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Work / Digital

Poke creative director Nik Roope on what makes great digital design

“Digital and design isn’t just a set of skills, it’s a way of thinking and approaching things,” says Nik Roope, who founded digital agency Poke back in 2001, when – in the words of Poke themselves – “the web was a curious, frightening thing that people nudged with sticks and whispered about.” Clearly, things in the digital world are rather different now, as neatly demonstrated in the breadth and creativity of the Lovie Awards, another of Nik’s many brainchildren which celebrates the best work on the internet from digital types across Europe. The awards took place last month (you can see all the winners here), so we had a chat with Nik about what makes great design for digital platforms, how education should cater for design students in a digital age and where he sees things going in the sphere in future.

How would you say digital design has evolved in the years you’ve been working on the Lovie awards?

Design has really deepened its remit and definition in digital. There’s a growing acceptance that design and craft have a central role in defining experiences which in turn determine success. Digital is a potent arena for design to play in because its effects are tangible and readable down to the last pixel. It’s just taking the world a long time to catch up, recognise and value this truth.

What sort of work is most striking in the awards?

It’s always the same answer. The work that is balanced, articulate, and able but beyond these qualities is also distinct, characterful and confident. The same markers that represent great things in the “real world” are those that tend to rise to the top in The Lovies.

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Nicolas Roope: photography by Josh Shinner

“Digital is a potent arena for design to play in because its effects are tangible and readable down to the last pixel. It’s just taking the world to recognise this truth.”

How have animation styles changed?

They’ve had to navigate the constraints of technology and network speeds. The dominance of Flash was a lot to do with bandwidth constraints and but these days animators have to traverse dynamic multiplatform real estate and differing technical environments. Interaction has changed a lot too, which has put a lot of new demands on animators.

What do you feel audiences want from digital ad campaigns and design work?

They want what they always want: new ideas, fresh thinking, brilliant tactile and visceral experiences, provocation, meaning.

What makes a well designed website?

Understanding what matters to the user and the business, and doing a good job to reconcile both positions. Good design aligns interests and solves problems but also does this with grace, meaning the project adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Great design is both reductive and logical, and additive and lateral. Think about a beautiful pair of shoes. You should be able to walk in them but they’re only great if they’re a lot more than that.

How well do you feel art and design education caters for real life working in digital spheres?

I studied fine art and contemporary practice which was pretty good for me as it was very conceptual and abstract and therefore broadly applicable. I’m not so sure about more vocational programs however, as they tend towards techniques which are quickly rendered irrelevant. Digital and design isn’t just a set of skills, it’s a way of thinking and approaching things. If students don’t learn how to deal with managing abstract concepts, they don’t get far in shaping digital propositions as the medium is so plastic and limitless.

What are your favourite apps?

I love CityMapper. Does what tech does best and takes the complex and makes it really simple with a good splash of personality on top to stop it being just a boring grey machine.

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Volontaire: BE a MAN campaign

What’s the best thing you’ve ever seen online?

The best thing I‘ve ever seen online is TED. Ted is helping to enlighten the world and this has only really gathered momentum when they raised their game in digital and adopted a digital attitude in their whole approach to gathering and disseminating powerful ideas.

What do you see for digital design in the future?

I see it becoming more pervasive and ‘system sensitive,’ meaning really grasping the mechanics, architecture and culture of systems.

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Sophie Wilson: Video ARM Processor 2 screen shot

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Stupid Studio: Brandts – Museum of Art & Visual Culture