Less Rain has been profiled in the latest edition of Web Designer Mag. It is an in depth article on what drives what we do and includes a timeline of Less Rain’s history from 1998 until today. In case you can not buy the magazine, here is a PDF version of the article.
See below a transcript of the main interview:
VA: VASSILIOS ALEXIOU: Creative Director / Founder
DC: DAVE CURTIS: Senior Production Manager
Q. Less rain is a long established agency with 15 years of experience in the industry. What is the story behind the agency getting together and how has it developed and evolved since its inception?
VA: When we got together, we had one thing in mind: to engage via playful interactivity, to captivate people via unusual concepts and interfaces. At the start we did not have any clients – we just did what felt right and talked about it, in the hope that some commercial work would come through. In late 2000 we released ‘Eyes Only’, a CD-ROM that pretended to come out of some academic search for extra-terrestrial life and allowed you to connect to a series of fake webcams and capture stage on screen phenomena that we had choreographed to happen at certain times. Today we work mostly on commercial projects, but the aim is pretty much the same: to ‘suspend disbelief’ with original, bespoke work, and to do it in such a way that technology is invisible.
Q. There are differing schools of thought on the importance of an agency name and URL. What is the story behind the agency name and was it essential that your URL matched?
VA: We did not want a name that immediately says ‘digital’, so we avoided using words like level, floor, unit, section etc. It was raining a lot at that time, plus we all share the design aesthetic of ‘less is more’ – using less elements, working well together to create a bigger impression. We were lucky that lessrain.com was free, otherwise we would probably have to rethink the name!
Q. Your website is your key online presence, it is the location that presents the agency to the world. How important do you think the agency’s site is? And, how much time and effort is involved in keeping it up-to-date?
VA: The website does a lot of the work, but it is not the only presentation tool. We have blog.lessrain.com that follows our activities in more detail, as well as Facebook and Twitter. Keeping it up to date is quite easy – we have a very simple custom CMS that publishes information on the mobile (HTML), tablet (HTML) and online layer (FLASH). We are mostly updating it with new projects – all other newsworthy stuff is channelled via our blog.
Q. Clients are the lifeblood of any agency. How does the agency go about attracting new attracting new clients? Does the agency’s reputation negate some of the hard work and attract potential clients? Or, does the agency actively engage potential clients?
VA: Most of our new business comes through recommendation. We try and do our best work every time, then we talk about it and submit it for awards. We will go and present to the agencies we respect, but we are not very aggressive – there is not enough time, as we are always busy! But we do target specific kinds of work – at the moment it is interactive films and in general interactive stories that live online but also as apps. We are also aiming to do more trans-media work.
Q. With such a well-established selection of projects sitting neatly in agency’s past, do you get to pick and choose who you work with? And, is there any type or size of project that you will not take on?
VA: We are very open to the kind of projects we take on, we like to take on new challenges and enter spaces we are not naturally very comfortable in, We learn this way and develop new skills. We tend to not take on very small projects, as we know that in the end in order to be happy with the work ourselves we will end up doing much more than what we are paid for. Then there is the odd client that we do not really wish to work with again, but often this is mutual, so there are no hard feelings. We try to ‘screen’ our clients as much as we can, especially when we are asked to do a pitch. We ask them how do they know us, what project do they like from our portfolio – we want to know that they really like us and they are not just trying to find an ‘extra’ company to take part to the pitch.
Q. When working on a large-scale project what is a typical timeline. Who is assigned to a project, what are their roles, how is a project divided up and which area is typically the most time-consuming part of a project, ie design, development, testing.
VA: We organize projects around a production manager, who ‘owns’ the project. They work with the creative director who makes sure there is a vision for the project, do the UX, manage the team internally and interface with the client. The rest of the team for a typical digital project is usually a designer, a 2D / 3D animator, two or three front-end developers and a back-end developer. Sometimes the project is huge, in which case we double or quadruple that. The production of ‘Insanely Driven’ – www.insanelydriven.com - involved two production teams, live-action and digital and about 35 very special people.
DC: In general, the most time consuming part of the project is always Development – but good preparation before any code is written always minimizes the amount of time required. Rushing into writing code always causes problems later on in the project.
Q. What project creation tools does Less Rain like to use and why? Are you Adobe-centric, open source or bespoke?
DC: For Design, it’s always the Adobe Creative Suite. You just can’t beat the power and usability of Photoshop, Illustrator etc. However, for development, we use a variety of tools, favouring FDT for our Flash work, OmniGraffle and Axure for our UX, and tools like Charles or Firebug for testing. To help communication amongst the team, as well as the client, we love using Basecamp. It really helps to have everything in the project in one place.
Q. Less Rain has an undoubted passion for the Flash platform which is reflected in the projects the agency takes on. What are the key factors for using Flash and what does it bring to a project that other technologies cannot?
VA: When it comes to truly engaging multi-media work, Flash and Adobe AIR are still the best tools to work with. Adobe has been very bad in their PR and Google very good, but the truth is HTML5 has still a bit to go. Why create a mediocre game with HTML5 when you can create an amazing one using a more appropriate technology?
DC: Flash has been the backbone of Interactive development for many, many years. It provides us with the tools to develop rich, but engaging, content – which many other technologies can’t match. There are some other excellent technologies out there (Unity 3D, and Adobe Edge are two great tools worth checking out). The problem lies that these tools each only provide part of the solution – and greater time and effort is required to tie them together into a seamless user experience.
Q. HTML5, CSS3, jQuery are seen as the technologies which will build the web over the coming years. What are your thoughts on these technologies and do you see them as a direct replacement for Flash or as an essential companion?
DC: These technologies are certainly opening up the possibilities to develop engaging content outside of Flash. They each simplify the ability to provide interactive, cross-platform, solutions. The main problem with the web, is that interactivity is still (in general) based on pages of content. This restricts the usability of the end product – with the end user constantly loading new content from the web, causing delays, which breaks their flow. The increased use of Apps, particularly on mobile devices, but increasingly on Interactive TVs, are increasing the customers awareness of engaging interfaces, highlighting the flaws in current code based web technologies.
Q. Social media is now considered an integral part of any digital campaign. How important are services such as Twitter, Facebook etc in the overall process of driving traffic to a site?
VA: Driving traffic to a site is more important than ever – you need to cut through. But due to the fact that as a production partner we are not always in control of the PR budget, we often see outstanding pieces of work not realizing their full potential.
DC: Social engagement should be an integral part of any online, or mobile, project. But you’d be surprised how many projects are briefed in without any social engagement. Yes, we can post to Facebook and Twitter, but social engagement is a two-way activity. The client needs to engage with their customers online, in order for the customer to engage with their brand. We always try and think of solutions to engage with the social network, and include it in clever ways in the projects we do. Our recent project for Red Bull – Paper Wings – allows users to design a 3D paper plane, and launch them towards Salzburg, where Red Bull host their annual paper plane competition. Any social engagement boosts your plane closer towards the destination. The more you are engaged, the quicker you fly.
Q. Mobile is a key component of the web experience. What is the agency’s approach to designing and developing for different devices? Do you think that responsive design is a viable solution or do you consider a more custom option to be the answer?
VA: In terms of apps, if there is budget to create two separate apps (iOS & Android) then we would go for two separate code bases – and utilize the benefits of each platform. But if we were looking to release something online, on tablets and mobile, we would go for a single code base using Adobe AIR.
In terms of websites, if we are looking to create a strong user experience and not just a portfolio website and there is enough budget, we might go for two code bases, one Flash and one HTML. But in most cases we will go for a responsive design done in HTML.
Q. An agency is effectively only as good as the people it employs. What qualities do you look for in a prospective employee and what advice would you give to anyone looking to take a step into the industry?
VA: Personality is a key factor, sometimes more than skills. We like people that are easy to work with, confident and happy to be part of a team. At the same time, we are looking for problem solvers, people that love challenges and are motivated by the end result. You are only as good as your last project, so everyone makes sure that the final product represents us all. Focus is definitely key – sometimes you get very talented people that spend a lot of time checking out Facebook or Skyping their mates, ending up staying late in the office. We prefer focused people that come on time and leave on time.