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
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.
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.”
“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
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.