Four score…minus about thirty one years ago, Digital Developments had its humble beginnings as your happy little local Berwick web designer. As a web design company – and with the recent release of our new website – it’s interesting to track how we’ve evolved through the primary means for gaining business. Our website is more than just our online presence, its essentially our livelihood, and it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get there.
I warn you, things may get a bit web 2.0 from here on out…
On a fateful spring afternoon, under the twilight of October in 2004, the first website of Digital Developments went live:
Remember, I did say 2004. It was certainly the web made easy. I remember back then that websites still followed the “most amazing website” format, so don’t judge too harshly… except… what in the name of all things holy is that there for?
“I thought it would be useful,” said David Rowlands – director of Digital Dev – laughing, “it was the sort of thing people did back then, I thought it would be cool to have a little tool to help with spelling.” I’d be willing to wager it’s partly the reason that dictionary.com is so successful today (I must admit, it’s hard to type that with a straight face).
However, even back in 2004, the web was in an infancy in terms of accessibility. Broadband was expensive and speeds were slow, so the web called for simplicity. Further to that, the market for South East Melbourne, specifically Berwick, in the website design industry was barebones to say the least.
“The idea behind this first website was ‘presence’. I wanted people to know I was here and garner a reputation. It was part of a bigger plan on establishing myself out here in the sticks.” As evidenced by the fact that Digital Developments exists today, I’d say Dave’s plan worked.
This ‘Presence’ however was not a single entity, but a work in progress, and after a couple of years with a growing client base, Digital Developments got its second website on Feburary 10, 2006:
It isn’t obvious from the picture, but this was a Flash website. 2006 was around the time of Flash’s heyday, and this website bounced around and fidgeted like a good Flash site should.
We started doing web hosting around this time too:
Apart from the fact that Dave looked like he’d travelled through a few more photoshop filters (and had an ominous glow about him), this website had nothing wrong with it. It may look slightly dated, but functionally it presented all the information that we needed to.
I’m not going to speculate what “the Movie Portal” link in the footer was for though…
The next stage of our website was the idea that now that people knew Digital Developments existed, what kind of business are they? We strove for a certain culture that matched the market of the South East Melbourne, and to consolidate how we presented our image to the world. In April of 2007, we launched our new and improved Identity phase:
“I never really got this website how I wanted it,” Dave mused when I asked him about it. Personally, my biggest concern was no rounded corners, especially in the age of the iPhone and Apple’s rounded corner dominance. Little else changed in the course of this website, but it seemed to be a hallmark to the end of one age and the beginning of another: it was more than one page!
Content was thin. I guess I’ll never know what once sat in the black chasm of the slideshow at the top of the page, but the threadbare news section gave a glimpse into what was happening in the world at the time:
To some, 2007 was a long, long time ago. Six years in the web world definitely is. This website, however, was a step in the right direction for us. It gave Digital Developments the opportunity to move forward into a bigger and better South East Melbourne, which was expanding at an accelerated rate. While retrospectively it wasn’t the best; it was about us establishing a culture about ourselves to attract the right type of client to our business.
And at least we had a better hosting plan:
Needless to say, by the time October of 2008 rolled around, we were in dire need of expanding our visual repertoire in order to move into a much more accessible internet landscape.
It was a visual overhaul worthy of 2008. With this revision began the solidification of our brand that would begin to culminate over the next four years: identity. Digital Developments had a more visual portfolio, a more comprehensive list of our services and gave a fairly complete idea of how our business operated and what we were like as people. Though it was the last iteration of our website in our old proprietary CMS, Developer, it was the first in the next generation of our website and every iteration since has been an improvement on its formula.
By the time 2011 had rolled around however, the web had changed (as it is wont to do). Digital Developments released its biggest and best website yet on a brand new platform: WordPress.
This rendition of our website was not only much more well designed, but had everything the customer needed: a robust portfolio, more relevant and structured hosting plans, easy to understand services and a much more active blog. But most importantly, it showed our team. People could finally see exactly who we are, and with the net becoming an increasingly social place, that was an important move.
“To date, this website is probably the one that has generated me the most business,” Dave noted when I pulled this site up to write this article, “It was the one where I really started seeing is as a 24-hour salesman rather than just a page on the internet.” And indeed he was right.
Six months after this website was launched was around when I came on the scene as a designer for Digital Developments. I remember looking at this website hours before my job interview to try and hurriedly memorise as much as I could about the company. It wasn’t until about two weeks later that I noticed that I’d not needed to think about how the website functioned, my motions through it was fluid and organic and I think that these days, this really embodies how I try to design websites.
It was also a milestone for our websites because of this little beauty:
About a year into my tenure at Digital Developments I began, in total secret, to work on a new design for our site. My philosophy was that given the culture of our company to create something that was a magnum opus, essentially, in the way we present ourselves online and in terms of functionality.
I revealed my design to Dave late in 2012. “It was like Christmas had come early,” he said, and from there a company-wide effort to make this our most grand website yet commenced.
This February just passed was its release, and I think the result speaks for itself:
The main purpose of “Automation” was the idea that the website was the central hub of our services. Rather than to just use our website as our primary salesman (which, much to Dave’s dismay, beat him regularly in the sales stats), it was also to provide clients and potential customers to purchase services, receive online support among other things.
This latest rendition of our website didn’t just provide flashy functionality or show off our visual or developmental prowess, it was an embodiment of our philosophy. A website should have a purpose, a direction and most of all, improvement. The digital medium is unique in that you have ctrl+z, you have digital erasers, a delete button, a backspace and all of these things have no ecological impact. Change is in technology’s nature, so wisdom and common sense would dictate that a website is never done, it’s a fluid and dynamic embodiment of both the technological arms race, and the progression of a business in an ever changing world. We’ve moved from a humble beginning in targeting “Web Design Berwick” to the whole of South East Melbourne and eventually all of Melbourne itself, all in the course of under a decade.
This entire year, internally, has been a huge nut-out to try and figure out ways of changing and improving our website. This current revision looks much different to how it did just six months ago, and that’s a good thing. It keeps our image relevant and fresh. It’s not like a booklet where a mistake can cost you thousands in printing, new ideas are just design and implementation away.
This isn’t so much trumpeting our own horns as it is an excellent case study from our most harsh critics: ourselves. Our lives and line are dependant on this, so if one wishes to understand the best way to nail a good website one must only look at those who see them as necessity to find the best solution.
PS: I have a few more things up my sleeve for the future, but shhh, don’t tell Dave.