It’s not easy watching Formula One motor racing. But it is rewarding. Basically the cars race in a circle, and it’s down to the driver to avoid crashing into other racers or spinning off at the corners. As an exercise in stamina and pure athleticism, watching the drivers certainly is some show. But it is taxing to watch. The payoff isn’t immediate like track and field. And it isn’t dramatic like NFL or soccer. In F1 watching the driver is technical and demanding on you as a viewer. But the driver in the race isn’t all you need watch.
Every race comes down to a mixture of four things. Which is why F1 is such a great representation of everything we do as a society. The athleticism is one of the four. Another is the technology. Have the structural engineers on the design team managed to sculpt exactly the right car to produce enough downforce, to get to right brake balance to get the perfect speed in the straights and the advantage in the corners? A third aspect is race strategy. How fast do drivers need to be going, when do they need to pit to gain maximum advantage from their tires, how can they leapfrog drivers six or seven cars ahead of them in 12 laps time? And the fourth is business itself. Can the team boss make exactly the right deals in terms of branding and partnerships to yield sufficient funding for the other three sectors?
With transmedia company Radical, it’s easy to see how their corporate environment runs along similar principles to an F1 team. There’s a precision and a dynamism that is demanded by looking at the entertainment industry as needing to produce transmedia objects. Radical does not fail setting the standard for, and exceeding the precision and the dynamism demanded by the situation. If you extend the Formula One analogy, Radical’s Chief Marketing Officer and head of their San Francisco-based multimedia wing, David Bass, is Radical’s chief designer. David sculpts to precision the kind of multimedia experiences that allow consumers to experience Radical properties in a digital domain.
When he speaks to me, David exudes precision and control. It’s clear that he moves from a core philosophy; that everything he designs (from the company website to iOS game for the critically acclaimed Shrapnel) is centered around the principle of horse-and-rider-as-one. What is the experience the consumer is meant to have? How can the digital experience help shape their experience of the product? And how easy is it to find and access the product.
Radical’s recent design of its website under David has made these very concerns central to the experience of the website. On the relaunched site, Radical News’ YouTube stream can be viewed just as easily as the Radical store can find and allow you to purchase any Radical product, just as easily as all Radical mentions in the press are re-listed.
The real challenge was to avoid clutter and to promote ease of access while continuing to list the full scope of Radical’s impact. David’s sensibilities about the human experience of technology seems to key him into exactly what makes design such a crucial element in marketing. During our conversation, he muses out loud about the areas beyond his control.
“I’m very interested observing the smartphone ‘wars'”, David says almost conspiratorially. He goes on to speak about Apple’s walled garden approach versus Google’s wide-open-spaces on its Android devices. Gut instinct would seem to suggest that Apple’s approach would sink creativity. Controlling even the smallest interactions between vendors and consumers would be detrimental wouldn’t it? But David’s mind is geared to understanding the complexity of the system rather than expressing preferences that would rise from simply being a consumer.
“Apple’s advantage is making their vendors’ products easily accessible”, then David’s mind leaps to the logical conclusion before I can voice the followup. “It’s harder to find apps for Android phones, but I’m interested to see what comes of the deal between Nokia and Microsoft”. Talking with David it’s clear that there’s a mind at work, perpetually working. It’s the kind of mind that fosters trust in a process-oriented design workflow.
But what does David’s precision mindset bring to engagement with creators?
“Jimmy (Palmiotti, creator of Time Bomb) is a great example of our process. He dialogues constantly with Editorial staff, and with our art group. Every week we have meetings to discuss where we were are from the standpoint of the creative aspects of the content generation; art, storyline etcetera. But the thing we also do with creators is work with them on the social media strategy of the thing we’re doing around their content. We’re very engaged.
“An example is a book we have coming out early next year, Jake the Dreaming. It’s one of our flagship products. And the two folks on that side are very engaged with where we’re going and what we’re trying to do strategy-wise… We’re very excited about Jake the Dreaming, you’re going to see some things from a marketing perspective that we’ve never done before. We’re actually just kicking off a bunch of focus groups with moms and teens around the country to get feedback on the imagery, on the pricing, on the size of the book… We’re very engaged by that creative team, but it’s important that we don’t dictate to the creators how things are going to be done.
“For me it comes back to that Silicon Valley analogy”, David says referencing the first phase of his career in IT where he was part of the team developing pioneer software experiences like Carmen San Diego and the Oregon Trail. “You need to take in as much data as you can, from the various stakeholders; the stakeholders are your creators, the stakeholders are your retailers who sell your products (whether that’s physical or digital), the stakeholders are your general populace… and if you combine all those things, you win. If you try to shove something down somebody’s throat, it usually tends to not do very well.
“So I feel we’re very fortunate from the creative side.”
It’s hard to miss the clear enthusiasm in David’s voice. There’s no missing out these things matter deeply to him; the precision of sculpting the perfect user-driven experience, preserving a clear space for the creativity of the talent, the ambition to succeed in virgin territory where no company has tread before.
Talking to David, Radical begins to feel less and less like a company, and more like an ideal.