Based: New York
Notable clients: Nike, KENZO, Nicopanda, Mike Will Made It
In the autumn of 2013, OKFocus produced an interactive website for Nike’s Hyperfeel launch in London. When you went to the site and viewed the source code, visitors were presented with the iconic Air Jordan logo drawn out in dollar signs. In fact the same is true if you look at the source of any OKFocus site source code, different doodles often accompanied with a slogan or two (i.e. AT IT SINCE WE WAZ 10 YEARS OLD, MESS WITH THE BEST DIE LIKE THE REST !!!!).
Founded by Ryder Ripps, Jules Laplace and Jonathan Vingiano, the studio has been building a reputation as one of the most exciting and innovative around through a combination of clever, funny and technically impressive work for clients, and the odd cheeky personal project (like the hugely popular Where’s The Pixel? and the brilliantly bizarre Drake Shake app which added rapper Drake into users’ Instagram apps). They describe their approach to digital design as “strong concepts without technical boundaries” and their projects as “ones that make users be like ‘Oh shittttt’ and other studios jealous.”
Beyond the irreverence, there’s some serious design talent at work here. Nicola Formichetti once told The New York Times that watching Ryder code was like seeing “Picasso painting, or like Beethoven playing his piano” but this technical wizardry is anchored in a very human understanding of why a website or an app is really going to exist. “Too many designs are created through templates, under irrelevant pretences,” Ryder says. “When going into a project, it’s useful to ask, ‘What are we really trying to achieve here?’ Many people begin making a website without thinking that.”
In the aforementioned New York Times piece, Ryder drilled even deeper into what the real value of a good digital experience can be. “(It) understands that users are sitting there, possibly in their underwear, in a dark cave, feeling alone together. One that can connect with people on that level. It’s like with music, like when you listen to a song and you cry because it understands you.”
You can recognise this kind of sensitivity about how sites resonate with users across OKFocus’ eclectic portfolio, from the instinctive e-commerce led experience for futuristic food product Soylent to the super-fun site for Mike Will Made It, where hitting different keys triggers another of the super producer’s videos.
It comes as no surprise that the OKFocus testing process is very human. Jules explains: “Usually the best way to test a website is to send your friend a link where you set the link text to something innocuous but the URL is totally unexpected, and if they are completely flabbergasted then you have a winner. This is called the goatse principle.”
But again it’s the experience that’s key, the very real interaction between a person and a product. That’s why aesthetics are a secondary consideration for OKFocus (although it’s worth mentioning their work always looks great). “We try not to define our work by its look, good ideas transcend aesthetics,” Jules says. “Sketching is really important, probably more important than anything else. Websites need to be felt and it's easier to understand the functionality of a website from a quick HTML sketch rather than PSD mockups which take the interaction for granted. Sketching forces you to distill the minimum number of lines required to do a layout or get an effect. Having lots of sketches on hand gives you lots of branching off points and primes your coding style so if you have a cool idea you can implement it while it’s fresh.”
This hand-sketched approach reflects another of OKFocus’ key values. As they Tweeted recently: “The best way to improve a website's design is to make it more honest.” And one way of cutting to the quick is to be funny. “Comedy and art are very similar to us – both thrive through the elegant and succinct delivery or presentation of a complex human truth,” Ryder says. “Humour is a fantastic way to deliver cutting edge ideas to a large audience, because jokes have no rules.”