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Dom Raban from user experience agency Corporation Pop on design

Tim Gibbon (Social Media Portal (SMP)) - 26 August 2015

Dom Raban from user experience agency Corporation Pop on UX, taming marketing with design and more

Corporation Pop logoSocial Media Portal (SMP): What is your name and what do you do there at Corporation Pop?

Dom Raban (DR): My name is Dom Raban and I’m the managing director at Corporation Pop. My job is to make sure we stay true to our mission of aiming for innovation and originality whilst delivering reliability and effectiveness.

SMP: Briefly, tell us about Corporation Pop, what is it and what does company do?

DR: When I started the business way back in 1991 it was easy to describe ourselves as a design company. Though design is still the lifeblood of what we do, now we could just as easily be described as a software development company or a user-experience agency. The common thread is that we marry design and technology to provide elegant solutions that respond to user needs.

SMP: Who are your target audience and why?

DR: Without wishing to sound flippant our target audience are ‘users’. That may sound like a generic catchall but we design for such a wide variety of target markets - from festivalgoers and TV audiences to NHS patients and business executives - that it is very hard to define a ‘target market’. What’s important is that everything we design is a bespoke response to the needs of a particular group of users.

SMP: What were you doing before you joined Corporation Pop and how did you snag your current job?

DR: I’ve been running Corporation Pop for almost as long as I can remember although as it constantly evolves it never feels like the same job. Before this I used to run coach trips to nightclubs back in the days of Acid House – and previous to that I printed, designed and distributed fanzines. I like to think I’ve never had a proper job!

Photograph of Dom Raban from Corporation PopSMP: Briefly, what does your job entail and what does a typical day look like?

DR: I don’t have a typical day’ which is one of the many reasons I love doing what I do. I wear a number of hats but always hang on to the one that got me in to the design business in the first place – being integral to the process of originating a creative response to a problem. These days I don’t get involved with hands-on design as I’m too busy doing the other things that an MD needs to do, but I’m never far away from the creative process. When I’m not getting involved in creative problem solving I have to admit that I also get a buzz from a good spreadsheet.

SMP: What makes it a great job?

DR: Ever since I started the company one common thread that has run through all its many iterations has been the desire to innovate and do things differently. I’ve got a fantastic team of people around me who help make sure that we do this on a daily basis.

SMP: What are the challenges that you’ve encountered and how are you overcoming them in what you have been doing so far at Corporation Pop?

DR: Like many companies in our sector we faced some lean years following the banking crisis. Thankfully that is well behind us and we’ve found that our strategy of innovation matched with reliable delivery, has given us a competitive edge and enabled us to grow. Our next challenge will be to develop products where we own some, if not all, of the intellectual property. We‘re collaborating with some of our clients where we jointly own what we produce, leading to a very healthy working relationship.

Corporation Pop homepage image

SMP: What impact does design have upon marketing and why?

DR: Marketing without good design will never convince anyone but good design without marketing will never be seen. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

SMP: What are the high moments of what you have been doing so far?

DR: Every project presents a unique challenge and overcoming those challenges gives me a real buzz.

Recently we developed a HTML5 game to entice prospective students in the Far East to study in the UK. Deploying it to Weibo, the Chinese social network, was our biggest challenge. The SDK was in Chinese, so we hired a native-speaker to help translate it, and it getting approval was a protracted process. We got there in the end; the game worked really well and was a creative success.

Corporation Pop HTML5 game image 1Corporation Pop HTML5 game image 2

My pet project at the moment is one that I’ve been working on for the last three years and I’ve seen it grow from an idea on a side of A4 to a fully-featured commercial software product that uses avatars to help people examine their inter-personal relationships. Last year we successfully bid with our client for £1m of funding from the NHS to trial the software with young people who have mental health problems. That’s involved a massive amount of re-purposing of the technology and we’re just about to begin trials now – very satisfying!

SMP: What do you think is going to be the most interesting aspect in the creative space for the next 12 to 18-months and why?

DR: Virtual reality is hogging the headlines at the moment and we’re already seeing a plethora of headsets competing for attention from the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift to devices that harness mobiles like Google Cardboard and Samsung’s Gear VR.
I’m old enough to remember the first wave of excitement about virtual reality in the 90s. If VR is really going to take off this time it will be dependent on the availability of amazing content delivered in a delightful way. This presents an incredible creative challenge as we begin to think about user interfaces in three dimensions and new input devices that go beyond the point and click of a mouse.   

SMP: What are your top five predictions for design and the creative space for the next 12 to 18-months?

DR replies with:

i) As mentioned above we’ll see designers defining the way we interact in three-dimensional immersive spaces. This will require new paradigms for navigation and interaction.

ii)  I’m a firm believer that good design can change lives. I hope that we’ll see some design interventions that bring wider understanding of the global refugee crisis and its underlying causes

iii) (not a design prediction but a prediction none-the-less) we’ll see big changes in the social media space. Already we’ve seen Twitter become less of a social network and more of a publishing platform. In the next year or two I think we’ll see the growth of niche social networks for clearly defined communities (and conversely the demise of all-encompassing behemoths like Facebook).

iv) As WebGL becomes more mature we’ll see some amazing native 3D content within the browser that goes beyond the experimental and helps redefine the way we interact with the web.

v) I’d like to see (but fear I won’t) a new breed of design graduate ready for the creative challenges that 21st century technology offers. Unfortunately I see far too many graduates who are taught the art of print and editorial design but haven’t got a clue when it comes to designing interactive experiences.

SMP: What are your top overall five creative tips?

DR replies with:

i) Don’t be constrained by the art of the possible. I believe that the mark of a great designer is somebody who has the vision to design a solution regardless of physical restraints. Where there’s a will there is always a way…

ii) Never imitate. We all find inspiration in other people’s work but analyse it and learn from it – don’t copy it!

iii) Learn from your end-users. When I started out in design it was a very autocratic process where the designer would present their ‘vision’ and if the client or the end-user didn’t get it then they were obviously misguided. How wrong-headed that approach seems now. Getting feedback from users at every stage of the process leads to great design.

iv) Iterate then iterate again. This relates to point iii). Come up with an idea, test it and then modify it based on the feedback you get. Repeat the process until you run out of budget.

v) A good idea can come from anyone. We involve the whole team in creative brainstorming regardless of job title. The designer’s job is to transform those good ideas into beautiful designs.

SMP: Is there anything else we should know, or is there anything that you’d like to share?  

DR: Our latest app, Dazzle It, uses marker less augmented reality technology and will be available to download for free on the iTunes and Google Play stores from September 8th. Inspired by “dazzle art” a form of ship camouflage developed by 20th century artists during the First World War, Dazzle It lets you create unique dazzles by remixing contemporary artists' work and viewing the results in the real world wrapped around a 3D model.

SMP: Best way to contact you and Corporation Pop?

DR: Drop us a mail – or pick up the phone – +44 161 833 0808. You can follow us on Twitter @corporationpop. To contact me directly look me up on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter @domraban.

Now some questions for fun

SMP: What did you have for breakfast / lunch?

DR: I’m a creature of habit. Two slices of toast, one with peanut butter, the other with marmalade, accompanied by a very large pot of coffee.

SMP: What’s the last good thing that you did for someone?

DR: I raised £2.5k doing a 10k run for the Teenage Cancer Trust – a cause close to my heart.

SMP: f you weren’t working at Corporation Pop what would you be doing?

DR: I’d be living in rural Italy or Spain scraping a living by providing cycling and walking holidays to a select few.

SMP: When / where did you go on your last holiday and why?

DR: We’re just back from a holiday in The Dolomites in northern Italy, the highlight of which was a Via Ferrata ascent of the 2700m Punta Ana with my son Oscar.

SMP: What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office of a morning?

DR: Make myself a Flat White.

SMP: If you had a superpower what would it be and why?

DR: I’d be ‘Memory Man’. I have a near-photographic memory for maps, directions and routes but unfortunately that’s as far as it goes. With everything else – names, conversations, books and films – ‘in one ear, out the other’ definitely applies.

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