Big Spaceship

Since Michael Lebowitz launched Big Spaceship in 2000, the company has received countless awards of high distinction. This includes a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for the agency’s work with HBO Voyeur, Cannes Lions, Clios and One Show Interactive Pencils, as well as numerous Webby, FWA, Communication Arts, W3 and Pixel Awards. Big Spaceship's cutting-edge approach to content organization, design and User Experience has influenced designers around the globe and greatly contributed to defining the web as we know it.

Big Spaceship has a Twitter account @bigspaceship.

Published Thoughts

To produce better digital work, I’ve lately found myself thinking analog. Technology makes it so simple and seamless to build platforms and disseminate content that it’s almost too easy. It allows us to publish without knowing what we hope to accomplish. This is why a lot of content on the web feels like knee-jerk reactions to buzzwords. “Build an app.” “Tweet that.” “Post this.” “Make a microsite for it.” The result? Clutter. Content that exists because it can, not because it should. A simple solution is to ask myself, “If this was print, would it still be worth doing?” Does this message deserve to be written out by hand? Would I actually “share” this photo or video if I had to deliver it in person? A common refrain in the creative community is “make things,” but that statement leaves out a very important qualifier: “make things of value.” Digital makes it easy, but is it good enough for analog? If we answer this question honestly, we will certainly produce less work, but it will be better work.

— Nathan Adkisson, Senior Strategist

When I was younger, I played trumpet in a jazz band. I bring it up, because what makes great jazz is when the musician breaks the rules. When they do the unexpected. When you listen to a trained musician who knows all the rules and knows how to break them, you want to listen to their music over and over again. The same is true in design. Taking risks in design is what makes design interesting, but designers are usually making something for someone else. We need to develop a relationship strong enough that you will trust us when we say the payoff will be worth the risk.

— Able Parris, Design Director

Each team at Spaceship has their own habits and diverse approaches — the ways we work are as different as the myriad skills that exist in our teams’ midsts which range from generative art to ludology to fire (according to a recent internal survey). We are scrappy and resilient and passionate, and also human — it is that fluctuation we share along the way between excitement, apathy, exhaustion, mystic-vision-induced latenight problem solving and personal investment that helps us build character into the product we create.

— Kelani Nichole, Senior Strategist

Job descriptions make developers out to be even more legendary — requesting 10 years of experience in a platform that has only been around for 5 or listing every language ever used expecting expert knowledge in all of them. It’s not realistic, but to a certain degree it is expected, and it’s that expectation that makes a developer’s job interesting and inherently challenging. The only predictable thing about our work is that it’s not. No amount of education can prepare you for this universal truth, it can only be understood by doing.

— Benjamin Bojko, Senior Technologist

Much of Big Spaceship is a self-organizing organism. There are tools and systems in place but each team works the way it wants to. If you’ve been in an agency that’s process-oriented (functional or dysfunctional), it takes a little time to acclimatize to this type of environment. The values, however, are immediately digestible:

  • Collaborate
  • Produce exceptional work
  • Take care of each other
  • Partner with your client
  • “The rest is up to you.”

Now, if you’ve read ‘The Innovators Dilemma’, you’ll know the benefit of this: the team structure and values allow for various iterations of a company to happen in the one company. Granted, there’s still a cultural overlay to the teams (we all work together, many people live in Brooklyn, many wear plaid and have faux-hawks), however, it allows for different approaches to evolve over time.

— Mark Pollard, VP Brand Strategy

We have a few simple rules that guide our culture, one of them is: Partner with your client. Close collaboration with our client partners from the very start of a relationship gives the team a deep understanding of the problem space of a new project. When getting to know our new partners we take time to audit business needs, existing resources, competitive landscape, and also the people — to understand the day-to-day human-powered side of their business. This, after all, will be what delivers on the digital product we all produce together.

— Kelani Nichole, Senior Strategist

Prototyping is a fundamental part of our approach. From quick, self-contained one-offs to more complex interactions, we’ve embraced the process, elevating it from what many have considered a nicety to a necessity. A prototype’s value is in communicating the intended idea over code reuse and pixel perfection. Each project is different as are its requirements, and these variances mean we don’t adopt one systematic way to do prototyping. In evaluating the needs of the projects, often we find ourselves prototyping to answer questions that we can’t immediately answer. Can we do this? How would this work? These questions often pop up early in the discussion or creative process – so the need to answer them should be just as timely. Is our basket big enough for all those eggs we want to put in it?

— Stacey Mulcahy, Senior Developer

You spend most of your time at work, so we think you have to make it a fun place to be. It’s easy for people to burn out in this type of field, so we think creating a great atmosphere around here is really, really important. We decided to organize people in teams rather than by discipline, and the difference has been night and day. Each team has its own bank of desks and chooses its own team name and logo, and creates a sense of identity.

— Joshua Hirsch, Minister of Technology

As we continue moving towards a future even more saturated with media, the way we package and promote our content becomes even more important. Content curation, either from algorithms or from brands we trust, is going to play an even larger role. Consuming content will be more and more about finding the best filters.

—Victor Pineiro, Senior Strategist

As much of the industry has continued to talk about change and developing product incubators, we’re doing it, and we’re growing doing it. In 2012, we grew both our team and our revenue, and we did it with a 50/50 split between communications projects and product work. We’ve kept our non-siloed and autonomous culture thriving, and this year we’re more certain than ever that the best brands are useful and have purpose, and the most effective products must tell stories.

—Joshua Teixeira, VP Product and Platform Strategy

If you’re holding yourself accountable for avoiding jargon, you might want to do the same with the people you are working with. Don’t be afraid to ask what things mean rather than secretly looking them up on Wikipedia later. When a meeting is going around in circles, it might be time to stop and ask the room to define what exactly “a big idea” or “responsive design” means to them. While there may technically be a correct definition for terms like this, many times it’s unclear or subjective.

– Karina Portuondo, Senior Strategist & Copywriter

I don’t believe that creativity is a department. In most of the industry, they talk about the “creatives” and creative directors. I think that’s a really detrimental thing. I won’t put “creative” in anybody’s title. If you’re not creative, regardless of what your role is, you can’t work here, period. It’s cost of entry. And I think in general it should be the cost of entry. If we’re in an idea economy, if we’re in an information economy, then it seems like everybody needs to be creative.

— Michael Lebowitz, Founder & CEO