Let’s start off getting to know you. Who are you, where are you
from, and how did you get your start in design?
Hey, my name is Ben. I'm an interactive designer and a
co-founder of Rally Interactive, a small technology studio. After
graduating from Northern Michigan University, I decided to pack up
and head toward the mountains, settling in Salt Lake City.
Growing up, my parents were passionate about art and did their best
to cultivate my talents throughout middle school and high school.
However, like any rebellious teenager, I didn't really care about
art - mostly because my folks did. Despite my apathy toward art, I
became decent at drawing and took a few classes in high school.
Mostly because it was more fun than learning about
During my junior year at NMU, I stumbled into web "design" (I'm
using the term "design" loosely here, I was terrible). My buddy
Keith (now an ER Doc), was pretty well versed in HTML and showed me
a couple tricks. Prior to that, I thought the internet just existed
in the atmosphere like "The Force" and websites were created by
wizardry that the government conjured up.
I became obsessed with applications like Flash and After Effects.
The ability to combine interaction and animation was intriguing.
Shortly before graduating, I was lucky enough to score a couple
internships. The first was at Planet Propaganda and the second was
at Firstborn during the summer of 2007. Being an intern
jump-started my career in terms of passion and developing
So prior to co-founding Rally Interactive did you work full-time
at other agencies or did you jump into starting your own thing
immediately following your internships? How did the idea for Rally
My first full-time gig was at an agency called RED Interactive.
Although probably best known for their "Red Universe", they have
cranked out some amazing work over the years. While at RED, I got
stuck doing mostly Flash development, animation, and production
work. I left after only about 9 months, because I wanted more
After RED, I went to work at another studio in Salt Lake where I
met my Rally co-founders, Thomas Cooke and Wes Pearce. We worked on
quite a few successful projects as a team over the span of 2.5
years. Eventually, I got the itch to leave and freelance full-time.
In a sudden twist of fate, a week after giving my notice, Thomas
unexpectedly left to go out on his own too. Wes quickly followed
and in January of 2011, Rally Interactive was born. Rally in many
ways formed through necessity. Instead of the 3 of us freelancing,
we realized we would be stronger as company. 1/3 Designer. 1/3
Hacker. 1/3 Hustler.
Like many young companies, we figured we would try and learn
from previous employer woes and be different. Ironically, we found
the biggest difference ends up in the smallest details. Even though
we came from the advertising production world, we don't do
advertising. The digital space is cluttered with old web and app
campaigns collecting dust. We believe in living, breathing, and
evolving digital products. We believe it's possible to create
experiences that can transcend age ranges and audiences. The
distinction between a digital product versus a digital campaign may
not seem like much, but it's paramount in Rally's culture and
You describe the three members of Rally Interactive as
“Designer”, “Hacker”, and “Hustler”. Tell us about that dynamic.
During the course of any given project, how do the three of you
interact & work together? Is there any cross-pollination among
I stole the labels "Designer", "Hacker", and "Hustler" from
Jason Putori's Quora answer to
"What would the ideal web technology start-up team be composed
of?”. After stumbling upon that Quora thread, I realized
Jason's answer described the roles of the three ‘Rally’
Rally's "Hustler" is Thomas Cooke. He leads the charge when it
comes to project management, new business, general accounting, and
HR. Wes “Hacker” Pearce, is a rare and truly gifted developer. He
can conquer nearly any programming language or server situation
that gets thrown his way. That leaves me as the “Designer”, which
is sometimes the easiest of the three - just brainstorm and attempt
to make things look good. I credit almost all of Rally's success to
Wes and Thomas. They are much more nimble (than me) at juggling
chaotic situations and challenges that arise.
At Rally, we work closely together during the entire
lifecycle of a project. There is definitely some crossover
in our skill-sets. During the discovery and design phase of a
project, Wes and Thomas are quite involved. While design is going
on, Wes is simultaneously coding prototypes to prove UX concepts.
We all bounce ideas off one another and concept together. Thomas is
an exceptional strategic thinker. It's an unspoken rule at Rally
that the only way for us to grow individually and as a team is to
check the egos at the door. Job titles mean nothing - a good idea
can come from any of us. Wes and I pitch and help Thomas with new
business and project management when things get hectic. In the
early days of Rally, I helped Wes code Flash projects when needed.
The only object-oriented programming language I know inside and out
is AS3. Now that Flash is more or less dead, I'm not much use as
What are your “tools of the trade” in regards to software when
designing and what’s your process for communicating desired
interactions? With your Flash background, have you ever taken a
similar route to Dan Mall who uses applications to create animation
prototypes (see Invisible
These days I spend most of my time in Photoshop, Illustrator,
and Keynote. I’m dreadful at using Illustrator and Keynote but
force myself to grapple with them regularly. When there is enough
time before a deadline, I will create a rough "storyboard" of
interactions. By "storyboard", I really just mean a lot of JPGs or
PNGs in order of interaction. Occasionally I'll use After Effects
or Flash to help communicate a specific animation or UX pattern.
However, working in a small team enables our developers to jump in
and help prove a concept quickly. We've been fortunate that our
developers (Wes and Adam) have a positive "can-do" attitude. Most
of the time they are happy to prototype a wild idea.
Thanks to Method & Craft, I've bookmarked Invisible
Deliverables. Dan Mall is an inspiration and he brings up a lot
of great points touching on internal workflow and efficiency. Like
Dan, I agree that most layout frameworks and grids are too complex.
I've abstained from using them (a little ashamed to admit this).
Everyone works differently, but I've found that trusting my eye and
drawing my own grid using guides in Photoshop has gotten the job
done. That being said, it's not always the most productive way to
go about planning a design. Speaking of efficiency, one of my
biggest fears working in the ever-changing tech industry is that I
will render myself obsolete. I worry that my bad habits will devour
me. Therefore, I'm determined to do my best to change, improve, and
evolve. For example, after co-founding Rally, I’ve taught myself to
use the Calendar app on my iPhone moderately well - still working
on the syncing with the Desktop part!
Do you do much sketching during the initial stages of design or
do you prefer to jump into Photoshop or Illustrator/Keynote for
wireframing? You guys at Rally have conceived some unique
interactions. What’s your process for innovation/conception?
Sketching is one thing I wish I did more often. I have a nasty
tendency to jump right in and lay stuff out in Photoshop. Our last
intern was great at sketching... I'm hoping his healthy habit rubs
off on me.
Rally doesn’t have a concrete method for designing and developing
interactions. A lot of our thinking stems from who we are. There is
an underlying attitude here which is to be different from other
shops - a rebel spirit. Our developers aren’t afraid to push the
boundaries with code and tech. Focusing on the little things does
wonders for a project. When you combine focus, inspiration, and the
desire to build something slightly unique, it can yield interesting
What is your favorite & least favorite part of the design
process? Other than sketching, what area(s) are you working to
improve your skill-set?
It may sound silly, but my favorite part of the design process
is when the thinking and visuals start to come together. My least
favorite part is convincing a client to move out of their comfort
zone. Earning a client’s trust can be extremely frustrating but
ultimately rewarding. It’s very hard to create
good work when a client doesn’t have faith in your creative problem
As far as skills are concerned, I desperately need to improve on
everything. Specifically my illustration, 3d, and coding skills are
virtually non-existent... and that’s a problem.
You guys use Dribbble a lot to show off the work you’ve done,
currently working on, and demo interaction ideas. How does being a
part of and engaging with a community like Dribbble impact Rally
Folks here are generally excited and anxious to receive feedback
from the community. Thomas actually did a presentation at an event
in Salt Lake about sharing client work through Dribbble instead of
keeping it a secret. Using Dribbble has helped us gain momentum and
has given us some great opportunities. I'm not sure Rally would be
the same if we didn’t use Dribbble. We owe so much to Dribbble and
Let’s talk specifics. What are you 3 favorite typefaces? If you
could add/remove any feature in Photoshop what would it be? What
music do you listen to when working?
I'm not sure I can list my 3 favorite typefaces as my tastes
change often. I'll just list 3 of my 3 most trusted fonts. They are
Gotham (lots of weights), Helvetica Neue (all weights), and Georgia
(Regular and Italic) for a simple and effective serif typeface.
Lately, I've been trying to branch out a bit more with type and
exploring other typefaces.
This isn't specific to Photoshop, but I wish Adobe would add more
consistency across products and toolsets, like what the default hot
keys are, and how tools behave.
Music in the office can vary greatly. It ranges from artists like
Bon Iver, DeadMau5, AC/DC, a little hip hop plus everything in
between. We're pretty open to a wide variety of musical tastes, but
decent melody or beat is required.
Describe your work day (hours & rituals you keep) and your
work environment (how your workstation is set up & what your
office is like).
The work hours at Rally are quite flexible. Some folks are early
birds and work a typical 9-5. Others are inclined to sleep in,
exercise, and get into the office around noon, working later into
the evening. Our work environment is simple; A few large desks with
computers, aeron chairs, a couch, coffee table, lamps, and a
bookshelf. We’re trying to liven the office up over time. Our walls
are in dire need of some art and pictures. My desk and computer
desktop resemble one another, they are both cluttered. The are a
few empty coffee cups, random books, letters, and magazines (I
The only ritual I keep is daily exercise. Exercising keeps me
relatively sane when things gets hectic.
Show us an image of the most inspiring thing you’ve seen this
I just came across 500.chromeexperiments.com
and it’s probably the most inspiring thing I’ve seen this week.
It’s great to see web technology evolving right before our
Thank you so much Ben for taking the time to talk with us. It’s
I’m grateful for the opportunity, thank you! I’m a huge fan of
Method & Craft and your work.