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Flash Goddess
June, 2005
Snow Dowd

Snow Dowd
Book Jacket

Book Jacket

Studio Annik

Studio Annik

Training Day

Training Day
Urban Images

Urban Images
















Snow Dowd

Snow Dowd is co-principal along with partner Robert Reinhardt at [theMAKERS] where they develop interactive content, print graphics, and training materials for leading companies. Snow is also the co-author of the Macromedia Flash Bible series.
What is your location?
Portland, OR (via Victoria, BC, Toronto, ON, Los Angeles, CA...it's been a long journey but I feel really at home in Portland after only a few months here.)
What are the details of your education? Do you have any formal design/programming education?
My parents were kind of extreme so I grew up in the interior of British Columbia with lots of horses and nature around but no running water or electricity. I didn't start school until I was 11, but I was able to catch up to my age group and get good grades after my first year of getting up to speed with math and handwriting...and learning to tell time! I completed my elementary and high school education with only four years in "regular" classrooms. I was lucky enough to win a full scholarship after grade 11 to a wonderful college where I did a two-year program to earn my IB (International Baccalaureate) diploma. If anyone has children of their own or friends or relatives that are in high-school now and looking for an amazing experience and a great foundation for further study in any field please check out United World Colleges (http://www.uwc.org).

After a year of traveling and working I decided to go to Ryerson University's School of Image Arts in Toronto (http://imagearts.ryerson.ca) because they had the only new media program I could find at that time that offered an undergraduate degree. It was a great school with amazing facilities and I learned a lot but I think I learned most from some wonderful, generous mentors that I was able to work with outside of school. I worked in the school's Study Center helping to organize and maintain a massive archive of prints and slides then I got a job assisting one of Canada's top architectural photographers. I worked with Robert Burley at Design Archive for nearly four years and it gave me the skills and confidence to start my own business. Although my first love was photography, all the time in the darkroom with color printing chemicals took it's toll and I eventually found that the computer was really the best way for me to combine all the things I enjoyed...images, text, information, stories...and it just keeps getting better...how amazing is that?

When did you get started using Flash?
I got my first taste of programming animation with clunky old Turbo Pascal...the motto for our class was "xorpix is cool!" (I even have a friend who still calls his company XORPIX). I actually enjoyed getting my head around the whole logic of nesting and looping routines...it was a crude but effective introduction to the power of scripting. I moved on to using HTML and Director to do simple projects but in my final year at Ryerson I was living with Robert Reinhardt while he worked on the Flash 4 Bible. Lucky me! After seeing what it could do and how friendly the Flash environment was for visual people I was hooked.
What do you like most about Flash?
I think the main thing I loved at first was that I could do anything I wanted with fonts and it would actually show up that way on someone else's computer...that still makes me happy. Although, over time, the advantages of dynamic text have drawn me away from really intensive typographic presentations and more toward minimal and legible treatments. I love that I can quickly lay out a whole sequence of screens and play with and compare them to see how a flow will work without even having to do a bunch of scripting. I use Flash to make comps even for HTML sites and I sometimes prefer the drawing and text tools in Flash to the ones in Illustrator...so I'll even use it to design logos. I also love that Flash has empowered a whole generation of creative people to earn a living doing what they love...and so many of us work for ourselves or with people that we appreciate and share mutual respect with. Geography is not a barrier for most of us and commuting is less of a necessity. I feel incredibly lucky to have these opportunities and it is always inspiring to hear the diverse backgrounds that people have used to fuel their Flash-powered careers and creative endeavors.
What are your other interests and hobbies?
Photography (of course), painting (not as much as I should...but the tactile experience of mixing up color and smoothing it onto a surface can be a wonderful balance for too many mouse miles). I was lucky enough to take some ikebana (Japanese flower-arranging) classes at UCLA with an amazing Japanese woman who had the highest teaching degree you could get...she would never teach intro classes in Japan but she said she enjoyed the individualistic tendencies of North American students and she taught us with patience and humor. The discipline of creating balanced designs while respecting the organic and unique qualities of natural materials (branches, leaves, flowers, stones) was a wonderful way to exercise my senses. I would like to have more hobbies but mostly my free time goes into dog walks, eating out and seeing art when I get the chance. I also became a homeowner for the first time this year and I suddenly have a whole new appreciation for really mundane things like gutters and grout...a whole new vocabulary and a steep learning curve!
Please tell us about some of your favorite sites.
This is a hard question and it made me think about how I use the web on a daily basis. I realized that there are very few sites that I visit often and my favorites list tends to be shaped by whatever project I'm working on at the time or what I've been exposed to recently (at a conference or in a book or magazine or in a conversation...) With that said, I always love the chance to share some of the urls that DO keep me coming back (aside from craigslist and google, of course):

When I feel like reading something that tickles my brain:
The launch page for the many projects and essays by an incredibly talented, opinionated and articulate collaborative couple. I discovered Jessica Helfand and William Drenttel when they presented at an AIGA conference. They inspire me because they do work they believe in and they don't bother to dumb things down.

This site has grown and grown but the level of discussion has remained unusually consistent. It rekindles my appreciation for theory and debate and after a visit I often think I should seriously consider going back to school to get more of that...

Inconsistent updates from a self-described recovering graphic designer who now lives in the south of France. He also created some software to help people with online publishing. Most women I know who visit this site have a small crush on Dean...he wins you over with his wit and irreverence and the daily pictures of his adorable dogs aren't bad either. Fortunately for him, he is already taken by the equally articulate Gail Armstrong whose site http://www.openbrackets.com is also wonderful if you feel like reading.

When I want to see something beautiful (on the web):
Yugo Nakamura is a true master of Flash and he is an icon for good reason....the main thing that I love about him is that he keeps pushing and exploring without limits while also finding practical applications for his ideas.

Rose is definitely a Flash Goddess and she just keeps doing more wonderful work. Every site she does has whimsy but also focus and a great integration of elements: sound/motion/ navigation/information.

When I need backup:
Kelly Goto and Emily Cotler have done a beautiful job of making the planning and execution of logical phases in web design very easy to follow. This book is great backup when I need to validate my process for impatient or inexperienced clients.

I saw Keith Yamashita at an AIGA event and he was able to get the whole room laughing about the very serious challenges we all face in trying to do good work in different environments. This book is entertaining and useful and the PDF mini-book is another thing I've found can be helpful in getting buy-in from a client.

Any music you like to listen to when you are creating in Flash?
I like to have music playing in my studio to help drown out the sound of fans and printers and air cleaners...but I don't like playing DJ so I tend to listen either to random MP3 lists or online radio (like radioParadise). Like my favorite websites, my favorite music at any time is influenced by what I'm doing and where I've been lately. I'm not a loyal fan of any one artist but if I DO like an artist or band I like to hear as much as possible of what they've done...not just one or two songs that might be overplayed. If you haven't already heard them I would encourage you to check out: Daniel Lanois, Lhasa, Sister Rosetta Tharp, Omara Portuondo, Shivaree.
Who and/or what has influenced and inspired you to keep creating?
The technology inspires me. My peers inspire me. The whole visual world inspires me...new and old fonts, color, texture, photographs. I love line art and I'm in awe of good illustrators. I have shelves full of design books and type books and old clip art books and photo books and art books. I try to get out and see gallery shows and installation work as often as I can. Nature is continually amazing.

Some specific names/urls: Marc Chagall (I have his autobiography "My Life" by my bed), Bill Viola (his installation at the Getty was one of the most thrilling things I've seen...and rooms full of all different types of people were completely absorbed by the work...he is also very articulate about his process and I recommend any of his writing), Second Story (http://www.secondstory.com... the work speaks for itself and is a benchmark for truly interactive and informative web design), my partner, Robert Reinhardt inspires me daily with his work ethic and the joy he has in continually learning new stuff...he reminds me that it isn't a chore but a privilege.

Do you feel there is a difference between male and female Flash creations?
I would guess that fewer women followed the grey/orange trend and maybe more men jumped on the broken shard/vector graphic bandwagon...but there are always exceptions on both sides. The current trend (or perhaps growing convention?) of using organic forms and images from nature combined with decorative type is appealing to me no matter who is doing it. One of the things I like best about multimedia is that it gives us the chance to "smoosh" things together under one seamless surface...somehow even things that don't normally fit together seem to make sense. The more we push at the edges of things, the more interesting the work becomes. One thing I have noticed is that men are more likely to be comfortable sharing very personal, experimental work in a professional context (like at a conference)...I wish more women would do that because it inspires everyone and I know that women are just as "cutting edge" as men are...they are sometimes just quieter about it.
What do you suppose can account for the lack of female Flash designer/developers?
I do think there is an imbalance but I don't think it is because there is a dearth of female talent or that women are afraid of math or technology....I know plenty of guys who weren't too hot at math either who've managed to use Flash as a learning tool that has helped them gain new appreciation for the creative potential of code. There are many great books written by women and I've seen some fantastic presentations by women....but not enough. Unfortunately, I know a lot of smart, accomplished women myself who just don't feel comfortable putting themselves out there as "experts"...I'm guilty of this too. I've spent a lot of time thinking about this issue and the only consistent factor I've found is that men (in general) are better at stepping up and saying "I'm an expert" (even if they are still learning, as we all are...) while women tend to say "Well, there are a lot of smart people out there and I don't know everything so I don't know if I'm at the level to tell other people how to do things..." This might not be a popular opinion and I'm sure it is debatable (I hope it is!) but I know plenty of conference organizers and publishers who struggle to find women to participate...and this is not because there aren't talented women out there. That is the myth we have to work against and we can only do that by putting ourselves out there and sharing our work and our talent. (At least that's what I keep telling myself and anyone else who will listen!)

Thank you Snow for sharing your thoughts!

Interviewed by Camille Pietralunga

Camille Pietralunga (www.camillepietralunga.com) has over eight years experience as an Interactive Designer and writer. Camille is fascinated with Flash and its amazing capabilities. She is excited and honored to be able to speak with so many talented female Flash designers and developers.

To contact Camille, email Camille@camillepietralunga.com.