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Developer Spotlight– Cyber-Duck, Matt Gibson - London UK

The Developer Spotlight is an interview session with many of the top designers and developers of interactive media from around the world. Today, we are interviewing Matt Gibson with Cyber-Duck from London in the UK. To learn more about Cyber-Duck, visit their website at: http://www.cyber-duck.co.uk.

HIA: Matt, thank you for taking the time to be involved in our developer spotlight for the Horizon Interactive Awards website.

MATT: No problem, delighted to be participating in the HIAs for the 5th year running!

HIA: What is your background, CYBER-DUCK? (where you are from, experience, etc.)

MATT: Cyber-Duck is a full service digital agency based in Elstree, near London in the UK. We specialise in producing award winning websites and applications, with a focus on creating enjoyable experiences on the web. We utilise our ISO accredited user centred design process, to ensure that our end users are always involved throughout the research, design and build phases.

HIA: Ok, we have to ask. How did you come up with the business name? It has to be one of the most unique names we have seen for an interactive media company.

MATT: Our Managing Director, Danny Bluestone, has somewhat of an infatuation with ducks. In fact, I don’t think he has ever eaten duck! That, combined with our passion for all things digital makes a nice combination. It certainly represents the fun, quirky and focussed energy we have in the office. Needless to say, none of us play Duck Hunt!

HIA: So tell us a little about what your company does, types of projects, clients, etc.

MATT: Being a full service digital agency, we have been lucky enough to work with a wide range of clients, both large and small from a variety of backgrounds. As well as helping innovative start-ups get off the ground, we have also worked with the likes of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Maxinutrition, Arsenal FC, The European Union and Aston Martin.

That being said, we do have a focus in producing websites that are mobile ready, and we are big advocates of responsive web design (RWD). To us this means producing websites with optimised performance on any device (taking into account web page loading times), as well as ensuring our websites are flexible enough to look and work great on any screen size.

HIA: How did you get started in the business and when?

MATT: Cyber-Duck was founded in Danny’s flat in 2005 as a web design agency. The vision for the company was always to be a full service digital agency. Danny had been working in advertising agencies as an interactive producer at the time and he saw a gap in the market for a company focused on user experience.

I joined the company as a fresh-faced graduate in 2007 with several years experience in the world of freelancing behind me. From there I grew into the role of Production Director as the company grew from 4 people then to the team of 23 we have now.

HIA: What do you think is the most important thing about your work in terms of the customer’s perspective?

MATT: The most important aspect of our work would be that we ensure we provide the end user with a truly enjoyable experience, as well as meeting the business needs of our client. By ensuring both of these boxes are ticked means that everyone is happy. We place a lot of emphasis on considering the people we’re designing for. This means evaluating their experience, motivations and concerns right through to their environment and what they’re trying to achieve. We always try to avoid making or relying on assumptions. When unchallenged, assumptions can be dangerous, so it’s our job to test them rigorously.

HIA: I know that you have entered and won in multiple Horizon Interactive Awards competitions. Tell us why you enter the HIA and what it means to win the awards.

MATT: The HIA’s are great because they are truly recognised internationally. For us it is a great way of proving to ourselves and our clients that we really do produce world-class products and websites. Not only that, but it is a great way of showing our team just how awesome they are. Each HIA has taken a pride of place in our office, although we are beginning to run out of shelf-space!

HIA: Well, if you keep up the great work, you may need a bigger shelf!  In the 2012 competition, you won 2 silver awards for your responsive websites, dlc and Optima Systems. Talk a little about these two sites and how responsive design is evolving.

MATT: We’re massive advocates of responsive web design; that is, websites that are designed from the outset to work flexibly on any device or screen size. We don’t know what weird and wonderful devices and screen sizes the next few years will bring, so our content and designs need to be able to adapt for these unknowns.

Luckily, both dlc and Optima are forward-thinking companies and didn’t take much convincing when it came to responsive design.

In the office partitioning industry, Optima have always made it their mission to present their brands and core products in innovative ways. By producing a responsive website design, Cyber-Duck ensured that there was a solid content strategy in place, so contractors and architects are now able to navigate to content they need quickly regardless of whether they’re on-site or at their desk.

dlc wanted to transform their digital offering and this website is the first step towards that. The client-facing website has already driven high-profile prospects to get in touch and convert into clients, emphasising the importance of refreshing their web presence.

HIA: How is responsive evolving?

MATT: People are beginning to realise that responsive is much more than just clever grids layout patterns that adapt to a particular screen size. It is just as much about performance and ensuring that what we create is faster and delivers the best possible experience whether a person is using their mobile phone or a big old desktop machine. That means considering how the design works and performs as much as how it looks.

HIA: Where do you see web technology and design going in 2014?

MATT: The topic of responsive design has dominated the web industry over the past few years and this isn’t going to stop anytime soon. However, the speed and performance of our websites is again becoming the key consideration of a responsive design. How can we make our websites and apps faster and even work when our users are offline, as they inevitably won’t always have a reliable, consistent connection?

As retina / high pixel density displays continue to proliferate expect to see a shift from bitmap-laden websites to designs that use CSS, Icon fonts, SVG and HTML5 canvas cleverly to achieve the desired design aesthetic without necessarily the extra bulk that bitmaps add to a website’s waistline.

Products like the Nest thermostat, Nike+ and Hailo show us that there is still so much opportunity in the physical world to create web-powered products that help genuinely improve people’s lives; whether it’s making heating our home more intuitive, improving our fitness or simply making it easier to hail a taxi in major cities across the world.

HIA: What are some of the technologies you utilize with your projects?

MATT: Though it largely depends on the requirements of the project, in terms of front-end development we do tend to use:

  • SASS as our CSS pre-processer to make writing and managing our style-sheets easier and more structured.
  • RequireJS to make our JavaScript more efficient through modular loading combined with UglifyJS to minify it as much as possible
  • Modernizr to ensure any HTML5 syntax we use still works on older browsers like Internet Explorer 8
  • We created our own lightweight and flexible grid framework for responsive design. It’s called Hoisin.Scss and we open-sourced it on GitHub so others can fork it and contribute to it: https://github.com/Cyber-Duck/hoisin.scss - Note the subtle duck themed pun in the name of the framework!
  • We use Git for version control and grunt for deploying our work to automate certain tasks like optimising graphics.

In terms of back-end, we primarily work with Laravel, an MVC PHP framework. We also work with a variety of CMS’ such as off-the-shelf solutions like Perch and WordPress as well as custom building them if the project requirements suit this better. In terms of e-commerce, we work with platforms from enterprise solutions like Magento right through to the likes of Shopify.

HIA: What do you think is most important about design for web?

MATT: Assume less. It can be easy to fall into the trap of taking assumptions for granted rather than challenging them.  If you take the time to meet your users and understand them before designing solutions around their true needs and behaviour – your design will be far more likely to perform better with them.

HIA: Where do you turn for creative inspiration?

MATT: Like most designers, I tend to find inspiration just about anywhere. Whether it’s an inspiring piece of architecture, everyday objects and products right through to pop culture such as film posters (without ever intending to, I seem to be amassing a collection). In addition to this, I regularly frequent award sites and the likes of Dribbble to see what other designers are getting up to.

I also often find that when I am left frustrated or disappointed by a product or service that I am inspired to think how I could design it to give a better, more empathic (or at least, less sucky) experience.

Matt, we really do thank you for taking the time to talk with us. I wish you the best of luck in this year’s competition and with all that you do for your clients.

MATT: You’re welcome, thanks!