Philly Creative Guide

Creative Firm

Ezra Alexander

lucidCircus
by Ezra Alexander, 1 Feb 2009

lucidCircus is a graphic design studio specializing in cohesive creative projects spanning several mediums – identity, print, motion, audio and the web. They respond to marketing and communications challenges with innovative ideas, personal service and effective results.

Visit them online at www.lucidcircus.com


It all started for me in 1994 when I bought my first Macintosh. I had gone to school for Sculpture but put myself through school selling art supplies and making copies. After working as a desktop publisher and in-house graphic designer at TAWS Art Supply all through college I wanted to open my own shop. I had of course seen the Internet in High School and Junior High but I''d never seen the Web. Once I saw that the Internet now came with photographic images I was blown away and set about teaching myself HTML. Razorfish at the time was still a small shop but already making waves. I went to their "playground" site called Blue Dot and studied the code from that until I had a basic understanding of HTML. Though I couldn''t figure out how they made their animated blue dot since at the time it was done via server push and that was beyond me.

lucidCircus

I worked for 4 years on my own, learning by making mistakes. It was an adventure. I didn''t make much money but I sure learned a lot. I met the CyberSuds guys and we later formed what is now PANMA (Philadelphia Area New Media Association). This was key later on. I stayed afloat mainly by making brochure sites for the Philadelphia Inquirer. The money I made from web design in the beginning only really covered rent and beer. Speaking of beer, I used to hang out at McGlinchey''s on a daily basis which is where I met Tyme Gadson, then co-owner of Monsoon Microstudios in North Philadelphia. He offered me the chance to head up their new web design department and I was thrilled to have the chance to work on projects for clients like CD-NOW and AND1 as well as learn Flash and earn a decent pay check. There I met my future partners Jim, Jon, Stacey and Michael. Motion graphics, print design, graphic design and technology respectively.

After a year Monsoon began to change focus from Graphic Design firm to Ad Agency, which is not what we had signed up for. We all decided to leave and try to make a go of it together. We reformed under Jon''s freelance company name, lucidCircus, I obtained office space, phones, net access, payroll etc and started networking. This is where PANMA comes back into the picture. I tell everyone who is new to this game that the most important aspect of success is networking. You can be the most talented designer in the world but unless people know you exist, it doesn''t matter.

LucidCircus quickly found it''s niche in Philadelphia quietly servicing the new media needs of agencies like Gyro, Tierney, Blue, Cloud & Gehshan, Haley Productions, Munroe, STFG, Bergey and many more. From there we moved on to NYC agencies and were doing high visibility projects for TBWA/Chiat Day, Tequila Interactive, Grey Global, Sony and Viacom.

lucidCircus

We brought on Dwight as our CFO, Jordan as hip Marketing guy and started hiring junior designers. Michael later went on to become the Technical Director at D4 Creative Group. Dwight now owns and operates Basics Group in Rhode Island. Our hiring method, based on both Jon and I coming from University of the Arts, was to go to Portfolio Day and hire the top kid in the senior graphic design class. One year it was Giac, the next Paul. Both of which did amazing work. Giac''s intro was famous throughout the design-o-sphere.

lucidCircus

Years later, they went on to head up the new media departments at 160/90 and Gyro respectively. Jon and Jim went on to head up departments of their own at other agencies. We all disbanded completely by 2001 and everyone but myself found a solid place for themselves in the new media design world. What I did was follow a dream that I had had in the back of my mind since the Monsoon days... which was to pack up and make a go of it in Prague, Czech Republic. I had gone out to visit an expat friend in the summer of 1998 right before I started up lucidCircus and had wanted to go right back. It took me until 2004 to make it happen but I did it.

I was very nervous about leaving my business roots but fortunately for me a small job I was working on for AOL turned into a 9 month contract and over a dozen different projects from the new video player that was used across AOL''s internet sites (until their last major redesign) to their homepage modules to a variety of mini-sites that the CEO of AOL at the time called the "future of AOL websites..." as they were tidy flash based content managed sites which any intern could reskin and maintain. We also did a massive Quiz application which was near impossible in Flash 6 or 7 but I think Flex 2 comes ready made with an AOL quiz component. To accomplish this amount of work I needed to hire everyone I knew in Prague and Philadelphia. We worked around the clock passing projects from Philadelphia to Prague and back.

The AOL experience solidified my business model. Rather than code or design (much), now I mainly manage resources and clients and handle the day to day business. I do not recommend trying to be a creative and do the business end at the same time. It is distracting and tiring. I''m currently completely virtual and work from wherever I can find wi-fi access. I highly recommend Paris for the traveling internet professional... one is pretty much guaranteed to find a free hotspot at any outdoor cafe.

For around a year I bounced around Europe, stopping only long enough to get some work done to fund my wanderings. The traveling was fun and exciting at first but to get serious work done I finally did settle back down into a routine in my home office. I manage teams of designers and developers in Prague and I send as much work as I can back to Philadelphia. My preference is to work with other sole-proprietors like myself. Even more preferable if they are among the few that I have known and worked with through out this past decade. I know they are conscientious about the work and we trust each other. There is always the danger of working with freelancers that you will get burned so I do my best to stay within my personal network.

Adam, my primary partner in Prague and the friend who lured me out here to begin with, has brought to lucidCircus work from Google, Deloitte, Lucas Films, Crocs, Diesel Jeans and much much more. A Renaissance man, he can illustrate, animate, design and code. All while kicking your ass in chess. Before starting the Prague office of lucidCircus in 2002, he operated the new media division of Stillking films which is a production company that has produced block busters such as Hellboy, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Mission Impossible, Bourne Identity and many others of this nature.

This year I built the vendor resource tracker I had started a long time ago in my head while working for AOL so I can expand my offerings. lucidCircus started out doing motion graphics, print and web. I now have resources for SEO, animation, translations, illustration, game development, mobile/desktop application development... you name it, I can get it done. (Though mainly we focus on Flash and Flex.) I''d say that what makes lucidCircus different is our ability and agility to be able to take on any project, any size. By hiring only the best as needed, I keep costs down and always have quality designers and developers ready to go. No fancy conference tables and plasma screens here. Just a laptop, a fantastic global network of guys and girls and fun/challenging projects. Having a brilliant Czech wife (almost... wedding this summer) and an adorable French bulldog at home keeps me sane while I work on an East Coast schedule from Central Europe. Living in the future (6 hours) can be rough.

lucidCircus

And since Social Media Marketing is my latest distraction, look me up on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. I''m always happy to reconnect with folks back home.

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