Chris creates things that are useful and beautiful. By day he is a Front-end Engineer at Mindmixer. You may also know him from his past stints at Clickfarm, Barkley’s Moonshot Lab, VML, and Bernstein-Rein. His passions range from creative code frameworks to bad ass chicken coops.
What challenge did MindMixer give you that sparked your interest?
When I was working at Bernstein-Rein, I had the opportunity to work with a group of people who I’ve always considered a web development dream team. It was pure kismet that all these ridiculously talented designers and developers happened to coalesce at BR. We created some really amazing work, but the advertising churn burned us all out and we eventually headed our separate ways. We all kept in touch and talked about how great it would be to be able to work together again.
Now, this dream team is starting to re-form at MindMixer. There’s no way I could pass up the opportunity to work with my former colleagues and the rest of the brilliant MindMixer crew.
Every agency person I know is chomping at the bit to work on a product. You’ll get that chance with Mindmixer. Anything you’ll miss about the agency game? And don’t say timesheets.
If I had a nickel for every time I heard an ad agency go on ad nauseum about their “culture”, I could pay off my mortgage. But once you hack through the artifice, agencies really are fun places to work. Advertising seems to draw in the weirdest, funniest and most creative people. The ad people who I’ve worked with over the years definitely subscribe to the “work hard, play hard” school of thought, with an extreme emphasis on the “play hard” bit.
Even though they’re fun places to hang out, doing web development in an advertising context is mind-bendingly frustrating. Ad agency web devs rarely have the time or resources to create anything solid, they just have to focus on getting the work out the door. And even when clients set ridiculous deadlines, they still expect top-quality work.
That being said, agencies can be a crucible that develops some badass designers and developers. I imagine it’s a lot like working on the line in a busy restaurant. You have to create absolutely perfect work every time, as quickly as possible, all while dealing with non-stop crises. That kind of “perfection on a deadline” makes for some well-developed talent.
What’s your latest obsession?
I’m falling pretty hard for AngularJS. It’s one of those frameworks that you learn and then immediately want to re-do every website you’ve ever done with it. Fortunately, I’ll get to spend lots of time with Angular at my new gig. I’m really looking forward to getting faster and more proficient with it.
I’ve also really enjoyed using Yeoman. I can’t imagine scaffolding out a new project without it now. It not only scaffolds out all your boilerplate code, but also sets up all the front-end tooling so your building and testing tasks are completely automated.
The list of tools and software you use is ridiculously long. Do you have criteria for those you dive into? Or are you outsourcing a small army of devs?
When I was working in Barkley’s innovation lab, I had to immediately get up to speed in using new languages and frameworks. That was both a blessing and a curse. I learned quite a bit about a really diverse set of technologies, but I never felt that I had gained real proficiency in any of them. If anything, I got really damn good at searching Stack Overflow for help.
However, I did manage to get really comfortable with two creative coding frameworks. One is a Java framework called Processing, the other is a C++ framework called openFrameworks. You can use these tools to create damn near anything you could dream up. I’ve created interactive Kinect-based installations, face recognition applications and a whole slew of generative art pieces.
Processing is a great tool for teaching functional programming to artists and designers. I’m teaching a web development class this fall in UMKC’s art department and definitely want to try to sneak in some Processing lessons.
Any past/recent projects you’ve been particularly proud of? Or any new/current one’s?
I recently wrapped up development on an online exhibition for The National World War I Museum. It’s called War Fare: A Culinary Exploration of WWI. It’s the first AngularJS project that I’ve done for a client.
I’ve been really fortunate to work with both the WWI Museum and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. I can sincerely say that museums are the greatest clients to do interactive work for. They’re all extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the project’s subject matter. And, in my experience, they’re willing to take risks and be a bit experimental with the work.
What’s your most recent epiphany?
I’ve recently rediscovered the value of iteration over perfection. I’ve had too many projects die a slow death in my ‘Projects’ folder because I didn’t want to let them out into the wild until they were perfect.
The hard truth is that no project is ever going to be perfect, especially when you’re the only person looking at it. Ship early and ship often. Ask people to find the holes in your work and then patch those holes. Each iteration has a few valuable lessons wrapped into it and ideally, the next project you start will be much better off for it.