TINC Magazine recently conducted an email interview with Jenny Kendler, co-founder of OtherPeoplesPixles, a Chicago-based company specializing in Artist Portfolio Websites.
TINC: Do you consider OtherPeoplesPixels an art company or a software company?
Jenny Kendler: I think OPP functions somewhere between the two. Certainly, we couldn’t do what we do without being involved in both the tech and art communities. However, our roots, passions, and social lives are firmly planted in the art side!
TINC: Can you talk a little about the user design of the OPP sites? How does OPP go about changing and evolving as far as user design?
JK: This is a place where I think that being an artist and visually-oriented person has really been a special boon. We have no formal training in interface design, but instead take a huge amount of time, talking, sketching and thinking through exactly how people really use things — so, often, rather than choosing the traditional solutions, we often come up with novel ones.
For example, the system that we designed several years ago that allows artists to change the look of each individual component of their sites — rather than just choose from a set of pre-designed templates– was way outside the box at the time, and is something that we’re still really proud of — which you won’t find anywhere else.
We are always re-evaluating and working on new and better ways to do things as the playing field changes too. We’re actually in the middle of a huge update to way that our Control Panel works. While we think things are really simple and straightforward now, we think we can do better in terms of making the interface more fun to use and more intuitive for the first-time user.
TINC: There’s no doubt that these days, artists should be aware of and in control of their marketing. Are there extra marketing benefits that clients get from OPP –beyond what a normal website offers?
JK: We’re in the process of starting up a really exciting curated Featured Artist project, where we’ll be showcasing new artists on our website each week, as well as spotlighting their work on our upcoming blog and Facebook page. We’ll be interviewing Featured Artists and are really into finding more ways to help OPP artists get exposure. It’s a pretty natural next step, since helping our artist friends get online, so they could get more exposure, was the whole reason we started OPP.
TINC: I want to bring up the issue of the price (the yearly $160 fee has brought criticism from the arts community). These days, anyone can launch a WordPress template for one fee of $35, with hosting for another $15 per year. Can you talk specifically about what you get for the money with OPP?
JK: For sure, we’re happy to talk about this. I think that what we offer is really quite different from WordPress. I give kudos to anyone who wants to set up a website with them, but it’s a big challenge compared to setting up an OPP site. I think WordPress is a great solution for someone who is very tech savvy and really wants to get into the nitty gritty of setting up their own website — choosing the placement of each image, sizing each font, and getting into the code etc.
In general, though, I see artists using WordPress sites that have been set up for them, by professional designers, since the learning curve is rather high. These sites look great, and certainly can be more customized than an OPP site, but it’s my understanding from friends that the going rate is around $1000 to get something like this going. Unlike the pack of cheap generalized web-template services out there, OPP is already tailored right to the needs of artists. Our whole thing is to get artists online and looking great, but then get them right back into the studio — instead of fussing with formatting on their computers.
While other services may make things cheaper, we pride ourselves in offering top-of-the-line service to artists. In our 6 years in business, we’ve had less than one day of downtime. It gives us a kick us to run a server with more uptime than a fortune 500 company gets — but for artists!
TINC: Customer support is offered through your service, something you cannot get through the DIY approach with free software. In your post on Bad at Sports you say that there are “no worries about the tech stuff.” What exactly is the “tech stuff’? What kinds of things does OPP take off of clients’ hands?
JK: Basically, OPP takes care of anything the average person would consider “technical” or “tough.”
For example, unlike any other major portfolio service out there (that I am aware of) we buy and manage a custom domain name and email account for our customers. This is huge — not just in terms of saving expense, but by making things so easy. Many people’s personal websites go down because they forget to renew their domains. Lots of people use a gmail address instead of worrying about the cost, set-up and management of a professional email address. We take these worries off people’s plates.
There’s also no coding of any type necessary with OPP. If you can attach a photo to an email, you can use this service. Plus, when you upload an image, you can forget about having to resize it. We’ll automatically create the all the image sizes you need, perfectly fit to the page. Resizing images can be a nightmare with other website builders. OPP even has a little click-and-drag app for making custom thumbnails, so no need to be messing around in Photoshop for hours.
If you want to hook up Google Analytics, we have a quick and easy widget. Add a favicon? We’ll make one for you from an image with one click. Watermark your images? One click! Want to let viewers share your work on Facebook or Twitter? One click! You get the picture.
You mention our Customer Support, something we’re really proud of. Because OPP is truly easy to use, most people never need to contact our customer support, but for anyone who needs a helping hand, we’re always glad to assist with friendly, personal answers to your questions.
TINC: Recently there has been more demand than ever before, amongst clients and companies in any field, for the complete control over their websites and web presence, without the necessity of a web designer on staff. How does OPP plan to stay relevant with these changing demands for customization and control?
JK: I actually think that this desire for immediate control makes OPP the perfect platform for artists. The best thing that we ever thought of was the initial idea to let people manage their own content, taking the web-designer, time and hassle out of the equation. This means that you never have to get that CD of images to a designer, wait a week and pay a bundle to get your work updated. Instead you have the completely hooked-up model of finishing a painting at 1am, snapping a pic on your digital camera, and having it on your site two minutes later.
TINC: What is it like to run a software company for artists? Do you ever feel like building software for a different demographic?
JK: Ha, ha. Never. I’m an artist myself and never would have gotten involved in the ‘tech world’ if it were not to help out the art community. I love working with artists. You’ll never see OPP making websites for real estate companies, I can promise you that.
TINC: What are other projects you are working on right now?
JK: Wow, so many. For my own art practice, I am working on getting together a solo show that opens July 1st at Johalla Projects. I’m also working on some new prints for The Endangered Species Print Project, an endeavor that I run with Molly Schafer, which creates limited-edition art prints to raise money for critically endangered species.
Through OtherPeoplesPixels, there are some huge developments on the horizon! At the end of 2010, we created The OtherPeoplesPixels Fund, which gives grants to arts, environmental and social-justice organizations. We donate a significant portion of OPP’s profits to the Fund, and it has become one of the most fulfilling aspects of running OPP. We’re excited to move this model towards the idea of grant making to individual artists in the future.
We’re also working on starting an art space in Chicago that will focus on environmentally and socially engaged art, with the idea for it to serve as a nexus for the artist, activist and scientific communities.
There will be lots of updates as we cook new things up in the OPP lab — through our soon-to-be-launched blog and Facebook page — so keep your eyes open!