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Behind the scenes: The secret life of digital storytellers Jam3

As a creator of digital experiences, Jam3’s expertise lies in interactivity and a focus on enhancing the user’s senses on the web. These key ideas blend effortlessly with custom built tools and a deep understanding of how digital design will impact the stories its clients want to tell

jam3

Creator’s of digital experiences, Jam3 effortlessly blend ideas with custom built tools and a deep understanding of how digital design impact’s the stories clients want to tell

jam3

WHO: Jam3 | WHAT: Jam3 embraces the digital space to deliver unique and compelling experiences across multiple platforms
WHERE: 325 Adelaide St. W, Toronto, Canada, M5V 1P8 | WEB: jam3.com


Serendipity is behind the genesis of Jam3 and this is all because the three founders, Mark McQuillan, Pablo Vio and Adrian Belina, all met on a postgraduate programme called Interactive Multimedia at Sheridan College just outside of Toronto.

Adrian Belina, partner and creative director explains: “Mark was a Film and English major but getting into website design. Pablo was doing print design and I was in advertising doing design work, but we could all see that digital design looked like it was going to become a very exciting space to work in. Seeing some of the early animations online really struck a nerve with us. We could see that this stuff was taking print designs, which we were all familiar with, and giving them a level of interactivity that wasn’t possible before. Initially we had no plans to start an agency, as we were all really just interested in how we could all do great work.
“Around 2003 when Mark graduated, he immediately wanted to be self-employed. Pablo and myself went off and got jobs, which we worked at for about a year,” Adrian continued. “But it wasn’t long before we both joined Mark in the business. We were all massive fans of the digital industry and kept a keen eye on who was doing what across the web. Even today, we still have that drive to do ground-breaking work that is different and makes others sit up and take notice. But this really comes from our earliest days simply wanting to do work that was as good or better than the sites we admired.”

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Naming their agency was the first task, “We started Jam3 off as Jam3media actually,” Adrian explained. “In the early 2000s adding ‘media’ to your name was all the rage. All the cool kids were doing it. We dropped the media and shortened it to a nicer, shorter Jam3 about four years ago.
“I went looking for the Jam3.com domain, which someone actually owned. I asked him how much he wanted and he said, ‘Well that’s a really short four letter domain name, that’s going to be $10,000.’ I laughed, and replied, ‘We’re the only company in the world named Jam3 so I don’t think you’re going to get many other offers… here’s $500.’

Agencies can spend an inordinate amount of time developing their own websites. What’s Jam3’s approach? Partner Mark McQuillan said: “I think this all depends on your goals and what you want your website to do for you. For us, we need our site to not only work for us as a sales tool, but also as a recruitment tool. Because of the creative and innovative nature of our work, it’s just as important for us to impress art directors and developers as it is to impress potential clients.

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“Since the relaunch of our site this year, we’ve had a huge uptake in traffic. So we spend a lot of time keeping it up to date with our best work. Fortunately, we created it with a pretty solid custom content management system so the effort is only on the asset production side.”
There are various ways to attract clients to an agency. For Jam3 this means actively pitching for new work as Adrian explained: “As an agency we are not retainer-based, so we take a lot of client pitches. For us this means evaluating each client as they come along. Often, this will mean taking their idea and really looking at it closely to see if it is possible to achieve. We do take some time to vet our clients, so we all understand the reality of developing their ideas. The timeframe and the cost are of course important factors, but so is what the work would do for us as an agency.”

Mark added: “We are a relationship business. We don’t have a scientific or analytical approach to choosing clients. Our gut reaction to new proposals is usually right. We spend a lot of time and travel a lot to create these relationships. This is important for us before we begin to devote what could be large amounts of time and effort to a project.”

Adrian continued: “We’ve been fortunate that we’re one of a few digital companies that specialise in the type of work we do. We’re not a large company and so, we have to pick and choose which projects to focus on – which are best suited to our skills and which are best for the company going forward. It takes extra effort, but the key to success is to focus on the work you want to do and want to be known for doing.”

Many agencies become known for work that communicates the ethos of the agency. For Jam3, Bear 71 (http://bear71.nfb.ca) offers an insight into the approach Jam3 takes to their work, as Mark explained: “I think if you look at a project like Bear 71, all of the core skills that the agency has are put to great use across that piece of work. Great design and the storytelling is strong, as is the technical delivery of the site. We are all interested in technology and to see what we can do with the latest frameworks, trends or platforms. At the end of the day, we are interested in engineering awesome experiences. Everyone that works here is interested in design, technology and storytelling. We collaborate to the point were we will move our desks around to ensure the best people are working on the right projects for them.”

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As no two projects are the same, how does Jam3 approach their workflow? “Large-scale projects typically run about four months on average,” said Adrian. “We’ve had several that have been ‘extra’ large if you will and run longer.“All of our projects have what we call three key leads: a lead creative, a lead producer and a lead developer. Much like the art director/copywriter team, our three key leads are partners in every aspect of the project. Success and failure is contingent on communication. You need all parties involved from the get go. That means, developers are informed daily during the design process and the creatives are working with developers right through to QA and launch. Right now the most time-consuming part of the project is QA. It may not be the most difficult, but it’s surely the least entertaining. Since the industry moved away from Flash where you did QA for only one output, the time spent modifying your project for each browser, platform and mobile device has increased tenfold. IE is a bloody mess to develop anything interesting for.”

Since Jam3 has been in existence for some time, has the company identified any trends that are now influencing the work that they are doing daily? Adrian explained: “If we look back to 2001, websites like 2Advanced v3 really convinced me to switch from print to digital. And since then we have all been trying to do work that is as original and trendsetting as that website was in its time. In the mid 2000s there did seem to be continual push to produce work online that no one has seen before. That is still the case today, but I think back then, pushing the available tools to create truly impressive web experiences was something that few designers could achieve.

“Today we may have better tools, but you could argue that the constraints that HTML5 place on you as a designer is almost a retrograde step from the design freedom that was available a few years ago. And of course we still have clients that want highly immersive web experiences, but also want these to run in legacy browsers.
“Even just two years ago, practically every site used parallax scrolling, and all these sites were essentially the same, they just had different pictures. So from a design perspective we have moved through a number of periods that have challenged us to be different. There will always be design fads that perhaps don’t have any practical applications, but we try and look for ways in which these technologies can be used to deliver tangible benefits to the clients we work with. Of course there is always room for experimentation, but clients will always want to see what the purpose is for the design.

“Social media can be a powerful aid in garnering more eyes on your project, but in my opinion it’s often misused in campaigns. The incorrect assumption that’s often made is that people care enough to talk about your project to their friends…We have to ask ourselves and pass our own internal sniff tests of ‘would I share this?’ and ‘what would make me want to share this?’ Give users a reason to share and don’t ever let ‘social’ be your only strategy in terms of getting good reach.”

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Today digital design agencies have a mass of tools at their disposal. Are there any that Jam3 particularly favour? “Our devs mostly use Sublime for coding and creatively you can’t get very far without Photoshop and Illustrator,” said Adrian. “For projects where the creative output is produced with code, like the particle engines in Bear 71, TomorrowWorld (tv.tomorrowworld.com), Häagen-Dazs’ Concerto Timer (bit.ly/1u0nYuY) and Denon VisYOUalizer (denon.jam3.net/fullscreen), we make a web interface tool that allows our creatives to play around with all the parameters and without having to code. Both our creatives and clients have loved this because you have instant feedback and it puts the pixel pushing in the hands of the creative.”

Mark also commented: “jQuery will always be in the toolbox but its importance will diminish as JavaScript itself matures and offers developers the tools that they need. “jQuery Developer” will be a title of the past as developers shift to using vanilla JavaScript and smaller, more focused libraries that do away with the bloat that jQuery brings. HTML and CSS are the building blocks of the Internet and while we might use tools to build our CSS, like Less, Sass or Stylus, in the end CSS is still the result.

“There isn’t one solution here. With any decision in the project you always have to look back at what your campaign objectives and goals are. You should also look at the metrics and analytics of your client. An ad campaign’s mobile penetration rate is going to be significantly lower than that of a content or eCommerce platform. You have to decide what’s best for the project and where to spend your time and money accordingly.

“That being said, regardless of your responsive or adaptive route, the one thing you should definitely be doing is designing desktop and mobile at the same time. Page for page it forces you to think about a consistent layout, design and format and not leave desktop or mobile as an afterthought or subpar experience.”
Adrian also commented: “We’re always trying to up the ante when it comes to 2D animation and there’s only so much you can get away with with pure CSS3 and HTML5. What’s really pushed us forward is a library called Pixi.js. Our designers have been known to come up with some pretty crazy ideas and in order to execute them the development team has had to make use of the HTML5 canvas tag and the user’s GPU to make sure that the user sees silky smooth animations that would have only been possible with Flash a few years ago. Pixi makes this all possible with an easy-to-learn API, which means less time coding and more time creating. The icing on the cake is that Pixi provides different rendering methods that covers the majority of modern browsers across both desktop and mobile.”

An agency is effectively only as good as the people it employs. What qualities does Jam3 look for in a prospective employee and what advice would they give to anyone entering the industry? Adrian explained Jam3’s approach to recruitment: “First and foremost, we look at skill and talent that complements Jam3’s work and style. After that the difference between getting hired or not is based on passion and personality. It’s incredibly important that people enjoy working and hanging out with you. Nobody likes to work with a Negative Nancy.

“We’re incredibly passionate about digital, so naturally we expect you to show the same level of excitement about what can be done when creative and technical collide. “The best people we’ve ever hired are the ones who are dreamers, people who are always looking at what’s happening in the industry and thinking, ‘Shiiiiiit, that’s so f’n rad. I wish I built that’. They’re the people who always have a side project or two that they’re working on because they just love what can be done with interactive.”

Jam3 is an agency with a diverse track record, so what’s exciting them at the moment? “We always try and stay ahead of the technology curve if we can,” said Mark, “So we are playing with Oculus Rift…We have some of our 360-degree capture technology and we are seeing how this would work with VR head mounted displays.
“At the moment we are doing interesting things with multiple screens. There is a fascination with mobile campaigns because no one has really solved how to meaningfully integrate them. From a design perspective we are constantly looking at how we can innovate within the mobile space, as clearly this environment will continue to develop and become a rich platform to design for. And for me, mobile is about utility. Mobile as a tool is where I think the most interesting and useful design will come from.”

Finally, what does the future hold for the agency? Adrian concluded: “The future will see us continue to push what the available technology allows. Clients know that if they come to us wanting to leverage a new technology, we’ll have the knowledge to develop their seemingly impossible ideas into world-class creative.
“We want to continue to be known as a progressive agency that is not only always looking for new ideas, but can turn these into meaningful and engaging user experiences.”

www.jam3.com

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