Carter Digital and the social experience of digital design

AUTHOR:  
Published:  July 7, 2015
Heath Campbell

At Melbourne-based digital UX agency Carter, it’s not just about getting the job done; it’s about making the lives of its end-users better. Spearheaded by principals Paul Beardsell and James Noble, the team at Carter applies a holistic view of design practices to create digital and social solutions. AGDA had a chat with Noble about responsive design, and the lessons translated from his print design foundations.

INTERVIEW WITH
James Noble
Co-principal, Carter

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Carter was born in the early 2000s, when Noble was working as a freelancer for different agencies across Australia, London and New York – doing, as he says, “bits and pieces, coming in when things were on fire and fixing them”.

“I thought, ‘Maybe I should do this myself’, so I started using freelancers here and there to fill in the gaps of the skillsets I didn’t have, and then eventually by sheer fluke I bumped into Paul. We were working in the same building, and before long we realised we had similar accents – we discovered we were actually from neighbouring suburbs and would have played football against each other as teenagers in England. We went out for lunch and by the end of lunch we’d decided to go into partnership.”

Beardsell and Noble launched Carter in 2008, and in each subsequent year the studio has grown. Its present formation comprises 18 people with varied skills, forming a full-service agency.

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“We’re a very small piece of the puzzle, but my goal starting Carter was to try and do some social and environmental good, to try and make a little dent in the problems we have in this world,” says Noble. “We sit around the edges working as volunteers in Nepal, but then you realise there’s not enough hands on deck.”

“I’m not a doctor, I’m not a builder, I’m not an engineer, but what I can do is help come up with ideas and strategies to get more of those people to those [places that need them]. We’ve done a lot of work with Latrobe Community Health Services, the Royal Women’s Hospital and the Heart Foundation. It’s a micro-percentage in the scheme of things, but if we can help one person, then our job is done.”

When Carter commenced work for the Royal Women’s Hospital (RWH) website, the team recognised the need to do a little more than just design a responsive website. They had to think deeper – again it was about the end user. The user experience they created for RWH was more like digital wayfinding, designed to hit the target audience across different platforms by accommodating mobile device users needing quick access to information, as well as desktop site users, who were more likely to be researching without the panic of an emergency hospital trip.

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“We had to make it a little bit more adaptive rather than responsive, because it’s a slightly different experience on a mobile. [You’ve got to consider that] people on mobiles are in a hurry, and all they want to do is find the hospital,” says Noble.

In a shift that shows its range, Carter was also tasked by iconic Australian apparel brand Bonds to grow mobile conversion to keep up with its target audience, who were drifting away from desktop purchases. With over 50 percent of Bonds’ online traffic flowing through mobile devices, something had to change.

“Bonds put the ultimate faith in us. They gave us complete control and we ended up delivering the project very quickly and effectively. We had the budget and time to factor in responsive and mobile, desktop and laptop, and also portrait versus landscape. So, what I found was that being from a print background – and I was a member of AGDA, gosh, around the late 90s when I first joined through design school – the little lessons that I learned from print have now relayed back perfectly across to our new devices,” says Noble.

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“With responsive design, you have to factor in the different permutations of the same design, which needs to articulate across different shapes and sizes of devices. It’s really handy that I can think in a grid layout format across mobile devices, and I learned that by being a print designer and graphic designer first, which is one of those things that is slowly starting to disappear with current design because people are being digital first rather than graphic first. They’re losing that sense of layout and form.”

This thinking influenced one of Carter’s more difficult projects – its work with Culture Victoria, a repository of Victoria’s history the goal of which is to increase digital access to the Victorian Cultural Network’s assets and archives.

“There were tens of thousands of images that were already cropped to a certain size, so we had to work out a way of reimagining that experience without changing the dimensions of the products and the imagery.”

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Noble is generous when prompted to talk further about his process, and the roots he traces back to his days as a print designer.

“I always use pencil and paper first,” he explains. “The only difference between now and then is that I now use gridded paper, purely so I can visualise the grid in the background, which will then become the pixel grid on the screen. I always use pencil because it’s the quickest and easiest way to get your thoughts out onto a visual medium without having to be impeded by your skills (or lack thereof) with a program, so the only thing that limits you is your ideas rather than an Adobe suite.”

“With UX, when trying to work out site mapping, user flows and journeys, we use Post-it notes – it’s the easiest way to do it because you can just manually move things around without having to remodel the whole thing in Illustrator. There are so many steps to the way we do things and quite often every single project we do starts with a pencil and a piece of paper.”

Beardsell and Noble seem to have the flow of the studio and the team mapped out perfectly too: “I’m the one who gets passionate and crazy and he’s the calming voice that thinks rationally and structures everything,” admits Noble. Carter is also proudly a carbon neutral studio. Its desks, hand-made by Noble, use recycled timbers and biodegradable glues. Its expansive, open plan studio is lit by 100 percent carbon offset lighting, and it even has an indoor garden – to keep those creative brains fed and ticking.

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This piece first appeared in the June+July /networked issue of desktop, in our AGDA Presents section. Subscribe to the magazine today.

All images courtesy of Carter. 

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carterdigital.com.au

 

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