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On the spacious sunlit second floor of the San Francisco loft they call simply, The Studio, 30 of Odopod’s production staff are quietly at work. Arrayed in three long columns, worktables are placed end-to-end and front-to-front. Each column constitutes a multidisciplinary team of graphic designers, interaction designers, programmers and art production staffers. The close quarters means the teams constantly face each other, and have no choice but to engage and interact with one another.

The physical layout of the Studio is modeled on small independent production studios that hark back to Odopod’s genesis eight years ago. As Odopod matures and grows, co-founder and creative director Tim Barber explains that the floorplan is a way of maintaining the creative energy, jump-starting the free-flow of ideas and sharing resources. Between the columns, the teams are matrixed to encourage cross-team communication. So a programmer can simply turn around and ask a member of another team for advice, help trouble-shooting or just extend an invitation to get lunch.

Each team is led by an associate creative director and a senior producer. The arrangement is “a legacy of our training as architects,” Barber says. “We’re still fascinated by the idea of shaping spaces to help us work and interact better.”

It seems to be working.

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At a time when many agencies are downsizing, Odopod is thriving, winning new clients, capturing every award in sight, generating huge industry buzz and, yes...hiring. Today, Odopod creates digital marketing for clients like Nike, Sony and Red Bull that want to reach an audience on the Web. It’s also become the go-to digital agency of choice for advertising agencies looking to extend their resources. Recent projects include the collaboration with The Martin Agency on the Nation of Go, a social utility that enables BF Goodrich tire customers to post their favorite drives online. Goodby, Silverstein teamed up with Odopod for an extension of its White Gold milk campaign on Facebook. And Cutwater brought its client NVIDIA, makers of superfast video processors, to Odopod for a 3-D showcase of graphic superstars and their creations.

Odopod is making a name for itself in the world of interface design as well, creating a new experience for Zune, a mobile app for the California Academy of Sciences and a traffic-stopping touchscreen kiosk for Honda that debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Then there’s Odopod’s under-the-radar work creating innovative ui design for big software companies. Often, these never see the light of day. One skunkworks project that did go public was for Sling Media. The manufacturers of Slingbox, a gadget that takes TV programming and forwards it to other devices including PCs, laptops and smart phones, needed an integrated look-and-feel across a diverse universe of platforms.

In practice that meant integrating a SlingPlayer that lets users watch video on their PC over a Web browser, a SlingGuide that provides control of video content using the mouse and keyboard (instead of a remote), and an easy-to-use controller that enables a user to program the DVR to record shows from their desktop. Odopod took SlingGuide to the mobile platform as well, creating an app with the ability to control a DVR directly from the iPhone, and watch live TV or recorded shows.

We really enjoy what we do, coming to this place and working together.”

Marketing. Advertising. Software design. While most agencies would be content to simply book the business, Odopod looked around and discovered, in Barber’s words, “An opportunity to reinvent ourselves. Our competitors were either modeling themselves on ad agencies or getting bought by advertising conglomerates. We really wanted to be good at all things digital, not just marketing. We also wanted to build an agency with the ideas and resources to execute for big brands, but with the culture and metabolism to be nimble and adaptable. To do that we needed a new type of client that believes digital affects all aspects of their business. So we sought out clients with an appetite for digital, and for experimentation. These clients move quickly and expect great things. That’s where we perform at our peak.”

That opportunity came along when Tesla Motors, one of the most innovative car companies in the industry, opened its digital account for new business. Makers of all-electric, high-performance sports cars that reach a speed of 60 MPH in less than 4 seconds, Tesla looked like a niche manufacturer of high-priced exotics for tech execs who just banked their stock options. That’s about to change, thanks to the forthcoming Model S, a sedan that seats seven and costs less than $50,000. It might just revolutionize the way Americans think about electric cars. Odopod is eager to help make that revolution a reality.

As Barber explains, “It’s an engagement where smart thinking and design sensibility meet a new kind of client that has faith in digital to transform their business.” When Odopod pitches a new client project, Barber says, “We try to emulate the process we would use if we won the account. It’s sort of a three-day version of a three-month process. The goal is to communicate how we think, instead of what we’d produce. “For Tesla we started the pitch process by getting a multidisciplinary team together to discuss the client’s situation, good and bad. We followed that with a quick round of questioning with the client and regrouped to distill a handful of strategies. Then, on day two we generated creative concepts against those strategies—demonstrating the kind of thinking Tesla will get from us. Then, on day three we mocked-up the best ideas. The key thing is that we presented the entire process, not just the mock-ups.”

Our competitors were either modeling themselves on ad agencies or getting bought by advertising conglomerates. We really wanted to be good at all things digital, not just marketing. "

The new Tesla site Odopod created has a lighter, more consumer vibe. “The look-and-feel is brighter and more spatial than the previous site,” Barber says. “While we were working on the design language for the Web site, we were also thinking about the showrooms.”

In addition to the new Web site, Odopod is designing a product configurator that functions as a sales tool. After that they have their sights set on supporting the launch of the Model S sedan with interface design and display tools for the 17" touchscreen built into the sedan’s console. With a 3G wireless connection for Internet connectivity, the touch-screen will function as an information and entertainment system.

Craft, utility, delight. They are present in the quilts from Gee's Bend. In Shaker furniture. In an iPhone. And occasionally on the Web. To see one example, visit sketch.odopod.com.

The simplicity of the drawing tools at Odosketch are belied by the results delivered, which range from stylized portraits to nuanced, delicate washes. The tone is personal, connected and human. Behind the scenes, each drawing is captured one brushstroke at a time, then played back like a time-lapse photo of a flower blooming. The results are mesmerizing. Watching Odosketches unfold is a tutorial in creativity, style and technique.

For Barber, Odosketch represents the emotional content of digital experiences as much as their utility. When asked why a digital agency would release a free drawing tool, Barber explains, “Odosketch was a happy byproduct of us making things in the studio. It was just fun to use. And we’re always looking for those delightful moments that are unique to interactive experiences. I guess that delight is a part of the culture here. We really enjoy what we do, coming to this place and working together.” ca

Sam McMillan is a San Francisco Bay Area-based writer, teacher and producer of interactive multimedia projects for a number of Bay Area production houses, and can be reached at sam@wordstrong.com.

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