The Firm List > The Firm List Spotlights > Interactive Jungle

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Interactive Jungle Spotlight on the Firms
FL: "Visual solutions for the bold and brave" is quite the statement to introduce people to your firm. Is this a calculated step to try and turn away clients who might not be as bold or brave as you'd like? What is it about your solutions which require this level of boldness & braveness?
IJ: That quote is one of many taglines we created to support a particular ad campaign developed when IJ was first born. If you go to the homepage and hit refresh (we're sure you have nothing better to do) you'll see the many others, all equally bold, brave and even obnoxious. The tags were in no way a move to keep anyone away but to make a statement about our identity, sense of humor and, in fact, a call to the IJ native within everyone - all are indeed welcome!

What has surprised us most have been the occasions where we've had clients we perceived as "conservative" and designed to our idea of that concept only to have them come back and say, "No. This doesn't look like what you do. Dial it up!" Those situations always make us happy. We're also happy to go to the opposite end. Loud can be quiet and economical if you're power of perception is in tune, ours is. The one thing we have learned is design based on ideas or concepts, like the one called: conservative, can lead to inorganic creation. Better to address the values and story of an organization and create from there, not box it in by idea or preconceived labels.

Our solutions do require a level of bold, brave and unprecedented mojo but that's more in reference to what we ask from ourselves and our process than anything else. Nothing need be mediocre. We insist on challenging ourselves to be bold even in our so-called "conservatism." Conservative can be bold, it can be brave but at IJ it cannot be mediocre. That boldness you speak of is the level of quality we ask of ourselves as creators.
FL: How important is storytelling to the interactive experience? Are all websites about telling a story?
IJ: Story is everything. Everything tells a story from web site to doorknob if you are willing to see, hear, feel and experience it. IJ is based on that principle. We either discover the story or create it based on a client's past, values and branding position and then all design is based upon it. This provides an awesome checks and balances in that if we know the story we can measure all things in accordance with it. Does this design tell the story?

It's one of the core principles IJ was founded on because we found we'd gotten away from it with bigger company mentality and creativity suffered. When creativity suffers, fun suffers and then what's the point? So yes, story is everything. A rock is just a rock but how did it get here? Has it eroded in this very location? For how many years? Did someone throw it here? Who threw it? Why? What's their story? A rock is just a rock without a story. Design is just design without a story - we're not interested in that. Whether literal or abstract everything we do tells a story.
Interactive Jungle - Lainie Siegel and Michael Walsh
FL: Having started designing websites in the early days of the web, how much of your decision to start Interactive Jungle came from that early experience & business environment that was the web? If you were just getting into the web today (or even a year ago) would you still be driven to start your own firm today?
IJ: IJ was born by Lainie Siegel & Michael Walsh with a distinct intention towards trying to recreate, in our own vision, the culture and passion we experienced when we met at BoxTop, Interactive back in 1996. BoxTop's creator, Kevin Wall was insistent that the culture be loud, bold and empowering to the individual. It was an exciting time where anyone was free to learn and take on as much as they desired. We were supported to be exactly who we were no matter what the wrapping was: tattooed, pierced, yuppie, transvestite, loud, silly, gay, straight... sky was the limit. The music always blasted and there was a definite sense of community that fostered great passion, commitment and creativity. We wanted that back. We also thought we could create a different environment with clients than some of the larger houses we worked at did. Back then, this was after BoxTop had been swallowed up by a larger house, it was all about the dog and pony show to seal the deal, product was barely a second thought. They'd agree to anything, dogs flying out of your monitor, if it meant they could seal that deal. Needless to say, disappointment and disillusionment were inherent in that mentality. With IJ we wanted to get back to some old aesthetics like passion, quality of life, creativity but create new ones too, i.e., quality of relationships. We also thought we could offer great prices for quality of product without all the bloated overhead. We run IJ as a team, no top - heavy layers upon layers of management. Yuck - been there done it! We all roll up our sleeves and work hard - a definite group moment.

Thing is, if we hadn't had the experience we had from, say 1995 to now, what we would be working uphill against are all the amazing contacts we've amassed. They've been invaluable to the success of IJ from potential clients to business alliances to the hugely creative pool of talent we draw from. So yes, we might be as driven but perhaps not as blessed.
FL: Though it seems to almost be required to have a firm which offers the widest possible range of services, which are the core service offerings of Interactive Jungle? What are the elements of the greater whole which seem to attract your clients to you?
IJ: This question delves directly into the philosophy behind the name Interactive Jungle. Interactive represents our desire to play with anyone and everyone. Interaction with clients, employees, each other, artists, natives... it also refers to the wide array of tool-sets we find in the diverse world of: the jungle. The Jungle is a reference to the many mediums we play in: digital, print, video, film, wireless, etc. As we evolve (mind you IJ is a mere 1 year, 7months old) we constantly recognize the need to redefine who we are and what those core services are. We're currently working on new ad campaigns with a potential tag: Interactive Jungle, an executable firm. To execute, to put completely into effect. We realize there's a whole 360 thing here and there's no reason, with our talent pool, to pigeon hole ourselves into one or two services. There's just too much talent and opportunity. That's a little tease of things to come, but it refers to our skill set and talent which becomes more and more diverse all the time.

Our core services for the first year were definitely digital, interactive services (aka web sites) as well as some print and a bit of brand & identity. We still find those services in full force, especially brand & identity which we have become very, very good at. Lately we have also expanded to more diverse marketing solutions that help bridge the digital and brick & mortar worlds including wireless, broadcast design, DVD authoring, e-learning and even industrial and commercial production. The latter are some of the newer projects we've had with Franklin Covey and Mandalay Entertainment's E-Media Division and they open up a whole new core competency that makes living in the entertainment industry's back yard quite enticing for IJ. Very exciting for us! The minute we're sure we've nailed our identity, something happens and we realize we've already outgrown it. The equation we're currently tinkering with is: IJ < Identity + Creativity = Innovation. How's that for some strange math?
FL: Your firm is full of an eclectic collection of talent. Does Interactive Jungle actively seek out employees who have interesting and diverse backgrounds (both work & personal) or does working at Interactive Jungle just draw that out of people? Does your firm seek it out or simply help draw it out of your employees?
IJ: Both. We're always looking for someone who blows us away, can teach us something new because that's what keeps us highly "executable." The thing that meant so much to us about BoxTop was that it was this huge sandbox in which we could cultivate talents and recreate ourselves without boundaries. Lainie began, actually created, her position as a non-paid intern in 1995 to learn the medium. Previous to BoxTop she waited tables next door. She went from non-paid intern to Sr. Designer and was highly pivotal in establishing the culture at BoxTop. From there she went to being one of the first seven people hired at DEN, as Art Director responsible for all 35 artists. Michael started at BoxTop as Kevin Wall's assistant. The industry was wide open. You couldn't pay for the kind of education we got in those early years at BoxTop & DEN. We were encouraged to grow and we'd like to keep that a high priority at IJ. So, we seek out the so-called eclectic & diverse in new talent and draw it out of existing talent as well. This also feeds upon itself just like in the old days - new talent always brings new stuff out of even veteran players, it breeds passion and creative results.
Interactive Jungle - Office Interior
FL: Being in Southern California makes it almost inevitable that you'll have done sites related to the entertainment industry, but it seems as if your firm has worked on some really exciting projects including "That 70's Show" and "3rd Rock from the Sun." Do these types of projects really allow for any more fun & creativity than sites for more traditional businesses?
IJ: Tough question. We see every project as a creative puzzle to solve. And yes, they're all exciting. With industry clients we never really know what the expectations or limitations are going to be. Hollywood is a very well-oiled wheel. Sometimes it can see outside of its own box sometimes it cannot and sometimes it just comes down to how creative we can be within a given budget. On "3rd Rock" & "That '70s Show" the fun is coming up with new, interactive functionality that plays with the show's themes and keeps the fan base engaged. That part is highly creative. In that respect, most traditional business are not looking for games and gadgetry so these sites are a lot of fun and they open the creative spectrum for us. On the other hand, Hollywood is a business and these projects have their share of politics, process and mad turn-around schedules just like any other client. All the same, we're ready for that one financial organization who's gonna get it and call for some Flash game or crazy interactive piece for their users to play with - we're ready, bring it on!
FL: Interactive Jungle offers print as well as web design. What is the balance of your workload between those two mediums? Have you seen any changes or shifts in the type of work that you've done in the last year or two?
IJ: Um... well, the web design portion is healthier than ever. That's just the solid, core service we first came to the table with. We have seen a sizeable shift in our brand & identity business. Truth be told, we did not know how good we were at it. We offered it and as we began to delve into it Lainie really saw a hidden gift for logo design & brand identity come to life. We also realized how powerful and how much fun we had applying the Interactive Jungle approach to this medium. We decided to approach everything from the point of view of story and creativity. In doing so, we put together a process for branding & identity that embodies all of that in a fun but also provocative way. We get all the players points of view out on the table and really dissect and explore them to make sure one isn't talking about apples and the other oranges. Or if they are, how do we create the apples and oranges brand.

Currently we've seen a real shift towards marketing that incorporates many services from print to digital to wireless... we have to stay ahead of that game, its what's going to take us to yet another level which is something we don't want to stop.
FL: The monkey seems to be a popular presence on the web. What do you think is the fascination that the web as a whole has with monkeys? What is your firm's fascination with monkeys?
IJ: Is the web fascinated with monkeys? Hm... not sure we knew that. Well, first of all the monkey fits right into the jungle theme in a literal sense. I think our own obsession with monkeys came when we were creating titles for ourselves. In an effort not to get too into the hierarchy moment we create alias titles for everyone, we still do. The "a.k.a." titles are on our business cards and range from Code Monkey to Word Ho to Pixel Pimp to Whip Cracker to Sales Dawg. It's just our sense of humor, our desire to have fun and not take ourselves too seriously. The elephant also plays into this but more on that in a bit.
Interactive Jungle - Michael Walsh and Lainie Siegel
FL: What was the origins of the name Interactive Jungle? Do the members of your firm get issued machetes when they report for their first day of work?
IJ: Lainie Siegel is responsible for the name. It came to her in what she calls, "a cosmic moment." Lainie was the Creative Director at her last job before Interactive Jungle, an organization called Spongelab. The name came to her in a flash - she interrupted an extremely important board meeting with big wigs, venture capitalists, the whole nine yards. She got up and asked everyone to stop, hold everything! She ran over to her computer, pulled up Internic or some such outfit to see if the name was registered and... IT WASN'T! She swiftly registered it, ran back and called the meeting to order. Okay, so the whole "power meeting" scenario is pure fantasy, there really isn't anything outlandish about the name other than it came to Lainie out of the blue - and way before we decided to create this particular business.

Quite simply, she liked the name, snagged it and that was that. At the time, she had no idea it would become what it is today. She even offered the name to partner Michael Walsh to use when he was thinking of creating a writer's cooperative in Summer 2000. Little did either Michael or Lainie know some six months later their industry would hit the skids big time and they'd end up putting the name to its ultimate use.

As for machetes, no. We do however offer snake byte kits, monkey alias' and bottomless glasses of jungle juice to induce psychedelic inspiration and passionate vision.
FL: Some firms wouldn't be caught dead showing anything the least bit outlandish or controversial on their site, but Interactive Jungle lets people send Elephant Poo postcards. What does this say about your firm and how have your clients reacted to it?
IJ: IJ loves both the outlandish and controversial. Again, its our sense of humor at work. We want to create a fun environment, a silly one, a place where ideas are welcome, silliness is encouraged and quality of work and culture are highly revered. Hey, this interview kind of leaves off where it began because the elephant poo thing goes back to that first ad campaign. One of the taglines was: "Watch Where You Step. Elephant Poo!" It was silliness mixed into a myriad of tags meant to get someone's attention. When we designed our business cards and created the alias titles we also asked each employee to pick a tagline for the back of their card. One of our programmers picked the elephant poo tag and in doing so gave life to elephant poo like he'd never imagined. When it came time for ideas to recreate our site and add an IJ "cultural" area, this was one of the ideas. We all thought it was hysterical. We still do. Send someone poo! It was a funny play on the Andy Warhol Campbell's Soup moment meets the Emperor's New Clothes: who's to say what art is? Frankly, we think the delicacies of this world are perverse enough to allow for a "poo as art," even a "poo as commodity" fad, why not?

The only real client feedback we got was from an employee at Franklin Covey who thought it was hysterical, called us up laughing himself mad. We are who we are, no apologies and that's at the core of what the "e-poo cards" are about; the core of what IJ is about. Are we done? I have to poo. Hehehehe...
(spotlight first ran November 2002)

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