Matt Owens, who is known as a gifted graphic designer as well as a skillful web designer in New York, contributed the cover design to SHIFT.
Working on a great deal of web designs, print works, motion graphics etc, he maintains an experimantal web site, volumeone, which is highly regarded by many web designers worldwide. SHIFT interviewed him about his design policy, web design in New York, what he is trying to achieve in the field of web/graphic design.
First of all, can you introduce yourself?
My name is Matt Owens, I run volumeone, a visual communications studio in new york, started in 1997. For two years I worked as a senior designer and then as the creative director for Methodfive, a web development company in new york. Previous to that I spent two years at cranbrook academy of art getting a masters degree in graphic design. I was born and raised in texas.
Can you tell us about your web site volumeone?
Volumeone serves two purposes. First, volumeone functions as an experimental laboratory were I can work on navigational, visual, and narrative ideas that I find interesting. Often, client work does not facilitate exploration and innovation given time and budget constraints so volumeone serves as a forum for ideas to materialize.
Secondly, volumeone serves a promotional purpose. Published every season, volumeone is a kind of self imposed creative dialogue. I want clients and other designers to be exploring different communication possibilities and breaking new ground and the only way to really forward these kinds of dialogues is to work through example. Everyone wants to do interesting work. The question is, do you wait for it to come around or do make it happen. I try to do the latter.
What do you think the most important about the web design is?
Within web development in particular, the talents of traditional graphic design, interface design and information architecture are fused together. Exploring how these three fields can work together most effectively lies at the center of successful communication on the internet. Traditional graphic design skills involve not only composition and information hierarchy, but developing the visual languages that will be most appropriate for a given project. Interface design and graphic design intersect as visual communication and navigational challenges work seamlessly together to form a singular experience. lastly, visual communication and navigation must operate within the technological foundations upon which information architecture relies. This results in an inherently challenging environment where (ideally) new forms of expression are the outcome.
What are you most interested in now?
I am most interested in rounding out my design ability into a broader context. I am really interested in doing motion graphic work and more print projects as well. With regard to web development, I want to work collaboratively with strong a technological team where design, content, interaction and navigation can develop into more sophisticated and interesting experiences. Increasingly I think you will see an interrelationship between web, print, tv and interactive media whereby design will serve as the conduit between cross-media visual communications problems. I would like be a part of defining this merging process.
As the cover graphics of SHIFT was done by you, can we have some comments about the graphics?
The cover of SHIFT was done pretty spur of the moment. As satoru knows, I was interested in doing something a little more happy and cute but since Brian at Sunshine Design had already covered that last cover I decided to go in the opposite direction. I got the Lemon Font by G2SYSTEMS, which I love for its visual line qualities based in the lemon shape. However, there are no English letterforms. So I went in and took specific aspects of the letterforms from the Lemon Font and used them to spell Shift in English while retaining the visual qualities I found appealing. Next, I put the newly created letterforms into a 3d program and extruded them and gave them a light source. A few weeks ago I had taken several photographs of signage and colorful barbershop poles around Pell and Elizabeth streets in New York. One particular shot was of red neon letterforms in chinese (I think) and I used it as the background for the cover and dissolved it into the white of the page. I think it creates a nice depth in contrast to the 3d letterforms. Lastly, the horizontal lines perform a grounding function, giving the letterforms a balancing point. Overall, I think the cover communicates an atmosphere and an attitude as opposed to a specific concept. And this is what Shift is to me in a lot of ways. A feeling and an attitude that results from the sum of its parts.
As you have designed a number of web sites in the past, what is your policy when you actually create a design? and how do you usually get job offers?
I work on web sites and other design projects in several capacities. Often companies just need conceptual ideas or a solid push with regard to navigation or structure. As a result I may work on a consultancy basis for an hourly wage or a fixed price.
Traditional print design and identity work are also part of the projects I work on and they are usually bid at a specific rate given the scope. Job offers come through people just calling me up or shooting off an email. Some are long term clients, like national geographic, that have worked with me since the methodfive days, and others come through recruiters that know me or have seen my work. There are companies I would like to work with out there and also other web companies I would love to collaborate with.
We’d like to ask you about the web design in NYC. What’s hot now? What are interesting web sites there?
Web design in New York can be best broken down by the type of agency. Large agencies
(Agency.com, Avalanche, CKS, Think New Ideas, Razorfish, Poppe Tyson, Eagle River) usually do big corporate clients and end up doing somewhat conservative stuff. Smaller Agencies (52mm, 47jane, volumeone, P2) do design specific projects and some print and television stuff as well. Medium size agencies (Media Circus, Interactive 8, T3 media, Methodfive, Plumb Design) can bounce between small and large clients and do both edgy and conservative stuff. Many large ad agencies have internal web development companies (Young and Rubicam has Brand Dialogue, Poppe Tyson have an interactive division, as do CKS and Think New Ideas and I believe Ogilvy and Mather have an interactive division in the works.) MTV and Sony have there own internal departments for MTV online and The Sony Station.
What’s Hot…I think Plumb Design’s interactive thesaurus is very impressive as of late. I also think that metadesign’s Ideo site and the Fuse98 site they did are really nice and tight on an informational level. I know 47jane have a great new designer so I am sure they will be doing good stuff. I think Josh Ulm’s Remedi Project is going to be really amazing when is comes out. Attik Design’s new york office is doing some great print stuff and starting to do TV stuff. Filip Stoj has been doing consistently good work for the sony station. I think io360 and 52mm have had plenty of recognition in the last year or so I am sure everyone knows they do good work. I think we will be surprised in 1998. I feel some web designers will branch out and get recognized as broadly skilled, with the ability to tackle web, print, interactive and motion graphics.
What do you think the advantage of working in NYC is?
New York city is great because there are so many collaborative opportunities. Being able to work on a strategic level through design, concepting, and site planning and development, allows you to work with other designers and technologist in a variety of capacities that you couldnｹt do working in just one agency. Because I have done print, web, interactive and identity work, I like to work with clients (or other companies) where we can join forces and combine talents to do really interesting things.
If you worked outside NYC, where would you choose?
I would love to work in Japan, Hong Kong or San Francisco. Japan and Hong Kong have such a different cultural context that I think I could learn a lot creatively. I also think that in Hong Kong and Japan there are some amazing designers that I would love to work with. San Francisco has a strong technological and design culture that would love to be involved in. I have worked on projects with companies in Los Angeles, Washington DC, Atlanta and England so working with clients remotely and traveling is something I already enjoy.
Who are your favorite designers?
Hong Kong… Mike Chu of course. And my friend Drafus Chow who works at Lemon. He and I worked very closely on a lot of the methodfive identity work, it was a collaboration in the purest sense.
In Japan, I would love to hook up with the Asyura and Takashi Murakami as well as Stereotypeprodukts which do cool print work. I have such an america perspective on things, popular culture and the design profession in particular, I think working with any of these individuals would be a really amazing experience and would inform my work in ways I can’t imagine… good ways.
It seems like you like Japanese pop culture. What kind of thing influenced you most? and what kind of aspect of the Japanese pop culture attracts you?
Pop culture is something I have always been into. Japanese culture is fascinating to me because of the way in which Japanese culture interprets American culture and how American (or western European) culture interprets Japanese culture. I think there is a complex visual dialogue that results from this never ending cycle of interpretation and reinterpretation. Take the magazine “Cutie” for example. It takes hipster American fashion and really breaks it apart into such a categorized way that it is amazing to me. I think American kids operate on a much more intuitive level and don’t approach fashion in the same way. Another example is The Designers Republic. They really were the first (in the early 90’s) to begin interpreting Japanese culture within the context of graphic design and rave culture. Now you have Japanese companies like Asyura, Takashi Murakami (art direction) and Stereotypeprodukts taking these initial visual ideas and exploding them into totally new things. Simultaneously you have companies like Atitik in the uk, Apartment13 or Girlz and Boys in the us that are developing there own spin on these visual languages. I grew up with Shogun Warriors, Ultraman and Voltron as part of my childhood and I am informed by these artifacts in my own interpretive cultural process through design.
Text & Translation: Satoru Tanno