UA5: You grew up in Liverpool and went to school in London, so what made you want to leave the UK for the states? Was that always your plan?
FT: No. But then I met and married an amazing American girl who refused to live in the UK because it rained too much.
UA5: What was the first computer you or your family owned? Do you remember what your impression was of the role computers would play in our lives?
FT: Our family got a ZX-81, which was a very primitive PC available in the UK. We splurged and upgraded the memory from 1K RAM to a massive 16K! It was black and white and the graphics were mostly ASCII characters.
UA5: Did you always imagine computers playing such a large role in your own life?
FT: One of my formative experiences as a child was wandering around video game arcades. I would spend hours awash in the neon glow and soundtrack of electronic bleeps. Since then I have always been chasing that thrill and I knew that computer based entertainment was something I wanted to work on.
UA5: How long did it take for you to feel like an expert in your field?
FT: The thing about ‘becoming an expert’ is that there is always someone else who is far more skilled or talented to make you feel like an amateur. For example I’ve been learning GLSL shaders for a couple of years, but when I look at some of the stuff on Shadertoy I feel like a complete idiot.
UA5: When building a user experience, how often are you granted some freedom in how a project ends up looking?
FT: It depends on the project. Typically as a developer, you are trying to match the provided design comps as closely as possible. These are usually provided as static PSDs. In this case I get to provide design input via motion design: how elements transition and react to input. In other projects I get to provide more direct design input via concepting, prototyping, layouts or even full graphic design.
UA5: How does your creative freedom with projects as a freelancer compare to working at some of the big ad agencies?
FT: The best thing about being a freelancer is that you can say no to a project. So you get to pick which kind of projects you work on. The downside of freelancing is trying to juggle incoming projects to avoid too much downtime. I’m lucky enough to have some great clients who I often work with on a repeat basis. It’s also nice being able to spend some time working on my own creations.
UA5: Can you explain the impact of an element or detail of a UX project that is often overlooked?
FT: Responsiveness should be the top priority. Making web pages be fast to load and render, with smooth animation and high frame rates. Anytime you make the user wait, you are creating frustration and killing the flow state.
Often in agency work there is a push to the bleeding edge of what is technically possible, in order to make the experience ‘cooler’. The disadvantage of this is that it can often make the experience chug, especially on older devices. The technical challenge is to make the experience adapt to the device so that it works smoothly on older devices while still giving that wow factor on newer devices.
UA5: What excites you most about the future of the internet?
FT: I feel like the internet is already starting to reach its potential. The fact that you can access Wikipedia from anywhere in the world on a hand-held device is a sci-fi dream come true. If you look at famous sites from 15 years ago you can see how far we have come in terms of graphic design, layout and content.
Once you have instant streaming hi-res video on mobile screens, you have pretty much hit the limit of what a screen can do with linear content. Beyond that there is a whole world of interactive experiences that can be brought to the web: games, content that reacts to audio or video input, motion detection, VR etc.
Ultimately the web will be able to do everything that is now possible via mobile apps. The web will always win because by definition it is available everywhere versus having to install an app.
UA5: Which came first – your scifi addiction or your computer addiction?