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Ways We Work

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Inside the Toronto-based digital agency

The "A Day With..." is a series inspired by the fact that most of the best projects, products and work come from teams. We hope to offer a glimpse into the inner workings of some of our favourite teams using photography and interviews with team members. We want to put a human face on the products people love by getting to know the team and the process behind them.

Jam3 is a world-renowned digital design and production company based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. They are known for building innovative and immersive experiences in the digital space and have won countless awards to prove it. Their relentless push to reinvent how people experience digital has catapulted them from an original team of 3 to a large agency of more than 50. I had the pleasure of visiting their space to experience a day with the team and chatted with one of the original three founders, Adrian Belina, about how they make awesome digital.

Tell us about how Jam3 got started?

Adrian: For that we gotta go way back to 2003. Inspired by the advances brought by Flash "MX" a couple of young, wide-eyed guys (Mark McQuillan, Pablo Vio and myself) went back to college for a post-graduate program called Interactive Multimedia. We all became buddies and after graduation would still go out for drinks. Pablo and myself went to work for small random companies out in the 905 area while Mark decided he was going to go at it on his own and started Jam3, or Jam3media as it was called back then. Back then "something-media" was what all the cool kids were doing.

About a year later, Pablo left his job to work with Mark and I followed suit shortly after. Being young and just starting out we worked in an apartment above Mark's garage and took work from anyone and everyone. We loved digital and put 120% into everything we did. We viewed every job as a portfolio piece that could get us a newer and bigger site to build. Since day 1 we've always been really passionate about the level of motion and animation that goes into our work and so we quickly went from building sites for Persian rugs and dentists, to sexier portfolios and small companies sites. Seriously though, I wish I could show you the amazing Flash site we designed for this dentist. For 2004, this guy probably had the sexiest dentist site in the world.

We had a couple of turning points in our history and the first was starting to do work for ad agencies and entertainment companies. That's when we decided that we'd become a more formalized company and start hiring people to help us with the work that we were turning down. Amazingly enough we hired 2 great devs above that garage and even more amazing is that one of them still works for us today 7 years later (shoutout to our Tech Director, Aaron Morris).

From there on out we just continued to push into the industry, always putting in that extra effort, the extra details, growing our portfolio and our reputation one project at a time. And that's still how we think and operate today. We're about 50 people and we still look at every project as an opportunity to land the next one. I'm happy that we've earned the reputation for being the company you call when you're not quite sure if the project is actually possible.

How long have you been in your current space? How did you make it your own?

Adrian: We moved out of Liberty Village in Toronto and into our downtown space at Peter & Adelaide last year in May. We were looking for a unique space for quite some time. Initially, we were looking for the "brick and beam" look but when we walked into this office it was an instant moment of excitement. The space was just so different from anything else we had seen... it was this ground floor retail space painted dark grey. The uniqueness was what we were so drawn to, it didn't feel like an office.

To make it our own we worked with an interior designer for most of the build out, but most of the ideas, colours, furniture etc was all us. I'm a big fan of interior design and was itching to finally put that Dwell magazine subscription to good use.

Timelapse of the Jam3 workspace.

You're known for making cutting edge digital experiences. Where does your team go for inspiration? How do you stay ahead of the curve?

Adrian: Depending who you ask here at Jam3 you're going to get a different answer. The FWA, Awwwards, Twitter, Behance, Dribbble, Github... all different, all great sources of inspiration. What's most important is developing a culture of inspiration. We all use Slack for internal communication and have several categorized channels where designers, devs, and producers alike are sharing links. You get a really great cross pollination of creative and tech conversation happening there.

Can you tell us a bit about the structure of the team? How is work divided?

Adrian: We're a pretty flat company, and ultimately everyone falls into Creative, Tech or Production. In each project we establish a lead creative, lead dev and lead producer who own the project, work directly with clients and create a bespoke team structure for every project.

How do you go about building your team? What things do you look for when adding someone?

Adrian: Assuming they have the necessary skills we're after, what makes a person stand out is 2 things. Passion and personality. Passion is where the best work comes from, what motivates you to push the concept, to pursue challenges and to add in those extra details that put the work over the top. Personality is what makes a company great because a company is all about its people and if you don't love or get along with your coworkers then you're going to have issues. Negativity is a cancer that can erode a company culture so it's all about looking for the right attitude.

What was the biggest challenge faced when building the company you have today?

Adrian: The biggest challenge is still an ongoing one, it's the battle between growth, creativity and process. Once you get past the small studio size process becomes something that you're continually tweaking. Our never ending fascination with digital is what propels all of us in this industry to want to create ground-breaking, beautiful award winning work but we're always going to be faced with the constant challenge of difficult timelines and budgets. Curiosity and passion are critical. It's what drives us to reach perfection.

I had an amazing time visiting Jam3, checking out their space and getting to know how they build the experiences they are known for. Thanks to Adrian for letting us in and documenting how they do the work they do. For more information about Jam3 please check out their website and follow them on Twitter.