AIGA Studio Tour: Second Story

PORTLAND–Curious designers are gathering by the dozens outside of Second Story Interactive Studios in anticipation of tonight’s AIGA studio tour.
People check in and mill about, say hello to friends and at times cordially greet strangers. Robert Moss pops in as the group moves up the staircase, and I say, “Hey, you’re a writer, what are you doing here?”
Moss says, “I don’t want to hang out with other writers.” As a writer myself, I laugh and agree that it is our responsibility to get out and meet the designers. And we’ve come to the right place, because 16 year-old Second Story is one of Portland’s elite design shops.
Studio Director Jennifer Guibord introduces herself, says Second Story employs 27 designers and developers, then she splits us into two groups and sends us on our way to hear presentations from Lead Integration Engineer Matt Arnold in the Media Lab, and another presentation upstairs in the living room led by Content Producer Michael Neault, Content Strategist Scott Smith and Design Director Aaron Walser (on the importance designing for content and creating meaningful experiences).
Second Story works primarily with museums, schools and other cultural institutions to bring interactive experiences to life. In the Media Lab, Arnold projects a Second Story installation that lives in Adobe’s San Francisco headquarters, then he walks us through another project underway for University of Oregon, the shop’s only local client.
We only have 30 minutes per station, so it’s rapid fire teaching. Arnold shows us a multi-touch screen from Finland that will someday live in the U of O Alumni building in Eugene. Arnold explains what kind of content this display might deliver to an end user and he shows us some of the programming techniques that his team uses to deliver the content. It’s a good thing there are 30 foot ceilings in this place, because the brain power of this organization is palpable, and big brains need room to bounce their ideas around.
Next, we head upstairs and take seats in over-sized leather chairs and love seats. Neault shows us a Studio Process schematic on the overhead screen and says it “looks musical” by design. This structure helps Second Story “work within a certain key” and “determine the flow,” of an interactive project, says Neault. He adds that it’s important to “apply a plot to an experience.”
Smith says that designers are in the room when “tone and voice” are determined, that’s it’s a very collaborative process. “We don’t lead with visual design. Concept is our primary concern.”
Addressing the company’s culture, Walser says, “You need endurance to work here. It’s like working on a film.” Regarding how one goes about landing a job at Second Story, Neault says, it’s not about learning programs, it’s about having a natural curiosity and an aptitude for the work.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.