Tor Kristensen

Tor Kristensen

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In: Interviews

By Nick Finck

Published on December 21, 1999

Digital Web: To start things off, can you introduce yourself and describe what it is that you do, both professionally at Araneum and in your spare time?
Tor: Oh dear. Well, I work at Araneum as a “Designer”, but at the moment I’m writing the client side lingo for a large multiuser RPG for the Danish Rail Ministry. In my spare time I design my own projects or collaborate with others on their work, as I am with Vicki Wong on Once I’m out of energy I’ll read either Umberto Eco, Thomas Pynchon, Neil Gaiman, or whatever’s at hand. I read constantly.


Digital Web: What is the main idea behind
Tor: The main idea was to collect an interesting, diverse group of work, and then try to entice artists to collaborate with others for group shows on By diverse I mean writing, sculpture, video art, painting-all the disciplines, not just pixel pushing. Unfortunately, what I learned is that people are quite eager to have their own work displayed, but much less eager to go out on a limb to try to brainstorm a concept and work on something personal with someone they’ve never met. That was disappointing, and I’ve put on hold because of it. Getting people to participate in a k10k type site is much easier and has a wider niche than because it relies on those great motivators, ego and exposure. Which is fine! But I had no idea that the subpopulation of artists who were willing to use the net for collaboration and crosspollination was so small.


Digital Web: Your styles expressed on are very structured and original. You tend to contain your designs within boxes and frequently use cross-platform JavaScript pull-down menus within your site. Random graphics load each time a user sees one of your sites. Web design and multimedia design involves a lot of understanding the medium on both a technical and artistic level. How would you say you find the balance of the two?
Tor: Well, I designed bespoke in my exacting must-work-in-all-browsers-and-be-easy-to-update phase. The web technologies I chose were used because they gave me a 90% rendering accuracy for NN3.0 and IE3.0 and up. The visual style was part of my desire to have some sort of rough, hard, exacting framework that could accommodate most any layout other artists could come up with.

The balance with was simply to find a point where the style defined a bespoke “look”, and the navigation became comprehensive and simple. The two dropdown navs were used because I had 3 main categories with an unknown number of sub-pages. With two dropdown menus controlled by javascript, you can navigate from the very top of the site to a sub-page in two clicks.

I think I might have an advantage in finding a middle ground, or novel solutions, because my work is fairly ambidextrous. I started programming in elementary school with an Apple ][e, which inspired me to make my own games. The first thing I wanted to know was “How do I make a picture?” I’ve always loved drawing and the visual arts, and have no conceptual boundary between what something looks like and how it is made.


Digital Web: Do you have a favorite site that you think expresses a successful balance between form and function?
Tor: Hmm. I have to say the only site / application that demonstrated a clear and rational UI, that can be used by anyone, is Norton Utilities for windows. If your machine is going to frag and you are scared to death of losing all of your data, the interface Norton gives you three large buttons clearly labeled as to their function, and strictly following the windows UI guidelines is calm and reassuring-it communicates very clearly what you should click in order to solve your problems.

In terms of sites, I love looking at soopa-designer sites like k10k, praystation and nDroid, but the everyday sites that I find the most useful hark back to the days of HTML3.0, Text and links. It may be because I read a huge amount of news everyday, and do a lot of research online. But those are things that rarely benefit from a sexy package.

I often have a problem with designer content. The problem is that it suffers from an excess of design and a lack of meaning. Navel-gazing look-at-my-mad-typo-skillz exhibits have zero interest for me. Are you communicating something about yourself? Your views? A moment of beauty? A moment of hate? Anger? Lust? Politics? What?

Design is a hypodermic needle for ideas; and there’s nothing I hate more than people leaving empty needles all over the place.


Digital Web: Do you have any new projects you’re working on that you could share with us?
Tor: Well, I’m trying to collect my various “research” shockwaves and put them up in some coherent framework that others can learn from. On the artistic front, I’m collaborating with Vicki Wong on a multi-user exhibition space that is going to be based on the libraries I’m writing for DSB. We’re going to install artists’ works into a living multi-user space, and allow multiple people to interact simultaneously with the works. We’re currently looking for artists to submit their work to us for the opening, and anyone who’s interested can contact me via

In being the director, I’m working on generative and fractal music, spatial sound processing, getting the most from linked director movies, and drooling for Director 8 with its new image processing functions.

I also have another project that is targeted at the K-12 set, which is a multimedia version of Sailing Alone Around The World, a book written by Capt. Joshua Slocum in the 1890s about his journey around the world. It took him three years, and the adventures he had are so amazing, so impossible in today’s world, that I feel it needs to be brought back into the public eye. The book is out of copyright, so I’ve had it OCR’d and am looking for illustrators or designers who’d be interested on working on that with me…

Then there’s the Mette-Site, (Mette is a Danish girls name that is pronounced like the English “Meta”), so we’re going to make exhibits about our friend Mette, while keeping the Meta-concept in mind. That’s a fun one. There’s a lot of semiotics and interaction possibilities there.


Digital Web: The k10k guys seem to be inspired by you and they look up to you. You also taught a class in Shockwave Development at Space Invaders. You are a teacher or mentor to a lot of designers-what motivates you to share your knowledge and skills with others?
Tor: Do they now? Well, Toke started at Araneum when we were still eight people, as opposed to the 80 we are now, and we had a lot of fun throwing crazy ideas around. I met Michael later, but found out that he is actually not Michael Schmidt, but my evil twin. Our life stories are very, very similar, which is possibly the scariest thing I’ve learned recently.

Well, every male relative of mine has a degree in teaching, and most every female relative has a career in Social Work. I like teaching, and I enjoy showing things to people things that make those “Oh Wow!” connections happen. Hopefully I’ll be running a class in Multimedia in east India this fall.

What motivates me is primarily the dissatisfaction I have with the quality of programs in multimedia and art that seem to me to neglect large areas, such as programming, that can be intensely creative fields.


Digital Web: What inspires you? What keeps you from suffering from designer’s block like so many others–what keeps you going?
Tor: What inspires me? Well, I love writing. Words inspire me, as do concepts that need to find form. Nature inspires me, as do dirtyuglyfuckedup urban scenes. What keeps me going may simply be the fact that I can’t stop. The creative process is integral to me. I do get blocked, I do have those “I’m crap! I should go work in a factory–ugh!”, moments. But they pass. I find focusing on something completely 180 from the topic at hand helps.


Digital Web: Do you have a methodology to producing successful design projects? If so, can you explain a little bit about your process?
Tor: <HAL>I can’t do that, Dave….<HAL>


Digital Web: You mentioned on that you are an Alaskan designer marooned by fate in Copenhagen, Denmark. Do you enjoy living in Denmark? Do you ever think you will every go back to Alaska?
Tor: Denmark is a quiet, calm place where I get paid quite well. It is not Kodiak island, or the Tongass national forest. But it will do for now.

I’d like to move back to the Pacific Northwest at some point. But I don’t think I could get used to the Alaskan winters again, and I don’t think my girlfriend is willing to. British Colombia or Ireland are on the top of our list.


Digital Web: What are your plans for the future? Where would you like to be in five, maybe ten years from now? Do you have any goals you would like to meet? Any New Year’s resolutions?
Tor: To keep on learning. My long-term goal is a nice log cabin in the woods by a lake, a woodpile, canoe, and T3 connection to my work. Hearing loons while I put the finishing touches on a project would be just fantastic. Living in the middle of Copenhagen for four years has dulled my nose.


Digital Web: How would you define creativity?
Tor: Too many ideas in too small a skull. Eyes big enough to swallow the world.


Digital Web: What would you say is beauty in web design?
Tor: Would it be cruel for me to say that I’ve not seen it yet? I think there are a lot of beautiful things being expressed on the web, but we simply don’t have the unilateral control of presentation that we need.


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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,