Columns / Insights

Playing with Boundaries

Adrian Franks

Adrian   Franks
You work across so many areas, from art to design. How does your creative process overlap between your branding work and your art? I always start with two things in mind: what is the story I’m trying to tell, and what is the idea behind the work? Those two questions can work for both art and design.

Do you ever feel like your life as an artist and a designer are at odds? For me, being an artist and a designer is one in the same. They’re both about taste. They both require research when you start a project, and they both require discipline. It’s more like a harmonious dance than being at odds, per say.

What drew you to interactive design? Funny thing about interactive, I’ve alway had a interest in designing for second and third screens since I was a kid in the ’80s playing Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog. Video games are the best examples of art and technology coming together to tell a story. It’s like Bob Ross meets Wired Science. If you think about it, video games made the web more interactive. Guys like Kioken Design and Joshua Davis brought that type of interactivity to the web back in the late ’90s. They were the ones who inspired me to take new media seriously.

How did you get started in interactive design and learn the necessary skills? I got started back in 1998 during the dot-com era. There weren’t any courses on designing for the web at that time, so I got all my training on the job at this company called Outweb. I took some courses in HTML to learn how to code, but when it came to designing for web back then, I had to apply a lot of lessons from my print background. I then got into creating interactive CD-ROMs using Director (Lingo) and Flash (ActionScript). Who knew that I would have to dust off the mathematics side of my brain to create unique interactive experiences for CD-ROMs? That eventually lead to creating microsites, which lead to banner ads, which lead to branded content, which lead to social, which lead to now—our post-social era with the arrival of the Internet-of-things and wearables.

What should designers keep in mind when working with wearables? Designers will need to dial back the urge to add a ton of stylings and keep the aesthetics radically simple. Because of space confinements, designing for wearables makes you really think about what’s important to the end user. You can only display only so much information. Also, whatever is displayed on these devices needs to be contextual and timely to the task at hand.

What excites you the most about designing for wearables? What excites me the most about wearables is the potential to help people solve problems in their personal lives.

Why did Eric Garner’s death inspire you to create your I Can’t Breathe poster? The death of Eric Garner was one of those moments when you ask yourself, “Where were you when you saw that video?” It was late, and I was at home when I saw the video posted on Facebook. Basically, I saw a unarmed man die on social media. It was at that moment that I decided to make a statement with my art and design talents by putting that piece of his high school picture with the statement “I Can’t Breathe” out on social. Literally those were the last words that Eric Garner spoke as he was held in an illegal choke hold. Those words had to be remembered. He had to be remembered.

What excites you about interactive design right now? Wearables, because they have the potential to change the way we interact with everything in society. Imagine replacing physical keys with a watch or accessing data with your heart beat. That will be possible with this new technology around wearables.

What sites/blogs do you frequent? PSFK, NOWNESS, Pepperis.us, The Verge, Fast Company, Kickstarter, New York Times.

What's the best advice you’ve been given in your career? Stay hungry, stay curious and work hard.

As the design director at IBM Interactive in New York, Adrian Franks concentrates on financial services and technological innovation in wearables. Franks is also a visual artist who creates artwork to ignite conversations around provocative topics, such as Eric Garner’s death.

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