Media Art, User Experience Design, and Interface Development

Leaving Sid Lee

Posted on 2011-05-09

Mat ♥ Sid

So this is it. After some three years working with Sid Lee I have decided to move on to other challenges. I was hired by Sid Lee in Montréal in spring some three years ago as an interactive developer. A year and a half later, I was transferred to the Amsterdam workshop where I eventually became one of the technical leads. I was part of the team that would provide technical council, brainstorm during creation and either assist or develop during production, depending on the needs and resources.

I would be lying if I did not say that I learned a great deal there. From advertising principles to dealing with many fields (strategy, design, accounting, etc.), I now understand the full creative flow from client requests to agency concepts to customer’s view.

Sid Lee also put a lot of confidence in me in giving me a lot of cool projects. I hadn’t been long with them that I was part of the creative team to redo their whole portfolio! I worked on beautiful projects such as Cirque du Soleil’s Criss Angel’s Believe website, the adidas Women’s Lookbook SS10. Actually, most of my portfolio currently consists of work done with Sid Lee.

There is also quite an awesome culture at Sid Lee, one I have never seen before. Never before had I been invited to a VP’s house for a BBQ, never before could I share a random drink with a partner and talk shit about anything. The people that work there are amazing and talented, so much so that there is no way you can brag about your feats, since everybody rocks.

Not everything is edible in the garden

Sid Lee's Green Room

Photo by Antti Kupila

Just as in any position, there are awesome moments and awful moments working for Sid Lee. Sometimes, communication or workflows are broken, expectations from many parties are excessive or off. I will not rip them here, for it will serve no purpose and I do not hold a grudge against anyone there.

There is one thing I did expect however. As I was hired because I have a passion for tangible computing and installation arts, I thought I would have the time/be given the opportunity to suggest paths or explore these axes.

I have come to understand that clients fear experimental technologies or ideas. In the end, technological feats, experiments or artful pieces are not what clients want, but rather they want to simply leverage technology to sell more of their product.

Which is totally normal for them, but not for me. I need to explore, I need to learn, I need to play with things, with visuals, with the tangible. Maintenance or back end is not what I am interested in doing. I need to create and build, I need to see the results of what I am building.

Will the grass really be greener on the other side?

Close up of Dr. S. Plant

So I want to move on, but move on to what? For one thing, I would really like to steer away from the web. As I said earlier, clients simply want to drive their sales. Clients do not want to sell the interactive part, they want the interaction to convert users into customers.

Game development would be, for me, the next logical step. It may be a romantic idea, but I believe that in this field, the interaction IS what you want to sell. This may motivate me to push my boundaries and work.

I would also like to go back and try to build more tangible pieces. I have dabbled in the past with sensors connected to Arduinos, Max/MSP, room-sized installations, lights, speakers, etc. Dirtying my hands while building something that is not just virtual may be a good move too.

If at all possible, living off my music or musical skills would be the best. It has nothing to do with the content of this blog really, but it is still part of me, and a possible future path.

Toil the soil and plant seeds

So, all these ideas, but what now? Well, I am heading back home to Montréal in June and I actually plan to take all of summer off, as a sabbatical. I will play with some techs, read and try gaming logics and ideas, go back to the drawing board—both literally and figuratively.

When I went to Flash on the Beach, as I mentioned before, Stefan Sagmeister‘s talk, The Power of Free Time, had a great impact on me.

When I choose to get back to the world of the working, I will not return as a full time worker. I realize that now, I need time to balance work and creation. Akin to how many women do it in the Netherlands by working either part time or not all, by choosing their personal life and emancipation before work.

I feel lucky that I stumbled upon that talk from Mike Monteiro, Design Director, and co-founder of Mule Design Studio: Fuck You. Pay Me.

I understand he speaks in harsh words, but warnings like these may help me greatly when I decide to jump into the world of freelancing.

But will I freelance? If so, will it be in the web, in games, in installations? Would I go back to give tutorials on web technologies in colleges? Or maybe go down a more creative path? After all, it does not matter. Iain Lobb retweeted Matthias Worch recently, which totally comforted me in my choice of jumping into the unknown:

4 responses to “Leaving Sid Lee”

  1. JC says:

    Dude, this is a surprise that’s leaving me happy and sad at the same time…!

    Maybe “sad” isn’t the right term, but I hope you got your fill of Amsterdam and the whole “commercial/marketing” scene.

    And of course happy you’re coming back 🙂 I really hope we’ll hang-out more often, and maybe get back to tangible projects and stuff, it’s absolutely 100% something that I’m determined to get back to in a few weeks time 🙂 And a lot of what you say about trying to find a proper medium for personally-fulfilling work & freelancing resonates with ideas I’ve been having recently, and am starting to work on slowly.

    Can’t wait to see you in good ole’ MTL!

  2. Holy crap, we really did the same move at the same time based on similar motives. I also saw that TED conference and was really inspired by it. How did your sabbatical summer went? I wanted to just work on my projects for a while but I failed and took some freelance work as soon as I got to Montreal haha! At least it was to do a game. Still working on that and part time on my own tablet game ( which is almost done. Dude, I think we should meet, like grab a coffee or something and try to think of a game we could work on or something.

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