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

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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 ( 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 (­moury­lon­ 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.chillys­bot­ 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 ( dig­i­tal­ 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.seedlip­ 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

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