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Interview with Neil Dennis of Strawberrysoup

You can learn more about Strawberrysoup at www.strawberrysoup.co.uk
Twitter: Strawberrysoup | Neil Dennis

Strawberrysoup

Hi Neil. Can you tell us a little bit about Strawberry Soup and how you first got started in the web design and development industry?

Strawberrysoup is a creative web design agency which is based in Bournemouth, Chichester and London. The business was started in 2005 by myself and Keith McGregor who had worked at large blue chip organisations and decided to start our own web design agency.

I have always been interested in business and started my first business when I was 16 doing website design for small businesses in Guildford where I grew up. I had always planned to do something myself, rather than work for someone so when the opportunity arose in our final year of university, I jumped at the chance.

Strawberrysoup

How easy did you find it to grow and build your team?

ShedquartersThe business has grown really well over the last 4 years. We started Strawberrysoup in a shed in Keith’s back garden that we aptly named the “shed-quarters”. It wasn’t a great working environment, but it did the job for about 6 months!

The prospect of hiring someone was very daunting at the start as we didnít understand payroll or taxation, but our accountant helped us out with it all – its a lot easier than it sounds. We moved into our first Chichester office and hired our first employee in 2006 who started part-time and then quickly became a full-time member of the team.

From then on, we found the hiring route much less daunting. We have now grown to a team of 8 which consists of designers, developers and project managers who are responsible for over 120 different clients. These range from small businesses to local government departments and a some well known blue chip organisations too.

You’ve been doing some really fantastic work with Javascript recently. Do you do this yourself in-house?

All of the website and design projects that we work on are done in-house. At the start of each project, we allocate team members to specific projects based on experience and the project requirements. Irregular Choice was one of those great projects whereby you are given free reign from a creative and coding perspective to “get your hands dirty”.

The JavaScript on the Irregular Choice website was based on jQuery however we developed our own custom framework to animate objects along custom paths rather than just straight lines and the effect is certainly different. The website was planned to transport the end user into a world of Irregular Choice and we feel that this works well and helps to promote the brand internally.

Irregular Choice

You now have three offices around the UK. How do you find the collaboration works between the different teams?

We use a range of web applications to ensure communication between the offices is maintained. The core apps that we use are Basecamp for online collaboration, Highrise for sharing contacts and emails and XERO for our accounts – they are great pieces of software. We also have an in-office server that maintains all of our files, emails and alike to keep everything centralised and secure.

We meet up weekly either in person or over iChat to discuss projects, how the business is performing and any other ideas that we have.

What is your normal workflow Strawberrysoup use for creating a website from start to finish?

We follow our own workflow that we have evolved over the past 4 years, buts its no doubt pretty similar to other web design agencies.

It starts off by getting the go ahead from a client who is then sent their initial invoice and our terms of business (the legal bit). As soon as these are returned we have our project kickoff meeting where the client is introduced to each member of the team that is working on their project. This is useful to not only put a face to a name, but helps the client feel more involved with the team from the offset.

The next phase is to create the functional requirements document, sitemap and wireframes if required. These documents outline everything that the website is going to do and how the information is going to be organised. Once we are happy with these documents, we send them to the client for sign-off.

Strawberrysoup Office

Once sign-off is received, we give the necessary documents to our design and development team who review and ask any questions if necessary. Our designers then start the process of creating an initial design for the website including the homepage, lower level pages and any other important pages that need to be designed. This is sent to the client for any feedback and eventually sign-off.

Now the development begins. All of the designs in the form of layered PSD’s are given to the development team who work their magic and develop the website on our development server, of which the client has access to when ready to see how their project is progressing.

Testing is a very important phase and one that is often overlooked by web designers. We believe that testing should take up between 10% – 20% of the overall project budget, depending on its size and scale. We involve the whole team and client with testing and document any bugs or issues on our online bug tracker. These bugs and fixes are then resolved and the website is ready for launch!

It is important to note that the above development methodology is for a typical website. Websites differ hugely in budget and larger websites may require user profiling or usability testing to ensure their success and this would be done during the designing/prototyping phases.

What projects are you and the team working on at the moment?

We are working on some great new functionality for Irregular Choice including a forum and facebook application. We are also in the planning phase of a new website for a well known London university and are finishing some great new design projects. We have just finished writing our second article for .net magazine on location based website content using Geo-IP technology which is out in mid-Oct.

As well as Strawberrysoup, we are in the process of launching our own eCommerce website selling contemporary design-led products called Dennis & McGregor which is going live in October 2009, so watch this space!

Dennis & McGregor

Where do you find inspiration on the web?

I think that getting out of the office is the best form of inspiration. As designers and developers, we are always stuck in the office in front of a monitor which can severely restrict our creativity. I love reading books and magazines about the industry and find that magazines like .net and creative review are a good method of boosting inspiration and researching.

I also love looking at CSS gallery websites to see the latest trends in web design, however I think that it is important for web designers to use these sites as distant inspiration, and not for copy/paste with a little colour change.

Are there any other designers or agencies in the industry producing work that you really admire?

I really like to work that McFaul studio have been designing recently in Creative Review and online. They are based near our Chichester office and its great to see a small local agency doing so well. ILOVEDUST are also another agency based near our Chichester office and they have done some fantastic work recently.

Strawberrysoup Office

Do you subscribe to any blogs, podcasts or magazines to help stay on top of the web design world?

I regularly read A List Apart, Carsonified, Elliot Jay Stocks and also like to keep up with the RSS feeds of local web design agencies too! Twitter is the way forward for keeping in touch with other web designers and keeping up to date with news/events/technologies in the world of web design.

Do you have a particular web design conference or event that you never miss?

We are regular attendees of FOWA and FOWD by Carsonified. Their events are usually great fun and really help inspire and learn new things. They also have a fantastic social aspect and as the web design community is so friendly, we tend to meet loads of new people.

What hobbies do you have and do they help you ‘switch off’ from the internet?

After a stressful day at work, I love to drive down to Sandbanks and go kitesurfing. There is nothing better than the adrenaline rush and its also great for taking your mind off things and getting inspired by the beautiful surroundings!

Mountain biking is something that I have started doing more of recently too. The New Forest offers a great range of trails to get the heart pumping and into the fresh air – its also great for getting away from it all and thinking up new ideas!

Strawberrysoup Office

Finally, do you have any tips for people starting in the industry?

I would say that experience is everything. It is one thing having some great qualifications, but to succeed in the web design sector, experience speaks volumes. Get stuck into some projects (paid or unpaid) that help to promote your creativity, technical side or your personality. We tend to look for people that are qualified in terms of their experience more than their actual qualifications.

Thanks very much for taking the time to answer our questions and sharing your experience Neil.

You can learn more about Strawberrysoup at www.strawberrysoup.co.uk
Twitter: StrawberrysoupNeil Dennis

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  1. A really good interview, I find looking into the industry and other companies that do the same thing really interesting and taking inspiration from not only the work that they do but also the work they look to for ideas.

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