1. "Look to the Moon"

Daniel Ruston: The Truly Blank Canvas

ADC Member waxes poetically about his digital career

It’s Creative Technology Month here on the ADC Blog! Photographers, typographers and letterers, illustrators and animators have all had their own months , and now it’s time to put the code junkies and tech geeks in the spotlight. From programmers to UX designers, to app developers to interactive art directors, this month is dedicated to professionals — and very gifted amateurs — who find joy and beauty in a field that wasn’t even contemplated when ADC opened its doors 95 years ago. And just like all of our other monthly themes, our highlighted creatives are all card carrying ADC Members.

Our next ADC Member to be featured is a San Francisco-based digital art director who knows that talent can only take you so far.


DRustonheadshotDANIEL RUSTON
Digital Art Director & Designer
San Francisco, CA


When did your interest in technology begin? How did it grow into something you could see yourself doing professionally?

My dad always had computers when I was growing up, and I used to love drawing on the Amiga 500 – I think the program was called ‘Deluxe Paint’. In my pre-university days studying Graphic Design, the ability to scan in sketches, photos and use Photoshop to manipulate them blew my mind. I would work in the darkroom developing film and making prints, then scan them in and use Photoshop to retouch, cut out, and create collages – the possibilities always seemed endless. I also used to love making music too, and found ways to record my guitar, make loops – sequence tracks. When I realized I could go to University and study ‘Interactive Multimedia’ – the combination of all of these things I already loved doing – and elevate it to a professional level, I knew this was for me!

How much of your ability is self-taught versus through schooling?

I studied Interactive Multimedia at University, which I felt was the perfect course as it combined classes from the School of Art & Design, where we learnt typography, 3D animation, film etc. and from the School of Computing where we learnt how to code and better understand the more technical side of the profession. Schools typically setup you with the space, time and a brief for you to push yourself to learn and a benchmark to measure against – almost all of my ability is self-taught. Whether that is reading tutorials on Photoshop, learning scripts/hacks on forums, or by buying books. They all have one thing in common: the onus is on you to really do the hard work.

How would you best describe your style? How did you foster that style?

Hard to describe your own style, working on large brands you always try to adapt your visual style to that of the brand in question. But I always try to make my work as ‘slick’ as possible — perhaps more of a feeling and interaction/animation style — but I would always make sure the design, interactions and animations felt super slick and intuitive. I don’t like overly complicated or fussy design; you need to let the content do the talking, if your design is getting in the way of that, you’re going wrong. Good design is as little design as possible…

“…you need to let the content do the talking, if your design is getting in the way of that, you’re going wrong.”

Tools of the trade: what items make your job a million times better?

Sadly I couldn’t live without Photoshop, I can pretty much do anything I need in that program. I used to pretty much do all my prototyping in Flash, but alas those days are gone, now I use Adobe Edge Animate and AfterEffects. Nowadays there are so many great programs out there, and trends come and go, but looking at Sketch I think they have really created a great tool for digital design. Apart from that, the trusty Macbook Pro and a magic mouse is my core arsenal.

And of course the old fashioned pencil and paper.

Which project are you most proud of and why?

Really tough question, there have been a lot of projects that I am proud of over the years. I’ve been lucky enough to work with great agencies and great clients. But it would have to be my personal project ‘Look to the Moon’ – I really pushed myself to learn what could be done on the web. Pulling in data from Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and mixing it all together to create a mash up of technologies, music, and interactivity. It got a lot of recognition/awards at the time and in many ways was my swan song to the technology. This was back when Flash was still a thing and the debate was beginning about its legitimacy. I remember at the time people used the site as ammunition to describe the limits of non-plugin sites! We’ve had a few dark years where nothing plugged to gap – but today there are some fantastic sites that are just as good and if not better than those heady Flash days. Sometimes you need to create ambitious personal work to really push yourself, not only to learn new techniques but also to pursue something that you believe in.

What’s the most challenging part of your career?

You cannot rely solely on talent or skills alone; in order to succeed you need to know many skills. You may be the best creative or designer in the world, but if you cannot communicate ideas to people — whether that is your CD, boss, or client — then your work or ideas may not even survive the first round. A lot of the challenge in our role is communicating first and foremost – every one listens in a different way too – they is no ‘one’ way to present. Some people are really visual and need to see exactly what your idea is all about, in their hands, on a mobile device – others can see a sketch and get it in a heartbeat. The challenge is knowing what and how to present your work in the best possible way for your audience. Something might make perfect sense to you but another person will see it in a totally different light.

“You may be the best creative or designer in the world, but if you cannot communicate ideas to people … then your work or ideas may not even survive the first round.”

What’s the biggest misconception that people have about what you do?

They all think I work in ‘I.T.’

How would you describe what you do to someone who has nothing to do with creativity?

How to avoid this rabbit hole = say you are a ‘problem solver’, it gets the conversation on the right track.

Where do you go to find inspiration and motivation — online and offline?

I start the morning early and dip into my list of sites/blogs and see what’s new and interesting. The FWA, Fubiz, It’s Nice That, and so on are good starting points. Long walks always spark inspiration for me, and I love going to art galleries — you never know when inspiration hits.

Looking at art is often a reminder to get out of yourself and look at something that ‘just is’ instead of looking at work that is often answering a brief/solving a problem. Getting away from the screen is a must; just the mix of stimuli will stir something up. Creativity is often connecting the dots and the more dots you see, hear, and absorb the more you can connect.

“Creativity is often connecting the dots and the more dots you see, hear, and absorb the more you can connect.”

Which professionals in your field do you most admire? What is it about their work that moves you?

I’ve been a long time fan of Stefan Sagmeister – for me he’s a bit of a maverick, goes by the beat of his own drum, and he just tells it how it really is. A lot of Sagmeister & Walsh work passes the ‘wish i’d done that’ test. On a more digital note, whenever Chris Milk has been involved (3 Dreams of Black, Wilderness Downtown) its magic – the interactive medium is amazing in its ability to tell immersive stories that really draw you in. Other visionaries for me- Mr Doob and Hi-Res (Requiem for a Dream is where it all clicked for me).

What would be your dream project/client/collaborator?

Always loved the musician/digital collaborations – that bring the concept of music videos online and make it interactive – not just an after thought / YouTube clip. Some great examples of this: The DNA ProjectSame Days Forever24 Hours of HappyJust a Reflektor. The concept of bringing music and sound to life in an interactive way would be a dream.

At the end of the day, what do you love most about creative technology, about designing in a digital world?

The opportunity to truly create anything that you can imagine. I have always seen the digital canvas as truly blank – no dimensions, no bleed, no restrictions. Now with digital spreading into VR we can now craft entire worlds that people can experience on another level – using technology such as Oculus Rift or even Google Cardboard. The limit is now truly our imagination.

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