Design in Britain: New solutions for cyberspace

These days the cutting edge of design often means the world of new technologies, and UK firms are leading the way forward.

Britain has always been known for its innovative design. But over the past years, as organisations from car manufacturers to museums to television channels to independent record labels realise they have to develop an online presence, it's the UK's new media design houses that have provided brilliant solutions.

The industry has grown extraordinarily quickly. Lateral (www.lateral.net), for instance, which designs sites for The Spectator, Battersea Dogs' Home, EMI UK and Levi's Europe, started with six people in 1997; the firm now has 18 employees. Deep End (www.deepend.co.uk), which has designed sites for the VW Beetle, the Cartoon Network, Hoover and the Design Museum, was started by two people in 1994 and now employs 80.

A few of the UK's largest new media companies have recently been bought out, mainly by US competitors, such as Sunbather (now Razorfish) and Online Magic (now Agency.com, London).

"That's one survival method," admits Will Richards, art director of Bomb Productions (www.bomb. co.uk). Bomb handled the translation of the Channel 4 brand onto the Web, and co-produces all Channel 4 live chats with Stor Entertainment. But it's not necessarily the route UK new media firms have chosen to maintain their lead: small is better.

"We don't provide a whole-agency solution - we have no desire to do that sort of work," says Richards. "We push interactive entertainment, not e-commerce. We want to create a network of partners, of independent companies working together."

"We ask a database company to program some of our projects," says Hilla Neske of two-person design house Artificial Environments (www.ae-pro.com), which built a European site for sporting-goods maker Mizuno, and has done Flash animations for Boo.com and Greenpeace Digital. "Such outsourcing will mean smaller companies will be able to take over larger accounts in the future, as they can offer greater responsibility and reliability on a particular project."

New media design has already begun to influence rather than be influenced. "The Web is becoming a place that spawns design ideas, not recreating things done on other platforms, in other mediums," says Alistair Jeffs, Vice President (creative), at Agency.com. His firm designed the Compaq- sponsored MTV European Music Awards interactive voting site.

Installation design has drawn new technologies into the industry. Nykris Digital Design (www.nykris. co.uk/) has just created an interactive space for Malcolm McLaren, called The Casino of Authenticity and Karaoke, and is now working on the You Are Connected gallery of the @ Bristol millennium exhibition.

"We're looking at new ways of capturing data and integrating it in a museum environment," says Nykris director Nikki Barton. One innovation is sensor pads that register visitors' presence at an exhibit. "New media is at a stage that's very exciting - things are really starting to come together."

Other new technologies, including interactive TV and WAP (wireless application protocol), which allows delivery of multimedia content over mobile phones, will alter the industry still further. "We're at a crossroads in terms of design," says Hilla Neske. "The new technologies force designers to think in terms of time-based, dynamic images and animation, not static, downloadable pages."

The industry here has grown up in a very different way from that in the US, which - though nearly a decade older - is not necessarily more sophisticated. "California is regarded as the mecca for the Internet, but it's a technical mecca," says Jeffs. "The creative aspects there are quite limited."

Desiree Miloshevic, head of soon-to-launch MusicBank.net, describes the difference in this way: "The US has a technological aesthetic, the UK a futuristic aesthetic. If the US is lo-fi rock - atmospheric, trashy, Kids - Europe is drum-and-bass, iconic, idealised, Trainspotting..."

A little healthy fear of the US is no bad thing. "A lot of the innovation in the way the UK is developing new media design, especially on the Web, is due to us being scared of being left behind," explains Dorian Moore, technical director of Kleber Design Ltd, which does sites for several independent record labels.

"The British mind seems to be about building `small good things', not the biggest and most garish," he adds. "We're not as trapped in the commercially driven mindset as the Americans, and we still appreciate the value of innovation, rather than one-upmanship. The British aren't scared of making a statement, of being alternative, of standing out from the crowd."

The new media industry, no matter how peculiarly British, must continue to mature if it is to keep up with both consumers and competitors. Jeffs fears the UK's edge might be lost if we don't "get the industry and the educational system working together - going out and putting money behind programmes that let students know what works and what doesn't, so they're better able to face commercial reality."

"There are many companies at very different stages of development," adds Daniel Bonner, creative director of AKQA (www.akqa.com). which has designed sites for The Economist, Rover, Mini, Orange and others. "If the `New Media Age' was a day long, the majority of UK companies are still at the breakfast table. But the customer is awake and waiting for great services."

"We don't necessarily have the lead in terms of design for digital media," adds Matt Jones, creative lead at Sapient, a firm of information architects. In the US, he says, successful projects have had as their overriding concern "a multidisciplinary focus on the service and value a design provides".

"The majority of UK shops have followed a marketing-advertising-design specialist route and are only now - through alliance or restructuring - moving towards providing technical and strategic solutions to the client."

Matt Jones finishes with a warning: "To rest on the laurels of our designers' republic would be dangerous."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

    £30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

    Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

    £34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

    Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

    Developer - WinForms, C#

    £280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game