The possibilities are kind of endless. I don’t know how else to say it.”
Chris Whalen is the Creative Director at OpenEye Global, a firm specializing in digital experience design in retail spaces. He’s very enthusiastic about the future of user interactions with digital screens and signage, and is a perpetual learner alongside collaborator John Morena, an expert in motion graphics, animation and video.
They took some time to speak with us this week:
What’s your professional background?
CW: I have worked in advertising agencies pretty much my entire professional life. I’ve pretty much run the gamut from broadcast production to print design. I go way back to the beginning where people were going from paste-up to actually doing things digitally. I was doing digital signage when it was brand-spanking new. I remember programming in MacroMedia Director. (laughs)
JM: My background is in commercial film work, but I do both animation and motion graphics. I guess when you hear “animation”, people think cartoons but that isn’t it- it’s both animation and motion graphics. But I do do cartoon stuff as well.
What does OpenEye Global do, and how does what you do fit in to the bigger picture?
JM: It’s kind of a hand-in-glove situation. I think the motion graphics work I do goes very well with the type of display work OpenEye does. As a company, we are interested in more than installing displays- we’re interested in creating a culture around their clients’ digital experiences, and I like that.
CW: I am the Creative Director and I wear many hats- that’s the way I like it. John and I have been working in tandem. We meet with the client, come up with ideas and concepts and figure out costs, go into production, and follow the whole process through. At the same time I manage the content on the back end, setting up the players and networks, and work with other OpenEye team members who are building the system to integrate the system and content together seamlessly so everything looks great and has been tested.
“It has to be tried, true, and ready for public consumption.”
The content management entails setting up different content for different locations and different times of day.
What tools specifically do you use in your day-to-day?
JM: The usual suspects: Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, Premiere. Occasionally I’ll work in Cinema 4D. I do like to do a lot of analog as well, CGI can get a bit boring and isn’t as unique. I’ve done things like shot stop-motion in lieu of 3D work, because it has more of a hand-crafted feel. It really depends on the project and what it calls for.
CW: You name it. As far as content management, there are many different proprietary tools. As far as the rest- all of the Adobe products- Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Premiere, After Effects, Flash. I do some work with Sketch-Up to create 3D walkthroughs for stores, and show how digital signage will look in the space. If a project comes along that requires a special program, I’ll learn it.
“The basic principles are always going to apply, but there’s also always a need to learn and stay ahead of the curve with newest hardware, and especially proprietary software systems.”
For example, we’re learning a social integration app for managing photos that come through via instagram or twitter. So we partner with companies like that, get to know their platform, and how it integrates across other platforms.
What are you working on now?
JM: We have multiple projects with Madame Tussaud’s right now in connection with our global marketing partner Banner Managed Communication. Actually, the screen in Times Square just went live. It’s a 15’ by 15’ display that Bryan Meszaros and Chris were working in conjunction with NanoLumens to design this specific piece. The screen fits the window exactly and the problem we had to solve is that people have this pre-conceived notion of what’s inside Madame Tussaud’s. Standing outside you have no clue as to what you can do in there- people generally think that it’s a museum, that you can’t touch anything- that kind of thing. In reality, they encourage you touch and hug, you can have your hand made in wax, and take photos and pretend you’re famous for 90 minutes. We came up with these little vignettes about what you can do inside, which shows people from all walks of life interacting with the best wax figures in the world. It’s really cool.
CW: In addition to Madame Tussaud’s, we work with great brands like Westfield, Nordstrom, and manage all of the digital signage for all of Banco Santander’s locations. We get new Banco Santander locations online, and manage all of the content. It’s a large network with multiple zones, so we have content for each zone, that’s constantly changing and dynamic content runs on there as well. There’s a start-up store in Florida we recently created 3D models for. We are concepting for the change-rooms, which we like to call the “fashion refresh zone”, where customers could scan a label and the screen would make clothing pairing suggestions, which then could alert a salesperson to bring clothing items. These are all group efforts- we all do our part.
What can people who attend Xplorer expect to learn from your session? What will be the takeaway?
CW: We’ll be discussing: how to choose your displays, interactive vs static, best ways to approach content creation, best ways to concept, storyboard delivery, what you should be looking for in a CMS, and how to integrate wayfinding systems and live user-generated content. Also, we’ll be talking about knowing your clients, their brand, their ROI goals, and how to measure results. It’s not enough to put in big screens that look pretty and seem cool.
JM: Anyone who does what I do can talk about how to press the buttons, but I think what the big takeaway from this is we’re all familiar with these kinds of software and these tools, but these (digital experience design) are very unique situations with unique rules which have to plug into the client’s needs and budgets involved. It’s important to think about what they want and how to make it work, and get potential customers or users excited about it-
“it should be a means to make it memorable.”
What do you think the future of XGD is?
JM: Oh, I see this being a more mainstream career path for people who want to pursue motion graphics, animation or graphic design, art direction, creative direction. I think it’s definitely going to become part of the fabric of what you consider doing when you say “I want to be a designer”. It feels like a logical next step.
CW: I think the future is more mobile and much quicker. The personal devices people carry around like ipads and smart phones, will be integrated across platforms with digital signage. Spaces will become much more experiential using technology like beacons- you’ll know where your customers are at in a location, and customers will be able to interact with their devices in a space. Digital signs themselves are becoming better- there are really cool new transparent signs, and the resolution of screens is getting so that it’s like looking at a poster- I can stand in front of a screen and read 5 or 10pt type now. The possibilities are kind of endless. I don’t know how else to say it.