JOSH ULM

PEOPLE

Josh Ulm (..about future involvements): I like to find a balance between well-known and less well-known.. People like you and Matt Owens, who is really well known, obnoxiously well known, and people you have never heard of before. Pretty much anyone can hook up and see Auriea Harvey and Matt Owens, all the people who have done it in a million of times, that much is good, they do good stuff, and I like to get them on there, but I also like to get people that you’ve never seen before, never heard of before so that you really get to know different stuff on there..
What I think I’m gonna start doing for REMEDI from now on, I wish I had done it this time, instead of me asking question at them, I much rather had other artists interview the people, and than put the interview online, that’ll be a lot nicer than having them answer a whole bunch of questions.. what I don’t like is that when you guys write your answers, they become very like scholastic, very.. I like a bit more personality came out of it, you got something really personal from it, instead of just,.. saying like, you write a technical brief of all the things you hoped to accomplish with it, it could be a little bit more lively. I like it to sound more like in a magazine, rather than just ‘text.. project.. text..’


When do you started this?

Actually I started it in 1997, a long time ago.. when I was still living in Maine.. but it launched on May 1st of last year.

How come that you switched from ‘Eye Candy’ to this approach?

Good question! Mainly because Eye Candy is a piece of shit (laughs..). It’s true, it’s nothing, Eye Candy is a joke.. Eye Candy was always just what it was, a way to make connections, a way to get a foot in the door..that’s kinda how it started off: me find a really cool place, that I wanna work for, writing them and saying: ‘Hey look I put your site up, and hey, who are you? And this is who I am, and are you hiring?’.. it worked out good, got me a job and got my name out there and now I am doing all the stuff I really liked to do.. but Eye Candy offers no real creative outlet for anyone, thats pretty much all it is..even updating it.. It was work, it was production, it wasn’t anything, I wasn’t getting anything out of it.. so. REMEDI is more.. hmm.. personal, it’s actually real, its real content, it’s not re-using someone elses content; Anyone could go out say: ‘this is good.., this is good, this is good..’. But I’m asking to actually do me something, to produce it, and put it out. That’s by far a better scenario to be in. And first, just recognizing commercial work is fine, but there is so much more to be gained by you sitting down and all the nightmares that you had to go through to do it, I mean, hopefully you learned sth. in doing that..

Sure, sure I learned sth!

What did you learn?

How much harder it is, if you do the concept-work first, if you really sit down and start thinking what you want to do, and than start working on that, instead of the other way round..

The concept kinda come out of the brainstorming? ..out of the playing?

Usually if you do client work, you know right away what you have to do.. All the guidelines are already set up.

Thats actually one of the things people always complain about when I ask them to do REMEDI, that it is so open, pretty much ‘do everything you want’. Feel like ‘Oh yeah, thats easy..’, but than they end up ‘I don’t know what I wanted to do, I got nothing…’. Thats nice about it for you, you find out what works for you and what doesn’t. But even more so than that, the reason why I think the write up is so important is because you can really pass that on to someone else. You are this kind of designer, you are doing these kind of things..or you think of the internet in this way. Or this is what I found out about it, like ‘the hard way’.. You can learn from that, I think thats really important..

It’s hard to do daytime work and something apart from that, specially when you have a demanding job to do?

Yeah, yeah, yeah.. what I’m claiming is, it’s wicked hard, about this business, to have a real life.. I mean personally! Specially being one of these designers that does stuff like the REMEDI thing, because you spend all day long and work. And than you go home and try do your own thing.. and it’s impossible. So than you much like to have a girlfriend, or you wanna try to have friends at all. So then the weekend comes, and I’m like ‘alright’, ‘thats it’, I have to go to the grocery store, I gotta do laundry, I have to clean-up my room, ..have to do all my bills, have to mail all these people, have to organize all my stuff, plus I have to be ready for work on monday..so my weekend is shut! ..it’s really bizzare, I find it really difficult to find that balance..I wonder if it’s an age thing, we gonna outgrow it and finally slow down. Or if we are just workoholics, and so we die?!

But you do enjoy it?

Yeah, but even when you do have time to relax it feels unnatural. Like I’m sitting there and I’m like: ‘There must be something I’m not doing..’. ‘I must be like forgetting about something, neglecting some part of my work. How can I not have anything to do?!?

How long are you doing this now?

4 years. I was only doing interactive before I was doing web stuff for just about 8 month… and than the web came along and I decided I wanna do that! So I jumped on that.. in ’94 or ’95..

Seems we all have more or less the same background..

I remember, even when I wasn’t designing for it, I was using mosaic or gopher back in the very, very beginning, playing around. I was thinking that might be fun one day..grey and black text. But even just being able to jump on NASA’s gopher site and download pretty much any text or even images, I could get images at that point.. of shuttle launches, and that was the coolest thing, I was like: Oh Yeah!

What’s the direction, whats your future plan, what are you going to do in one year? What do you want to do?

Pornography! Pornography and gambling (laughs) ..thats the way it goes. I like to think that there is some healthier way, that we all come together and start to talk to each another, but it’s not gonna happen.. just not! Doing the Olympics, at least initially, made me feel like, there could be something noble in all this.. But then, I don’t know.. I think the corruption of capitalism is too strong to let the internet ever be anything worthwhile.

What about this: ‘Internet and TV is going to merge’?

Convergence?

Total sports immersion conversion..(laughs)

Ya this is going to happen..

Give me a timeframe. Tell me when..

Haha, ya, I think I can do that: hm…. first quarter next year [2000]..

Thats pretty early..

Well, I think the content won’t be there.. thats kind of a big thing. I think a lot of the media companies and NBC’s and news corps and time warners are shuffling to make sure that the technology will be there. The technology will definitely be there!

What kind of technology will it be? I mean about.. Will it be PC-based or TV-based. Web on TV, or TV on the web?

Hmm, thinking…(about 1 minute later!)… I think it’s gonna be TV on the computer. And the reason why I think that is because, the NBCs and the Foxs are going to step out of the technology, and not have anything to do with that. They won’t care necessarily what their stuff is going over, and let the Intels and the Compacs figure out how to actually move the stuff.. like how to get it from one point to another and then what to do with it when it finally gets there. Those people are PC-people. And the media companies are gonna spend more time to figure out what to send over there. Which they should do, because right now no-one has any clue. It’s funny..

Are you working alone? ..at Quokka and also at the REMEDI thing?

REMEDI I do completely by myself. And Quokka I do, I work pretty much on my own, too. When I changed positions, I kinda moved to a different department of which I was the only kind of employee. I started a research development division, and I am the first in it.. so I kinda get to do my own stuff.

Are you planning to stay here? San Francisco, United States?

At least a little while longer..I like being at Quokka because I get plenty things to do I wouldn’t get from any other company. And if I wasn’t doing that, I would be doing my own stuff. I actually wanna get back into teaching again. Maybe I go back to University and teach.

What do you mean by ‘back’? Have you been teaching?

Ya, I have been teaching. I teach now, too.

Where? At CCAC?

I teach at a computer college down in the city, and I teach with Linda Weinman, too. I taught when I was in college, design classes.. What I’d really like to do is, find some school, start a new media department..

Why not starting a company?

I don’t want to do business. It’ll be tricky, I’d like to find.. I don’t know, we’ll see..

Josh Ulm about being on Haight Street, comparing the ’68 movement to todays internet development: “The people in the age group, and the things they were trying to do.. They were trying to take music, and do music differently. They were trying to show people that there is more.. that you can really communicate with it, that they can bring people together. And thats kinda what people like you and I are trying to do with the internet now. Thats definitely what I try to do with REMEDI, show people that you can do something differently, it doesn’t have to be ‘brochures on the web’, you can communicate, you can make people laugh, cry do all this stuff. Doesn’t have to be just information design, it can be emotional, too! To a degree there is a lot of similarity there. I mean it’s completely different, now it’s based around a much different business model, but even than [1968] music was a business model as well..

Ya, some people are always making money.. drugs was a business too!

They still are.. that hasn’t changed.

What’s the schedule for the next REMEDI?

You are up for three month. So April 1st. but I am gonna archive them. All the stuff thats been in there before is still sitting in there.. Shannon and Future Farmers had a piece in there before, all that stuff..

Are you involved with hiring at Quokka?

..Finding flash artists is hard.

Why? It’s really not a complicated program!

It’s not, but it’s new! Plus it’s real storytelling now. All these designers come from print, so they are not used to doing dynamic design, they used to doing static, flat design. So to ask them now to do sth. with animation or with moving type or sth. like that is difficult for them, and they are not good at it yet. So finding really good people is difficult!

Who do you respect, who’s your hero?

Thats fun.. Ahmm, my dad..

Work wise!

Interactive media, I think, no one is good at it yet. No one really understands it well, nonlinear storytelling. And that’s what I am interested in! More than all this design stuff and interface stuff, I am interested in telling stories and I am interested in interactivity. Those are the only two things I really care about. And there is no-one who is doing that right now.. who I think is really like saying, ‘this is new’, ‘this is different’, ‘this is how’.. we gonna start to play with that!
Peter Cholsky is one of the closest to doing that. So who I really look to is story tellers, cause I don’t think anyone does interactive well, ahmm, and for storytellers I still look at film, cause film in my mind is one of the most elegant ways to tell stories now. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful.. And me, being a visual person, thats what I kinda relate to.
And there are lots of film makers that turn me on! Wim Wenders, actually is one of my favorites. I studied Wim a lot when I was in college.. Oliver Stone I am also a big fan of. He’s one of those people who really thinks about every moment. When I am telling a story, whats really important is, is being a good storyteller, knowing what to say when not to say it.. and Oliver Stone is one of those people who really does that well. He is one of the most talented visual designers for film that there is, which is really, really nice!

Filmmaking..

Ya, definitely film!

How is the REMEDI project going to evolve?

It’s pretty much there. Like I said.. I’d like to put lots of spinning things on it, things that spin. And things that make noises, lots of things that make noise.. make it flash and beep, and jump up and down.. I don’t know. I definitely try not to guess where things are gonna go, I much rather try to understand where they are right now, and play with it from there. Me predicting where it’s gonna be in five years would be about as smart as me, saying that it’s not gonna change over the next five years.. So there is no way that I can anticipate it, hopefully I am still be doing it, I like to think I would..but so many things come and so many things go.
I think in the , what I like about REMEDI is, the learning that happens there, by the artist and by the audience as part of a process. I think that that process is more important than to get to any goal, everything is building, everything weaves into something else. When people go there what I hope that they get out of it is something that they can put into their own stuff.. they can think of, say, this will help me take the next step, into the next level in whatever I’m doing. And I think REMEDI in itself is that as well, it’s not an end goal, it’s not as much a self contained thing as it will be a step onto something else, a movement onto something else, another way to improve ourselves and what we are doing and to learn more about that. Maybe it will all lead into sth. different, maybe wit will just die and something else will come along. Maybe it will exactly keep going as it is..I don’t know. In my mind it is fun for what it is, but it’s still just a website..it’s not brain surgery!! in the end much more important things will come along, we learn a lot from this, but we learn a lot from other things too! And so I don’t ever wanna see REMEDI as a goal, like I said it’s just a step in the process..

What does the name really mean?

Redesigning The Medium Through Discovery! Where that comes from? Ahmm.. me trying to be really cool, trying to come up with a wicked cool name. So I sat down and thought what would be cool..anagrams are cool, and acronyms are cool, so.. I needed to work in discovery and the medium. And I was reading a lot of Marshal McLuhan at the time, so I was all into this ‘the medium is the message’ old shit, and I was thinking about that and started getting into that. Finally I fell upon REMEDI. All the connotations that came with that: ‘a remedi for some evil in the world’, as if there were some super-hero. And than the whole idea of like, when hard rock bands take their names and switch out letter, like ‘korn’..which makes it soo cool! So I was thinking I totally have to do that.. REMEDI with an ‘i’ instead of a ‘y’ which is brilliant… it still works. It’s a little bit catchy!..well, ok.

“Cool! OK! thanks!”

Interview, Text and Photo: Daniel Jenett

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