Depth Perception

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Just like a big tease, Deepend's work is gorgeous enough to draw your attention and keep it. But unlike that hot date that boasts nothing but a pretty exterior, the company's work goes way beyond the fluff. Founded in London in 1994 by British designers Gary Lockton and Simon Waterfall, Deepend (see deepend.com) has since gone worldwide, with offices in Sydney, Rome, San Francisco and New York.

And Deepend has been showered with international accolades to match its far-flung outposts. In fact, it was cited as the No. 1 winner of creative awards this year by Advertising Age International, jumping from 25th place last year. Its Gold Clio-winning site for the Design Museum, launched to coincide with the London museum's 10th anniversary, is an elegant trip, opening into a square-shaped page and a revolving cubic navigational button inspired by the architecture of the building itself.

"The best campaigns are always the ones that start off with a really great idea that you can hang other ideas on," explains New York creative director Iti Sarkharet of the Deepend approach. "But it always goes back to that one essential seed. We don't design something just because it looks good." With the Design Museum site, "The whole idea is that it's a very Bauhaus building," he says. "We have the museum, which is a cube, and the actual website is a smaller cube within that cube, because you're not showing everything in it. Coming up with the idea that actually hangs everything together is what's important. "

However, Deepend is also about collaboration and working closely with ad agencies to keep the web work consistent with the brand. For example, Deepend teamed with European agency Carat on the buzz-starting site for the Volkswagen Beetle launch in the U.K., which won Silver at the D&AD Awards. The VW site plays off the clever idea of the new car as an extraterrestrial. The site is clean and flash-rich, but it deftly shows the company really knows how to put the `fun' in functionality. Visitors can get a glimpse at the car from multiple angles and zoom in on its various details, plus some other surprising touches like the blast of music that sounds from a click on the radio. On top of that, there's a cool road game where the car's fans are challenged to flash their lights in camaraderie to fellow Beetle owners while avoiding cop cars that zoom past.

Similarly, Deepend partnered with Wieden & Kennedy on the pre-launch web hype at modo.net for Modo, a PDA-style entertainment resource. "My sense of Deepend is that they don't necessarily drive it completely themselves," says W&K CD Steve Sandoz. "We had a pretty specific idea for the site, and we told them here's what we want to accomplish and they made it work. It was a very cooperative effort."

Deepend also goes way beyond the tease, fronting elegant design as well as the tech-intensive backend for e-commerce sites like furniture company Viaduct, for which it earned One Show Gold. The minimalist online showroom is simultaneously stark and fluid, featuring a bare background of subtle yellow and sage hues with line-drawn curves that swoosh gracefully as the mouse rolls over menu selections. The furniture itself appears as line drawings, until a click opens a window to reveal a photo view. In fact, the Deepend offices have become a part of the larger entity known as Deepgroup, an umbrella company that includes partner shops like Backend, which focuses more on tech infrastructure, as well as Gluemedia, an online advertising agency.

The company can also hold a viewer's attention in a rawer way. The site for offbeat British production company Rapido (rapido.co.uk), designed by Sarkharet, campily parallels the company's offbeat tabloidesque programming and feels like a zany mod bordello with its cartoon-like graphics - from the spinning stars on the breasts of a woman to Rapido's mascot frog, which barks, growls or vrooms when you touch him with your mouse.

So what feeds the seeds in Deepend's garden? Mainly, it's the creative culture, which Sarkharet says encourages input from all members of the staff, not just those designated as designers. "What makes it work is the strong cross-pollination of talent and resources," he explains. "You've got people who are really strong in 3-D or graphics or technology; bringing that all into the mix is where the best ideas are born." Creative juices, moreover, can be squeezed from a higher source. "In terms of creativity itself, what you find is there's always this creative subconscious," Sarkharet reflects. "It doesn't matter where the inspiration comes from. It can be found in architecture, film, music, anything. It literally is a movement from everybody at the same time, and when that happens you get the best things. Something on the web might inspire an architect; an architect might be able to inspire a musician; a musician might be able to inspire a designer. You've seen it happen in the past before with the Bauhaus movement, which influenced writers and designers. It still holds true today. The energy is there and you feed off everything around you."

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