As a key member of the NetConstruct UX and Design team, Helena is one of our in-house Visual Designers who uses her creative flair and design expertise to bring client websites to life. We sat down with Helena to chat more about her role, background and life at NetConstruct.
Tell us a little bit about you…
I live in Harrogate and I’ve been at NetConstruct for nearly 2 years now! I was at our sister agency, WMG in Harrogate before I began this role, where I did design to support the SEO and PR team, but it was slightly different in the sense that their work was mainly graphical campaigns whereas here is very much web-based.
Outside of work I run a business, Studio Woof, doing dog photography as well! So, I go to people’s homes and set up my little studio and take dog portraits which is fun. Apart from that, I’m currently saving up for a house!
Tell us more about your background…
I did Creative Advertising at Leeds College of Art and I also did Graphics at A level. This has changed a lot since I completed these courses, originally, I was more graphic design-focused and now I’ve evolved very much into digital, and with that comes a lot more parameters to learn! A lot of basic design principles still apply but digital definitely has its challenges. What you design is rarely pixel perfect when it’s live because websites are responsive, and components change with every breakpoint. So, unless you have the luxury of time to design for each viewport on every possible device - which is never-ending - it’s something we have to take on-board in build.
After graduating from university, I went straight into my role at WMG. I actually started in Digital Marketing there because, at the time, they didn’t have an in-house graphic designer. When we started to do more creative campaigns, I was always the one to say, “I’ll do that!” and my role grew from there to become a full-time design position. Once this was the case, I was interested in growing my skills and when the job at NetConstruct became available, I was put forward for it internally.
It was a steep learning curve coming to NetConstruct as everything is very tech-heavy here, so you have to get used to that quickly and learn the jargon fast! However, I’m now leading design on a lot of large projects so if you’re keen to learn then come here as you always have the chance to get stuck in!
What is your role at NetConstruct?
I’m a Visual Designer. On a top-level, I create designs for websites, but obviously there’s more to it than this!
It depends on the job at hand. If it’s a smaller project, I do the UX phase as well as the design phase. This involves IA (information architecture), site maps, wireframes, and key user flows which then build into content models. From here, we plan out a site map and decide on the content for each page. This leads onto the favourite part of my job…the designs. To do this, I’ll take the content model, look at other websites and the client’s brand guidelines while always thinking about how I could translate this idea digitally. Then, we’ll create a mood board and build some concepts which give us a good steer on the rest of the designs. It never goes straight from the content model to a designed web page, instead, we review each section so we’re always linking back to the objectives and focusing on achieving them.
We’re a small but growing design team, with our design services becoming a larger component in client pitches. I hope to see this continue to grow so people have an understanding of what we can do which will enable us to expand our remit. The services we offer in terms of design have already grown to include a research phase, followed by interaction design and then the visuals come once all that has been completed. The most important aspect is that a website works well, the aesthetics can only help this and together, a meaningful experience is created. We work hard to figure out what consumers actually want from a website and what’s important. We make it work and then we make it look good – in that order.
How has the approach to design and UX changed in recent years?
I think the main change is that we’re shifting from presenting wireframes to presenting content models to clients. It’s a win-win scenario as clients actually often better understand content models. Using this approach also helps them to think about the content they will need which is often the cause of project delays.
Switching to this content-first approach makes design easier and more effective. We should be designing around the content, not shoehorning content into a design. When clients provide written content, images and videos upfront, it’s really helpful to us. To put into context how important content is, if you look at the most incredible websites and put a blank box around all their images, video and copy, they can look rather dull. But if you can supply interesting and amazing content, it makes the whole website come to life, so we encourage businesses to consider this first. We’re essentially making their content look good for them!
What do you enjoy most about your job?
As a designer, it’s about more than just sitting behind a screen... a lot of it comes down to selling. Design can be very subjective; an important part of my job is to provide a solid rationale behind our design decisions. It’s often about the art of persuasion rather than the art of doing as you’re trying to bring people on board. I enjoy that and the fact it’s always about problem-solving.
Often our projects start with a large website which is usually outdated, and this can be quite overwhelming initially. However, when you break it down and understand the client’s needs, we can really make a difference.
I also enjoy the communication side of things. When I first started, this was something I was quite nervous about but as soon as you recognise that we’re all working towards the same goal then we can really start to work together collaboratively problem-solving and overcoming challenges. The fun part of it all is definitely the concept stage as you can push the boundaries. Once the design is approved, we get to work with our front-end developers and see it come to life with animations, motion and movement – that’s always fun.
What have you found challenging in your role?
When content hasn’t been considered or created. I know I’ve mentioned this before but getting content as early as possible makes the design process less of a challenge. Apart from that, it’s about really getting involved in a business. We have clients within a wide range of niches. I’ve worked on clients of all types covering everything from sausage seasoning to trading, law to waste management, electronic components to dance! A lot of these are extremely niche and you really have to get under the skin of these businesses to understand their problems and create effective solutions.
What is your favourite project you have worked on and why?
I’ve enjoyed working on Circuit the most so far. This is a laundry service for students, and I think I found it fun because it was a smaller project, so we had more room to manoeuvre. It was a younger audience which is more relatable for me and meant we were able to use animations and an illustration style as it isn’t overly corporate. It’s a very niche market, but they do a great job within their own industry.
Are you interested in a career at NetConstruct? Get in touch to find out more about the opportunities we have available.