The Firm List > The Firm List Spotlights > Wombat Creative

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Wombat Creative Spotlight on the Firms
FL: Okay, I obviously have to ask where the name came from. It's not every day you run into wombats.
WC: Ha! Funny. Contrary to instinct most people don't ask. Maybe they're frightened that it's some underground society with a secret handshake. Sorry to disppoint.

It was actually a nickname that was given to me in high school. I was on a debate team that traveled around the country and one particular time I was cross-examining a girl from St. Mary's, who was apparently more nervous than she could handle, and she pee'd all down her leg onto the judges shoes. My teammates (being in high school) were so impressed with this they named me "wombat." I think at that time, we thought the animal was sharp and powerful with an aire of mystery. Of course there are now adults that say "oh, yeah, isn't that the Australian marsupial that just sits around and eats?"

Yeah.
FL: Flash/motion graphics seem to be a key ingredient in the wombat creative arsenal. What do you think is the value of using flash & motion graphics in your work? How you do you deal with the disadvantages of the technology?
WC: Well, two questions there. The first is why motion graphics. Well, I think that has bled over from my background. I was a character animator for about 5 years and worked a lot in film. That naturally bled over into the interactive realm. It's kind of like asking why someone runs: because you love running.

But the older I get, the more I slow down. I have a shifting focus (you almost have to be these days). There's an old Japanese proverb that talks about a piece of grass: the stiffer it is, the more problems it has accommodating the wind. So I find myself doing more illustration and experimental design these days.

I think all tools are disappointing, really. But I am amazed that when you look at the big picture, 20 years ago we were programming spheres with C++. With a wide lens, its still amazing. I think its important for the young ones to disassociate themselves from the toolsets. There just tools. Tools are not the artist.
FL: You jokingly refer to a client who needed the project "built and debugged yesterday." How does one cope with clients who come into a project with those kinds of unrealistic expectations? Do you ever just turn them away?
WC: Sure. Hopefully if you're a talented Project Manager it's about translating needs in a non-threatening way. Clients come to you because they don't know. It's your job to educate them (to a degree). Once in a while, you get a client that does know what they're doing, but that can be equally challenging. I think the best projects we've done have been where the client has a vision and the tools to describe it well, and then let us work. But, you know, everyone wants to be a designer.
FL: Wombat also offers print, branding and other creative services. How does the integration of these other services enhance the overall solution you can provide to your clients?
WC: Yeah, this has gone through quite an evolution. I remember when I started wombat with thought that we should specialize - niche ourselves. The theory being: do one thing and doing it well.

Well, we made the mistake of translating this into toolsets, thinking that we should either be about branding or motion or design. And we did this for years, but the clients always wanted something different than what we were projecting. It took me ten years and a tanking market to realize that what I was really selling was creativity. So, regardless of what tool we wind up using, tell me your idea and we'll come up with the creative translation.

To answer the question more directly, I've seen an evolution in the business of specialty versus inclusion. In the 80's all the agencies were doing print and there were specialized web-shops that only did interactive, or you would go to a motion/graphics house (running a 30K version of Wavefront) for motion. Well, in the 90's all this merged and technology started to spread itself to the desktop and become more affordable. It took a while, but agencies started to realize that they could get a piece of the action.

Now the norm is agencies with entire internal departments for web and interactive allowing them to do everything in-house. The days of the freelance cowboy are numbered unless your skill-set is exceptional.
Wombat Creative Offices
FL: You've had projects that were heavily image/design centered as well as very content-heavy sites. Which do you think provides the greatest challenge to a web design firm?
WC: Both really, they're different challenges. Design challenges are about visual intelligence, whereas content-driven sites are about the technology that feeds them. The real cool sites are the ones that combine the two.
FL: Wombat worked with several well-know dot.com companies (Petopia and Quokka Sports to name a few), what were the lessons learned from having clients like these? Were they any more/less unrealistic than non-dot.com clients?
WC: Well, let me be clear that these were not clients of Wombat but of the agencies that we worked through. As a design company, we were shielded from much of the internal politics and dealt with our contacts and project managers. This has an advantage to it, so if you can set up your company in this manner it has its benefits.
FL: What sorts of trends do you see in the overall design industry in the years ahead? Will new media still be THE part of the design field to be in?
WC: Sure. New will always be on the front page - and there's always something new. In terms of trends I think we're in "The Dark Ages of Silicon." The politics of the bubble has been devastating to San Francisco. There are lots of talented people out of work right now. As horrible as I think it is, I also believe it's necessary. There had to be some correcting for the insanity that was the 90's here. But as with many things, I think Americans have a pattern of reacting extremely to crisis. When things are good - they're REALLY good, and when theyre bad, they're REALLY bad. This will pass, like everything. I think the design industry had been thinned out - all the "hangers" that came to be part of the revolution suddenly found their parents credits cards maxed and had to go home.

But in terms of design I see some amazing stuff out there, but it's all being done by individuals. Keep your eyes open and follow your bliss.
FL: There's been a large share of San Francisco firms featured in this Spotlight, this might be attributed to it being my hometown but more likely it has to do with the overall key role SF plays in the new media industry. Would this industry/profession be that much different had, say St. Louis, MO been the undisputed center of the web?
WC: That's an interesting question. I moved out for a number of reasons (which all have changed). San Francisco was pivotal in the bubble. This city, in my opinion, has a sort of "gold rush" mentality to it. Rush in - rush out. It's been like this for a long time. Also, being so close (mentally) to Hollywood it carries a lot of the same stigma of glitter and fame. Also, the government of SF was pivotal in encouraging the bubble. Along with being one of the most desirable cities in the world to live, the city government here would have sold you their grandmother's flat if you were holding a computer. The city zoning was changed overnight and stripped (gentrified) of a lot of its character, the lower classes and minorities being literally pushed out of there neighborhoods. It wasn't pretty.
FL: You've been doing this since 1995 your website says, do you ever find yourself thinking "what if?" What would you be doing now had you not gotten into the web design business? Or the design business period?
WC: No, not really. I've been a lot of things in my life - triathlete, magician, architect, poet, animator, illustrator... It wont stop with web design. Right now I'm already moving towards illustrating children's books. I think we are all many many people in our lifetime. The trick is to stay open to allow it to happen.


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