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Having it all: How you can have form, function and a beautiful digital design

When you commission digital projects, it can sometimes feel like you’re forced to choose between what looks great and what actually works. But Jonathan Tillick, group digital director and partner at independently owned agency Dave Clark Design, says it really is possible to have both.

“We like making useful things that are both practical and beautiful. If you have a mature approach and a well-integrated studio there shouldn’t be a need to choose between one or the other,” he says. “Sophisticated digital interactions can be made beautiful. And a beautiful new product deserves a digital presence that works for customers.” 

The Dave Clark team are finding that as technology evolves, design and craft become even more integral to the process of creating great customer experiences. Sketches and wireframes help create the core of the experience, but visual design, polished coding and great copywriting create a more tangible brand experience for customers. 

“That’s where true digital specialists embedded in a design-led environment makes sense,” Tillick says.

As the name suggests, Dave Clark Design has its roots in the design world. 

The agency’s long-term strategy of integrating digital with branding from the beginning has clearly paid off, with omnichannel clients like ANZ, Kia and Club Marine contributing significantly to the agency’s growth. It now has five studios in Auckland, Wellington, Melbourne, Sydney and Singapore.

New site for UXNZ.

Collaboration is key

“Sometimes the focus is on the big ideas and sometimes it’s on the practicalities. Either way, it’s always about delivering,” Tillick says. “We have a team of senior strategists, designers, developers and content creators who love designing, building and testing digital projects in collaboration with clients. And with richer video content often an important part of the mix, our internal motion graphics team is really paying off.”

With technology changing the way we communicate, working collaboratively means clients are involved at every step along the way. Multiple iterations are produced for review as a group so everyone feels invested and protected from any surprises. 

ANZ goMoney mobile apps

“Things have definitely changed in the last five years,” Tillick says. “We don’t go away for weeks at a time and come back with the big presentation of a fully resolved project.”

For clients like ANZ, this collaboration extends as far as placing native mobile and responsive web designers as part of the bank’s agile development teams. 

“I’m also happy to be the hundredth person you’ve heard say that the communication tool Slack has changed their company for the better – because it’s true,” Tillick says. “It’s not only knitting together our international team, it has become the key client service channel for clients like Kia. Nothing makes me happier than seeing an exchange where a senior developer asks the client directly if they’d like a small improvement to the CMS, and seeing the change approved and implemented minutes later. With 60 staff, we’re lucky enough to have mostly senior talent, so that flatter structure can still work as we get bigger.” 

Buddle Findlay website

Bridging the gap

The same hands-on approach is evident in the agency’s brand-led projects too. The 15-year collaboration between Tillick and the agency’s group creative director Andrew Smith means there has always been a natural integration between brand and digital – an element missing from many agencies with more individual offerings. “Our focus has always been on doing,” Smith says. 

“We work with big brands so we’re used to problem-solving on a large scale. In any project, it’s all about beautifully designed experiences that are underpinned with solid creative thinking.”

We like making useful things that are both practical and beautiful. If you have a mature approach and a well-integrated studio there shouldn’t be a need to choose between one or the other.

Walking the walk

Dave Clark Design’s digital solutions are engineered to deliver on commercial objectives, while at the same time making customers happy.

“We make sure we’re informed about the business and its customers, whether that’s from existing research or initiating it ourselves. Then it’s a case of rolling up our sleeves and solving the problem rather than wheeling out diagrams about diagrams,” Tillick says.  

“Our processes and workshops are focused but very much a means to an end. We’ll create a strong brand and user experience strategy pack. But we apply just enough process and thinking to get a project on a solid footing, then spend as much time as possible designing user journeys and interactions and getting them into the hands of customers.

“While we’ve got great ideas and talented designers, there’s nothing better than sitting with a client and observing their customers use and respond to new product and design concepts. When we can surface insight from real customers, the clients find their stakeholders relax too.”

Responsive website for KIA.

Into the future 

With user testing being so integral to its digital work, Dave Clark Design is always refining the testing and observation process. The next step is to take that learning and create a dedicated lab that encourages more regular tactical customer testing, rather than relying on big-bang test sessions and formal reporting. 

“It’s not always practical to get out and observe our prototypes being used in the wild, so we want to create a natural environment in a set of observation rooms. We’re calling it a UX lab, but maybe ‘lounge’ is more accurate, as there’s not going to be any white coats and exploding beakers. It’s one of the many ways we continue to evolve.”  

Jonathan Tillick is group digital director of Dave Clark Design

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