Dis­cov­er­ing design

FX Dig­i­tal de­scribe them­selves as ex­plor­ers. Cre­at­ing new dig­i­tal ex­pe­ri­ences that re­de­fine the spa­ces we all in­habit, their abil­ity to craft en­gag­ing and ex­cit­ing sen­sa­tions has en­sured they con­tinue to gain the at­ten­tion of lead­ing brands look­ing to con

Web Designer - - Contents -

De­scrib­ing them­selves as ex­plor­ers, FX Dig­i­tal cre­ate en­gag­ing and ex­cit­ing ex­pe­ri­ences

Be­gin­ning as a hobby in 2010, co-founder Matthew Duhig was at The Univer­sity of Southamp­ton when his sis­ter asked him if he could cre­ate a web­site for her new bri­dal busi­ness. “Although con­fi­dent that I could build the site my design abil­ity was a bit lim­ited, so I asked my school friend Tom (Smith) to design a logo and lay­out, Matt ex­plains. “He was, at the time, study­ing Com­puter An­i­ma­tion at Portsmouth and gladly ac­cepted the chal­lenge.”

“Af­ter com­plet­ing the design and build my sis­ter started rec­om­mend­ing us to busi­nesses that she would meet on her trav­els. It wasn’t long be­fore we had our sec­ond gig. We were de­lighted to be given the op­por­tu­nity to de­velop a site for an­other lo­cal bri­dal com­pany and were go­ing to be paid £300! An­tic­i­pat­ing at this early stage that we were go­ing to rule the world, we de­cide to in­cor­po­rate a com­pany.”

Both Matt and Tom con­tin­ued to build web­sites as a side gig while they fin­ished their stud­ies at univer­sity. All this took place in lo­cal cafés and Matt’s fam­ily home, kept com­pany by their dogs.

“Af­ter grad­u­a­tion we were both ex­cited about the pos­si­bil­ity of pur­su­ing our new-found pas­sion on the web and wanted to con­tinue to work to­gether, but we agreed we could ben­e­fit from some real-world ex­pe­ri­ence be­fore start­ing on our agency jour­ney,” Matt ex­plains. “Tom suc­cess­fully in­ter­viewed for a job at Dou­ble Neg­a­tive and started as a run­ner look­ing to fol­low a ca­reer as a VFX artist, while I landed a job de­vel­op­ing email tem­plates at a dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing com­pany called ecir­cle.

“I had an in­cred­i­ble time at ecir­cle, as did Tom at Dou­ble Neg­a­tive. We both learned a lot from a ton of in­spi­ra­tional peo­ple, but we just couldn’t shake the urge to pur­sue the agency idea. So, we both left those jobs and – af­ter a brief pe­riod in which I worked at a sys­tems com­pany and Tom cy­cled from Nor­way to Ghana – we started tak­ing the busi­ness a lot more se­ri­ously. Tom and I moved in to­gether in Read­ing to help con­cen­trate our ef­forts.

“The growth be­gan and con­tin­ued quite or­gan­i­cally,” Matt says. “From a bed­room in Read­ing we made our way over to East Lon­don and fi­nally set­tled on the Tru­man Brew­ery on Brick Lane as a place to base the busi­ness. We’re still in that same build­ing to­day, just in a much larger of­fice space than when we started.”

FX Dig­i­tal as a name for their com­pany came later, ini­tially call­ing them­selves Juicy Webs. Matt ex­plains: “We started things up as Juicy Webs, a name orig­i­nally cho­sen by Tom and I as two ex­cited young­sters over a beer in the lo­cal pub. For some un­known rea­son we were pretty pas­sion­ate about the name, which over time had be­come more of a hin­drance than a help.

“The name re­ally did have to change if we wanted to be taken more se­ri­ously as an agency. Cue fran­tic name find­ing. It’s per­haps one of the most dif­fi­cult pro­cesses we’ve ever been through as a busi­ness. To make matters worse, we had been op­er­at­ing for three years be­fore opt­ing to change the name. We al­ready knew how we wanted peo­ple to feel when they saw what we were called, and what we wanted it to rep­re­sent, but we couldn’t just pick a word that ex­cited us.

“Be­ing the cre­ative one in the pair, Tom took the lead here. We listed hun­dreds of words and passed each one around some friends for feed­back, but none stuck. Even­tu­ally Tom locked him­self away and started com­ing up with ideas for a new vis­ual iden­tity. Be­fore long he set­tled on the idea of FX Dig­i­tal. It suited our vi­sion per­fectly; com­bin­ing the worlds of VFX and emerg­ing web tech­nolo­gies. It also had a rather elu­sive vibe, not lim­it­ing us to one medium in the same way Juicy Webs did. In­spired by the Pen­rose tri­an­gle the logo was cre­ated as an im­pos­si­ble shape, rep­re­sent­ing the ef­fect we wanted to de­velop in our work us­ing im­mer­sive tech­nolo­gies.”

Matt con­tin­ues: “Find­ing the do­main was easy enough. We went ‘cliché agency’ with it and stuck

‘weare’ in front of ‘fx’ to give us ‘wearefx.co.uk’. Be­fore too long we were ap­proached by the owner of ‘fxdig­i­tal.uk’ and opted to pur­chase this to use as our pri­mary do­main. We’ve found that it’s im­por­tant to in­clude your com­pany name in the URL. It’s how peo­ple iden­tify and recog­nise you.”

Hav­ing spent what seemed like an eter­nity com­ing up with a new name for their agency, the next step was for the pair was their own web­site. Tom ex­plains their ap­proach: “An agency’s site is in­valu­able. Any busi­ness’s site is re­ally. It’s an op­por­tu­nity to show­case your iden­tity and your skills, but above all, it should be at the fore­front of your mar­ket­ing ac­tiv­i­ties – driv­ing leads and act­ing as a re­source to help land op­por­tu­ni­ties. It’s es­sen­tially your CV.

“We’ve been through sev­eral it­er­a­tions with our site and it’s in a good place at the mo­ment. How­ever, the qual­ity of the work we pro­duce and what the team here is ca­pa­ble of, im­proves so of­ten that our site al­ways looks dated to us.

“It takes a lot of ef­fort to im­prove your own mar­ket­ing ma­te­rial as an agency, and you have to be re­ally dis­ci­plined to make it work. We try to treat it like any other project and com­mit in­ter­nal re­source to de­liv­er­ing it. How­ever, more of­ten than not we find our­selves mak­ing most of the im­prove­ments over the Christ­mas break when there’s lit­tle or no client work due.”

The skills that Matt and Tom brought to their busi­ness has meant a steady stream of clients. Now

Matthew Duhig, Di­rec­tor and Co-founder

well es­tab­lished, have they changed how they at­tract new po­ten­tial work? “De­spite the im­por­tance of hav­ing a site that drives leads through the busi­ness, ours gen­er­ates us a rel­a­tively small num­ber of en­quiries and al­ways has done,” says

Matt. “As dis­ap­point­ing as this is, it’s not re­ally ever been a prob­lem for us as each and ev­ery lead we have ever had has come through a sin­gle source: word of mouth.”

Tom also com­ments: “Word of mouth is es­sen­tial for the growth of any agency. We’re firm be­liev­ers that by plac­ing the ut­most im­por­tance on the de­liv­ery of work we’re giv­ing our­selves the best op­por­tu­nity pos­si­ble to en­hance this. We can an­a­lyse our clients to­day and, more of­ten than not, track them back to one or two en­ti­ties or in­di­vid­u­als that had faith in us when we first started.

“De­spite this, we still in­sist on pitch­ing for each piece of work that we win and have beaten many a Go­liath to a job be­cause of our per­for­mance when pitch­ing. Pitch­ing not only gives an agency the op­por­tu­nity to prove just how tal­ented a group of peo­ple they are, but also pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity for them to thor­oughly un­der­stand a client, their au­di­ence, and their propo­si­tion be­fore they start to work with them.”

How agen­cies pick the clients they work with can be man­i­fold. For FX Dig­i­tal it’s al­ways a per­sonal con­nec­tion with the client or the ex­pe­ri­ences they want cre­at­ing, as Matt ex­plains: “For the most part we select the work we do based on the peo­ple we meet. Luck­ily for us – be­cause most of our busi­ness comes through word of mouth – most of the op­por­tu­ni­ties we find in­volve work­ing with some re­mark­able and like-minded peo­ple. We like to think that we have a pretty unique cul­ture here, and op­er­ate on a men­tal­ity of achiev­ing more and valu­ing staff in­put. We look for clients that match that out­look.”

Matt goes on to out­line the re­la­tion­ship they al­ways try to foster with the busi­nesses they work with: “It’s im­por­tant to have a pro­duc­tive work­ing re­la­tion­ship with your clients. You need to re­spect their busi­ness and they re­cip­ro­cate by recog­nis­ing the skills you bring to the ta­ble.

“That sort of part­ner­ship – and all our projects are part­ner­ships – al­lows us to avoid those sit­u­a­tions where mem­bers of the team are stuck in a meet­ing or on a call for half a day only to make zero progress. Ev­ery­one un­der­stands their in­put, their value, and where we’re go­ing with what’s in front of us – in­clud­ing the client. We’re in the for­tu­nate po­si­tion to have enough ex­pe­ri­ence be­hind us to choose what we pitch for. And where we spot a gap in our knowl­edge, we lever­age our R&D team to fill it by cre­at­ing our own self-ini­ti­ated work.

“Early into the de­vel­op­ment of the agency our sec­ond hire, Joy Chen (Head of R&D), is an epic cre­ative and tech­ni­cal ge­nius who be­came our full-time head of R&D. We wanted to ex­per­i­ment with im­mer­sive tech­nolo­gies like WEBGL, but strug­gled to fo­cus on this on top of fee-gen­er­at­ing

“Not only is R&D a great col­lab­o­ra­tive process, but the projects we cre­ate through it give us a unique edge when talk­ing with clients and al­low us to demon­strate our abil­ity to jump into new tech­nolo­gies and cre­ate some­thing gen­uinely new”

work. As soon as we had enough cap­i­tal we hired Joy to give us a full-time re­source to work on in­ter­nal projects.

“Not only is R&D a great col­lab­o­ra­tive process, but the projects we cre­ate through it gives us a unique edge when talk­ing with clients and al­low us to demon­strate our abil­ity to jump into new tech­nolo­gies and cre­ate some­thing gen­uinely new. And be­cause we make our own briefs the projects are pretty out there, from a WEBVR roller­coaster space race game, 3D Globe of WWII events, through time and par­ti­cle ef­fects ga­lore, if we want to win new work in a par­tic­u­lar field we start with R&D as a proof of con­cept, which helps us choose the next round of clients.”

The work that an agency pro­duces not only meets its clients’ brief, but also speaks vol­umes about the agency’s core driv­ers and the ethos that is em­bed­ded in the busi­ness. Matt out­lines which work best re­flects who FX Dig­i­tal are: “There are a lot of projects that we’re proud of. If you asked each mem­ber of the FX team you’d get a dif­fer­ent re­sponse. Some would say Primeresi, a project that saw us pro­duce some in­sanely in­tri­cate Word­press de­vel­op­ment. Oth­ers would sug­gest Mis­sion Con­trol, a 2D WEBGL site that uses Pix­ijs to present an in­ter­ac­tive schematic of the Mis­sion Con­trol room from the Apollo mis­sions.

“For me the project that best rep­re­sents what we do is Cen­sus One. Cen­sus One is a WEBGL site cre­ated us­ing the Threejs li­brary. It presents a 3D par­ti­cle model of the word ‘ONE’ and in­di­vid­u­ally maps tweets with the hash­tag #Rogueone to th­ese par­ti­cles by pulling them into the site us­ing the Twit­ter API. The site it­self was a prod­uct of R&D and some­thing we de­vel­oped in­ter­nally to show­case what’s pos­si­ble with 3D in the browser. Not only did it re­quire us to use our skills in design to con­cept an il­lu­sive space en­vi­ron­ment, it also re­quired us to de­velop with mod­ern web tech­nolo­gies in­clud­ing WEBGL, Javascript, and REST APIS, along­side op­ti­mis­ing and ex­port­ing 3D as­sets into browser­friendly for­mats such as JSON.”

Tech­nol­ogy is con­stantly on the move, none more so than in the cre­ative en­vi­ron­ment of the web. Tom ex­plains which tools FX favour at the mo­ment:

“We’re al­ways ex­per­i­ment­ing, and our arse­nal reg­u­larly up­dates to in­cor­po­rate new ad­di­tions. At the mo­ment, the design team uses Sketch for wire­fram­ing and de­sign­ing dig­i­tal prod­ucts and Pho­to­shop for image touch-up and ma­nip­u­la­tion. We use In­vi­sion for pro­to­typ­ing and early user test­ing, and we are keep­ing our eye on In­vi­sion Stu­dio and ex­cited to see how this could evolve our cur­rent design work­flow.

We’re al­ways ex­per­i­ment­ing, and our arse­nal reg­u­larly up­dates to in­cor­po­rate new ad­di­tions

“From a de­vel­op­ment per­spec­tive we use Avocode to ref­er­ence Sketch files. Avocode gives us the abil­ity to pull as­sets from a file and even gives us sugges­tions on styling el­e­ments as per the design. The de­vel­op­ment team uses Git ver­sion con­trol with a Git Flow ap­proach, and we use Tower as our Git client be­cause it sup­ports this ap­proach per­fectly.

“We keep all our code in re­pos­i­to­ries on Bit­bucket, us­ing their pipe­lines fea­ture for CI/CD. When it comes to coding, we use Sub­lime with a set of pack­ages to ex­tend it to sup­port our work­flow. Beyond this, each mem­ber of the team will theme and ad­just Sub­lime to sup­port their needs. We use Gulp as a task run­ner amongst other things to com­pile our SCSS into CSS, and also to lint our code to SCSS-LINT and Jshint stan­dards.

“To bring it all to­gether our project man­agers work from Asana, co-or­di­nat­ing the team by cre­at­ing projects, while each team mem­ber tracks time by mak­ing use of the Ever­hour in­te­gra­tion. Post-de­liv­ery we use Done Done as a tick­et­ing sys­tem to give our clients a point of con­tact for sup­port re­quests.”

Matt out­lines how the cre­ative tools FX uses have en­abled more ground-break­ing work to be cre­ated: “Tech­nolo­gies such as WEBGL are en­hanc­ing Javascript to bring im­proved pro­cess­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties. This al­lows us to pro­vide ex­pe­ri­ences that were once only pos­si­ble on high-end plat­forms to the web and even mo­bile. What ex­cites us the most, how­ever, is the im­prov­ing ac­ces­si­bil­ity of th­ese tech­nolo­gies.

“For ex­am­ple, with a mo­bile phone and a Google Card­board it’s now pos­si­ble to ex­pe­ri­ence Vir­tual Re­al­ity through a browser (WEBVR), and li­braries such as A-frame are mak­ing it even eas­ier for devel­op­ers to cre­ate con­tent in this form. Not far be­hind WEBVR is WEBAR (Aug­mented Re­al­ity) and we’re an­tic­i­pat­ing that to be a huge area for de­vel­op­ment over the next year or so, with the more in­no­va­tive re­tail­ers cre­at­ing their first

WEBAR ex­pe­ri­ences.”

FX Dig­i­tal has grown slowly and or­gan­i­cally, adding new mem­bers of staff as needed. Matt ex­plains his ap­proach to hir­ing and what it takes to get a seat at his ta­ble: “The peo­ple that work with us at FX are the sin­gle most im­por­tant part of our busi­ness. We’re lucky enough to have de­vel­oped a friendly and spirited cul­ture that em­pow­ers each and ev­ery one of us to de­liver to the best of our abil­ity and grow along the way. Among every­thing else it’s im­por­tant to us that the peo­ple we em­ploy have ab­so­lute pas­sion for the work they do. It makes it so much eas­ier to over­come chal­lenges and it en­sures you’re al­ways seek­ing out the most ex­cit­ing tech­nolo­gies and op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“We look for those self-mo­ti­vated learn­ers. In or­der to work in dig­i­tal you need to have the will­ing­ness to con­stantly ed­u­cate your­self us­ing any means you can, whether that is through speak­ing with oth­ers or us­ing re­sources such as Udemy, Code Academy, pop­u­lar fo­rums or even Google.

“Next we look for peo­ple that un­der­stand that they’re part of some­thing big­ger than them­selves. At FX we’re a close unit of tal­ented in­di­vid­u­als, but the whole is def­i­nitely greater than the sum of its parts.

“Word of mouth is es­sen­tial for the growth of any agency. We’re firm be­liev­ers that by plac­ing the ut­most im­por­tance on the de­liv­ery of work we’re giv­ing our­selves the best op­por­tu­nity pos­si­ble to en­hance this. We can an­a­lyse our clients to­day, and more of­ten than not track them back to one or two en­ti­ties or in­di­vid­u­als that had faith in us when we first started” Tom Smith, Cre­ative Di­rec­tor and Co-founder

This is most ob­vi­ous when we’re work­ing to­gether to meet a hard dead­line or pitch­ing for work across the en­tire team.

“Lastly, we look for peo­ple that don’t take them­selves too se­ri­ously and want to have fun while work­ing. Fun and hu­mour are im­por­tant parts of what keep us sane over here, and with­out it we gen­uinely don’t be­lieve the work we pro­duce would be half as good as it is.”

“The fu­ture is ex­cit­ing for us,” Matt con­cludes. “We’re be­com­ing recog­nised for the ex­cep­tional cre­ative and de­vel­op­ment work we pro­duce and as such the op­por­tu­ni­ties we’re be­ing ex­posed to are more in­ter­est­ing than ever.

“Over the past year we’ve put in place an in­cred­i­ble set of foun­da­tions in our cre­ative, de­vel­op­ment, and sup­port op­er­a­tions that will help en­sure we can grow and achieve even greater things in 2018 and beyond. We’re al­ways look­ing to hire and hope to add to our team in the near fu­ture.

“We have some pretty great projects that we’re look­ing to re­lease soon. Along­side our first tele­vi­sion ap­pli­ca­tion we’re also work­ing on vir­tual re­al­ity con­tent for the Sam­sung Gear VR and have an in­cred­i­ble moon land­ing WEBGL ex­pe­ri­ence that’s due for re­lease im­mi­nently. And who knows what our R&D team will turn their sights on next.”

The tra­jec­tory that FX Dig­i­tal is on means a giddy ride for ev­ery­one, but is wel­comed since it en­ables the agency to push the bound­aries of what is pos­si­ble, and even to in­vent the im­pos­si­ble if it doesn’t ex­ist.

Al­ways striv­ing to cre­ate an en­gag­ing fun en­vi­ron­ment to work in. At FX Dig­i­tal it’s al­ways a great day.

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