Gabe Kean

Gabe Kean

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In: Interviews

By Meryl K. Evans

Published on May 7, 2002

Part I — Online Literature
Part II — Inside Born Magazine
Part III — Creativity in Web Design

Part I — Online Literature

Digital Web: Let’s start off with a definition of producing an independent literary publication. What do you believe it means?

Gabe Kean: Raising our “child” as an independent organization continues to be a challenging yet rewarding experience. Independence provides freedom, but also puts more of a burden (both time and financial) on the shoulders of its volunteer staff than a funded or for-profit publication.

We’ve found a great creative opportunity. Using technology as our ally, we can bring people together who don’t normally mingle in the same creative circles. Our “independence” further enables us to move forward without restriction.

Digital Web: Now that the Internet newness has worn off and the dust has settled down, how do you think it impacts the online literature side of the Web?

GK: Well, now there’s some new interest in independent projects, especially with e-commerce expectations having lost their gleam. It’s caused the world to think that maybe the Internet can be a place where creativity can flourish.

As time goes by, writers are becoming more comfortable with the idea of publishing on the Internet (and not just in the hypertext format). We are encouraging them to allow their work to be interpreted and presented in a new way. Most are really pleased with the results.

Digital Web: When we create collaborative and artistic pieces, what kind of audience is admiring these pieces? What do you think they take away?

GK: Artists aren’t always creating to get feedback from an audience. Sometimes they may not be trying to reach anyone. I think it is fair to say that an audience isn’t always their first priority and that’s why some of the audience that reaches them will be turned off while others are engaged by it.

When we create collaborative work, those parameters are forced to change. With more than a single person involved, we don’t only have to answer to ourselves as artists, but also to our team members and the audience they want to reach.

Digital Web: I’m guessing the average Internet surfer is not aware of such online work. Do we want to reach such a person? Why or why not?

GK: Yes, we are ultimately trying to reach them. Well, at least some of them.

It won’t happen overnight but one of our goals is to help reclaim the Web as a place for artistic expression. The “interactive community” needs to bring collaborative / technology art into the mainstream if we are going to have any influence on the direction of the web.

Part II — Inside Born Magazine

Digital Web: When you first came up with the concept of Born Magazine, what did you want to accomplish with it? How did you come up with it?

GK: Born was formed in 1996 as a slightly irreverent “zine” that featured fiction, poetry, essays, and columns (a magazine with little focus). We wanted to create something that would evolve with the medium. Initially, we were happy with it being a place that we could publish our peers’ writing and artistic talent, without restrictions from clients.

Digital Web: Has its focus changed? If so, how? What motivated you to make those changes?

GK: Since then, Born has gotten much more focused on featuring poetry and prose (with experiments in interactive storytelling). The change in focus came out of our imposing lopsidedness. I was recruiting top talent in the interactive design community but the writing side was very inconsistent. In 2000, Anmarie Trimble (Born’s editor) took over to lead the literary end of Born, with much success. Today, volunteers include award-winning writers and respected educators.

Digital Web: With all the talk and action on accessibility, standards, and bandwidth, should we be creating artistic content with or without these in mind? Why?

GK: Artistic projects are outlets for creatives to stay interested in the medium, and often to escape from the work that just pays the bills. These personal projects usually allow for more creative and technical freedom (in which other aspects can suffer).

Accessibility can’t be ignored. If the piece is to be read, it should be legible. If it is intended to only conjure a feeling from the audience, then the accessibility of that text has less importance. We try to play on both sides of that fence. It’s important for Born to be experimenting with new technologies and allow for some freedom (including allowing larger file sizes) in order for beautiful things to occur. We do our best to make set guidelines that offer a nice balance there.

Digital Web: No doubt your visitors have been inspired by the diverse contributions of writers and designers. What or who inspires you or is that ever-changing with each issue of Born?

GK: Contributors who surprise me with their inventiveness inspire me. It’s great to work with people who already understand that there are endless possibilities, and really try to do something new and significant with their collaborative project for Born.

Part III — Creativity in Web Design

Digital Web: Considering everything surrounding your work with Born is a creative endeavor. Sometimes when we work on something for so long, the creativity flame can burn out. What does creativity mean to you and how do you keep the flame burning?

GK: It isn’t a flame that needs to be refueled. Concepts with legs keep me interested. The Born idea is the only one that still works for me after five years. Most ideas come and go, and that initial passion for them is lost after a short time. My hope is that Born can continue to evolve and grow, allowing for new ideas to flourish under its umbrella.

Digital Web: In an interview with Sabre Magazine, you advised the young designer to focus heavily on typography and use color as an ally. Does that advice still apply today? What is the rationale behind it?

GK: Absolutely. Type skills are the rudiments of design, much like a jazz musician should know his scales before improvisation. All of the visual composition skills you need can be learned from embracing an interest in typography–and then I encourage young designers to also learn how letterforms send conceptual messages to the viewer, through their communication of language and stylization (the font and how it is used).

Digital Web: Second Story has an unusual approach for a Web design firm–its main focus is on interactive storytelling. At first glance, one may think that interactive storytelling is not something a business would pay a design firm to do. How does interactive storytelling become a “must have” as opposed to a “nice to have” for a business?

GK: “Interactive storytelling” is the easiest way for us to describe what we do to our clients. Second Story’s goal is to appropriately solve the problem at hand (using the appropriate technology to support the concept). Rich media isn’t always the answer; sometimes a data-driven chart is the answer; sometimes just plain HTML is the best solution. We let the content drive the project.

Digital Web: What are some projects you’ve brought alive with interactive storytelling? Which was the hardest and why?

GK: Initially, we approach every project in the same way. The execution is the variable, and some are more challenging than others (using based on deadlines and what kind of goals we set for ourselves within those deadlines).

Digital Web: In an interview with, you indicated that music is a key part of the Second Story environment and you hear a vast array of styles. How does music influence your work?

GK: Everyone at the studio loves music and we are constantly exposing ourselves to a diversity of new music. Some of us are also creating music for work and personal projects. We’re influenced by the audio around us, but also encouraged to think about what kind of sound is the right fit for the project at hand.

Digital Web: What advice do you have for the writer or designer who is weak on the creative side?

GK: If you have difficulty coming up with ideas, there are practical techniques that you can apply to your brainstorming sessions that will ensure that you are exploring all of the possibilities (mind-maps, visual matrixes, etc.).

Good ideas will push anything worth working on. If you can find the right idea, the passion needed to execute on that idea will appear. Born wouldn’t have survived if it was anything less than a labor of love. Our passion to help it evolve has kept us moving forward through the years.

Related Topics: Content, Web Design, Web Guru

Meryl K. Evans, content maven, is a WaSP member even though she’s far from being a WASP. The content maven writes a column for PC Today and blogs for the Web Design Reference Guide at InformIT. Meryl provides the home for the CSS Collection and she’s the editor of Professional Services Journal, meryl’s notes :: the newsletter as well as other newsletters, so tell all your friends, families and animals to subscribe. Her ancient blog keeps cluckin’ since its arrival on the web in 2000.