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Designing a stunning Web world

While he was in college, Ezra Alexander had a problem. He loved technology, but was passionate about art as well. What to choose? Luckily, in our modern world, he didn’t have to–he started Philadelphia-based lucidCircus, a design firm specializing in traditional and interactive graphics. Alexander chats about razzle-dazzle, the Czech Republic, and keeping his time zones straight.

Why did you choose the name lucidCircus?

Lucid means to be easily understood, sane, and clear. A circus is an arena used for feats of skill, wild acts and performances by skilled artisans as well as frenzied activity or razzle-dazzle. So, lucidCircus means, as a design firm, we show a lot of exciting creative energy in a clear fashion. A bit of advice to anyone starting a company is that a good name is as important as good marketing or a good reputation. We get a lot of positive attention from the name alone.

Why do you feel there’s a need for what your design services?

There are many design firms around. Some good, many bad. Many design firms are part of advertising agencies or marketing firms. We wanted to offer superior design services without any of the extras. Often we are called upon by local and regional advertising agencies to fulfill their design needs. We call ourselves an ad agency’s dirty little secret.

What kind of challenges do you find in delivering your services?

The biggest challenge is that, going into this, none of us were businessmen. We had to learn by making mistakes. We got burned a few times and learned that doing business is rarely as simple as “do good work, be nice guys and get paid.”

Other challenges are self-imposed as well as vital to doing business. Managing client expectations is a major part of being in a service industry. Since our service is design, and design is subjective, sometimes it’s hard to know when you’re done. With technology, you start, you finish, it works, you’re done. With design, sometimes the client doesn’t understand that design requires forethought and can’t simply be pulled out of a hat. So quantifying the costs can sometimes be a challenge.

Why did you choose to have an office in the Czech Republic, and what do they provide?

My friend Adam went to Prague about seven years ago to work for a film company, and eventually wanted to do something on his own. I suggested he open a lucidCircus office rather than start from scratch, because that way he could leverage our reputation.

We’re pretty autonomous, but help each other out on a daily basis. I might need some flash work or he needs some code. I might need something developed by tomorrow but my developers are sleeping while his are just getting breakfast. If he has a client in New York City, I can go in his stead while he can go to London for me in return. It works out nicely.

In this current economic climate, how is the company faring?

Better than in 2000 and 2001. When we first started in 1998, almost all of our work came from word of mouth. Then around 2000, this stopped completely and we had to ramp up our marketing and really put effort into finding new work.

In the last year I’ve started to get calls again from people who have been referred to us or have found us on their own. Money is still tight but the outlook is positive.

What do you like best about what you do?

I enjoy getting a project in from California and being able to hire a talented designer in Philadelphia and an insomniac programmer in Prague while at the same time designing and developing a Web site on my own. I feel very accomplished getting multiple tasks done at once and using time zone differences to my advantage. It’s invigorating when it all comes together.

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