By Mute, 10 June 1996

An email interview with James Plummer of Prospect

Q: When did you start to get involved in the area of digital media?

Way back in 1988 when Apple Computer invited Prospect to manage the recruitment of New Media Project Managers - people to evangelise a then brand new technology called multimedia. Since then, as the market for new media products and services has developed, this has become the focus of our business.

Q: What is your present work situation? Tell us a little about your company/organisation.

First and foremost we are guided by the belief that the single most significant factor contributing to a company's success in the area of multimedia is its ability to attract, develop and retain high quality personnel. We carefully studied the multimedia sector, in addition to other 'talent intensive' markets such as animation, videogame development, software engineering and film special effects. We developed a recruitment methodology designed to find and deliver appropriately skilled personnel to companies working in multimedia or videogaming in the most efficient manner. We have an extensive track record in high technology recruitment, spanning over 15 years, originally focusing on servicing the executive search and selection needs of pioneering yet mainstream business IT technology and software suppliers including, amongst others, Sun, Microsoft and Apple Computer. Prospect is focused into three divisions; Entertainment, Multimedia and Technology Suppliers; each complementing the other. Within the Multimedia area our clients include the leading developers and publishers, as well as those companies developing new hardware and software technologies, here in the UK, Continental Europe and the USA. Our 'talent' database comprises some 3,000 professionals from the interactive entertainment, multimedia and technology development sectors as well as from the TV, Film and Animation industries. The majority of those candidates registered with us have already been screened by Prospect and, where relevant, their work reviewed and retained in our library.

Q: With the explosion of a visual data sphere how do you judge the value of and demand for artists and designers have changed?

The difference between having a crap multimedia product and a winner is the quality of the creative people developing it As such there is a huge demand for top quality artists and designers who are skilled in the use of multimedia technology. The value of and demand for these artists and designers has taken on a new significance in that good design is now an integral part of business communications as well as the making of entertainment products. Therefore artists and designers are becoming more important in terms of providing the user with effective and appealing graphical interfaces which enable them to interact with data and are rivalling hot shot "code cutters" in importance in some corporate environments.

Q: With the new fields of networks (at present the internet) and multimedia being constantly "in development" how do you see the place of the experienced artist/programmer in a work/ project situation changing?

The basic premise of art reflecting life must come into play here because as the onslaught of technology continues, artists must embrace the tools and parameters set by new software development, just like everyone else. In order to do their job as an artist however, they need to master the more mathematical side of their nature, hence the rise and rise of the computer literate artist/designer both in terms of status within the workplace and salary levels.

Q: How has the situation changed for clients commissioning work; are companies' understandings of the potentials of digital media in need of developing or improving- how far do you feel any deficit of knowledge has yet to be made up?

The media are projecting that Multimedia is beginning to become a main stream medium. However, the majority of companies still suffer from the ostrich syndrome. This needs to be addressed in terms of education, training, guidance and an understanding of the business and commercial opportunities to be realised through the use of multimedia. At the forefront, in terms of understanding the potentials of digital media are the dynamic, multiskilled, forward looking organisations that perceive multimedia as an opportunity to get ahead and raise their profile. Further down the foodchain are the more conservative companies with a wait and see attitude. The difference in knowledge of the use and potential of multimedia between these groups is enormous and the gap may never be closed.

Q: How do you feel the programmer/ artist relationship has changed, what is the present interaction on that side of things?

For the more advanced individuals the definitions are becoming blurred. Traditionally the roles were clearly defined and separate. Now they appear to be sitting side by side, holding hands and helping each other in developing new approaches to interactivity and in some cases programmer/artist and artist/programmer are one and the same person. Conversely, from a games point of view the two roles are becoming further and further apart. As in the good old days of game development some programmers actually doubled up as artists which would explain some of the more uninspiring graphics. However as 3D evolves it is becoming increasingly important for the two to again come back together as with limited disc space programmers must understand the needs of those creating original artwork more fully and artists must be technical enough to be able to manipulate their packages to gain the best performance.

Q: How do you bridge the gap between technical requirements and the need for artistic skills in digital media?

Networking, short training courses, project team skills exchange and the learning capabilities of the individual candidates all come into the equation on the technical requirements side, and with artistic skills it is difficult to morph a programmer into an artist as such but some companies are having success because of the intuitive nature of the software that is being used in design.

Q: How have your requirements of recruits changed?

CD-rom development and publishing is experiencing a slight downturn, internet activity is experiencing a dramatic upturn with website development companies springing up everywhere. Kiosk business remains growing at a steady pace as it is the obvious interactive device at point of sale for all organisations involved in the retail service sector. Games companies are now demanding a much higher level of artistic skill and experience which is often hard to meet. Previously 3D Studio was one of the main packages and people could often teach themselves the package at home on a borrowed copy, however the demand for games experienced SG users both on Alias and Softimage has left a deficit in the market pushing up salaries.

Are you recruiting many programmers or are you mainly dealing with GUI computer users? If there is a clear ratio between them, what is it and why do you think it is this way?

We handle staff involved in all aspects of interactive media production of which GUI specialists are just one sub group.

Q: Do you feel that the GUI will gain further ground over programming; how do you see this developing in the near future?

Not relevant to what we do. We meet the needs that exist. We are not technology strategists.

Q: What project are you working on at present, or if you prefer a previous project please tell us about that project?

For example we are at present working on recruitment projects for on-line publishers for whom we are currently recruiting designers, programmers, journalists and producers. We are also building the creative and editorial team for an on-line youth magazine.

Q: As most areas of digital media involve the creation of a work that is intended to have a form of interactivity for the end user (excepting, for the moment, film and video) how do you feel the notion of interactivity has developed in the field you deal with?

Not as far as most of the aspirants we deal with would like but as far as the publishers are prepared to fund leading edge creative projects. Not much in other words.

Q: What influences have improved end user interactivity?

Not relevant to us directly

Q: What are your views upon notions of interactivity and the non-linear narrative?


Q: What have you been recently working on that you feel is breaking new ground in interactivity? The Virtual NightClub.

Q: Pertaining to the internet, how does the internet impact on your recruits' work patterns?

They can send their cv's faster and refer us to their sites if they have them.

Q: Lastly does the notion "9 to 5" have any place in your clients' or recruits' work patterns. Is the home working of the future upon us already? Will the tele-cottage idyll ever exist en masse? 9 to 5 will always exist, the notion that it is going to disappear due to technological advance is a red herring except in seriously computer driven technocultures such as California/Oregon and even there it is purely for the ABC1s of the world who can afford to have the new status of the all singing, all dancing home-office link. People also like interacting with people unless of course the military-industrial complex succeeds in producing the human-machine interface.............. Seriously though, most multimedia people work above average hours tending to start late and work into the night.

Q: How do you see your organisation continuing after the smoke of the internet/digital media hype has died down?

When the hype dies the real business begins and we confidently expect to be the leading talent agency for videogame and multimedia creatives and technical specialists.