Hey, today I have a great interview for you. I’ve been very lucky recently to meet a very talented duo who run FHOKE a design agency who work out of Hampshire in the UK. I met them through twitter and have enjoyed talking to them and finding out all about them. When I noticed they had begun following me, naturally I visited their site and was stunned by the quality of their work.
After this I just had to get an interview with them and luckily they were very happy to help. So here goes…
1) Firstly, could you give me a background into FHOKE. How long have you been around? How did you get started? Where are you now? Etc
Well first of all what most people are probably wondering is where the name came from. Having worked for bigger agencies our main focus and ideas for the new agency was to get back to working much more closely with people and needed a unique play on words relating to that, so meet FHOKE (pronounced folk). I guess it’s like Marmite you either love it or hate it but it’s proven memorable to everyone who’s come across us, so hey that can’t be a bad thing.
We actually started just a year ago this Tuesday and have organically grown the business from nothing. Both co-founders Myself and Brett came from agency backgrounds working on large clients such as MTV, Subaru, Sony and Tottenham Hotspur. All great and enviable clients but wanted to go back to creating smaller boutique looking sites that really get the creative juices flowing. There’s only a limited number of ways of displaying portal sites that are usable and present large amounts of information that appear in a visually appealing way. We still love to get involved in those bigger sites don’t get us wrong it’s just great to mix it up now and again.
2) How would you describe the FHOKE style?
Our style over the year has certainly changed. Having come from creating text heavy, portal and content managed sites we probably started with a very ridged approach in our designs. We are still very much about creating a great usable framework to the interface of designs and very meticulous over pixel perfection but our sites have become more fluid and probably illustrative than anything else.
One of the most common requests from clients is they always want a character to become a feature of their brand, it seems to be quite a trend at the moment and this is reflected in a lot of our work, and I guess determines much of the styling to a site. Another aspect of our style is we aren’t scared of bold colour schemes. A lot of our designs use these but we are always careful in keeping to a general rule of two colours for the primary palette and then three to four for a sub palette. I guess this stems from the days when we were both print designers.
3) Where do you get your inspiration from?
There’s so many places now to get inspiration with the emergence of CSS gallery’s that designing a site has become a lot easier over the past couple of years. But one that really stands out for us at the moment is Design Fridge, it’s probably one of the most usable galleries out there and to have on average 10 to 12 new sites a day really keeps you up to date with new trends and where other’s are taking the web.
They’ll always be the old favorites though such as Smashing Magazine and FWA, not to mention magazines such as Creative Review and NMA, all great for looking at other industries. It’s not just other websites that can inspire.
We’ll always start though by researching a clients background and look at sites that a client loves and hates to get a real feel for their dream site. Most of the time inspiration will simply come pouring off the page from a brainstorming session, but it’s always great to use these other resources. It’s pretty hard to be creative 24/7.
4) Where do you get most of your clients? Do you advertise your services?
It’s always good to know people in the industry and we’ve been fortunate enough to have worked in it for quite a number of years now so we know people who know people and so on. But the majority of the time work comes in from word of mouth.
We pride ourselves in working very closely with clients and find this helps with a lot of repeat business and recommendations, but we regularly use Google Ad Words, probably not to its full potential, and the obvious Google Local Business Center etc. which all seem to be working well for us at the moment.
One thing we have noticed recently is business coming from Twitter. We never thought this would happen for us so early on but have had some great leads and work from it, hopefully that comes from people interested in what we have to say but more importantly from the diverse portfolio of work we have.
5) How does FHOKE go about the creative process? What are the early stages you go through after receiving a brief?
Like with most agencies and having had experience in working for them, we’ve got this pretty much nailed now.
We’ll always be sure to meet the client upfront first and get to know them as a person and build a relationship from that first meeting. We find this helps as it really gets ideas flowing (even if they’re not the best) to start with and that’ll get our brains ticking.
We’ll then send out a very simple design brief allowing the customer to go and research the things they like and dislike in brands and websites, most of the time they’re not even related to their business, but that’s great as it gives us the bigger picture. Then it’s onto brainstorming, wire framing and then the design of the interface.
6) Are FHOKE mac or pc and why?
We’re completely MAC based now. Brett’s never worked on anything else, where as coming from an IBM background I’ve tended to work with PC’s. But as designers you have to love the way a MAC looks and feels, there’s just nothing really out there to compare them with.
Coming into our second year we’ve also shifted focus to being more eco-driven and Apple seem to have led the way even back to the early 90’s in reducing harmful components and reducing energy consumption, so I guess you could say this is another strong reason for using them.
7) What software do you use everyday? From design to task management to Twitter client etc.
The Adobe suite is used daily, predominantly Photoshop and Illustrator for our branding, print and interface work but also InDesign for any collateral, and internal documents.
Our developers most of whom we outsource too also prefer to develop our sites in Symfony but we are very much led by them helping us to specialise in the design and them on the development of sites. The client gets the best of both worlds then, others might prefer to disagree, but it’s a formula that’s worked well for us now and over the years.
8) If you could have dinner with any 2 designers, who would you choose and why?
There’s quite a few designers out there who we certainly admire and respect in particular Elliot Jay Stocks, but speaking for the both of us I think we’d rather meet with other agency owners and get to pick their brains to see how they work, where they’ve found success and where they see the future of the web going.
We’ve recently been doing this meeting with several of the better known agencies in our region and London and it’s been great to find out they find the same problems as us and overcome them in similar ways, but it’s also been interesting to hear of all their success stories. Networking is certainly key as it’s already led to working relationships with a small number of them and as I mentioned before work can come from who you know.
9) In a recent blog post ‘Times are changing’ you mention that FHOKE has had a successful first year in business. Were there any periods during the year when things weren’t going so well and how have you overcome the obstacles?
We’ve actually been very fortunate to not have had very many quiet periods in our first year, and if we have it’s been quite a blessing enabling us to tweak our site or business model here and there, and these periods have always been manageable by keeping our overheads low and making the money up before or after these periods.
It can be quite worrying though from time to time and we are re-working a business plan for the second year to help generate more business to prevent these times from happening but having both been in this industry there are always very predictable times of the year when there are quiet periods most noticeably in the run up to Christmas and a couple of the summer months. We just put it down to these coinciding with holidays.
10) You also mention in the same blog post, that there are big changes ahead for FHOKE. Can you give us an insight into any of the changes?
For sure. We felt it was a good idea to get some interest going in what we’ll be doing next. The site as it is works well but we’ve found it hard to expand and feel it’s now time to grow up a bit and start pushing the boundaries a little further.
One of the bigger changes is looking at creating a small network of sites all still very much design focused but to generate revenue from other areas of the industry. Without giving too much away we’re still very focused on building a great agency but we also felt it time to start putting some of our ideas into action and to move into these new areas.
Sorry we can’t say much more but over the coming few months a lot of these plans will come to light and really tap into our illustrative style.
11) Finally, do you have any advice for anyone planning on building an agency or freelancing?
Simply go for it. If you work hard enough you’ll achieve your ambitions. It’s certainly hard work not to say the least worrying at times, but anyone we know who’s done it hasn’t looked back and we definitely haven’t. You’ll learn things along the way that will change the way you work and you’ll also make mistakes. Learn from these and it will make you and your business all the better for it.
I’d just like to take the opportunity to thank the guys at FHOKE for allowing me to interview them. They really are a great bunch of guys and I wish them every success.
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