Every year, millions of travelers are directed through Terminal 4 at JFK International Airport to their flights, baggage, and sightseeing destinations by interactive signage, video walls and touch-screen kiosks designed and created by Nicole Barth ’05.
Since graduation, this fine arts alum and the award-winning firm she co-founded – Ronik – uses art and emerging technologies to shape brands, build reputations, and create interactive experiences for clients and their customers.
JFK Terminal 4 is not the only place where Barth’s talent is on full display. GE Healthcare, FastCompany, Benjamin Moore, Nike and Nasdaq are among the high-profile companies that have called on Barth and her team at Brooklyn-based Ronik for website creation, branding, product development, and video production.
When she arrived at Hofstra, Barth was immediately drawn to the arts, but uncertain of its job prospects.
“It took me a little while to understand what the world of art and design offered me professionally,” she said. “I didn’t know how many facets of the field there were to enter, specialize and explore.”
Barth’s mentor, Professor of Fine Arts Tom Klinkowstein, introduced her to the use of technology in design and the professional opportunities in new media.
“He brought in a lot of outside speakers to talk about their work in their respective fields in design – video production, motion graphics, digital art, UX design,” she said. “I enjoyed the problem-solving components of interactive design. It’s not just artwork for the sake of concept. It has utility and purpose – it carries a message, performs a transaction, or delivers a digital experience. It has an impact beyond the visual and emotional. I found that very alluring.”
Before graduation, Barth initially wanted to pursue a career in design for print books and magazines. Then she began exploring the world of digital publications and grew hungry to master new platforms to engage audiences. “There’s so much to learn. Too much to learn,” she says.
Barth built her resume working for companies like Refinery29, The Food Network, and Code and Theory. Her experience working in digital design at Newsweek gave her the confidence to break out and become her own boss.
“Newsweek offered an agency-type setting,” she says. Barth had the opportunity to work with the editorial staff; with sales and marketing; and with the website team on enhancing user experience. “That job gave me a sense of what a multiservice, multidisciplinary designer can achieve on a day-to-day basis, and I really enjoyed it.”
Barth and her Newsweek creative director and longtime collaborator, Roberto González Rey, made the decision to leave Newsweek, and began collaborating on projects. “Starting a company was not a priority. We grew our staff and client pool very slowly,” she said.
In 2016, they were tapped by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation to create the web presence for Before the Flood, a documentary charting DiCaprio’s journey across five continents and the Arctic to witness climate change.
Ronik’s multilayered, award-winning website design offered visitors a sneak preview of the film, as well as press information, and details on getting involved in the climate change movement. “The project spoke to our interactive storytelling abilities and supported climate change action, a cause we believe in deeply,” Barth said.
Barth is pleased that Ronik has reached a place where it can be selective about its clients. “We look for people who will be good partners and projects that involve an interesting challenge,” she said. “And we need to believe in the companies and brands we are aligned with.”
Barth is also committed to cultivating a nurturing office environment. “Fostering confidence is important to success,” she said. “When you’re in school there’s a safety net. There’s a playfulness and a messiness that encourages you to push boundaries. I’ve totally tried to retain that in my professional life and within our studio. We try new things. We fail together. We learn together. We experiment. We have to in order to keep up. It makes things interesting.”