Bailey Follows Circuitous Route

July 8, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Ted Bailey makes a living off of his imagination, but he couldn’t have imagined 25 years ago exactly where his creativity would lead him.

His creativity, coupled with his natural curiosity and tinkerer’s brain, led him to found The Imagination Factory Inc. in 1984.

Today IFI designs, develops and produces marketing solutions using everything from print to video to digital media. Services include graphic design and layout, computer animation, digital imagery, interactive multimedia, Web design and hosting.

It didn’t exactly start out that way.

The company was “created by accident, designed by chaos,” as Bailey puts it. And that’s pretty much the way his career path has been.

Bailey studied architecture, worked for a couple of architectural firms, then moved into the technical and mechanical aspects of architecture and got into civil engineering, joining Williams & Works Inc. in Grand Rapids.

Williams & Works was one of the first West Michigan firms to get a computer-aided design system, and Bailey went to Denver with the team to train under the CAD manufacturer.

At the time, the only people doing computer graphics worked for the jet propulsion and high-end labs, he recalled.

“It was really avant-garde in the early ’70s to be getting into this type of thing. It was a substantial investment for Williams & Works to get into that and see whether we could automate the drafting pool or streamline the design process. It certainly wasn’t for the faint of heart.”

Bailey, in fact, designed and developed the first computer graphics curriculum in West Michigan while serving as adjunct faculty for Kendall College of Art and Design in 1980.

After several years at Williams & Works, Bailey was hired by Westinghouse to oversee the design and development of the company’s CAD system for its core designers. He put together architectural-based programming that allowed designers to basically push buttons and build a floor plan.

At Westinghouse he became accustomed to working with the most current technology on the market, so he ended up buying computers for his house, including a $10,000 laser printer, and started moonlighting as a general business consultant in office automation.

While at Westinghouse he and a co-worker built what he refers to as “a raw form of Power Point,” an electronic show using a 48K Apple computer hooked up to a $6,000 three-beam projector.

Bailey built the graphics, his buddy did the code, and it made a big splash because it was the first time anything like that had ever been done at Westinghouse corporate, he noted. After developing it further, they got Westinghouse to sign off and began marketing it.

“It was truly created by accident because I had clients saying, ‘Could you do this? Could you do that?’”

By 1982, while everyone else was still doing typesetting, he was doing desktop publishing for clients and expanding into the realm of marketing, with the production of brochures, transparencies and handouts.

“Now we could do nice, clean graphic layouts on transparencies, and then they wanted color transparencies, and then they wanted slides,” he recalled. Customers would send the slides to a video producer who would transfer them to videotape.

“We looked at that and figured there ought to be a way to get it from this box right directly to videotape. When we cracked that nut in ’85 we also discovered we could put computer animation to it, so we could animate electronic shows.”

He got into computer animation, started rolling in all of the computer languages he’d learned along the way and added interactivity.

“That got us into CD-ROM and laserdisc, and, eventually, our work in print media, in interactive media and in computer animation kind of merged together in this thing called the Internet. In 1994 we added our own server.”

At the time, there were about 10,000 servers worldwide, compared to 21 million today.

IFI is a little different because it still does print work along with the electronic and the Web work, he added.

“When we start talking about all the things we do, people’s eyes have a tendency to glaze over because there’s just so much to absorb.

“I like the creative side of the thing — always trying to solve a problem. I can do the paperwork side, the business aspects, and I can also do the design side and that’s the fun part — having somebody come to me and say, ‘We’ve got this problem we need to fix. Can you do it?’ That gets me motivated.”

IFI has developed a diverse client following, primarily by word of mouth. Bailey has put together projects for global manufacturers, hospitals, universities, government agencies, media and entertainment companies, sports teams and retailers, as well as e-tailers.

Clients have included Dow, DuPont, IBM, Herman Miller, Quixtar, Sony, Whirlpool, McGraw-Hill, FTD, Western Michigan University, the Grand Rapids Griffins, Lansing Lugnuts and Sacramento Kings.

Today, Bailey said, more and more of his clients want “a whole package of stuff” to meet their marketing and communications needs.

IFI can start with a client doing print work for a trade show, for instance, then graduate to using the same imagery for a slide show or electronic presentation or to launch the company on the Internet. Or, it can go the other way, helping a new company that’s already on the Web add some other media to its marketing mix.

Of all the service Imagination Factory offers, Web design and optimization comprises the largest share of its business, Bailey said.

IFI has offices in Atlanta and Cleveland, and in Windsor, Ontario.

“The Internet is why we can have somebody in Georgia and why we can have somebody in Ohio. The idea was to create an infrastructure that was a diversified organization that was all tied together. The Internet is the mechanism that realized that goal.”

A CD project, for instance, gets uploaded to the IFI servers, so even if the project was put together in Boston and the client is in Chicago, IFI can access the project and make a change or tweak it, as needed.

It’s a multifaceted organization, to be sure.

In addition to sales, design, copywriting, content and project management, the Windsor operation is involved in the manufacture of “da Vinci Kits,” wood model kits of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Flying Machine” and “Aerial Screw.”

The company owns both the design and manufacturing rights to the kits. Though Bailey hadn’t really envisioned becoming a manufacturer of anything, he said, Internet orders for the kits are coming in from all over the country.

Now he’s talking about developing a da Vinci learning center that would challenge kids to think creatively.

As the outcropping of the da Vinci project, IFI has been commissioned to do a wood model kit of Stratford’s Festival Theatre Stage for the Stratford Festival in Canada.

The company is doing the box design and an interactive CD in conjunction with creating the wooden model for the kit that will be for sale at the festival.

“We’ve already heard now from another theater in France that has seen the Stratford prototype and may want one. That will take on a life of its own over here. That’s the fun part for us.”

Another point of interest in the IFI network is SLT/Novosibirsk, a group of 35 Russian programmers that handle some of IFI’s offshore sales and programming.

“The interesting thing about Novosibirsk is that they are 11 to 12 hours opposite us, so we can virtually work around the clock,” Bailey said. That means Russian programmers can work on projects uploaded to IFI servers while programmers here are sleeping.

“We work predominantly with them as an outsource. We have other outsources in England and India, depending on what we’re doing.”

IFI worked in tandem with the Russians on several projects, including one for an Italian charm bracelet manufacturer in California and another for the Russian Politburo in conjunction with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

“So far everything we’ve done has always been off the beaten path,” Bailey acknowledged. “Standing in 1980 looking forward, it doesn’t make a lot of sense; but looking backwards, I can see how that path kind of meandered around and got here.

“It’s a long way away from designing buildings, I guess. It all has to do with the creative environment we’re in.”           

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