Creative, Technology and Flash

If you’re not familiar with the standard agency model, you won’t know that Flash development falls under either of the two silos of development; Creative and Technology (sometimes referred to as Engineering).

Now that you are familiar, understand something, I have been in either of those two silos for the entirety of my professional career. Even when I had my own corporation, I was titled “Technical Director” and my partner “Creative Director”.

Why do we not recognize Flash as a separate entity? It’s been around for over ten years. With the addition of widespread broadband, it’s more prevalent than ever before. It has effectively knocked out all competitors in the online motion graphics realm. We have entire companies now that specialize in only flash dev and are contracting themselves out to agencies to execute their work.

It’s my opinion, such as it is, that agencies need to revisit their office model and alter their thinking. Flash Developers and Designers have been honing their craft since the invention of the software. There need to be advocates for the craft at agencies, not developers speaking to Creative Directors or Technical Directors, giving their opinions. A new person at the agency table is needed.

An equal voice in the form of a Flash department. Equal to Technology, equal to Creative.

It’s long overdue.

10 thoughts on “Creative, Technology and Flash”

  1. I completely agree with the sentiment. “Experience” or “Execution” might be a better title for the third silo.

    There just aren’t enough creative directors that understand the technical side of Flash. Nor are there enough technical directors that appreciate the creative side.

    A good online experience falls squarely in the middle between design and technology. A good Flash developer understands and respects both sides of that fence equally.

    If empowered, a Flash advocate can definitely come up with creative executions that neither creative nor technical would think of.

    The beauty of such a model would result in concepts that the developer knows will work from day one. More time could then be spent on creative and polish as opposed to spending the bulk of dev time on revisions to concepts that weren’t ideal from the beginning.

    Anyways…. Yes, I agree.

  2. Oh boys. I love this topic.

    People under estimate what a good interactive developer can bring to the table. We touch all points of the project/concept – not everyone else does. We know the copy. We know the design. We know the user interaction. We know the video. We know the functionality. You can’t say that for most people in the project… its because we at some point, touch all of it.

    Honestly I’m not sure what is worse – having something half thought out thrown at you as as developer to execute – or being asked for your “advice” for “approval”on something someone has already decided they are going to do.

    The problem is – no one knows where to put a flash developer. You’re either seen as a code head – and maybe you are. Or you’re seen as an animator, and maybe you are. Maybe you’re both. Most people align themselves with one camp. For me, I see myself as a developer first. But that doesn’t mean I don’t, and can’t, bring other things to the table. I’m not sure what can change this mentality in agencies – often the answer is “R+D” cos thats how a developer can be creative. In an industry that is inherently bipolar – creative and execution thereof, I’m not sure what would force it to change. But I’d sure be interested in learning what can do it.

  3. I agree as well… I get around it with a personal title of Inventor – seemingly allowing me to have ideas and build them.

    Design is a pretty good word that should cover both the visual and functional design. But if left alone seems to favor the visual.

    Designer and Developer – how about a mix of the two – the diviner. Okay – maybe not.

    Our Interactive Multimedia program is exactly this blend – we take in designers and developers and cross train them to become… designer/developers – yay.

    So I am all for the split or blend is perhaps a better word. It is sort of the swirling yin and yang with the center or dividing being us.

    Renaissance with both left and right brain power – we are a Boolean “and” – the stuff cross-hatched in the middle.

    Intra – blend – combined – hermaphrodite – no that sounds wrong 😉

    Whatever – but just remember even though it is doing just fine, Flash is a trademark so we need a generic name. Interactive might be good – and then do not split it into creative and technical.

  4. “Experience” is maybe closer to how we work, I guess. Trademarking never even entered my mind as I’ve seen a lot of business cards with “Flash *enter remainder of title here*” and as far as I can tell, noone’s been sued by Adobe.

    But you’re right, maybe Flash isn’t the right way to put it.

    Thanks for the comments so far.

  5. This is an email from a friend that I was asked to post because he was sick and didn’t even think about posting, just emailing. LOL, thanks Mark K.

    begin copy paste
    Is a good post, though if I were to understand what you’re proposing, there’s actually a more broad offering in terms of the missing position. Something akin to “experience design” or some like term that helps define realize “potential”.

    Flash is an excellent technology/tool, but without purpose/focus, it’s no greater or worse that anything else in market. Having the ability to straddle creative and technical fences yourself allows you the insight to know to shape a brief/objective into a coherent reality by assembling/training teams, providing bridging, and execution plans. It also affords you the insight to realize when Flash shouldn’t be tabled and alternate technologies (ex: Ajax, Flex, etc) would be a better fit.

    Definitively, hybrid technologies (which straddle creative/technical) like Flash are flexible enough to accept numerous styles of “best practice”. Our own (in studio), is distinct from a lot of other shops and is based on what our core goals are (structured marriage between creative and engineering, and accountability). Ultimately, this is because of our business model – we eat cost overruns thus must be on budget, conventions ensure the studio is not beholden to a single intellect, class libraries ensure retention of thought-leadership and elevate all to a common plateau).

    In terms of the big agency model, I think there’s a void in terms of how “potential” is accounted for. In this respect, knowledge is key – whether to inform others (Creative Director, Account Executive, Technical Director) of how vision or in-market goals can be realized, or to create structure to migrate/promote resources to an accountable/achievable end. (ex: convert a java guy or print designer in 4-6 weeks into part of a functional/successful team member).

    Perhaps most important in such a position is the ability to understand business goals and how they cascade to clients, projects and allocations. In any prospective engagement, you’re able to see not only where the opportunity lies, but instinctively to know what’s “design” and what’s “engineering” in such a way that the end user can’t see where one starts and the other ends. Further, savvy/maturity ensures that you don’t loose track of the prize/purpose (ex: cost per acquisition models). With that, you can forecast budgets, training schedules, and accountable throughput, etc. A CD or Tech Director (overwhelmingly often) is not able to achieve such due to siloed interests/knowledge.

    Net/net, a seat at the table for Flash = good, but potentially limiting and (if manifest too narrowly) runs the risk of adding to the conflagration of fiefdoms. That said, high level thinking in terms of hybrid technologies is becoming as crucial as core advertising strategy, brand, or technical architecture. In my mind, it’s where all these coexist, but historically have no avenue to see eye to eye.

    My 2 cents: structure a core team that fall lock-step into a defining vision/purpose, define processes and expectations, and embrace lateral promotion/integration from sibling departments.
    end copy paste

  6. Wow, this is a fantastic discussion.

    What happens when your company’s manta is all about “Experience”? If the Directors expect that all the departments should contribute to the end-user experience then a separate department maybe seen as redundant (which hasn’t stopped some).

    Here’s an email (written earlier today) to my Director of Technology who is looking to integrate Flash into Engineering.

    –begin copy paste–
    “As some follow-up notes, I’d like to point out the inverse of the end of our discussion. What about the “deseloper” or “devigner” who brings those two {worlds} together? Someone who is fully capable of thinking {on both sides} without having to step entirely into one?

    Does this person have a place in the current roadmap of the department? There have been many, many (and many) discussions on the pros and cons of “jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none” types. But we may want to consider the potential of an “integration expert” (btw, I hate the word expert. I just couldn’t think of another word).

    Flash developers have long held their heads high (some higher than others) with the pride that they are in an unique position to blend two normally exclusive worlds.

    For the Flash guy who loves the frameworks and design patterns and general obfuscation of their code (I’m kidding :P), he/she maybe an Engineer at heart who just uses Flash. He could just as easily switch to C# (since they’re both ECMA based).

    The same can be said for the timeline-tweener who creates his animations in Flash. He could be using After Effects. (Obviously both examples are generalizations to prove a point).

    However, what other platform is available for that person I mentioned earlier, who works in the middle? And to that end, can we really force that person in one direction or the other?”
    –end copy paste–

    So, essentially I’m mostly repeating what’s already been said in this thread and I’ll end with Jeff’s statement:

    Anyways…. Yes, I agree.

  7. OK, I totally agree, but I of course don’t mind it, as this is exactly why Infrared5 exists. To create some some really engaging stuff outside of the traditional paradigms. And we do make a fair amount of our money helping agencies to implement things they would never be able to do on their own. There are other companies out there too that do an excellent job with Flash. Big Spaceship is another that stands out. But, traditional design/ad agencies are not where it’s happening for whatever reason.

  8. Here’s my take on it…
    It’s not that we necessarily need a new person at the table. What we need is a point of intersection. A nice colored blob in the venn diagram of interactive design between creative and engineering.

    That intersection is UX. It’s a language good designers AND good developers should be able to speak, because UX sits at the intersection of function and aesthetics.

    I even have a crappy diagram of the above, in an old talk I gave at the UofA. Slide 2:
    http://gskinner.com/talks/uofa2004/

  9. the venn diagram is a good model IF it is evenly distributed. The issue lies in the fact that as a member of either department you are skewed one way or the other due, primarily, to reporting structure.

  10. I’ve always been a big fan of the Creative Developer. These are the coders with a vision. The ones who think of solutions to problems that aren’t in comp sci textbooks. A creative developer is someone who uses Flash (or processing) because it lets them bend the rules in ways that other tools might not. Flash developers are overwhelmingly creative people who were drawn to code as a way to empower their ideas.

    All of the above comments about experience and integration make sense. There needs to exists a middle person/team that bridges the gap between the creative and technical.

    Products like Flash Catalyst are proof that there is a void here. Adobe is squarely targeting creatives with it as a tool they can use to do interaction design. Coders however are drawn to it as a way to easily generate the ui for their backend code. Catalyst clearly represents a process that falls between tech and design and it appeals to both sides equally. I’m curious to see how it’s adopted into people’s workflows. Personally I think it is a tool for the “experience” people being discussed.

    As a person who’s employed as a coder, I hate being slotted into that role and being ignored when I contribute anything else to the discussion. I’m a creative developer.

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