Red Piston Interview

It’s January 2010, and the decades old Chrysler – BBDO partnership has dwindled and has reached it’s final chapter. From the closing of BBDO Windsor emerges Red Piston, formed from the dream of three brilliant developers who came together to forge a path in the newest branch of interactive design and development.

Specializing in building innovative iPhone applications, Red Piston‘s skills not only lie in clean interface design for iPhone, but range the full gamut of multimedia design. With over 30 years of combined multimedia and interactive design and development under their belts, Red Piston has already created Apps in the Medical and Gaming categories that have achieved top downloads around the world. Located in Windsor, Ontario, their experience and innovation has Red Piston ready to launch into the next generation of devices and gadgets as they’re released.

Please introduce yourself, give us a brief bio, and how you started Red Piston?

There are three partners: Andy Kale, Jakub Koter, and Ali Al-Aasm

Andy Kale – 13 years of web development experience and 3 years of iPhone design / development.

Ali Al-Aasm – 10 years of Web/Flash development experience and 3 years of iPhone development

Jakub Koter – 10 years of web design & Flash experience and 3 years of iPhone design / development

Prior to forming Red Piston, each of us developed and released apps on the side.

All three of us worked at BBDO Windsor, working on Interactive projects for Chrysler Jeep and Dodge Canada.  In November 2009, Chrysler announced that they were ending their relationship with BBDO in the US and Canada as of the end of January. After a day or so of wondering what we were going to do, the three of us decided that we would partner up and form Red Piston.

We were fortunate that out of the gate we had established strong contacts at Universal Music Group and had a few projects lined up so that we could hit the ground running.

Where do you look for sources of inspiration?

Inspiration is everywhere – not only from technology, but also from nature and products in other industries. The iPhone platform digitizes so many elements of every day life, but the one thing it excels at is making things easier. We focus on clean, simple, easy-to-use interfaces. Apps and products that make complicated tasks easy are our passion. Companies that share a similar philosophy – Braun, Ikea, Apple (obviously) – are a huge inspiration for us.

What is your favourite aspect of your iPhone application design and development?

It’s the challenge of making something extremely useful yet easy to use. This platform introduces so many possibilities. You’re walking around with a powerful computer that is constantly connected to the web – but layered on top of that is this incredibly simple user experience. Whenever we start a new project, we want to tie in the appropriate technology to satisfy the user’s need, but we want to do it in a way that makes it simple. If that means stripping out interface items, or removing functionality that most people won’t use, we’ll do it.

What are your top 3 favourite websites / apps?

Besides our own, of course? Probably easier to list by person:

Andy

Convertbot – It’s takes something pretty mundane – simple calculations – and turns it into just a great user experience. Sounds, animations, style – it’s bang-on.

Facebook – They’ve made some great choices in terms of interface – the app looks nothing like the built-in interface elements in the SDK, but feels perfectly familiar.

Shazam – Every time I tag a song, I am still blown away at how well it works, and how quickly. It’s amazing.

Jakub

Urbanspoon – I love food!

kijiji – I have a lot of stuff that i am always selling, this app lets me walk around my house and post things for sale really fast.

Dropbox – gives me easy access to important files wherever I go.

Ali

Fring – especially now that you can Skype over 3G

Jungle Crash – because it’s so addictive and fun to play while waiting

APNews – it’s a great way to keep on top of the latest news quickly and easily.

What piece of work are you most proud of and why?

Speed and Strength for so many reasons. 1) because it was a total team effort – we each took a chunk of the app and the pieces fit together perfectly, 2) because it pushed our limits and built our capabilities: we had never done a 3D game before, we had to model textures and work with sound and video in ways that we had not done in the past, plus we had an extremely tight timeline. 3) because it was extremely successful for our client and we were able to deliver a very low cost per impression, which gave our clients a great ROI. In addition, their web traffic skyrocketed following the release of the app, they won an award for it, and we helped expose their brand to markets that they could not cost effectively target (like Japan, where the app was the #1 Free Downloaded Game for the first week following release).

What advice would you give to someone starting out in application development for iPhone, or any smartphone?

Keep developing, even if it is just on your own projects. No idea is a stupid idea. Not every project is going to be a best seller, but every project you work on can lead to something else – whether it’s the use of a different component (e.g. multi-touch, accelerometer, compass, etc.), or a unique user-interface element, each project has something that you can take a piece of and use in another project down the road. You have to build your portfolio of technology, designs, etc. that you can grow and evolve into the next project.

What Social Media tool have you found to be most beneficial to you, as a designer/developer?

Twitter. Twitter gets a bit of a bad rep by being only about what people you don’t care about had for lunch. But really, if you follow people in the industry, it’s a great tool for learning about new apps, new technology, new designs, etc. And it’s a fantastic tool for research. If a company does something that people don’t like, they’ll Tweet about it, and it can quickly become a trending topic.

What would a dream job for you be?

Without sounding cheesy, Red Piston is our dream job. We’re our own bosses, we work with people we enjoy being around, and we’re working on technology in an industry that’s very exciting. In terms of dream clients – we have a few companies and brands that we’d love to work with, and we’re working our way down our list through contacts that we’ve established.

Are you totally stoked about the iPad?

Absolutely! When it first came out, we were trying to see where it would fit into people’s lives, but in the lead-up from the announcement to launch day, the more we read about it, the more we began to see the possibilities. We’ve already built one application (CoachPad – a virtual whiteboard for coaches to diagram plays for their teams), and have a few more in development. We were in line on opening day, and so far in the first few days, we’re realizing it’s an amazing device.