Devlin Applied Design

Catharine Devlin, President and CEO of Devlin Applied Design, readily admits that when she began developing corporate web sites as a one-woman operation back in the dark ages of the Internet - 1994 - she would not have predicted how quickly...

Catharine Devlin, President and CEO of Devlin Applied Design, readily admits that when she began developing corporate web sites as a one-woman operation back in the dark ages of the Internet – 1994 – she would not have predicted how quickly her company, together with a handful of competitors, would systematically re-define the over-worked term ‘user-friendly.’

In 1996, Devlin built the Canadian web design industry’s first in-house Usability Lab. Initially, designed to understand how customers navigate an e-commerce transaction, the lab has evolved into an analytical tool to help companies understand how to build visual interfaces to maximize customer traffic and loyalty.

‘We have moved from designing and developing web sites to actually designing and building web applications,’ explained Catharine.

Devlin applies heuristic analysis by having professionals from client-relevant fields visit a site, pinpoint barriers to entry, identify decision points, and help economize required click-through activity. Following the heuristic evaluation, designers observe the day-to-day use of the site and incorporate the knowledge into the interface concept.

Devlin designed and applied an e-commerce model to the Toronto Public Library’s Career Bookmarks site. Typically, patrons using the library computers do not have computers at home. So, Devlin created a personal file box where users can ‘shop’ for information and print or e-mail the results to themselves for later reference via the web.

Devlin also developed an extranet for BASF to allow North American body shops to purchase materials such as paint and sandpaper directly via the web. Since body shop professionals are typically not web savvy, Devlin designed a simple, user friendly, visual interface that let’s users intuitively order products via computer.

‘As Internet marketers move from standard brochure-ware to application environments, it’s more important to have qualitative data about the target users,’ said Mathew Koukounakis, Devlin’s Usability Director. ‘How the user uses your site is dependant on skill level, personal preferences and standard usability methods. Do they have plug-in X? Do they know how to get it if they don’t?’

‘Traditionally, designers have designed for their clients,’ added Tom Wong, Devlin’s Creative Undertaker. ‘We design for our clients’ clients — the end user. That’s the key: if it’s not good for the end user, then it’s not good for the client.’

For M·A·C Cosmetics, Devlin built a broadband consumer web site that extended the existing M·A·C brand while taking e-commerce to the next level. Value-added features, like the M·A·C Pro section allows consumers to apply make-up techniques recommended by senior M·A·C Artists.

Devlin also created a series of ‘under construction pages’ that gave consumers a glimpse into the evolving site, while simultaneously serving as an information-gathering tool. Collecting e-mail addresses during the ‘under construction’ phase successfully increased awareness of the site among its target audience and allowed M·A·C to build a database for future e-marketing.

‘We want Canadian marketing managers to understand that simply creating a web site isn’t enough anymore, usability is key,’ said Catharine from her downtown Toronto studio, now grown to a staff of 26. Cath added, ‘Size matters to many decision-makers, but we offer a family environment. Just like home, we won’t tell you what you want to hear, but we will always offer you some good and honest advice.’

Currently 80% of Devlin’s clients are primarily from Fortune 500 companies such as Lucent Technologies Canada, GE Appliances Canada and FedEx Canada. The agency also has retained an interesting mix of clientele that includes non-profit organizations like the Cardinal Carter Breakfast Club and innovative new start-ups like Woofur.com.

Devlin has grown its client roster through a commitment to customer service. Also, the global nature of Internet business necessitated the building of a client-based application that would foster stronger client relationships, quicker turnaround and open communication by taking geographic boundaries, ‘broken telephone’ and time zone differences out of the development. The result — Decision Room™, affectionately known as ‘D-Room’, is an online collaborative tool that allows Devlin’s account managers to expedite the development process.

Devlin customized a Decision Room for IMAX Corporation to streamline their internal processes, such as electronically logging its theatre box office receipts, promoting upcoming films, and facilitating communications among its employees worldwide.

‘What was initially conceived as a web site has since become an integral business process for IMAX, a constantly evolving, database-driven, knowledge management tool’ explained Catharine.

As a result, Devlin now hosts and rents applications to its clients: ‘Decision Room’ is a password protected, web-enabled environment that allows the agency to rapidly exchange files and ideas with clients day to day, thereby eliminating the need for couriers, faxing, e-mail or meetings. Clients simply access the URL from wherever they have Internet access to work on any given project.

In January 1999, Envoy Communications Group, (TSE:ECG), impressed with Devlin’s growth and innovative thinking, purchased the studio as its digital division. Devlin is now among an elite group of North American companies pioneering a range of emerging cyber-disciplines — interface design, usability testing, application development, and e-marketing — that are driving the digital revolution which is transforming the art and science of marketing.

Also in this sponsored supplement:

- Overview p.E1

- Armantus p.E2

- BAM Solutions p.E3

- Modem Media p.E5

- Vickers & Benson Direct + Interactive p.E5

- MacLaren McCann Interactive p.E6

- MarchFIRST p.E8

- Digital@JWT p.E9

- Rebellium.com p.E10