Why 'cool utility' is the way forward for mobile design

One in seven online searches today are made from a mobile phone. That's why creative agency Somewhat puts mobile first: it's in the business of creating exciting experiences for brands and products - and it's pretty good at it

Take That, Samsung, New Era and Adidas are among some of the many big-name brands that have benefitted from Somewhat's 10-years-plus experience in making mobile experiences. The agency is about to launch the Olympics app for Samsung and have a whole host of new apps coming up in the summer. We caught up with some of the crew at OFFF Barcelona...

Computer Arts: What do you all do at Somewhat?
Jon Carney:
I'm the founder and managing partner
Cas Lemmens: I'm a 24-year-old Belgian, working as a creative technologist at Somewhat. I'm very fond of coding, and tinkering with new languages and technologies, and I like to bring that knowledge to the brainstorming table.
Matilda Dackeval: My name is Matilda and I'm a 21-year-old interactive designer from Sweden working with the Somewhat team in art direction, interactive design and user experience.

Computer Arts: Somewhat's portfolio includes work for some of the biggest brands out there. How would you describe what Somewhat does?
We work as innovators, always approaching projects from the point of view of moving on the medium. We always try to create something new.
MD: Where Somewhat stands out in the industry is in strong, forward thinking and innovation, our eagerness for new tools and creative communication. We're a tight multidisciplinary team of problem-solvers, where everyone shares their inspiration and knowledge from the concept to final stages. We make room for the big ideas and together find our way to execute them.

CA: What's so good about working in mobile?
The fact that we can create things that have never been done before. Mobile advertising, or even mobile in general, is such a new and exiting medium to work in. So much innovation can still happen, and it's nice to know that we can play with these devices and technologies to push it to the next level.

Somewhat designed the official app for OFFF 2012

Somewhat designed the official app for OFFF 2012

CA: During your talk at OFFF 2012 you mentioned the term 'cool utility'. What does this mean and how does it apply to your work?
It's about turning something functional into an exciting experience that you love. We used the example of Nike+. It's old now but it's a really good example: Nike made the experience of running more fun, but also branded the experience - when it first came out you had to have Nike shoes and so on. It's about taking something you do every day and making it into a great experience, and that's what we do.

CA: What motivates you?
The opportunity to work with the biggest brands, but create work that other agencies don't do for them.
MD: Creative challenges, inspiring people and smart, concept-driven projects, but also progress.

CA: How do you stay fresh?
For me staying fresh means two things. First of all, it's staying up-to-date with the latest news within tech, seeing what new technologies are emerging, how we can play with them, what potential they have, trying them out and seeing the limit of the device or language. Secondly, it's getting inspired by projects that have a lot of potential and pushing things forward.
MD: I always try to make time in my projects to create designs and interfaces beyond the obvious. It's too easy in the world of advertising to fall into design patterns and not challenge the art direction. For me it's important to find the right experience for the right audience and surprise them at the same time. Users have a very close interaction with mobile. They should love that experience.

CA: What can we expect to see from Somewhat in the coming months?
Somewhat will launch the Olympics app for Samsung, an AR game for Hotmail, a big dual-screen platform, and a range of HTML5 apps that push the technology even more than the OFFF app has.

CA: What advice would you give to anyone looking to get into mobile design?
Be bold with the technology, we all have a responsibility to push our clients to do new things, and keep brand communications fresh and relevant to people's lives.
CL: If you're thinking of becoming a creative technologist, experimenting is the best way to go. A portfolio with loads of small experiments and tricks is often more interesting that showing finished work. And besides, it's a lot of fun too.
MD: Never stop experimenting and pushing yourself. Usually when something feels like it's no longer hard or tricky to pull off, you need to push yourself even further.

CA: And finally... if you could be any animal in the world, what would you be?
Peregrine falcon because you'll have the quiet confidence, you can eat whenever and wherever you like, sit in the arm of kings, and beat anything else 0-60.
MD: I'd grow up as a white shark and kick back as a walrus in my old days.