AgenciesInterview

Balwinder Bhatla

Balwinder Bhatla is art director at the London offices of Agency.com, which is currently running the online campaign to promote BT’s new proprietary VoIP technology, BT Softphone. Among other things, he shares his thoughts about London 2012...

.net: Why did you eventually decide that web design was for you?
Balwinder Bhatla: My journey to web design wasn’t so clear. I studied graphic design at Central Saint Martins, and design at Goldsmiths College, where I specialised in conceptual 3D and motion graphics. I stumbled into web design at my first job. I knew little about web applications, but thanks to my fellow creatives in the studio, I soon began to realise how my skill set could translate online. Before long, I was knocking out Flash microsites for Channel Five.

.net: What attracted you to Agency.com?
BB: After working in a small creative company for a few years, I needed a change. I wanted to get involved with a larger design company – one with large corporate clients – so I could learn first-hand how to maintain relationships with big brands. And I wanted to see all the stages involved in a project’s life-cycle, from conception to delivery. Secondly, I had ambitions that involved pushing the boundaries of corporate clients. When you sell an idea to a client such as T- Mobile, there’s a higher sense of satisfaction.

.net: In a design company as big as Agency.com, was it hard to carve a niche for your skills?
BB: At the time I joined Agency.com, there wasn’t much Flash, and there certainly wasn’t any 3D or video work going on. So I saw my niche and carved it. During my second week, I was sent to the Amsterdam office to work on a Heineken pitch. I was given the opportunity to persuade and educate the client about the benefits of rich media, and how to create more engaging and compelling online experiences.

.net: What’s been your favourite work there and why?
BB: Running the Vertu.com account (under close guidance from my creative director, Matthew Curtis). It’s a unique product that deserves unique online experiences. It’s the type of account creatives dream about. We had a great relationship with the client, and they were always open to rich content ideas. It was a fast moving account with great creative scope. New campaigns were launched every couple of months, which involved creating homepage takeovers and microsites for each campaign. We even won a Standards of Excellence award in the WebAwards.

.net: When you’re flat-out working for a client, is it hard to keep track of industry developments?
BB: It’s imperative to keep track of industry developments, from the latest web trends to this season’s must-have design treatments. At Agency.com, we have a number of options to keep you on the ball. Every day, at least five emails are sent out to the office discussing what’s going on in the industry, the latest sites and cool online stuff.

.net: What sites inspire you at the moment?
BB: www.acht-frankfurt.de – I love its simplicity. The rendering and interaction of the timeline is superb, not to mention the content of the portfolio. And YouTube is superb entertainment for those Friday emails!

.net: In five years’ time, will designers not have to actively think about web accessibility simply because it will be so ingrained in their skill set?
BB: The role of accessibility within the creative process has grown steadily over the past few years. If you’re creating an all-singing, all-dancing Flash experience, you always need to create a static HTML version of the same content. It will be more a case of designers, software and browsers evolving together to accommodate accessibility more intuitively.

.net: What design tool would you love to have that doesn’t exist yet?
BB: It would be great if there was a tool that could enable designers to import their rich Flash files. Then, once exported, the file would be fully accessible (wishful thinking, I know).

.net: If you were asked to design a new Olympic Games site for London 2012, what would you like to do with it?
BB: By 2012, I would expect that the net would offer a broadcast-quality service, so the web would be challenging the TV stations. My Olympic Games website would be continually broadcasting all the events, so it would be like watching TV. Now imagine an invisible layer that sits on top of this, offering a whole world of information at your fingertips. This information could be accessed via rollover, VoIP or touchscreen, etc. It could include absolutely anything, from providing fascinating facts with in-depth detail about athletes, to the most mundane details about the stadium. You could literally select any pixel on the screen to get more info. But, the Olympic Games is all about competing, so it would be cool if viewers/users could ‘virtually’ compete in events as though they were actually at the stadium, all from the safety of their own homes.

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