Back to the Future with Neil Laing

Posted in Company News
By Laura Leslie on November 27, 2014

face-front-and-profileNeil Laing is our Director of UI/UX and has seen the transformation that took companies from marketing magazines to websites, and mailing lists to email campaigns. He knows a lot about user-experience and creating brands, and he’s seen the obstacles technology has had to overcome to get us to where we are today.

When Laing entered the field in the early 90’s, being a graphic designer and working for a marketing agency meant something very different than it does now. Companies built their brand tangibly and relied primarily on physical forms of marketing. In the advent of computers “graphic design” was a few careers all pushed into one. Creative Director, Art Director, Graphic Designer, Layout Artist, Typographer, Production Artist and Prepress Tech, you had to do it all to be successful.

In 1993, he saw the internet for the first time. Immediately after that he began web designing, and his career started to move from physical to digital.

Laing recalls his first project being a website design for a TV show called “Liberty Street” from the same creator as Degrassi.  “The show had a video intro, with all the cast and characters, music by the Cowboy Junkies, and from this I adapted the visual theme to create a whole design with graphic menu buttons, months before people were widely using Netscape,” he explained.

At the time, designers were strictly confined by the limited browser capabilities with a standard grey background, linked graphics had blue outlines, there were no layout options and little to no font characteristics.  “We had a hard time even making transparent graphics” Laing laughed, “often we had to try and match the background colour of a graphic to the same grey as the default browser background.” The limitations at first were of course frustrating, but everyone on his team saw the potential and moved toward making things better. The internet and website capabilities progressed quickly, Netscape 1.1 came out allowing designers to add structure and tables to their sites. The tables were meant for tabular data but it allowed Laing to play around with structure and page design.

As more and more website projects landed on his plate, roles began to organically change and form. He found he fit naturally in the middle between the back-end technology and the users. People were just beginning to understand what was important for users and what made a website’s interface user-friendly. There was a lot of room for improvement when it came to user-experience so there was plenty of opportunity to grow and hone his skills.

“It ultimately all comes down to branding” he explained, “that is the essence of graphic design, it is the simplest form of communication, you take a whole corporation and bring it down to one visual.” He played a large role in doing that with companies like Scalar and Tableau. Some of the designs he made for Tableau’s interface are still being used today, as well as Scalar’s logo.

Over the years Laing had many milestones in his career from being a Co-owner of Vancouver.com to lecturing graphic design including motion graphics, web design, user-experience, branding and typography.

He’s been recognized for his work with accolades like the Award of Merit from the Art Directors Club of Canada, for designing an exceptional website for an advertising award event.

Laing left his own small design studio to become part of a team again here at Rubikloud. When I asked what the draw to a startup environment was he explained it by using this analogy: “There’s something about being in the startup culture. There are some people who only go somewhere like on a trip or a hike when they know the trail is safe and well travelled .. but with the startup culture you go into a forest where there may or may not be trails, paths or people but you’re going to go anyways…not sure what the trail brings or where it goes but there’s a type of ambition that drags someone out to drive that path forward..if you have forged a good path.. there will be a lot of people following behind you.” Laing went on to explain that after speaking with the founders here at Rubikloud, he knew they were headed down a path that was worthy to follow.

I was curious to know what project stood out the most to him on his journey through the digital age. Although he has some seriously notable work under his belt, he humbly proclaimed his best work was yet to come! We were more than pleased with that answer.