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In the first of a series of interviews with key players within the UK web market I’d like to introduce you to Paul Dawson, Head of Interactive Media at Conchango. Microsoft’s web agency partners are delivering some great solutions using our technology so I had a catch up with Paul to find out what he was up to…

Conchango

What do you do at Conchango?

Paul Dawson, ConchangoI look after user experience, design & branding and digital strategy. When building a solution we think about who the core users are and make detailed personas to help others understand them. We consider the marketing and business objectives, and basically are tasked with creating the compelling proposition! These are big companies, with well known names, and the importance being placed on both user experience and the Internet now means, that we are now in the boardroom rather than the server room; and CEO’s, not just marketing directors, are understanding what user-focused means. I am talking to them about design and how to make online experience a core part of their business. There is still a long way to go but the desire to create differentiation is definitely increasing.

What makes Conchango different?

I joined Conchango in 1999 from a small web design and build company that had strong technical skills but partnered with marketing companies for branding . This partnership was hard to manage, especially on large projects. So when I came to Conchango I wanted to change this and make it work better. So, now we truly have a number of disciplines working together as one team. Over the last 8 years we have moved towards our goal of true integration between design , user experience and build. The technical architects and the lead designers are equals in a project and this means our solutions are better built and better designed . Typically the usability team is concerned with the user, whilst the build team is concerned about ease of build – and these things are historically quite different! So how we are now set up means that we have stopped all the in- fighting and our teams work much more effectively to design the best solution all round, not just one that’s easy to build. Customers come to Conchango for deep technical expertise but also for the just as deep user experience. This is pretty unique I think – for example, we have has seven Microsoft Gold Certificates, but also Forrester’s recent survey of web design agencies ranked Conchango #1 in Europe . We are looking forward to a Microsoft’s User Experience Gold Certification to add to the collection!

You have been in the press recently – tell us what that was all about?

A lot of the recent press is about the fact that people have woken up to the fact that everyone uses the Internet. You can call this Web 2.0 like everyone else is, but that has been talked about for the past two years or so. But now the boards of big companies are coming to us saying “can you tell me what it is and what to do?” The press are a little ahead of our customers , but even the press are way behind where consumers are. I usually tell our retail customers that they are sitting on the hard shoulder with their hazard lights flashing whilst their customers are hooting at them and whizzing by in the fast lane!

Conchango got hold of WPF as a technology more than a year ago and have worked hard to make it part of what we do because we believe that it represents a real opportunity. There is a lot of interest, and we have had to spend time on getting our design team’s technical skills up, but also on changing how our design process works with it. It can be hard when given a new technology – I mean, when we discovered Shockwave we all thought it would fundamentally change the way the Internet worked and we went crazy with it. Sometimes to the detriment of users and businesses… so this time we know we have to get that balance right. We also think it’s a much more business and data focused technology for developing front end interfaces. We have spent time understanding what its good at, when to use it, how to design with it. WPF has really changed how graphic design and interaction design works here.

The big shift now is in user expectations, and whether you’re 60 or 16, when you come to the Internet you start with applications like Virtual Earth and YouTube; and when other sites don’t have this level of interaction or rich media, you ask what’s going on! We have to shift our assumptions of what users want and demand, and get with the program basically.

What cool Conchango solution should we be aware of?

We built a proof of concept for IE Music, who are Robbie Williams ‘ management company. This was about bringing the next generation fan experience to life using WPF/E. Fans pay £25 per year to the fan club at the moment, and the big thing they get is early access to tickets. But what about when Robbie isn’t touring? How do we give them value for money? So what we did is run a user-centered design process to work out what would drive this value, and created some new experiences.

The site includes virtual concerts, community interaction, unofficial photos, venue interaction, backstage information. A 3D content explorer allows you to browse Robbed’s music and photos in 3D. We introduced the idea of scrapbooks that are exactly what you would expect them to be – a way to create and collect digital memories as an individual or as a group. We have created, if you like, the next generation of photo blog but in 3D with drag and drop.

We are discussing how this can be used by music publishers as the theme is applicable to any artist. The template is especially good for new artists to gain a fan base with minimal cost. New artists are now arriving with already established presence on MySpace. Record companies need to understand how they can integrate this, reach the audience, but at the same time, limit their risks by investing the right amount in developing artists.

Do you have a “top tip” for users of this technology?

“The wireframe is dead!” It is difficult to define rich interactive work via wireframe so we have rediscovered the storyboard and are back to using pen and paper. For this reason people with sketching skills are important in the team. The rumour that we’re having to teach our youngest designers to write with a pen is wholly unfounded! 🙂

Any advice for partners looking at this space?

At the moment the Blend toolset, to the Flash user, is a totally different paradigm. Many Flash designers simply “don’t get it” initially, but don’t be put off though. Get some help to get over that first hurdle and it all starts to make sense very quickly. The obvious way is Microsoft Bootcamps and training. Use the support that’s there – it’s usually free too!

What blogs do you regularly read?

Ironically, I don’t read many blogs – I rely on people around me to bring me the highlights! I’d recommend this approach to everyone. As far as I’m concerned it’s the future of personalised filtered content!

I do however encourage all my team to have blogs. Blogs aren’t only useful to us for sharing knowledge, but they’re our biggest channel for recruitment, and also in some topic areas, our blogs rate extremely high on Google and Live.com – the best is in a Microsoft technology called SSIS (SQL Server Integration Services) where the Conchango blog comes second, after the guys at Microsoft who wrote it! That demonstrates the power of blogging.

If you could be someone else for the day, who would it be and why?

Spike Milligan! It would be great to get inside that crazy head for a day and look at everything from his view. What would I do? All those things I’m far too inhibited to do in real life! Well, you can’t get the wood you know! 🙂

To find out more…

Conchango homepage

Forrester report

Posted by: Emma Bateson

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  1. […] key players in the industry on our blog – in fact, the first profile on Paul Dawson from Conchango is up already, and we’ll be featuring thoughts from other agencies (next up is Splendid) in […]

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