The Web Award Spotlight is an interview session with many of the top designers and developers of interactive media from around the world. This edition will be an interview with Bo Simmons from Cool Blue Interactive in Atlanta, GA.
HIA: Bo, Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. I am hoping that by sharing stories and interviews of developers all over the world, we may begin to be a source where business owners, designers and developers can go to share ideas and learn from one another. Most importantly, we are keeping with our mission to highlight great talent from across the globe.
Bo: Thank you for letting me share my story.
HIA: First off, tell us a little about your background:
Bo: I am Southerner - born and raised in Georgia, with a passion for snow skiing in the western part of the country. As President and Founder of Cool Blue, I wear many hats, but my primary role is a mix of business development and client strategy.
HIA: How did Cool Blue Interactive start and when?
Bo: I started Cool Blue in the summer of 1997. At the time, I was working for a smaller telecommunications company that specialized in a billing product for internet service providers. This was back in the old “dial up” days. From working on a few marketing projects, I began making connections with web developers in NYC. This led me to take a leap of faith and start a company building web sites and web strategies in Georgia.
HIA: Bo, tell us a little about what Cool Blue Interactive does, types of projects, clients, etc.
Bo: We have been blessed to have a lot of great clients – and a great mix of clients – over the years. I believe building long-lasting relationships is crucial. Most of our current clients have been with us for more than 7 years. Our clients include Cousins Properties, the CDC and CDC Foundation, the Alliance Theater, and the Georgia Institute of Technology. Our work is comprised of corporate, nonprofit, arts and higher education websites. Our full scale websites, new or redesigned, often use the Drupal CMS. We focus on updates to make older sites mobile friendly with responsive web design techniques.
HIA: What do you think is the most important thing about your work in terms of the customer’s perspective?
Bo: The most important thing is to help our clients create successful outcomes by focusing on their customer’s experience. We always want to talk with the key stakeholders to determine what success will look like after we launch - no matter whether the client is interested in revamping the visual design or creating new features/functions for their site. By understanding the end-goal, we can achieve measurable results – and an ROI our project sponsors can showcase up and down their chain of command.
HIA: Talk a little about how you have seen the trends in web design changing over the last few years in terms of how you design, code and generally what elements are important.
Bo: Mobile is, of course, where all the focus is and has been for the last few years. There are many high-ranking executives who are still confused about mobile, so we try to help our clients understand the real differences between native mobile APPs and mobile friendly sites.
We have created some really useful and cool native APPs for one client, but he had a solid business case to support this approach. The client, a music school, needed to deliver music files digitally to student customers.
The vast majority of our clients simply need to make their site more mobile friendly through a well-executed responsive design. Beyond responsive design, we are seeing a lot of opportunities to move data sets around with API work, both on social media integrations and within our client’s data warehouse. Currently, we have a multi-year, multi-phased roadmap set for a large medical staffing firm to take their customer data and make it more useful and personalized for returning visitors doing job searches.
HIA: Where do you see web technology and design going in 2016 and beyond? Are there things on the horizon you plan to begin adding into your workflow?
Bo: Driving engagement by presenting deeper data and creating a more personalized experience for customers and partners of the enterprise. I mentioned the healthcare staffing site which is going to be a multi-phased data roll out over a couple of years. We just completed a project for Lennar Commercial on the Avenue Shopping Malls where we aggregate news, events and promotions for their mall tenants on a giant mashup using 3 or 4 types of social media feeds. That allows Lennar to build value for their mall tenants by providing a richer shopping experience for their end user customers in a one- stop website.
HIA: During a recent conversation you mentioned that the Horizon Award was one of, if not the first, award Cool Blue Interactive had received. Talk about what that award meant to you, your team, company and what role awards play in your customer relationships.
Bo: I believe it was 2003 or 2004, but I was only able to locate a 2005 Horizon Award in our trophy case. The client was a boutique Real Estate Apartment Developer that has since closed. One of the reasons I think we won was a really cool collaboration between our lead designer and developer to make the navigation bar feel liquid and gracefully “fit” to various monitors and resolution sizes. If someone moved the browser window from ½ screen to full screen the site had this “elastic effect” because the center of the nav bar was filled with a background color. In effect, it was a “responsive web design” before any of us thought about RWD as a device independent solution.
I give the members of my team total credit and they wanted to enter the site in some award contests. And when it won the Horizon Award, we were all stoked! For Cool Blue as a whole, this win was an important 1st validation that we had grown up and were doing work that was worthy of recognition. Our firm has gone on to garner over 100 such awards.
HIA: Where do you turn for creative inspiration?
Bo: We spend time, like every creative shop, seeing what is trending, talking about other innovative work, learning at conferences and, frankly, often jumping off a cliff when we prototype ideas. We try to foster an open environment for our visual designers and developers doing code work. Over the years, I think our best creative work is a byproduct of great collaboration that we find at the intersection of solid design, UX and code techniques.
HIA: Do you have anything else you’d like to add to our interview?
Bo: Mike thanks to you and the Horizon Interactive Awards for providing a forum for digital agencies of all sizes to show off their work and compete, but also to learn from each other by seeing standards for the best work!
HIA: Bo, thank you for taking the time to talk with us. I wish you the best of luck with all that you do for your clients.