The X Men

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In the early days of the punk/hardcore scene, doormen with pungent felt-tip pens marked X's on the hands of clubgoers who refused (or were too young) to imbibe anything besides the discordant music itself. A discussion with the founders of year-old New York design studio One9ine harks back to those DIY. days of yore when "Never sell out!" was the mantra. For these two 29-year-olds, that righteous philosophy, and the emblematic `X' continue to hold significance.

Take the company name, for instance. Partner Warren Corbitt once ran a small freelance studio named Nine; coincidentally, partner Matt Owens has had an outside studio called Volume One for the last three years. Defined as a "happy accident" by the two Cranbrook Academy of Art graduates, one plus nine equals 10, aka X. And as kismet would have it, Owens and Corbitt both have a thing for the letter X, because it "marks and negates a space at the same time," they explain. The parallels don't end there, though.

These two bespectacled buddies eschew what they call the "yes-man mentality" pervading today's one-stop-shop web consultancies. No matter the media, their design work features elements and shapes that are in motion or create the illusion of movement, as if they're pulsating. Combined with a palpable sense of negative space and depth, the seemingly empty areas in their work create their own shapes, lending a curiously complete perception of wholeness to their design. And despite the endless flux of the web, Owens and Corbitt recoil from America's typical fondness not only for the imitative but the disposable. "We want to `artifactualize' media in such a way that it becomes important and meaningful and special, not just a piece of marketing bullshit that you throw away or redesign," Owens expounds.

Of course, resisting reactionary design necessitates open-minded clients. Luckily, One9ine, whose online portfolio is available at one9ine.com, has discovered a rare gem in New York's Cooper-Hewitt Museum. Of the museum client and project, Corbitt comments, "They know what they need, but there's a lot of flexibility between the actual raw materials and what's visualized online." One9ine has translated the scope of two current exhibitions to the web, without simply duplicating what's on display. Through flash animation, movement is relied upon heavily in the online representation of "The Opulent Eye of Alexander Girard," an exhibit that runs into March of next year. Inspired by Girard's interior design work, textile design elements float about the site like billowing silks and linens. For the furniture exhibition, "Masterpieces from the Vitra Design Museum: Furnishing the Modern Era" (through February 4, 2001), thumbnails of seating erections by Josef Hoffman, Phillipe Starck and others ricochet below the main frame, the cursor chasing after them as they scatter.

It's precisely this rhythm that guides One9ine in all of its efforts to establish continuity among media. Consider their work for Nike, at Whatever.nike.com, which has been nominated for the Flash Forward 2000 Film Festival. Nike's first online extension of a TV campaign, the web "Whatever" is a bouncy, interactive video vault, featuring athletes like Marion Jones and Mark McGwire. Besides being recognized for its innovative convergent qualities, the project exemplifies One9ine's insistence on redefining interrelationships between media, while ensuring the prominence of design and creativity.

Notes Owens with some satisfaction, "People are coming to us now and asking, `How do we make these interrelationships work?' " Owens and Corbitt have deduced that it's the space between those media that's key. X doesn't mark the spot, you might say.

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