Title: Managing founder
Company name: Stinkdigital
Year established: 2009
Number of employees: 50
Headquartered in London, and with offices in New York and Paris, Stinkdigital specializes in interactive creative, concepting, and design of a variety of work — from live-action films and animations to microsites, web apps, mobile phone applications, and installations. We recently had a chance to interview its managing founder, Mark Pytlik.
Inspire: What are your thoughts on where we are right now with online experiences?
Mark Pytlik: Objectively, it can sometimes feel like online experiences aren't tangibly better or more evolved than they were five years ago, but I don't see this as a step back. It's just that the industry is in the middle of a large-scale reset.
In the rare moments that I get frustrated about what we can't do technologically, I find it comforting to think about how quickly change can happen when it comes. The first iPhone now feels like a relic from another era. Once we finish rounding this big corner, I think browser technology will move at a similarly crazy pace.
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?
Pytlik: Definitely. Three years ago, our focus was primarily on building amazing desktop experiences, but mobile and tablet experiences are now a key part of what we do. While this requirement can sometimes complicate the production process, it's immensely satisfying to be able to roll out an experience that works equally well across devices. Sometimes this means using multiple technologies and languages across iterations, and that's great. For us, this whole debate is less about picking a side and more about making things that as many people as possible will enjoy and remember.
Inspire: Where do you stand on the mobile-optimized website vs. mobile app debate?
Pytlik: It's tough to generalize because it really does depend on the project, but if I had to pick a side, I'd pick mobile-optimized websites. I think sites are more germane to how people experience the Internet. Some creative [brief] rightfully demands an app, but working primarily in advertising, I worry about the fact that some campaign apps feel disposable.
Inspire: Adobe Flash has experienced a massive landscape change in the last 18 months. What are your thoughts about that?
Pytlik: I think it's really unfortunate that the Flash vs. HTML discussion was even framed that way. It polarized people unnecessarily and contributed to a general misunderstanding about how those languages stack up against each other. Too many people see HTML as a straight replacement for Flash, and that's obviously not the case. For me, the conversation should always start with the creative and what's appropriate for the target audience and then follow from there.
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?
Pytlik: Our staff is incredible. All the people who work here do lots of things phenomenally well. Working with them is daunting in the best possible way. There hasn't been a need to retrain anyone; our internal knowledgebase and skill set have evolved just as naturally as the technology on the web.
Inspire: When you employ new team members, what is the most important thing to you or your team: their résumé or their personality?
Pytlik: The most important thing for me is someone's ceiling. I'm less concerned with what someone's already done or how many awards they've won as I am with trying to assess how good they could be, given the right opportunities. The process of figuring that out is an inexact science. For me, it's about evaluating what people have managed to create out of the opportunities they were given and their general character, enthusiasm, and desire.
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 at all hours of the day and night?
Pytlik: We work with clients all over the world, so it's not unusual for e-mail to come in around the clock. There was a time when my response to this was just to try and reply to everything as it came in, but that's not really a viable way to live.
Turning push notifications off changed my life. Now I only check e-mail when I have the time or bandwidth to deal with it. It's a small thing, but it feels more manageable and civilized. Plus I'm still checking it constantly anyway.
Inspire: Apart from work and family, how do you relax and unwind?
Pytlik: I went down a rabbit hole last year when I got super nerdy about stereo equipment. I bought a new system, and I've spent a small fortune re-buying my entire music collection on vinyl ever since. It's made me realize that I have a collector's mentality. It's also been nice to indulge in something I'm fanatical about that's not work.
Inspire: The Internet has brought the world together like never before. Which country excites you the most, and where would you love to set up a satellite office?
Pytlik: We've just opened an office in France, and it's been really exciting to see the growth and development happening there, even over a short period of time. Beyond that, the level of talent and caliber of work coming out of Brazil is pretty unparalleled.
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?
Pytlik: We have an amazing culture of sharing new projects, technologies, and films at Stinkdigital. On any given day, there are about five to 10 links of interest posted to our company-wide mailing list. We also have separate lists for developers, designers, and producers so employees can share more role-specific information with their contemporaries across offices. The discussion that each link generates is often as interesting as the link itself. I think we all learn a lot from each other in those threads.
One thing I notice about our younger employees is that they're less specialized. We have a lot of really bright younger employees who don't consider themselves an expert in any one thing. It's scary-good just how wide-ranging and capable they are. I think it helps to encourage everyone to keep learning and striving to get better at what they do. Information and knowledge are readily available to anyone who seeks them out; it's important to always feel like a new skill set is just a bit of time away.
Inspire: What is one of the best projects you have seen on your desktop lately?
Pytlik: Like everyone, I was pretty wowed by Bear71. Being Canadian, I have a warm spot in my heart for anything from the National Film Board of Canada, too.
Inspire: What is one of the best mobile experiences you have seen lately?
Pytlik: AKQA's recent iPad app for the World Wildlife Fund was beautiful.
Inspire: How hands-on are you with the projects your company handles?
Pytlik: My role here is extremely diffuse. I do everything from management, operations, and strategy to pitches, creative, and production — so my level of involvement really depends on my bandwidth and the project. I'm extremely involved in the nitty-gritty of some projects; others I might not see until they're in the alpha or beta stage. Across our three offices, we can have as many as 15 projects in production at any one time, so just staying on top of everything we're doing can be a full-time job in itself.
Inspire: For someone starting out in the industry, what advice would you give? And what advice would you give to someone who is still in school?
Pytlik: I don't know if this counts as advice, but I really gravitate toward people who approach a brief or a piece of work by thinking critically and logically about what they're doing. If you can establish a strategic line of thinking about what you want to achieve from the start, it will help ground your thinking and absolve you from option paralysis.
Inspire: Looking back, which project are you most proud of?
Pytlik: The one that sticks out for me is actually a personal project called TweetFuel. It was a simple hack where we connected a Nike+ FuelBand to a mechanical device that listened to our Twitter account and spun the band every time we got mentions, retweets, or new followers. We concepted, built, and launched it in a week, and it was immensely satisfying to see it come together quickly and become as successful as it was.
Inspire: Many thanks for your time. Please leave us with one inspirational word.