Jose Caballer on Collaboration and Teaching Design

Jose Caballer founded the digital agency The Groop nearly a decade ago, and it quickly established a reputation not only for strong video and interactive work, but also for its collective approach. The Groop brings together teams of talented creative pros on a project basis, a system that naturally requires a lot of coordination and collaboration. Jose is helping to set the stage at the HOW Interactive Design Conference with a session about how print veterans can make the leap to interactive design. Recently, we traded e-mails that revealed his true interest in teaching other designers to make that very leap.

What’s keeping you busy these days?

The Groop—the digital agency I founded nine years ago—still takes up most of my time. We are currently very focused on education, sustainability and product development for innovative start-ups and some forward-thinking brands. For example, in the education market, we’re creating online games to train military families to cope with constant deployment. We just finished helping Jamie Oliver with his Food Revolution Movement and we are now helping Alice Waters with Edible School Yard the education program she founded in 1995.

We’re helping awesome startups like StorkBrokers and Hunuku and also a large Fortune 500 company with product development. It’s something that I really enjoy: Helping create tools for creative people to be more efficient and thrive in our century.

This brings me to what I am most excited about these days: Groop Skool. Two years ago while walking my dogs in a downtown LA park, I was struck by a vision of focusing my life on education. Starting with sharing what I know best which, is web design.

On that walk I realized that the reason web design seems so complex is because the businesspeople, creatives, tech and marketing folk who have to collaborate all have different interests and no common language to unite them. And since most companies don’t have visionary leaders like Steve Jobs to facilitate (force) effective collaboration, you get painful projects, delays, bad products and unhappy resources. My mission in life is now to help facilitate this collaboration by teaching user experience, starting with my weekly show This Week in Web Design on the Thisweekin.com network, our Groop Skool workshops and soon an online video platform.

I love what you’ve been doing as host of This Week in Web Design, like breaking a web project down into steps and going through them on the fly. How does web design compare to print design in terms of process and complexity?

That’s a great question. The truth is, it is not necessarily more complex. It is very different in context and in how you arrive to solutions. Again, what I think makes it hard is language. They are very different. Like the tower of Babel. If people spoke the same language they could work better together. By sharing my experience on the show and showing that it’s about user experience being that “common language” that bridges the gap between print design and web design I hope to help many people make the transition.

Here’s what I mean:

1. I can launch a site that is not 100% perfect and work to iterate over and over making it better and better. I can’t print a book and keep improving the same book.

2. A TV commercial or print ad have very little variability in terms of display form. TVs are fairly standard, and so are the airwaves. Magazines and books are fairly standardized. But web browsers vary in version, operating systems and who makes them. Then you have monitor resolution. So increasing the complexity on the design of a website exponentially increases the variability. This increases errors and the time it takes to address.

This makes the philosophical approach I take as a designer very different. But the “formal design” skills—typography, color theory, selecting images, drawing—are still the same. I can train a print designer to be a web designer in a few hours if you forget about the whole HTML/programming issue.

You’re leading off the Interactive Design Conference with a session about moving from print to web design. How big a leap is that for most creative pros?

It’s a very small leap. I’m going to show those attending the truth of how simple it is to make the leap. Only if they let go of some of their assumptions and are willing to speak some new languages. You gotta stop thinking of it as a technology issue. It’s not. Please, for the love of God, stop it.

What’s the biggest false assumption that print designers make when they begin designing for the web?

It’s funny: Designers always tell me that they don’t do web design because they “don’t know how to write HTML.” We’re so used to using Adobe InDesign and Photoshop, where we have control over the final production, that we fail to realize that most web designers don’t write code. Some do both, but many serious and successful web designers don’t code. Adobe Muse will hopefully begin to fill this gap.

Your firm, The Groop, is known for bringing together an always-morphing group of collaborators to work on projects. What’s the secret to great collaboration on a web project?

Two things: 1) Understanding the user experience process. It all about the user. Every single answer comes down to that. (This is the one common language that “rules them all” like Bilbo’s ring.) And 2) Understanding the agile project management methodology.

As you scan the technology landscape, what are you seeing that really excites or intrigues you?

The rise of mobile. Mobile is dominating and will continue to dominate the digital landscape by far. If you’re a designer, I would focus there.

The rise of social. This is beyond Facebook and Twitter. This is about a completely different dynamic between you and your customer, you and your friends.

The rise of video content. This is by far one of the most important things I see happening. I am very excited about this.

What’s your favorite:

  1. website? Behance.net. I really respect what Scott Belsky is doing. He is really providing value to the creative community.
  2. mobile app? Flipboard for iPad and Evernote for iPhone.
  3. book? It’s a tie between A Whole New Mind, Why Right Brainers will Own the Future by Daniel Pink and The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier. Funny enough, I don’t read any books about web design. Maybe I should write one. Nah. I’ll do a video. Books are so 20th century.

Learn more about Jose Caballer’s introductory session at the HOW Interactive Design Conference and register today!

This post originally appeared on the HOW blog.

COMMENT