My name is Sam Jennings. Born in San Francisco but grew up in Chicago. I started painting in high school and followed that passion to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. It's at art school that I discovered the internet just as it was becoming widely accessible, and I began using the computer as a design tool. This lead to several years in the first "internet boom" and then over a decade in the music business as a web and print designer.
I worked for the musician Prince starting with the Love4OneAnother.com project at the end of 1998. This led to several other web projects with him as we explored how an independent artist could use the internet to reach their audience directly and establish a community without a record label. This led to the launch of the NPG Music Club in 2001. We provided new music, radio shows, and concert tickets directly to fans at a time when very few artists were taking full advantage of the internet, and certainly not independently without any strings to the industry. Over 5 years we experimented with several formats and configurations, and we were rewarded with not only a strong and vibrant member community, but also a Webby Award in 2006 for Best Celebrity Site and Lifetime Achievement Webby for Prince.
During this time I also began to do all the creative work for Prince, including photo retouching, CD packages, tourbooks, merchandise, and all the promo and signage for his Las Vegas residency. Prince is always working, always planning his next project. It was demanding and exhilarating to be a part of that, even if we often worked on ideas just to see what would happen, without a specific end result in mind. There were times when we redid the same CD project 6 times over a year, and other times where we did something in a week and out it went to the world. It was a highly creative environment and a rare glimpse in to the working process of an exceptional artist.
UPDATE: Just like everyone around the world, I was shocked to hear he had died. It's very sad and I'm sure he felt he was not done making music. Especially now, I am extremely grateful for my time working for him over 9 years. I wrote and article in the Washington Post (link) that goes in to some detail on the NPG Music Club that we created together.
In 2008 I took an opportunity to join Pearl Jam's organization in Seattle to work on updating pearljam.com and establishing a stronger social media presence, leading up the release of their Backspacer CD in 2009. I also got to work on two issues of their Deep fan magazine, doing all the layout and some fun creative designs, especially in the Ten Anniversary issue. Pearl Jam has a fantastic and dedicated staff in Seattle, and it's a great model for how a lot of band's should have their infrastructure.
I switched gears a bit and joined MIcrosoft in 2011 as a UX Designer focused on front-end prototyping in the Office 365 group. While this experience differs greatly from my years of experience in the entertainment industry, it has been a valuable learning experience that has expanded my range of skills, as well as familiarized me to the world of large corporate infrastructure. Microsoft is a unique and dynamic company to work for, and I have grown professionally in a very positive way as a result.
I've been painting for over 20 years and I've always been fascinated with concepts of identity. I visualize this through paintings of faces, often with bright, bold colors and markings. These characters represent a sort of virtual identity that might connect with societal or cultural facial patterns that link their identity to a larger movement. While not any specific culture, I like the idea of boldly displaying one's connection to either their community or their own personal definition of who they are. I paint in oils and I often wonder what place oil paintings have in our 21st century digital world.
This site is a taste of my work. I'm also a proud parent, sing karaoke, play Scrabble, never been to China, and I'm a movie trivia expert. Please send me a message, I'd love to hear from you.
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What I'm listening to lately:
Process: Social Productivity App
I currently have some mobile apps I am working on independently with a few teams. Here I would like to present my thought process going in to initial app design.
The challenge with this app was to come up with a compelling mobile app that can be used as a connection tool for like-minded people who are up to something. At a conference, at work,in your neighborhood - we want to make it easy to find your people. And once you've connected, use this app to build social groups or project teams with tasks and goals. When approaching this app design, I chose to look at how a lot of other social sites were operating and find ways to make our app stand out. Not just it's content, but how to make the design stand out.
I always start sketching ideas out on paper first. This gives me a quick way get out my initial thoughts and get a sense on what is goint to work or not. In this case, I wanted the user at the center of their world, with everything radiating from them. I tried a few layout ideas moving the user around the screen, always focused on a radial navigation menu. The radial navigation gives me an easy to use a menu that is fun to spin and allows an unlimited amount of menu options. I don't see many radial navigations out there in this space and I think it works great.
I centered in on the user at the bottom center of the radial menu, with levels of information added on as you dive in deeper to the app. The main menu is presented on a dial that spins and each menu item has a place for it’s own secondary submenu dial. I like the idea of levels of radial menus making themselves visible as you dive down, to give the user an immediate sense of where they are in the app flow. Once you click in to a section, the information pane at the top displays what you need to know. The pane at the top is also expandable to fill the whole screen to maximize the information you can view at once.
After several refinements, I settled on this design. This app puts you at the center of your connected world. Get a quick summary of what’s been going on since you last logged in, and GO! Tap Groups and the submenu comes up to show you all your current groups, with a quick summary of the latest activity. I can't go in to too much detail on this app because it is still under development. But I love the look of it and I believe it will be a lot fun to use.
Download a PDF that goes in to the details.
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Download a PDF of a spinoff version of this app called Spark, a dating app.
Concept: Prince Streaming Service
As Prince releases his new album today exclusively on Tidal, I propose an idea I've had for some time now.
Way back in 2000, digital music downloads were the new kid on the block taking down physical formats for global dominance of music revenue streams. As an independent artist who was not beholden to a record label, Prince decided to take advantage of this new format and create a vibrant online business centered on digital distribution of his latest music, going directly from the artist to the consumer through an independent download operation we ran together called the NPG Music Club. Through it's 5 year history, we experimented in many different ways and business models to strike the right balance between what the fans and the artist wanted from this service. Ultimately it came down to creating a solid community around the music and celebrating the freedom that comes from when the artist controls the distribution channel.
Now in 2015, streaming is the fast-growing revenue stream that is quickly about to surpass digital downloads as the dominant way people listen to their music. Spotify, Pandora, Deezer, Tidal and Apple Music are all in the game of attracting ears to their services offering up this concept of the "celestial jukebox," where every song you want is at your fingertips to listen to immediately on any device you have available. So if I was tasked with bringing back the concept of the NPG Music Club in 2015, how would I take advantage of this new paradigm?
I propose companies like Tidal offer a select group of musicians a "white label" service that they can offer directly to their fans (I'll use Tidal as the example but it applies to Apple and Spotify too). This artist-controlled "white label" service would work as an add-on under the umbrella of the larger Tidal service, taking advantage of it's existing subscriber base and infrastructure. The add-on service would cost subscribers an additional $.99/month on top of their regular subscription and this fee would go 100% to the artist on top of their existing payments for streams. For that extra $.99/month, the fan gets a unique branded experience with all that artist's own content, including regular exclusives like singles, albums, videos, concert performances, and curated playlists taking advantage of the music available throughout the Tidal service. With all that in addition to the full artist catalog, it provides a true 360 experience for the fan.
I see adding community sections as well where fans can communicate directly through the app, share photos, share their own playlists and discuss the music being distributed. Tidal can facilitate members-only events and concert experiences, where your smartphone is your ticket, allowing even greater incentive to join. There are plenty of merch opportunities as well where purchases are all done through your device.
A big complaint that artists have regarding streaming services is that they are not getting a fair share of the profits. Putting a premium service like this in the hands of the artist and allowing them to reap the rewards directly creates a sustainable relationship where everyone can financially benefit, and the app is specifically designed to fully integrate in to the artist's complete experience. Prolific artists like Prince have the potential to reap the most rewards from this concept, just like we did 10 years ago with the NPG Music Club.
Download a PDF of this article with more details.
Got a comment on this app idea? Post it over at LinkedIn