Jesse Thomas is the CEO and founder of JESS3, a creative interactive agency specializing in UX and data visualization. Jesse and his team have architected visual masterpieces and interactive solutions for Fortune 500 giants, media empires and start-up power-houses, including Samsung, Nike, Washington Post, Facebook, NASA, National Geographic, foursquare, Microsoft, C-SPAN, Turner Broadcasting and Google. But it doesn’t stop there. JESS3 also has a dedicated labs division that funds and launches its own products for the social Web. What’s more, the studio regularly takes on pro bono work for causes and issues in which they strongly believe. Needless to say, Jesse is intense and focused. He rarely sleeps and is exuberantly passionate about his work.
If you have a degree in what field is it? I studied digital media design at Corcoran in Washington D.C., but got bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and left a few years in to join a start-up that was acquired shortly thereafter. I haven’t looked back. I attend and teach a lot of workshops and drills to keep my sword sharp (the UX workshops that Adaptive Path runs are invaluable).
What’s the best site you've seen lately? What's so great about it? I think Forrst, and Dribbble are tied for best site I’ve seen lately; a year ago I might have said FFFFound and the Cargo Collective Gallery. The common thread is that each of these sites are user generated content communities with amazingly high signal-to-noise ratios and, they’re invite-only, which adds to the elite community vibe. Another fun feature is that on Forrst, the name of the person that invited you is on your profile under your name.
If you were to change professions, what would you choose to do? Food. I would love to be in the business of designing food products—and I have always wanted to have a food truck.
Design or technology? Which is more important? Why? Design is a soft creative process. Technology is rugged and dependable. Technology needs design; design does not need technology.
From where do your best ideas originate? Research. I save thousands of links to delicious.com/jessesaves and then we save mentions of JESS3 projects at delicious.com/jess3.
How do you overcome a creative block? I usually phone up and hire a friend who’s better at the style than I am. I love surfing lists of design styles on sites like Smashing Magazine when I’m looking for something specific.
In one word describe how you feel when beginning a new project? Prepared. One great trick to starting a new project is to do as much research as you possibly can. When you’re working on projects for a particular client you can of course do less background and focus more on the specific challenge. Either way, set yourself up for success. I like to have lots of designers working on a single challenge so we can bounce ideas off of each other quickly—always hoping that one or more people will knock it out of the park. I think other studios might just have one designer working on a project, hoping they get it right; we’re much more aggressive about results than most I have found.
What well-known site is most desperately in need of a redesign? All of the DMV sites (the one I visit most is District of Columbia DMV). They are something we all have to use (or at least those of us who get a lot of parking tickets) and the UX sucks and there’s no PayPal integration.
Do you have creative outlets other than Web design? Collages, T-shirts, illustration, sketching and exploring the ever-expanding universe of iPad apps. Also, as alluded to above, I am always coming up with food-centric ideas, one day hopefully I’ll be able to dabble in food products, and experiences.
What music are you listening to right now? Yelawolf. I really like Sleigh Bells right now too. In terms of long-form listening: The Social Network soundtrack by Trent Reznor and the Black Swan soundtrack by Clint Mansell have kept me going during all-day design sessions in my studio.
What product/gadget can you not live without? My iPad. I’ve been playing a lot of Angry Birds on it recently and loving every minute of it.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve bought online? I bought a couple of uncut sheets of Garbage Pail Kids online. Also I bought some really amazing wood carvings from Oaxaca Mexico.
What’s your favorite quote? “I think you should travel more, and stop spending money you don’t have to buy stuff you don’t need, to impress people who don’t care.” I read a variation of it on a menu at a hamburger joint in Chicago and it’s stuck with me.
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Hustle harder. I like to talk to people just entering the industry about passion and how important it is to love what you do because being great at anything is mostly about hard work. I also talk about creating teams; for whatever reason people just getting out of school don’t seem to band together enough. Up-and-coming talent should be thinking about pairing-up with complementary people. Partner, or hire... don’t just work for someone else your whole life. Own something.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? There are no limits to the great things you can achieve through hard work.