Matt Owens

Matt Owens

Matt Owens

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In: Interviews

By Kristopher Krug

Published on July 9, 2000

Digital Web: Tell us how you got into music/punk rock. Everybody seems to have a specific way of looking up bands/finding out about the new trends within punk. How did this all start out for you? Credit-lists in booklets? Fanzines? If so, who’s? Was there any certain band/person you looked up to especially?? Ian McKay/Henry Rollins or someone else? How does this tie into what you do on the web?
Owens: My brother and I got into punk rock through skateboarding around 8th grade or so. Living in Texas, punk rock was a great outlet and combined with skating sort became a way of defining myself. My brother Mark did a zine called Peaches and Herbicide and we did a radio show together when we were in high school. In college I did record covers for friends’ bands and flyers for shows and kind of got more into the computer through doing that. From high school to now, I have really been into the do-it-yourself aspect of punk rock, doing my own fanzines, putting out records and things like that. Mark and I still do a record label called the Buddy System and put out a few records every year. I definitely look up to the Ian Mckay/Dischord model of doing your own thing and I think though punk I have acquired a similar ideological foundation of wanting to do things the way I feel comfortable. I think VolumeOne is a manifestation of they way I feel about work and design making. Also, starting one9ine with Warren and wanting to do things in our own way is also a reflection of my beliefs born out of punk. At the end of the day, if I were to go and work for a big web company, I would see it as a kind of person failure on my part, like I had given up the good fight. I think doing things on your own is ten times harder than having a real [job]. However, I do not think I would have been able to go out on my own unless I had worked at a big agency and had learned what I did not like and how I would do business.


Digital Web: Would you describe your work as pure expressionism or are there deeper levels of personal meaning which may not be immediately obvious to the casual observer?
Owens: When I do personal work, there are always ideas and motivations behind the work. Sometimes there is a big idea and I want to be clear, and sometimes I am deliberately vague. It really just depends on the piece. I think that when you confront something visual or interactive, there should be some give-and-take between you and the work. If everything where right there, if there was no poetry or anything there that made you want to look deeper, then I don’t think there is really any reason to do the work in the first place. For me, doing my own personal work lets me make the rules, which is great. It also forces me to get off my ass and do something. I got up a 6 a.m. today and worked on my own stuff for three hours and then went to the office. Why? Because I had some ideas I wanted to work on and I knew that when I went to work I would have to focus on other things. I make the time. I can honestly tell you however that coming up with stuff to create, ideas that have any level of meaning, is still hard. Every season it is still hard to develop something that’s good enough.


Digital Web: How much importance do you place on the viewer’s ability to interact with your work?
Owens: It is not so much the viewer’s ability as it is the viewer’s desire to deal with the project. Because some of the pieces are a little tough to navigate and things are purposely hidden, it’s a way of prompting the viewer to explore. I hope you go back to pieces in an effort to find those extra little bits that you may have overlooked. That process of discovery is what it’s all about for me. That is what I look for in work that interests me. It is all about hang-time. Having done shift reviews every month going on three years now, I look at a lot of sites and it’s hard to find work that gets you to spend time.


Digital Web: Matt – you are very vocal and very political – how come we don’t see more of your opinions in your personal work (in visuals and in text)?
Owens: My opinions are in the work. I think it is that in my personal work, I leave it open enough so that people can get into the projects. I’m not doing things to preach my worldview or anything. I want people to enjoy the work itself, what is says to them, how they engage it. Ideally, every project you do should have a life of its own and people should experience and be into it and it doesn’t really matter what I think anymore. That is what really great art does for me, and I’d love for my own personal work to approach that level or creativity. It takes a certain kind of personal investment to really appreciate the new media work that’s currently being developed. Much of our visual world–TV, movies, magazine–is incredibly passive, so putting someone in a position where they have to participate, hunt and poke around and discover things is not always the most natural thing to do. I try to make the work visual and expressive enough to keep you there so that you want to find more.


Digital Web: I remember the early Volume One seasons and the talk about “exploring new media”. The subsequent seasons seem to be exploring personal themes rather than the medium itself. Is this a fair assessment?
Owens: New media is just that–media–a hollow vessel. You can’t “explore” anything unless there is something there that’s worth exploring. That’s where developing your own ideas and concepts, taking photographs, writing and developing ideas has to happen before you even get to designing. My sketchbooks are full of words, my struggle to develop ideas worth actually pursuing. Pushing the stuff around on the screen or struggling with an interactive idea is the fun part. Getting something together that you think is worth “designing” is much more difficult.


Digital Web: You talk about using your work to explore narrative. What do you mean by this? Why is narrative important?
Owens: When I refer to narrative, I’m talking about story telling and delivery of a story. If you create something so that you have to peel back the layers to learn about something, that is a kind of narrative delivery. Within interaction design, scrolling, transparency, dragging, mouse movement, dimensionality, all affect the narrative of subject matter. When you make work, you have to keep all of these factors in mind because they directly affect the experience.


Digital Web: Project40 sounds like it was an amazing experience. The best designers in the world are sharing, exploring and creating new media. Who was the most interesting person you met? Who did you wish wasn’t there? Should there be a project40 2.0?
Owens: Everyone at project40 was cool. Damian, Simon, Catherine, Mikael and everyone in my group was great. I felt like the whole thing was a really great idea and that my actual time there was pretty strange but good.


Digital Web: What have you learned this week?
Owens: I learned that Scott Bao (Chachi on Happy Days/ Charles in Charge) is 39 and is dating a 24-year-old college student. I learned to enable and disable controller movies in flash a lot better. I learned that Matthew Richmond from the Chopping Block went to high school with the guitarist of Limp Bizkit.


Digital Web: How would you define creativity?
Owens: Creativity is really about working within the constraints of a project and really making something work. Often, there are a ton of limitations placed upon designs (logos, colors, technical specs–you name it). You have to work with these limitations so that they dissolve away or become an asset as opposed to a liability. This requires a level of ingenuity and creative thinking on the part of a designer. Often, designers just follow direction and deliver what the client thinks they want. To think outside of the wants and needs of specific individual or politics and to strive for what makes sense and is the best overall solution lies at the very heart of true creativity.

It amazes me what really creative people can do with just type or simple interactive elements. Look at Josh Davis’s “jellyfish” project on PrayStation, it’s basically one pixel, made into a line made into this amazing, poetic thing, all through mathematic manipulation that’s just brilliant–that takes true creativity. Also, Spencer Higgins of dimensional typography is just incredible, coming up with the idea of manipulating typography in 3d space and then actually doing it. These are two examples of what I think truly creative individuals are capable of.


Digital Web: What would you say is beauty in web design?
Owens: Beauty online to me is finding things that make me forget the web and just enjoy the subject matter. I think the Amon Tobin site on Ninja Tunes is a simple tight site that just lets you get into the feeling and the delivery of the information; it’s very handsome. Also, I think is a beautiful site–the work just speaks for itself, has a life of its own. I also think that there are emmersive online experiences out there that I get into. I think there are several projects on that I just appreciate for their simple beauty and elegance.


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Kris Krug (l: kristopherus krugulus) is a passionate web creature who rarely emerges from his habitat. Since sightings are rare, moments with him are generally exquisite treats.