One half of the specialist team that heads up our digital division is Chris Skelton, our Digital Design Director. Chris takes the lead in ensuring all our digital design builds a client’s brand and its connection with its audience, as well as traffic and increased conversion rates. Here’s what you need to know about him.
How long have you been at Thompson and how did it come about?
I started at Thompson in November 2014, so just a bit over three years ago. Before then I was running my own design studio, specialising mostly in digital with Chris Kemm (who’s also now a Digital Director here). At the time, Thompson were looking for a partner to help deliver some digital outputs for the organisations they were working with. An article we’d written caught the attention of one of the client services team and following a few conversations and a couple of meet-ups, we ended up pitching together for the new Leeds Building Society website. Thompson had just completed the initial rebrand, but the digital execution of this was paramount to the brands success. The UX of the website needed to be absolutely reflective of the core proposition — Helping you get on with life. We won the job and ended up working together on severalprojects over the course of almost a year, until we decided to take the relationship more seriously. And the rest they say, is history.
What do you love about digital marketing and technology?
The thing I love most about the digital world, is the ever changing nature of technology. The capabilities you have as a designer never stay static, which is really exciting. Complacency isn’t really in my nature, so it suits me to be constantly learning new things despite the effort that it takes to keep on top of industry developments.
From a marketing point of view, the amount of data that is available and the power that that comes with that is unbelievable. Not only can you be pin point precise in the way that you target consumers, but those consumers also get value out of that precision. They are seeing products and information that’s genuinely relevant to them, rather than being bombarded with ineffective, generic sales messages. Tech still has a way to go, but it’s exciting nevertheless and constantly improving.
If you could change one thing about digital, what would it be?
The main thing that I’d change isn’t really about digital, but more about design education in general. It’s been spoken about a lot that digital design courses, or Web design/development courses at colleges and Universities are too slow when it comes to keeping up with new technology. Which is a huge problem because graduates aren’t prepared for the working practices of the professional world, unless they do an enormous amount of additional learning. But I’ll sound like a broken record if I go on about that. What I’d like to see change at the same time is the knowledge of the tutors on the more traditional design courses. Graphic design students are now coming into multi-disciplinary agencies with all the knowledge on how to screen print but not the foggiest on how to design a user interface. It’s just as important that graphic design students understand the basics of user experience as it is web design students understand the basics of good layout.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned since being here at Thompson?
I know that you are a part of a networking event, called Forefront. Can you explain a little bit more about it and why you find it important?
Forefront is a community meet-up for digital designers and front-end developers that happens every few months in Leeds. It was started by Russ from Flo Design but the responsibility is now shared by him and Chris Kemm here at Thompson. The format is simple; there are a couple of speakers who are invited to share insights and stories from the digital world, and a panel discussion on topics that the audience has submitted throughout the talks. I’ve spoken at a couple of events but aren’t as involved as I’d like to be at the moment. I’ve even volunteered myself to sit on the panel at the next event!
What’s the importance of a brand led website to a business as opposed to something that’s all about sales?
It’s completely dependent on where a brand is on their journey to being a favourite, recognised brand by their target audience. There’s always a need to reflect your identity in any communication, both internal and external, but for new brands who are trying to establish themselves, or old brands that are trying to reposition themselves, being more brand-led online can really help speed up the process.
It’s a scary prospect not to be 100% focused on sales, especially for businesses who generate a large amount of income from their websites. Over the years we’ve been on successful repositioning journeys with many businesses. Such as, OTE Sports and James Heal. We’ve helped them readdress their online brand/sales balance to great effect, and the results have actually increased sales rather than hinder them.
What has been your favourite job to be a part of and why?
Without a doubt, designing the NHS Guidelines website. I got incredible satisfaction out of the all-encompassing nature of this project. I think almost everyone in the business must have worked on it at some point. Spanning strategy, branding, digital and content. The vision of the client from the beginning was admirable. To embark on the task of bringing the guidelines for the entire NHS, into a single website was by no means a simple task — but it was exactly the right thing to do.