Bond Media: Getting passionate about design
Bond Media started from humble beginnings to graduate to one of the most forward-thinking digital design agencies working today
Anthony Mixides, founder of Bond Media, never intended to work in digital media. Anthony initially completed an art foundation course where he studied fine art, animation and sculpture. What drew his attention were the workshops. “I was making things I loved,” Anthony explains. “Being able to cut pieces of wood, make something out of it, sculpt, put things together and design. I love drawing as well as designing. So really that course led me to realise that furniture and product design [was] where I wanted to be. So in 1996 I applied to Kingston University to do a furniture and product-design degree.”
The course that Anthony took focused on product design. He liked the journey that a product takes from initial idea to the expression with an actual product. Towards the end of his degree he had to formulate an idea for a new product and so came up with the idea of a 3D body scanner to be used by customers in a shopping mall. They would scan their bodies and then as they visited various stores, their body scan would be superimposed on clothing.
To get the idea across to his tutors, one suggested that Anthony develop an animation to show his product in action. This suggestion would have a massive impact on how Anthony’s life would change and what ultimately would lead to digital design.
“I looked around for what software was available,” Anthony explained. “3D Studio Max was a program that was used quite a lot, so I took some lessons and began to see how 3D images and animations could be created.
“My final degree presentation was this whole concept and the end result was a 3D animation. After finishing this work I had a completely different attitude to how computers could be used creatively. I continued to see what other cool stuff computers could do in design, so started to play with Photoshop by putting files onto 3D objects. After my degree finished I knew enough about 3D animation to get a job in a studio – Stardust Pictures, which worked on films like Space Jam. My main role in the studio was taking the drawings the animators created and converting them into a digital platform.”
Anthony explained his role at Stardust Pictures: “I was their in-house digital guy taking their stuff, scanning their work into animation software and placing into sequences. Later they asked if I knew anything about this new web-design package called Dreamweaver. I had never heard of it, so they got a copy and I started to play around. I started to do really basic HTML websites as a hobby really.”
This connection with the 3D digital work that Anthony was doing and the arrival of Dreamweaver on the market heralded what would later become a fortuitous linking of 3D and web design. Seeing the power that these applications place in the hands of designers really opened Anthony’s eyes to the possibilities. This was around the time that Toy Story came out and placed digital animation on a whole new level. Seeing how Pixar built their characters with wireframes revealed a whole new world of creative possibilities to Anthony.
Working for Stardust Pictures for around a year put Anthony in contact with a wide range of creative and business people. One of the people at Stardust Pictures moved to another company – KPL Publications and mentioned an opportunity to move there to work in-house on websites and also to produce CD-ROMS. The 3D work that Anthony had a passion for really set his work apart from the other websites that were appearing at the time. Most were largely flat-file sites. Anthony added 3D elements and shading which set his designs apart from the rest.
Anthony explained: “I wasn’t doing flat websites. I was putting a bit of depth to them. I was rendering a 3D image in 3D Studio Max and then bringing this into Dreamweaver. I wanted my sites to have a different look and feel. The publishing company were also one of the early users of CD-ROMS so I took a course in using Director and started to see what Flash could do.
“I must have done a dozen CD-ROMS for the company. I was amazed that you could connect a CD-ROM to a database, and have searchable Excel files – all very cool stuff at the time. And as the CD-ROM would often source materials online, this showed me how dynamic content could be built into websites – something that stood me in good stead when my agency moved into eCommerce design. The background skills that I gained with these early applications was invaluable to me when I eventually set up my own design business.”
The job with the publishing company continued into 2000, which was when Anthony began to think about starting his own design agency. He explained the genesis of his business: “While working at the KPL Publications I was doing websites part time. I started to get a lot of interest from people who had their own businesses. I would go into meetings with them where they would outline their requirements. I’d give them a price. This was when websites were costing £20,000, £30,000 and if I would quote, say, £5,000 they’d be amazed! But from my perspective I was still living at home so to me, I could make a good profit.”
The part-time web design work continued, but Anthony still had his full-time job, which also paid quite well. After asking his boss for a pay rise and being flatly refused, this was the impetus that Anthony needed to start thinking seriously about starting his own agency full-time. Anthony explained: “I just thought, why not just give it a shot? So I set up the company back in 2000 calling it AV1 Designs.”
AV1 Designs continued to develop, but in 2004, Anthony decided that a name change was in order. He picked the name Bond Media, but insists that it has no links or connotations with a well-known secret agent. Anthony has had to fight off potential trademark infringements, but Bond Media has now established itself. Anthony also decided that now was the time to establish an office, as he had taken on another designer.
“I looked around a bit to find people to join me,” Anthony continued. “I found a designer [and] he still works for me now – his name is Tomas. He applied directly through my site. I didn’t have a vacancy, but I interviewed him, really got on well with him and he just started working in-house with me. At that stage we were both managing our projects together. However, it became clear we needed more help. Tomas has a friend – Matus who is a developer. He joined the company shortly after in 2005, to work on our programming requirements.”
Turning to the technologies that Bond Media now uses, Anthony has long experience of the tools that became available during the early days of web design. Today, the development platforms they use are very important. HTML5, CSS3, jQuery and PHP to name just a few are now part of the essential toolkit that Bond Media uses.
“The real challenge is to build applications and websites which can be seen by a multitude of devices. Those technologies have become a new reference in this domain, where Flash was previously a big issue. To support this point, we can mention the support of the HTML5 canvas element on the majority of recent browsers, which allows us to build complex, efficient animations. The CSS3 media queries is also another advantage, regarding the increase of responsive designs all around the web. Finally jQuery mobile is also a great tool we trust in as it offers a real cross-devices framework for building rich mobile application.”
One of the key markets that Bond Media is active within is development for the Magento eCommerce platform and also designing content-managed sites. As designers and developers who provide content-management systems solutions, it became apparent quite quickly that Bond Media needed some form of CMS they could use with their clients’ websites. Anthony explained: “We started looking at building our own content-management system. Handling all the design and development work together seemed an ideal opportunity to develop the Bond CMS. This is proprietary to us and scalable in any way. It can manage a basic concept site up to a fully managed Pay Day Loan database-driven web presence.
“The idea is that our system is easy to use. The interface is straightforward. If you want to move a page, you just drag and drop it. It’s very robust and very scalable, which is important, as we have very different clients all with different needs. We wanted to offer our services with a level of transparency. Often with website design for instance, it’s easy to get pulled into a maintenance contract that could cost you say £95 just to change a graphic. Our solution is open. We give our clients the training they need to manage their own sites once we hand it over. But we are always here if they need us.”
Clearly the development of Bond Media has been organic with recommendation playing a major role in the development of the jobs Anthony worked on himself, and later as his agency has grown. “It’s amazing really. Some of the people I worked for in 2000 I am still in contact with,” he commented. Recommendations now form 50 per cent of the business that Bond Media attracts. The rest comes from search and website enquires.
A major component of the work that Bond Media is now involved with is building eCommerce sites on the Magento platform. Anthony has always built online stores and has a strong affinity with eCommerce in general. Anthony explained: “We get a lot of enquiries for Magento work because we’re on their website. If you go into their site and filter by location we’re one of the partners here in the UK. So we get leads through that. I love eCommerce because aside from this business I’ve got my own successful online shops that I’ve set up over the years. This experience I now pass on to the clients who ask us to build stores for them. This area of web design is a passion of mine.”
Does Bond Media approach its business development with any kind of roadmap? Anthony is relaxed about how his business has developed over the years: “It’s organic, and fortunately it has all fallen into place. I sit back and I say, right I’m going to plan to do this but life takes over, business takes over and you have day-to-day tasks. I’m not saying I’m ignoring that it needs to be done but I’m quite happy the way things have happened organically.
“I think, if anything, I do have a little bit of a direction at the moment. We really want to be doing more and more of the Magento sites, as we love them. A conversion rate of three per cent excites me. The average is meant to be one per cent but when you see one of our sites doing three per cent I know it’s because we’ve been analysing and making sure that when a user hits that site they know what they’re going to get; they’re going to have a good shopping experience and the clients are happy because they are making money.
“But for us it’s all about having a real good site that’s the leader of the industry. So whenever a client comes on board we say, okay let’s look at your competitors, how do we make you stand out? What can we do to make your site unique? So we analyse it from that perspective and deliver.”
One site that Bond Media are particularly proud of was developed for Energy UK and the use of carbon-monoxide meters. Anthony explained their approach: “I think the client saw our portfolio and loved our work. We’ve been doing a lot of work for Energy UK as they really trusted us with providing them a website that portrayed all the information. [The site helps people to] understand how they can protect themselves by having these devices. And because we started to do a lot of responsive design it works beautifully on the iPad and iPhone.”
Bond Media still get some clients with unrealistic expectations, as Anthony outlined: “We’ll get enquiries where they may want Facebook designed and built for £100, so what we try to do is an initial client assessment. We’ll then send a gentle email explaining to them that this isn’t achievable. It’s usually the ones with the least information that fizzle out. We ask them to give us a bit more information about their project, if they haven’t had a brief written up we tell them [that] it’s really in their best interests to [do so] and give us a budget. We don’t want to find out that we’ve done a 40-page proposal and their budget is £100.
“What we tend to do is provide guidance to the client that they need to supply us a brief and a site map. The people that come back to us with that information warrant us to proceed to the next stage of quoting. Once we’ve established that they’ve got an idea and they’ve got a budget that could be achievable, we then start analysing the project.
“We tend to break it all down into real processes that we follow. Initially there is project planning; ‘What does project planning involve?’ they say to us, why are you charging us £1,000, £2,000, whatever it may be. We’re saying you’ve given us a brief, we need to take that and convert it into a working plan. So you said that you want people to log in, fine. When they log in, what happens? Tell us about what they can access? We’ll do all this, but of course we need paying for these initial stages of the project.
“What happens next is that we’re able to say, right this is the bible that we’re going to build and design by, but in that whole process there is [also] wireframing. We make sure that that button goes there, there is a log-in screen there; the social-media icon is there. Sometimes at that stage a client is adamant we’ll have to do a wireframe prototype so they’re actually able to click on pages. These are not designed but just black-and-white boxes, which makes it clear what the customer journey around the site looks like.
“That is great because the customer gets to see exactly what happens on every page. At that stage they’ll say, ‘I want to change the navigation to the left-hand side’, perhaps it’s a request that will incur fees or not, it depends. So we try and have that process to make sure that the wireframes are defined before we get to the design stage. It’s not productive to start changing things [then].
“While we’re getting onto the design process we try to provide the client with a brief for the content they need to give us. We then present the designs and then there’s a round of feedback. If they’ve paid for a responsive site at the same time we’ll do responsive concepts, present them to the client, make sure they understand how it will look on Android, Blackberry and iPhone so they’ve seen what they’re going to get.”
“The clients’ responsibility is providing feedback, at least one to two days after delivery of this concept. If they don’t provide us with feedback we can’t progress. We’ve been very strict with our clients; don’t just say you don’t like it, that’s not good enough. You have to give constructive criticism.”
Anthony continued: “Has the relationships with clients changed over the years? Because web projects are being passed to marketing mangers now, whereas before I used to deal with the business owners; the difference is yes, they are more internet savvy. When I started the business in 2000 I used to speak to the directors who didn’t understand what they wanted. I started to think this has got to change – I would never say no and too many ‘change requests’ with no additional fees sneaked in! These days each project has its own timesheet so we can track how long we spend on each stage. Now we deal with marketing managers or web administrators who are able to articulate themselves well.”
Responsive design and design for touch devices is forming a larger proportion of the work that Bond Media is taking on. Anthony explained the approach: “I was recently at the Magento event in Las Vegas. One of the major points was that by 2017 worldwide purchases by volume over mobile devices will exceed $1trillion, hence why it’s so important to make sites responsive, especially for eCommerce.
“One site that we have just recently done is for Will Stevens. His website is fully mobile responsive because his fan base is a younger crowd. We tell clients about how responsive design can work for them, but they’ve got to realise its not so much an expense, it’s an investment.”
Social media is of course a major component of any digital business, not only for marketing purposes, but when a client needs their social-media presence building. Bond Media has its own blog that acts as a voice for the company with its views posted for all to see and comment on.
The agency also understands that using social media is a great way of finding its next employee, as Anthony explained: “Recently we were looking for another Magento developer so we just put a post on LinkedIn and we tweeted about it. I did some searches on hashtags of Magento developers, there are loads on Twitter to start a conversation with.”
And what does the future hold for Bond Media? “There will definitely be more eCommerce,” Anthony concluded. “We’ve just finished one for a client in Nigeria, a business equivalent to JD Sports. “Also, we are doing more SEO for clients. But I should think generally I’d love to be doing more and more eCommerce sites. I really want to grow that part of the business.”