Zenman and the Art of Web Site Design
When you want to enter the wide world of the World Wide Web, who do you call? The guys with the pretty brochure? The high-school hacker next door? Lowest bidder? Highest rate? None of the above guarantees a great (or lousy) result.
Soft spoken Keith Roberts, Chief Creative Officer of Zenman, would have you look at his firm’s work, and then he would learn about you and your business.
“We want to build relationships,” he says. “We measure our success of our clients.” Today, Zenman maintains working relationships with a diverse clientele: restaurants, including several of Colorado’s Top 10; high-tech entities, like level III and Haliburton; and unique, boutique concerns like hair salons and Denver Design Center.
Keith, a Buddhist, points out the “Zen” in Zenman reflects his commitment to applying the same personal life ethics and karma to business relationships.
“We don’t up sell to something they don’t need.” And they stick to the budget.
Word-of-mouth marketing brought Zenman to success in design, particularly Web work. But art lead him to develop a blend of talent and technical, practical skills necessary to get there.
Keith’s passion is photography. He studied at Brooks institute, graduating with a major in Industrial Scientific Photography with a minor in Undersea Photography. When he entered the work-world, however, the growth of stock photography was beginning to limit the market for custom work, and he went into Web work- just at the end of the dot-com bubble. Building attractive, intuitive and user friendly Web sites turned out to be a solid background for starting his own business by 30.
Zenman’s offices can be found in one of the storefront suites to the Fire Clay Lofts, a site it used to share with the owner’s photographic gallery. In fact, framed work lines the walls, and the clean, uncluttered layout of ground-level office has an artsy gallery feel. Yet it reveals nothing about the firm’s web site, www.zenmanproductions.com. as well as their clients’.
The great thing about the Web, says Keith, is that you can be a Mom &Pop business working out of a garage, but look like a fortune 500 company thanks to a great Web site. The flip side, he cautions, is that a great company with a poor Web site can give the appearance it is working out of a basement.
Zenman itself is a good example of positive Web image masking Spartan work space, particularly when Keith started the company at 28 when he left Equifax. He worked “virtually” out of home and coffee shops at first.
“I drank a lot of coffee at Ink,” he recalls. Going to a physical, Brick-and-mortar office was necessary to build business. Today, nearly four years after moving into Fire Clay Lofts, Zenman boasts a staff of 12- “A unique blend of geeks and artists,” he quips. “We really have a ‘best in class’ staff.”
From the beginning, the push and pull between aesthetics and practicality helped create great design: “We would push each other, asking, ‘OK, how are we going to build this? And later, ‘Great, now make it look good. And a lot of time was spent making it idiot proof.
Although the Web work is the firm’s forte, Zenman is a full service design firm, offering marketing, strategy, brand development, interactive design, graphic design, custom application development, illustration and-yes-photography.
“I started the business to hire myself to do photography,” Keith says with a smile. All kidding aside, there’s a demand for custom photography and illustration among developers, restaurants and other ventures offering unique product. But photography is only a part of the product for most clients.
Zenman’s four-tier design process is Discovery, Design, Develop and Deploy.
“We can’t design until we know you, your competition, your objectives and goals,” says Keith of the discovery process, learning about the client.
Then, Zenman designs three to five custom solutions for the client’s consideration.” The hard part is choosing one.”
Development begins only after the client is certain of what he or she wants. This includes the actual building of the site, with multiple rounds of testing, all posted to a secure site where the client can see the progress.
“Because a lot of people don’t understand what it takes to do it well, we take ‘em along and make it fun,” says Keith.
Deployment- getting the site up and running- doesn’t necessarily end the relationship: helping the client track results and grow is a continuing challenge.
“It’s much more important for me to do a small project and watch it grow for 20 years then do a big one and leave,” says Keith.
Great work speaks for itself, so for a sample of Zenman’s work, check out Osteria Marco (http://osteriamarco.com), a new restaurant on Larimer Square (1435 Larimer St.); any one of Urban Ventures’ five sites, the latest being Highland Bridge Lofts (www.highlandbridgelofts.com); and photography sites of Bob Carey photography (www.BobCarey.com) and S:B Representations (www.sbrepresentations.com) . Now in the works is a new web-design for this publication Downtown Denver News.