Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Experience Blueprint

Q: Introduce us to yourself and your company.
Brooks Martin, Executive Producer at Schematic. Schematic is a world-class interactive agency with expertise in client service, strategy, user experience, design, copy writing, technology, production, and performance metrics. If it’s got a screen, we design experiences for it.

I oversee the business development and production for many of Schematic's emerging platforms. In my role, I focus on cross-platform solutions, ranging from advanced Web, ITV, and set-top applications, mobile and environmental installations to broadcast graphics, Blu-ray, game consoles, and even original, branded content. Over the past 6 years I’ve led over 100 projects for clients and partners such as ABC, Accenture, Adobe, AOL, Blockbuster, Bungie, Cablevision, CNN, Comcast, Dell, EA, EA Sports, Fox, GE, Intel, Mattel, Microsoft, MTV, NBC Universal, NFL Network, Panasonic, Paramount, Sky, Sony, Target, Time Warner Cable, Touchstone, Turner, and Yahoo!

Q: Interactive Producers come from all walks of life, they are a hybrid of talents, tell us about your background and how you got interested in digital production?

I came out to LA to go to film school in 2000. Soon after that I jumped to a position in (ahem) documentary television. I worked for Bunim-Murray, the makers of Real World, Road Rules, Simple Life and other shows. There we created the first all-digital post-production environment for reality television, enhancing the workflow for capturing, logging, and editing over 9000 hours of footage, per season, per show. Nutty.

Right before film school, I worked at a web-shop in Nashville, TN (hometown) called Anode Interactive, where I was a Flash designer and client-side developer. We had a good business in the Web, but our real expertise was in kiosk and environmental design. Cut my teeth, won some awards, had some fun.

I still love and miss post-production, and I’ve worked on a few stereoscopic projects in the past year. I can’t wait for 3D to get more traction.

Q: How do you stay on top of emerging technologies and keep your team informed and motivated?
I subscribe to a bunch of news feeds, and using a combo of FeedDemon and Google Reader, I just set watches for certain keywords. That keeps me up to date on a range of topics, but I also subscribe to 5-7 bloggers whose opinions I trust, and I read almost every post. I use those blogs to gauge new and interesting topics that I might also want to follow.

Within Schematic I’ve set up discussion groups around several topics (Ministry of Gesture, Ministry of ITV, etc.), and because e-mail is still a strong part of our company’s culture, people share links that way. Each group also has an intranet-wiki page where we keep links to the best of the best and provide references to internal projects, white papers and other knowledge sharing.

Q: What does your ideal client/project look like?

I prefer clients who involve us as a partner in their solutions. The more burden we bear, the more responsibility we have, the more we know, the more effective we can be with our solutions. Any time I hear “no,” I want a client who is willing to explore the “well, why not” with us.

I prefer two kinds of projects. 1. Long term Digital AOR, where we can have the freedom to bring all of our expertise to the table in a measured, experimental, scientific process to build a robust, engaging, innovative product. 2. Very short term, full-bore blast where we bring our expertise to bear on a prototype that knocks people’s socks off.

Q: How do you educate your clients and set realistic expectations for a project?

Schematic has a rigorous and proven process for delivering quality. We also work on many platforms/projects that are changing as we go, so we have to be very flexible. For the emerging platforms projects we try and encapsulate all of the most up to date knowledge for a project in a living document that we call the Experience Blueprint. This evolving snapshot of our thinking includes information on almost everything from the most basic requirements to future-state design principles. The document becomes an ever-changing manifestation of our rigorous process. In the end, we end up with a massive document, but it’s all in there, everything from the final product to that crazy idea that we had 4 months ago, that, hey, you never know, we might use one day.

Q: What was the best project you have ever worked on?
EA Sports UI Rebrand

Back in 2006, EA Sports realized that they were losing brand equity in their Sports titles because of a myriad of design styles and interaction models across all of the different games developed by 8+ studios. EA Sports asked us to envision what the future of the UI could look like in 5 years, how it could work, how it could grow and expand to meet the changing needs of their top gaming titles, but also incorporate new types of media (branded content and partner video, audio and data) into their gaming experience. We presented the vision piece to the heads of the various EA studios, and they all had the same reaction: “We love it, but can we actually do this?” “Actually, yes,” we said, “and you can do it now.” They literally stopped the presses while we spent the next month furiously working away on the global style guide. The result? They launched the updated UI and brand for all of their 07 titles, and it’s still holding strong.

Q: How many projects are you comfortable producing at one given time?

Either 2 big ones or 7-8 little ones. Even the few times that I’ve had just one project, I’ve always needed to have another one in the works.

I’ve been really fortunate/lucky to have remarkable overlaps in projects where a problem that we’re having in one project is solved in another project. I feel that being focused on just one project makes you soft. As an interactive producer, you need that objectivity to come back with a fresh perspective and a new and better solution.

Q: What does your dream team look like?

Creative Director to own the style and vision

User Experience Lead to own the structure and logic of the design

Technical Lead/Solutions Architect to own the platform limits and understanding

Designer to make it all look fancy

User Experience Designer to document the results and ideas

Animator to put all of our ideas into motion and give them life

Project Manager to track decisions, resources, and commitments from everyone

Client partner who is willing to listen, collaborate and be honest with their feedback

Q: How do you ensure that your client's best interests are met?

At the outset of the project, we discover and document the guiding principles to create a solid foundation for all practice areas like creative direction, UX philosophy, technical approach, etc. If we ever have anything that contradicts those core principles, we either use those principles to alter the solution, or we reevaluate the principles. If we change our guiding principles, then we need to check all the work to that point. It takes some work, but it’s all in front of you on paper (or PDF), and it’s worth the payoff. The final document should read like one cohesive, logically structured argument, taking the reader from concept to completion.

Q: What is your vision of what the next phase of our industry is going to look like?

We’ve been practicing for the past 6 years to bring these experiences to a television platform that will do all of the things we’ve been dreaming of. I’m so excited that this time has come. Now we can get started. With the rise of cloud computing and personalization, and the abstraction of the information in between them, I feel like the services we offer will have to account for that abstraction. We’ll have to design for two Webs, the general Open Web and the “Trusted Web” or “Authenticated Web.”

Q: Please share a snippet of wisdom that you would like to impart on our readers.
Write it down. Tag it.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Scholz & Volkmer: Peter Reichard

Q: Introduce us to yourself and your company.
Hi, my name is Peter Reichard and I am the Executive Technical Director at Scholz & Volkmer in Wiesbaden, Germany. My agency designs and realizes digital communication solutions for clients like Mercedes-Benz, Panasonic, Coca-Cola, Leica and Swarovski, among others.

Our commitment is to provide clients with 360° digital communications. We therefore cover the areas of attention (e.g. banners, virals), information (web specials, corporate websites), dialogue (CRM), transaction (shops), use (digital products), support (brand communities) and referral (referral marketing).

Q: Interactive Producers come from all walks of life, they are a hybrid of talents, tell us about your background and how you got interested in digital production?
My passion for the digital area began with a fascination of computer games, just like it did for many other people. When I was 15, I had an Atari ST and developed small and actually pretty bad games for it. But what fascinated me right from the start is that you can create something reactive and interactive – out of practically nothing.

While studying industrial design I became aware of the fact that for me, developing and programming was as much fun as prototyping with the saw and milling machine. Well, maybe even a little more – because I later quit college in favour of web development J.

Q: How do you stay on top of emerging technologies and keep your team informed and motivated?
I am convinced that fun is the mainspring of every good solution, especially in the area of creative communication. You only get motivated through positive results. For me, important factors are to have a team that’s fun and capable, a scenario in which everyone respects each other and where you face challenges together.

How we keep our team informed? Well, first of all, I think that it is necessary that people are curious and always interested in coping with the new technologies they have to use every day. At Scholz & Volkmer for example, we have our Intranet called ‘Inhouse’, where colleagues share new highlights with each other. These can be just hilarious viral clips, but also new technology, marketing ideas and so on. With 100 co-workers, you can gather lots of information this way.

Other sources of information and inspiration are fresh talents like freelancers and other agencies. Last year, we also organized a Summer School program: six international students were invited to work with us for a month. I think that such opportunities benefit both sides immensely and offer the possibility for cultural and functional exchange.

Q: What does your ideal client/project look like?
The ideal client is willing to communicate. And is bold and gutsy.

Q: How do you educate your clients and set realistic expectations for a project?

Well, I have two kids. So I know what a challenge education can be ;-). In my opinion, education is, first and foremost, dependent on trust. It is more a process of growing with each other than taking control over someone else.

For me, basic principles are: don’t promise anything you can’t deliver. Speak clearly and always at eye level. Establish objectives and consequences. Stay fair…. and have fun!

Q: What was the best project you have ever worked on?

Wow, that’s a difficult question. But if I had to make a decision, I would say that at the moment, my highlight is a project we realised for Adidas a couple of weeks ago. We developed the world’s first interactive online live event for the sports brand in collaboration with German soccer club FC Bayern Munich. The well-known German actor and comedian Christian Ulmen slipped into the role of soccer fan Frerk Ohm. With Frerk, we produced a five-day interactive web-tv-show where users took control of what was happening: they could submit the craziest tasks on the website and Frerk had to compete in and complete them – live and on-location in Munich.

Q: How many projects are you comfortable producing at one given time?

If I had a choice: just one. I find it difficult to focus and concentrate otherwise.

Q: What tools do you use to help you better organize your projects?
Actually, I haven’t managed to find the Swiss Army knife for organizing my projects. But lots of little helpful tools: Redmine, Moleskine, Mac-Mails to myself and so on.

Q: What does your dream production team look like?
That depends, of course, on the project on hand. But in general: two or three people that burn for an idea, that are able to arse around but are also capable of putting their thoughts onto paper – or into the computer.

That could be anyone, really, regardless of their education or current job position: designers, programmers, managing directors, project managers, conceptual designers and everyone else I’ve forgotten.

Q: How do you ensure that your client's best interests are met?
We use a standardised document for this: the Creative Brief, where all relevant and important information and objectives are gathered and documented on just one page.

Q: What is your vision of what the next phase of our industry is going to look like?
Well, I guess that the number of communication modes and channels will expand even more and that agencies and brands will go further and further away from communicating on just one single platform.

Furthermore, I could imagine that two things will keep becoming more important: advertising as pure entertainment as well as extremely user-focused communication.

Q: Please share a snippet of wisdom that you would like to impart on our readers.
Although I am already over 40 I’m afraid I don’t really have much wisdom to share yet. Thus I would rather like to quote my wife’s grandmother: Life has no guardrails. This may be a simple fact – but is at the same time a sentence you can interpret and think a lot about. My personal version would be, for example: There is no definitive security in life and be prepared for everything that comes.

And one last thing: It’s not just a job but a big part of your life. So - act responsibly. And…have I already said something about having fun?