Case Study 7: 451

It’s always amazing to see what people wind up doing with Jewelboxing. We’ve seen users put pieces of wood in the case spine, things carved into the cover, and everything you can imagine in between. When we got in a sample of 451’s new design portfolio, that’s when we knew we’d seen one of the best off-the-beaten-path uses ever. Inside a beautifully designed, single color sleeve you find a gorgeous booklet, featuring some of the highlights of 451’s work (if you want to get to it right away). The Jewelboxing case features the same, less-is-more aesthetic, with nothing but the most fitting word imaginable, “Simple,” on the cover. And if you haven’t fallen in love with 451 by this point, once you pop the CD in and use the fantastic interface, we can almost guarantee you’d be utterly smitten. It’s a thing of beauty, their work, so we decided it was only fitting to have our next Case Study be about them. And as luck would have it, we were fortunate enough to be able to talk a bit with Ernesto Rinaldi, 451’s founder and head honcho:

1. Can you tell us a little about your company?

I’ve always been attracted to design+technology, way back before the Internet was around. I bought my first Mac in 1985 and from then on I started using it as a tool for design. I had a small graphic design shop in Argentina, and when the web came down there the possibility of mixing both design and technology blew my mind. I remember as soon as I logged on the web and started flirting with HTML turning back to my partner and telling him “I want to make a living out of this…”

So I started designing and creating websites for my own as a hobby (I was still a full time graphic designer and I was art directing 2 magazines). At that time I was working for a local branch of a Fortune 500 company, and they were starting to get into the online world. I showed them what I was doing and I got my first serious interactive project. From then on it didn’t stop. I got a job in California for some time, but later I decided to pursue my own company, and that’s how it all started. 451 was already the name I had chosen to do business, although I was not operating as 451 because nobody knew us under that name.

2. What kind of projects do you work on? Any favorites?

We do all kinds of interactive projects. For some reason we usually end up doing a lot of corporate stuff and big media projects like newspapers, magazines, etc. But from time to time we take fun projects where we can relax and not only think about “how will it work, will people understand it…” and do other fun things.

While in California working for RDG I got to work on the design of Apple’s original Final Cut application interface, back in 1998. Still today I can’t help stopping by any Apple store to check the application (which now is at version 5 and still using most of the original interface)… Designing mass accessed websites are always a favorite. Knowing that millons look and use what you do everyday makes you feel good, no matter what the project is.

3. What drew you into creating content and designing for the web, as opposed to other mediums like print or film?

We started out as print, and then moved to web. Being so far away from the first world (Argentina), the web was the first chance we had down there to show the work we did worldwide and how creative we could be… And also it was the perfect mix of technolgy and creativity.

4. You have some of the biggest clients in the business. What’s the process of designing a site for an organization as large as places like Visa or Volkswagen? Do you come in with many concepts to pitch, or do they assume that you’ll just create something wonderful based on your terrific body of work?

Years ago I never thought experience would be so important. You always think creativity is all, and maybe my background beign an architect helped me realize creativity and design are just part of the creative process. There are many other parts that build up a job (be print, interactive, movie, etc.) so when you work for somebody as large as Visa or VW, they not only look for creative talent in the aesthetic sense, but also in all the other aspects. When you work on a project for them they expect the project to be successful. Large websites (like a newspaper, that publishes hundreds of pages daily, and recieves millons of users every single day) require you to take into account things that are also related to design but not to creativity; you have to research and plan even before starting to choose a color, so that’s where you start making a difference by having experience on your side.

5. You relate your company name to Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” by quoting the main concept of the book, that paper burns at this temperature. It’s a brilliant idea related to web content, but in Bradbury’s work, the burning of paper, or books, is a bad thing and an allegory for a dystopian society. Were you concerned at all about the negative connotations, or do you feel that there is something that Bradbury could never have foreseen, that books would gradually disappear, but they’d be replaced in a positive way by internet content? Or, alternately, am I just reading too much into all of this?

The funny part is that most people don’t even have an idea about the meaning of the number. When we go to meetings sometimes they ask us about the name, and they believe it’s because of our phone number (which, BTW was a pain to get it from BellSouth…). There are 2 main reasons to use the name. First, the novel shows a future where everything is controlled by the computer, and that’s probably what moved me to think about the name, and also the temperature that burns paper. Not everybody has read the book or even seen the movie, so when we explain the meaning of our name we just focus on the burning of paper and it’s enough… Also, since we work in different countries and cultures (I’m native in Spanish), being named with a number is easy to pronounce in any language.

6. The web seems to be a lot more functional place now that it’s been adopted by the public at large and has long since shed its previous semi-alien, subculture-based past. Because you started so early, in 1995, what has that been like, going from a time when people were relatively unfamiliar with the internet, to now, a time when everyone uses it and even the mom and pop restaurant on the corner has a website?

Well, I remember talking to my ISP in Argentina in 1995. We had this conversation and he told me about a website where I could find everything. I walked 3 blocks back to my office and when I got there I forgot the name… it was Yahoo!! So at that time nobody knew anything about the web. I remember checking a website and finding that we could tweak the code and change the background color of the page! That was amazing then…

My first account with Network Solutions was ER125, which meant that ony 125 persons had made a registration with my initials. When I tried to register 451.com I was not allowed because by that time they didn’t accept numbers only, so I started out with f451.com and then got 451.com.

7. What do you feel the future holds for the internet? Are you excited by any trends you see developing?

I like what is doing and how fast it’s growing in terms of usability and design. You can do on the web what you want, generating completely innovative experiences for users, and that’s exciting. Flash is doing a very good job helping use and understand navigation and usability. In general, the technology is catching up with what designers have in mind and is letting them (us) do what we want, not being crippled by the technology itself.

8. You do a lot of work in Latin America. Was that a decision early on, to get involved in that market or something that just showed up and has been growing ever since? What is the landscape for the web in that part of the world?

Being native in Spanish probably helps us get jobs. We started out down in Argentina, so that also helped us get big clients that the Latin market recognizes. We’ve been mainly a “word of mouth” company, our friends are from Latin America and we end up getting more jobs there.

9. Why did you choose Jewelboxing to send out your work?

We wanted to show the best of our work, and we believe every single piece of what you do talks about the company. We didn’t want to use regular CD boxes, and we thought it would be a good idea to use Jewelboxing. We used the original paper that comes with the pack to print and die cut our own set of booklet and covers.

10. The packaging you’ve used, quite possibly one of the best we’ve ever seen come through our doors, includes a beautiful Jewelboxing case design and fantastic booklet, all held together with a thick box-like sleeve. Can you tell us a little about the packaging design process and some info about where you had the packaging produced?

Thanks! We thought that we wanted to have both things tied together. We did a CD-Rom some time ago and it didn’t work as we had planned because when you hand it out in a meeting nobody stops the meeting to pop in the CD on their computers. So they take out the booklet and once they see what you do they get into the cd.

We printed the book and the box in Colombia, and the internal parts of the jewelbox here in Miami. For some reason we didn’t use the correct paper thickness for the internal pieces (we’ll get it right the next time), so they are somewhat thinner than the ones that come with the Jewelboxes (which btw are great).

11. Lastly, what does the future hold for 451? And any exciting projects near release that you can talk about?

We only delivered less than 5% of the cds and cases we did and we had an overwhelming response. We are afraid to send out the others… We are always working on new projects and every single one is exciting for us (well, not 100% but 90%!!) We are redesigning the Public Radio and TV for Miami (WLRN) and that’s really a very exciting project for us. Others we can’t talk about will appear on our website as soon as we are allowed to let the world know what we are doing…