Designer of the Week: Bryan James

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Last month, when art director Adam Ladd came across Bryan James’ stunning animated illustrations, Ladd added the site (In Pieces) to his “Top 10″ list of websites for designers. This month, we talked with James and learned that In Pieces—a CSS-based interactive exhibition of 30 endangered species, visually crafted using 30 geometric pieces—represents his favorite yet most challenging work thus far. Having just gone freelance, James is focusing on both keeping his clients happy and continuing to put out more “interactive nuggets” like In Pieces—the kind of work that makes everyone happy—so be sure to keep an eye on this Designer of the Week.

Name: Bryan James

Name of Studio: Bryan James Interactive

Location: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Design school attended: Cleveland College of Art & Design / Northumbria University

How would you describe your work?I’m happy to say that it’s changed and evolved over the years, but the one key aspect I try to maintain in all of my work is a key idea which holds everything together, or gives visual and interactive treatments reason and context. I feel that if there’s a strong idea already in place, it takes some of the strain on say, visual design, as it doesn’t need to compensate too much, and the process is made a lot simpler.

I’m naturally quite a heavily illustration-based designer, but I try to have a visual feel which applies itself depending on the brief, so in that regard it’s difficult to describe. I enjoy making interactive projects respond a lot to what a user does through interactions which hopefully bring a smile via a hover, click or otherwise. I also love a double-meaning visual on an element.


Where do you find inspiration?Normally on FWA, Awwwards and Behance, but I do also find a lot of inspiration in branding and print advertising, where I think core ideas are a little more prevalent.

Who are some of your favorite designers or artists?In the modern world, my favorite designers are also my idols, as they lay in a similar design/development role which helped me know it was an area I wanted to pursue—Shane Mielke, Nick Jones and the guys over at Active Theory. There are so many amazing designers out there, but I’ve always felt drawn to the work of these guys as something completely on their own. Also importantly, they are also some of the humblest I’ve spoken to and that’s absolutely tremendous, I think.

If we want to go back through history, I absolutely adore the work of Abram Games, especially his 2nd World War poster campaign work; in fact, it’s strange in thinking, but I see a lot of my approach comes out from his stuff even if it doesn’t come close to how clever his work was. The double meanings in visuals mixed with at times either a blissful or heart-breaking idea are just fantastic.


Do you have a favorite among all the projects you’ve worked on?Well it has to be my personal project “In Pieces“—after how successful it’s been. It’s also my favorite because it is essentially a representation of all of the different aspects I’ve learned over my career coming together in one place—a base concept, a visual wrapped around an idea, animation and front-end development. I was blown away by the response, and in many ways it genuinely changed my life.

Is there a project that stands out to you as having been the biggest challenge of your career so far?Again, it has to be “In Pieces.” The project spanned a five-month period in my own personal time and in some moments, it was very tough on me mentally. It affected a lot of the other parts of my life (though not at the time, my full-time job), I was tired a lot of the time, and it really consumed me. If there was a little issue—especially when developing—it would rest in the back of my mind while I did other things, though I often figured out a lot of the problems by doing that in the background.

There were also some really big calls to make, which in hindsight look really silly but it was very touch and go with a few of the elements—for instance, the startup sequence and the sound, I totally wasn’t sure of until perhaps three days before go-live, even after I had them coded up. With sound,
it needs to be bang on or it’s terrible, whereas I feared the start-up sequence was going to be a real block to entry. The entire five-month period had versions of those the whole time, so mentally it was both draining and emphatically pleasing when it did well.


What do you hope to accomplish in the future?Well, I’ve just began freelancing so in the near future it’s really about solidifying this new way of life and keeping my clients happy, while continuing to put out work which makes people happy. I’ve got a real goal to push on from a personal perspective now and capitalize upon the design/development role I can fulfil to create little interactive nuggets.

One day, I’d love to run an interactive agency, so this feels a step in the right direction.

What’s your best advice for designers today?This very much depends on their age—for students I have very direct advice regarding trying to find work. Above anything, contact individuals within an agency—not an info@, jobs@ or whichever the default career contact emails are. I’ve had great success in the past by just figuring out how you get a C.V in front of another human being and get a conversation going. Find out the top directors, creative directors and co by name who work in an agency, and email them directly. There’s a tool called Rapportive which you can use to “try out” email addresses to see if they exist. It sounds longwinded but honestly, it works. It also means you can put on a C.V “hello <insert name>”—there’s a psychological side to doing that, in that you make it difficult for someone not to reply to you when they know you’ve made effort for THAT person. It’s an interesting, and highly successful technique.

For digital designers, I would say just find a niche, really. It’s so cliched and there’s no real yes or no answer here, but a few years ago I made an open change in how I approached design tasks. I knew I couldn’t match the kind of pixel-precise, ridiculously good visual stuff you see about, nor could I match the kings of code, kings of illustration, etc.—but I saw that websites barely use base concepts which were then linked to how they were visualized and coded. It’s been prevalent in branding and advertising for a long time, so by bringing little neat ideas into something, you skip the cue because something doesn’t need to look or be the most beautiful thing in the world because there’s an idea which holds it together. Even now, I see amazing sites which don’t have an idea. They used to absolutely murder me mentally when I saw them, but they don’t anymore because I have my thing. But it’s a niche, and it’s not easy to find.

I’d also say be scared if your work from now looks similar to your work two to three years ago. It’s easy to get into that when you know something will work under a tough deadline, but it’s good to try new things—especially when young, I think.



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