Adam Robbins explores leaving the studio he co-founded for opportunities abroad
We speak to a design director with a portfolio full of luxury brands, who’s just left the studio he co-founded to explore opportunities abroad
Adam Robbins is a design director currently living and working in London who co-founded his own digital studio, Rotate°, in 2014, primarily designing and building ecommerce websites for luxury and lifestyle brands. With a nine-year career spent working in digital roles at a range of London-based studios across numerous clients, he’s recently said goodbye to Rotate° in order to pursue new ventures. We caught up with him to find out more.
How did you get started in web design? My post-uni plan was always to move to London. I graduated in graphic design in July 2009, then spent a week at a music festival in Spain. After that I flew home and applied for a handful of junior roles. My final major project at uni had quite a digital spin: I did a series of experiments with an eye-tracker, including drawing a typeface with just my eyes. The guys at Zone were really positive about my postuni portfolio and they happened to be doing some good-looking digital work, so when they offered me a position I went for it. Given the fact I’d only designed one site before joining them (my own), you could say I pretty much stumbled into web design.
You’ve just left Rotate° after four years. How would you describe your time there? It was an incredible learning experience. I’d previously worked as a designer at
studios ranging in size from more than 100 people right down to just 10. In all instances my day-to-day role was solely about design. When I got to 26, an opportunity presented itself to me to start my own studio with an associate (Jim Tattersall, a super talented developer). I saw this as the perfect way to learn about how the other side of a creative agency works, including disciplines like pitching, quoting, scheduling, hiring and managing.
It’s been a complete roller coaster. We worked remotely in year one, got our first studio and won the international fashion brand LOEWE as a client in year two, collaborated with awesome and established studios in year three (Design Studio) and relocated our now eight-person team to a slick new studio space in year four.
As originally expected, I’ve learned so much more than I would have learned in a design-only role. It’s been a total eyeopener and pretty invaluable for my professional development. I’d recommend making the leap sooner rather than later to any aspirational creative or tech professionals out there.
You worked on an online store for Seedlip’s non-alcoholic spirits. Was that a tough sell?
Bizarrely not. The brand positions its range as “the world’s first distilled nonalcoholic spirits”, the thing you “drink when you’re not drinking”. Its products are perfect for the designated driver, the expectant mother or someone who finds themselves in a bar or at a dinner party on a weeknight.
There’s often pretty tight shipping restrictions around purchasing alcohol online; however with Seedlip being an alcohol-free product, we managed to steer the brand towards having an ecommerce store and therefore becoming one of the web’s first direct-to-consumer spirits brands. It’s awesome to work with and at Rotate° we fully believe in how it’s disrupting the drinks industry. I’ve been lucky enough to lead the design of both its pre-launch and existing websites. I’ve also just put the finishing touches on its new website,
HELM provides luxury yachting holidays. What are the challenges of building a site for such a high-end brand?
HELM ( www.helm.yt) exists to provide luxury sailing vacations to people who may not have any previous sailing / yacht-hire experience. During the discovery phase of this project I realised that, due to customers’ unfamiliarity with sailing, the brand needed to do more than simply show them what yachts were available for their desired dates in a traditional search result.
We proposed a sequential booking system in which customers answer questions like ‘Have you sailed before?’ and ‘What would you like to do on your trip?’ in order to best understand their needs. The team at HELM then utilise a platform we produced for them to create custom packages, tailored to each individual customer’s needs, therefore guiding their customers in the sailing-vacation booking process.
Can you tell us about the portfolio site you created for Armoury?
Armoury ( www.armourylondon.com) is an award-winning London-based film production company. It approached Rotate° in search of a new portfolio site to house its awesome catalogue of work. I led it through a discovery process where I learned that what it sought was as much a portfolio site as a presentation tool; something that could be used to impress new clients, face-to-face, across a meeting room table.
I wanted to create a site that felt as comfortable in the palm of the hand as it did on a 60-inch TV in a meeting room. The ideal solution took the form of a super immersive typographic index, supported by edge-to-edge background video. The whole site feels more akin to a smart-TV app UI than an actual website, creating a really cinematic feel and elevating their works.
Chilly’s needed an updated store for their sustainable, reusable bottles. What was the solution?
When the Rotate° team and I first started working with Chilly’s ( www.chillysbottles.com) it had a rather dated looking website that somehow still managed to boast an above industry standard conversion rate, yet it sought to increase this further. To me this sounded like the perfect design challenge – an opportunity to create something visually
superior that made a positive impact on its business.
Again, after leading them through a discovery phase the team and I arrived at the concept of a super-modular design system, one that would allow Chilly’s to easily experiment with different content hierarchy and functionality, on a page-by-page basis. Post-launch this would permit us, in collaboration with Chilly’s, to make ongoing modifications to the site, to find out what resonated with customers and what didn’t, therefore nurturing and growing its conversion rates. Thankfully the concept worked. They now boast a multi-currency, multilingual ecommerce site with a conversion rate that’s more than double the industry standard.
What was the brief for the Digital Mums site you created?
This project presented the team and I with a particularly interesting design challenge. Digital Mums ( digitalmums.com) focuses its business on two audiences: mothers who are looking to start a career in social media and business owners who seek a social media expert to represent their brand online. The challenge was creating a site that serviced both distinct audiences.
One simple yet highly effective UX solution that helped me solve this issue was an omnipresent toggle button in close proximity to the main navigation that read: ‘I’m a Mum / I’m a Business’. Interacting with this would essentially serve two different versions of the site with content tailored specifically to the selected audience. Simple, yet effective.
Can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment?
I’ve just started work on the design of an ecommerce site for a Warby Parker inspired eyewear startup, based in the UK. It’s a super interesting new brand with a great product range and real vision (no pun intended).
What sort of projects do you most love to get your hands on?
I’ve spent the last four or so years working largely on ecommerce-focused projects for luxury and lifestyle brands. The projects I’ve enjoyed most are the ones where I’ve really believed in the mission of the client and what I’m helping them to sell. The benefit of working in the luxury and lifestyle sector is that the clients often appreciate the value of commissioning photo shoots and video content, therefore the visual
assets you get to work with are often superior quality, which makes my role easier and more enjoyable.
Aside from this, it’s always exciting to work on something where the client wants to break new ground. With Seedlip ( www.seedlipdrinks.com) I had this because they were willing to become one of the web’s first direct-to-consumer spirits brands. With HELM there was an opportunity was to break the conventions of traditional holiday-booking platforms.
What’s in your day-to-day toolkit?
Sketch, Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign cover everything from wire framing to UI design and crafting presentations. I prototype in Marvel and do a little animation and interaction design in After Effects. Trello and Clear cover all my task management needs.
What do you find most exciting about the web right now?
To me, from a UI and UX design perspective, the web is like a pendulum. In the early days, websites were pretty basic looking. Then Flash came along and the pendulum swung the other way: things went nuts with animated loading screens, website intros and sound effects. The pendulum swung back and we had Web 2.0 – clear UI elements that made websites feel almost like operating systems. The pendulum is on the move again, we’re in an experimental period thanks to front-end technologies that enable us to do all the stuff Flash used to and more: 3D canvas experiments, widespread use of hamburger navigation systems and scroll hijacking.
In answer to the original question, I’m simply excited to see where the pendulum goes next. I wouldn’t even want to hazard a guess.
How do you recharge?
Some days I change into my running gear, throw my laptop in a rucksack and run home. I’ve spent my entire London life living in Hackney. There’s some decent green spaces and canals here: weather permitting I tend to get home and – if I haven’t run – eat something, then just get outside to walk around.
What are your future plans?
I recently accepted an exciting new role on the Nike team at Instrument in Portland (US work visa pending). They’re a great agency, one I’ve always admired, and I’m itching to get started over there. My time in London has been incredible but I’m excited to see what the US design scene has to offer.
Rotate°’s design for Armoury was approached with maximum scalability in mind, ensuring that the UI felt as comfortable in the palm of the hand as it did on a television screen
Part of the design challenge was to evolve Chilly’s current visual identity into an enhanced design system that felt true to its existing brand
Provided with just a bottle, Robbins’ task when designing Seedlip’s online store was to translate the offline identity into a digital one – one that elevated the product while staying true to its form