Geek Speak: Catherine Winckler, Co-Founder of Switch United
By Stephen Thompson for the Georgia Straight
Catherine Winckler is a co-founder of the independent Vancouver firm Switch United, where she is currently a partner and executive creative director. Her focus is on pushing the boundaries of interactive storytelling while collaborating with interesting clients and partners.
Switch United helps to produce multiplatform projects—both online and offline—for clients in film, television, and other areas. The small studio recently helped to create the Museum of Vancouver’s new mobile-app walking tour of the city’s neon signs. The firm also worked with Tangible Interaction on the 30-metre-long Digital Gateway wall installation for the 2010 Olympics.
Previously in her career, Winckler put her creativity to use as a freelance writer, advertising coordinator, and TV game show contestant coordinator.
For those who don’t know, what does Switch United do?
Switch United, we loosely call it a digital studio. It’s really twofold now. One part of it is a digital innovation studio. So we have a team and everybody gets to work on innovation things like the augmented reality walking tour for the Museum of Vancouver. But we also serve our traditional production network clients for TV and film. So we’re doing cross-platform work in support of their television show or film project as well.
What do you do in your role at Switch United?
There’s two answers to that: what do people think I do and what do I do? What they think I do is sit and think of about a dozen things a day of what we could be doing and I know I drive my producers crazy because they say, “Catherine, stop thinking. We’ve got to keep going with what we’re doing.” I think my job is to be a catalyst and I know my job is to spend time looking at what’s out there and then synthesizing those ideas into something we could use.
So if I’m seeing something, for instance, two years ago in augmented reality—at the time it was fairly new—I thought, well how could we integrate this into our Museum of Vancouver job? Of course, two years later, after we’ve started, it isn’t so new. But that’s my job, is to look for both cultural things that are happening and also technology innovations and see how it all could come together and put it to the team here to see what they could make of it.
So I put all of it on the table at our morning brainstorms and we play for a bit every morning to see what ideas could come out of it. Some ideas are really stupid but some of them are actually kind of interesting.
What is one project of which you are most proud?
Probably the one that took up the entire summer. I don’t think I breathed all summer long. It was the Grey Cup 100th game anniversary in Canada. It was being held in Toronto. And the lead up to that was going to be TSN had commissioned a series of eight documentaries to run on-air. And they were documentaries about the human aspects of the football game, the Grey Cup football game. Really interesting for sports fans and non-sports fans. They were stories of triumph and passion and really fabulous things. And they said to us, “Build us a world that’s complimentary but different, online.” And so stupidly I came up with the idea that, gee it’s the 100th game anniversary and these are eight stories. Why don’t we tell (92) more stories online, and do them in video, art, illustration, writing, photography, archive searches, etc.?
We proceeded to put 100 stories online under tsn.ca/greycup. That would be one of our favourite projects because it got to use our sleuthing skills, our researching skills. We have two writers on staff, so that makes us a bit different from a lot of firms in Vancouver. It was done in HTML5, which was huge for TSN. They hadn’t done any solutions in that yet. And it was big for us, the learning curve. And our design. The interface was beautiful. Each had a custom illustration and a lot of complicated programming.