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Digital Craft

“We Wanted to Show How a Website Can be Powerful and Emotional”

Jam3’s co-founders and ECDs Pablo Vio and Adrian Belina on the power of great web design, the key to an engaging experience, and the importance of a ‘no assholes’ policy…

“We Wanted to Show How a Website Can be Powerful and Emotional”

Adobe XD is a proud supporter of LBB. Over the upcoming months, as part of the sponsorship of the Digital Craft content channel, we will be spending time with some of the most innovative and creative minds in the industry. 

Today we’re chatting with executive creative directors Pablo Vio and Adrian Belina (pictured) about their work with Jam3. The company was founded by the duo when they were straight out of college, and has been going strong ever since. The design and experience agency focuses on exactly that - design and experience. In the context of the past year, that could have proven a challenging position to be in. For Jam3, however, it was an opportunity to show the potential of their offering. Here, Pablo and Adrian reflect on the meaning of ‘experience’ in 2021, the defining work of their careers so far, and the ‘secret sauce’ that helped get Jam3 off the ground… 


LBB>  First things first, what’s the story of how you guys met?

Pablo Vio> Adrian, Mark, and I met in the postgrad Interactive Multimedia program at Sheridan College, back in the early 2000s. 

We all came from different backgrounds (Adrian from advertising, Mark from screenwriting, and myself from graphic design) but we all loved the advancements happening with the web at the time and we were hungry to learn how to make these experiences ourselves. 

 

LBB> You both founded Jam3 together straight out of college, and the company has been going strong ever since. What’s the secret to getting it right the first time?!

Pablo> It isn’t just one thing - though I do think that being passionate about what we do has kept us propelling forward. The same reason we decided to take the Interactive Multimedia post grad is the same reason we get up and go to work every day. We are passionate and excited about how creativity and technology can be used to innovate and solve problems. It’s about not trying to do or be too many things, sticking with what you know and are passionate about. For many years we weren’t focused on growing the business, we were building a brand by honing in on our craft and doing great work, and we attracted and sought out people to work with who felt the same way and carried the same values. Things grew from that. Looking back, if I was to dissect the secret sauce it would have to be passion - and hiring and collaborating with the right talent that shared the same mindset. 

Adrian Belina> Simplified down, it’s always been about doing great work with great people. We’ve always put extra love into being great matchmakers. We spend a lot of time finding people who share the same passions and values as us. It’s important that someone’s personal goals match the company’s goals and that everyone also has the same working style. What’s key to our success is finding people who are infectiously positive and hyper collaborative. There is zero tolerance for ego, cynicism and negativity in other words the “no assholes” policy!


LBB> Over your time with Jam3 so far, have there been any campaigns you’ve worked on which stand out as especially significant in your development as a company?

 Pablo> Many years ago Bear71 came out of our interactive documentary work with the National Film Board of Canada. Our small and mighty Canadian operation caught global attention when we won a Site of the Year, along with our first Gold Lion at Cannes and Gold Pencil at One Show.  People really connected with it and were moved by it. Bear71 showed us that websites can be more than informational or educational, they could also be incredibly emotional. Many people were shocked when they got teary eyed at the end. It was at this point where we doubled down and saw interactive storytelling as a big part of our offering, and made our push into the US market.

Above: It was following the success of Bear71 that Jam3 decided to ‘double down on interactive storytelling’ as part of their offering. 


A more recent example is our work with Adidas at ComplexCon. We dropped rare and limited edition shoes at the famous sneakerhead conference using an entertaining AR POS system with automated smart lockers that expedited the sale and pick up of shoes with absolute ease. Strategically, we targeted the issue of both lengthy and sometimes chaotic line ups, and used creativity and technology to re-invent how you create mass hype without all the downsides typically associated with exclusive products.

Above: Jam3’s ‘Unlock the Drop’ work with Adidas democratised the launch of normally chaotic exclusive products.


Both of those are examples of different types of projects that happened at different points of our maturity as an agency, but certainly played an instrumental role in who we are today.

 

LBB> You guys create phenomenal experiences for brands. But after the year we’ve just had, what even is an ‘experience’ in 2021?

Adrian> I’m glad you asked this question! And my answer is simple, it’s the same as it was in 2019. At its core, it’s anything that involves a person seeking to feel something and is willing to give their time and attention to a brand in exchange for an emotional reaction or stimulation. 

Four years ago, we rebranded Jam3 as a Design & Experience Agency because we wanted our clients to know we’re not a traditional “ad” agency that thinks media-first. We’re digital natives and our approach always starts by looking at the user or consumer and asking “what are they looking for?” and “what are they trying to accomplish?”. So to us it’s all one and the same - be it online or  in person. We approach both in the same way - we’re just extremely happy that our clients are now more receptive to digital experiences as it’s allowed us more room to push the boundaries online. A perfect example of this would be our most recent project with our client Complex. We created both a game-like experience and a fully functional e-commerce hub for 50+ brands that could set up their own unique shops and sell merchandise at a global online event. 

  

LBB> As the world (hopefully) begins to open back up later this year, how do you see the future of digital events and experiences?

Pablo> I do think many of us will be desperate to get back out there and experience entertainment in real life. Brands will need to take into account and keep note that some demographics may not be willing to reintegrate as quickly. We think there is a great opportunity to have a much wider reach regionally and globally by replicating your in person and digital experiences for the long haul. This is the best way to make sure there’s no over indexing on one or the other and to avoid isolating consumers. I think all brands - especially retail brands - have learned quick wins to stay relevant, picking up some great tools to keep exercising as we move past COVID and back to the new-new normal.


LBB> And how have you guys found the process of going fully digital in terms of events this past year? Is it possible to be as impactful when a user is not physically present in an experience?

Adrian> For sure it is! Over the years we’ve focussed on discovering ways to keep users engaged beyond passively watching a piece of content. We’ve been able to find and hone interactive tactics to add that sticky factor that keeps people engaged in an active way. Going back to our ComplexLand project, we designed the e-commerce gamification layer so it could also handle timed and scheduled product drops to keep conference attendees spending more time in the platform, which in turn created more brand and consumer opportunities while they were waiting. 

When comparing that to the IRL ComplexCon conference, our digital version had the benefit of being more streamlined and targeted; serving users alerts and focus moments to go after the brands they felt most passionate about. To top it off, there was also the added bonus of doing it all without the stress of long line ups and constantly feeling like you were missing out on something across the conference center. 

 

LBB> Adrian, how are you enjoying life in California? And can you guys talk us through how that move stateside initially happened?

Adrian> Home will always be Toronto, but it will be to no one’s surprise that I’m also absolutely loving it here in LA. It’s funny, prior to moving here I had a friend tell me they hated LA, and that in California you’re either going to be an LA type person or an SF type person. I didn’t quite get it at the time but 100% do now and laugh because for better or worse, ‘I’m so LA’. 

On the US expansion, that began as a conversation about having boots on the ground. Even though we’re a Canadian shop, almost the entirety of our client base is in the US. We were constantly flying around doing a ton of sales and client trips so it was only a matter of time before we picked our first outpost. NYC is usually a company’s first choice, but we were so close that it didn’t make sense and being in California gave us new faces and a new time zone too. There was initial debate whether to set up in SF or LA and we ultimately chose LA for a variety of reasons (entertainment clients, climate, global appeal, and to a certain extent just general ‘vibes’). So when the decision was made, I happily volunteered to uproot and start the US expansion and start the office with Jordan Cuddy who would end up being our 6th partner a few years down the line. 


LBB> Over your careers, what’s been your relationship with Adobe?

Pablo> Adobe was one of the reasons I got into this industry in the first place. Before I got into graphic design I didn’t even know these tools existed. Adobe PhotoShop CS is really where I discovered it all and became fascinated with the world of visual design. It made me realize that so much is possible. It got me into designing for fun and eventually propelled me to make this my career.

Then there was Flash... oh Flash...how much I miss those days of animating things on a timeline! Another Adobe software that inspired me to learn everything about building engaging sites. Flash brought a level of interactivity and motion to websites in the early 2000s that I think we all fell in love with. We saw incredible promise and it delivered image and video, motion and interactivity in ways we had never seen before. This was a revelation, it became part of who we were and our super-power for the first 3-5 years of our existence and what really paved the road for our success. I owe a lot to Adobe - and Jam3 does too - for the role it played as an inspiration and passion for what we do today. 


LBB> Finally, the past year has been a tough one for many. Throughout it all, what’s been your secret to staying motivated and positive?

Pablo> It’s important to remember that everyone is different and everyone processes things differently. Something I try to keep at the forefront is not to worry about things that I don’t have control over, and to focus on things that I do.

I have been very lucky to have the option to come live at my cottage full time, which has given me more space and a connection with nature than we could have had in the city. In many ways there has been and still is a lot of stress wondering “when is life going back to normal?”, but focusing on the things that I care about the most (my family, work, and taking time away from the computer to decompress) has helped get me through the tougher times. 

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