Howblue.com Interview - 2003

I am graduating with a B.A. in English (creative writing emphasis), and I've noticed that you received your B.A. in Rhetoric and Communications from UC Davis; how did you bridge the gap and become a designer?
I have sketched, doodled, traced and drawn things since I was a kid. I’ve always been fascinated with illustration and drawing especially Sci-Fi cartoons like Robotech. Growing up I just never had the training or natural skill to just draw things up on my own other than re-creating characters or scenes from cartoons or Dungeons & Dragons books. Through High School I didn’t take any art classes or anything. I excelled in the science and math classes instead and was told by my teachers I should go into engineering. As a result of that I was accepted to UC Davis as an Aeronautical Science & Engineering Major where I also was recruited to play football. After the first year of being bored, not relating to anyone in my classes, and in general not being passionate about engineering, I decided to switch majors. I had taken a Speaking class for my GE that year and had enjoyed it. I also have a cousin who is a sports broadcaster so I think part of me contemplated being a sports broadcaster. Not a far stretch since I was also playing football at UC Davis as well. The two seemed to go hand in hand. Right before graduation I took an internship at a News station. I handled all of the video editing and writing of the commentary to games. It was fun, but the hours were crazy and it was quite stressful. You would race back to the studio, cut up the highlights to a game, write the commentary and it was live 15 minutes after you arrived. Just knowing that if you made a video mistake, or if what you wrote sucked, it was going live kind of turned me off to the whole business. After that I got involved with a friend of mine who was doing web development. In college I had known a guy who had shown me Photoshop and let me play around with it a little. I was definitely hooked at that point but I just never had a reason until after college to get back into playing with Photoshop. While I learned HTML and Photoshop, for the first few years all I did was make cheesy buttons and cut up other people’s designs. Slowly but surely I started to have my own ideas for how things should look. After mastering HTML and the basics of Photoshop, I made a mental switch in my head that now I wanted to become a designer. From that point on, every waking moment I had was spent trying to improve myself and better the last project I did. Not for the respect of others but simply out of personal pride for myself.

Becoming an Art Director at 2Advanced is a pretty awesome achievement, but where did you start out in the web design world? Did you go straight from college into designing for the web?
I think my previous answer explains part of it. I’ve said this before but I started out as just an HTML guy. Cutting up designs for other people and learning as I grew as a professional. Along the way I got in with some really talented designers. Once I knew I wanted to be like them it was simply a matter of observing their techniques and being lucky enough to get into the right situations. My fist big break was getting in at a company called marchFIRST who handled the Mazda USA account. At the time I had flash on my resume but to be honest I had only opened it once or twice, got frustrated with making a button and shut it down. Well as luck would have it the 2nd project I worked on was a Flash presentation to Toyota/Lexus trying to get those accounts for our company. It was a full flash presentation and both my buddy rick (www.pixelbandit.com) and I positioned ourselves as the designers who would flash out the presentation. Even though I had no clue about flash I knew one thing. It was Toyota & Lexus and I was up for the challenge. Well that week of hell became known as “Flash Bootcamp” for me. I learned a ton and I started to set up habits and methods of flash that I still use to this day. From that point on we became known as the two flash gurus of the office. In retrospect the project was a horrible piece of work and I have to admit I know for a fact that I ran that project at 12fps. Fortunately with every project you learn something that will help you with the next project and the foundation was set.

Is there a "beginner's ritual" when getting hired into a design firm? For example, I mean do you start out making small elements for a site, such as just the buttons, and then when people above you see that you're doing your job well do you get promoted to designing more substantial things?
Of course there is a hierarchy. It depends on what you are hired to do. The bigger the agency the more specialized your job is. So you might start out just doing HTML. You might just be doing Design. Or just doing Flash build out based upon a designers original Comp. The smaller the agency or the larger your skill and you will have more responsibilities. Regardless of your position in the company you earn respect from what you do the time you start at a job. What you have done before that job is irrelevant. All that matters is what you have done lately. When you first start out at any agency I suggest working long hours. Be the first person to arrive and the last person to leave. Kick butt on every task you are given and of course you will not only grow as a designer/developer but you gain trust amongst your peers and probably gain more projects.

How many employees does 2Advanced Studios have in its totality? Are all of these people designers?
I think there are like 12 of us. Eric is the CEO and head designer and there are 2 art directors. We have 2 or 3 people below us who handle a variety of tasks depending upon the project. Sometimes it’s HTML, sometimes it backend integration, sometimes its skinning a design, sometimes it is skinning a CMS tool. On the technical side there is our CTO John Carroll who then has a handful of programmers underneath him. The rest of the staff is made up of Marketing, Operations and Business Development.

Of your company's work, I noticed that you guys have a menagerie of services to offer clients, from Corporate Identity to Web Design to Kiosk Presentations. Do you have designers that work on specific things, such as strictly web designers, or does everyone generally cross over and create for all of the different medias?
As with any company or group of friends everyone has their passions. Some people are stronger at 3d, Video, Flash or Photoshop while other people are better at production, build out and optimization. At the beginning of a project the tasks are given to the right people depending upon their skills, time frame of the launch and availability based upon the workload the person has with other projects.

I've noticed from the portfolio on 2Advanced as well as the Bombshock posts on Ultrashock that you have been working on multiple, intense projects. How many assistants do you have working for you?
For the most part I do not have any assistants working with me personally on my projects. With the exception of the Taig Khris site which was done by everyone in the office, I tend to work in my own vacuum and handle everything form concept to design to production and optimization. Sometimes I am given a piece of a site to do and we collaborate together but for the most part I am on my own. Of course I will ask others for opinions and suggestions, but for the most part all of the work on a project starts and ends with me.

What type of clients do you have the most fun with? Do you find that most of your clients challenge you artistically and technically, or do you find that some requests for sites are more monotonous to carry out?
The best clients are the ones who already have a strong marketing concept set up and come in knowing what they want to accomplish with the site. www.skyworksinc.com was such a project. They had all their information ready. They had all their marketing done. They had a plan and we executed it together in conjunction with my vision for their company.

When I first saw Gabo Mendoza's site back in high school, which was probably around 1996-97, I was blown away by the circular menus that would rotate new content into the screen. In your case, what got you interested in web design?
No. I got into design after being amazed by people’s Photoshop skills. I mean I was originally wowed by Yasuto’s www.rayoflight.net back in the day and the first 2advanced.com sites but Flash isn’t what makes design fun for me. Photoshop and people’s Photoshop skills are what got me interested in design.

What would you find most impressive on a resume coming from a recent college graduate? What is it that you look for when you're hiring new people?
Rhythm, balance, photoshop skills, a sense of personal identity or vision, and the key factor is emotion. Its ok to fall within a genre or style but too many people just do the same old thing. For me personally I want to see some life or personality in every project I do or look at. If something doesn’t hit me on an emotional level its boring to me. It could be the music, it could be the visuals. Either way I must be emotionally moved in some way.

What are some of your favorite website? They can be sites that you draw your inspiration from, sites that impress you in terms of technical merit, or even sites that you think are just plain cool.
I seriously haven’t seen anything in a long time that I would label as my favorite website or something to draw inspiration from. Websites on the whole do not inspire me anymore since they mainly function as informational portals. As such their primary goal is giving the visitor information and they aren’t as Visually stunning as they could be. I think the Flash store by Nevil Slade www.theory7.com has some very good technical achievements in it. Along the same lines, www.bacardidj.com has definitely set some new standards for flash functionality. The fact that 2A did isn’t a factor for me. It is plain and simple a technical achievement for Flash in general. To me I have been more moved by some of the intense video work or 3d artwork I have been seeing lately coming from some of my friends. Photography is always an inspiration to me especially nature photography like Ansel Adams. Aside from that I would say The Lord of the Rings Movies, The Matrix 2 and some of the other Visual oriented movies are what I would say I draw my inspiration from. Golum was an insane achievement.

Which website is your proudest achievement?
I’m proud of everything I have done even if I don’t like them anymore. I would say the most in depth site I have created is www.skyworksinc.com. I’m proud of it for all the technical achievements it represents. The ability to turn the flash off/on and the bookmarking features combined with all of the scripting that went into it to make the site operate and still give the person the proper sections of the site and navigation was a lot of work and a lot of fun. I’m more proud of all the cool people I have met and the friends I have made over the years. Its what makes it fun.

Do you have any other advice for someone who is seriously looking to find a fun, challenging, and progressive life in web design coming this May (that's me!) ?
I have 2 quotes that I live with every day.
1) Every day is a Saturday
2) If you love what you do you will never work a day in your life.

Thank you once again, Mr. Mielke, this means a lot to me.