INTERVISTA A DANNY FRANZREB

(a cura di THONK / traduzione in italiano a breve)

Question "zero": Taobot. Who? to who? what? how and most Important: why?

Taobot is me, it currently represents my personal projects. I basically do a lot of print and interactive design work for all kinds of interesting clients through Taobot. Recently I also accepted a job as Art Director at Scholz & Volkmer (http://s-v.de), so I guess you could say that Taobot is my personal outlet where as I do my commercial creative work at Scholz & Volkmer, which is great fun cause the team at our agency is awesome in so many different ways.
I do this cause I love it, I actually studied information systems and besides worked as an interactive designer. From what I remember I have been drawing since I was a very young child and I also have been skateboarding a lot. So once you got to know this creative culture you donít want to miss it any more, at least this is how it was for me. So in the end I got lots of technical skills out of my studies and some creative background, which made it easy for me to apply my knowledge about drawing and animation to the computer in many different ways. Itís fantastic; I could not enjoy anything more currently.

And now, "Danny"... First of all letís try to understand your "spirit": "i-just-want-to-have-fun-with-stuff-that-isn't-useful-at-all-and-i-don't-even-care" (from visual experiments with dynamic content, page 223, fresh flash, ed. friends of ED, 2002). How Important is "to have fun" in your work?

Ha, that cite is totally out of context, anyway funny that you read it! What I said there was that sometimes I just want to have fun with the personal projects I do and donít think about all design principles I learnt, or that I even break them on purpose. But usually I am more focused on creating useful design and work that has a deeper meaning, so for me itís not only fancy visuals, what is more important is the message you communicate and what the intention was that a project is based on.
Iím lucky that I can do something I really want to do, so yeah I got fun working on projects, but I take my design work very serious at the same time. Someone smart once said ďLive is to important to take it seriousĒ which sums it up pretty well, I try to focus and work hard on a job that I couldnít enjoy more.

From that point of view, we can talk about Audikt. How was it born?

The initial idea was born when we drove to a BD4D that I curated in Frankfurt in 2002. Ryan Shelton (BD4D) and a few friends of mine who are musicians were in the car and we talked about how everyone of us designers collaborates with musicians, so from there I had this idea in my mind to showcase musicians who are related to the design community.
I basically contacted a few designers I already knew and some that I wanted to have on Audikt and from there started to work out all the details. Besides designing the site and managing so many people who contributed, the worst thing I had to take care of were music rights. All the contracts and people who want a share of what you do in the music industry are a real pain in the ass, even if you run a non-profit project like Audikt. But once I sorted this out, I could concentrate on the most important thing again, which basically was to find the best content I could get. The first two issues had very positive feedback. I wish I could work more on the project, but since itís totally non-profit itís always hard to find enough time. Thatís the reason why I only publish one issue a year currently.

Music, multimedia and Macromedia Flash in particular seem to be very important to your way to communicate your contents. Shall we mischievously ask you why you don't use them for your own site?

The current version of Taobot was supposed to be just a holding page, which has actually been online for more than one year, due to my heavy workload. That page was mainly used to communicate the latest news, so I really saw no reason to build it in Flash or to extensively use multimedia. If you look at The Ronin for example, Rob Chiu is a motion designer and we knew weíd show lots of movies on his site. We designed Robís site to be a portfolio for potential clients so we also knew that art directors were looking for something unique and probably had a broadband connection. In this case we used Flash to be able to show all his content in one player and have a unique interactive experience. Iíd definitely not always just design a Flash site, but use the right tool and channel of communication for the right client. Well, like I already said, another reason that I didnít built my personal site as an interactive experience is time. If you want to really built a good interactive Flash website, itíll normally take you more time than a plain HTML page. If I use Flash I gonna make use of itís unique capabilities and donít just built a website that I could have also built in HTML.
With the next version of Taobot I want to show some of my latest print and interactive work in an easy and accessible way and since my schedule is already pretty tight again itíll be one huge XHTML page, which should be online early August 2005. I actually already have it here on my Powerbook, I just need to add a few texts and images. Iím really looking forward to see how people will react to my new work, itíll basically by a selection from the last few years that has been around for some time but never been shown on my site.

Levels of communication and interaction with those who are watching and listening. Just like all Flash developers, the wish to experiment new rational and Irrational methods to make all Informations disposable for everyone Is really challenging.. Usefulness/feelings: in which side would you place yourself?

None of the two. Like I said before, that totally depends on the project and personally I have an interest for both sides. I think itís pretty ignorant to only consider one side of the coin if you want to be a good designer. I guess you want to stimulate feelings and sometimes have also a useful piece of design. Finding a way between these two extremes or even better combining the two is actually what makes a good designer. We are all supposed to find the perfect solution for each unique client and then with our personal projects we can experiment in whatever direction weíd like. I also donít try to get stuck with one style and rather experiment with lots of different styles, ideas, forms of expression etc. At least thatís my point of view and how I approach things. Thatís somehow the same thing with designers and programmers. Both canít live without each other and at the same time donít try to understand their differing viewpoints. Maybe itís due to borders that only exist in peopleís brains, since both occupations are indeed very creative. I hope to somehow be open-minded for anybody that approaches me with new ideas of any kind.
One of the best examples for combining useful design with emotions is the work thatís done at Apple. Thatís one of the reasons why they are so successful; theyíd never concentrate on technical stuff or design only. Itís the intelligent combination of both that is most important.

For a "creative" person, to make web design, in such a various, multi-ethnic, linked to technology field like this, Is always a challenge. Comparison Is one of the best "tools" we have: BD4D - By Designers for Designers. What's BD4D?

BD4D was founded 2001 by Ryan Carson and Ryan Shelton in London. Basically BD4Ds are events around the world for creative people, so they can meet physically and interact. We always have a few presenters that talk about their work and get the event going. Another important fact is that BD4D is independent of companies and that events are done on a non-profit basis, so itís only for the love of what you do and the community. For the whole story you can check out bd4d.com/about/. Iím involved in BD4D mainly as a curator and speaker, but also by posting on the website and a few other thingsÖ

...and what about you? What does bd4d mean to you?

I like to meet with people that share the same interest as I do and I think that itís nonsense to always charge huge sums of money for such meetings. So I try to create a free space for people to meet and invite designers I like, whenever I find the time to. Organizing such a BD4D isnít that easy cause itís non-profit and yet there are about 250 people that come to such events. Finding the right place, the logistics and stuff takes some time as you can imagine. Anyway itís always worth it, since itís great fun in the end. For me BD4D is another form of meeting people thatís beyond online forums or conferences, itís driven by us, the designers. I got to know some nice people through BD4D that I might not have met otherwise.

Together with people you usually work with, could you please tell us a couple of designers/developers/artists that you think you've been influenced by at your beginnings??

When I grew up I was skateboarding everyday and I got also into graffiti. So I guess these two movements influenced me a lot. Especially skateboarding, which is rather a way of life than a sport anyway. I still love the attitude and style that comes from within the skateboard community, though I should add that there exist so many different nuances to it that Iím generalizing a lot here. Another big influence was and is music. Like I mentioned before, some of my closest friends are musicians so I got influenced by poster and CD design mainly from punk, rock, hardcore and stuff like that. I wish I could say that I have been influenced by some of the old masters too, like Van Gogh or whatever, but Iíd say that if they influenced me at all, these have been rather weak influences compared to music and skateboarding.
Talking about current designers, there are no real top influences. I just do what I like and try to not get influenced by other designers at all. I believe itís better to not draw your inspiration from the design world too much, since youíd never create something original. But nevertheless, there are hundreds of people that I know who are super talented, so naming only a few is hard. You could also check out Audikt for a few artists that I love and respect. Anyway the list is endless, there are a lot of great artist out there. Our world is full of creative people and I get to know more of them day by dayÖ

Now it's your turn to teach. Almost all around the world. What do you usually prefer talking about at meetings??

Well, basically topics that my current research is centered around. Iím interested in a lot of different things though, so the range of things I usually talk about is pretty massive. At my first conference in Singapore in 2001 I spoke about Flash Math and Physics and also XML. The year later I held a keynote on my creative process in Silicon Valley. It also depends on conference if I got lots of designers in the audience I usually donít go into detail with all technical bits and pieces, but rather try to inspire them so they can do their own research. With a technically oriented audience it might be the other way around. What I can say for sure is that I always try to expand the horizon of my audience beyond the stuff they are used to and expect at such meetings.

Is there a question you are always asked and that you hate answering to? (if it's question number 4 we'll surely eliminate itÖ)

I donít like to be categorized, so any question like ďare you a designer or developerĒ or something similar isnít really what I want to hear anymore. In my point of view people always try to categorize things that they donít understand. On the other hand I can understand that people ask such questions so I try to answer them politely and share my ideas with them. In the end, a question is never worthless and should never be threaded as such.

Let's end this interview with a kind of classic question: what are you going to do when you grow up?

Hope that never happensÖ letís better talk about my life in the next few years, which I guess that question is directed to anyway. Regarding my life as an artist I will personally expand my creative work with Taobot and professionally work on some great projects at Scholz & Volkmer. Personally I also just moved together with my girlfriend, so maybe weíll have our own little family in a few years from now. It really couldnít get much better, so my only wished from here would be to stay healthy and be able to continue my way, since I still got so many things on my mind that Iíd love to do.