James Widegren

James Widegren

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In: Interviews

By Nick Finck

Published on April 10, 2001

Digital Web: James, it is an honor to have you appear in Digital Web Magazine. Thank you for setting aside some time to do this interview. I’d like to begin with an introduction to you and your work.
Widegren: I was born in Kalmar on the southeastern coast of Sweden, and eventually studied Media Communication there. After graduating in the end of 1998 I moved to London to work for Razorfish as a freelance designer. Later on I was given an offer from Vir2L Technology in Washington DC. I was there for 8 months. Then Vir2L opened an office in London where I was working until I resigned in March this year. Now I’m working as a freelance designer and will relocate to New York. From my first year of studying Media Communication till today I’ve been running a graphic design portal that goes by the name THREE.OH.


Digital Web: Could you tell us something about your upbringing, and what inspired you to become a web designer?
Widegren: During my first year studying Media Comm I was introduced to the Web. A few guys in an upper class where making websites. I made my one of own, and was hooked. We became a group of students focusing on web design and everyone inspired one another. To mention one among us, there was Jens Karlsson who inspired me the most and fed my ambitions to become better. We all had visions of achievements; we brought each other there.


Digital Web: What was your first experience with the web?
Widegren: Porn.


Digital Web: Hehe.. so true. As you mentioned you studied Media Communication in Kalmar, Sweden. What kind of formal training do you have in web design specifically?
Widegren: I did a lot of drawing and was doing lots of architectural sketches wanting to become an architect. Eventually I found out how long the education would take, so I chose a quite similar path but with less time to ‘waste.’


Digital Web: What would you say inspires you? Magazines, art, architecture, other sites, people, places or what?
Widegren: A special girl, music, weather, traveling, motion and all of the above as well.


Digital Web: How would you define creativity?
Widegren: Simply – one who displays productive originality.


Digital Web: I believe you agree with the statement that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and that you would also apply that in terms of design. However, I am going to ask anyway: What does it take for you to call a design “beautiful?”
Widegren: Mood, appeal, charisma, composition and a strong personal voice.


Digital Web: When designing sites, what tools do you typically use? Some designers like to start with an empty Photoshop file, others prefer to sketch ideas on paper with pencil… what is your favorite approach?
Widegren: I use both approaches and ‘prefer’ both; sometimes I just need paper because it’s faster and you have a better overview. When it comes to tools I of course have much love for Photoshop and Illustrator. Additional applications for my productions are 3D Studio Max, Homesite and Notepad.


Digital Web: Over the past few years I have seen a tremendous improvement in your site, THREE.OH. Could you tell us a little bit about THREE.OH, the first idea behind the site and how it has evolved over time?
Widegren: A quote from the remit:

‘THREE.OH – Inspirational Kingdom [3.0] is a graphic design portal that focuses on a textual as well as visual exploration of issues within the mandate of graphic design. THREE.OH promotes artists/web designers on the Internet, and we are an online resource for anyone interested in digital design.’

As said many times before it was a personal website which evolved into a graphic design portal because I thought it had more value and still do. It started as a simple start site for designers, with links to great design sites, later on I introduced interviews – where Miika Saksi from Smallprint was among the first victims. The site got more and more recognition making me put more effort in it. After that it all took off aiming higher.

If you didn’t know: One of the very first versions of THREE.OH (by that time called The Neuralgi Navigator) I was in contact with Mat Meija and we sort of borrowed each others concepts and both hosted design portals, we still do which is funny.

Click here to see a timeline of THREE.OH


Digital Web: Who helps make THREE.OH happen? Do you work on it alone, or do you have a team of colleagues helping out?
Widegren: I just expanded the team and we are currently 11 people either devoted or just helping out. Stanley who studies philosophy at Oxford University and myself do most of the content and conceptualization.

There are 4 programmers: Bob Ippolito who works at WDDG, John Weir who does smokinggun.com and recently made iht.com, Mark Shepphard who worked with me at Vir2L, Aaron Boodman who works at Rare Medium – they deal with the back- and front-end coding.

Then there’s Jens Karlsson [chapter3.net], Nathan Flood, Patrick Sundqvist, Kim Granlund and Angel Souto who helps out with smaller things like reviews, providing links and overall creative input.

I design, assemble and work as a secretary for myself.


Digital Web: You show mastery at balancing form with function and design with content on THREE.OH. When you launched the current design of THREE.OH you clearly pushed the boundaries for bleeding-edge technology on a web site, but you also managed to preserve its existing content. The design doesn’t overpower the content, and the content doesn’t overpower the design. What process and techniques did you use to accomplish this?
Widegren: The technology has been there for a while but no one really made anything good with it – in terms of presenting content. The main concept is to take advantage of hidden space, which introduces a simple “one-click-system” without leaving the actual front page for fast access. That is made easily by showing and hiding layers containing content with DHTML. Also by taking advantage of floating frames (IFRAMEs) that are hidden within layers. The problem with iframes is that they don’t really work in Netscape.


Digital Web: I remember seeing the first May 1st Reboot a year ago this May. With one look at the site I can see it has grown into a huge production. Can you explain the idea behind May 1st Reboot?
Widegren: May 1st Reboot is an international relaunch of web sites by authors and creatives working within the field of web design. As a collective event it makes a manifest demonstration of the very idea of community. It is, quite simply, an indeterminate group of designers subscribing to one event in order to publicise their work at one specific time across any number of different locations. And it is in that sense that it is most interesting to us, and by extension to those involved in or entering the world of Web Design online.


Digital Web: How many sites are involved with the May 1st Reboot this time, compared to the last time?
Widegren: By the time I’m writing this there are 1339 participants. Last time we were 8 but without anyone knowing.


Digital Web: How do you plan to orchestrate the roll-over of all the pages at the same moment in real time, around the world?
Widegren: Specifications are published on the May 1st Reboot website. Follow them and you’re good to go. If you’re unsure about the instant of launch, look at the countdown clock.


Digital Web: I noticed that Vir2L redesigned their site with a completely new look and feel. The new design seems so distant from what we are used to seeing from the creative minds at Vir2L – what exactly is the idea behind the new design? What are the latest goings-on at Vir2L?
Widegren: What I know is that it’s supposed to work as a marketing site. That’s it.

We were working on a version that was supposed to launch on May 1st but people either quit or got laid off so it will never see the light of day. Maybe the 25% we did of the site will, who knows.


Digital Web: What was the story about v.twin labs and Nisch Interactive? What happened to them?
Widegren: v.twin labs: a collective of designers who was supposed to make collaborative and creative projects. Never happened.

Nisch Interactive: A company I was co-founder of. It exists but it doesn’t. We made several productions then everyone went their own ways.


Digital Web: You also seem to really dig the work done by ATTIK… what is it about the work that you find most inspiring?
Widegren: It’s beautiful and exciting.


Digital Web: What are your favorite or most-visited sites on the Web? Why are they your favorites?
Widegren: iht.com – smart, very smart.

C:011y_ovrigtnews.html – my start site, which is made of a frameset of 5 columns containing news/links from k10k.net, linkdup.com, surfstation.lu, designiskinky.net and australianInfront.com.au.

designinmotion.com – good news and features.


Digital Web: Are you working on any new projects that you can talk about?
Widegren: Yes, then no 😉


Digital Web: Is there anything you would like to say to our readers? Do you have any words of wisdom or inspiring remarks you would like to pass on to future web designers and new media artists?
Widegren: Be humble and do research.

Thanks for reading and come visit threeoh.com some day, or every day.



Related Topics: Web Design, Motion Graphics, Web Guru

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.