2Advanced is one of the most respected design agencies on the planet. Chief creative officer and president Eric Jordan tells Oliver Lindberg how Flash changed his life, what he’s looking forward to in 2009 and why DJing keeps him sane
Whenever Eric Jordan immerses himself in a project, he doesn’t really sleep. He puts on his headphones and spends dozens upon dozens of hours in front of the computer, working through nights and weekends. Fortunately, the hard work always pays off. Californian digital agency 2Advanced has been at the forefront of innovation for almost 10 years. When it unleashes a new site, the whole web world sits up and takes note.
For Eric Jordan, president and chief creative officer at 2Advanced, it’s a dream come true. “This will probably frighten some people,” he laughs, “But I’d probably do this for free if I could. It’s really not a job to me. I’m able to create art for a living and I think that’s all anyone can ever hope for.”
It was a really powerful and defining moment in my life to find Flash
Originally, Eric wanted to be a comic book artist. “I realised that I loved telling stories,” he explains. “I was using PowerPoint to try to create little movies that would flash from image to image. I eventually realised how limiting it was and, when Flash came about, it completely transformed everything for me. I was able to bring all these things to bear with sound and motion. It was a really powerful and defining moment in my life to find Flash.”
Eric’s first piece of Flash work was on his own 2Advanced.com, at the time just a small but very popular portfolio site. Then, in 2000, he wrote a chapter for a book called New Masters of Flash. Suddenly, Eric received recognition around the world, so he teamed up with a couple of friends and colleagues, John Carroll and Tony Novak, and turned 2Advanced into a company. Version three of the site, created in 2001, was later voted The FWA’s ‘Most influential Flash site of the decade’.
Today, 2Advanced is one of the most praised design companies in the world. Still, with just 25 employees, it’s stayed small. The team, which manages to work on around 25 projects a year, is like a family, and business titles don’t really mean a lot. The only overseas office is in Japan, although an expansion to Europe is in the pipeline. A year ago 2Advanced moved out of its first little studio and to much bigger headquarters, which Eric designed most of the furniture for.
Eric Jordan himself has turned into an idol for a new generation of web designers. “It’s such an honour,” he says. “You know, we live in such dark times and people don’t know where the world is really going. So I try to offer them a beacon of light to show them that there’s hope. That’s been kind of my message that I instilled in all my design.”
His futuristic style is instantly recognisable. He calls it ‘progressive design technology’, a phrase 2Advanced has registered as a trademark. “It’s an idea that everything is always moving forward, always changing, always dynamic. Staying in your safe zone doesn’t change things, so you have to innovate and try to transform the medium to keep it moving. So right now I’m focusing on evolving my style. I’m undergoing a sense of change within myself. I need to take things to the next level.”
Whatever I can pick up on throughout the day that I can hold onto, I usually bring that to bear on a project
Clients expect a lot from an innovative agency such as 2Advanced, so how does Eric continually come up with something new? “Everyone gets their inspiration from the outside world,” he explains. “The only difference is what the person chooses to illuminate. I’m always keeping myself aware of my surroundings and keeping my mind tuned to what I find is beautiful. Whatever I can pick up on throughout the day that I can hold onto, I usually bring that to bear on a project. For example, if I’m sitting in a car and watching the rays of light bend through the glass, I hold on to that moment and later recall it when I’m creating a project. I’ll try to emulate that effect in 3D if I think it’s applicable.”
Once creative block hits – and even 2Advanced’s chief creative officer gets it, he assures us – Eric meditates, exercises and does yoga. He tries to take time away from the computer and technology to bring back his sense of vision. That’s where Eric’s hobby, his passion for trance and house music, comes in handy. He regularly DJs around southern California and releases mixes at his audio blog. It keeps him sane. “DJing is also a form of storytelling,” he says, “you’re taking someone on a journey. With Neverrain, I try to create sets that inspire designers and give them a platform where they can drift off into another world for a little bit. Music and design are very much tied together, I think.”
Recently, 2Advanced has worked with a lot of video game companies to create Flash UIs for games, has been involved in designing menu systems and opening sequences for various movies and has even created a line of vinyl toy figurines for Adobe products. Pure web design, however, still accounts for about 80 per cent of the business. “That’ll always be our core, and I never want to move away from that,” Eric enthuses. “Web design is really where my heart will always be.”
The same applies to Flash. “It always comes back to Flash for me,” he says. “Just being able to have a program that can do so many things … Flash can do whatever a designer can imagine it can do. There are no limitations except for your imagination. That’s what’s so great about it.”
The future of Flash
Currently, Eric is really excited about Flash’s integration with 3D in CS4. It’s now so much easier to import models and bring them into your composition, which is incredibly helpful for somebody who uses a lot of 3D as Eric does. And then there’s Papervision, of course.
To be able to give a sense of 3D on the web is something that I’ve always dreamed about and always wanted to see happen
“Papervision is an enormous breakthrough,” Eric says. “To be able to give a sense of 3D on the web is something that I’ve always dreamed about and always wanted to see happen. It seems with Papervision that’s finally starting to get here and I think it’s just the first stepping stone to something even bigger. Full motion 3D environments will transform the web completely.”
Also big in 2009, Eric reckons, will be Flash on mobile devices and smartphones. In November Adobe announced a deal with mobile processor manufacturer ARM to bring Flash 10 and Air to ARM powered devices. ARM’s processors can be found in around 90 per cent of mobile phones, as well as portable media players and consoles such as the Nintendo DS. Since the majority of mobiles currently only use Flash Lite, Eric understandably can’t wait to get involved and begin to create mobile web apps.
Eric is always excited about pushing Flash further. Version five of 2Advanced.com, dubbed Attractor, has already pushed Flash’s usability by making it possible to bookmark and link to specific sections of the site. So naturally Eric welcomes Adobe’s intention to make Flash more searchable. “I think it was only inevitable. It’s such a widely (and quickly) adopted technology. The world has pretty much embraced it as the new method of delivering content. Flash is now coming into its maturity. Being able to create Adobe Air applications, things like Flex – all this is defining Flash as a more progressive medium to deliver content more effectively and intuitively.”
2Advanced.com version six is in the works, but not even Eric knows when it’ll be released.
Always the perfectionist, he’s moving slowly. One thing’s for sure, though: the new incarnation will, as usual, push web design to its groundbreaking extremes. “2Advanced’s different versions are never just websites to me, they’re instalments in a kind of story or saga that I’m trying to bring to the world. I hope the new instalment will inspire the next generation of designers. I can just tell you that it’ll be very different to anything we’ve done before.”