In the future, Juan Carlos Ospina Gonzalez wants to learn ways in which he can apply his skills beyond the Internet – he wants to ‘break out of the browser and maybe build a physical machine’. But at the moment, he is earning his crust with mostly Web-based toys and projects. His main focus is his work for Miniclip.com’s Sketch Star Web animation toy, which gives people tools to draw their own animated strips – ‘my biggest, most ambitious and most complex endeavour so far’. On the side, he experiments with Web-based animation on smaller projects, and collaborates with Bazuco BZC, a media corporation that works with artists.
Eschewing a conventional career route, Ospina Gonzalez dabbled with the Internet during its early days out of boredom, he admits. Working for advertising agency Ogilvy, doing mostly self-taught Flash and html programming, he soon noticed his skills gave him an edge over other graphic designers. ‘I was getting better jobs and making the same, or more, money without a degree, because I knew how to program a thing or two,’ says Ospina Gonzalez. ‘I wasn’t afraid to dive in to learn new things on the go, I had a good sense of composition and some rough understanding of self-taught interaction design.’
A degree in graphic design did eventually follow, a choice that was mainly due to an early love of drawing comic books. But Ospina Gonzalez soon realised that ‘the print world was not for me, because print is such a one-way, closed medium’. At Ogilvy, he fared better making Flash games than other graphic designers, he says. And even before social Internet, he was keen to make Web-toys that could spread from person to person and record human expression in some way. ‘I didn’t think anything was worth the trouble if it couldn’t allow the end-user to say something back or didn’t let users talk to each other,’ he says.
Having sent off his portfolio to Andy Cameron at Fabrica following his degree, Ospina Gonzalez was invited to join the research institute in Italy, where he designed Flipbook!, an early incarnation of his animation tool. ‘That’s where I learned most of what I know now.’
An Internet and technology trailblazer, Ospina Gonzalez also has a clear idea about the aesthetic role his work has to fulfil. ‘Making something truly organic and alive through interaction that is conceptually strong and beautiful goes hand in hand with a healthy dose of technological challenges,’ he says. Scalability, connectivity, response time and graphic simplicity are vital parts of interaction.
Not being afraid of ‘totally messing up and destroying things’ is part of the everyday, says Ospina Gonzalez. ‘There are plenty of eggs being broken, while we invent new omelettes.’
With dreams of an Internet that doesn’t only exist on computers and expensive smartphones and a world ‘full of beautiful design that can be available cheap and instantly everywhere, despite region or language’, Ospina Gonzalez is a true blue-sky thinker as well as a pragmatist. ‘Substantial ground has been gained on aesthetics and technology,’ he says. ‘In my dream world there is equal emphasis on redesigning, rethinking and asking how we can make this progress freer to enhance everyday lives, break one or two of society’s foundations, and rebuild from there.’
2003-2004 Web designer Ogilvy Interactive, Bogota, Columbia
2004-2006 Researcher Interaction design Fabrica
2005 BA Graphic Design Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano/Bogota, Columbia
2007 to present Freelance and game developer Miniclip.com
‘Juan Carlos Ospina Gonzalez is a really interesting guy. He’ll be the first to admit that he’s not the greatest programmer in the world, but what he’s really good at is identifying where the value is and exploiting it.
What he did with the Flipbook! [animation tool] at Fabrica was so successful – he created something that was incredibly simple and easy to use, making it really hard not to start animating.
I thought I’d seen it all, but when I started to watch Juan I was very impressed. He is an amazing guy. He takes a very simple idea, but he completely believes in it and follows his convictions through.’
Andy Cameron Creative director of interaction design Fabrica