ImageX Media Interview
To continue the new DrupalSN “features” section I recently got to interview one of the most creative Drupal companies out there: ImageX Media.
ImageX unlike some development companies only develop with Drupal, making them real specialists in the Drupal field.
Glenn: We’re based in Vancouver, BC and have a team of 8 employees that work out of our studio and another 6 virtual employees who work for us from their homes in various places across Canada and in the States.
We have a great team and really enjoy working together. For those in the office, we like to hang out a lot and we do team lunch together and go out for coffee together each afternoon which are always highlight points of our day.
Our contract team prefer to work at home as they have a chance to be a bit more flexible with their hours and have the freedom to go where they’d like to be in the world and take time off as they please (as long as they’re able to plan well and complete their work in time).
Having time off to live a balanced life in and out of work is really important to us. We don’t like to ask our workers to put in more than 40 hrs a week if possible, so late nights and weekend work is extremely rare for our team.
ImageX develops solely with Drupal. How did you discover Drupal? What factors sold ImageX on using Drupal for all its development?
Glenn: Originally when we started up in 2001, we were a video production company but some of our clients needed some web work so we started dabbling in that too.
We found quickly that there was a demand for content management solutions and at the time we had no system at all, so we began looking around for a CMS.
I was thinking Joomla, Wordpress and Mambo (which is now Joomla) looked appealing (coming from a creative bent) but my guys kept harping on Drupal saying that even though the Drupal web site sucked, you could actually do a lot more with the framework and also be less restricted in the design. So I caved in and decided we’d give Drupal a shot. We haven’t looked back since.
ImageX has a stunning looking portfolio of sites, but which site are you most proud of and why?
Glenn: We’ve added a number of high-profile clients to our roster in the past year, which is fantastic considering that the stature of your clients often effects how you are perceived. However the sites I’m most proud of may not be as prominent, in terms of household names, but I was really happy with the work our team did on them all around:
Seattletool.ca (http://seattletool.ca/) – I like the dark background and strong elements of this design. It’s masculine in order to appeal to a male audience yet has a touch of feminine to make the site a great stop for women who are looking for just the right gift for that special man. Working with Seattle Tool has been a pleasure as they’ve been one of the best client’s you could ever ask for.
Delta School District (http://web.deltasd.bc.ca/) – I like the fresh colors of this design, the gradients and brand watermarks in the header. Over all our client was quite pleased with the outcome which was in stark contrast to their feelings of their previous design.
Avantage Partners (http://avantagepartners.com/) – I like the simplicity of the design with the clear focal point of the bold color in the flash banner area in contrast to clean white background.
Peace Portal Alliance (https://www.peaceportalalliance.com/) – In terms of the design, I’m probably a lot happier with the original PSD as sometimes the user updated banner can get loud and clash with the site design (depending on what the client’s highlighting that week).
CASRAI (http://casrai.org/) – like the how the header watermark design subtly defines the brand.
FreshBrain.org (https://freshbrain.org/) – this is our biggest project to date and has been a fun project to work on. It’s definitely close to my heart as I spent 15 years as a full youth worker so anytime we can do something that will help teens, I’m definitely wanting to help out with it.
Northland Pioneer College (http://www.npc.edu/) – we’ve had a lot of fun working with the the NPC team on this site. We traveled down to Arizona to see them this past fall and really enjoyed our experience there with them training them in Drupal and helping them envision for the future. Couldn’t ask for better people.
CreativePro.com (http://www.creativepro.com/) – I’m not too keen of the drab color design, but this was our first big project and I was very proud of our team for the work they did.
What are your favourite additions to Drupal 6?
Glenn: Love drag and drop and all the usability improvements in the user interface along with OpenID support in core. The continual improvements to Drupal by our community of developers has really been helping our clients see Drupal as a long term solution and not just another technological flash in the pan. Obviously coming from the creative side, anytime I see improvements in design, I’m definitely encouraged. (Really looking forward to the redesign of Drupal.org too as I think that will help a lot with the perception of Drupal by potential users)
If you could improve one thing about Drupal, what would it be?
Glenn: The user interface. There’s little things that I’d like to see changed that feel too clunky, like unnecessary clicks or having to scroll to get to important buttons, and the admin menu can be overwhelming for a new user. Definitely feels like it was built for a developer rather than a client. I feel it needs to be simplified a bit more with the end user in mind.
Can you briefly describe the ImageX development process, from design to launch?
Glenn: Obviously in custom design and development, every project is unique and different.
So I’m going to share what we’d do in an average project:
1) Discovery and Planning Stage
Firstly, to get started, we sit down with our client (in person or on the phone) and begin to work with them to better understand their organization, needs and online goals.
We provide them with some upfront documentation and then probe deeper to get a better grasp on what they really need to happen. Our team will then go away and do further research on our clients target audience and competitor’s sites and then begin the process of constructing the sitemap and wireframes for the new site. After we’ve finished the initial constructs, we’ll send them on to the client to review and send thru revisions. Once we’ve completed the revisions to our client’s satisfaction, we’ll begin the design process.
2) Design Stage
Much of the information we need for design will have been gathered during the information architecture stage, however we tend not to want to jump into the design process until have approval on the layouts.
At the start of the design stage we will work with our clients to find sites that they are attracted to or that they feel is the right style for their organization or target audience. Once we understand this, we will begin to put together color palettes and rough concepts, which we will be the basis for the iterative design process that we participate in with our clients.
Typically we’ll present the homepage concepts first and work on refining them before we begin on any other pages. If there’s flash animation we’ll usually tackle that after the homepage has been approved.
3) Development Stage
Once all the approvals are in we will begin the theming or development stage.
Usually things aren’t always as compartmentalized or linear as our stages seem to imply. A lot of the site configuration, development work, and content entry are well underway by the time we start theming. From the start all of our sites are built off of what we call “IXM Base”, which is Acquia Drupal, additional modules, a custom starter theme and an install profile to configure common functionality. A standard starting point helps bring consistency to our development process. It also allows us to maintain sites easier as we always keep IXM Base up to date and then pull in the changes to multiple sites using version control (subversion).
Once a site is setup our team will begin the work of applying the custom theme and followed by more advanced configuration and custom development. After the site structure has been implemented we’ll begin the process of training for our client’s team so that they can begin to input all of their content.
4) Testing Stage
Once all of the work is done and the site is fully themed and functional, someone from our quality assurance team will review the site and ensure everything is in right order before we turn it over to the client to review.
The client review period may take up to a week or more as they take time to scrutinize the work and prepare a list of any revisions or bug fixes which we will work with them on until they feel the site is ready to launch.
5) Post-Deployment Maintenance & Support
After the site is launched most of our projects transition in a maintenance agreement where we’ll provide support and ongoing consulting and training to ensure that every thing is working just right.
What development tools do you use?
Glenn: I don’t use any as I don’t do any development myself. Never have and probably never will. The only class I ever dropped out of in school or college was computer programming. I suck at it! However the majority of our developers are Mac users and most prefer Textmate. They also use Subversion religiously.
What websites do you regularly visit?
- Twitter (http://twitter.com/home) – love Twitter. Best webservice ever!
- Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/home.php) – love FB too, but don’t like that you’re limited to just people you’ve met in the past. It’s not set up well to get to know new people (behind all the walls of privacy – but, ya, I do get why this is necessary)
- Canucks.com (http://canucks.nhl.com/) – best hockey team on earth. I’ve been a die hard fan since 82
- A List Apart (http://alistapart.com/) – they don’t put stuff out often, but when they do, it’s solid!
- Ideas on Ideas (http://www.ideasonideas.com/) – love this blog. Eric says it the way he sees it. Don’t agree with everything but he does have a lot of good insights.
What keyboard shortcut do you use most often?
Glenn: Cmd W, Cmd S, Cmd Q – to close, save or quit stuff.
What’s planned for ImageX in 2009?
Glenn: This year we’ve set some aggressive sales goals and are eager to find some more talented, solid people to join our team. We’re soon to be looking for an additional full time sales guy and following that, a second project manager to join us onsite at our Studio in Vancouver.
Additionally we may be looking for more design, IA, and experienced developers to join our team. We’ll also be actively looking for a freelance technical writer to assist us with our blog, site content and article contribution efforts. Internally we’re continuing to hone and improve our systems to increase our efficiency to better serve our client base. We have some great clients who we’ve developed some long-term partnerships with. We want to continue to strength those relationships by helping them attract, grow & retain their web audiences and exceed their online goals. We also want to continue to strengthen our ties within the Drupal community. For us that means continuing to reach out to other Drupal firms and independent contractors to build stronger ties and provide support where we can. It means continuing to support our local meetups, Drupalcamp and Drupalcon events.
Beyond that we want to increase our efforts in giving back to the community through module submissions at Drupal.org. We will also be looking to strengthen our partnership with Acquia where possible as we believe that they are strengthening the Drupal community.
You’ve submitted some of your sites to the DrupalSN site’s showcase. How do you think DrupalSN can benefit companies like ImageX?
Glenn: I think DrupalSN is a great idea to provide a more relational forum for those who are interested in Drupal.
For ourselves we’ve had a heck of a time finding good Drupal developers. It seems like we’re perpetually promoting openings on our job page. There’s tons of people out there who want to develop but few we’ve found that are really good (and available), or who have enough experience to jump into some fairly challenging projects that we can’t risk a mess up on. So finding the right people can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.
DrupalSN gives us a place to do some more extensive networking as we continue our ongoing search to build our team. We realize that we may need to look at a lot of people before we will find someone who’s the right fit for what we and they are looking for. The thing with relationships is that you don’t always meet people at the right time. Someone may be looking when you’re not looking and they fire you off a resume and when you are looking it’s probably not infront of you when you need it, or unfortunately you just forgot you had it somewhere buried in your email archives.
Being apart of a social network allows you to be reminded more often as you get to see people’s work and hear what they’re working on and it’s much more likely that they’ll see you “Drupal job postings”: http://www.imagexmedia.com/about/job-openings when you post them. So I’m quite looking forward to getting more actively involved in the community.
Well that concludes our look into the world of ImageX Media. I hope you’ve enjoyed our second look at a Drupal company – plenty more to come in the coming months.
Thanks for reading. Comments are more than welcome.
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