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Mschmidt and Toke Nygaard

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In: Interviews

By Nick Finck

Published on December 21, 1999

Mschmidt and Toke, first I would like to thank both of you for setting some time aside for our interview and for allowing us to share your thoughts and inspirations with other designers around the world. Secondly, I would like to congratulate you both on building such a successful site-one that gives back to the design community that feeling of freshness which seems to almost slip by most of us in this industry.

Digital Web:

To start things off, can you both introduce yourselves, what you do professionally and what your involvement with the k10k site is?

Mschmidt:

I've had my current job as Creative Director at ELK, a very cozy smoothy-smooth Danish Internet Company, for about 3 years now. Before that I did magazine design, worked at different advertising agencies, and even managed to almost pick up a bachelor degree in English and Ancient History from the University of Copenhagen.

 

Toke:

I went to Design College in Copenhagen, but I chose to go freelance halfway through my studies. Also, I worked for Araneum, your most friendly and professional Danish web company; I just recently moved to England and I am now working for the OVEN DIGITAL London office; probably the most friendly and professional English web company.

 

Mschmidt:

(Btw, ELK just got bought up by Swedish IT-giant, Infohyw - which is probably the most friendly and professional Swedish web company)

When toke & I first started talking about Kaliber10000, we knew right away that it had to be 50/50 collaboration for it to work. A lot of people think I'm the programmer, and toke's the designer (or vice-versa), but that couldn't be further from the truth. Both toke & I are designers, with a capital D, so we tend to split the jobs on the site equally between us - he, for example, does the Sublime Porn Logo Competition, whereas I'm in charge of the [on] display exhibition, and so on. However, toke is very much the main idea man on the site - he really has a twisted mind, the little bald fella', and I sometimes find it very hard to keep up with the speed in which he keeps throwing stuff at me. In situations like that, I tend to step back a bit, and act like a client would - can it be done, how should it be done, will it be too much work, etc. In that sense we really complement each other well - because of our shared taste in design, we can work both individually and as a team, but still keep on moving towards a common goal.

One thing I do insist on handling by myself is the html-coding - because toke keeps on using the English program, Freeway (which is a nice & friendly program, but creates horrible code - he even has to write in double body-tags in his html-pages for them to work in freeway... sheesh).

 

Toke:

I do 50% of the KALIBER site; the process we go through when doing stuff for KALIBER is very ping-pong. We work really well together, exchanging files, ideas, correcting, commenting, and singing sad songs of long-lost loved ones and such.

 

Digital Web:

Your styles expressed on Kaliber10000 are very tight. You use a lot of boxes, small graphics and cross-platform JavaScript all over the site. Through this you both have influenced many other designers in this industry to follow in your footsteps. How do you find such fresh approaches in design that others have not taken note of? What inspires you to keep developing original ideas? If you would, please guide us through your creative design process. In other words, do you have a set method of producing successful design projects?

Mschmidt:

Both toke & I get bored extremely fast - we are truly products of the 20-second attention-span generation. So our main priority when designing K10k for the first time was to make sure that everything was tiny, very tight - but with a lot of stuff going on. That way the web site would keep on being fresh & interesting, even for the two of us who spend a lot of time on the site every day.

It's all a matter of doing what you yourself find interesting, I guess - the design styles that we enjoy/admire shine through in our designs, but that doesn't mean we can't try to mutate these styles, and add our own interesting spices to the mix. Because we compliment each other so well when it comes to designing, none of us feel scared or threatened by trying out something completely different - because we know (or hope) that if the both of us like it, it's usually pretty good. This gives us a lot of room to experiment - which is something a designer should never stop doing.

We really don't have a standard process when we do a project - it's all very loose, and quite random. But usually one of us starts out by doing a very preliminary Photoshop-file that helps us visualize the general idea. We then start working on this file, at the same time, while continually sending reworked versions of the file back and forth. I'll get a file from toke, grab some items that I like off of that & add those to my own design. Then I'll send it back to him; he'll see some stuff that he likes and incorporate that into his design. And so on.

At some point one of us will start doing small feature-stuff, working on buttons, illustrations, photos - just to get out of the main graphic loop - and the other will keep on polishing the main graphic shell. In the end, we dump everything on to the pages and begin a tedious process of deleting stuff, changing stuff, moving stuff (and using the Undo function quite a lot). It's amazing how much time you can spend moving a box 2 pixels to the left - and then 2 pixels to the right.

 

Toke:

Michael and I came across the idea for KALIBER when we sat down and played with the idea of creating a truly dynamic site that was really alive. At that time there was only Shift and DigitalThread, and they were only updated every month. It sort of came together when we found a model that was easy to update, and didn't involve too much work, the lazy bastards that we are.

In my opinion the reason that K looks and works the way it does is simply because that was the most effective and reasonable way for us to do it. Most people don't realize the amount of work put into the design. It's not to make it pretty, but to get around the problems that all of us web geezers are faced with, plus trying to make something that would appear different and fresh each time (hence the random images, and the continued update of desktops on [on] display).

The whole K10k package took incredibly long to get right, and even during the actual production phase we had to change core stuff. Bits and pieces tweaked here and there affect something else. Also it is a constant process, now we feel the site needs to appear even fresher and lighter, smell of lilies and have that milky flavor to it. Michael is right about us getting bored with stuff. I can only concentrate on stuff for so long, and the only reason we got our act together was that we pushed each-other through the entire process. We supplement each other extremely well.

 

Digital Web:

Most designers would say that k10k fits into a clique of sorts, a small group of zines that inter-link into each other and have the same basic concept and approach. Of the group, k10k seems to be the most successful and well known site, why do you think this is?

Mschmidt:

Luck has played a major part in our success - we were at the right time, with the right project, that had the right kind of content.

But, on the other hand, we also feel that we are a bit different than a lot of the sites in this "clique". The idea behind K10k is extremely simple, because everything is built up around the weekly issue. K10k is basically just a graphic shell - a pretty face for these issues. So the idea is extremely tight - and very easy to understand. When users visit the K10k site they know what they are going to get - the issue. The fact that we also have daily-updated news, the [on] display exhibition, special features, etc. at the site is really just an added bonus - and are just layers added on top of the whole issue thing. This has been our intention all the way - and will continue to be in the future.

Another thing that has really helped the site is that we've had so many extremely talented people do issues for us - which is the cheapest form of advertising one can find on the net. I remember that, right after Josh from PrayStation did his issue, we saw a massive surge of both the traffic at the site and the number of people who were actually willing to do issues for us. It is kind of a nasty spiral - you need the big names to attract people, but the big names are usually too busy to do stuff for the really small sites. So, I guess, we just got lucky with Josh =)

As far as I can see it the main problem with a lot of the other zines (not all of them, of course) is that they lack a single idea - they're garages of different stuff, with no underlying form or structure. Which means that people can't differentiate these sites from the other 1000 design zines.

 

Toke:

It is true that there is a certain degree of ass-kissing and link exchanging going on along the way, but being a non-profit site it is really one of the only ways to repay others for services and goodwill, like people who supply us with issues and the like. We are all doing the same thing. I think it is sweet. Well, to be honest I get rather bored with it, all the back-padding and design-ripping, but at the same time... I dunno... it is part of getting this whole show on the road.

 

Digital Web:

You recently went on a world tour and met up with several other famous designers from all over. Can you recap for us some of the key events that happened and tell us about some of the people you met on the tour? What was this experience like for the both of you?

Toke:

We met up with so many Internet rockstars, it was amazing. Just hanging out with the Kioken and Oven bunch made it all worthwhile. It is definitely something we will do more, it sort of makes the whole thing more real (if it was ever fake). It is incredible how open-minded and super friendly these people are. There is a good feeling, positive vibes, and before you know it, we will be spinning tables on the streets of Harlem, or wearing big Afros and go around spray-painting trains in the subway. It all has this pioneer spirit to it. We like it.

 

Digital Web:

Recently you mentioned that you were thinking of redesigning the k10k site and suggested that the launch date of that new design would be January 1st, 2000. What can we expect to see? Can you give us any insight into what you two have planned for the site?

Mschmidt:

The thing is... we, ourselves, had gotten kind of sick of the old design. We like it a lot, but it's just much more an image of Toke & me one year ago, than an image of us today. The old design, with its strictness and dark, muted color scheme, is very hard to maintain - because it's so locked. Whenever we try to change anything, or add anything, it will always end up looking worse - because the site really is a finished package.

So the new design will be silky- smoothy-smooth, much lighter, with a fluffier feel - but still smell like K10k. We're going for a design that'll allow us to expand like crazy rabbits on crack - so thumps up for modular pieces, heavy-duty DHTML, a bunch of animated madness, and a news box that goes on & on (to the crack of dawn).

It'll also feature some new sections, and a lot of the existing sections will be heavily expanded - but you'll have to wait to see that until January when we re-launch the site.

 

Digital Web:

What is the process that you two went through to develop the new design and how do you improve upon something which has a design as tight and successful as k10k?

Toke:

We still do not know how people will react to the new stuff, but in my humble opinion it will be super top-funky. We started by jotting down all the stuff we wanted changed, what works and what doesn't. There are some very basic navigation and structural problems with the current site, and we wanted to correct these. Also we took into account the feedback we've received during this year, and we have a pretty good idea how people use the site, and we wanted to build on that.

When all the basics were in place we threw a million new ideas into the pot, and tried to figure out how much of all this actually fitted into the original K10k concept. So we took a lot of the ideas back again, and so on. Then we started sketching on the new look 'n feel, based on an old pencil sketch from a train-ride this summer (anyway, that's about as romantic as it gets). We have so much content that needs to be grouped and structured and it really means we have to be careful not to fuck the whole thing up, so we hung on to the concept of modules, randomness and little tricks and show-off buttons. It is a true nightmare puzzle that will keep us up for many more nights.

 

Digital Web:

What are your plans for the future, after this soon-to-be-released redesign? Do you ever think you will get bored with the k10k site [as a whole]?

Mschmidt:

The day we get bored with the K10k site is the day we close it down. Our main goal with the site has always been to have a web site that Toke & me would want to visit every day - and we would rather just pull the plug, than feel the web site deteriorating between our hands. Right now we're just walking steadily along, taking one day at a time, but at the same time making sure that K10k is really all we want it to be. There's no point in doing it otherwise, right?

We've got some major new projects coming up for the big 2000 - a couple of new web sites will be launched, all under the Kaliber10000 "umbrella". Amongst them is the mysterious and top hush-hush "BW" project - which should shake up the movers & shakers of the Internet's design community.

 

Toke:

We have plenty of plans of how to expand the site, but that means us putting so much more time into the site, which may in turn kill the whole thing. It must not become a burden. So we have to balance all this. But we sure have some tricks up the sleeve for 2000.

 

Digital Web:

How would you define creativity?

Mschmidt:

Creativity is meeting someone who does design - and plays music, and writes too (like Jeffrey Zeldman) - and just completely blows you away with his (or hers) strange way of thinking. There aren't that many of them out there, but through our work at K10k we have been fortunate enough to meet some people that are just absolutely unbelievable, people that just make me feel like a 25-year old Danish nobody.

Toke's middle name is creativity, actually - he still blows me out of the water, whenever he shoots one of his new & crazy ideas at me. He has this way of thinking across the whole spectrum of graphic arts, and being able to constantly come up with new & interesting twists on the same old shit, that I truly admire.

Creativity is also the ability to work within the confines of a corporate environment - and create works that influence and twist the world in different ways. Anybody can make their own personal web site look good - only the truly creative can do the same for Amazon, or Pepsi, or Unilever.

 

Toke:

Creativity is a bloody nuisance and an evil curse that will see to it that you die from stress and alcohol abuse at a very early age, that you piss off all your friends, break appointments, show up late, and have this strange bohemian urge (you know that decadent laid-back pimp-style way of life). The truly creative people I know all live lousy lives, never have time to see you, don't take care of themselves properly, have weird tastes in women and behave badly. They don't wash and they eat disgusting stuff, they are mentally unstable and are absolutely brilliant.

 

Digital Web:

What would you say is beauty in web design?

Mschmidt:

Beauty in web design is taking a screen-dump of the buttons on Marc Klein's Pixel Industries site, magnifying the graphics in Photoshop and sit there in amazement when you see how much detail he has put into these tiny graphics. Or visiting a web site that doesn't look like a web site, feels like a web site, or even sounds like a web site. Or taking a photo of my girlfriend and putting it on my site (hey, I had to say that).

 

Toke:

Dunno, but I am getting very much into this whole pixel-illustration thing at the moment, going absolutely nutty over www.eboy.com and the like. Just knowing that so much attention was put into tiny little details turn me on. Other beautiful web pieces include those of wicked-minded Emme Elephant and Vicky Wong. It all has this fantastical fairytale storybook-feel. I love the Internets ability to create moods and stories that were never possible in any other media.

 

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Nick Finck is a 13-year veteran of the web and considered a web craftsman by trade. His skills traverse web design, web development, user research, web analysis, information architecture, and web publishing. Nick founded his first web consultancy in 1994 in Portland, Oregon, and has since created web experiences for various Fortune 50 and 500 companies including Adobe, Boeing, Blue Cross / Blue Shield, Cisco, CitiGroup, FDIC, HP, IBM, Microsoft, PBS, Peet’s Coffee, and others. He currently resides in Seattle, Washington and is a co-founder of Blue Flavor, a web strategy company that focuses on people-centric solutions. More information about Nick can be found on his web site, NickFinck.com.

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