Creative Inspirations: Hello Design, Interactive Design Studio
Illustration by John Hersey

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Video: Act 1: Meet Hello Design

David Lai: For me that journey at college to "what do I do afterward" really was sort of a big question. Even if I went to school I felt like I wouldn't really be studying what I wanted to do, which was really more web digital interactive design. So I sort of figured maybe I should go learn from the people who are doing it, that are doing it right now. I found this amazing digital shop called Cow in Santa Monica started by five Art Center students.
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1h 21m Appropriate for all Feb 18, 2011

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After graduating from an Ivy League school, Hello Design CEO and Creative Director David Lai considered attending Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He had heard great things about the school, but in the early days of interactive design, its program wasn't fully developed. Flash forward only six months and David was teaching at Art Center. It's this passion to learn, discover, and teach that propelled Hello so quickly to the front of the interactive pack. With prestigious clients like Herman Miller, The Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Taylor Made Golf, they innovate as they create. Hello draws from a bottomless toolbox, trying the untried and making it sing.

In this installment of Creative Inspirations, watch an iPhone conduct a symphony orchestra, a golf club sell itself, and a talented designer learn to make a fine espresso as we present Hello Design, Interactive Design Studio.

Hello Design

Act 1: Meet Hello Design

David Lai: For me that journey at college to "what do I do afterward" really was sort of a big question. Even if I went to school I felt like I wouldn't really be studying what I wanted to do, which was really more web digital interactive design. So I sort of figured maybe I should go learn from the people who are doing it, that are doing it right now. I found this amazing digital shop called Cow in Santa Monica started by five Art Center students.

They too were really passionate. Because I think even when they were in school they wasn't digital program. So they created their own. So I went to work there and that's where I met Hiro, a really talented designer. I never would have I thought we would be future business partners, but you never know. You never know where you run into somebody where you may find Synergy or a way to sort of work better. Hiro was freelancing at the time and I was figuring out the chicken and egg dilemma, like do I just start a company and get clients or do I have clients and then start the company? And as fate would have it the Getty Museum called and asked me if I wanted to pitch them to redesign their web site.

That's what I invited Hiro to co-pitch this together. We actually crafted this little booklet actually. On the cover Hiro had written something like "why the Getty should hire us" or something and I deleted it and put in big green letters "Hello, meet David and Hiro." I think when we gave that to the Getty they thought that was the name of our company. So we laughed, but when we thought about it, it made a lot sense. I mean "hello" is about communication. It's a greeting. You don't say that to somebody you don't want to have a relationship with.

And actuarially, what the web is about, it's not about just disseminating information. It's about creating experiences for people to build those relationships, to have dialog and connection. That's what we do as designers. We're connecting people. We made the commitment though to make this a real company, that we weren't going to just be a band of freelancers sitting in our living rooms. We really wanted to make the commitment of separating work and sort of personnel life. So probably within the first month we actually started scouting spaces.

This is where we started back in 1999. This is our first space in Culver City. You can see this is side street off of a main street here, but really it was perfect for us, because we didn't want to be on that main retail street. We wanted the side street. The smaller the better. We actually built one thing in the space, which was a little wall with a counter so we can sit and eat lunch there. That was the only thing we built and then this space back here was just workspace. This is where we started.

So we moved from the smallest space in this building actually to the biggest space within six months. This place was all empty. There was nothing. There was no wall or no conference room. There was literally nothing. So as designers we felt like we had to design this space. We tried to make workstations to be really simple and practical. So these are half-height cubicles that we made out of plywood. All of the desks are actually just solid core doors. So really simple. This was probably our biggest splurge was to create this glass conference room.

Partially because this is an L-shaped space. So by pulling the conference room out, we could let light in. By using glass it doesn't feel so small. It lets it feel more open. We've got designers sitting next to programmers, next to strategists. So it's really a hodgepodge of people. We really try not to have departments or areas that people have to sit in. I think that really creates a good sense of cross pollination, letting people get up and talk to other people. When we first moved in obviously we didn't have this long row of desks actually.

We had this big empty space in the middle and I think we had a ping-pong table in the middle. I think we've always had this slow growth mentality, even when it came to do we open up another office in New York? We made the conscious decision that we weren't going to just do it to do it, partially because we felt like the connection, needing to be here to look over the work, is really part of the process. So again I think that that sort of environment is really important to being able to do good work. So we created one of the first touchscreens for TaylorMade Golf at retail.

So that basically means it's a touchscreen that you can come up to when you're looking at clubs and you can learn more about the clubs and you can get tips and things from the pro golfers and things like that. Hiro Niwa: Basically, you touch anywhere to stop the video and start the kiosk. So as I touch it at first you're being presented with a simple menu. There are categories like Metalwoods, Irons, Wedge, and Penta Ball. And these are the main categories of products that TaylorMade specializes in. There are also sections like Tour Pros, which is where they can get the news about the shows, and this kiosk gets WiFi enabled.

So this information can be remotely changed from a central location. So right now the TaylorMade is offering two main Metalwoods groups of products. One is Burner and R9. So TaylorMade offers new clubs every year so this next year they're coming with a new set of R9s and different Burner system. So again this is easily updatable to be refreshed next year. David Lai: We're really talking about things we truly believe in. If we don't feel good about it, we're not going to sell that to a client.

We realize that we needed to shift the way we think about our business a few years ago, because we realize that we in way we're already sort of like a digital agency for some of these clients, where we've done work for them year after year. We start thinking, well, why don't we just be their digital agency? So we started forming relationships with our clients. Clients are investing in us and we're coming back with investing in their business as well, through ideas, through the time and energy we put into that.

That sort of base retainer allows us to think about our clients on an ongoing basis so that we're just thinking about them on a per-project basis. It's a very different model. Scott Arenstein: One of our newest clients is Tillamook. Tillamook is a dairy products company and they're most famous for cheese. Specifically their medium cheddar. It's award-winning and here is baby loaf of the medium cheddar cheese. So they came to us with a challenge of really, they were revitalizing a lot of marketing stuff and really came to us with how can we have a digital presence that really speaks to the brand and speaks to the product, but also they have a very loyal and enthusiastic fan base and audience.

When they called us we're really excited, because we had a ton of Tillamook in our refrigerators. We are now their digital agency of record. It means that we're truly invested in their brand. It means that were constantly thinking about Tillamook 24/7. Meaning that everything they're doing online to social media to physical experiences like their events or the cheese factory, we're constantly thinking about how digital translates to their consumers. David Lai: Right now our focus is on building a foundation.

That foundation starts with web platform. So it's really their web site. Currently, they have something like five separate web sites. We're really trying to consolidate those experiences into one place. They have this tagline of "Tastes better, because it's made better." For us, we really wanted to understand what that means. That meant that we actually had to go and experience that for ourselves. We actually had to go onto the farms, we had to see why is their milk better, we had to pet the cows and see that they really were there.

As we think about the web site, we're actually connecting back to our experience on the farm. You get to see how they make it, you get to actually obviously taste it. They make, as Scott was saying, cheese, but they also make ice cream. So we got to eat a little bit. Actually, we got to eat a lot of both. So, yeah, of course, for research that's really important part of our process. Scott Arenstein: We're 100% behind the brand and 100% behind their idea. If it works, it's great. If not, we're accountable for that. Then we learn from it.

David Lai: We really want our clients to feel like we are a specialized unit, but we are a part of their team. We are a partner. We are a collaborator. And ultimately that's what leads to great work. Scott Arenstein: We've always loved Herman Miller. I mean, we have sort of our dream client list and Herman Miller was like on the top of it. We have been sitting in Aeron chairs for 12 years now and one of our jobs is to really bring new ideas to the table, whether that be looking at how the digital toolset changes to new creative ideas.

One thing that we always talk to Herman Miller about is how to we elevate the brand. How do people associate an Aeron chair with Herman Miller? Because what we heard we talked to people is that people can identify what the Aeron chair is, but they don't necessarily know who makes it. So one of our ideas was Design for You contest. Over the course of about six to eight weeks these different prizes unlock and the more people that sign up, the more prizes they can unlock. They start off smaller, so there are some smaller prizes you could win early on and as the contest goes on, the prizes get bigger and at the very end there is this grand prize.

We got very excited about partnering with artists who created one-of-one limited edition chairs. [00:12.13.08] David Lai: So you'll see here actually drawing, painting, using X-Acto knives.

We wanted to bring in some of their own personalities and elements. So you see like his tattoo, the notion was sort of creating beautiful chairs. And that was what the artists were doing, but then we sort of joked about what are we're doing? In a way we're creating art from their art. If you think about it, because we need to tell the story, we needed to show their art with great photography, great video. Because otherwise it's not like these chairs are just sitting in boxes and getting shipped out to people.

Rather it's the fact that we are trying to bring that story to life. So that's sort of our art. We made conscious decisions. We shot. We talked about shooting really close-up shots of brush. Hajime Himeno: Really like really beautiful shots. But also kind of like getting these behind the scenes kind of showing the... David Lai: Yeah. You didn't always know what you're looking at, I guess, but at the end of the day if people go I really want that chair, then we've done our job. So ultimately that was what we're building is telling that story so that people don't go, "Yeah, it just looks like somebody painted a chair." Rather they see the blood, sweat, and tears that went into it.

There is the beauty even in just seeing them work. We found that interesting. We felt like other people needed to see that. So that's really the reason that we did this.

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