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Flash Forward

Eric Jordan designs the Web's most innovative sites while holed up in his Orange County studio. What's next for the 29-year-old visionary? More sleepless nights imagining the future of technology.

May 13, 2007|Nathan Myers | Nathan Myers is managing editor of Surfing Magazine.

It's 4:30 A.M. and Eric Jordan is still staring at the dual monitors of his PC. One screen is filled with lines of computer script. The other screen is straight from a sci-fi movie: a traveler poised at the water's edge. A tiny rowboat waiting on the shore. And across the water, a futurescape skyline glimmering beneath a double moonrise. At the city's center, a Mayan temple beaming light toward the stars. This is "Attractor," the latest incarnation of Jordan's award-winning website and the portfolio home page of his industry-leading Web design firm

The light, sound and movement on the screen are the work of Flash, an interactive design environment hosting a yin-yang balance of programming and art. Since the mid-'90s, Flash and Eric Jordan's lives have been closely intertwined. And now, both stand at the virtual gates of a digital revolution.

Peeling his eyes off the screen, Jordan gently pushes away his cat, Halo, from pawing at the mouse beneath his hand. Cat and mouse, the pun makes him smile. He's always been more writer than coder. More artist than designer. More storyteller than website builder. But you'd never know it. Nicotine-lean, techie-pale, but with a healthy splash of SoCal metro, Jordan comes off as a suave charmer in a world of computer geeks. Fast car. Successful company. DJ career on the side. He is both highly adored and jealously despised, but no one denies that his influence has been anything less than iconic.

At 29 years old, this Cal State Long Beach dropout employs two dozen handpicked designers and programming specialists, commands an A-list clientele that includes Fox, Ford and Electronic Arts, and has won virtually every award in the business, including Adobe's "Most Influential Flash Site of the Decade" award. His signature "future-look" is universally considered the most imitated aesthetic on the Web, with latent copies nicknamed "2A Rips." Eric Jordan is, apparently, a man with everything.

Inside his headphones, the techno--a posting from his free monthly music blog, deafening. He barely remembers purchasing the modern furniture in his maid-tidy apartment. His longtime girlfriend left him at some point in his all-consuming career trajectory. His friends are his co-workers. For a decade, he's poured himself into the Web. He's played it every song, told it every story he knows, even invented new ones. And where has it all gotten him? These endless deadlines. This coder's dawn patrol. Is there any real satisfaction in a wholly virtual existence?

Jordan takes off his headphones, rubs his eyelids and walks to the balcony. He likes staring out across the symmetrical sprawl of Orange County street lights. To him, they represent a vision of the future--an earthbound galaxy beneath the dull orange fog of suburban night. But the trouble with fixating on the future is that you never actually get there. And if you do, well, what then?

Light grows, and he thinks of the predawn sets he used to spin at remote desert raves. "DJ Sunrise," they called him. The metaphoric act of pressing on through darkness to a brand-new day always appealed to him. And now the thought of what that day will bring leaves him too wired to sleep.

The forefathers of Flash dreamed of making Web design as simple as drawing on paper. But 10 years ago, before the feds reported that Internet usage was doubling every 100 days, the program that would become Flash was a lot like Eric Jordan, living in its parents' house, staying out too late and pondering some vague future. From its slacker beginnings, Flash evolved as a highly functional animation tool, incorporating frame-by-frame animation features. The program was eventually acquired by Macromedia and began developing its status as a near-mandatory download.

Meanwhile, Jordan was fired from his job at an ISP help-desk for excessive fiddling with Web design and, not long after, a friend introduced him to Flash. For Jordan, who as a kid imported his comic book drawings into PowerPoint presentations for cinematic effect, the attraction was powerful. He spent the next three nights enthralled, shackled to his computer.

"I was really into this concept of 'the future' and constantly trying to illustrate it," recalls Jordan. "I couldn't believe there was this program that would let me bring all these things in my head to life."

From a layman's perspective, Flash is a tool for making shapes and texts grow or shrink, brighten or fade, zip or morph, beep or squeak. It is the vehicle toward a more exciting, more interactive, more human virtual environment. To Jordan, it is a portal to an alternative dimension.

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