Introducing Bryan James

Portrait of Bryan James

Originally from England, Bryan is an Amsterdam-based freelance interactive creative, designer and developer with a vision for mixing concepts with new tech to deliver interactive campaigns which try to inspire and teach along the way.

For CSSconf EU, Bryan will bring a special version of the popular species-in-pieces to Berlin! Don’t miss the species come alive during our Closing Party, and be sure to chat to Bryan if you are curious about the technical details!

Tell us a bit about your species-in-pieces project. What gave you the idea? The idea came from tinkering with the CSS polygon property. I wanted to see whether standard CSS transitions would work hand-in-hand and my eyes lit up when I found how smooth-a-result this produced. From there, polygon animals as an Art Directional visual are nothing new, there’s hundreds of examples out there of polygon animals, so it felt a natural thing to try out.
I also felt it could be good to use a species which was endangered so there was some point to the visual and soon after, I clued onto the aspect of ‘In Pieces’. It was at that point that the experiment became a project, because without the ‘pieces’ element, the project would have been nothing more than art directional fodder. It gave the technology, the art, the movement a central idea and the project simply ballooned into a huge undertaking from that point on.
Ultimately, I think the idea to actually do something with it came from knowing there was a CSS technology being underused and thus able to be exposed and create something visually and technically new, something that had a true reason to be used in this instance.

While building species-in-pieces, what was the trickiest part? How long did the project take? In Pieces took 5 months to build, so you can imagine the amount of tricky parts which had to be done. It’s a very simple execution, with a highly intricate and complicated structure under the bonnet. The trickiest aspect of producing the piece was certainly the fact that CSS polygons simply haven’t been worked with that much online. When I ran into a problem, there weren’t any resources online to help and in a way I think this aspect also helped the project do well. Polygons done in this way just hadn’t been done, but it made for a lot of late nights finding out the problems and fixes of things the hard way.

And what was the most interesting learning? Well I learned a lot about how my approach had been building towards something for many years. I think I was never quite able to explain or extract why I liked to play with new technologies outside of something ‘being cool’. This project doing well and spiralling way out of where I had hoped to take it, gave me the answer and solidified my approach for when I talk to new clients. Using a new bit of code, whether it be a little line of CSS or anything else, is more than just using something new – it’s about the fact that these give us the chance to create a completely new experience. People love new, it’s in our nature to enjoy something when it is ‘the first’. I think In Pieces did well because the technology allowed a concept to be viewed in a new, unique way and you can take this forward past ‘coolness’ and into actual solid results.

What is an upcoming CSS feature that you can’t wait to see widely supported by browsers? Well, I’m currently really digging CSS/SVG masking and colour blend modes. The latter one has taken so long, and it’s actually now really well supported outside of IE, so there’s a real opportunity there. Just as with polygons, it’s going un-noticed because the executions aren’t obvious.

Have you been to Berlin before and what are you looking forward to the most? Well! Funnily enough when I moved to Amsterdam, the original plan had actually been Berlin, so I’ve been over a couple of times, one of which was for interviews. It’s a pretty amazing city and the only reason I didn’t move was because the vibe seemed to be more centred around installation work. This is a great area, but you can’t step in somewhere as a senior and start again, it made no sense. And I’m most looking forward to the conference of course, and meeting up with a couple of people I know over there.

If you didn’t work on the web, what would your profession be? I would be homeless. Seriously, I’m rubbish at everything except my job! I would get fired from McDonald’s in no time.

Do you remember the first project you wrote CSS for? Is it still online? Mm, this is a tricky one – I wrote a lot of my first CSS as part of projects which were being built around me. It was more CSS tweaking than anything else and it’s a very blurry line of what those first sites would have been, as it was really piece-meal stuff. The first project I wrote purely myself in CSS was Hashima Island from a couple of years ago: http://hashima-island.co.uk. A lot of it is very very dirty now, though it still all works. It was one big experiment which, like In Pieces, grew from just tinkering.

If you could teach someone new to CSS one thing, what would that be? Where there is a genuine will, there is a way. I’ve heard ‘we can’t make that black and white’ way, way too many times since filters came on the scene and it makes no sense. Also, staying up to date on any recent CSS additions, even when only supported in a couple of browsers is important because they will almost always soon be common-place, and it supplies a chance to be before the curve.

What’s the thing you like most about your job? Making people feel, and a project doing genuinely well. I came from a traditional print and advertising background when I was at university and in my first couple of jobs. The thing I really do not miss is never seeing the impact your work would make. With interactive work, seeing a project you worked on being Tweeted or otherwise shared – no matter how many times it’s happened already – always brings a little smile. Someone somewhere in the world just enjoyed something you did. They enjoyed it so much that they felt compelled to take the time to share it with people they know. It’s a feeling that never gets old. When In Pieces was doing the rounds on Twitter, I was nearly reduced to tears. The feeling of people enjoying it totally overwhelmed me, and it’s always that feeling that I strive for when designing and developing new work. It keeps you going, and makes the work better. If that then does better, it makes you want to do it again and again. I also love the ‘whoa’ moment while developing something cool, where you really know a project has potential to do well.

Is there anything you're personally working on? Anything you'd like to improve about yourself? Well it has good and bad sides, but at times I kill myself over how a project might be going. It’s an interesting one working sometimes as a remote freelancer because I think without others around me. I can sometimes spend a couple of days really hacking at something but then all it takes is for someone else to say ‘I think that’s really good you know’, and it convinces me. But the personal battering isn’t a good thing. Although it can simultaneously make the work itself stronger as it goes through a more intense process.

If you could make one wish, what would you like to change in our industry? Kill plagiarism and ripping off. It only seems to get worse and having been on the brunt of it a few times in 2015, it's magnified even more so now. It just needs to stop. It is so, so, so easy not to copy another piece of work and any suggestion that some people don’t have the talent to do that kind of angers me even more, in a way because it implies that we all just started at our current quality.


We can't wait to meet Bryan in Berlin this Saturday and we're looking forward to seeing a special version of species-in-pieces at the CSSconf EU party! In the meantime, follow Bryan on Twitter and learn more about him on his website.

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