I actually majored in music (jazz guitar), but have been a doodler all my life. After playing a few bar mitzvahs, weddings and smoggy bars, I decided I loved music but hated the music business. After all, what other business rewards making it to the top with a cross-country bus trip? Fortuitously, I discovered the Macintosh back in 1987, landed some relevant jobs and fell into the world of design and technology.
Like many people, I learned design backwards, basically by exploring what computers could do. I got reasonably good at making computers do what they do but observed that most of the material I was dealing with in my work – mostly advertising submitted by various local agencies for pre-press processing was stupid, unimaginative and uninspired. It wasn’t unlike the music I had been requested to play as a working musician.
In the late 80’s, I got fed up and took off on a few sailing adventures. It was a time when sailing was less of a rich man’s sport and I was able to odd-job my way around the Bahamas and beyond. I actually found a job working under the table in a small ad agency in Gibraltar for a few months.
In 1995, back when most people still thought “internet” was a hair product, I discovered the web and saw how completely awful it looked, but also recognized what incredible potential it had. Working and learning in this playground has consumed my professional life ever since. I started off learning to hand-code HTML and the rest has been a series of experiments, late nights reading boring books and a huge variety of clients with interesting (and not-so-interesting) problems that needed to be solved. The web is still mostly awful but I like to think I’ve made some tiny parts of it better.
One of the big ironies in my life is that I became a teacher. At the time of this writing, I’ve been a full-time faculty member at a major Arts University for over 5 years (with additional years as a part-timer before that), but with a few exceptions, I never found the pace or much of the content of classroom-based work to be very satisfying. However, there were two notable things I got out of being involved with teaching design.
First, in order to be a respectable teacher, I had to know about more than technology. I had to know about design. There was no hiding behind my software skills. My students knew about things like modernism, the bauhaus school and constructivism. When I got asked to teach courses like The History of Graphic Design, I hit the books and prepared the lectures. As if working with a client, I had to engage with the content and find ways to bring it to life and make it valuable, interesting and relevant to students. Students would ask questions and in searching for answers, I would discover new things. One student asked a simple Flash question and in researching the answer, I found myself mesmerized with learning actionscript—Flash’s built-in programming language. Teaching has been a catalyst for an invaluable odyssey of learning and through it, I evolved from being a technician to being a designer as well as a much more creative technician.
My employer also demanded that in order to keep my teaching job (and for them to keep their accreditation), I had to get a Master’s degree. They were kind enough to pay my tuition and I decided to use this as an opportunity to create a thesis and project that were adventurous, innovative, exploratory and untainted by any commercial demands a typical professional project would place on me. It was a great chance to learn by teaching.
The result was something called Beyond Point and Click that explored a number of directions in interactive graphic design. Prominent among these ideas was a humanistic approach to interactive design. I observed that the software used to create graphics and type tended to produce perfect, sterile and very contemporary-looking (digital) images. Many people blame computers for this, but I posited that “designs don’t offend people, ignorant designers offend people.” The work contained images and interactivity that conveyed warmth, humor, temporal context and a story of human involvement. It suggested several ways designers could breathe life into otherwise sterile, digital work.
Most importantly, unlike the written thesis book that sits gathering dust in the University library, Beyond Point And Click has been seen by thousands of people and became the backbone of the professional work I’ve done since. Because I kept my passion for music and the guitar, I began working with instrument builders and created a series of sites for such notable hand-builders as Tony Vines, Michael Keller and Michael Dunn, bands like PALO!, and some (refreshingly) honest, innovative and socially valuable work for a large pharmaceutical company that I am contractually not at liberty to reveal the details of.
It was through this work and our mutual love for acoustic guitars and great music that Richard Geller and I had the good fortune to cross paths. He saw my work for the guitar-makers and proposed we develop a site for his books and music. He sent manuscripts and delighted, I read them all in a single sitting. A dialogue and a friendship began that included a deep exploration and rethinking of the relationship between design and marketing, a discussion of perceived weaknesses with traditional approaches to publishing, and ultimately the development of A Site About Something. Inspired by http://www.getTheGlass.com (which I found engaging in spite of the fact that the site promotes a product I am allergic to), we enlisted the services of my friend and colleague Silvia Sayas who contributed skills with 3D modeling, texturing and rendering. Beyond its practical application as a vehicle through which the works of Richard Geller can be shared and marketed, A Site About Something is a demonstration of our own approach based on technology, ethics, design and magic.
I will leave specifics to later posts, but my larger role on this blog will be to share my perspectives on various aspects of the journey that has brought our site to life. The stories of how A Site About Something was conceived, designed, developed and constructed have all taught me a great deal and will hopefully be of value to others, especially to designers, writers and publishers, but ideally to anyone who wishes to inject warmth, humanity, magic and mischief into their own personal and professional output.
More often than not, professionals end up fulfilling the visions of not-so-visionary clients. I have had the wonderful good fortune to collaborate with Richard Geller on this project. He has extended enormous trust, confidence and control to me and allowed me the freedom and flexibility to design to the best of my abilities in support of his own wonderful work. Excellent work is done for excellent clients and this suggests that the true road to excellence may take more than one person to pave. I am most grateful for the opportunity to be a part of his/our project.
In support of A Site About Something and in support of others who may wish to undertake their own version of the journey represented by it, my intention is to alternatively wear the hats of the designer, the programmer, the teacher, the student, the marketer and also that of he who is lost in the woods but is at least enjoying the woods. Because ours is a grand experiment in marketing, the results may or may not vary from our hopes and intentions. By comparing our actual results with our hoped-for-results, I hope to illuminate a clearer path for others who might benefit from our successes and steer clear of our pitfalls.
Visually, A Site About Something begins with a “World” and continues with an exploration of parts of that World that are in turn relevant to the World of the books and music of Richard Geller. But this is but one realm for which the “World” is metaphorical. Our ultimate goal is to empower others who wish to create and share something excellent to do so without the requirement of enormous means. We aspire to create a better world by fulfilling the higher goals of adding warmth, value and meaning to those who might not otherwise be able to produce or consume such works of excellence.
Thank you for reading and participating in such discussions. Welcome.
Dave Bricker – February 17, 2009