The written version follows the original e-mail interview.
Simon Hadler: the fork website seems to me a little bit like a family-home: a room to play for the kids, a room to work for daddy, a german shepherd for the garden. kind of a "my home(page) is my castle"-feeling. both very american and german. Is that intended?
d5d: the fork site has always been a pretty good mirror of what's happening to us. it has been good and bad, too much or too little, the current site is a bit of old-school conservatism. considering the current state of the web, it seems to be an appropriate reaction to the changing tide (back to the basics). we are not a family, we are also not a typical corporate design studio. i think the schizophrenia is a fairly honest appraisal of our current interests/crew. constant harmony is a lie.
SH: in webdesign there is the same trend as in offline-design and architecture - people tend to work more and more in groups. how did fork constitute itself? +if it's not about harmony, what is this trend of group working about?
d5d: i prefer smaller groups. a lot of us working with digital media grew up in a lone-ranger environment. this is especially true of net-related work. many people weren't interested in the new tools, or relevated the people that were to "technicians" or "hobby enthusiasts". the "us against them" feeling is subsiding and the complexity or potential for projects now in comparison to 5 years ago simply requires some parallel thinking. you can also work together over an ftp connection and icq. harmony for me, is when we trade projects for a day, or layouts or demos when we jam/sweatshop together building a video installation (the whole night thru) our "constitution" is pretty transparent. berlin is currently 12 people and hamburg is a little bigger, about 25. at least a third of the crew are designers, another third is code, and one third project managers (satan's little helpers) we like combinations of three's and sixes =)
SH: your website, many of your non-commercial projects and what some of you said in former interviews kind of spreads a certain "subcultur"- and "underground"-feeling.
SH: on the other side you work for big companies, like nivea or mannesmann and lufthansa.
d5d: yeah -. i love that part.
SH: so let's talk about that part! :-) do you follow certain rules when you do a commercial design or do you try to start from point 0 and let only your creativity go? - (Do you follow any "academic" graphic-design-theories?)
d5d: much more down-to-earth we screen new offers and take only those that we feel we can work well with. if we can't identify on some level with the client or see little opportunity to experiment in the project, we wait.
we skim-read corporate style-guides to get an impression of how a client thinks, internalize the law-of-the-land (look for loopholes that we might abuse), but up until about a year ago (germany) most identity manuals were more about how to put a logo on the side of a bus and not about what kind of content is most appropriate for communicating a client's message or brand or how an interface could be more powerful than a logo in the corner. or how to keep someone on a site for a half an hour.
we do less corporate-identity work and much more promotional work. we typically try and re-tell a clients story this usually involves defining a clients image (from our perspective, outside-looking-in), finding interesting possibilities for where we could take them and brainstorming for new associations (can we simplify the project? can we say it better with a game? can we build some interesting tools? can we take the story and make it an experience? (interface/navigation)
outside of that, we do a lot of experiments: video installations, art commissions, camps, sticker wars. we like to make our own projects. when we do these adventures we typically get ideas or experiment with technology that we can later use in our client work, or just for us, to keep us fit. like research, but more fun.
a lot of the same things you do for yourself, you can adapt for someone else - that's what most clients want from us.
SH: so how much influence do clients have when they ask you to make a homepage? + For example nivea - did they give you maximum freedom or did you have to use all their corporate design instructions?
d5d: clients expect us to create the guidelines for the brand online (that's our job). they typically come to us because they are unhappy with their image, want to look fresher, or admire the work we've done for others.
to be responsible for the international design guidelines of a well-known brand like nivea is a real compliment to us as designers and ultimately a matter of complete professional trust. in exchange for realizing our ideas for nivea we have a huge responsibility for developing a strategy for the brand online internationally. integrating sites around the world, building a custom content-management-system, and visually freshening up the brand is a very complex project that goes way beyond a simple cosmetic overhaul.
the first two years we did nivea, a large part of our job was in educating the client. some of our hardest battles centered around client-side confusion concerning the potential of their brand in this new medium. content was very scarce, or inadequate for the web, so we improvised by creating content in the form of games, some shockwave tools and channeling everything through a classic warm design style. we convinced them that the web is rich medium for image-promotion and that it can be much more than a product catalog.
educating the clients is an important part of our work. showing them good examples, warning or stopping them from jumping onto the next marketing bandwagon, backing up our work with intelligent explanations, reminding them to be different or ahead of the competition instead of chasing it
our job is not necessarily to make some wicked interface, but to understand what they want and surprise them with something better.
SH: parts of the net.community would say, you work for "corporate evil".
d5d: parts of the net.community should wake up and smell the coffee. or at least leave the bedroom. corporations are not evil. working for something you have no respect for is: opportunistic and cowardly. we try and put the same amount of concentration into our client work that we do in our private work. clients expect that from us. if you spend a lot of time on anything, it should be something you can be proud of. and you should get credit for it. evil is when you have no respect for something and continue to pay your rent with it. prostitution pure. we sack clients that we can't work with. sometimes that makes little immediate financial sense but it's a fairly strong confirmation of believing in ourselves and doing the right thing. we don't continue working for a client to pay for something else.
my experience with art is that it is much more challenging that client work. it functions well with self-destruction and is even more embarassing when you fail. bad artists suck - bad businessmen are loveable.
we have had some embarrassing moments, but that has more to do with us than clients. there is no reason to handle client work any different than private work. a lot of the same things you do for yourself, you can adapt for someone else - and that's what most clients demand from us. we don't do any cold-calls.
SH: are there two souls in fork.de?
d5d: yes. 1.) free experimentation exempt of payback, and, 2.) professional client work where we solve problems and promote our sponsor.
SH: or is there no contradiction in working commercial/non-commercial - subculture+irony/corporate work?
d5d: "subculture" is pretty ironic itself. maybe that's why advertisers have such an easy time SELLING it. the music industry is the parade example. please let me know when an artist or a label rep is innocent.
there is nothing special about masturbation. everyone can do it. some people are better at it than others. art and design both need an audience and consumers. the distribution system for either is not exactly interesting or necessarily admirable. i wouldn't criticize producers in either field for the postoperative exploition of good hard work.
but this thread is also very old =)
(Fork Unstable Media, ca. 2001.)
Interview with Fork Unstable Media
The written version follows the original e-mail interview.