Mar 18, 2009

How Did We Get Here?


Recently Hot Studio was profiled in a documentary for The video is mostly interviews with several of us explaining the work we do and how we do it. Creative Inspirations video Creative Inspirations video

Soon after it launched, we received this email:

First, I'm not looking for a job, just looking for answers. I saw your videos on and wanted to know how some of the people in the video knew what they wanted to do in their lives? How long did they have to wait to find out? You're all so blessed to work at such a great and open, creative place.

Many of us do feel blessed to work at Hot. It’s so rare to work in a place that embraces individual creativity. However, if you'd asked me what I wanted to do with my life when I was first starting my career, it would not have occurred to me to say I wanted to work in a design agency. I took a pretty circuitous path to get here, which included cocktail waitressing, union organizing, newspaper reporting, screening clients for a law office, teaching English in South America, and lots of traveling. I thought I'd eventually settle into a career as a writer or a documentary filmmaker. I fell into the web world because that's where the opportunities were. I worked at several agencies and freelanced before joining Hot. But once I got here, I knew I was in the right place. (It will be my six year anniversary here this fall.) I think finding the right group of people to work with is almost as important (dare I say, MORE important) than the career path you pick. So I know I'm in the right place, even though I still don't feel like I've figured out what I want to do when I grow up.

If you’re a Lynda subscriber, you can watch the whole video in the Creative Inspirations series. If not, Lynda and her pals have generously offered free access for 24 hours. Just use this link, which will also give you a free trial to the entire online training library. (Good stuff!)

Here’s what some of my colleagues have to say about how they ended up at Hot.

Maria Giudice (Founder, CEO)
From as early as I can remember, I wanted to be an artist. I began taking painting lessons when I was around 10 years old. I got into lettering, sign painting and calligraphy in junior high school. In high school, I was the layout editor of the yearbook where I got interested in graphic design (but didn't realize that until much later on). In the early 1980's, I went to college at the prestigious Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the only tuition-free school in the country. Cooper Union is comprised of three separate schools: Art, Engineering and Architecture. Although I attended the Art school, I was also strangely interested in Architecture and Engineering. These were the days before the Mac, when everything was hand-drawn and layout was done by paste-up and mechanicals. For some strange reason I wanted to learn about computers, so I took a Fortran computer programming course that the Engineering School offered, which did not come easily to me and I struggled to understand. I learned how to make random visualizations through code. It seemed like magic to me. Little did I know that after all these years, the relationship to art, architecture and engineering would play such a huge role of my life. How did Peter Cooper, who founded Cooper Union in the 1800's have such vision and foresight? I worked hard to get to where I am in my life today, but I will also always feel incredibly lucky that I knew early on that this would be my path in life. I tell my kids this: You can do whatever you want in life, just make sure you love what you do and strive to do your best.

Renee Anderson (Director, User Experience)
I entered the web design world by accident. I wanted to be a print designer, specifically designing beautiful books for publishers like Chronicle. In graduate school where I was doing the graphic design program, I fortuitously took a continuing education class called Political Graphics, taught by a friend of Maria's (the founder of Hot). I stayed in touch with the professor who later introduced me to Maria, who then hired me, back when Hot was still doing a lot of print work. Hot eventually shifted mainly to web work, and I followed along, learning information architecture and interaction design on the job, and quickly moved from visual design into the world of user experience. Did I know this was what I was going to end up doing? No way. Am I glad it's happened? Yes. I didn't know this was going to be my career, and I still can't say that this is what I want to do forever, but its a great place to work with great projects and people. Until I figure out what I want to do when I grow up, I wouldn't be anyplace else.

Henrik Olsen (Creative Director)
I knew I wanted to be a designer when I was in high school, because I enjoyed making things. I did not know until the end of college that I wanted to be a graphic designer, after I did an internship with an architecture firm. The interest and passion for design grows. In the beginning it was a slight area I thought might be interesting, but year after year, I seem to get more interested. It's like golf, you can always do better. I did not know I wanted to be a web site designer until I was introduced to the web when I was 28 years old.

Michael Polivka (Head of Project Management and Technology)
I was always building things as a kid—model cars, forts, mini-bikes, even my own guitar. In junior high my guidance counselor sat down with me to help 'plan my career'. She pointed out my strong illustration skills and suggested I take the commercial arts program in high school. I was debating auto mechanics, but she really stressed that I had a gift for the arts, and I took her advice. I was a natural illustrator and used those skills to get a much needed scholarship into an art and design college. I had no idea what I was actually doing at this point in my life, other than going with the flow with skills that came naturally for me. But in college I had to make choices—and I opted for an advertising design degree over illustration, mostly due to the security that a full time job would bring. This led me to getting into computers via desktop publishing classes—which I vocally protested until I first sat down in front of a Macintosh. The computer changed my life. It merged my technical and creative interests like nothing ever before. I was fortunate enough to work my way into an up and coming interactive shop in the same city I graduated college from, and wore many hats over the course of 7 years there; visual designer, information architect, audio and video technician, and developer. Somewhere in all of this my boss noted my ability to make things happen in a team environment. My organization skills melded with my creative interests and I found myself as a producer, leading a variety of teams across several media types, with several more companies. Recently, I've focused on understanding the skills of those around me, and helping to bring those out for the whole team to benefit from. With all that, I didn't ever set out to become something with more than 6 months visibility into the next role. Paths presented themselves, and my gut led the way. I've made my share of mistakes and spent a fair share of my time course correcting, as we all do. It's been over 15 years since I graduated from college and working full-time in the creative industry. I've always been in a creative environment in my career, and always will. That's the common thread. I'm incredibly thankful to be working with such a great group of people.