Code and Theory on the meaning of disruption

.net: Let’s start with an easy one: was there a defining moment or project for the agency?
Dan Gardner:
Early in Code and Theory (C&T)’s history we designed the Sony Classical VIP site, which was big for us at the time. It was also ground-breaking for the industry: we were one of the first companies to use Flash video recognised on the Macromedia homepage. When we launched Style Wars celebrating the DVD re-release of the 1980s hip-hop documentary, we got a lot of recognition including a Webby, Horizon Interactive Award and a SXSW award. Starting a relationship with Comcast significantly expanded our services beyond web to platforms like TV and mobile, as well as evolving away from Flash websites. And launching the Daily Beast was key too – it brought us notoriety in the publishing world. We learned so much from working with Tina Brown in the process, which still informs our design thinking today on, not only the publishing sites but, brand experiences we work on.

.net: How did you come by the name?
Brandon Ralph:
I wanted to teach a class in college, before leaving NYU, called Conceptual Design Through Code and Theory. When Dan and I started the company, a good friend suggested we use it.

.net: How large is the company now?
About 175 people across three offices: New York City, San Francisco and Manila. We still feel like a small family company that happens to be a bit larger.

.net: Your client roster reads like a who’s who of the Dow Jones’ finest. How do you land such big fish?
Michael Martin:
We have a constant focus on delivery. When we meet a potential client, we take them through some of our portfolio pieces, focusing less on the literal outcome; more on the client challenge and our strategic approach. We’re fans of sketching out ideas and concepts in meetings: that gives clients the comfort that we are passionate about the work we do and have a track record of delivering. We seek clients with compelling products and services who are a good cultural fit with us: it’s key to attracting and retaining some of the industry’s best. Market capitalisation and annual digital spend do not drive who we go after. We look for innovative companies that we think can be pushed even further, and work collaboratively to find the right path.

.net: ‘Disruptive’: what does it actually mean? And what’s the secret of getting it right?
First, in an industry like ours, there are ‘best practices’. At a tactical level we strive to challenge the notion of what ‘best practice’ is, vs what’s just familiar. Second, to be disruptive, you have to think about what kinds of creative ideas can shift the course of the project or industry you’re working in. You shouldn’t focus on being different for the sake of it. You should think about opportunities you can capitalise on and where you can create differentiation. It should always be in context to what success looks like for the client. Often it requires instinctual rather than data-driven decisions.

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