|FL: Other than as a PR move to get your firm Spotlighted on this site, what was the impetus behind naming the firm Spotlight Studios?
|SS:The PR coincidence is just serendipity at work. We called our firm Spotlight Studios because we look at
our work with clients as a production number in which we put them and their products and services up front. The name relates to the
processes and methodologies as far as creating the right strategy and staffing, etc. so the client remains the focus or "spotlight."
|FL: Your firm's trademark phrase "Interactive Solutions for What's Next" pretty eloquently describes your firm's focus on the future. Does this imply that Spotlight Studios attempts to develop internet/web solutions that are ahead of current trends and standards? Do you feel that your firm pushes the boundaries of technology in order to develop solutions which try to solve tomorrow's problems in tomorrow's "standards" rather than just working with what's out there right now?
|SS:We don't use technology for technology's sake, and we work with new technology in-house prior to talking
with any client about it. Whenever we begin a development, we work with the client to evaluate the best technology to meet their current
and future needs so that they will not have to reevaluate their offering six months or a year down the line. That said, we love new
technology�it's what we live for. We are the first to start working with new technology at our offices to find a way to use it to solve
the business needs of our clients.
|FL: Your site talks about clients who have seen the future as well as not saying no to what they ask for based on these visions. Do you find that you have to walk the fine line between the future Spotlight Studios sees and the future your client sees? Which vision wins out? In the end, do you just sometimes wish you could both just look back at the path and (hopefully) share that in common?
|SS:When we begin working with a client, we first make sure that our firm and their company match well. We have
learned from our own past experiences, and those of other firms, that no matter how good the technology is or how good the idea, if the
people creating it, on both sides, don't share the same passion and goals, the service/project/product will not succeed.
|FL: You mention playing the Devil's Advocate, which I don't recall seeing mentioned on any other firm's site. Do you feel that this is a primary role that clients hire you to play? Have you ever found that voicing the opposing viewpoint has hindered the development of a project? Have you ever lost a client because they didn't want to hear the other side of the story?
|SS:Well "unique" is a frequently overplayed cliché but I know for certain that there are some things we
do that fundamentally distinguish from others in the industry. Our clients are often so used to firms that simply create what they are
told to, rather than being a creative partner in the process, that they often find this refreshing. We are not sycophants. We pride
ourselves on becoming an integrated part of our clients' development or marketing teams, and sometimes you have to say what people
don't want to hear in that type of situation. There are points in any working relationship where stating a different point of view
can have a negative impact, but we believe that being honest and up front with our clients makes for a stronger production and
relationship in the long run.
|FL: Do you ever find yourself booting up the Flight Tracker software and taking a look at where the planes are overhead at that moment? Do you find your jobs as stressful as being an Air Traffic Controller?
|SS:Wow, the Flight Tracker. That was one of my favorite projects of all time, mainly because it was so ahead
of its time. We used to spend way too much time playing with our little radar screen. Is my job as stressful as theirs? (Sometimes it
seems like it although the consequences of a mistake on our part are nowhere near as severe as for Air Traffic Controllers). Unlike
them, however, I'm surrounded by the latest technology so I think I have it a little easier than them. Also, I work with amazingly
creative and talented people, so that makes it all worthwhile.
|FL: Spotlight Studios has a roster of pretty big-name clients. Do you feel that as a firm trying to push boundaries, and to keep an eye on the future as it's unfolding, that large clients are helpful in that effort or a hindrance? Do large clients have the size and scope to know the right way to handle things or do they just have enough money to pour into a project until they get it right?
|SS:When we started our firm, I wanted to work with household names. Not necessarily any household names, but
brands that I've always loved. Along the way, I've been lucky enough to work with some, but there are still some on my list. (Have I
mentioned that I only wear Nike?). I've also been able to work with many emerging companies over the years and each has its good points
and its drawbacks. Brand name clients are often more exciting because the groups we work with have the drive and entrepreneurial mindset
of an emerging company, in addition to the resources of a large corporation.
|FL: Flash plays a pretty dominant role in the design of your firm's site. How important do you feel is Flash in the future of the web? What features of flash give it it's promise, and do you foresee some other technology or product that will fulfill that promise but not have the limitations that Flash might?
|SS:I fell in love with Flash when it was called Future Splash, prior to the Macromedia purchase and in the
days of the spinning globe. Unfortunately, working with large clients and their wide audiences didn't allow us to utilize it much back
then. Most of the time we just played with it internally for fun. In the last couple of years, Flash has truly come into its own, and
we use it extensively in promoting on the Web. As Flash continues to mature, it is becoming much more of an interactive tool rather
than a glitzy animation tool. Its latest edition allows for scripting and XML transfers that take it from the design level to more of
an interactive programming tool. As broadband becomes more a part of our lives, Flash will become more and more prevalent.
|FL: It's a little bit odd that for a firm with such a cutting-edge grasp on design and technology to have a staff member who's written a definitive book on using FrontPage 2000. How does Spotlight Studios accommodate a seeming abnormality such as that? What is your firm's viewpoint on tools such as FrontPage and the impact that placing the Web site into the hands of those who may not be professionals has on both the product that you can deliver as well as the industry as a whole.
|SS:We've all said over the years that Microsoft was the "evil empire." I even think Mike, our COO who wrote
the book, mentions it in his book, but you've got to admit that they make useful products. In fact, one of the industry's "dirty little
secrets" is just how many firms use FrontPage but will never admit it because it doesn't have the requisite coolness and because it is
a design tool that comes out of Redmond. However, most developers will privately acknowledge that it is very useful for many tasks. The
question we also consider before choosing an application to use is, "Which tool is most suitable for what we are trying to do."
Although we also use other "cooler" applications, we find FrontPage to be a great addition to our toolbox, especially when working with
companies that have a need to take their projects in-house when we are done. Integrating FrontPage compatibility into our designs
enables us to hand off a project with a layout template and guidelines that can be used by someone without professional knowledge who
can make basic updates without jeopardizing the design integrity.
|FL: Under your services, you mention helping firms from "Birth to Launch," but what about the "Launch to Retirement" phase of a Web site's life? In my experience, most firms move on to other things when a site is delivered and it's left in the client's hands to tend to it, often resulting in a subsequent project given to a firm to "revive" the site and breathe life (& new functionality) back into it. Does your firm do any training of the client or any support services to help keep a site functional and valuable? What sorts of technologies or services do you offer in this area?
|SS:One of the keys to generating word-of-mouth referrals is never leaving clients in the dark after a
project. Clients have varying needs that often relate to their internal resources. Some sign up for our standard maintenance agreement,
under which retain control of the site and responsibility for its upkeep while others have internal staff that take over. Regardless of
need, however, we provide all of our clients with detailed project documents that include file structures, style guidelines and updated
instructions. In addition, we are always just a phone call away if they need us.
|FL: How important has it been in the growth of your firm to be located in San Francisco? As the de facto heart of the online industry, does aura/presence of the silicon alley buzz/PR/mystique/legend/phenomena make it more difficult to see the future, a future that's more reality than hype?
|SS:What can I say, this is where it's happening. The Bay Area has been at the forefront of the computer
industry since HP was launched in a garage and the region has continued its prominence during the rise of the online industry. To
better understand how our location has helped us, you only have to look at our client list to see names like Levi, Visa, HP and Sun
(to name a few) that are all local. They are not only leaders in their various industries but they are also within a 30-mile radius
of our office. In addition, San Francisco habitually finishes number 1 or 2 on annual rankings of favorite cities in the USA. The
local culture, lifestyle, recreational opportunities and cool loft spaces are key to helping us find and retain great talent.
|FL: Having grown up in San Francisco myself, I must say I had never heard of the "Dog Patch area." Where exactly did this name come from?
|SS:The "Dog Patch" is an area of Portrero Hill named for the local watering hole, "The Dog Patch," where the
local fisherman and Hells Angels, (they have a clubhouse up the street), come together with dot-coms and design firms that have flooded
the area. When you stop by the "Dog Patch" you can even read the articles about how the dot-coms are ruining Portrero Hill, but they
always welcome us for a drink.
|(spotlight first ran February 2001)