How many AIGA 50 awards have you and AKQA been recognized for? Have you been a recipient while working there?
AKQA has a few AIGA 50 awards. I’m not one to keep count, but I believe I earned a couple before joining. But I haven’t won an AIGA 50 award with AKQA yet. Fingers crossed.
Why do you submit to AIGA 50?
While participating in award shows is a good way to gauge success, and it of course feels good to be recognized by your peers, it’s also great for inspiration. It’s nice to see what others are doing, and where the bar is set. DC is a small scene, so usually the shops and/or people who win are people I know. So it’s cool to see them recognized for their work, too.
AKQA only recently started submitting to AIGA 50 in 2009 as part of a conscious effort to be more active in the DC design community. Oddly enough, being a globally reputable agency doesn’t necessarily mean you’re known locally.
How do you select the work you would like to submit?
We don’t have a set-in-stone process for selecting work for award submissions. It’s one of those instances where, if the work feels appropriate for an award show, and we’re proud of the end product, we’ll submit it. We pride ourselves on innovation and craftsmanship. I’m hopeful that the work we enter each year embodies those qualities.
Can you tell us more about AKQA and what you do for them?
AKQA is an ideas-led agency. We envision unseen opportunities for our clients. Our focus is digital. It’s at the core of everything we do. If we use traditional media, it’s to pull you into a digital experience. Whether it’s a service, tool, or brand campaign, what makes us unique is how we use technology, versus the technology we use.
As for what I do at AKQA… as an Associate Creative Director, it’s my responsibility to bring an idea to life. As a creative lead, there are a lot of hats to be worn, and it’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day managerial aspects of the position. But what makes my job special is that I’m afforded the license to dream and imagine ways to merge ideas with functionality.
It’s fun, but very challenging. An idea is a very fragile thing, and you have to convince others to believe. Luckily I have a lot of help. Digital is a highly collaborative medium and I work with really talented creatives, strategists, and technologists to give ideas more substance. Our goal is to present innovative solutions (not options) to our clients.
What differentiates AKQA from other interactive design agencies in the D.C. area?
We’re unique because of our philosophy and the talent we have. We thrive in the space where creativity and technology meet. And I think there’s a general consensus here to strive to be more than just designers or developers, but to aspire to be innovators and storytellers.
We’re in the business of solving problems for our clients, not just building a website or an app. And if a solution doesn’t exist, often times, we invent one. It’s apparent in the kind of the work we do. Our clients look to us to help them develop their products for not only the present, but also for the future. It’s in our DNA to always dream bigger and work to find that next big idea.
How would you describe your work environment and ethics?
I really love our environment. It’s hard not to, when you work with people you consider friends. The vibe is pretty casual. We try to not bog ourselves down with dress codes, or get too into our titles. We definitely goof off, but people here instinctively know when to hit the serious-button. And it’s always impressive to see how everyone rallies together and does what they’re best at. At the end of the day, we all believe in the same thing. We just want to do good work.
Strong work ethics are a big deal for us. It’s at the foundation of our culture. But there’s no big secret to it all. We are successful because people here work really hard and are thoughtful. We are respectful to one another. As important as it is to leverage the strengths of the individual, what’s more important to us is how we function collectively as a team.
I’m allergic to business casual.
Do you have a process for initiating projects at AKQA? How do they all start?
We start with the usual suspects like writing a creative brief and pulling market research. But where AKQA works the hardest, is in crafting a unique insight around the brand and its customer.
If the project is for a car, we drive it. If it’s for a game, we play it. We literally become the target audience. I can honestly say, most of us have become experts in not only our industry but also our clients’ industries. Attacking any project is truly an immersive experience.
Are you or any of your co-workers active AIGA DC members?
Oof! I’ll come clean, none of us are. From my perspective, AIGA is a community focused more on traditional design, not interactive. But lately you guys are proving me wrong. Sign me up!
This year, we are highlighting “50 Reasons You Are a Designer” (some silly, some serious) on our call for entries. Why are you a designer?
I’m allergic to business casual.
Jefferson Liu was also a speaker at the 2011 DC Design Week Event, Download.