INTERACTIVE PROMO VIDEO
Firebrand Consulting is working with United Way to promote their new 180 United initiative.
As the lead designer and writer on the Interactive Promo Video I worked with Firebrand and directly with the United Way client rep to:
Identify and refine a marketing message, and
Develop a digital asset that supports that message for an upcoming big $ fundraiser
Given an aggressive timeline (~4 weeks from proposal to execution) I helped Firebrand blue-sky some fun and feasible concepts and identify some other digital creatives that would bring interesting ideas. We built a small team and cranked out a 180 second (see what we did there?) Interactive Brochure that can be experienced on a tablet or desktop device. Given the timeframe and budgetary constraints we knew that the interactivity couldn’t go that deep, so we came up with a “simulation-lite” approach and built a simple flow where users started in the same place and were then offered different paths in the middle and then all ended in the same place. Simple and effective. And feasible. And a pleasure to look at.
I came to Accenture Learning from a boutique little eLearning company that built simulations for corporate training. Remember, this was 2003 so “simulation” meant “clever digital choose-your-own adventure book” with recorded dialogue and pictures that changed expression based on your previous decision. Wait, that’s kind of what simulation still means in 2020 isn't it? Well shit. Anyway, I came to AL as a fancy innovation guy and I was also an artsy theatre guy, so I got a lot of the funky new weirdo projects that no one else wanted to touch. Now along comes Jellyvision…
I’d played You Don’t Know Jack for years with my backstage crew from the Joffrey, and I loved the voice of the game. So when a chance for Accenture to collab with Jellyvision came along, I was really curious about how that playful, human tone could be incorporated at AL and I felt I was the designer for the job. Luckily my boss agreed and/or everyone else was too smart to pick that fight, so I got staffed on the project with another young hotshot.
We came up with some potential learning topics and then we got to spend 2 weeks with the Jellyvision folks in Talkshow Bootcamp. Talkshow is their proprietary development tool which provides the architecture for YDKJ and many many other pieces of content, and we jumped right in. Figuring out how to stretch and break that thing was some of the best fun I’ve ever had at work, and we built some solid pieces to bring back home. The AL leadership thought it was “really cool” so we started to build out some of the learning topics and that’s when we ran into some friction. As the pieces started working their way through review people started to offer concerned comments about the tone. My partner and I exchanged a quick glance - a wink’s as good as a nudge, knowhatimean - and kept on writing smart, playful content. We built the assets, they were fantastic, and they were immediately put on the shelf to be regarded as a curiosity during those introspective times when VPs quietly contemplate cool new vendors and hope something, anything will stick.
I didn’t really enjoy being a Project Manager. To be fair, I knew that going into the gig and my boss did too. I’d been a Learning Designer for 10+ years, and I’d gone pretty much as far as I could go in my org. Again to be fair, for that 10+ years I’d been regarding the eLearning work as a day job while I helped run an (in?)famous little Chicago storefront theatre, so there was no reason for those people to take my newfound interest in advancement at all seriously. I was looking for something new, and around that time I was chatting with an old boss of mine and nerding out on some interesting learning article one of us had shared with the other and he offered “I’ve got a job for you, but you probably don’t want it.” He knew I was hungry, and he also knows that I’m a designer at heart. That is actually the basis of the friendship, our mutual curiosity about how to transform corporate training into plain old human learning. We just want to help people do their jobs better.
But again, I was eager to spread my wings and learn new things, and I figured adding some project management tools to the toolbox would be helpful in life, so what the hell. Also it was a project management job in the learning space, so that was at least… a connection to some things I find interesting.
A majority of that job is tedious as hell. I’ve always enjoyed making things happen, and at that time it felt like that org culturally valued the behind-the-scenes rigor (perfection in tracking & analytics, making spreadsheets total out real nice, 100% communication/reply rate) as much as they valued the performance outcomes our work was meant to create for our partners. There was one day where I received/replied to/filed 732 emails. It was grueling work and I was indeed developing my new tools.
My second big program was meant to be conducted in late October, 2012. It was a blended program, comprising some live classes and some virtual classes and some live/virtual classes, and it was designed to provide CPE (Continuing Professional Education, an annual requirement for different professions to maintain their licenses) credits for 500+ Senior Manager Tax Professionals. This means that all of the classes (and all of the instances of the classes, a fine slice that will become more relevant in a moment) needed to be properly registered with the accreditation agency, which involves providing a painful level of detail for all of the course materials as well as each instructor. We had it set up so that over 5 days our in-house expert teachers would be able to present to different live cohorts in different east coast locations, and that there would be some folks dialing remotely to each of those sessions. Great.
Then Hurricane Sandy hit. All of our east coast locations were impacted, and our participants couldn’t get to their sessions. A whole lot of billable hours are all of a sudden jeopardized by these professionals not getting their CPE before the end of the year and frankly people started losing their shit.
Long story short (too late, Dimond) I was able to scramble and build new remote cohorts and set up dozens of entirely virtual sessions and get them accredited and everyone got their CPE and were eligible to keep earning for the company and everyone lived happily after. And my boss bought me a Really Nice Dinner. And I moved on from that job 5 months later.
One of GagenMac’s clients needed some custom eLearning. Simple, but custom. This client, a quaint little Mom & Pops Diversified Energy Manufacturing and Logistics Company, had certain regulatory considerations and it was important to be able to demonstrate that different internal populations had received different pieces of knowledge. And they had a stack of approved learning materials, all designed and written to be presented as live, instructor-led sessions. They just didn’t do eLearning yet. OK, that’s the exposition.
Out of the blue I received a LinkedIn cold-call followed up by a delightful talk with a delightful GagenMac person and next thing I knew I was on a scrappy, ragtag team of brilliant misfits. We jumped into the existing content, started exploring the tracking requirements and sparked up our imaginations. We visually redesigned the content, building and installing infographics wherever possible. We came up with a suite of performance support tools to help people integrate the learning into their daily behaviors. We came up with a simple and elegant hosting solution.
Two years later, the Bad News Bears of eLearning had produced an entire catalogue (7 distinct programs and 50+ hours) of quality eLearning offerings, mainly featuring professional development content but with a healthy dose of technical stuff in there too. It worked out pretty well.
If you want more details about my specific responsibilities please check my LinkedIn profile; and then please cold-call me with a cool and lucrative project.
rEDACTED DESIGN DOCS
I've developed this site with a playful approach, because that's my most authentic voice. And after 10+ years with Big 5 companies I can also design clear process and UX flows and write simple, clean narratives, even when dealing with heavy technical content.*
The main challenge I encounter when in the job market or working on a portfolio is that most of my work was for clients of my former employers, and I've never wanted to even risk improperly sharing IP. So in the spirit of lawyers everywhere, please click below to see some redacted design docs, just so everyone knows I'm serious.
Sample eLearning Testing Error Log
Custom eLearning Development Process Map
Sample Program Overview and Objectives
5 Day Tax Course Agenda & Detailed Design Matrix
Sample Custom Compliance App Learning Philosophy
Sample Custom Compliance App Kickoff Agenda
Sample Custom Compliance App User Stories for Pilot
Sample Custom Compliance App Content
Sample Custom Compliance App Demo Script
*I'm always going to try to sneak a human voice in there where I can, though. I believe it's important.
I love Shakespeare. The plays contain some of the most active poetry I’ve ever met, and most of the classic storylines will always be relevant. HOWEVER in their raw forms they’re borderline indigestible, so most contemporary productions are cut down. Most of the time they’re cut for length, which, I guess, OK. I preferred to look at it another way. I cut for story.
It generally starts with a moment in the play, a flash where something jumps out at me. In my production of Measure for Measure (one of his “problem plays”) it was a moment when Lucio, a “fantastic” is talking spicy about the Duke, and I was struck by the idea: What if he’s not lying? I mean, all of these nobles grew up together, went to the same fancy private schools and were members of the same country clubs, so they know where all the bodies are buried, right? What if the outlandish shit he’s been talking about the Duke is indeed true - I mean the whole play is about the Duke’s shady-as-fuck scheme involving disguises and elaborate plans to throw damn near everybody under the virtue bus - and the Duke is a heavy duty party animal? OK, cool.
So then I restart at the top, look at the play through that lens, and try to find more clues to support the thesis. In M4M I found a tiny little scene between the Duke and a Friar that encouraged me greatly. The language suggested a familiarity between them, so in my version while the Friar was handing over his vestment for the Duke to use as a disguise, he also passed him a flask of Old Grand-Dad and then all of a sudden it was a scene of two old, tired friends setting on a stoop. It was incredibly human. Now I knew what I wanted to talk about.
Now I restart again, from the top, and this time I have my hatchet and my scalpel and I’m going apeshit. I’m looking for whole storylines and characters to get rid of, and in M4M the axe fell on the parallel pimp/madam/whorehouse storyline, hard. OK great, now I’m left with a solid spine as well as a big pile of fragments of scenes and characters and it’s time to stitch everything back together. This involves lots of merging (Do we really need a seperate Executioner, why can’t the Warden handle that?) and finessing the flow (I know originally the stoop scene was after the jail scene, but what if we flip those?) and tinkering with transition dialogue and IT IS ALL SO DAMN FUN.
At Strawdog we used this methodology successfully several times, building fresh and intimate productions of M4M, Julius Caesar (I think they’d still be cleaning the stage blood off the ceiling in that theatre if it was still standing) and Richard III. Good times.
SET DESIGN: KNives in hens
I accidentally became a set designer. I was living on the north side of Chicago working in the scene shop Steppenwolf and I wanted to direct. I was kicking around the storefront theatre scene and seeing friends in shows and randomly helping with technical stuff here and there, and I saw a show at Strawdog. At the time it was in a funky little industrial space on the second floor of an old textile factory on a very Uptown block of Broadway (I know I know it was technically Lakeview, but IYKYK) and while the acting was top-notch, speaking frankly the production values were atrocious. I was struck by the thought that in such an intimate (60 seats?) venue the quality actually had to be better than in the big rooms because everyone was right on top of the set. So how to make it better with less resources? Imagination and craftsmanship.
I cold-called the Artistic Director of the company and we met over a coffee at La Piazza (RIP). I looked him in the eye and said something outrageous like “OK, I know I’ve never designed a set before but I have something you need and you have something I want. My imagination is a great match for building worlds in that funky little room, and I have the hand skills to lift your production standards so they match your acting and directing standards. And I want to grow up to be a director.”
He grinned, hired me to design one set, subsequently invited me to join the ensemble, allowed me to build and design dozens of sets and eventually gave me my first directing project.
My very favorite design was for a play called Knives in Hens. It was my favorite for a bunch of reasons. I’d been designing in the room for almost a decade, and I knew it really well. The director was a close comrade and we already had a bunch of projects under our collective belt, so the vocabulary was all set. And the play provided a ton of fun obstacles for us to overcome. There were a bunch of different locations, some indoor, some outdoor. The indoors needed to feel claustrophobic and the outdoors called for an expansiveness that was going to be tricky to pull off on our 20’wx20’dx10’h stage. And we were playing with a couple of different kinds of magic; there was some mysterious story magic that was written into the script (some sexually liberating magical clouds of flour and a magically murderous millstone) and some theatrical magic (a live violin player scoring the whole show) that we came up with on our own. It was a high-concept-density situation, and so I tried to keep the set as clean as possible. There was a simple set of platforms of various heights and rakes to help delineate different locations, and behind it all wrapping around the space was a scrim, painted to look like the inside of an agrarian hovel. A scrim is “a piece of gauze cloth that appears opaque until lit from behind” and in this case 3’ behind the scrim, again wrapping around the space, was a sky backdrop. So for most of the play the violin player lived in this in-between space, and we only saw shadows of her as we heard her play. At the climax of the play, the backlights all came on and revealed the Big Sky in a moment that transcended the industrial architecture of the room. It was glorious, and honestly - a bit of a surprise that it worked. You see scrim is touchy, and needs to be front-lit Just So from This Angle and Distance to be opaque, and the same is true for the backlight reveal effect. We really didn’t have the angles or distance for standard theatrical lights, so we punted and tried some basic Home Depot halogen worklights and oooh la la (chef’s kiss).
I’ve been rooting around for pictures but there wasn’t much digital photography in 2003 so I’m having a hard time. If you, dear reader, happen to have pictures of this play please share them and I’ll gladly buy you the beverage of your choice!
I’ve developed an odd habit. I can’t stop making tables. Sometimes the table is for a friend, sometimes the table is for a specific place in my home and sometimes the table… just is.
They’re all different but there are similarities. All of the tables are made out of scrap materials. The available tools and materials are critical design components for my process, and often dictate the end shape and style of the table. I really enjoy freestyling and finding the piece like that.
However sometimes I’m building for a specific location, in which case those dimensions kick off the design process. Then there’s a moment when those dimensional requirements inspire me to look at my available scrap materials with new eyes. What’s the required footprint of the tabletop and how tall does it have to be? How tall and thick can I make the legs based on the scraps I have? How wide should the apron be based on the legs? How much overhang should the top have based on the thickness of the legs and width of the apron? OK, I’ve got this much nice birch plywood and this much black walnut lumber, how can I visually combine these so that it feels like a deliberate design choice and not a recycling exercise? Crazy interlocked decisions that double back on themselves. It’s really fun and incredibly satisfying.
And the tables look pretty nice too.
MY OLD HOUSE
I’ve been restoring and remodeling one floor of a 1909 brick Chicago 3-Flat for 10+ years…
and there’s no end in sight.
I love this place. It’s an 1,500sf 4 bed, 2 bath with a sun porch out front and a screen porch out back leading down to an adorable postage-stamp backyard.
We share laundry and storage in the basement, and me and one of the other owners have a nice little shop (chop and table saws, compressor, workbenches) set up down there as well. It’s a block off a Red Line stop, and 2 blocks off Lake Shore Drive. As long as I live in this city, I will live in this place. And when I moved in it was beat to shit.
OK maybe not beat to shit, but it was all so… dull. All the gorgeous original woodwork was painted over and much of the plaster was in terrible shape. So I rolled up my sleeves (literally, because woodstripping is FILTHY) and over the first 3 years I hit Every. Single. Surface. I became an expert stripper (stop it, you’re FILTHY) and refinisher. I incorporated a palette of bright colors on the walls and a light gloss sealer on the wood and things started to glow in the house. I nibbled away, saving up and replacing this chandelier this quarter and these sconces next quarter. I installed ceiling fans, because I believe in them. I updated a bathroom and installed a shower surround. I gutted the kitchen to the studs and reran the electrical and plumbing and patched the plaster and installed the cabinets and appliances and made a temporary countertop because holy shit countertops are expensive. I'm about to tile the backsplash.
Because there’s no end in sight. And I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t (couldn’t?) have it any other way.