Title: Creative partner
Company name: unit9
Year established: 1997
Number of employees: 50
With offices in London, Florence, Stockholm, San Francisco, and Lodz, unit9 is a multidisciplinary production company that specializes in outstanding digital experiences across mobile, physical installations, and the web. We recently had a chance to interview Piero Frescobaldi, creative partner.
Inspire: What are your thoughts on where we are right now with online experiences?
Piero Frescobaldi: In the year 2000, we went from CD-ROMs and kiosks to the very limited Internet. At the time, it was like going back a decade to my time at university. We went from very interactive immersive experiences to incredibly limited websites made of text and tiny images. It was only last year that we started doing interactive experiences online that were comparable to what we used to do on CD-ROMs.
New platforms seem yet again to limit the creative potential. But do they? If we look at this from close up, with our head stuck in the day to day, then the feeling is yes. But if we look at it over a period of say 30 years, then we realize that we are in fact progressing. Technology at this stage is predominantly interested in distribution. It is seeking to reach the millions. There is incredible research happening in labs all over the world. But without distribution, that technology is not relevant.
The new mobile platforms are finally reaching a larger number of people in a very immediate way. They are more relevant to the masses than the desktop platforms. Hence what may seem like an annoying step back in our day-to-day life as creatives and developers is in fact a necessary step forward.
Inspire: How much of a shift to mobile have you seen in the last year or so? Has your company seen a big rise in mobile inquiries?
Frescobaldi: We have moved to mobile quickly. How could you not be excited about this? Finally I can make something that will reach even my mum. It is the chance for a lot of us as digital creatives to hit the mainstream. Our business over the last two years has moved to over 50% mobile.
Inspire: Are you seeing a surge in demand for your projects to work on tablets?
Frescobaldi: Demand is surging, and most projects now need to be tablet-friendly. However, tablets still need to find their real purpose. We are testing all areas, from utility and gaming to simulations and interactive film. The potential is limitless, and I believe it will soon be 70% of our business.
Inspire: Has your focus evolved since you began your career, or have you simply fine-tuned your focus?
Frescobaldi: My focus is to entertain and to surprise. I have changed many times how I do it; what I find entertaining or surprising has also changed.
Inspire: Adobe Flash has experienced a massive landscape change in the last 18 months. What are your thoughts about that?
Frescobaldi: I would not have expected it to change this fast. If it wasn't for my tech director, it would have caught us off guard. I still find Flash the best, most reliable tool available. But whereas Flash was once the standard, now it is just one of the tools we use.
Inspire: HTML5 has seen a surge in interest. What have you witnessed in regard to HTML5, and what are your clients demanding now?
Frescobaldi: Our clients are all demanding HTML5. But to be honest, they do not know what HTML5 is or what it does. They've just heard that it is all the rage now. In fact, they are demanding Flash performance, Flash compatibility, and Flash interactivity, but in HTML5. It is frustrating because I like HTML, and I like Flash, and I want to choose what is best for the project.
Inspire: How about staffing? Do you have to retrain some of your talent, especially your Flash gurus, or have they been able to quickly learn the other technologies being used?
Frescobaldi: Good structured programmers can quickly adapt to new technologies. Nowadays you cannot afford to get stuck with expertise in only one tool.
Inspire: What is the job market like? Is it awash with talented folks or is it difficult to find quality people in your area? Have you looked outside your area (overseas) to find the talent you need? If so, where are you seeing great talent emerging?
Frescobaldi: Real talent is rare, and therefore costs are inflated. For those talented individuals, this market is ripe with opportunities. As we aspire for the best, we look for talent everywhere — in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Brazil, the United States, Italy, Poland, Russia, India, and more. We find that the people we need now are the ones that come from good universities with a solid base in math and coding or engineering. They can comfortably adapt and move with the times. The industry needs specialty. So we are looking less for hybrid roles such as designer/developer. Now we need solid programmers with good knowledge of software architecture and engineering practices. We are seeing good talent come out of Poland at the moment.
Inspire: When you employ new team members, what is the most important thing to you or your team: their résumé or their personality?
Frescobaldi: To put it bluntly, without the résumé you don't get through the door, but without the personality you don't get to stay.
Inspire: Are you in control of the number of hours you work, or do you feel you are losing the battle to e-mail and social networks as well as checking your phone all hours of the day and night?
Frescobaldi: The battle is lost. I accept defeat, and I have decided three days a week to keep my mobile phone in the drawer. My automatic message says, "Thank you for your e-mail. Today it will not be read and will be deleted. I am taking a break from e-mail and social networks. Contact me again in three days." This way, I can filter out three days of unnecessary noise.
Inspire: If you were stranded in a location with a single device and Wi-Fi, and you were allowed only one Adobe software application, which one would you choose and why?
Frescobaldi: Naturally my laptop and [Adobe] Photoshop. Is there an alternative?
Inspire: How important is it to make time for your team to play with purely experimental work? Do you allow people a certain amount of time to experiment on the job?
Frescobaldi: It is imperative. Everyone needs to do it. We set up internal and experimental projects that we run in parallel to normal production.
Inspire: Do you dream of retiring on a beach, or do you plan to work until the end?
Frescobaldi: I want to work until the end, for sure. But I may not be doing this work.
Inspire: As someone with many years in the industry, do you find it harder to keep your finger on the pulse of technology? And in what way do younger members contribute to your awareness of that pulse?
Frescobaldi: The more we grow, the more I need to manage people. Therefore, I have to rely on my team to stay up to date. But that has just made me more informed than before because now I can benefit from the research and sharing of many people — not just myself. So the finger on the pulse is stronger with age.
Inspire: Many thanks for your time. Please leave us with one inspirational word.
Frescobaldi: The word I go by is "commitment." Nowadays that word is abused and overused and its meaning has been distorted, but in its origin it meant "the commitment of oneself" or, more specifically, "an obligation." So when I say we are committed to make something good, we don't mean that we work hard to achieve it, but we are actually obliged to achieve it. Hence, when you are truly committed, you have no other option but to keep going until you succeed. It is this sense of obligation that has pushed us to consistently go further.