Stephen is a creative director with 20+ years of immersive design execution, creative leadership, and innovation experience. He thrives at the synthesis of art, design, and technology.
His multi-disciplinary design portfolio spans UX/UI design, web experiences, software applications, multimedia installations, information design, and film. His work has been featured at the International Center for Photography and the Pace/MacGill gallery in New York City, and his films have been shown internationally.
Stephen combines his success as a designer, visual storyteller, educator, filmmaker, and artist to develop bold solutions to complex problems. Some of his clients include, NBC, HBO, American Express, Laurie Anderson, Microsoft, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The World Bank, Concur, and The Seattle Sounders.
Q: What does BALANCE mean to you when you think about design?
SJ: I always try to achieve a balance of value and delight. I believe design serves a purpose to the user or customer or whatever the audiences’ role is, and it needs to deliver that experience with the least amount of friction possible. But if design doesn’t also deliver delight, it won’t stick and ultimately fails to improve the human experience. Delight can come in many shapes and sizes and as creatives, most of us got into this field because we want to improve the world around us. We constantly see things we want to fix and make more enjoyable. We die a little each time we see fonts that make no sense and we are enraged by products that are unnecessarily complex and counter-intuitive. A perfect project for me is one that makes a task more efficient or communicates an idea more simply while also bringing more beauty into the world. Balance is calm and excitement in the same breath.
Q: What do you predict is going to be BIG in 2019 in terms of design?
SJ: I am not great at making predictions, but I can certainly express my wishes for 2019. We face a ton of technological challenges in our future and design is crucial to creating balance and accountability. Designers should see themselves as gatekeepers between humans and machines. We have the power to represent information in a multitude of ways so everyone can feel confident about their decisions and the decisions being made around them. I hope we see more adventurous design explorations in 2019 that truly prepare us to master the challenges facing us down the road.
Q: How do you explain what you do for a living?
SJ: I make connections, simplify, and tell stories.
Q: What are your go-tos for when you’re seeking inspiration?
SJ: My main sources of inspiration are music and film. As a musician, I find the raw creative energy of making music with other people the best way to break out of a rut and move past any block I am having. Film on the other hand, connects me emotionally to the human experience. I am inspired by stories that unlock deeper emotional understanding and/or illuminate a societal issue in a unique and surprising way. These stories remind me why I do what I do and help me focus on making impactful work.
Q: Tell us about a project that you worked on that you are most proud of
SJ: The first project I worked on when I moved out to Seattle was a film about what the future could look like for smallholder farmers. The story emphasized how the right technology and infrastructure support could help these communities thrive. Beyond the excitement of filming in Tanzania and crafting an inspirational and plausible story, I loved all the strategic thinking that went into the project. We had substantial research to support our position and incorporated it into every aspect of the film. From the custom props and the interface screens to the environmental effects and the set dressing, everything was thoughtfully decided upon and expressed in unique and novel ways. The project incorporated all of the disciplines I love: UI design, information design, visual effects, storytelling, and sound. We had a great collaborative team and produced a final impactful product I was very proud of.
Q: If you were to give a TED talk, what would it be about?
SJ: “The power of subtlety.”
I am inspired by the elements of art that are quiet and hard to define. I have been exploring this in my photography for a long time. For years, I have been focusing on trying to capture “The Indecisive Moment” where abstractions of gesture and light suggest a narrative beyond the frame. The images invite the viewer to look inward for connection instead of defining an explicit recognizable object or action. Subtlety exists in every discipline and is often the key element that defines its brilliance. Just the right hue against another, the recording quality of a song, the timing of an edit, or just the right sequence of actions to accomplish a task. It’s like when a chef tastes their soup and knows it needs just a pinch more salt. I am always looking for that subtle element that makes something just right.
Q: My favorite thing about my city is…
SJ: The thing I like most about Seattle is our potential. We are a city big enough to make a global impact but small enough to do it in an inclusive and collaborative way. There are a lot of really smart and creative people here and we don’t have to wade through 8 million people to get things done. It’s a perfect incubator environment for solving big problems in an agile way.
Q: If you could sum up your outlook on life in a bumper sticker, what would it say?
SJ: “Say what you really mean and then let’s talk about it.”
Q: Why do you do what you do? What do you want to leave behind for future generations?
SJ: I strive to create clarity our of complexity and reveal simple human connection. Life is hard. Creativity breeds hope. I want to ensure future generations understand that creativity is a necessity not a luxury.
Q: What is your super power?
SJ: My super power is my work ethic. I am relentlessly detail oriented when shipping a final product.
PLUS, don’t miss compilations from video magazine SmileFaucet, assembled by Stephen Jablonsky, March 16 & 17 at the ByDesign Festival 2019. More info at bit.ly/nwbydesign.