April 25, 2009

Stay Curious and Always Give Away the Sock Monkeys

An Interview with Interaction Manager Raoul Flaminzeanu

(Part 1 of 2 - link to Part 2)

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One of the aspects I like with this ‘job’ (BTW: if anyone is willing to start paying me, just let me know!) is not only the great things I learn about the fields of design – from amazing new techniques of using every day materials to shaping the very elements of the earth around us to much more – but also how I ‘meet’ the different people that I get the privilege to interview.

In the case of Raoul Flaminzeanu, currently residing in Arad, Romania, it was an interesting route of introduction. Raoul’s work came to my attention while I was working with a team in Switzerland – that I believe was only made up of about 10 – 15% Swiss citizens, which is pretty typical of the region. A mutual friend of ours – a Spanish citizen no less (but would he believe my prediction of Spain winning the last European Cup? NO!) – introduced me initially to Raoul’s work. Still, it would be some months before getting a chance to set up a more thorough contact with Raoul as he was not only getting his then new website up and running, but indeed returning to his native Romania. It is then in his native region of Transylvania (no, don’t say the V word) where is he is now busy not only running his own company,
Versatile Media, but also dutifully learning French that he hopes to utilize pending his move to Canada.

So, we’ve got a good part of the whole ‘United Nations’ thing covered (our next article features a young lady born in Shanghai and raised in Tokyo who studied in both Sydney and Cape Town and now resides in Rio de Janeiro). All joking aside, it’s a pleasure to bring you not only someone that I’ve met through an obviously interesting and perhaps even circuitous route, but has a world of talent, focusing his energies on the interesting field of ‘Interaction Management’.

Raoul, what made you decide to leave your home area of ‘sleepy’
Arad, Romania and study Interaction Management and Media Technologies in Basel, Switzerland?
Don’t get me wrong, I quite like ‘sleepy’ Arad. But the reason I left my home town at age 19 was not to study at the
Institute HyperWerk but instead to take an apprenticeship in the Basel area. The position was at a small company, Lynx Multimedia AG. The internship was only for 3 months but I wound up working there for about 7 years.

The idea of starting my studies came after I had been working full time at Lynx for about 2½ years. It was then that I decided that I wanted to be challenged more and to gain more skills on a
professional level. After a chat with the HyperWerk director, Mischa Schaub, and a couple of the students there, I realized that was what I wanted to do. So I decided to enroll so I could become ‘Hyper-Active’ and much more versatile.

Was there a particular reason for attending the Institute HyperWerk vs. studying at a ‘more exotic’ location (like say New York, London, or even Bucharest, etc.)?
There were several. There were the somewhat obvious reasons such as location and also that I could arrange a flexible working schedule with my employer. That was good because I was able to sustain myself through the education program.

But the main reason that I chose HyperWerk was because it was the ideal education platform for me. The resources and the philosophy behind the teaching/learning system really fit what I wanted to do. And with the Institute, well basically once you’re admitted you’re able to tap immediately into an enormously large network of resources. Not only the technologies you have at your disposal or the learning material and guidance but you also have access to an amazing network of students with different professional backgrounds and experiences.

For example, one student colleague was a goldsmith, another one worked as a journalist, another one was a marine biologist and so on. There were programmers, DJ’s, VJ’s, graphic designers, camera men, video editors, event organizers, fashion designers, make up artists and more. There were just so many possibilities in terms of learning from each other and the opportunities for inspiring each other were immense.

And I think, too, that at the end of the day it’s the people you meet and work with that make a location “exotic”.

What is the general design scene like anyway in your home area? There seems to be a fine history of the sciences, music and even theological studies in the region (thanks Wikipedia!).
That is a hard question. There is not much interest in contemporary art. There are few good contemporary artists in Romania but they are better known in Western Europe than in Romania. The main ‘struggle for awareness’ in the art sector is in Bucharest (which is not in Transylvania). And maybe Cluj and Timisoara. But besides the theater and movies festivals, there is little to be said about visual and video arts in Transylvania (including Banat were Arad is).

Still, if you’re interested, I could name a few Romanian artists and designers including
Dan Perjovschi, Cezar Lazarescu, Omulan, and Ciprian Muresan. If you really want to look into the local talent, you can check here, here or here. And in my home town there is one place were the artistic community gathers, called KF.

Do you think therefore that being originally Romanian adds anything ‘unique’ to your own approach to your work and projects?
I really formed my professional style and way of working in Switzerland. I would say that there is little Romanian feel in my works.

Who were your biggest influences (artistically, private, etc.) and why?
Really different things: cartoons, books, graffiti, random actions of random people, art in general, etc.. In terms of an artist or their style: I don’t have a ‘hero’ that I could just point out per se.

I see that you were involved in theater when you were younger. Do you think that has influenced what you’re doing now?
Very much so. I am very comfortable speaking in front of a large audience or hosting workshops. I normally rehearse a couple of days in advance any presentations I have to make – including jokes or even ways that I want to use to keep the attention of the public. I know of course that how well a presentation is accepted comes down to it’s content, but I’ve seen so many presentations that didn’t catch the attention of the audience even though they had great ideas behind them.

Moving on to your work as an Interaction Manager: what has been the main difference for you in terms of changing from an ‘established’ company at Lynx Multimedia and now working essentially as a ‘freelancer’?
Lynx multimedia is a relatively small company and when I was there, it felt at times like a family. Working as a freelancer you lose that feeling. You become directly responsible of your own motivational and energy levels.

I’ve also learned that many freelancers have a problem with time management. Through my research on my diploma project (see later), I became more aware of time management and everyday life rhythms. And from the beginning of my time working alone, I started to impose a rigorous rhythm and really planning in advance my time. And that’s the real challenge: to be able to focus, prioritize and stick to the plan. I find that having a time-planner agenda and lots of Post It notes are a blessing when it comes to that.

You see, I developed my own personal ‘bonus’ system. Every day I define my tasks for the day or even for the following days. Each task is given its own Post It. Once I finish the task, I take the Post It and put it in a box on my desk. And for me, I really get a terrific sense of satisfaction when I can look at the box and see it filled up again. Again, there is no boss, partner or teacher to pet your shoulder, so you have to do it by yourself.

The definition for Interaction Management on your web-site reads that it is:
‘...an interdisciplinary role of the middle person that is able to create a communication flow between himself and different working partners (client, suppliers, designer, video editor, photographer, makeup artist and so on). The position is most relevant within the digital media field, where the main advantage of an interaction manager is his versatility to understand the multiple digital working fields and to synchronize those resources for reaching the planned goal. For achieving such a project understanding and to provide process-based support for innovative, adaptive, collaborative human work, an interaction manager is either the initiator of the process or present already in the first conceptual phase.’
Wow, that’s quite a description. Let’s pretend we’re having a more ‘casual’ conversation over coffee: how would you describe what an Interaction Manager does for someone who is not familiar with the process in any way?
I think I would simply put it as: I try to make life easier for my clients. They don’t have to be aware of the process, they only have to be able – with or without my help – to form a question, to define their problem. It’s my job then to come with a viable solution and to be able to implement it.

For me, an Interaction Manager must be comfortable as project manager, project coordinator, supervising manager, communication specialist, event planner and at times even a copy writer. Of course, all of this involves a huge amount of knowledge and experience. But in the end it comes down to understanding the project’s purpose and coordinating all resources in such a way that they can meet their full potential.

Obviously, selecting the partners you work with is very important and you even point out that ‘Whatever I can no do I can get someone to do it for you.’ What do you include as selection criteria when working with other partners?
The project itself defines the selection criteria. In general, though, I personally conduct a background check on all of the working partners to ensure the quality of their work. I am interested not only in the quality but also in their ability to respect strict deadlines. Their ability to work in a team or even to form a bond with others is always a plus. And of course, there’s always a question of price.

How about your own style of work? I found it amusing that you have stated that you are a ‘perfectionist and sometimes a bit too intrusive professional.’
I ask questions. Lots of them. I always do. Even if sometimes the answers might be obvious I prefer to not take my chance on that. Once a colleague of mine (
Elke Gülk) told me that it’s better to ask questions rather than guessing. It might of course have a huge impact on the end product if you don’t fully understand the client’s wish or a company’s identity.

However, I find that in Romania this can sometimes be extremely difficult. Quite often potential clients from small or medium companies don’t understand why to I want or really have to know in detail about their products, their clients and finished products/services. For example, last year a company hired me to redefine their visual identity. In their old logo was appearing an ‘X’, even though this letter was not in the name of the company. I was finally able to have a personal conversation with the client, where I found out that the X was actually representing the cross of Saint Andrews. This was a unique, personal touch of the client – but a very important symbol for the people working within the company and also for some of their clients. But that ‘detail’ was revealed during our talk and not during any kind of more ‘professional’ brainstorming session.

As for being a perfectionist: well, have you ever heard of Swiss watches?

You have an interesting mathematical equation on your website, namely that CQ (curiosity quotient) + PQ (passion quotient) > IQ (intelligence quotient). What was your main message here?
The formula belongs to Thomas Friedman, who stated: “Give me the kid with a passion to learn and a curiosity to discover and I will take him or her over the less passionate kid with a huge IQ every day of the week.”

Most creative people I know followed an alternative education system: Waldorf or Steiner/ Waldorf, for example. My education though was a Romanian classical one, where you learn how to maximize the amount of information through memorization, to conform and not question the existing systems. A creativity killer indeed.

So Friedman’s formula is something that I challenge myself to apply, really as sort of a personal rule. It’s so important to stay curious. You know, open up and take apart that toy car to see what’s inside it – and then try to convert it into a plane, or a sock monkey or a musical instrument. I guess in many ways it’s like the modern mantra of: “Learning by doing”.

I think your business is appropriately titled ‘Versatile Media’ looking at all of your different project work and project types. Do you find it a particular advantage to be so versatile? Or can that sometimes work against you in that someone may be looking more for a ‘specialist’ in one area? For example, if a company wanted a logo and preferred instead to go to a ‘logo designer’, how would you argue that someone should still work with you in this case?
There is no designer in this world that can say he is a logo designer and that’s it. If he can say that, well, he is not a designer. Designing a logo is more that making a pretty symbol above a companies name which is what was I talking about earlier.

Yes, it can be difficult at times to explain what it is that I do for clients and the services that I offer. But really if people are searching for a designer, then I can put on my designer hat and ta-da! If they are satisfied with whatever it is I deliver, then they will very likely ask for more. Maybe they’ll also then need a voice for their radio ad or some good photographs to go along with a printed ad. And ta-da! I pull out my interaction designer’s hat and get to work! The customer might not even notice that I’ve made the ‘switch’ but they can surely appreciate it.

But that’s with clients. Explaining to a potential employer has really only been a challenge for me in eastern European countries where the positions are so clearly defined (you are there a web designer, OR a graphic designer, OR a producer, OR a camera man, etc.). In western Europe, I find that the term ‘multimedia’ is actually very well understood. Furthermore, it’s quite normal in the West for an advertising agency to need not only someone who is creative but that also has a strong technological understanding and well-rounded work experience.

In the end, I guess the best argument is: do you want to have a designer that creates your logo, another that designs your flyer, another that makes your homepage and another one that layouts your catalogue? Do you want to keep track of so many people? Or would you prefer to simplify your life, working together and building trust in one designer that is ultimately able to maintain the consistency of your company’s image?

Continued in Part 2

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