In the short while Mindflood has been around, it's built up an enviable reputation for creating imaginative websites laced with fun and good humour. "The thing that ties it together," they tell Jason Arber, "is never taking ourselves too seriously!"
If Mindflood's Chris Lund is to be believed, the company started back in 1976 when his Dad looked at his mother with a twinkle in his eye. One glance at the agency's website and it's easy to believe: it's a retro homage to a simpler time when computers were room-sized and a wood-panelled office was the latest hip thing.
Behind the late 1970s chic, retro computer porn and nonsensical marketing speak ("Our computers can handle it" claims Mindflood's 'brand champion' Sinclair Spectrum, with a knowing wink) is a slickly created Flash site full of Easter Eggs and Monty-Pythonesque humour. In actual fact, Mindflood began in the autumn of 2004, in a tiny executive suite next to an airport in sunny California, started by three friends Chris Lund, Noah Costello and Chris Kief. "They were humble beginnings for sure," says Kief.
The trio were extremely fortunate to share not only a common vision, but also the complimentary skillsets to make it work: Lund handled concepts and creative, Costello did some creative and managed clients, and Kief took care of programming and server-side development.
In less than two years, Mindflood has trebled in size, adding project manager Jami Eidsvold, Canadian super-designer Mike Hansen, ActionScript master John Mastri, developer David Cook and designers Lloyd Bagtas and Tommy Seo. "We're slowly growing things as we need to," says Kief, "but we're definitely not focused on becoming a large agency just for the sake of it. We want to ensure that we continue to create the same level of work for our clients whether we're a team of three or 30 people."
"Our strategy has always been to slowly add core people as the workload allows," Costello continues. "We avoid overextending ourselves. I have a fear of dipping into a line of credit to make payroll. That fear results in us making good business decisions when it comes to hiring. We want to avoid ending up in a situation where we have to take undesirable work just to pay the bills."
When it comes to the company name, Lund wishes there was some deep meaning to reveal. "Sadly, it came from throwing random words together in a desperate attempt to find an available .com," Kief admits. "We wanted something that was short and didn't contain the words interactive, design or studio." The three partners got lucky and unanimously agreed that the name had legs, and - most importantly - the .com wasn't taken.
A quick flick through Mindflood's portfolio reveals some big name clients, such as Nokia, Red Bull, Burger King, Toshiba and a slew of car manufacturers such as VW, Toyota and Nissan. The work boils down to great concepts, slickly and seamlessly executed in Flash. When pressed on what defines the Mindflood style, Costello snappily and succinctly describes it as, "Fun, flamboyant, and functional."
The emphasis on Flash is interesting. "For us things have sort of evolved into a relationship with Flash," says Costello. "Flash makes us feel things Hyper Text Markup Language never could. She keeps us happy and nurtures our creativity. Sometimes she plays with our emotions and teases us with things like Alpha Channels, Blend Modes and Motion Blurs. Just when you think its time to take the relationship to the next level Flash slows things down and breaks your heart, but you always end up coming back for more. Because you know that you just aren't going to find anyone better."
Flash isn't known for its accessibility, or ability to get on with the screen readers used by the visually impaired, and this is an issue that's becoming more and more common on both sides of the Atlantic. Using Flash invariably cuts some people out of the loop. "We can only do so much," says Kief. "Adobe has provided some small usability improvements over the last couple of versions, but they're hardly adequate. The key is to understand your audience and develop accordingly."
Costello has an interesting take on what drives Mindflood's creativity and stops them from getting stale. "I think it is something you have inside you that never goes away," he says. "This goes for programmers or designers. As you satisfy your need to be creative it grows and changes. It will likely manifest itself throughout our lives in different ways, but it never goes away." Lund adds that another motivating factor is paying the rent, while Kief suspects the key might be his team pep talks, such as, "Can't you guys come up with anything better?"
Like most designers, Mindflood has recently been seduced by Steve Jobs' 'Reality Distortion Field' and has discovered the beauty and simplicity that is the Mac. "Prior to that we struggled our way through on PCs," says Costello. "The new Mac campaign that represents the two sides with human personalities is truly brilliant. It really couldn't be better stated than in those spots."
"Macs just work," chimes Lund. "I've always had this internal struggle because computers really annoy me - much the way a painter would appreciate his brush, I appreciate my computer, as a tool. But I wouldn't be the painter who knows about 45 different brands of brushes, knows how to tweak his brush out for maximum results and knows how to remove spyware that has been slowing his brush down. Macs just provide one great brush for everything, allowing me to focus more on the work that needs to be done."
So that's the hardware covered, but what applications do the Mindflood team use, apart from the ubiquitous Flash and Photoshop? Considering the amount of motion graphics implemented in its Flash sites, it comes as no surprise to learn that After Effects and Apple's Final Cut Pro feature prominently in Mindflood's software arsenal. "We try to stay technologically agnostic when it comes to implementing a project," says Kief. "The infrastructure of our clients varies a great deal, so we make it a point to work within their requirements, not ours."
Despite the information superhighway bringing people all over the world closer together, Mindflood still considers itself an American company. "But at the same time, it doesn't really matter," says Kief. "As long as we're available when needed, our clients aren't very concerned with where we are located. But those 3am conference calls with Europe definitely hurt!"
"They say the world is flat these days," adds Costello, "but things are still challenging when you are in different time zones. From a communication standpoint it isn't a problem, but this industry is very deadline based. Often you have very inflexible timelines for projects that coincide with big advertising campaigns and offline media buys. You have to make the project milestones no matter what it takes. This can be pretty stressful when you aren't in the same place as the client."
So, can Mindflood's computers really handle it? "Once [clients] get their first look at Sinclair Spectrum, with that confident gleam in his eye, all doubts are washed away," says Costello, although Kief notes: "We did have one power supply go up in smoke last year. The site may need a disclaimer if that happens again."
"Concept is key"
Make the most of Mindflood's current site while you can, because changes are afoot and a new Mindflood site is now in development. "We may focus more on 'love' than 'retro' next time around," says Costello. "Often the concepts that we come up with are more entertaining to us than others. It makes a project more enjoyable for the team. The retro theme was great because we were able to poke fun at ourselves, and the industry in general. Too many people take themselves too seriously with technology and buzzwords."
"We melded the past and present for an interesting mix of nerds and technology," Costello continues. "Writing the copy was a lot of fun, and ideas were bouncing off everyone during conception. The result is a great site and a few other gems, such as The Executive 64, which can be found at mindflood.com/executive.cfm."
"Concept is key and there is so little of it in interactive design, although things are changing," says Kief. "People are realising that great work, work that invokes a deeper response from your audience, comes from a great idea backed up by exceptional execution. It's not just design or development - it's the seamless integration of all the pieces that really sets you apart."
Although Mindflood wouldn't divulge any real clues as to what the new direction may look like, Lund did give us a teaser. "Prepare to be seduced," he says, with a sly glint in his eye.