How I moved from Paintbrush to Pixels…
Episode 1 – Blazing desktops
I started my career in the mid-eighties as a video editor for Nottinghamshire’s Fire and Rescue Service. I was interested in computers from the start of the ‘home computer’ boom in 1983, working with several machines including the BBC micro, Yamaha MSX, Commodore Amiga and the Apple Macintosh.
During this period I also gained experience with offline edit suites, TV paintbox systems and MIDI audio devices – all of which required an element of computer sequencing but it was Apple Macintosh that would make the biggest impact on my career.
Leading, galleys and laserwriters…
In 1987 I enjoyed some notoriety in ‘Sound on Sound’ magazine after publishing what was billed as ‘the UK’s first computer generated cartoon strip’. Each strip was painstakingly constructed from black and white bitmaps created in early graphic packages; MacPaint and SuperPaint.
The breakthrough came in 1988 when I was asked to represent the AppleCentre network as a demonstrator at the ten-day International Print Exhibition (IPEX) using a new generation of object-orientated software tools; notably Adobe Illustrator 88 and Aldus PageMaker, and high-resolution scanning devices and professional imagesetters supplied by Agfa and Linotype.
After IPEX88 I continued to work with KRCS Group as an Apple software specialist, training publishers and creative agencies across the East Midlands, London and the Home Counties. I worked with several leading media agencies, including Saatchi & Saatchi, Abbott Mead Vickers (AMV BBDO) and Patterson Horswell Durden (PHD)and worked within corporate environments, always pushing at the boundaries of what was possible with the available technology.
Touchy, feely, retail apps…
In 1994 I left KRCS to become an Art Director at Cross Hill Conwill (CHC) heading up the agency’s new-media division. In those days we produced CD-ROM titles and touchscreen applications for retail environments using interactive software tools like Macromedia Director and Authorware.
I enjoyed some success partnering with Philips and Cambridge Multimedia Group, developing applications for the Philips CDi (Compact Disc Interactive) format – a forerunner to DVD. These early point-of-sale touchscreen applications attracted interest from the Interactive Media In Retail Group (IMRG) but being largely disc-based, the potential for data-capture and software updates was somewhat limited.
Network democratisation at work…
I’d used private networking services like Microsoft Mail, AppleLink and BT Kilostream services in the 80′s but access was prohibitively expensive and only really available to large corporates and specialised print-publishing companies.
By the end of 1994 there was a significant technological shift with the launch of Demon Internet’s subscription-based dial-up service. This neatly coincided with the arrival of Mosaic, the very first web browser to have a graphical interface. Just like the desktop publishing revolution a decade before, the internet revolution arrived first on the Mac. Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer soon followed along with a slew of magazine titles, ISPs and hungry search engines, including AltaVista, Magellen, Excite and Yahoo. – The World Wide Web had arrived.
Public acceptance and the growth of eCommerce…
By 1995 I was working with programmers on commercial websites and after a short period with Apple dealership Jigsaw Systems, I joined Headland Multimedia where I spent over ten years as an Account Director responsible for many successful ASP-based B2B and B2C eCommerce websites, including Hanson, Pace Micro, Machine Mart, KRCS Group, SGS Engineering and many more.
Production workflow based on wireframes and sitemaps has changed little since the early disc-based systems developed at CHC. Perhaps the biggest changes experienced throughout the time spent with Headland was the widespread public acceptance of the web and faster network connections which propelled eCommerce and data capture to new levels.
Mobile, Social and ubiquitous technology…
In 2010, the accelerated shift towards more distributed, mobile internet access lead me to taking up a post at Leicestershire-based Cuttlefish Multimedia, working alongside long-time associate and digital artist Sean Clark.
Cuttlefish is very much focussed on creativity and innovation and appreciates the new distributed social landscape of the web as evidenced by its recent portfolio. I recently project managed a major Cultural Olympiad project (Empedia) and I am currently working on a range of integrated web and mobile solutions for the arts, public and private sectors.
The Dreamtargets website evolved out of an experimental site called XPOhaas. It was through this site and early online forums operated by Demon, ICQ and Geocities where I learned to write HTML code and communicate with a web community which at that time was predominantly made up of American undergraduates.
There were a few UK practitioners like Sean, then working as a Research Fellow at the Derby Research Centre (DRC) and later playing a major role in developing some of the early websites for Cross Hill Conwill and Headland. In the early days, the internet phenomenon was often dismissed by established marketeers as something that would never catch on – how wrong they were!
Dreamtargets was a natural successor to XPOhaas. Developed in 1999 to showcase creative work on the web and engage with a growing online community. I took the name from an art school notebook dating back to 1983 when I was a student at Leeds Polytechnic (Leeds Met).
As a fine art student I used to construct picture titles, poems and song lyrics using the ‘cut-up’ collage technique developed by William Burroughs which involves cutting up text then reassembling words at random to create interesting juxtapositions. The technique has been used by many other art students, most notably by David Bowie.
‘Cut-up’ it’s great fun especially if you enter a few friends names into the mix.
Are you listed?
Dreamtargets gained in popularity after the addition of a friends area entitled “Are You Listed” The idea was simple; I listed all the friends and colleagues I’d ever known, added a few archive photographs and waited for the search engines to do their stuff. These flat HTML pages were perfectly optimised so that old friends found the website the moment they keyed their name into a browser.
This was in the days before Facebook and other social networks had captured the public imagination but the basic premise was the same. Dreamtargets was also a repository for anecdotes relating to growing up in the North Notts coalfield in the 1960′s and 70′s.
The site became instrumental in gathering contacts and content for a local history book ‘Nottingham in the 1980s‘ co-authored by myself and Chris Richards and published by Tempus Publishing in 2002.
Dreamtargets also existed as a kind of ‘sandbox’ for trying out new ideas and was warmly praised by Apple Fellow and tech evangelist Guy Kawasaki for its pioneering use of panoramic video (QuickTime VR). The technique was later employed in my website for the Development Board for Rural Wales (DBRW) and subsequently went on to win an advertising Cream Award.
I also managed to dupe Kawasaki and other Apple evangelists by posting a convincing ‘April Fool’ spoof which leaked details of a device I called the ‘Apple Clockworker’ The illustrated piece described a hand-held touchscreen device incorporating a clockwork power mechanism allegedly devised by British engineer Trevor Baylis. (I know it sounds good even by today’s standards!)
During the latter half of the noughties,Dreamtargets languished as static webpage creation was outpaced by database-driven Content Management Systems (CMS) and social media platforms like Facebook, Flickr and YouTube.
Previous attempts to incorporate blog posts into the site failed as the user interfaces were often difficult too clunky and the resulting code often compromised my beautiful old-school nested HTML table-structures. These days I’m less precious over visual design and believe that CMS platforms have come a long way. It’s now more about ‘content’ which is a good thing.
I’m currently going through a process of migrating some old webpages to the new WordPress site and you can still access about 90 percent of the old site content through the Dreamtargets back door. I still get a fair amount of site traffic from these old pages so Google clearly likes them.
In the meantime I encourage visitors to have a look around and if you are interested in using my services, please get in touch.
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