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Creative director of Australian interactive agency Reactive Tim Kotsiakos has an Honors Degree in graphic design and more than eleven years of professional experience. He's well-versed with big brands and complicated information systems and has led the creative direction of many award winning interface design projects. His keen interest in design has offered him countless opportunities to contribute to magazines, exhibit, speak at seminars and judge awards.

03.18.09

Work Small and Explore Alternatives

If you have a degree in what field is it? I have an Honors Degree in graphic design from Swinburne School of Design in Melbourne. I spent my third year as an intern at Oxford University Press (as part of the Swinburne Industry Based Learning Program) pasting up bromides and wrestling with A0-sized, waxed layouts. That same year I bought a Mac with some money my grandfather left me, organized an Internet account and and saw Vaughn Oliver’s motion graphics for the first time. When I went back to uni for my final year, I was convinced that I had to work in multimedia. My final year thesis was on the virtual world as a utopian ideal.

What’s the best site you’ve seen lately? What's so great about it? I’ve seen a lot of amazing Web sites. Like everyone, I tend to check The FWA for my daily dose of high octane Flash. The sites I notice most have a really simple idea which is executed really well (like Orange's Unlimited Web Page), most of these are designed to communicate one simple message, connect a brand to an idea or even a feeling. But I also really like sites that have to work a little harder to provide information or a service but do so in an elegant and considered way (like Vitra).

If you were to change professions, what would you choose to do? It’s hard to imagine not being involved in design somehow. If I wasn’t working in interactive I’d definitely need to be in any of the other design disciplines: print, architecture, product. The only other possibility would be contributing theoretically to the industry by writing or teaching.

Design or technology? Which is more important? Why? That’s a good question. In my industry they are pretty hard to separate. My ultimate response though is that a good idea is the most important thing and that usually takes a creative mind. If there isn't something there to engage an audience in some kind of conversation, then all the technology in the world isn’t going to make a difference. When technology supports a good idea (the iPod) it creates a memorable experience that brings meaning to our lives.

From where do your best ideas originate? Our best ideas come from our clients. We work hard from the beginning defining the brief and getting to know their business and their customers. It’s in these early sessions that we always discover something genuinely unique to the project; the skill is in recognizing the opportunities and articulating them visually and interactively.

How do you overcome a creative block? This happens more than I care to admit. I’m often asked to review work and need to provide feedback very quickly. Sometimes the work is fine but just lacking something special. When this happens I work small and explore different alternatives quickly by going back to the brief and reminding myself exactly what it is that we’re trying to communicate.

In one word describe how you feel when beginning a new project? Excited.

What well-known site is most desperately in need of a redesign? eBay. It’s always looked really mediocre to me and it doesn’t need to.

Do you have creative outlets other than Web design? Well, I haven’t really had much time to do anything else at the moment. When I’m not working at home I'm spending my time with my wife and son. Having said that I do a lot of research and reading and I try to get to the gallery every couple of weeks.

What music are you listening to right now? I’m listening to a lot of garage at the moment: The Mummies, The Oblivians, The Milkshakes. I went and saw Billy Childish play this past week; it was awesome. You’ve got to admire a guy who’s played the same sound for so long.

What product/gadget can you not live without? Well, I would have to say my iPhone. Particularly at the moment while I am traveling. It’s a very intimate object; it’s hard not to depend on it.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve bought online? I bought a 1970’s psychology test kit awhile ago. That was pretty strange. It includes three different-sized leather boxes each with different cards and puzzles. I bought it because it looks amazing but whenever I look at it I imagine the scene in which the kit was used.

What’s your favorite quote? I like this one from Metadesign, “Beauty without depth is just decoration.”

Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Design is a very rewarding and challenging career. It takes commitment and a genuine interest to be any good. Those who succeed tend to have the same habits: they read about design, they think about design, they question everything and they have insane passion for design. My advice for anyone starting their career is to do the modest work as best you can, to ask for feedback from those more experienced than you and to spend every waking hour learning about design.