topics and posts that no longer have anything to do with design, Flash or work related information. Many people (like myself) have just stopped going to those message board style design communities on a regular basis for that reason. Personally, I’m so busy that sifting through hundreds of posts on a message board for a few good sites, interviews and/or information isn’t an option.

Portals like Digital Abstracts may not get as much traffic as a message board, but the quality of the information is a 1000x better and they allow you to get in and out really fast with the information we need or want. The interviews are great because they’re windows into other people’s worlds, thought processes and jobs. They have the potential benefit to those in our industry who are still looking to find their inner voice in their work or simply pick up other ways of looking at things.

8 If not web design, what would you do and why?
In my first year of college I was an Aeronautical Engineering major. In retrospect I wish I had stuck with it as it offers technical and creative opportunities just like the web. A friend of mine from college is currently working on the new Mars Rover set to launch in 2008 and I am extremely jealous of him. Otherwise I think I would be a member of the CIA, FBI, Navy Seals or Police. I don’t like Criminals.

9 Favorites? Music? Movies? Fonts?
Music favorites are VAST, Dead Can Dance, Jim Croce, Hatebreed, Death Cab for Cutie, Tool, Beastie Boys, Metallica, Pantera, Crowbar, 80s, 90s and pretty much everything in between. Movie favorites are DUNE, Vision Quest, Pumping Iron, Miracle, Rudy, Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, Harry Potter Series, Star Wars Series, What Dreams May Come, The Chronicles of Riddick, National Lampoons Vacation, Invincible and Good Will Hunting. Favorite fonts are Helvetica Neue, DIN, Eurostile, Interstate, Hooge and Standard.

10 Mac or PC? Why?
PC all the way. PCs are cheaper to buy and easier to modify, personalize and upgrade. In addition, I can select from hundreds of games to play and I don't have to buy multiple versions of software since we are all PCs at work. On top of that, the fanatical opinions of the Mac fan base are a major turnoff for me in the same way as Firefox extremists.

11 Freelance or fulltime job? Why?

Whether you're paid what you deserve or not, fulltime jobs guarantee you a base salary which you can depend upon for all of your bills. You are also more than likely guaranteed a steady flow of projects to keep your portfolio growing. In addition, you get to directly interact with people on a daily basis and potentially learn a lot from the people around you who have been there and done that. Fulltime jobs also allow you to focus on just one aspect of the industry and get really good at it.

If you're a talented, organized, self-motivated individual, you can also make a LOT of money by freelancing on top of your fulltime job. This allows you to accept only the projects you have time for, are interested in or that have budgets that match your personal needs. The only downside of freelance is the time taken up by project management and the fact that you never get paid on time.

12 What would you advice to young designers?
Surround yourself with people who have the same goals and desires that you have or skills that you want to learn. Push one another, have fun and treat every project as an opportunity to do something special instead of only working hard on the important projects.

13 What is your favorite work in your portfolio? Why?
Some of my favorites are the Metroid Prime Pinball, O’Neill, From Russia With Love Game UI, VAST, Ford Mustang and Ford F150 sites. They're all my favorites not only for the final product, but for all of the small memories I have such as the music I was listening to at the time, things going on in my life at the time, and everything that inspired me during the creation process.

14 A little information about your offline life. Hobbies? How do you rest? Do any sports?
I'm very active outside of work with many hobbies and ways to relax.  I love watching reality TV shows with my wife, playing with my daughter, working out, racquetball, photography, coaching American football, design, guitar, World of Warcraft, Quake, WiFi Tetris DS, road trips to Yosemite and watching movies. I played American Football in college and afterwards did several natural bodybuilding competitions so I'm very physically active. I've always felt it important to get away from the computer and just zone out while doing something athletic in order to free my mind of any limitations. Some of my best ideas have come while working out or at football practice when my mind isn't focused on the work in front of me.

15 Well that’s enough, your final comments?
Thank you for the opportunity for the interview and being patient with me and my crazy schedule.