Success: Websites with a touch of style

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Making your site look good is worth the effort, says online company founder.

Barb Anderson with the trophy bka Interactive won this year for its website work. Photo / Greg Bowker
Barb Anderson with the trophy bka Interactive won this year for its website work. Photo / Greg Bowker

Stepping over teenage kids in sleeping bags to get to her desk, Barb Anderson knew her web design business had outgrown the home office.

It wasn't just negotiating the remnants of a teenager's party that pushed her to look for a new workplace.

Corporate clients seemed to question sending couriers to a residential address and her three children didn't think she even had a job.

"To them Dad had a job and Mum had a hobby," says Anderson.

She moved her fledgling company, bka Interactive (the bka stands for "be kick arse", says Anderson, as well as being her initials) into the offices of a friend, architect Dave Strachan.

Anderson jokes that her innate laziness and willingness to delegate saw her bring on more staff.

In reality, the company's growth was down to Anderson recognising that to be world leading and design "s***-hot, beautiful and well-built" websites, she needed to employ people who had the skills she didn't.

One of the first people she hired was creative director Maak Bow, who is still with her today.

"After the creative director came on board I also realised things were moving away from pretty websites to doing functional, grunty business operational websites, so I knew we had to get developers on board."

She quickly filled the space in Strachan's offices and moved again, leaving with a piece of advice from Strachan that still resonates: you are only as good as your last work.

"It didn't matter if we had a $5000 client or a $20,000 client, we resolved we would never stop ... if it's not beautiful, it's not finished."

Aesthetics are important for a website, she says, because a well-designed site garners more respect from users.

And Anderson says a gorgeous website is not out of reach of small companies with tiny budgets.

The beautiful work it produces recently gained bka Interactive international attention in a design award run by Umbraco, a provider of open source content management software.

Beating more than 80 global entries, bka won the "best integration" award for its work on the Giltrap Group website and was runner-up in the design category for a website designed for New Zealand band Six60.

Fellow New Zealand web designers Terrabyte were also runner-up in the design and technical solution awards.

Anderson says she was thrilled to get the accolade, and believes the fact that two New Zealand web design companies featured highly points to the talent in this country.

Anderson's introduction to online design came during an art and design degree she completed in the mid-1990s.

Originally a teacher, she headed back to university after the birth of her last child.

With only a limited knowledge of html - the basic code for building websites - Anderson joined the brand new digital team at advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, working on the first Telecom website, followed by a stint in online design at a medical publisher.

"It's hard to make a living out of being an artist and I really like the idea of online. I'd done a lot of work in the digital space when I was at art school and I thought it was a really cool way of combining a love of maths and logic with things creative."

In 2001 she struck out on her own and started bka.

Although she could have stayed in a salaried job, Anderson says she wanted the fun and challenge of running her own business, and at 40 didn't want to be checking in for permission to go and watch her son play rugby.

"I just wanted that flexibility. I certainly didn't see it as major money potential. I just saw it as a really cool lifestyle really."

Over time the company's aesthetic emphasis has appealed to clients in the arts sector, including Auckland Theatre Company, the Comedy Festival and auction house Art+Object, and the sporting arena.

That dovetails nicely with Anderson's own interests; as well as having an arts background, she is a sports nut who still plays netball at a competitive level.

The business of being "all things digital - anything online that makes businesses boom" has seen bka Interactive add an app development team.

Anderson sees huge opportunities in creating mobile applications. Until now, she says, many apps have been created by developers who have done a great job technically but haven't understood usability and beauty.

- NZ Herald

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