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Interview

Ben Cline

September 24, 2012

Let’s start off getting to know you. Who are you, where are you from, and how did you get your start in design?

Hey, my name is Ben. I'm an interactive designer and a co-founder of Rally Interactive, a small technology studio. After graduating from Northern Michigan University, I decided to pack up and head toward the mountains, settling in Salt Lake City.

Growing up, my parents were passionate about art and did their best to cultivate my talents throughout middle school and high school. However, like any rebellious teenager, I didn't really care about art - mostly because my folks did. Despite my apathy toward art, I became decent at drawing and took a few classes in high school. Mostly because it was more fun than learning about Stoichiometry.

During my junior year at NMU, I stumbled into web "design" (I'm using the term "design" loosely here, I was terrible). My buddy Keith (now an ER Doc), was pretty well versed in HTML and showed me a couple tricks. Prior to that, I thought the internet just existed in the atmosphere like "The Force" and websites were created by wizardry that the government conjured up.

I became obsessed with applications like Flash and After Effects. The ability to combine interaction and animation was intriguing. Shortly before graduating, I was lucky enough to score a couple internships. The first was at Planet Propaganda and the second was at Firstborn during the summer of 2007. Being an intern jump-started my career in terms of passion and developing professional connections.

So prior to co-founding Rally Interactive did you work full-time at other agencies or did you jump into starting your own thing immediately following your internships? How did the idea for Rally come about?

My first full-time gig was at an agency called RED Interactive. Although probably best known for their "Red Universe", they have cranked out some amazing work over the years. While at RED, I got stuck doing mostly Flash development, animation, and production work. I left after only about 9 months, because I wanted more design opportunities.

After RED, I went to work at another studio in Salt Lake where I met my Rally co-founders, Thomas Cooke and Wes Pearce. We worked on quite a few successful projects as a team over the span of 2.5 years. Eventually, I got the itch to leave and freelance full-time. In a sudden twist of fate, a week after giving my notice, Thomas unexpectedly left to go out on his own too. Wes quickly followed and in January of 2011, Rally Interactive was born. Rally in many ways formed through necessity. Instead of the 3 of us freelancing, we realized we would be stronger as company. 1/3 Designer. 1/3 Hacker. 1/3 Hustler.

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Like many young companies, we figured we would try and learn from previous employer woes and be different. Ironically, we found the biggest difference ends up in the smallest details. Even though we came from the advertising production world, we don't do advertising. The digital space is cluttered with old web and app campaigns collecting dust. We believe in living, breathing, and evolving digital products. We believe it's possible to create experiences that can transcend age ranges and audiences. The distinction between a digital product versus a digital campaign may not seem like much, but it's paramount in Rally's culture and thinking.

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You describe the three members of Rally Interactive as “Designer”, “Hacker”, and “Hustler”. Tell us about that dynamic. During the course of any given project, how do the three of you interact & work together? Is there any cross-pollination among your skill-sets?

I stole the labels "Designer", "Hacker", and "Hustler" from Jason Putori's Quora answer to "What would the ideal web technology start-up team be composed of?”. After stumbling upon that Quora thread, I realized Jason's answer described the roles of the three ‘Rally’ partners.

Rally's "Hustler" is Thomas Cooke. He leads the charge when it comes to project management, new business, general accounting, and HR. Wes “Hacker” Pearce, is a rare and truly gifted developer. He can conquer nearly any programming language or server situation that gets thrown his way. That leaves me as the “Designer”, which is sometimes the easiest of the three - just brainstorm and attempt to make things look good. I credit almost all of Rally's success to Wes and Thomas. They are much more nimble (than me) at juggling chaotic situations and challenges that arise.

At Rally, we work closely together during the entire lifecycle of a project. There is definitely some crossover in our skill-sets. During the discovery and design phase of a project, Wes and Thomas are quite involved. While design is going on, Wes is simultaneously coding prototypes to prove UX concepts. We all bounce ideas off one another and concept together. Thomas is an exceptional strategic thinker. It's an unspoken rule at Rally that the only way for us to grow individually and as a team is to check the egos at the door. Job titles mean nothing - a good idea can come from any of us. Wes and I pitch and help Thomas with new business and project management when things get hectic. In the early days of Rally, I helped Wes code Flash projects when needed. The only object-oriented programming language I know inside and out is AS3. Now that Flash is more or less dead, I'm not much use as developer anymore.

What are your “tools of the trade” in regards to software when designing and what’s your process for communicating desired interactions? With your Flash background, have you ever taken a similar route to Dan Mall who uses applications to create animation prototypes (see Invisible Deliverables)?

These days I spend most of my time in Photoshop, Illustrator, and Keynote. I’m dreadful at using Illustrator and Keynote but force myself to grapple with them regularly. When there is enough time before a deadline, I will create a rough "storyboard" of interactions. By "storyboard", I really just mean a lot of JPGs or PNGs in order of interaction. Occasionally I'll use After Effects or Flash to help communicate a specific animation or UX pattern. However, working in a small team enables our developers to jump in and help prove a concept quickly. We've been fortunate that our developers (Wes and Adam) have a positive "can-do" attitude. Most of the time they are happy to prototype a wild idea.

Thanks to Method & Craft, I've bookmarked Invisible Deliverables. Dan Mall is an inspiration and he brings up a lot of great points touching on internal workflow and efficiency. Like Dan, I agree that most layout frameworks and grids are too complex. I've abstained from using them (a little ashamed to admit this). Everyone works differently, but I've found that trusting my eye and drawing my own grid using guides in Photoshop has gotten the job done. That being said, it's not always the most productive way to go about planning a design. Speaking of efficiency, one of my biggest fears working in the ever-changing tech industry is that I will render myself obsolete. I worry that my bad habits will devour me. Therefore, I'm determined to do my best to change, improve, and evolve. For example, after co-founding Rally, I’ve taught myself to use the Calendar app on my iPhone moderately well - still working on the syncing with the Desktop part!

Do you do much sketching during the initial stages of design or do you prefer to jump into Photoshop or Illustrator/Keynote for wireframing? You guys at Rally have conceived some unique interactions. What’s your process for innovation/conception?

Sketching is one thing I wish I did more often. I have a nasty tendency to jump right in and lay stuff out in Photoshop. Our last intern was great at sketching... I'm hoping his healthy habit rubs off on me.

Rally doesn’t have a concrete method for designing and developing interactions. A lot of our thinking stems from who we are. There is an underlying attitude here which is to be different from other shops - a rebel spirit. Our developers aren’t afraid to push the boundaries with code and tech. Focusing on the little things does wonders for a project. When you combine focus, inspiration, and the desire to build something slightly unique, it can yield interesting results.

What is your favorite & least favorite part of the design process? Other than sketching, what area(s) are you working to improve your skill-set?

It may sound silly, but my favorite part of the design process is when the thinking and visuals start to come together. My least favorite part is convincing a client to move out of their comfort zone. Earning a client’s trust can be extremely frustrating but ultimately rewarding. It’s very hard to create good work when a client doesn’t have faith in your creative problem solving.

As far as skills are concerned, I desperately need to improve on everything. Specifically my illustration, 3d, and coding skills are virtually non-existent... and that’s a problem.

You guys use Dribbble a lot to show off the work you’ve done, currently working on, and demo interaction ideas. How does being a part of and engaging with a community like Dribbble impact Rally internally?

Folks here are generally excited and anxious to receive feedback from the community. Thomas actually did a presentation at an event in Salt Lake about sharing client work through Dribbble instead of keeping it a secret. Using Dribbble has helped us gain momentum and has given us some great opportunities. I'm not sure Rally would be the same if we didn’t use Dribbble. We owe so much to Dribbble and our fans.

Let’s talk specifics. What are you 3 favorite typefaces? If you could add/remove any feature in Photoshop what would it be? What music do you listen to when working?

I'm not sure I can list my 3 favorite typefaces as my tastes change often. I'll just list 3 of my 3 most trusted fonts. They are Gotham (lots of weights), Helvetica Neue (all weights), and Georgia (Regular and Italic) for a simple and effective serif typeface. Lately, I've been trying to branch out a bit more with type and exploring other typefaces.

This isn't specific to Photoshop, but I wish Adobe would add more consistency across products and toolsets, like what the default hot keys are, and how tools behave.

Music in the office can vary greatly. It ranges from artists like Bon Iver, DeadMau5, AC/DC, a little hip hop plus everything in between. We're pretty open to a wide variety of musical tastes, but decent melody or beat is required.

Describe your work day (hours & rituals you keep) and your work environment (how your workstation is set up & what your office is like).

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The work hours at Rally are quite flexible. Some folks are early birds and work a typical 9-5. Others are inclined to sleep in, exercise, and get into the office around noon, working later into the evening. Our work environment is simple; A few large desks with computers, aeron chairs, a couch, coffee table, lamps, and a bookshelf. We’re trying to liven the office up over time. Our walls are in dire need of some art and pictures. My desk and computer desktop resemble one another, they are both cluttered. The are a few empty coffee cups, random books, letters, and magazines (I think?).

The only ritual I keep is daily exercise. Exercising keeps me relatively sane when things gets hectic.

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Show us an image of the most inspiring thing you’ve seen this week.

I just came across 500.chromeexperiments.com and it’s probably the most inspiring thing I’ve seen this week. It’s great to see web technology evolving right before our eyes.

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Thank you so much Ben for taking the time to talk with us. It’s been great!

I’m grateful for the opportunity, thank you! I’m a huge fan of Method & Craft and your work.

Ben Cline's Work
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