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Web stars speak

/ Interview with Rick Bown

Rick Brown, CCO of March Networks

Born and raised in a household where both parents were designers, Rick began his career at the age of 6 when he designed his first magazine cover. 

20 years later he began working at major agencies such as Ian Roberts/Ross Roy and Vickers and Benson. Rick's expertise is strengthened by a diverse creative background. He has worked on ad campaigns for McDonald's, Ford, Mike's Hard Lemonade, Bank of Montreal, BMW, and Kenneth Cole New York.

A passion for both computers and design lead Rick to gravitate towards the internet. It was the perfect blend of his experience and interests. He has received numerous awards and accolades for his creative prowess.

Currently, Rick leads a team of 6 designers and has established a motion graphics department. Infopreneur has recently been acquired by March Networks and has plans to double the size of their Toronto-based company in the next year.

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/ You are a creative head. When did your love for visual art start?

When I was very young, my Father had a collection of Art Annuals (Communications Arts) and I used to look at them all the time. Being exposed to great work at such an early age still helps me to this day. I find that I can look at something and instinctively know whether it feels right or not.

/ What do you look for when hiring?

look for someone who has great potential more so than experience. Education is very important since it gives you a background in a lot of different areas... I find that a lot of young designers are very weak when it comes to type design. Things like that can be corrected as long as they have someone to mentor them. I spend a lot of time with my staff showing them examples of things I think are great - and we talk about 'why'. In addition to talent and potential, I look for people that have a strong desire to do great stuff and to learn.

They also have to fit in with the rest of the group personality-wise. We are fortunate to have a very strong team that gets along great and produces top-notch work.

/ How were you first introduced to the internet?

I remember in 1994 I was very curious about the internet, but couldn't seem to find anyone that would show it to me. Finally, one day a big news story happened, and a friend of mine showed me all of the web pages that suddenly appeared on the subject.

/ Do you remember your first impression of the internet?

It completely blew my mind! - I didn't want to do anything else from that moment forward.

/ Why did you get involved in online marketing?

I have a strong background in marketing and advertising. I've worked at some big agencies and have been lucky enough to work on some major brands. I find that a lot of companies are scrambling right now - looking for help. When a client comes in to talk about a web project, you'll find that there are probably opportunities to work with them in even more areas once they trust you.

/ Is branding an important issue online?

HUGE!!!

To me, branding is everything. Many of the companies that I've worked with came in with very weak brands - (usually a logo designed by a relative). I find myself doing a lot of presentations and explaining how 'your Brand is your company's personality'. Everything starts from there. If that isn't very strong, then you can't expect that everything else will fall in line. We've helped re-brand quite a few of our clients.

/ How do you protect clients from their own bad taste?

Well... I have this philosophy that when clients start making suggestions to try and change your design, that they are drawing from their own limited experience with Word to try and solve complex design issues. That's when you hear things like "Make it Bold" or "Underline it". Those are Word tools. I don't think they do it on purpose, in fact, I never get mad when they do it, because what they're telling you is that you haven't quite solved the problem yet. What you have to do, is stop them as soon as you hear those suggestions and say "You know what? you're right. Something isn't working here. Let me take it back and try a few things and I'll come back with some other options." That way, they don't feel insulted and you don't end up with everything bold, underlined and a huge logo. It works pretty much every time.

/ Describe what the internet means to you?

To me, the internet is the ultimate communications medium. It combines Print, Television and Radio all-in-one and on top of all that, it also gives you a two-way interaction with the people you want to talk to. It's immediate. It has it's own culture. I think it's the greatest thing in the world when used properly.

/ How do you bridge the gap between creative and programming?

Those two groups of people are SO different. It's important that both understand what each other is capable of and that they feel that they have input. We're having some special lunchtime sessions where both groups can talk about what they like and don't like about what the other side is doing.

I find that everyone is open to new ways of doing things and that they just need to know what those new ways are. When both sides are feeling like part of the team, you get the best results.

/ Describe 3 qualities necessary to succeed online.

1) whatever you are doing online HAS to be completely thought out

2) you have to be dedicated

3) you have to use the internet to its full potential

/ What is the single achievement that makes you most proud?

You're probably expecting me to talk about a cool site that I've done... In all honesty, the greatest thing that I ever did, was to put the right people in the right jobs and give them the freedom to do what they do best.

Sometimes the best thing a Creative Director can do is just point people in the right direction and leave them alone.

/ If there were no budget limitations - which single dream project would you launch?

Hmmm... so many to choose from... I would love to redesign Disney's site and make it one giant virtual cartoon world, where everything is animated.

/ What is your opinion of the present situation in the dotcom industry?

A lot of this "dotbombing" was bound to happen. I think a lot of them suffered from not having thought out their business model completely. Everyone made a big fuss when the Pet Store sites all went under - if my dog is hungry, I can walk around the corner and get food - I'm probably not going to buy it online - he might starve while waiting. The companies creating these sites have to *think*.

I believe this current trend will be something like the stock market correction that happened a while ago... companies will overreact and will cancel their online initiatives or change their focus away from selling online - I really believe that one day, someone is going to come up with a very simple idea that is going to make everyone go "hey, why didn't I think of that?" - and then it'll start up all over again. Common sense is what's missing from most companies business plans.

/ In your view, explain what is convergence?

The original idea of convergence was that all mediums would work together. I think that a lot of Ad Agencies were counting on getting ALL of a client's business (advertising, collateral and web). That didn't happen in most cases. The web work went to companies that specialized in it. Agencies tried to buy those shops up, but the cultures didn't mix very well for the most part. In reality, I think convergence will turn out to be just plain common sense. If you're doing a print ad campaign, why in the world wouldn't you have it consistent with the online portion or vice versa? It's very basic when you think about it: Consistency.

/ Is the www an international network?

It is and it isn't. You have access to websites all over the world. Unfortunately, at the moment, there are still very real borders and tax laws. You find that a lot of offers are good only in the United States - which doesn't do you much good if you're in another Country.

/ Tell us what the future (net) looks like.

I think that as people experiment more with the medium and as more people from different backgrounds get into it, that the Net will take on a much different form. Right now, it has many sides - the underground stuff - the corporate stuff - it's very much like a giant City now that I think about it... I think that companies will come to realize that just because the medium is digital doesn't mean that they can't apply some basic business logic. I think that's what has been missing so far... everyone's learning from their mistakes right now. From a technical standpoint, I think that you'll find less and less HTML sites and more Flash sites. Why have a static page, when you can bring it to life. At first, designers will go overboard, but eventually taste will creep back in. I think the net will become a very cool, polished, useful tool that will be as commonplace as the telephone is today.

It will be everywhere. I spent a bit of time out of the Country recently and realized that not everybody is as wired as we are in North America. I was going through severe withdrawal. I can't wait until the internet truly is everywhere and access is unbelievably fast! When the technical limitations get lifted and most people have access, I think the internet will be more popular and more useful than Television or any other single medium for that matter.

^