In one sentence, can you tell us about Mixd?

Mixd is a user experience digital agency specializing in information design for the public sectors.

What’s the story behind your name?

We were originally a design for print and digital agency, so Mixd is a contraction of “mixed” (as in mixed media).

In more normal times, does everybody work in the same office? How has the transition to working from home been for your team since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Our team is currently ten-strong, with the majority usually working from our Leeds city-center office; however, we have always had a flexible attitude towards remote work.

As Phil and I both have young families, working from home isn’t without its challenges, however we’re both making it work. Just!

As a team we are managing quite well. We are used to using tools like Slack, Asana, and Zendesk so project communication remains consistent, and our daily team Meet video calls have been very successful—especially our “Friday Beers” where we stop work, chat, and take the opportunity to catch up properly.

How has your business been affected since this all began?

As we work with many organizations within the National Health Service (NHS) here in the UK, we have been as busy as ever.

In addition to our normal project and support work, we have designed and built a COVID-19 Information Portal as a WordPress module for our clients to use on their websites, completely free of charge. We’ve had great interest in the module, with other NHS and public-sector organizations requesting our help, so we have created versions as stand-alone microsites as both information portals and for charitable donations, which can be deployed to sites regardless of existing architecture and codebases.

Our longer-term future remains relatively positive. We do see risk developing if ongoing projects are delayed, so we are doing all we can to maintain client contact and to encourage progress with project work.

Do you foresee any long term changes to the industry as a result of the pandemic?

On the whole, I expect there to be a short-term effect on the digital industry with clients struggling to make budgets available for new work, however, I am confident that it will bounce back in the longer term.

We can only hope that everyone will reflect on what we have collectively been through and remember the people and organizations that helped them through the tough times. I say that as both a supplier and as a client.

Can you tell us a bit more about your work with the NHS?

We’ve had a long-term relationship with the NHS, producing websites and intranets for many trusts and CCGs for over 15 years. Traditionally our work follows the tried and tested approach of Discovery > Design > Development > Live. However, we have had to adapt quickly, recognizing that, in order to get things done, we needed to create short-cuts and accept that our best work isn’t as important right now as our prompt delivery of it.

A perfect example of this is the COVID-19 Module—the quicker it was out there, the quicker our clients were able to communicate important information with their communities.

What’s your approach when taking on a new project?

Typically we use research, design, and strategy to understand client needs through a structured creative process. We built the framework around collaboration and iteration to quickly define digital strategies that effectively solve users’ needs.

Our approach blends the principles of lean, agile, and design thinking and focuses on organizational goals and feature definition. It is tried and tested and lets us focus on real user needs.

How has mobile technology impacted your approach to web design?

We were very early adopters of responsive web design, building the first-ever responsive website for an NHS trust back in 2012 when we designed and built South Tees NHS Foundation Trust’s website. Delivering that project had a huge impact on us, as it quickly led to us winning many more projects within the NHS and the public sector.

Have you ever turned down a project because it wasn’t a good fit?

We have turned down many projects over the years, usually because we’ve been asked to work with technologies we know we aren’t great at, or because the client had wholly unrealistic expectations of how long a project should take to complete.

If we ever get asked to work on a project that goes against our beliefs, it will be a flat refusal. We enjoy what we do and believe it really does make a difference, so why waste our time doing things we don’t love?

What makes a project stand out to you?

That’s a difficult question to answer as, in all honesty, I don’t see our work to be cool or unique, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. For me, I want our work to be useful, accessible, and inclusive, and that’s what I believe we are great at.

If I had to pick a single project, I would say our recent work for the North West Ambulance Service stands out, but that’s due in large part to the great understanding shown by the client in producing content that remained true to the original vision we had.

Is there any difference in your approach when a client is an established brand versus a startup?

Not really, no. We believe in our approach and we don’t want to alter that process. The only reason we may adapt things is when a smaller business that we really want to work with has a more modest budget, and we cut some corners here and there (our professional pride usually doesn’t allow this).

I put this question to our development team as we actively encourage them to help direct our path. They are currently researching and testing headless CMS, static site generators, GraphQL, AWS Lambda, and Kubernetes.

One of the challenges running an agency is that you’re paid to create and build products for other people, sometimes at the expense of your own ideas. How do you balance the two?

This is a long-running dilemma for us at Mixd. Over the years, we have come up with many ideas for products and services, some of which we almost got off the ground, but none have ever really taken flight.

However, the current situation with COVID-19 does mean we may finally get an opportunity to spend a little time on ourselves!

How do you know when you’re on the right track as an agency?

We know we are on the right track when we are contacted by new organizations asking us to quote or tender for projects based on the work they have seen us do for others, as almost all of our work comes from referrals and recommendations.

What advice would you give to someone considering starting their own design agency?

Have a clear idea of what you want to achieve and stick to it!