We’re excited to welcome Michael Martin, managing partner at Code and Theory, to our SNDDC lineup. Michael will speak on April 10. Code and Theory is a leading independent digital creative agency whose clients include the Los Angeles Times, Mashable, NBC and The Verge. Recent work on the relaunch of Bloomberg is just one example of the firm’s innovative approach to rebranding digital content, campaigns and products.
Code and Theory has been recognized for innovative digital publishing projects. What can you tell me about your team and your process?
Michael: I think the key to creating a body of work you can stand behind is a focused team and a highly collaborative process. It begins with embedding our team into the newsroom so that we can best understand the daily workflow of the various stakeholder groups — from creative, to editorial, to ad sales and technology — so that the product we create for them not only provides the best possible user experience, but also addresses organizational challenges. So often the trickiest part of our engagements surrounds the change management we help effectuate within large media and publishing companies. So this immersion phase is critical for us to get equipped with the right level of institutional knowledge, allowing us to frame our creative approach as best as possible and help guide our clients towards more and more innovative solutions.
Your clients span from editorial publications like the The Verge and GQ, to consumer products like Snapple, Burger King and Woodford Reserve. What differences are there in how you approach your work with each?
Michael: Code and Theory designs both products and brands through integrated yet distinctly focused teams. We are structured this way because we believe the best work comes about when two partners can holistically engage. Companies already have expanded and blurred their definitions of the words brand and product. With Burger King, we monitored Reddit threads to develop a specific insight – that there was enormous latent passion for a product called Chicken Fries that they had shelved. Based on this insight, we re-launched the product for them, designing the packaging, concepting the go-to-market strategy and campaigns, and creating content quickly through our own internal “newsroom”. This product became, for them, one of their largest brand events of 2014 — their stock price rose over 1% the day of the announcement.
For The Verge, one of the challenges, and something I think they are exceptionally good at, was creating a product experience that felt distinctly original and specific. Whether it’s the ability to structure chaptered, long-form article pages that help users negotiate an overall story arc around a specific topic, or the gradient content tiles that give the site an undeniably cool vibe, the provocative design language of The Verge, its editorial voice, and flexible content architecture, combine to form its brand.
So the approach is entirely bespoke and at the same time it works off of our latest thinking across both ends of the spectrum.
Code and Theory’s work for Bloomberg has been generating a lot of interest across the industry. Can you share some background on the project? How did the brainstorming process go for a project of that scale? What was it like working with such a tight six-week schedule?
Michael: When The Verge co-founder Josh Topolsky joined Bloomberg in July 2014 to help expand the breadth and reach of its media properties, he immediately saw an “opportunity to build a 21st-century media company to scale,” as he says. The new Bloomberg Business is built on two principles: being smarter, being faster. Through the merging of bloomberg.com, businessweek.com and unifying platform presentation across an elegant responsive design, our goal was to create an engaging content consumption platform for any type of visitor: hardcore business news junkies who need fast, accurate, dynamic information about what is happening in the markets as well as more casual topic-focused visitors who want to understand Bloomberg’s take on the latest in technology. By giving writers a rich visual canvas to tell their stories, and editors powerful tools to demonstrate news hierarchy with fast publishing capabilities, we intended to create a transformative news publishing platform for the future. So far, we’ve been thrilled with the community and critical response to the work, which is an ongoing and iterative process.
What are the biggest design challenges and opportunities you encounter reimagining websites and brands from the ground up like you did for the Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg?
Michael: Ensuring the we do not create either editorial burden or technical debt through our designs. This is why its critical to understand how a piece of content goes from an idea to being published. It’s always different, and we want to make sure that whatever we’re making works as best it can for those who use it every day.
Tell me about your favorite projects from this past year.
Michael: There has been so much incredible work created this past year by so many talented people. If I’m speaking personally, I was proudest of NBCOlympics.com. We worked with NBC Sports through Content/Product strategy, UX/Design, and Development – including building the CMS. It was one of the largest content sites in the world for 17 days with over one billion hits, and across the board it exceeded the collective team’s expectations in terms of performance. And most importantly, it remained stable throughout.
Where do you look for inspiration?
Michael: I don’t want to speak on behalf of the incredibly talented creative teams we have at the agency, who are truly the ones that make the work come to life through their own inspirations and expertise. For me, good design is about ergonomics. The readability of content, the clarity of architecture and space, the curvature of a chair. What Charles Eames and Steve Jobs have in common, among many things, is an unrelenting attention to detail and belief in the power of good design to change the world.
Before joining Code and Theory you spent time in the private equity sector. Has your work experience outside of design influenced your approach to digital design projects?
Michael: It certainly has. Understanding the business drivers behind a design challenge through the lens of my private equity experience has been incredibly exciting. I think it allows me to craft and frame creative approaches that can resonate more broadly than if I was strictly one or the other.