Interview with Wieden+Kennedy

One of the largest independently-owned advertising agencies in the world, Portland’s own Wieden+Kennedy has been changing the face of advertising since partners Dan Wieden and David Kennedy decided to just do it in 1982.

During Design Week Portland, you’ll have the chance to experience their work up close and personal at AIGA Portland’s exhibit, Blurred Lines: A Curated Exploration of the Future of Interaction held October 9-11, 2013 at Refuge PDX.

We asked the W+K team a few questions about their Blurred Lines installation. This is what they had to say:

What are you creating for Blurred Lines and who is the team working on it?

Impression is a synesthetic computer music performance platform.

It’s an invention born out of W+K Creative Tech Lead Stephen Schieberl’s frustration with the status quo in live computer music performance. Using an external controller to operate software on another machine felt really unnatural, so he developed a PC-based touchscreen MIDI controller to at least operate everything from one machine. But it wasn’t enough. Steve wanted to touch the sounds that he could see and hear.

Wait, what? Touch sounds??

Yes. Blending the senses as a way to simplify live music performance is a very enjoyable experience. Impression moves this concept from tool to toy.

Steve has been working on this project for a while and recently brought W+K Senior Motion Designer Jeff Ackley on board to work on the interface design.

Jeff not only works for Wieden+Kennedy, but he’s also recent addition to the AIGA Portland board of directors. Jeff, why did you decide to get involved with AIGA Portland?

By joining the board at AIGA Portland as Programming Co-Chair I am able to get more involved and give back to the community that has given so much to me!

I’ve been involved as a professional in the advertising/design world for about 10 years now, but a huge part of me still felt a bit disconnected from my local community. Over the years I’d gone to many dMob events and loved the connections I made and memories shared. So I decided to start volunteering with AIGA and share some of my ideas. Fellow AIGA Portland Programming Co-Chair Brad Smith had similar ideas that eventually led to Blurred Lines: A Curated Exploration of the Future of Interaction. Like other AIGA Portland events, this event brings together local artists and companies and encourages them to get involved with their local community. It creates an opportunity for connections that would otherwise never have happened.

There are so many artists doing fresh innovative things around Portland and all around the world – not to mention all the developers that work within agencies who are always coming up with radical prototypes that often don’t see the light of day. Design Week Portland is a great venue for letting all their hard work be seen by the rest of the world!

Jeff and Steve from W+K
Jeff Ackley (left) and Stephen Schieberl (right)

Why do you think people will be excited about Impression? Is there any real-life application to it?

Big, unexpected reactions from tiny inputs are fun, like using a match to light a giant box of fireworks. Lots of pretty sights and sounds result from small hand gestures. Impression is a model for natural interaction with a digital interface. Instead of using menus and dialog boxes to change the state of the software, you manipulate the objects on-screen. This is closer to how you work with things in real life and is a great way to start thinking about UX.

Do you think humans will someday have the option to spend their entire life in an alternate reality, like in Avatar, only happier? Given the option, would you?

No person or program could ever invent anything more interesting than the reality of nature and the universe.

Wise man. Must be all the coffee fueling your braincells. What kind of java does your office drink?


Oh, that makes me sad. Let’s turn that frown upside down. Steve, what has been your favorite part about this project and process so far?

The best part of this project so far has been seeing how effectively it’s proven the hypothesis. In one iteration, I finished writing the syncing clock about one hour before a live show. I had no chance to practice a set – just loaded up a sound bank I felt would work. Some of those sounds I had never worked with before, either. It was so intuitive; the set went off without a hitch. Anyone can walk up to this and feel their way through a stellar performance.

What has been the most challenging part of working on this project so far?

The most challenging part of this project has been waiting for the right technology to come along. The earliest version of this software was made in 2009 and worked with a handmade multi-touch table. It was big and bulky and relied on infrared lasers and cameras, making it difficult or impossible to operate in most environments. It later used native touch (i.e. built into the operating system), but touch screens were very expensive. The LEAP has opened up a whole new world of natural interaction with tiny form factor and budget.

What’s the most exciting thing about the creative scene here in Portland?

There is a lot of motivation.

Yeah. Any big challenges us creatives should be aware of?

Insularity. Portland artists tend to focus on collaborations and rivalries with each other and not the world at large. The latter is needed for real growth.

What is good design?

Good design communicates effectively.

Thanks Wieden+Kennedy for supporting new ideas and groundbreaking employee collaboration. I don’t know about any of you, but personally, I can’t wait to TOUCH SOUND (!!) with Impression next month during Design Week Portland.

You too can experience W+K’s Impression October 9-11th at Blurred Lines: A Curated Exploration of the Future of Interaction – where leading design studios in Portland share their experiences of what can (and may) happen when light, sound, images, motion, culture and history combine. Explore a space like you’ve never imagined, grab a drink at the bar and groove on music spun by different DJ’s each night.

Buy your tickets now at:

Published September 24, 2013
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