Technically Speaking: Ronnie Liew & James De Jesus

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Ronnie Liew & James De Jesus
Ronnie Liew & James De Jesus
Despite their backgrounds, AKQA creative development directors Ronnie Liew (a computer engineer, pictured right) and James De Jesus (an art major whose first job out of school was in print, pictured left) aren't on opposite sides of the ad world's wall between creatives and technologists; they're breaking it down. At the San Francisco agency, the pair leads a development team that shares insight in technology nitty gritty right from the concepting phase. Liew, a native of Singapore who started at the agency in late 2007, has designed websites, kiosks and desktop and mobile apps for agencies like OgilvyOne, XM Asia and TBWA and now brings an intimate understanding of Asian culture and user habits to AKQA, especially for the agency's substantive Nike Asia-Pacific business. De Jesus, who came to AKQA in 2006, acts as the translator between computer science types and pure creatives, and brings his background in design and self-taught Flash and JavaScript know-how to clients like Visa, Target and Adidas.

What's your role at AKQA?
Ronnie Liew: One of our key roles is to identify the scope, do a reality sanity check, assess the creative project, identify the key issues and how we'll work on the project. Once we know what the creatives are trying to achieve we can identify potential technological solutions that can enhance the concept or push the idea across. Digital projects or anything that we do are literally a blend of creativity and technology. You wouldn't be able to pull off anything incredible with just creative or with just technology. It has to be a blend of both.

How do you see the digital agency evolving?
James De Jesus: We're moving away from the traditional approach of the ideas coming just from creatives. We try to work as collaboratively as possible, so there is a collective ownership of the actual creative instead of creative and strategy handing us a box of what they want us to execute, which would be the traditional model. We're not a development shop within an agency; we all have our stake in the execution as well as the idea.

Liew: It's not just development; it's bringing in creativity from a technological standpoint. One of our roles is to advocate that and the strengths you'd gain if you involve technology right from the conception phase. Also, a key thing is to understand trends as ongoing. We need to understand how we can capitalize on a particular medium, like upcoming ways to use mobile technology that are already huge in Asia.
Do you incubate ideas outside of client projects?
Liew: We keep up with trends and innovations in the creative scene. From there we draw ideas and approaches and decide if we should build a prototype, see how that goes and share ideas internally. The Palm Pre is supposed to be the iPhone killer, so we've been doing brainstorms to identify cool apps we could build. There have been a lot of good ideas that will eventually be in-house prototypes and could be something we introduce to clients.

De Jesus: We did a project we for Kraft [the Miracle Whip "Zingr" branded browser plug-in] that came from a prototype we did two to three years ago. It caught the eye of one of our creative directors, it stuck in his head that this is a technology we can leverage across different ideas, not just what we were working with before. That was a case where the technology was driving the creative, not the other way around.
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