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 (, 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 (, 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, London).

"That's one survival method," admits Will Richards, art director of Bomb Productions (www.bomb. 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 (, which built a European site for sporting-goods maker Mizuno, and has done Flash animations for 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 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. 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, 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 ( 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."

Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own